Another Blow to the Pseudo-Science of Global Warming Skeptics
In a serious blow to the already discredited arguments made against climate change by global warming skeptics, a new analysis of satellite data confirms that the earth is warming at a rate consistent with that projected by climate models, and far faster than the skeptics previously acknowledged.
The satellite data were originally interpreted by John R. Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville and colleagues as showing little or no warming occurring between 1979 and 2003. Indeed, they concluded that there was actually a cooling trend in the tropics ”“ conclusions seriously at odds with actual temperature records and with estimates from global climate models. Other climate skeptics latched onto this faulty interpretation to support their conclusions that global warming is false, or small, and climate models in error.
Now, it turns out that the skeptic’s manipulation of the satellite data was wrong. When their errors are corrected, the satellite data agree remarkably well with other observations of global warming, and with forecasts by climate models.
In an article in Science magazine published August 11th in Sciencexpress, Carl Mears and Frank Wentz correct temperature estimates made from satellite data. It turns out that Christy and his colleagues made a serious error in a “correction” applied to the data. When the “correction” is itself corrected, the satellites show that the Earth as a whole is warming more twice as fast as Christy et al. suggest, and the tropics, rather than cooling, are actually warming.
And what is the reaction from the skeptics? Admit error? No. It is spin-city. Like a fossil-fuel-powered Energizer Bunny, the skeptics keep right on going.
According to the August 12th New York Times, Christy and Spencer, who misanalyzed the original troposphere temperature records from satellite data, conceded that they had made a mistake but said that their revised calculations still produced a warming rate too small to be a concern. "Our view hasn't changed," Christy said. "We still have this modest warming."
Leading skeptic Patrick Michaels, who has long relied on the wrong interpretation of these data to try discredit climate models and evidence of warming, is now trying to use the new interpretation to say the rate of warming is too slow to be of concern. A “1984-esque” commentary published at the Cato Institute entitled “Studies Uncover Global Warming Errors” is written in a way that suggests these “errors” were committed by global warming scientists, rather than by the skeptics themselves: According to Michaels, “These results reassure the arguments of those who say that global warming is likely to be modest.” It’s as though the Flat Earthers were to issue a press release entitled “Studies Uncover Errors in Research on the Earth’s Shape” to discredit new evidence that the Earth is round.
In fact, these new results blow apart the argument of global warming skeptics who have denied warming and misused data to delay policy actions. And is the warming only “modest” as Michaels says? No, the new rate not only agrees with climate model estimates and actual observations, but shows warming is already happening at a rate more than twice as fast as leading skeptics have been willing to admit and far higher than what nature can dish out. In fact, there is no longer any credible observational or modeling estimate that disagrees with the conclusion that humans are already rapidly changing the planet’s climate.
We are witnessing evolution in climate skepticism right before our eyes. This small group of skeptics has gone from denying that humans could affect the climate, to denying that humans are already affecting the climate, to denying that humans can affect the climate very much. The next stage in their evolution will be denying that the effects ”“ big or small ”“ will be bad, and then they will argue that it costs too much to do anything about. Finally, they will argue that it’s too late to take action, because climate change is unavoidable. And by that time, they may be right.
Based in Oakland, California, The Pacific Institute is an independent, nonpartisan think-tank studying issues at the intersection of development, environment, and security. Information on The Pacific Institute's funders is posted on its website.
Dr. Peter H. Gleick is a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, member of the US National Academy of Sciences Water Science and Technology Board, a lifetime member of the International Water Academy in Oslo, Norway, and President of the Pacific Institute, Oakland. Dr. Gleick did some of the earliest research on the impacts of climate change for water resources in the early 1980s. His findings, suggesting dramatic impacts of climate change for snowfall, snowpack, and runoff, still form the basis for our understanding of some important risks of climate change, despite vast improvements in models, computers, and climate analysis over the subsequent two decades. He was recently appointed to the UN-Sigma Xi Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development analyzing approaches and policies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.
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