An Inconvenient Truth

From R.W. Tracinski’s Daily Debate 14/6/13

Global warming skeptics such as myself have been pointing to the fact that the temperature record shows no additional global warming since the late 1990s, in contradiction to the predictions made by the alarmists.

It is—how shall I put it?—an inconvenient truth.

The New York Times has finally gotten around to reporting on this phenomenon.

"As unlikely as this may sound, we have lucked out in recent years when it comes to global warming.

"The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace."

If this sounds "unlikely," it is because sources like the New York Times have been telling you for years that it's impossible—even as it was actually happening.

But they're reporting it now, right? Yes, but it's the oddest kind of reporting you'll ever see, because it's a struggle to not report the central fact.

Here is the central passage of the article.

"As you might imagine, those dismissive of climate-change concerns have made much of this warming plateau. They typically argue that 'global warming stopped 15 years ago' or some similar statement, and then assert that this disproves the whole notion that greenhouse gases are causing warming.

"Rarely do they mention that most of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred recently. Moreover, their claim depends on careful selection of the starting and ending points. The starting point is almost always 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El Niño weather pattern.

"Somebody who wanted to sell you gold coins as an investment could make the same kind of argument about the futility of putting your retirement funds into the stock market. If he picked the start date and the end date carefully enough, the gold salesman could make it look like the stock market did not go up for a decade or longer.

"But that does not really tell you what your retirement money is going to do in the market over 30 or 40 years. It does not even tell you how you would have done over the cherry-picked decade, which would have depended on exactly when you got in and out of the market.

"Scientists and statisticians reject this sort of selective use of numbers, and when they calculate the long-term temperature trends for the earth, they conclude that it continues to warm through time. Despite the recent lull, it is an open question whether the pace of that warming has undergone any lasting shift. "

Do you notice what is missing from this reporting? That's right: any actual numbers. This is a report on trends in global temperatures over the past 15 years, which contains no actual data about trends in global temperatures over the past 15 years. It contains a lot of insinuations about how other people are making "selective use of numbers"—but it offers no numbers of its own, no graphs, no direct data that readers could look at and judge for themselves.

If you want numbers, you're going to have to go to Anthony Watts's blog, which takes on the Times report's characterization of the data.

As for the explanations of the global warming "plateau," there is this extraordinary insinuation.

"It turns out we had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either.... What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet. So, if past is prologue, this current plateau will end at some point, too, and a new era of rapid global warming will begin."

There is one enormous problem with this argument. Any warming that occurred before the mid-20th-century "plateau"—which was actually a minor multi-decade decline in temperatures—was almost certainly not due to human emissions of carbon dioxide, which didn't really take off until about 1950, precisely when the cooling started. Instead, it's pretty well established that the pre-1950 rise in temperatures was a recovery from the "Little Ice Age," a period of declining global temperatures that ended in about 1850.

But the most interesting conclusion from the Times article is this one:

"[G]iven how much is riding on the scientific forecast, the practitioners of climate science would like to understand exactly what is going on. They admit that they do not, even though some potential mechanisms of the slowdown have been suggested. The situation highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system, some of which cannot be closed until we get better measurements from high in space and from deep in the ocean."

But haven't we all been told, for decades now, that the science is settled and there's no excuse for doubt or dissent? And now we're being told that global warming isn't happening and nobody knows what is going on.

But they have theories, and the Times summarizes them.

"So the real question is where all that heat is going, if not to warm the surface. And a prime suspect is the deep ocean. Our measurements there are not good enough to confirm it absolutely, but a growing body of research suggests this may be an important part of the answer.

"Exactly why the ocean would have started to draw down extra heat in recent years is a mystery, and one we badly need to understand. But the main ideas have to do with possible shifts in winds and currents that are causing surface heat to be pulled down faster than before.

"The deep-ocean theory is one of a half-dozen explanations that have been proffered for the warming plateau. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be some mix of all of them."

And here we get to the deepest problem. There are "a half-dozen explanations," and all of them deserve to be considered except one: the theory that humans aren't causing the globe to warm.

This is the global warming alarmists' original sin against science. From the very beginning, their basic conclusion has been set in stone: man is causing catastrophic environmental disaster. They are open to debate on exactly how this is happening, how long it will take, and how to explain the gap between their predictions and the actual data. But what is not allowed is any re-evaluation of their pre-set conclusion.

This is what makes the global warming theory dogma instead of science.