Published: 5:55 AM GMT on May 16, 2013
Magical Mystery Tour: Unicorns, Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster
I am taking a hiatus from my “What Can I Do Series.” This blog will focus on three stories in the press in the past few months that have been flaring up. They have been smoldering for years and I expect they will smolder for a few more years.
As background, more than a year ago I wrote a piece entitled Form of Argument: Adventures in Rhetoric. In that blog I named a number of items to look for in politically motivated articles on climate change. One of the most common forms of argument is to look at one item of information and to ignore other information. Once this information is put at the center of the argument, a set of yes or no questions or statements that suggest contradictory knowledge follow it. This form of argument produces doubt, amplifies uncertainty and effectively disrupts a societal or governmental response to climate change. Also in that original blog, I warned of emotional appeals that suggested dishonesty and disreputable behavior. In the following examples, these elements of argument appear (see also Changing the Media Discussion and Lemos and Rood on the Uncertainty Fallacy).
All of the items that I discuss below are items that have been addressed in this blog previously. A reason that I am writing about them this week is that recently other writers have put together excellent discussions of the scientific knowledge and the communication of that knowledge. Also I refer to the web site Skeptical Science which has an ongoing collection of arguments against climate change science and their counters.
The pause in warming: An article appeared in The Economist on whether or not the Earth was warming as fast as predicted. This is an argument that has been especially prevalent since about 2005. This particular emergence of the warming pause follows from an article in the Daily Mail that I wrote about in October, 2012. The Daily Mail article was obviously written with the goal of disruption.
From a scientist - citizen perspective, the Economist article is a good article and it demonstrates some of the perils of communication and science driven by public dialogue. For example, the surface global temperature plots were in the 1990s highly touted as a communication tool to provide the story to policy makers and the people. However, it is known to be too simplistic, and the models were never built as predictive models.
From a scientist perspective, the global surface temperature record is not a singular or robust measure of planetary warming. There is heat going into oceans and melting sea ice and melting ice sheets and melting permafrost. I think an interesting tension is that there is a growing literature that the Earth is heating faster than predicted, when all of these other measures of heating are considered.
Judith Curry has a recent post on the warming pause in which she summarizes David Appell’s article W[h]ither Global Warming: Has it slowed down?. In great detail the reasons why the surface temperature record is not a singular measure of planetary warming are discussed. As we search for the heat and find it, largely in the ocean, all observations suggest that the planet is warming, and that the dominant cause is human-generated greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
It has been a cold spring in the U.S.: The 2013 spring has been one of the most peculiar in my life. This follows 2012, which was just stunningly hot. 2013 has had a lot of record cold in the U.S. There has also been a lot of variability, record cold followed by record warm. Marshall Shepherd brought the article Cooler Spring Weather Does Not Equal a Cooling Climate to my attention. This article makes reference to a video from Climate.gov entitled Pockets of Cold on a Warming Planet. All I have to say here is the U.S. is not the world, globally March 2013 was the tenth warmest ever and for the past 337 months the global temperature has been higher than the twentieth century average. April will be number 338. Here is one of my old links on this subject Warm Cold Warm Cold.
Carbon Dioxide Increase is Good for the Plants and not Correlated with Temperature: There was an article in the Wall Street Journal, Defending Carbon Dioxide. I note that it was an opinion piece. It was full of opining with no cohesive basis in fact and isolated misrepresentation of fragments of knowledge. It misrepresents both climate knowledge and ecological knowledge. It was released to coincide with the atmospheric carbon dioxide crossing 400 parts per million. All I have to say about this is that carbon dioxide is a waste product and I can name numerous waste products that are good for plants. We choose to manage our sewage.
A note or two: I am glad to see in the various articles I reference here scientists becoming more circumspect about how we communicate about climate change. We see a number of places where attempts to make communication simple contributes to perpetuation of disruptive political arguments. We set up the isolated piece of information that falls prey to the yes-no questions that generate doubt.
And as for 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide – “never before experienced by humans.” That was true for 399, 398, 397 … and it will be true for 401, 402, 403 ... Silly.
From Skeptical Science which has an on going collection of arguments against climate change science and their counters.
Moderation of comments: I have been getting more and more complaints about what is going on in the comments. WU and I will be addressing this. To start, here is a modified version of Dr. Master’s Blog Contents Rules.
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