More Climate Change Nonsense As the Mail on Sunday Gets Reality All Wrong

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 10 2013 10:30 AM

No, the World Isn't Cooling

earthonfire

Fire photo by peasap; Earth photo by NASA; composite by Phil Plait

When I heard that the Mail on Sunday ran a climate change article over the weekend, I knew it would be bad. But when I clicked the link and saw it was written by David Rose, I braced myself for the worst.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Man, sometimes I hate being right.

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Rose is a guy who denies climate change in the way creationists deny evolution, and flat-Earthers deny the Earth is, well, not flat. That is to say, with claims so ridiculously wrong it’s charitable to call them "ridiculously wrong."

The article in the Mail bears this out. In it, Rose makes a lot of jaw-dropping statements. To pick three, he says the world is cooling, Arctic sea ice increased 60 percent over last year at this time, and the International Panel on Climate Change is under so much attack they had to hold a "crisis" meeting.

These claims are at best misleading. The first and third are just wrong, and the second hugely cherry-picked. I’ll debunk these briefly here, but I’ll note you can get the grim details at the Guardian in a great article by Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham and at Discover magazine. Hot Whopper has a dissection as well.

Rose’s first claim is that the world is cooling. This is simply wrong. There’s long been a claim that global warming has stopped, but this too is wrong. Surface temperatures haven’t increased as much as they did a decade or so ago, but we now understand that the extra heat from global warming is getting stored in the oceans. Surface temperatures are a piece of the puzzle, but like their name implies, they don’t probe the depths of the problem. Remember too that nine of the 10 hottest years since 1880 have been in the past decade.

The second claim that the Arctic sea ice is now 60 percent higher over August 2012 is technically true but extremely misleading. In the summer of 2012 Arctic sea ice hit a record low. Given just how extreme it was, it’s not too surprising that it would not be as extreme this year. As you can see by the graph here, the sea ice extent (which essentially represents how much area is covered by ice) was incredibly low last year and is still lower than average this year. Rose makes this seem like the ice is on a huge rebound, but it’s more like getting a D- after getting an F on a test. Sure, it’s better, but it ain’t necessarily good.

sea ice extent graph
Sea ice extent for summer and fall of 2012 (dashed green line) and 2013 (solid blue line). The dark line is the average for 1981 - 2010.

Graph by the National Snow and Ice Data Center

Also, note the headline of the article that says, “Record Return of Arctic Ice Cap as it Grows by 60% in a Year.” That is grossly misleading, making it seem as if the sea ice is coming back. It isn’t. The sea ice grows and recedes with the seasons every year and has been on the decline since spring … and the overall trend over time is definitely downward.

Incidentally, sea ice extent is interesting, but it's not the best way to look at this. More important is the sea ice volume, which tells you the thickness. Ice can cover a lot of area, but if it’s thin, that’s not good; it melts more readily in the summer. Right now, the trend for sea ice volume is down. Way down.

The third claim is that the IPCC had to hold a “crisis” meeting because—get this—Rose’s articles in the Mail have caused such a furor. Such a claim would be fascinating if it were true. But Ed Hawkins, a U.K. climate scientist, says he explained to Rose there was no such “crisis” meeting via email and on the telephone while being interviewed by Rose for the article! This didn’t stop Rose from making the claim anyway.

Rose makes lots of other claims, most of which rely on cherry-picking data or predictions by scientists to make it look like they don’t know what they’re talking about. Further investigation (see the links already mentioned above debunking Rose’s nonsense) show he’s wrong about those, too.

All of this is exactly what I was expecting when I read his article. Making a mistake or two is one thing—I’ve made some myself—but his history on this topic (like here and here and here to name a few) makes me think his claims really are in the same league as those of flat-Earthers.

And while newspapers like the Telegraph are busily parroting Rose’s ridiculous claims, it’s nice to see others like the Washington Post getting it right. Climate change is serious business, and the last thing we need is more hot air about it.

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