Climate change denier claims 2015 wasn't the hottest year.

How Ridiculous a Claim Can a Climate Change Denier Make and Still Be Believed?

How Ridiculous a Claim Can a Climate Change Denier Make and Still Be Believed?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 1 2016 9:15 AM

Climate Change Denier Claims (Heh) That 2015 Wasn’t (Ha) the Hottest Year on Record (HAHAHAHA!)

Earth on fire

Photo illustration by Phil Plait. Photos by peasap/Flickr and NASA.

I (and many others) have shown that the loudest voices in the climate change denial noise machine have long since run out of any real credibility. There are numerous ways to reach that conclusion; for example you can look at how their claims have changed over the years (there’s no warming, there’s not much warming, it’s not warming enough to worry about, warming is good for plants, sure it’s warming but it’ll hurt our economy to do anything about it), you can look at their funding sources (tobacco and fossil fuel interests) whose tactics they deploy, or the fact that they rely on long-debunked claims instead of any real evidence.

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!  

But despite this, they do go on. And have no doubt: What they say has real-life consequences—life and death consequences, in fact, for millions of people. More. I’ll get back to that in a moment.


As the denial never seems to cease, I think they’re not only short on credibility, they’re also just short on ways to sell their snake oil. Their ideas get weirder and less believable every time they speak.

That’s the only conclusion I can draw when the claims I see now are so ridiculous, so outrageously, blatantly wrong that it’s hard to believe they can make them with a straight face.

I recently read an op-ed that falls firmly into this category, and it was no surprise at all that it came from James Taylor, from the bizarre world of the Heartland Institute. Remember them? They put up billboards comparing climate scientists to mass murderers, and when people were outraged at the obviously despicable claim (and they hemorrhaged donors because of it), they took the billboards down and, in Orwellian fashion, claimed victory.

So yeah, a view of reality twisted into a Möbius strip is just another day for them.


Taylor’s article was printed in Forbes, and right away, just from the headline, you know you’re about to take a trip into WTFery: “2015 Was Not Even Close to Hottest Year on Record.”

Forbes headline
All the news that's cherry-picked to print.


This is one of the wrongiest wrongs to have ever been wronged. Yes, far and away, without question, and where it counts, 2015 was the hottest year on record. Many, many temperature readings confirm that, and it’s not even close; even if you account for El Niño (which tends to make things warmer overall), 2015 blew away the previously hottest year of 2014.

So how can Taylor make this claim? Well, as usual, it’s to cherry-pick a very, very specific set of circumstances: Satellite measurements of a single layer of the atmosphere. As I (and many others) have shown, these satellite measurements are not terribly reliable over the long term, and are nowhere near as accurate as temperatures measured from the ground using thermometers.

Despite this, Taylor states, “By contrast, temperature measurements at the Earth’s surface are less reliable,” which is just flatly wrong. Seriously. It’s just complete fertilizer. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you read what actual climate scientists have to say about Taylor’s claims, because you’ll see words and phrases like “total fabrication” and “very misleading” and “disingenuous” and “inaccurate” and “wild misrepresentation.” I’m pretty gentle by comparison.


Here’s an analogy for you: Taylor saying satellite measurements show 2015 isn’t the hottest year is like inspecting a horrendous car crash, finding the steering wheel intact, and claiming the accident never happened.

The article is embarrassingly bad, even for an op-ed in Forbes (which has run several such comically wrong articles by Taylor in the past). It’s just so egregiously and obviously and in-your-face wrong, though, that I have to assume it’s aimed only at those who are ideologically predisposed to believe him, in an effort to sow doubt.

hottest year graph
Can you spot the hottest year on this graph? Click for an explanation.

Berkeley Earth

And that’s where the consequences come in. Because some of the people ideologically predisposed to use his claims as fodder are other deniers. And some of them have real power, like, say, Ted Cruz. R-Texas.

As a sitting senator (and hopeful GOP presidential candidate), Cruz has access to the best and most accurate science, yet he chooses to ignore it, or worse, actively squash it.


I am no fan of Cruz's, as you might imagine. He is incredibly disingenuous to the point of outright lying, as has been shown many, many times. Cruz distorts the truth so glibly that it’s impossible to know what he truly believes, so it’s possible he really does think the planet isn’t warming up. Or (as seems far more likely) it may be he’s purposely bending his interpretation of reality to match the ideologies of his audience and his benefactors (as I've wondered before, wouldn't it be interesting if senators had to swear to tell the truth during hearings in which they sit? Hmmm.)

But either way, Cruz is dead wrong about global warming. And he uses the same kind of satellite-based argument Taylor does. Cruz still claims warming has flattened since 1998, which has been shown to be so completely, utterly wrong in every way that his making that claim again speaks to his lack of veracity ... but still, Cruz runs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, where he trots these claims out as fact.

While it’s almost trivially easy to show that Taylor and Cruz are wrong, they still forge on ahead with as much inertia as global warming itself. In Taylor’s case he’s aided and abetted by such venues as Forbes (and other deniers can find refuge in such places as the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail, where, apparently, facts are optional).

Cruz has his own outlets, of course. And since an overwhelming tsunami of scientific evidence shows they’re both wrong, they have to rely on what is sadly a tried-and-not-true technique: barreling on, steamrolling over anyone who speaks against them, and hoping against hope that their own audience won’t call them on it.

Postscript: Speaking of calling them on it, Monday is the Iowa GOP caucus, so it’s important to note that not a single viable Republican presidential candidate has a good grasp on global warming.* A vote for any of them means at least four more years of doing nothing about what has been called by people who would know a threat to our national security. I agree. If someone denies basic science on an issue this important, they do not deserve the office of president.

*Correction, Feb. 1, 2016: This post originally misstated that Iowa's GOP primary is taking place Monday. It is a caucus.