Summary: Telling the public about climate change is among the most difficult challenges for journalists, ever. Complex, rapidly changing, no consensus among scientists beyond a few basics about mechanisms and history, and highly politicized. Here we look at two examples, good and not-so-good. These show progress, and also how the Left’s dogmatic adherence to its narrative has forced them to abandon science (a commonplace in history for both Left and Right).
(1) Good journalism
Sample #1: “Scientists now know why global warming has slowed down and it’s not good news for us“, Jeffery DelViscio, Quartz, 27 February 2015.
They accurately report two studies. They quote scientists — not activists. They often put things in context. Most important, they break the Left’s narrative of denying the pause, which for several years been one of the hot topics in climate science.
Roberts told Quartz that this all suggests our current warming pause is unique, but, despite the low probability, it is also “very possible” that the pause could continue a few more years. And that wouldn’t be inconsistent with what we know about the effects of the heat-trapping ocean oscillations at work in the Science study.
… >Some even say that 2014, the hottest year on record, already marked the end of the hiatus. But Roberts of the Met Office advised caution before calling it officially off. “I would argue that we need a run of several unusually warm years to be able to definitively identify the end,” he said.
All of the researchers who spoke to Quartz about the two studies agreed that the warming pause was just that. “Eventually we expect temperatures to ‘catch up,’ but it may take longer than five years for that to happen,” Roberts told Quartz.
The article’s overall frame is, however, incorrect. Individual scientists have theories about the cause(s) of the pause. But there is as yet no consensus on this. See for yourself by reading abstracts of (and links to) 37 articles describing of the major 12 theories about causes of the pause, many by leaders in this field.
Saying that the pause will end with accelerating warming (which seems to be a strongly held consensus view) raises the question as to when? Unfortunately there is little published yet about this, and even less of a consensus. One of the studies mentioned gives an answer:
… Although the absolute probability of a 20-year hiatus is small, the probability that an existing 15-year hiatus will continue another five years is much higher (up to 25%). Therefore, given the recognized contribution of internal climate variability to the reduced rate of global warming during the past 15 years, we should not be surprised if the current hiatus continues until the end of the decade. Following the termination of a variability-driven hiatus, we also show that there is an increased likelihood of accelerated global warming …
(2) Not so good journalism
Sample #2: “Scientists just blew apart the myth of the global warming ‘pause’”, Lindsay Abrams, Salon, February 2015 — “A new study explains why manmade warming has appeared to slow down — and why it’s due to ramp up again soon.”
The most important part of an article is the headline, often not written by the author. This one supports the Left’s science denial, since dozens of articles explicitly discuss the “pause” (or “hiatus”) in warming of the surface atmosphere since roughly 2000 (here are 2 dozen abstracts and links about the pause, plus the 3 dozen cited above). Their efforts to hide this from the public have accomplished nothing but reducing their credibility, plus that of the journalists assisting them.
The opening is weak: “The so-called “pause” in global warming, object of much scientific study and climate denier mockery, is a mystery no more.” It’s activists’ favorite trope: a new study proves me right. That’s not how science works. These two studies add to the dozens of others exploring causes of the pause; as yet there is no consensus.
It’s downhill from there, as the article conflates the large body of skeptics (who generally agree largely with the IPCC, but not with the activists’ exaggerations of its findings) with the clown car of deniers:
It’s tempting to want to gloat about the findings which, along with the news that scientists directly observed carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere, have the makings of the ultimate “so there!” to climate deniers. (Except they probably won’t: just this afternoon, Sen. Jim Inhofe was tossing a snowball on the Senate floor to illustrate a rant about the “global warming hoax.”)
There is little or nothing in these 2 new studies contrary to the views of most “skeptic” scientists (and amateur experts). In fact they were pointing to a large role for natural cycles (ENSO, El Nino, AMO) when the consensus said otherwise (ditto for the theory that the warming is going to the oceans. Eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr was declared a “denier” for saying that before it became a consensus theory).
The penultimate paragraph is suitable alarming:
But the true implications of the study are far more sobering than that. Natural variations may have partially offset the warming caused by human activity for the time being, the study warns, but based on past variation, that trend “will likely reverse” soon, “adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades.”
Unfortunately the word “soon” is the authors’ addition. One of these papers gives no date for the pause ending. The other says that the odd of it continuing for five years are 25%, and the odds of another 10 years are “small.” Other scientists give estimates ranging from soon to decades from now. There is as yet no consensus. But the final paragraph is spot-on. We can thank both Left and Right for politicizing this important issue so that precious time has been wasted.
“That is perhaps the most worrying implication of our study,” Mann writes at RealClimate, “for it implies that the ‘false pause’ may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change.”
(3) For More Information
Journalists have risen to meet the challenge of covering climate change, although it’s taken 20 years. For an example of excellent coverage see the New York Times: “Consider Clashing Scientific and Societal Meanings of ‘Collapse’ When Reading Antarctic Ice News” by Andrew C. Revkin.
Both Left and Right often reject science when it contradicts their beliefs. See the new study “The Partisan Brain: How Dissonant Science Messages Lead Conservatives and Liberals to (Dis)Trust Science“, Erik Nisbet et al, Here’s the Ohio State press release describing it. The March issue has several other articles about this subject.
Key posts about climate change: Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade., with abstracts and links to 37 articles describing 12 theories about causes of the pause. And One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end? with abstracts and links to 15 articles giving predictions from very soon to several decades from now.
Posts about the political debate about climate change:
- Watch the Left burn away more of its credibility, then wonder why the Right wins.
- Scientists speak to us about the warming pause, while activists deny their work.
- Climate denial by Left & Right dominates the public debate.
- More good news about the climate, giving us a priceless gift.