How climate change denial works

Chris beat me to the ludicrous ‘Global Warming is Over‘ story by David Rose in the London Daily Mail last October, but I wanted to finally delve into the issue a bit more, as it’s a great illustration of how climate change denialism works.

The Daily Mail attempted to claim (with the subsequent aid of Fox News, of course), that recent data proved that global warming had ended.  Or, at best, Fox claimed, scientists were conflicted about whether global warming was still happening.

Of course neither claim was true.  What the Daily Mail had done was choose a short-term period in which temperatures had cooled, and ignored the longer-term warming that has been happening for a while now in spite of these occasional mini-cooling respites.  (And since the early 80s, even the cooling is warming – look at the rate of cooling, it’s decreasing.)

What really caught my eye was this graph from Skeptical Science showing how the climate change deniers manipulate the data.  If you only look at a given 8 -year or so period, it looks like the temperature trend is downward.  It isn’t until you look at all the data spanning the last 40 years that you realize the trend is quite clearly in the direction of global warming:


The Daily Mail report that kicked off this last round of climate-change denialism makes clear that the reporter was aware of the data from 1980 to 1996 that refutes his argument. But he chose to only show the data from 1997 to 2012.

Looking at the complete data series shows why.  It shows absolutely no hint of the alleged ‘plateau’ in temperatures.

Temperatures were hotter in 1997-8 because of the El Niño event, which is a cyclic phenomena that causes temperatures to spike up. La Niña events have the opposite effect, causing temperatures to cool. So reporter Rose chose a year when El Niño caused temperatures to rise at the beginning of his ‘plateau’ and a La Niña event at the end.

But when you look at the past 62 years, even taking El Niño and La Niña events into account, it’s clear that the overall average global temperature is warming:

Data Source: NOAA Global Annual Temperature Anomalies 1950–2011 from State of the Climate : Global Analysis : Annual 2011, Graph via Wikipedia

Data Source: NOAA Global Annual Temperature Anomalies 1950–2011 from State of the Climate : Global Analysis : Annual 2011, Graph via Wikipedia

It’s difficult to believe that the Daily Mail’s error happened by accident. Especially when the reporter talked to experts who made clear that the problem is long-term warming, not what may or may not happen in the short term (i.e., the difference between “weather” (short term) and “climate” (long term)).

A “mistake” like this can only happen by searching through vast quantities of data, and then cherry-picking the data points that tell the story the propagandist wants to tell while ignoring all the rest.  Speaking of propagandists, look who was thrilled to repeal the lie:

And Fox’s broadcast was really quite ingenious. They can claim they presented “both sides,” when in fact there were never two sides to the question. One side was science, the other was manipulating data in a way that any reputable scientist would tell you was erroneous. But it permitted Fox to claim that “scientists” are now debating whether global warming is over, when they’re not doing any such thing – thus furthering the GOP propaganda claim that global warming might not be real, when it is.

The real climate change hoax is being perpetrated by those who claim it never existed in the first place.

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