The 5 stages of climate denial are on display ahead of the IPCC report – Antiscience forces running damage control in the mediaPosted by Jim at Monday, September 16, 2013
By Dana Nuccitelli
15 September 2013
(The Guardian) – The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is due out on September 27th, and is expected to reaffirm with growing confidence that humans are driving global warming and climate change. In anticipation of the widespread news coverage of this auspicious report, climate contrarians appear to be in damage control mode, trying to build up skeptical spin in media climate stories. Just in the past week we've seen:
- The David Rose Mail on Sunday piece that treated scientific evidence in much the way bakers treat pretzel dough.
- Dr. John Christy interviewed by the Daily Mail;
- Christy's colleague Dr. Roy Spencer in The Christian Post;
- Andrew Montford in Rupert Murdoch's The Australian;
- Matt Ridley in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal; and
- Bjorn Lomborg in The Washington Post.
Interestingly, these pieces spanned nearly the full spectrum of the 5 stages of global warming denial.
Stage 1: Deny the Problem Exists
Often when people are first faced with an inconvenient problem, the immediate reaction involves denying its existence. For a long time climate contrarians denied that the planet was warming. Usually this involves disputing the accuracy of the surface temperature record, given that the data clearly indicate rapid warming.
In the 1990s, Christy and Spencer created a data set of lower atmosphere temperatures using measurements from satellite instruments. These initially seemed to indicate that the atmosphere was not warming, leading Christy, Spencer, and their fellow contrarians to declare that the problem didn't exist. Unfortunately, it turned out that their data set contained several biases that added an artificial cooling trend, and once those were corrected, it was revealed that the lower atmosphere was warming at a rate consistent with surface temperature measurements.
Most climate contrarians have come to accept that the planet has warmed significantly. Unfortunately many have regressed back into Stage 1 denial through the new myth that global warming magically stopped 15 years ago (most recently exemplified by David Rose in the Mail on Sunday). The error in that argument involves ignoring about 98 percent of the warming of the planet, most of which goes into heating the oceans. When we account for all of the data, global warming actually appears to be accelerating. […]
Stage 2: Deny We're the Cause
Once people move beyond denying that the problem exists, they often move to the next stage, denying that we're responsible. John Christy and Roy Spencer took this approach by disputing the accuracy of global climate models in The Daily Mail and The Christian Post, respectively. Spencer was quite explicit about this:
...we deny "that most [current climate change] is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community."
Christy and Spencer made their case by comparing the outputs of 73 climate models to satellite temperature measurements, and showing that the models seemed to predict more warming than has been observed. But the comparison was not of surface temperatures, or of the lowermost layer of the atmosphere, or even any measurement global average temperatures. They specifically looked at measurements of the temperature of the middle troposphere (TMT) in the tropics.
There's certainly nothing wrong with examining this particular subset of temperature data, but it's a bit of an odd choice on its face. The real problem lies in the fact that satellite measurements of TMT are highly uncertain. In fact, estimates of the TMT trend by different scientific groups vary wildly, despite using the same raw satellite data.
Another problem is that the stratosphere (the layer of the atmosphere above the troposphere) is cooling – an expected consequence of the increased greenhouse effect. But some of the cooling stratosphere bleeds into the TMT data, leading to another cool bias. While there is a discrepancy between model simulations and measurements of tropical troposphere temperatures, it's not clear how much (if any) is due to the models being wrong, and how much is due to errors in the measurements. As a U.S. Climate Change Science Program report co-authored by John Christy concluded,
"This difference between models and observations may arise from errors that are common to all models, from errors in the observational data sets, or from a combination of these factors. The second explanation is favored, but the issue is still open."
However, in mainstream media interviews and editorials, Christy and Spencer always fail to mention the possibility that the problem could lie more in the measurements than the models, which frankly is intellectually dishonest. Additionally, climate models have done very well in projecting long-term global surface temperature changes. [more]