When it Comes to Climate Change, Errors Abound

“A Matter of Fact,” a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, challenges the Washington Post to correct George F. Will’s “Dark Green Doomsayers” column, published February 15th. The report, by CAP’s Brad Johnson, asserts that George Will made three factual errors:

  • Current “global sea ice levels” equals those of 1979
  • There hasn’t been warming in “more than a decade”
  • “Global cooling” joins a list of well publicized “planetary calamities that did not happen.”

Will’s column is not perfect, and Johnson raises some valid questions. For the sake of intellectual honesty, however, Johnson should broaden his fact-checking scope to incorporate misstatements on both sides of the global warming debate—including his own fudging of the truth.

But first, let’s address CAP’s critique of Will’s column.

Error 1. It seems that Will is guilty of delay. On the one hand, the University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center, the source of his assertion that global sea ice levels haven’t changed in 30 years, publically disavowed Will’s claims. On the other, ACRC reported on January 1, 2009 that global sea ice levels were “near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979.” Will’s column appeared 45 days later, during which the discrepancy between current levels and 1979 levels grew by 8%.  If anything, this demonstrates the perils of reporting on an ever-changing global climate.

Error 2. CAP and George Will have it wrong. Will wrote that it hasn’t warmed in “more than a decade,” while Brad Johnson claims that “global warming is continuing.” According to data from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, compiled by NASA’s Dr. Roy Spenser, there has been no statistical warming of lower atmosphere temperatures over the past seven years, despite the fact that global greenhouse gas emissions have increased.

Error 3. Will is right and CAP is wrong. Johnson notes that there was never a “scientific consensus” on global cooling, but that’s not what Will claimed. He only wrote that some scientists and media outlets warned of global cooling, which is true.

I am an unabashed global warming “denier,” but I nonetheless applaud Brad Johnson’s efforts. On the topic of global warming, misrepresentations of the science abound, and we in the energy/global warming policy community should root them out and expose them with vigilance.

With that in mind, I have a “Matter of Fact” list of my own:

Fiction: Al Gore claims in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, that “there is one relationship that is more powerful than all the others and it is this. When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer ….”

Fact: It hasn’t warmed in 7 years, despite a steady increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. Where’s the Warming, Al?

Fiction: Dr. James Hansen, ultra-alarmist, has suggested that a 2-3 degree warming would cause sea levels to rise by 80 feet. Hansen then lowered his estimation to 20 feet. His most recent estimate is “at least” 3.2 to 6.4 feet.

Fact: The preeminent body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that a 2-3 degree warming would cause sea levels to rise 7 to 23 inches.

Fiction: In 1986, Dr. John P Holdren, President Barack Obama’s choice to become White House Science Adviser, is quoted as having said that global warming could cause the deaths of 1 billion human beings by 2020. During his confirmation hearing two weeks ago, Holdren was questioned about this claim, and said that “it is still possible.”

Fact: To fulfill Holdren’s alarmist warning, climate change would have to kill twice as many people as died in World War Two, each year, for the next ten years.

Fiction: The Center for American Progress’s Brad Johnson last summer reported that the death of two Boy Scouts in Iowa was “evidence” of “the consequences” of global warming.

Fact: As recently noted on Roger Pielke Jr’s Prometheus, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters cautions that “justifying the upward trend in hydro-meteorological disaster occurrence and impacts essentially through climate change would be misleading.”