While 2016 is on track to easily surpass 2015 as the warmest year on record, some headlines, in otherwise prestigious news outlets, are still claiming that “2015 Was Not Even Close To Hottest Year On Record” (Forbes, Jan 2016) or that the “Planet is not overheating…” (The Times of London, Feb 2016). Media misrepresentation confuses the public and prevents our policy makers from developing a well-informed perspective, and making evidence-based decisions.
Professor Lord Krebs recently argued in an opinion piece in The Conversation that “accurate reporting of science matters” and that it is part of scientists’ professional duty to “challenge poor media reporting on climate change”. He concluded that “if enough [scientists] do so regularly, [science reporting] will improve – to the benefit of scientists, the public and indeed journalism itself.”
This is precisely what a new project called Climate Feedback is doing: giving hundreds of scientists around the world the opportunity to not only challenge unscientific reporting of climate change, but also to highlight and support accurate science journalism.
Global climate models (GCM) are designed to simulate earth’s climate over the entire planet, but they have a limitation when it comes to describing local details due to heavy computational demands. There is a nice TED talk by Gavin that explains how climate models work.
We need to apply downscaling to compute the local details. Downscaling may be done through empirical-statistical downscaling (ESD) or regional climate models (RCMs) with a much finer grid. Both take the crude (low-resolution) solution provided by the GCMs and include finer topographical details (boundary conditions) to calculate more detailed information. However, does more details translate to a better representation of the world?
What exactly is the greenhouse effect? And what does it look like if we view it from a new angle? Of course, we know the answer, and Raymond Pierrehumbert has written an excellent paper about it (Infrared radiation and planetary temperature). Computer code used in climate models contain all the details.
Ross McKitrick was so upset about a paper ‘Learning from mistakes in climate research’(Benestad et al., 2015) that he has written a letter of complaint and asked for immediate retraction of the pages discussing his work.
This is an unusual step in science, as most disagreements and debate involve a comment or a response to the original article. The exchange of views, then, provides perspectives from different angles and may enhance the understanding of the problem. This is part of a learning process.
Responding to McKitrick’s letter, however, is a new opportunity to explain some basic statistics, and it’s excellent to have some real and clear-cut examples for this purpose.
R.E. Benestad, D. Nuccitelli, S. Lewandowsky, K. Hayhoe, H.O. Hygen, R. van Dorland, and J. Cook, "Learning from mistakes in climate research", Theoretical and Applied Climatology, vol. 126, pp. 699-703, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00704-015-1597-5
What are the local consequences of a continued global warming? And what kind of future climate can you expect for you children? Do we expect more extreme events, and will a global warming affect the statistics of storms? Another question is how the local changes matters for local communities and the ecosystem.
It may be contrary to most people’s impression. We have a clearer picture of future climate changes on a global scale than of the local consequences associated with a global warming. And we know why.