With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don’t necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride. On the Lou Dobbs show (an evening news program on cable for those of you not in the US), the last few weeks have brought a series of embarrassing non-stories on ‘global cooling’ based it seems on a few cold snaps this winter, the fact that we are at a solar minimum and a regurgitation of 1970s vintage interpretations of Milankovitch theory (via Pravda of all places!). Combine that with a few hysterical (in both senses) non-scientists as talking heads and you end up with a repeat of the nonsensical ‘Cooling world’ media stories that were misleading in the 1970s and are just as misleading now.
Exhibit A. Last night’s (13 Jan 2009) transcript (annotations in italics).
Note that this is a rush transcript and the typos aren’t attributable to the participants.
DOBBS: Welcome back. Global warming is a complex, controversial issue and on this broadcast we have been critical of both sides in this debate. We’ve challenged the orthodoxy surrounding global warming theories and questioned more evidence on the side of the Ice Age and prospect in the minds of some. In point of fact, research, some of it, shows that we could be heading toward cooler temperatures, and it’s a story you will only see here on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Ines Ferre has our report.
INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will the day after tomorrow bring a deep freeze like that shown in the movie? Research more than 50 years ago by astrophysicist Milanchovich (ph) shows that ice ages run in predictable cycles and the earth could go into one. How soon? In science terms it could be thousands of years. But what happens in the next decade is still up in the air. Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat. But Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute predicts the next 20 to 30 years will actually bring cooling temperatures.
Dennis Avery is part of the ‘science community’? Who knew? And, while amusing, the threat of ‘man-maids’ causing global warming is just a typo. Nice thought though. Oh, and if you want to know what the actual role of Milankovitch in forcing climate is, look at the IPCC FAQ Q6.1. Its role in current climate change? Zero.
DENNIS AVERY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The earth’s temperatures have dropped an average of .6 Celsius in the last two years. The Pacific Ocean is telling us, as it has told us 10 times in the past 400 years, you’re going to get cooler.
For those unfamiliar with Dennis Avery, he is a rather recent convert to the
bandwagonidea of global cooling, having very recently been an advocate of “unstoppable” global warming. As for his great cherry pick (0.6º C in two years – we’re doomed!), this appears to simply be made up. Even putting aside the nonsense of concluding anything from a two year trend, if you take monthly values and start at the peak value at the height of the last El Niño event of January 2007 and do no actual trend analysis, I can find no data set that gives a drop of 0.6ºC. Even UAH MSU-LT gives only 0.4ºC. The issue being not that it hasn’t been cooler this year than last, but why make up numbers? This is purely rhetorical of course, they make up numbers because they don’t care about whether what they say is true or not.
FERRE: Avery points to a lack of sunspots as a predictor for lower temperatures, saying the affects of greenhouse gas warming have a small impact on climate change. Believers in global warming, like NASA researcher, Dr. Gavin Schmidt disagree.
I was interviewed on tape in the afternoon, without seeing any of the other interviews. Oh, and what does a ‘believer in global warming’ even mean?
DR. GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA: The long term trend is clearly toward warming, and those trends are completely dwarf any changes due to the solar cycle.
FERRE: In a speech last week, President-elect Obama called for the creation of a green energy economy. Still, others warn that no matter what you think about climate change, new policies would essentially have no effect.
FRED SINGER, SCIENCE & ENV. POLICY PROJECT: There’s very little we can do about it. Any effort to restrict the use of carbon dioxide will hurt us economically and have zero effect on the Chicago mate.
Surely another typo, but maybe the Chicago mate is something to do with the man-maids? See here for more background on Singer.
FERRE: As Singer says, a lot of pain, for no gain.
FERRE: And three independent research groups concluded that the average global temperature in 2008 was the ninth or tenth warmest since 1850, but also since the coldest since the turn of the 21st century.
DOBBS: It’s fascinating and nothing — nothing — stirs up the left, the right, and extremes in this debate, the orthodoxy that exists on both sides of the debate than to even say global warming. It’s amazing.
This is an appeal to the ‘middle muddle’ and an attempt to seem like a reasonable arbitrator between two opposing sides. But as many people have previously noted, there is no possible compromise between sense and nonsense. 2+2 will always equal 4, no matter how much the Hudson Institute says otherwise.
FERRE: When I spoke to experts and scientists today from one side and the other, you could feel the kind of anger about –
That was probably me. Though it’s not anger, it’s simple frustration that reporters are being taken in and treating seriously the nonsense that comes out of these think-tanks.
DOBBS: Cannot we just all get along? Ines, thank you very much.
Joining me now three leading experts in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re joined by Joseph D’Aleo of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project. Good to have with you us.
JOSEPH D’ALEO, CO-FOUNDER WEATHER CHANNEL: Thank you, Lou.
DOBBS: He’s also the cofounder of The Weather Channel. In Washington, D.C., as you see there, Jay Lehr, he’s the science director of the Heartland Institute. And in Boston, Alex Gross, he’s the cofounder of co2stats.com. Good to have you with us.
Well that’s balanced!
Let’s put a few numbers out here, the empirical discussion and see what we can make of it. First is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has very good records on temperatures, average temperatures in the United States, dating back to 1880. And here’s what these numbers look like. You’ve all seen those. But help us all — the audience and most of all me to get through this, they show the warmest years on record, 1998, 2006, and 1934. 2008 was cooler, in fact the coolest since 1997. It’s intriguing to see that graph there. The graph we’re looking at showing some question that the warming trend may be just a snapshot in time. The global temperatures by NOAA are seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1995.
So let me start, if I may, Joseph, your reaction to those numbers. Do you quibble with what they represent?
D’ALEO: Yes, I do. In fact, if you look at the satellite data, which is the most reliable data, the best coverage of the globe, 2008 was the 14th coldest in 30 years. That doesn’t jive with the tenth warmest in 159 years in the Hadley data set or 113 or 114 years in the NOAA data set. Those global data sets are contaminated by the fact that two-thirds of the globe’s stations dropped out in 1990. Most of them rural and they performed no urban adjustment. And, Lou, you know, and the people in your studio know that if they live in the suburbs of New York City, it’s a lot colder in rural areas than in the city. Now we have more urban effect in those numbers reflecting — that show up in that enhanced or exaggerated warming in the global data set.
D’Aleo is misdirecting through his teeth here. He knows that the satellite analyses have more variability over ENSO cycles than the surface records, he also knows that urban heat island effects are corrected for in the surface records, and he also knows that this doesn’t effect ocean temperatures, and that the station dropping out doesn’t affect the trends at all (you can do the same analysis with only stations that remained and it makes no difference). Pure disinformation.
DOBBS: Your thoughts on these numbers. Because they are intriguing. They are a brief snapshot admittedly, in comparison to total extended time. I guess we could go back 4.6 billion years. Let’s keep it in the range of something like 500,000 years. What’s your reaction to those numbers and your interpretation?
JAY LEHR, HEARTLAND INSTITUTE: Well, Lou –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’m sorry.
DOBBS: Go ahead, Jay.
LEHR: Lou, I’m in the camp with Joe and Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, and I think more importantly, it is to look at the sun’s output, and in recent years, we’ve seen very, very low sunspot activity, and we are definitely, in my mind, not only in a cooling period, we’re going to be staying in it for a couple decades, and I see it as a major advantage, although I think we will be able to adapt to it. I’m hopeful that this change in the sun’s output will put some common sense into the legislature, not to pass any dramatic cap in trade or carbon tax legislation that will set us in a far deeper economic hole. I believe Mr. Obama and his economic team are well placed to dig us out of this recession in the next 18 months to 2 years, but I think if we pass any dramatic legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the recession will last quite a few more years and we’ll come out of it with a lower standard of living on very tenuous scientific grounds.
DOBBS: Alex, the carbon footprint, generation of greenhouse gases, specifically co2, the concern focusing primarily on the carbon footprint, and of course generated by fossil fuels primarily, what is your thinking as you look at that survey of 130 — almost 130 years and the impact on the environment?
ALEX WISSNER-GROSS, CO2STATS.COM: Well, Lou, I think regardless of whatever the long-term trend in the climate data is, there a long- term technological trend which is that as time goes on our technology tends toward smaller and smaller physical footprint. That means in part that in the long term we like technology to have a smaller environmental footprint, burning fewer greenhouse gases and becoming as small and environmentally neutral and noninvasive as possible. So I think regardless of the climate trend, I think we’ll see less and less environmentally impactful technologies.
DOBBS: To be straight forward about this, that’s where I come down. I don’t know it matters to me whether there is global warming or we’re moving toward an ice age it seems really that we should be reasonable stewards of the planet and the debate over whether it’s global warming or whether it’s moving toward perhaps another ice age or business as usual is almost moot here in my mind. I know that will infuriate the advocates of global warming as well as the folks that believe we are headed toward another ice age. What’s your thought?
Curious train of logic there…
D’ALEO: I agree with you, Lou. We need conservation. An all of the above solution for energy, regardless of whether we’re right and it cools over the next few decades or continues to warm, a far less dangerous scenario. And that means nuclear. It means coal, oil, natural gas. Geothermal, all of the above.
DOBBS: Jay, you made the comment about the impact of solar sunspot activity. Sunspot activity the 11-year cycle that we’re all familiar with. There are much larger cycles, 12,000 to 13,000 years as well. We also heard a report disregard, if you will, for the strength and significance of solar activity on the earth’s environment. How do you respond to that?
Is he talking about me? Please see some of my publications on the subject from 2006, 2004 and 2001. My point above was that relative to current greenhouse gas increases, solar is small – not that it is unimportant or uninteresting. This of course is part of the false dilemma ‘single cause’ argument that the pseudo-skeptics like to use – that change must be caused by either solar or greenhouse gases and that any evidence for one is evidence against the other. This is logically incoherent.
FEHR: It just seems silly to not recognize that the earth’s climate is driven by the sun.
Your Chad Myers pointed out it’s really arrogant to think that man controls the climate.
This is a misquoted reference to a previous segment a few weeks ago where Myers was discussing the impact of climate on individual weather patterns. But man’s activities do affect the climate and are increasingly controlling its trends.
90 percent of the climate is water vapor which we have no impact over and if we were to try to reduce greenhouse gases with China and India controlling way more than we do and they have boldly said they are not going to cripple their economy by following suit, our impact would have no — no change in temperature at all in Europe they started carbon — capping trade in 2005. They’ve had no reduction in groan house gases, but a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in the standard of living. We don’t want to go that route.
What? Accounting for the garbled nature of this response, he was probably trying to say that 90% of the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour. This is both wrong and, even were it true, irrelevant.
DOBBS: Alex, you get the last word here. Are you as dismissive of the carbon footprint as measured by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
GROSS: No, not really. But I think in the long term, efficiency is where the gains come from. I think efficiency should come first, carbon footprint second.
DOBBS: Thank you very much. Alex, Jay, and Joe. Folks, appreciate you being with us.
FEHR: Thank you.
In summary, this is not the old ‘balance as bias‘ or ‘false balance‘ story. On the contrary, there was no balance at all! Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates whose use of erroneous-but-scientific-sounding sound bites is just a cover for their unchangable opinions that nothing should ever be done about anything. This may make for good TV (I wouldn’t know), but it certainly isn’t journalism.
There are pressures on journalists that conspire against fully researching a story – deadlines, the tyranny of the news peg etc. – but that means they have to be all the more careful in these kinds of cases. Given that Lou Dobbs has been better on this story in the past, seeing him and his team being spun like this is a real disappointment. They could really do much better.
Update: Marc Roberts sends in this appropriate cartoon: