“A Headline That Will Make Global-Warming Activists Apoplectic”

I saw this article in the newspaper today, “2017 Was One of the Hottest Years on Record. And That Was Without El Niño,” subtitled, “The world in 2017 saw some of the highest average surface temperatures ever recorded, surprising scientists who had expected sharper retreat from recent record years,” and accompanied by the above graph, and this reminded me of something.

A few years ago there was a cottage industry among some contrarian journalists, making use of the fact that 1998 was a particularly hot year (by the standards of its period) to cast doubt on the global warming trend. Ummmm, where did I see this? . . . Here, I found it! It was a post by Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics blog, entitled, “A Headline That Will Make Global-Warming Activists Apoplectic,” and continuing:

The BBC is responsible. The article, by the climate correspondent Paul Hudson, is called “What Happened to Global Warming?” Highlights:

For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures. And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise. So what on Earth is going on?

And:

According to research conducted by Professor Don Easterbrook from Western Washington University last November, the oceans and global temperatures are correlated. . . . Professor Easterbrook says: “The PDO cool mode has replaced the warm mode in the Pacific Ocean, virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling.”

Let the shouting begin. Will Paul Hudson be drummed out of the circle of environmental journalists? Look what happened here, when Al Gore was challenged by a particularly feisty questioner at a conference of environmental journalists.

We have a chapter in SuperFreakonomics about global warming and it too will likely produce a lot of shouting, name-calling, and accusations ranging from idiocy to venality. It is curious that the global-warming arena is so rife with shrillness and ridicule. Where does this shrillness come from? . . .

No shrillness here. Professor Don Easterbrook from Western Washington University seems to have screwed up his calculations somewhere, but that happens. And Dubner did not make this claim himself; he merely featured a news article that featured this particular guy and treated him like an expert. Actually, Dubner and his co-author Levitt also wrote, “we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve,” so I could never quite figure out in their blog he was highlighting an obscure scientist who was claiming that we were virtually assured of 30 years of cooling.

Anyway, we all make mistakes; what’s important is to learn from them. I hope Dubner and his Freaknomics colleagues learn from this particular prediction that went awry. Remember, back in 2009 when Dubner was writing about “A Headline That Will Make Global-Warming Activists Apoplectic,” and Don Easterbrook was “virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling,” the actual climate-science experts were telling us that things would be getting hotter. The experts were pointing out that oft-repeated claims such as “For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures . . .” were pivoting off the single data point of 1998, but Dubner and Levitt didn’t want to hear it. Fiddling while the planet burns, one might say.

It’s not that the experts are always right, but it can make sense to listen to their reasoning instead of going on about apoplectic activists, feisty questioners, and shrillness.

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