Charles Krauthammer's flat-earther global warming folly

Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer recently wrote an opinion piece that was published by many media outlets including The Washington Post, claiming that President Obama's Climate Action Plan is a "folly." In fact, the real follies lie in Krauthammer's arguments.

Krauthammer's article begins in a schizophrenic manner, claiming that "Global temperatures have been flat for 16 years — a curious time to unveil" a climate action plan, but then admitting that this "doesn't mean there is no global warming." Indeed it does not. In fact, over the past 16 years, the planet has accumulated an amount of heat equivalent to about 2 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations. Krauthammer objects to the President's comment that "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," because we don't understand everything about the Earth's climate, like exactly why surface temperatures have warmed relatively slowly over the past 16 years (though we do have a good idea).

Of course, the choice of the 16-year window is a juicy cherry pick. It puts the starting point right at the formation of the 1997–1998 El Niño, one of the strongest in the past century. During El Niño events, heat is transferred from the oceans to the air, causing abnormally hot surface temperatures. Focusing on the slow surface air warming over the past 16 years is like arguing that your car is broken because it slowed down as you approached a stop sign. Krauthammer is focusing on an unrepresentative period during which the overall warming of the planet continued, but less heat was used in warming the air, and more in warming the ocean. However, climate research suggests that this is just a temporary change, and surface air warming will soon accelerate again.

Krauthammer also complains that "flat-earthers like Obama" have blamed heat waves on human-caused global warming. Indeed, recent research has shown that Australian heat waves and record-breaking monthly temperature records in general are now five times more likely to occur due to global warming, with much more to come. Papers have concluded that several individual heat records, like those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010, would not have been broken if not for human-caused global warming. The video below from NASA shows how the distribution of summer temperatures has shifted towards hotter values over the past 60 years, making these heat records more likely to occur.

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center GISS and Scientific Visualization Studio

Krauthammer goes as far as to claim,

"It's flat-earthers like Obama who cite perennial phenomena such as droughts as cosmic retribution for environmental sinfulness."

In reality, research has shown that human-caused global warming has made droughts and heat waves more likely to occur.

After getting the science wrong while repeatedly wrongly calling the President of the United States a "flat-earther," Krauthammer goes on to claim that the US doesn't need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants because "The United States has already radically cut carbon dioxide emissions". That is, if you think a 7.7 percent decrease over 6 years is "radical." These cuts have come for two main reasons - the US has transitioned away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy, and because of the recent economic recession.

Of course we can't rely on a permanent recession – our economy is already slowly recovering – and government greenhouse gas regulations will just make the transition away from coal power happen more quickly. Our goal is to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. We're on pace to meet that target, but that includes the reduced emissions from the recession. So if we're going to meet that goal in a recovering economy, we need a faster transition away from coal energy.

Next Krauthammer tries to say that US greenhouse gas emissions don't matter because China's emissions are higher and growing. This neglects the fact that historically, the US has emitted nearly 3 times more carbon despite having a population one-quarter that of China. Moreover, contrary to Krauthammer's claims that they refuse to take climate action, China is launching several local carbon emissions trading systems and has implemented policy changes to stop increasing its coal use. The presidents of China and the USA also recently agreed to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons – powerful greenhouse gases. Using China as an excuse to irresponsibly shirk America's climate responsibilities just won't fly anymore.

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Posted by dana1981 on Wednesday, 10 July, 2013

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