Nigel Lawson suggests he's not a skeptic, proceeds to deny global warming

Nigel Lawson is the chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation; a political group that regularly releases selective scientific reports about climate change. The organization consistently tries to argue that concerns about global warming – concerns that are based on the full body of scientific evidence – are overblown, which would imply that there's less urgency to solve the climate problem.

In a recent interview with The Independent, Lawson implied that he doesn't consider himself "a climate-change sceptic," but immediately proceeded to deny that the planet is warming, and reject mainstream scientific estimates of the climate sensitivity to the increased greenhouse effect.

There is no global warming to speak of going on at the moment. If you look at the Met Office statistics, that's quite clear. But there could be, there clearly could. If it does happen, there would be a much slower process than the alarmists pretend.

The first statement is untrue on several levels. First, even the Met Office HadCRUT4 estimates of global surface temperatures show we're still in the midst of a warming trend (you can easily check the data for yourself with this tool). Second, the Met Office estimates have a known cool bias due to a lack of coverage in the Arctic, and estimates correcting for that bias show an even larger surface warming trend.

Third and most importantly, the atmosphere only accounts for about 2% of the warming of the planet as a whole. Over 90% of global warming goes into heating the oceans. Studies that account for the warming of the entire global climate have found that it continues unabated. In fact, the planet has built up heat at a rate equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second over the past 15 years.

Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012) Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue). From Nuccitelli et al. (2012)

This isn't the first time Lawson has suggested that global warming magically stopped 15 years ago. He made a similar false claim on BBC Radio 4 Today. The BBC's editorial complaints unit determined that the broadcaster broke its guidelines on due accuracy by allowing Lawson to make these false statements.

The BBC has used the excuse that Lawson was invited on the show to discuss climate policy, but that his inaccurate claims came when he strayed into the realm of science where he lacks expertise. That lack of expertise has never stopped Lawson from making inaccurate comments about climate science.

What about Lawson's assertion that future global warming will be conveniently slow? There have been a few papers suggesting the planet may not be as sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect as most studies indicate, and Lawson's GWPF has latched onto those outliers to argue that global warming in the coming decades will be slower than expected. However, recent research suggests that it's those outliers that are incorrect, and that mainstream climate sensitivity estimates are accurate. The full body of scientific evidence on this subject contradicts Lawson's argument.

Like Rupert Murdoch, Lawson appears to be getting his climate information from biased non-expert sources, and ignoring or rejecting the vast amount of scientific evidence and expert opinion that doesn't conform to his worldview. At least one of Lawson's implications in the Independent interview appears to be accurate; he certainly lacks skepticism when it comes to fringe scientific research that arrives at conclusions he finds convenient.

In the interview, Lawson also misrepresented the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

Yet how can he justify his position when 97 per cent of scientists say that global warming is happening now? Lawson corrects me: "It wasn't 97 per cent of scientists – but what they did was take a whole load of papers which they selected and then they said 97 per cent of the papers said, as I have, that it could well happen. The only people who are in the 3 per cent were people saying, 'No way it could ever happen.'"

No, the 97% expert consensus is that humans are the driving force behind global warming. The 3% of fringe papers outside the consensus say that humans are playing a minimal role in global warming.

That consensus is based on scientific evidence. Specifically, there is a global energy imbalance, with more energy entering the Earth's atmosphere than leaving it. This imbalance is a result of the increased greenhouse effect essentially trapping more heat in the climate system. As long as we continue adding carbon pollution to the atmosphere, the planet will keep warming. That's just basic physics.

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Posted by dana1981 on Monday, 28 July, 2014

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