Prepare for reanimation of the zombie myth ‘no global warming since 2016’

Climate myths are like zombies – you shoot them through the heart, walk away thinking they’re dead, and then they pop back up behind you and try once again to eat your brain.

So it is with Stage 1 climate denial and the myth that the Earth isn’t warming. It’s so persistent that it’s related to the 5th, 9th, and 49th-most popular myths in the Skeptical Science database. Climate deniers have been peddling the myth ‘no warming since [insert date]’ for over a decade.

It’s a popular myth among those who benefit from maintaining the status quo because if the problem doesn’t exist, obviously there’s no need for action to solve it. And it’s an incredibly easy argument that can be made at any time, using the telltale technique of climate denial known as cherry picking.

I created a video to illustrate this point. The key is that the Earth has natural short-term temperature oscillations caused by factors like the El Niño/La Niña cycle. El Niño events temporarily warm temperatures at the Earth’s surface, while La Niña events cause temporary surface cooling. When you combine these up-and-down cycles with a long-term human-caused global warming trend and various other noisy influences, you get a bumpy temperature rise that allows for cherry picking of periods without warming:

That’s what it looks like with artificial data. Using real global surface temperature data from NASA, I created a popular graphic called The Escalator, which has been featured the PBS documentary Climate of Doubt and used by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the Senate floor. The video below shows The Escalator with data updated through 2016:

No warming since 1998 2016

As The Escalator shows, we’re currently in a particularly hot period. 2014 was the hottest year on record, until 2015 broke that record, which we just broke again in 2016. This unprecedented heat has temporarily stopped the ‘no warming’ myth in its tracks, but like every zombie climate myth, it will inevitably rise again. Faux science journalists have already written fake news stories about temperatures falling between August and October 2016.

It’s only a matter of time before ‘no warming since 2016’ stories become common. That’s because there was a strong El Niño event that ended in 2016, very similar to the event that ended in 1998. The 1998 El Niño gave birth to the “no significant warming in 18 years” myth, which until recently was a favorite argument of deniers like Ted Cruz. In fact, earlier this week the House [anti-] Science Committee Twitter trolled “climate alarmists” by arguing that in satellite data, 2016 wasn’t that much hotter than 1998.

This myth was accurately critiqued by climate scientist Carl Mears and Admiral David Titley, as documented in the video below:


Coincidentally, there was about 0.25°C global surface warming between 1998 and 2016, which is why ‘no warming’ warped into ‘no significant warming.’ However, because of the record-shattering global heat of the past three years, the myth is likely to reset its cherry picked starting point to 2016.

Zombie myth seepage into climate science research

Between 2006 and 2014, the myth of ‘no warming since 1998’ became so pervasive on internet blogs and biased media outlets that it began to influence climate researchers. In 2015, Stephen Lewandowsky, Naomi Oreskes, and colleagues published a paper documenting what they termed “seepage” of this climate denial myth into the scientific community.

It’s true that in the years following 1998, there were a number of La Niña events and other factors that acted to temporarily dampen the human-caused global warming trend, as illustrated in the above videos. And these factors were certainly worthy of investigation by climate researchers.

However, the volume of research on the subject was a clear indication that the denier focus on the subject had seeped into the scientific community. As Lewandowsky and colleagues documented in their paper:

across all data sets, the recent change in the rate of warming constitutes a notably smaller deviation from the overall trend than were previous periods of accelerated warming.

Approximately 150 scientific papers were devoted to the slowdown, including entire special issues of the journal Nature and a discussion in the 2014 IPCC report. Similar short-term periods of accelerated warming were virtually ignored in the scientific literature.

Moreover, the scientific community adapted the use of inaccurate phrases like “hiatus” and “pause” to describe what was simply a short-term slowdown in global surface warming. Sometimes these phrases were redefined to refer to an apparent short-term discrepancy between models and observations (now resolved), which caused widespread confusion – a clear public communications failure.

Starting in 2008, public acceptance of global warming dipped, and has only now recovered eight years later.

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Posted by dana1981 on Friday, 6 January, 2017

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