Saturday, August 11, 2007

This Week in Denial

There was great joy along the river when indefatigable statistician (and denier) Steve McKintire discovered an anomaly in the GISS data. He reported it to NASA and recalculations were made. The result, hailed by denialist bloggers, talk show hosts, and the benighted everywhere, was that 1934, in the United States, which had previously been a statistically insignificant 0.01 C cooler than 1998, was now a still statistically insignificant 0.02 C warmer than 1998.

This, according to the usual suspects, was proof that global warming was a myth, that James Hansen should be fired or worse, and that the Earth was indeed flat, as they had known all along. Now it is true that 1934, like 1998, was indeed very hot - it was the height of the dust bowl, and much of the Southcentral US was blowing away. It's also true that, as usual, our river dwelling friends don't seem to grasp the meaning of the word "global" in the phrase "global warming." The global trends were not noticably affected by this change in the temperature status of a couple of percent of the planet, and the global warming trend is unaffected.

Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate has the details in 1934 and all that. He also has an explanation of why these occasional recalculations are necessary (mainly trying to compensate for the effects of urbanization).

It's good, I suppose, that the people of the river had something to cheer about, because Sharon Begley of Newsweek had a cover story on the denial industry: The Truth about Denial. The contents aren't news to those of us who have followed the doings of Exxon Mobile and its agents and allies, but they may be new to the Newsweek audience. An excerpt:

[California Senator Barbara]Boxer figured that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered." As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. "I realized," says Boxer, "there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."

. . .

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. "They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry," says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. "Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That's had a huge impact on both the public and Congress."

The whole story is well worth reading.