October 26, 2009

“AP IMPACT: Statisticians reject global cooling”

This is an interesting headline.

We thought the debate is over global warming.

Apparently, not.

Last week, a poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press showed that there has been an erosion of the percentage of American’s who think that the earth is heating up.

And now, the AP’s Seth Borenstein is out there trying to find out whether or not the earth is cooling!

How things have changed during the past 10 years.

Borenestein had been hearing so much recently about the possibility that the earth has been cooling that he decided to go out and find some statisticians that could analyze the earth’s temperature history and give him some insight as to what has been going on:

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

Hmm. Why go to all the bother? This analysis has already been done numerous times. A recent example that clearly lays out the ups and downs of current temperature trends was posted about two weeks ago at the blog MasterResources.org. The figure below is taken from that post. It shows the current temperature trends from 5 to 15 years in length from all available global temperature datasets.

Figure 1. Each point on the chart represents the trend beginning in September of the year indicated along the x-axis and ending in August 2009. The different colored lines represent different temperature datasets as indicated. The trends which are statistically significant (<0.05) are indicated by filled circles. The zero line (no trend) is indicated by the thin black horizontal line, and the climate model average projected trend is indicated by the thick red horizontal line.

By judiciously selecting the time period and the dataset, you can make a case or cooling, warming, or neither.

Borenstein quoted John Christy who pretty well summed up the situation:

“It pretty much depends on when you start,” wrote John Christy, the Alabama atmospheric scientist who collects the satellite data that skeptics use. He said in an e-mail that looking back 31 years, temperatures have gone up nearly three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit (four-tenths of a degree Celsius). The last dozen years have been flat, and temperatures over the last eight years have declined a bit, he wrote.

In other words, over the last dozen years, the earth’s average temperature has remained relatively steady during a time period when the globe should be warming rapidly as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions—or at least that is what all of the climate models are projecting should be happening.

While you would think this would be headline news—”Global Warming Is Not Proceeding According To Plan”—instead, Borenstein opts to run a story primarily focused on various people struggling to explain why the decline in the earth’s temperature over the past 8 years really isn’t global cooling.

This biggest message from Borenstein’s article is that global warming proponents are starting to get irritated at the earth’s lack of cooperation. Especially with big national and international negotiations taking place on actions aimed at reducing the rate of global temperature rise. If the earth’s temperature isn’t rising along with greenhouse gas emissions as expected, then why all the bother?

This desperation is none more obvious than in remarks made by NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, as quoted by Borenstein:

NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt predicts 2010 may break a record, so a cooling trend “will be never talked about again.”

That’s pretty wishful, but unrealistic, thinking. After all, 10 years ago, the year 1998 smashed all previous global temperature records and yet today everywhere you turn, as evidenced most recently by Seth Borenstein’s article, you are greeted by discussions of global cooling.

It is hard to see how one year would end such talk forever.

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