Fact checking, National Post style: Lorne Gunter on global cooling (part 2)

When we last left LG, he’d managed to cram four or five howlers into the first paragraph of his latest National Post screed. Fearing the onset of RSI, I decided to take a break. But let’s resume …

Indeed, the drop in temperatures since late-2007 has been so precipitous –nearly a full degree Celsius– that almost all of the global warming that has occurred since the late-1970s has disappeared.

In fact, late 2007 looks cooler than the last month (January, 2009).


But maybe Gunter meant to cherrypick January, 2007 (i.e. early 2007 instead of late 2007).  Of course, that happens to have been a record or near-record month in all three data sets; even so, the difference between last month and that peak is much less than a “full” degree.

Anyway, it’s absurd to impute a trend based on variability from year to year, let alone any particular month. Inconvenient as it may be for Gunter, the fact is that each of the last three decades has been significantly warmer than the preceding one, as seen in the NOAA record.


That’s “global cooling”? Or “disappearing” global warming?

Finally, in the third paragraph, Gunter attempts to cite an actual study, in his vague “I-read-about-this-somewhere-but I-can’t-or-won’t-say-where” kind of way.

So last spring, when climate scientists at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology managed — finally — to use their supercomputer to recreate the climate of the past half-century, there was much anticipation of what their predictions would be for the next half. What they said was that global temperatures would continue to fall for at least another decade, perhaps longer.

This appears to be a reference to the Keenlyside et al paper published in Science last year. Unfortunately for Gunter, the authors did not claim that “global temperatures would continue to fall.” Rather, as the very opening sentence of the summary explains, they posited a “a reduced warming trend during the next 10 years”. [emphasis added]

So there would be no misunderstanding (you can’t blame them for trying), co-author Prof. Mojib Latif said:

Just to make things clear: we are not stating that anthropogenic climate change won’t be as bad as previously thought.

And eventually, explains Dr. Johann Jungclaus, “the anthropogenic climate change and the natural decadal variation will add leading to a much stronger temperature rise.”

Next, Gunter takes on the IPCC itself:

The IPCC further predicted temperatures this decade would rise 0.3C and by similar amounts every decade through 2100.

It’s not clear which decade Gunter is referring to. However, the IPCC projection to 2030 in the Fourth Assessment Report (chapter 10 Executive Summary)  is for warming of  0.2 deg C (not 0.3) per decade. (To be precise, the model ensemble average surface temperature rise for 2011-2030 varies slightly  between 0.62 and 0.67, depending on the emissions scenario, relative to the 1980-99 baseline. Over the 31 year period, that yields almost exactly o.2 deg per decade).

Gunter then weighs in on arctic sea ice.

Since last fall, Arctic ice has been expanding faster than at any time since satellite records became available in 1979. The ice cap is now only a fraction smaller than in 1980 — when it was at its largest.

But  in its March 3 update, the National Snow and Ice Data Center flatly contradicted the assertion that sea ice extent was close to the 1980 maximum in the satellite record.

Ice extent averaged for February 2009 is the fourth-lowest February in the satellite record…  February extent was 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) less than the 1979 to 2000 average, and 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles) less than for February 2008.

Working up to his big finish, Gunter then ratchets up the rhetoric, accusing climate scientists of “double think” in criticizing skeptics for basing arguments on a single year of data, but being guilty of the same themselves. He gives a couple of examples purporting to illustrate this “double think” phenomenon, including this gem:

Mark Serreze, one of the most prominent Arctic ice scientists in the world and a researcher at the U. S. National Snow and Ice Center, said last summer’s melt proved “Arctic ice is in its death spiral,” and would be completely gone each summer by 2030. [Emphasis added in this and subsequent quotes]

But Serreze empahasized that the current year’s melt only “reinforced” (not “proved”) the preexisting  overall trend. The full quote (from Reuters news service) was: “No matter where we stand at the end of the melt season it’s just reinforcing this notion that Arctic ice is in its death spiral.”

In fact, NSIDC has consistently emphasized the long term trend rather than any particular year’s melt, as in its September 16, 2008 report.

While above the record minimum set on September 16, 2007, this year further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years.

Serreze made much the same observations in an October, 2007 press release, before the 2008 melt supposedly was cited to “prove” the Arctic “death spiral.”

The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return. As the years go by, we are losing more and more ice in summer, and growing back less and less ice in winter. We may well see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer within our lifetimes.

Gunter’s assertion is completely unsupportable upon proper examination of the record.

So there you have it – there’s not one fact in this piece that checks out. That’s a remarkable achievement, even for Gunter.

Meanwhile, there’s nary a correction to be found a week and counting after publication, despite reader comments identifying many of the above errors.

Then again, the Post generally corrects errors of scientific fact or misrepresentations  of scientists’ views, as in the case of Nigel Weiss, only after the offended scientist issues a libel notice.

It’s a thought, although I suspect that Keenlyside, Serreze and the other scientists smeared by Gunter may have better things to do.


3 responses to “Fact checking, National Post style: Lorne Gunter on global cooling (part 2)

  1. Mike OConnor

    As a Software Engineer, I appreciate that there are many ways to look at a problem. But I have to say – it amazes me how passionate experts are on both sides of the global warming/global cooling debate. I have read a great deal on this topic over the last few years, and I have to say I’m just as undecided as when I began. I’d like to learn more. Is there an unbiased website you could recommend?

    [DC: Unfortunately the science has become politicized, mainly because of fossil-fuel industry funded misinformation. In my opinion, Realclimate.org is the best, most-detailed blog on climate change on the internet. But they do call a spade a spade, which some may interpret as “biased” editorializing. (Personally, though, I agree with their approach – I’m glad someone is correcting the misinformation). If you stick to all the backgrounders there, there is much straightforward detailed information. The Pew Center also has a good informative, climate change website.

    The other obvious place is to read the various scientific syntheses, starting with the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (for instance, read each chapter summary). Then move on to the more recent syntheses, such as the Copenhagen Congress and the U.S. CCSP report.]

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of a lie: How Marc Morano and Lorne Gunter spun Mojab Latif’s remarks out of control « Deep Climate

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