Well-meaning souls innocently parrot the global warming narrative but generally know little of the controversies surrounding its validation, or lack thereof. That includes much of the mainstream media. Every warm day is evidence of global warming. Every cold day is evidence of extreme volatility brought on by climate change. Every big storm, every forest fire, and every endangered species is attributed to warming. The poles are melting, the sea is rising, the sky is falling, and it is mostly bullshit. But in the meantime, the mythology of global warming has become an all-purpose cudgel for state oversight and “redistributive justice”, primarily to the benefit of the “climate change industrial complex. The myths are repeated so frequently that many accept them as facts. Here, I list a few of these myths along with information that should give pause to anyone tempted to take them too seriously.
The science is settled: There are a number of great scientists who dispute the global warming narrative (and see here). But a few studies have claimed incredibly widespread consensus (97%) among scientists that mankind drives climate change. These studies are generally plagued by biased samples of scientists (sometimes including non-scientists), faulty selection and classification of paper abstracts, and direct involvement of climate activists in the research process. These studies tend to present the “consensus” as one side of a stark dichotomy, with no nuance or middle ground for those subscribing to anything less than the inevitability of a warming catastrophe.
Record high temperatures: The temperatures that are almost always reported are surface temperatures that are subject to extreme bias. The most drastic bias is caused by increasing urbanization. Urban weather instruments are often sited in areas with an increasing amount of impervious ground cover, which absorbs sunlight and heat, leading to the so-called “urban heat-island effect”. This has imparted an upward trend in urban temperature readings. Moreover, urban temperature readings tend to be over-sampled in estimates of global surface temperatures, reinforcing the distortions in measured warming.
Melting poles: Arctic sea ice extent has been in modest retreat since 1980, when satellite measurement began to allow more accurate readings. The Antarctic, however, has shown a trend in the other direction, as shown in this piece by Judith Curry. In the same article, Curry shows that specific Arctic locations had less sea ice 6,000 to 8,000 years ago than today. For more complete information on satellite-era trends in sea ice extent, see this informative reference page (scroll way down for Antarctic information). Looks like Al Gore’s dire prediction that the poles would melt by 2007 was just a little off target.
Polar bear extinction: We are constantly seeing warnings of polar bear extinction on social media. Memes feature desperate-looking bears stranded on ice floes, drifting away from their cubs. Perhaps you aren’t supposed to know that polar bears are extremely strong swimmers. Or that the polar bear population is been thriving, increasing by an estimated 10-20% since 2001. So whether or not the past few decades have seen a decline in sea ice, the bears seem be doing just fine.
Rising sea levels: The rate of increase in sea levels over the past 8,000 years has been vey slow relative to the 10,000 years prior to that, when they rose at rates of up to 5.5 meters per century. That compares to recent rates of about one foot per century. Predictions that islands in the Pacific would be swallowed by the seas have not come to pass. In fact, satellite images show that more of the world’s sandy shorelines accreted than receded between 1984 and 2016, This does not appear to be a crisis by any means.
Increasing storms: No, the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclone activity has decreased since 1900, a trend that has continued unabated over the past 20 years. I know of at least one study suggesting otherwise, but it is based purely on modeled relationships, not hard data, and not tested against data. The frequency and intensity of droughts and floods has been flat to declining as well. And while more weak tornadoes are detected today than in the past, the frequency of moderate to strong tornadoes has decreased over the past 45 years.
Desertification: Increases in carbon concentration have not been associated with desertification, as the media seem to have concluded. As noted above, the frequency of drought has been steady to declining. In fact, precipitation data suggests that patterns of variability in rainfall do not square with the predictions of climate models. In fact, the world has seen an increase in green vegetation since 1985, even in arid regions.
Ocean acidification: The reported declines in ocean pH levels over the past few centuries are actually smaller than the normal seasonal variation in pH levels. The presumed negative impact on sea life appears, after all, to be minimal to nonexistent (see the same link).
Higher alpine tree lines: We’ve been waiting. It hasn’t happened, but that hasn’t stopped some activists from stating it as established fact.
Armadillo northward migration: I’ve heard this cited as “proof” of global warming. The range of armadillos extended as far north as southern Missouri and Kansas in the early 1970s, so this isn’t new. In fact, armadillos began their migration northward into the U.S. before the mid-1800s. Some biologists have attributed the migration to warming but acknowledge many other reasons, including more forested habitat in the north and factors such as movement of cattle by rail. Armadillos burrow and are able to keep warm underground in the winter. Of course, a series of warm winters can bring them further north along with other species, but a few cold winters can take a toll on the population and push them south again.
U.S. carbon criminality: U.S. CO2 emissions have been in almost steady decline on a per capita basis for at least seven decades, long before the carbon freak-out began. The declines have resulted largely from the normal market process of competitive efficiency in production. China leads the world in total annual CO2 emissions by a wide margin, about 80% ahead of the U.S. in 2017. Total U.S. emissions actually declined in 2017 for the third straight year, while emissions in China, the EU, and for the world all increased. In fact, China was actually in compliance with its pledge under the Paris Accord despite the increase, so the pledge was not especially ambitious.
High social cost of carbon: The estimates used by the Environmental Protection Agency are plagued by poor methodology and are subject to great uncertainty. Some studies rely on a series of tenuous causal links, such as CO2 emissions to global temperatures to ice melt to sea level to real dollars of coastal damage many years hence, all without considering variances at each stage, and assuming zero effort to adapt or mitigate damages over long time frames. A shortcut approach relies on historical correlations between temperatures and such measures as heat-related deaths, labor productivity and real output. These estimates extrapolate old relationships to the distant future and ignore the very real human tendency to adapt. The underlying assumptions are undercut by such basic facts as ongoing migration to warmer regions. The estimates also fail to account for the likelihood that warmer weather will improve agricultural productivity.
The public’s interest in climate change has waned, and no wonder: sensible people do not buy hype and demands for sacrifice in the face of contradictory evidence. Revelations of statistical fraud have led to even more skepticism. And when your “proof” is founded on model extrapolation, often theoretically-based rather than empirically-based, you’re skating on thin scientific ice. At this link, Steven Hayward has an interesting take on the public’s increasingly jaundiced view of global warming activism:
“Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”