Meanwhile, Back on the Climate Ward…

by | Jan 15, 2011

Bob Ward asks

Why have UK media ignored climate change announcements?

Yesterday’s announcement that 2010 tied for the warmest year ever recorded on Earth was ignored by nearly all UK media outlets. How can this be?

Many people have offered their ideas about how this can be in the comments below his article. Ward is not given to listening, but in this case, he might be able to claim that the censorious instincts of the Guardian’s comment editors have prevented such advice from reaching him. Here’s some more advice to Ward, anyhow.

The fact — if it is one — that 2010 was the ‘hottest year’ was ‘known’ before 2010 began. In December 2009, the Met Office announced:

Climate could warm to record levels in 2010

A combination of man-made global warming and a moderate warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as El Niño, means it is very likely that 2010 will be a warmer year globally than 2009. […] The latest forecast from our climate scientists, shows the global temperature is forecast to be almost 0.6 °C above the 1961–90 long-term average. This means that it is more likely than not that 2010 will be the warmest year in the instrumental record, beating the previous record year which was 1998.

This statement had the following caveat:

A record warm year in 2010 is not a certainty, especially if the current El Niño was to unexpectedly decline rapidly near the start of 2010, or if there was a large volcanic eruption. We will review the forecast during 2010 as observation data become available.

The Met Office’s recent predictions have done more to damage their credibility than their successes have engendered confidence. The curious affair of its ‘secret’ cold winter advice to government comes at the end of a series of problems that the MO has made for itself, and now makes it seem yet more intransigent, and raises yet more questions about the purpose of forecasting. Do we forecast so that we can be ready for wind, rain, and snow; or is prediction now a political exercise — a ritual designed to remind us of something? This simple question is given greater weight, I believe, when we notice that contemporary politics completely devoid of almost any other substantive discussion about the future. The forecast decides our future for us — it is politically, morally, economically instructive.

And so it is a surprise to find to find MO staff treating their task so casually. For instance.. The 2010 forecast, made in late 2009, was another of its annual rituals, as sure as the seasons themselves…

Each December or January the Met Office, in conjunction with the University of East Anglia, issues a forecast of the global surface temperature for the coming year. The forecast takes into account known contributing factors, such as El Niño and La Niña, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, the cooling influences of industrial aerosol particles, solar effects, volcanic cooling effects if known, and natural variations of the oceans.

So, it looks as though the MO may have got it right in 2010. But, in 2007, its report promised.. exactly the same,

The world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007, the UK’s Met Office says.

An extended warming period, resulting from an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean, will probably push up global temperatures, experts forecast. [Jan 4 2007.]

… So, what’s the point in all those staff and computer equipment, if all you need to do to make a ‘forecast’ is to say the same thing over and over until it happens?

But the El Nino didn’t turn out to have the force behind it that the MO had imagined, and both quickly changed direction. Said the Guardian in August that year,

The forecast from researchers at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter reveals that natural shifts in climate will cancel out warming produced by greenhouse gas emissions and other human activity until 2009, but from then on, temperatures will rise steadily. Temperatures are set to rise over the 10-year period by 0.3C.

As we pointed out in early 2008, the MO’s, err… MO was straightforward…

The MO’s MO was to puts its money either on the developing El Nino or La Nina trend. And when global temperatures are getting as low as they have been in nearly three decades, predicting ‘a cold spell’ is no work of genius, and neither is the ‘prediction’ that it will get warm again… at some point. As we said, in April 2008, as snow covered the UK.

From here, it is likely that temperatures will rise after 2010, and that an El Nino event would follow, driving temperatures up again. Safe to say that the MET is on the money when it predicts an increase in 2010. Possibly. Maybe. either way, we have to wait… and remember… until 2010 to see if the gamble pays off.

Was this any more sophisticated a form of forecasting than this game show from the 1980s…

[youtube AQGCE0LnIRQ]

Meanwhile, the Met Office continued to make the same order of claims…

2008 is set to be cooler globally than recent years say Met Office and University of East Anglia climate scientists, but is still forecast to be one of the top-ten warmest years. … Global temperature for 2008 is expected to be 0.37 °C above the long-term (1961-1990) average of 14.0 °C, the coolest year since 2000, when the value was 0.24 °C

2009 is expected to be one of the top-five warmest years on record, despite continued cooling of huge areas of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as La Niña.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 2008 forecast was better than the 2009. 2008 came in tenth warmest year, but 2009 did not make the top 5. (According to the Hadley Centre).

Rank year temp. Anom.
1 1998 0.82
2 2005 0.747
3 2007 0.678
4 2006 0.669
5 2002 0.664
6 2003 0.646
7 2009 0.642
8 2004 0.611
9 2001 0.552
10 2008 0.528

But this post is supposed to be about 2010, and Bob Ward’s complaint that the media have ignored its record high temperature…

Not only was it ‘known’ that 2010 was the hottest ever year before it had even started, the claim was repeated by meteorologists and the media, throughout the year.

Just ten days into 2010, and the Guardian’s Robin McKie reported that,

It may be a hard notion to accept after a week that has seen the nation paralysed by snow and ice. Nevertheless, meteorologists are adamant that our world is still getting warmer. Indeed, many now believe that 2010 may turn out to be the hottest year on record.

‘It’s early days’, said the BBC’s Paul Hudson in February, ‘but it’s definitely first blood to NASA, The Met Office Hadley Centre and others in forecasting 2010 to be the warmest year on record.’

‘March and April warmest ever’, reported the Christian Science Monitor in May, and pointed to a US National Research Council report, which

…called for accelerated action to curb greenhouse gases, greater emphasis on research into technologies that will help wean the US from its fossil-fuel habit, and more focus on adaptation to global warming.

Later in May, Jonathan Leake of the Times said,

CLIMATE scientists have warned that 2010 could turn out to be the warmest year in recorded history. They have collated global surface temperature measurements showing that the world has experienced near-record highs between January and April.

‘June Was the Fourth Consecutive Month That Was Warmest on Record’, announced Science Daily, in July.

Later that July, the National Geographic added,

Thanks to a combination of global warming and an ocean-warming El Niño event, 2010 is set to become one of the hottest years ever recorded, a new report says.

In August, CBS reported that ‘Last month was the second warmest July on record, and so far 2010 remains on track to be the hottest year.’

In September, Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post claimed, ‘2010 headed toward being hottest year on record’.

While the year’s not over yet, 2010 is on track to tie 1998 as the hottest one on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that the first eight months of 2010 tied the same period in 1998 for the warmest combined land and ocean surface temperature on record worldwide.

The UK’s other alarmist newspaper, The Independent, repeated a claim from alarmist reinsurance firm, Munich Re, that 2010 had been an “‘exceptional year’ for weather disasters”.

2010 has so far been the warmest since measurements began 130 years ago. New temperature records were set in Russia (37.8 degrees centigrade) and in Asia (53.5 degrees in Pakistan).

As the year drew towards a close, and the COP16 talks began, Vicky Pope of the Met Office told Bloomberg,

The average temperature for the year through October shows 2010 will be one of the two warmest years in a series that goes back to 1850, said Vicky Pope, head of climate science at the Met Office. Scientists at the agency are preparing to revise data since 2000 to adjust for a new method that masked some of the rising temperature trend, she said.

And before the year was even out, the Telegraph headline read,

Cancun climate change summit: 2010 was hottest year on record

So to Bob Ward, we can say that the story he felt the media had ignored had in fact been running constantly throughout the year — all of it premature, and much of it . It was old by the time it was news. Far from being ignored, the press, meteorologists and politicians had been using the story to effect alarm, and momentum for their agendas. And perhaps that’s why the press now disappoint him. It simply isn’t news.

Ward and his fellow campaigners seem to need to have the climate change narrative running throughout the year, and attached to every weather-related news story. And it is this need which ultimately undermines the credibility of the science. It appears as a nakedly political effort, turning any story about human-interest or a scientific development into a campaigning tool. This precludes a sober public discussion about climate change, and turns it into something resembling a Hollywood B-movie. Ward wants you to read about the fact that 2010 was nearly as warm as the warmest year ever, until your eyes bleed. Or is he more like a man possessed by a religious fervour: everything becomes a sign… a SIGNA SIGN!

However, there remains the controversy over the methodology by which NOAA and NASA GISS compile their data. And there remains the question about the significance of 2010 being nearly the warmest ever year, but not quite. Just as with the extreme events that caused chaos in New Orleans, foresight might well have prevented the devastation in Australia, which some alarmists are now trying to link to climate change. And there ought to be a public discussion — not about how tiny incremental changes in temperature produce catastrophes — but how such foresight could prevent tragedies such as experienced in Pakistan this year. The message of floods might well be that climate, changing or not, can be prepared for better than predicted, mitigated, or prevented. In other words, we shouldn’t let the forecasters do all the planning.


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