There was once a very popular excuse for climate denial: the atmosphere isn’t actually warming, it’s just natural variability! The Earth’s climate swings, and it just happens to be on a hot swing at the moment and any day now, it’ll cool again.
But it’s been a few decades since a colder-than-average year, and even deniers acknowledge while attempting to argue otherwise.
Retired TV weatherman-turned-crank-blogger Anthony Watts let Larry Hamlin fill in for his paid duties at the industry-backed Heartland Institute's Climate Realism page with a post all about how NOAA is hiding that global temperatures are declining as CO2 rises.
In it, Hamlin posts an image of temperature anomalies, the difference between that year’s temperature and the long term average, and it very clearly shows the upward trend of the last 150 years. He then, in an act of scientific cherry-picking so obvious it’s amazing that he and Watts and Heartland thought it was a good idea, then zooms all the way in on just the last six years to say that since temperatures have yet to surpass 2016, we must be cooling!
Now 2016 was an exceptionally hot year, in part because of the effects of an El Nino, which raise temperatures (while La Niña cycles lower them) and have occurred a few times since 2016, lowering the temperature anomalies in those years. Hamlin even notes the demarcated years, but then goes off on how NOAA is improperly adjusting the temperature record (i.e. correcting it), to try and hide how it’s now a cooling trend, and then concluding by pointing to ever-rising CO2 levels, and claiming that since models predict rising temperatures as a result of steady rising CO2 levels, clearly they’re wrong.
But that’s not what climate models predict, because it’s not just the immediate warming from each molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere, it’s the cumulative and compound effect of that extra energy that works through the system and triggers other feedback loops that is the big problem with warming. And all during that warming process, all the natural variability aspects deniers used to focus on — and pretend were responsible for all of the heat are still playing out, pushing the temperature up or down a little bit each year — steadily climbs upwards when you look over longer time periods.
But Hamlin wasn’t the only denier Watts let ignore natural variability. Over at his blog, Watts reposted Roy Spencer’s Thursday thoughts on this weekend’s snow on the east coast. Spencer predicted a flurry of “global warming hysteria” despite the fact that “global warming was going to make snow a thing of the past.”
Two things though.
First, even with warming, there will still be snow storms. (In 2014 the New York Times ran an op-ed questioning whether this would be “the end of snow?” and deniers have never forgotten it.)
And second, yes, there are good scientific reasons to believe that as the atmosphere warms, that may actually make some storms bigger and more dangerous or disastrous. That’s not “hysteria,” to use Spencer’s thinly veiled misogynist dog-whistle term, it’s science, published in a real journal and everything.
And there are direct climate connections. For example, Nor’Easters are powered by the contrast between warmer ocean waters and cold air temperatures, and the waters off the coast have been abnormally warm. Additionally, warm air can hold more moisture, so as the atmosphere warms, storms are capable of dumping more rain or snow. Finally, in coastal areas, melting polar ice and warming oceans means higher sea levels, heightening storm surges and increasing damages from the floods that result.
But apparently Watts is keen to post Roy Spencer content, thin as it may be, and despite Spencer’s demonetization by Google for spreading climate disinformation. Maybe Watts is trying to follow suit and fundraise off of a gullible and well-resourced audience after getting “cancelled”...