Now it’s The New Republic’s turn to spin and weave about the decade and a half pause in global warming, and they’re having a very hard time doing it. Nate Cohn writes in TNR:
Even as scientists asserted an incontrovertible consensus on climate change, a funny thing has happened over the last 15 years: Global warming has slowed down. Since 1998, the warmest year of the twentieth century, temperatures have not kept up with computer models that seemed to project steady warming; they’re perilously close to falling beneath even the lowest projections. . . If scientific models can’t project the last 15 years, what does that mean for their projections of the next 100?
Cohn does his best Kevin Bacon/Animal House/“All is calm” impression, going on for several paragraphs about why it’s all still true and we have to take drastic action now, though notice what is missing from this part of his concluding section:
In the end, the so-called scientific consensus on global warming doesn’t look like much like consensus when scientists are struggling to explain the intricacies of the earth’s climate system, or uttering the word “uncertainty” with striking regularity. Nowhere is there more uncertainty than in the clouds. “It’s like cancer,” Held said, referring to the “many, many research problems” posed by the many kinds of clouds, each with their own special properties that might reflect or trap more or less of the sun’s heat.
Nothing here about how “settled” the whole matter is. Or consider this sentence:
But the “consensus” never extended to the intricacies of the climate system, just the core belief that additional greenhouse gas emissions would warm the planet.
But this definition of the “consensus” includes nearly 100 percent of every identified climate skeptic, whose chief dispute is whether the models and the evidence substantiate the claim that we face catastrophic warming of 4 degrees C or more. This is one reason why the constant refrain about the rock-solid “consensus” has been so dishonest from the beginning. Cohn’s failure to reinforce the old alarmist prediction is the dog that doesn’t bark in this article. These are exactly the observations that when offered a decade ago (and even if quoted from the IPCC itself) got you condemned as a “denialist,” and if this article had appeared in The New Republic 10 years ago, it would have been attacked as a denialist brief.
Over at The Economist’s “Democracy in America” blog, Will Wilkinson (that’s who blogger “WW” is) is more forthright about the subject, and doesn’t think very much of Cohn’s contortions:
If “hiatus periods are commonly observed” is the right way to think about the current warming plateau, then the rest of Mr Cohn’s article, examining various explanations of the puzzle of the hiatus would be unnecessary. But, as all the pieces discussing the warming plateau make perfectly clear, climate scientists are actually pretty baffled about the failure of their predictions. Is it the oceans? Clouds? Volcanoes? The sun? An artifact of temperature data?
But [Cohn’s] attempt to minimise the political relevance of this is unconvincing. He writes:
The recent wave of news and magazine articles about scientists struggling to explain the warming slowdown could prolong or deepen the public’s skepticism. But the “consensus” never extended to the intricacies of the climate system, just the core belief that additional greenhouse gas emissions would warm the planet.
If this is true, then the public has been systematically deceived. As it has been presented to the public, the scientific consensus extended precisely to that which is now seems to be in question: the sensitivity of global temperature to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. . .
We have not been awash in arguments for adaptation precisely because the consensus pertained to now-troubled estimates of climate sensitivity. The moralising stridency of so many arguments for cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and global emissions treaties was founded on the idea that there is a consensus about how much warming there would be if carbon emissions continue on trend. The rather heated debates we have had about the likely economic and social damage of carbon emissions have been based on that idea that there is something like a scientific consensus about the range of warming we can expect. If that consensus is now falling apart, as it seems it may be, that is, for good or ill, a very big deal.
Expect more of this from more places in the months and years to come.