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Recently Yale University released results of its climate-change opinion survey [1]. It showed that 70 % of Americans understand that global warming is happening, and that 75 % of Americans support regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. However, only 53 % of Americans understood that humans are the cause of global warming, and most surprisingly only 49 % thought that most Scientist believe global warming was happening [2]. What is going on here?

One possible cause is the perception by many that climate-change is an ideology. A great example of this is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) attempt to implement mandatory climate risk disclosures [3]. A similar survey was implemented in Europe without major resistance [4]. Major European insurers, such a Munich Re, have long recognizes the dangers of climate-change, and see the utility in openly disclosing its risks. After all they are in the risk business. However, NAIC proposal received a great deal of criticism. Criticism of such a process is to be expected, and is useful in working out the kinks. But much of the criticism of the NAIC survey was about the survey promoting the ideological ends of activist organizations [5]. The activist organization was Ceres [6], a non profit that is working with business to get them involved in supporting sustainability. The Opposition to the survey went further, stating that there is still uncertainty in the scientific community about how much of climate-change is being caused by humans, and that "a group of scientists promoting what has become, through their efforts, the dominant climate-change paradigm are at war with other scientists derisively labeled as 'skeptics,' 'deniers,' and 'contrarians' "[7]. This is the same confusion that the Yale surveyed showed that many other Americans are having about climate-change!

The statement about 'a group of scientist' is related to the incident of the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit [8]. This incident was part of a series of controversies over the global annual surface temperature record [9]. All of the controversies have been proven incorrect, but together they show a method of operation (MO) by those who are trying to confuse the public about climate-change. The most recent incident has been over the global warming pause or hiatus, and corrections to the data that minimize it [10].

The most important thing to understand about the global annual surface temperatures is that they are not the only global warming signal. Other signals include, but are limited to sea level rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining arctic sea ice, extreme weather events, ocean acidification and decreased snow cover [11]. And no matter what Scott Pruitt the new head of EPA says [12], we know that humans are the cause of this warming [13]. Also over 97 % of scientist think that climate-change is real and that humans are the cause [14]. This is far different than the 49 % of the public that think that most scientist believe humans are causing global warming. What lies between these two numbers is a lot of misinformation, much of it being cheap tricks and down right flimflam!

One of the best cases of this misinformation, has been the attacks on the global instrumental surface temperature record. This is the definitive record showing global warming over the past 117 to 167 years [15]. There are multiple variations of these records, from different institutions. The content from the stolen email controversy, mentioned above, were discussions by members of these institutions on methods used to derive these data sets. There are differences in each institutions data set, but all of the data sets show the same trend, of increasing temperatures, and similar rates of increase. However, the differences in the data sets have been used to misinform people about the legitimacy of the record, and that there is an overwhelming consensus about global warming.

The most recent controversy has been about changes to how the sea surface temperatures are calculated. The changes pertained to how temperatures from ocean buoys, which are more recent and more accurate, are used relative to temperatures measured from ships. These changes led to faster temperature increases in recent years [Fig. 1] than were previously reported, and in doing so changed our understanding of the so called pause or hiatus previously mentioned [16]. A misinformation campaign ensued that included charges of manipulation of data [17], but in reality the scientist were just doing what they always do, which is constantly re-analyzing their work, and in doing so having some disagreements [18].


Figure 1, NOAA Version 4 and Version 3 Temperature Anomalies

How this incident was blown out of proportion is a good example of why so many people think that humans are not the cause of climate-change, and that scientist do not overwhelmingly agree on its cause. The sensationalist aspect of the attack grabs the average person's attention, and if they do not have a strong knowledge of the subject it may lead them to believe it.

Figure 2, IPCC AR4 Emission Scenarios

The hiatus or pause was more of a propaganda tool for those who did not want to take action on climate-change, than a reality. We were still recording some of the highest temperatures on record, during the period, it was just not increasing as had been expected in the models. To understand why this became such a contentious point, you have to know about the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 [19]. This report produced temperature projections [20] using climate models that had different scenarios of CO2 emissions [Fig. 2]. The projections started in the year 2000, and because of the hiatus the real temperature record looked a lot like the scenario in which CO2 concentrations were held at 2000 levels (AR4 Commit). This provided political ammunition for those who did not want to take action. In the science community this led to research in trying to understand what was happening to the climate that the models were not picking up. This research is ongoing because even with the changes to the data, mentioned previously, there still appears to have been a slowdown in temperature increase for that period of time [21]. However since the last El Nino the global annual surface temperature has dramatically increased, so now it is higher than all scenarios in AR4 [Fig. 3].

Figure 3, NOAA Version 4 Global Temperature Anomalies & IPCC AR4 Emission Scenarios

From a science standpoint this dramatic increase was not a surprise, because similar increases have happened before, most recently in the late 1990's [Fig. 4]. Potential causes of the last slowdown were probably a combination of volcanic eruptions [22], and excess heat being stored in the oceans [23, 24] until it was released by a large climate event (El Nino). From a political standpoint the dramatic increase in temperatures, the last few years, should have been a deathblow to those who believe climate-change is an ideology, and do not want to take action. But unfortunately real facts do not travel as fast as alternative ones. The questions for the rest of us is can we waste another ten years of not taking decisive action?

Figure 4, NOAA Version 4 Global Temperature Anomalies & IPCC AR4 Emission Scenarios

References


  1. Yale Climate Opinion Maps - U.S. 2016

  2. Americans are confused on climate, but support cutting carbon pollution, The Guardian

  3. National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)

  4. ClimateWise Principles

  5. NAIC's 'Climate Risk' Survey Uses Mandatory Disclosure to Promote Activist Groups' Agenda, According to Paper Published by Washington Legal Foundation, Nancy Grover, InsuranceNewsNet.com

  6. Ceres

  7. Group claims stolen e-mails show risk in accepting climate-change science, Evan Lehmann, E&E reporter

  8. Debunking Misinformation About Stolen Climate Emails in the "Climategate" Manufactured Controversy, Union of Concerned Scientist

  9. Global warming controversies, Wikipedia

  10. Squabble over supposed global-warming pause illuminates new political challenges, Steven T. Corneliussen, Physics Today

  11. Climate change: How do we know? NASA

  12. EPA head Scott Pruitt denies that carbon dioxide causes global warming, Oliver Milman, The Guardian

  13. How Do We Know that Humans Are the Major Cause of Global Warming?, Ken Kimmell, Union of Concerned Scientist

  14. The 97% consensus on global warming, Skeptical Science

  15. Instrumental temperature record, Wikipedia

  16. New Study Confirms Sea Surface Temperatures Are Warming Faster Than Previously Thought, Phil Plait, Slate

  17. Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data, David Rose, Daily Mail

  18. How an Interoffice Spat Erupted Into a Climate-Change Furor, Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times

  19. Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  20. Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, Wikipedia

  21. Global Warming "Hiatus" Debate Flares Up Again, Jeff Tollefson, Scientific America

  22. Small volcanic eruptions are key to warming hiatus, Tim Radford, Climate News Network

  23. Atlantic depths may hold key to heat hiatus, Tim Radford, Climate News Network

  24. Trade winds draw 'missing' warmth to deep ocean, Time Radford, Climate News Network


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