Carter proceeds to try and convince his readers that the planet hasn’t even warmed significantly. He approaches this argument by first attempting to pooh-pooh the surface temperature record, as climate contrarians so often do, and then proceeding to claim the satellites show no significant warming. In the process, Carter scores a major ‘own goal’.
“For many different reasons, which include various types of bias, error and unaccounted-for artifacts, the thermometer record provides only an indicative history of average global temperature over the last 150 years.”
As Skeptical Science readers are undoubtedly aware (since we have to refute this particular myth quite frequently), the accuracy of the surface temperature record has been confirmed time and time again (i.e. Peterson et al. 2003, Menne et al. 2010, Fall et al. 2011 [which includes Anthony Watts as a co-author!], Muller et al. 2011 [the BEST project], etc.). Carter’s claim that the record only provides “an indicative history” of actual temperature changes is entirely without merit, and of course as with all his assertions, is entirely unsupported.
“The 1979-2011 satellite MSU (Microwave Sounding Units) record is our only acceptably accurate estimate of average global temperature, yet being but 32 years in length it represents just one climate data point. The second most reliable estimate of global temperature, collected by radiosondes on weather balloons, extends back to 1958, and the portion that overlaps with the MSU record matches it well.
Taken together, these two temperature records indicate that no significant warming trend has occurred since 1958…”
This gross misrepresentation of the radiosonde record (misrepresentation being another of those pesky characteristics of scientific denial) is where Carter scores an own goal. While there is no basis to the claim that the radiosonde record (instruments on weather balloons) is more reliable than the surface temperature record, more importantly, the radiosonde record actually shows more warming than the surface record (Figure 2).
Carter’s argument amounts to ‘you shouldn’t trust the warming in the surface temperature record, you should trust the radiosonde record’, yet the radiosonde record shows even more warming. However, to realize this, Carter’s audience would have to fact check him and look up the data themselves, as we have. Perhaps Carter was banking on the financial newspaper and climate denialist blog readers not bothering to fact check the claims of a “paleoclimatologist.”
Note also that Carter has cherrypicked lower atmosphere temperatures, whereas the vast majority of global warming (about 90%) goes into heating the oceans, which continue to accumulate energy at a rapid rate.
Next up, Carter misrepresents the temperature data once again.
“…both [radiosondes and satellites] exhibit a 0.2C step increase in average global temperature across the strong 1998 El Niño.”
We’ll leave this one to our readers – does the red data in Figure 2 look like a step change occurred in 1998? Or is Carter perhaps confusing a linear warming trend plus random noise and natural cycles with a ‘step function’?
Carter proceeds to illustrate a third characteristic of scientific denial, cherrypicking.
“In addition, the recently quiet Sun, and the lack of warming over at least the last 15 years — and that despite a 10% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide level, which represents 34% of all post-industrial emissions — indicates that the alarmist global warming hypothesis is wrong and that cooling may be the greatest climate hazard over coming decades.”
Here Carter cherrypicks the low solar activity of the past decade, blaming it for the dampened surface warming, while ignoring that temperatures and solar activity have not been remotely correlated for the past 40 years (Figure 3).
For the nitpickers amongst us, we should also note that the CO2 increase over the past 15 years (29 parts per million by volume [ppmv]) is only 26% of the increase since pre-industrial times (approximately 112 ppmv), not 34%, as Carter asserts. However, arithmetic errors are the least of Carter’s problems in this article.
Carter proceeds to misrepresent the paleoclimate record.
“…numerous high-quality paleoclimate records, and especially those from ice cores and deep-sea mud cores, demonstrate that no unusual or untoward changes in climate occurred in the 20th and early 21st century.”
Figure 4: Various northern hemisphere temperature reconstructions (Mann et al 2008).
Next up, Carter misrepresents the body of climate change attribution research.
“…no compelling empirical evidence yet exists for a measurable, let alone worrisome, human impact on global temperature.”
Aside from the physical science which allows us to quantify the human impact on global temperature, there are the many different empirically observed ‘fingerprints’ of anthropogenic warming (Figure 5). And let’s not forget the many different peer-reviewed global warming attribution studies (Figure 6).
Figure 5: Human-caused global warming ‘fingerprints’
Figure 6: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).
“…a policy of adaptation is also strongly precautionary against any (possibly dangerous) human-caused climate trends that might emerge in the future.”
Adaption is not precautionary, it’s reactionary. A precautionary policy would involve efforts to prevent dangerously rapid climate change from happening by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Although Carter’s article may seem convincing to his intended audience, it is not because his arguments are at all factually correct, but instead because he has employed a Gish Gallop of scientific denial characteristics. However, this is clearly not an appropriate approach for a scientist speaking to the general public through the mainstream media. A scientist should always support his claims and ensure that they are factually accurate. And this is certainly not Carter’s first such Gish Gallop – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) previously debunked another of Carter’s articles here, and Skeptical Science has examined several others here.
If Bob Carter wants to influence the climate discussion, we believe he should subject his arguments to peer-reviewed scrutiny, rather than cobbling together Gish Gallops of scientific denial and misrepresentations for the finiancial media and denialist blogs.