In an affront to the scientific community, the Science Committee of the House of Representatives recently retweeted a questionable Breitbart article which denied global warming. The cited Breitbart article claimed that warm temperatures in 2015 were due to a particularly strong El Niño, not a longer term trend of global warming, and that previous to 2015, there was actually a “global warming hiatus.” The article was written by a known denier of global warming who frequently refer to unsound sources instead of peer reviewed articles.
The claim that El Niño was responsible for warm temperatures in 2015 requires additional context. Climate variability occurs on many different time scales. The El Niño/La Niña oscillation occurs every 2-7 years, while climate scientists tend to be concerned with longer term trends, occurring over periods of at least 30 years. Denying climate change based on a particularly warm or cold year is one of the most common mistakes made by global warming deniers. Global warming specifically refers to an overall rapid warming in surface and sea temperatures which began in the 1850s, and cannot be explained by any natural variability in climate.
A perceived pause in global warming between 1998 and 2013 is also a hotly contested subject. Skeptics of global warming point to reports from 2013 that global surfaces temperatures did not rise during this 15 year period. These reports, however, resulted from poor communication from scientists, messy reporting from the media, and misinformation from skeptics. The truth is that no 15 year period is sufficient for making any claims about long term global warming, and improved data quickly refuted the “global warming hiatus”. A Nature paper from 2015, which takes into account surface measurements across the entire globe, shows no signs of a warming pause.
Many climate scientists are disheartened to see their work denied by journalists, politicians, and the public. Articles which deny the truth of peer reviewed research without concrete evidence are dangerous, and can have extremely negative consequences. The Science Committee’s reliance on false news has caused fears for many climate scientists worried about future funding. For many, these fears were confirmed when Donald Trump’s transition team issued a questionnaire to the Department of Energy requesting the names of employees who participated in international climate talks. In addition to overseeing the DOE, the House Science Committee is also in charge of NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many other organizations.
Many thanks to Yang Tian, a graduate student in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences program of Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Dynamics for providing expertise and insightful commentary.
Managing Correspondent: Karri DiPetrillo
Breitbart News “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists“
Nature News, “Climate Change “hiatus” disappears with new data”