How to cherry-pick your 'Global warming has stopped' argument - in pictures

  • 03 Feb 2012, 13:40
  • Robin Webster

How many pictures does it take to tell a story? The publishers of the Mail clearly appreciate that it doesn't take too many to get your point over, and in recent months have fallen back with increasing frequency on using the same few images to tell the same story about climate science.

Despite repeated explanations from scientists that global temperature data shows that the earth is warming, the Mail and its fellow travellers prefer to argue a different story - that 'global warming has stopped' over the last decade (or so).

Sometimes (for example in article in last week's Mail on Sunday) this is extended to argue ( wrongly) that we are about to enter a ' mini ice age' as a result of declining sun spot activity. This is illustrated by a painting of the frozen Thames that the MoS like so much they apparently own the copyright on it.

Scientific papers in fact show that changes in the sun's activities are not likely to offset the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels and a "mini ice age" is pretty unlikely in the near future, but the Mail don't let that get in the way of their assertion that 'if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again.'  (NASA scientists have not suggested this, as far as we can tell.)

Screenshotmail Thames

Then, in order to back up their misleading statement that "the rising trend in world temperatures stopped in 1997/1998/2000" (take your pick), there is usually a graph that looks a bit like this, showing global temperatures as assessed by the Hadley Centre over the past 15 years or so:


It does look convincing, right? Another notable use of this graph comes from skeptic think-tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who feature a version of it as their website banner.

Gwpf _graph

But while this graph is featured - whether by the Mail or the GWPF - there rarely seems to be space to include a graph with a longer timeline on the x-axis.

Of course, this would tend to slightly undermine the argument that 'global warming has stopped', if only by revealing that there have been many other periods over the past century when temperature rise has 'stopped' over short periods - depending on where you start and finish your measurement. Look at the big picture, and the long-term global temperature trend hasn't changed - it's still rising.

Temp _graph

But never mind. That's usually as much detail as the Mail or the climate skeptic think tanks provide.

An article on the climate science blog Skeptical Science has also suggested a couple of other useful graphics that it wouldn't be entirely surprising to find in future articles which declare that 'global warming has stopped'.

First, focusing exclusively on temperature rise obscures the issue of where all the extra heat energy the planet is trapping is going. The vast majority of it enters the oceans, which warm much more slowly than the atmosphere. So if you want to avoid covering that fact, try this graph: 

Heat _content

This figure is taken from a data by Church et al, 2011.

The same argument has been equally well illustrated by this graphic which uses data from the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report - as explained in the relevant Skeptical Science post - to show where global heating is going:


You could also argue that in order to fully understand the heating effect caused by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in this atmosphere, it's a good idea to consider all of the indicators of a warming world possible.

Or... you could ignore them.All _indicators



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