Murdoch’s WSJ Misleads on Climate

Exclusive: Despite a broad consensus among scientists that global warming is real and dangerous, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal and other right-wing media have made climate-denial a central tenet of U.S. conservatism, requiring endless distortions, as Sam Parry observes.

By Sam Parry

Rupert Murdoch and his phrase, "Bugger Off," by Robbie Conal (robbieconal.com)

The recent op-ed in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal signed by 16 scientists, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” is less surprising in its denunciation of global warming science – the Journal’s editorial page seems incapable of dealing in reality-based climate journalism – than it is in its bush-league analysis.

Memo to op-ed writers: When you resort to using Russian gulags to describe how modern scientific debate in the U.S. is conducted, you may want to adjust your hyperbole filters.

The only direct scientific claim made in the entire op-ed is the assertion that the planet hasn’t warmed in the last ten years. How could climate change be happening if the planet isn’t warming?

But anyone who has spent even a day researching climate change on the Internet will discover two points about this claim:

1)    It isn’t really true.  2) Even if someone really thinks it is true, it’s irrelevant.

On the first point, just look at the average global temperatures since 1880 and you tell me if the planet is warming (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/):

The claim that the planet hasn’t warmed over the last 10 years bizarrely ignores the fact that the last ten years have all been well above normal. We’ve reached a new plateau in global temperatures that is significantly hotter than historical averages.

It also ignores the fact that global temperatures don’t go straight up every single year. No one has ever claimed that to be the case. Indeed, climate scientists have bent over backwards to explain how we should focus on longer term trends and the big picture rather than looking at one specific year or a single weather event.

Global warming is like putting the climate on steroids. It doesn’t by itself determine the weather in any given year. But the more we juice the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, the longer warming term trends become painfully obvious.

Greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are but one of many factors affecting the planet’s climate. In any given year, events like the El Nino and La Nina Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO) can have a much more immediate impact on average global temperatures.

We haven’t had a strong El Nino – which tends to cause warmer average global temperatures – since late 1997 to early 1998. That El Nino event helped spike 1998’s average global temperature, as you can see in the chart above. If you take the El Nino enhanced 1998 out of the chart, the average increase in global temperatures from the mid-1990s to today would be even more pronounced.

So this no-warming-in-the-last-decade claim is spurious. But, even if for the sake of argument you were to accept the point, it would still be completely irrelevant.

There is no denying that the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased about 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We are now at 392 parts per million (ppm) CO2 concentration compared with about 280 ppm pre-industrial levels.

This is a higher concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere than anytime in at least hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of years. In fact, CO2 concentrations have not exceeded 300 ppm at any time in at least the last 650,000 years. Considering that human civilization began roughly 15,000 years ago, we are already in uncharted territory.

But, this is just the prologue to what’s in store. The current atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are expected to explode in the coming decades. Even the most aggressive climate pollution reduction policies proposed and debated both in the U.S. and globally have been designed to limit CO2 concentrations to 450 ppm.

Given the power of the denial-o-sphere in American media like the Wall Street Journal and the political gridlock in Washington, America is still probably years from taking the serious national steps to even hit the 450 ppm goal.

Globally, we continue to add CO2 into the atmosphere much faster than the planet can absorb. We are averaging 33.5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions every year. The planet can absorb some of these CO2 emissions by processing carbon out of the atmosphere in natural carbon sinks, such as growing forests and phytoplankton floating near the surface of the ocean.

But these natural processes have limits. It’s hard for the world’s forests to act as carbon sinks, for instance, when humans are simultaneously deforesting the planet. While it’s true that some of these forests are regenerating and growing forests absorb more carbon than mature forests, the current balance of deforestation rates make the world’s forests a major source of carbon emissions, rather than a net sequestration resource.

Even the planet’s vast oceans have their limits. Right now, oceans absorb up to a quarter of all anthropomorphic sources of CO2 emissions. But, recent research suggests that oceans are becoming less efficient at absorbing CO2 as the concentrations of ocean CO2 levels increase.

The results are all too obvious. The concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is growing at roughly 2-3 ppm per year – and increasing. This rate of growth is overwhelming the planet’s ability to absorb CO2. And, according to some experts, we are currently on pace to hit an unheard-of 1000 ppm by the end of the century.

The last time the Earth saw CO2 levels at 1000 ppm was 35 million years ago when the planet was about 30˚ F warmer than today, there was little or no ice on the planet, and the seas were 250 feet higher than today.

This is roughly what the U.S. would look like with seas 250 feet higher:

 

Granted, this level of sea level rise is not going to happen in our lifetimes even under the direst climate models. Even if we hit 1000 ppm by the end of the century, it will take a long time to melt all the ice on the planet.

That said, scientists are very concerned that once we exceed 450 ppm, we could lose the ability to control future warming and that we will set the planet on a kind of runaway train course that will make this level of future warming inevitable.

The larger point is that we are not talking about trivial, manageable events. Global warming is a massive global experiment with obviously catastrophic implications beyond our ability to control.

Those who seek to deny the science and delay action really don’t have a response to this bigger picture argument. What do they think the world looks like at 500 ppm? Or 1000 ppm?

Yes, they can play statistical games to claim that the Earth hasn’t warmed in the last 10 years. But their protestations sound a lot more like children grabbing at excuses not to take a bath or brush their teeth. We certainly shouldn’t make governing decisions based on this puerile nonsense.

For a more thorough take-down of the Wall Street Journal’s silly 16 “scientists,” please check out Climate Progress.

Sam Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.

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16 comments on “Murdoch’s WSJ Misleads on Climate

  1. Karen Romero on said:

    Thank you Sam Parry for the articles you write. This morning, I just read one of your recent articles that I had previously copied. (Very mean spirited of Ron Reagan to discard the solar panels that President Carter put on the White House).
    The best part of this article that you posted today is what I got to do after copying off the article. I carefully tore out Rupert’s picture and wadded it up in a ball and deposited in the proper recepticle. Since he will be going to the Universal garbage bin, I thought he might like a preview of what that will be like for him!
    Oh, and Sam you are a really good writer, like your Dad who is my second favorite Consortium News writer.
    Truly,
    Karen Romero

    • Well, if you decide you’d like to send Mr. Murdoch a Valentine, this month, his address is:

      834 Fifth Avenue (5th Ave at E 64th)
      New York, NY 10065

      Beth

  2. Kenny Fowler on said:

    At this point there’s no need to try to explain the science of global warming. That discussion is over, it’s real and it’s here, end of discussion. Murdoch and the rest of the mules won’t be moved. They staked out their territory long ago based on political doctrine not science. The conservatives and the right wing jumped on the denial bandwagon immediately and the mules are pulling it. Republican candidates today, no matter how educated, have no choice but to join the deniers or be dragged off by the mules like Murdoch.

  3. Dustin on said:

    I go to 10-15 other news sites per day so I only noticed this recently about consortiumnews.com. This is just another biased site w/ an agenda. I like how the author of this article failed to mention the leaked “climategate” emails in which the scientist who created the “hockey-stick graph” from the Al Gore movie admitted they fudged numbers. I don’t know if there is global warming or not. I don’t know if it is man-made or not- if it exists. I do know that there are billions of dollars to be made if they can convince Americans to accept man-made global warming so they can tax it. I know for a fact that the people who believe in global warming & want to eliminate all fossil fuels asap are not going to convince or force China (remember 1.5 billion peeps) to give up their fuel sources. Or India. Or anywhere else. We will cut off our “cheap” energy source so the other communist, socialist nightmare countries can eat our lunch. Bye bye America

    • Sam Parry on said:

      Dustin — Thanks for reading and for your comments. Even though we come from totally different perspectives on this, I’m always happy to see engaged citizens sharing their views.

      You raise a lot of issues in your comments — climategate, the hockey-stick graph, Al Gore, clean energy investments, China, India, socialism, communism…

      Without trying to deal with each of these issues, which would take way too long, I’d like to stay focused on the basics:

      1) Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
      2) The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased 40% since pre-industrial times.
      3) We are emitting 33.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
      4) At this rate, we could see a 4-fold increase in CO2 concentrations by the end of the century.
      5) At that level of CO2, we could easily see an 11 degree F increase in global temperatures.

      All of these points are simple physics and math. None of them are in serious dispute. What climate deniers like to do with all this is play shell games to avoid dealing with these basic realities. So, we end up with rabbit hole debates around stolen emails and Al Gore. Forget the emails. Forget Al Gore. Deal with the science. Tell me which of these 5 points you disagree with. From there, we can discuss impacts and consequences.

      • Sean French on said:

        I liked the graph you used in your article, however I think you should have used the graph that went back to 1827 which shows that co2 concentrations were at approx. 481ppm which is about 100ppm higher than today. Yet we’re all still here! Those of us who choose to question and think critically about this theory , and whom you place fallaciously in the “denial-o-sphere”(ad hominem),don’t argue about changes in climate but rather what contributes to those changes. There is more than one ball in this juggling act and it’s time for climate science to look beyond carbon as the primary cause of climate fluctuations. I want to see the whole picture and I’m not getting it from AGW theory. Not to mention that while we waste all our time and money on this never ending useless debate people in Pensylvania are setting their tap water on fire because of fracking. What a perfect distraction global warming is.

        • Sam Parry on said:

          I’m sorry, but CO2 concentrations were not 481ppm in 1827. I would love to see a source for that. In fact, CO2 concentrations have not exceeded 300ppm for at least 650,000 years — until now.

          Here’s a chart that goes back more than 400,000 years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carbon_Dioxide_400kyr.png

          As I said before, I appreciate debate. We should be skeptical. But, having spent more than 10 years dealing with questions from what I call the denial-o-sphere (that’s not an ad hominem attack, it’s an accurate description of professionals who make a living repeating and re-repeating long debunked claims denying the reality of global warming), I don’t often see honest skepticism as much as I see people who are predetermined to oppose global warming science.

          Going back to your comment, I would love to see a source for 481ppm. I’m extremely skeptical, but am open to seeing your evidence and factoring it into the debate.

          Thanks,
          Sam

          • David Hamilton on said:

            I for one am interested in seeing his source. That far back, there may not be good direct data on CO2 concentrations; rather, the 481 measurement is probably a recent determination that has been inferred indirectly, like from tree ring growth data. That data must show a growth spike that does not correlate with warmer temperatures or lesser cloudiness. Also, certain sediments may reveal CO2 concentrations if they trapped the air in a stratum datable to precisely 1827.

            If the source turns out to be a good one, then science will have a curious anomaly to explain. But, if no other years immediately prior to or after 1827 show such a huge concentration, a scientist might wonder if perhaps there was a large emission of CO2 from volcanos that year, or something similar. One might wonder how it dissipated back to normal in the following years.

            As for other causes of warming, I understand from one research university (at least) that the earth’s orbit is bringing us closer to the sun in recent years, and that it accounts for “15%” of the warming we see. However, there is an approximately equal cooling effect from high altitude particulate matter that is shading, or cooling us about 15%.

            So, the warming we see is still correlating well with manmade greenhouse gases.

            My question to deniers, or even the skeptical investigators such as Sean, is “why wouldn’t all this CO2 we are releasing raise the temperature of the atmosphere?”. The atmosphere for all practical purposes is only a thin blanket about 10 miles thick.

  4. rosemerry on said:

    Sam, you are too kind to the deniers. You also did not mention that 255 real climate scientists wrote real info to the WSJ and it did not publish their article.
    Newspaper, anyone?

    • Sam Parry on said:

      If folks want to have an honest debate about the science, I welcome it. We should debate the science in a responsible way. Because this is a very serious problem and denial isn’t a wise policy decision — so we need to find common ground.

      You raise an excellent point about the 255 scientists and the WSJ. Though, the WSJ did publish this rebuttal today: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204740904577193270727472662.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLEThirdBucket

      But, there is a much larger context here. The denial-o-sphere loves to portray themselves as the victims. The original WSJ op-ed compared themselves to scientists in the Soviet Union who were sent to the gulags. Yet, there are any number of examples of the right wing media and political leaders censoring, belittling, and/or ignoring climate scientists and their findings. Bob Watson was removed as chair of the IPCC thanks to pressure from Dick Cheney. Ironically, Cheney’s hand-picked successor Rajendra Pachauri became almost as outspoken as Watson about the seriousness of the climate crisis.

      EPA and NASA officials during the Bush administration were routinely censored and bullied by the Bush-Cheney team. And heaven knows that the denial-o-sphere has made mocking Al Gore a sport.

      Yet, the denialists are the victims. It’s pathetic really.

  5. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    You don’t often see blog writers responding to denialist posts these days. Chris Hedges used to do it, but it got too frustrating. The oddest thing about the deniasphere (less awkward than denial-o-sphere) is that the whole issue could be made moot if they would take an insurance policy out on global climate instability by taking measures to reduce carbon emissions. Why wait until your house catches fire to buy some fire insurance?

  6. ‘climate-denial’.. role that term around your tongue. Climate-denial. How can you deny the climate? So firstly an idiotic statement, but a good propaganda soundbite. Secondly, a pathetic attempt to link any questioning of the prevailing propaganda to another famous (and abhorent of course)
    type of ‘denial’. Guess which one!
    What type of person does not allow debate on a topic?
    But of course the science is ‘settled’. Any real scientist will of course tell you this is an unscientific statement.
    Definition of climate = an aggregate of the weather. So the guys who can’t get the weather forecast right for the next week know what the climate will be like in 20 years time.
    Better of course to believe all those scientists at universities that get their funding from all those foundations that are pushing global warming oops, sorry, climate change now that its getting rather chilly. And the big oil barons are funding all the ‘anti-climate’ propaganda, sorry, denial. That’ll be the Rockefellar Foundation, isn’t the old ‘rocky fella’ one of the biggest oil men of them all. But wait, they are one of the biggest supporters of the global warming alarmism, oh this is just all so confusing.

    • Sam Parry on said:

      JD — The use of climate deniers is simply shorthand for “Folks who deny and/or refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that has been aggregated over more than a half century of research and data collection showing that climate change is real, is caused by human pollution, and is a very serious threat to human civilization as we know it today.”

      As I have said in comments in this thread, I am more than happy to answer honest questions from honest skeptics. But, over many years of dealing with people who claim to be skeptics, I have found that they are usually not true skeptics but really just deniers — i.e. no amount of information, facts, studies, reality, or reason will ever be enough.

      The rest of your commentary, frankly, exposes you as more likely a denier and not a real skeptic. You’re not asking real questions about climate science. You’re just being snarky. Of course, if you would like to engage in an honest climate colloquy, I’d love to. The ball is in your court.

      Thanks,
      Sam

  7. I read with great interest the recent article quoting Professor Giaever and comments by Professor Happer on TV. For whatever reason they have chosen to state that, in general the mean-average temperature in USA has remained static and that anthropogenic CO2 increase is not a contributing factor to climate change. Professor Happer suggested on TV “let’s wait for a couple of decade and see what happens”. Below I offer a profit making solution.
    The past 6 years in China and Monogolia advising PRC government and growing soil, food, fodder in their ever expanding deserts. I saw first -hand impact of climate change extremes. During this period I observed region in sub-tropic China impacted by sudden freezing over an extended period, a never ever recorded previously event. Infrastructures failed mass black-outs. To the opposing end in Mongolia, Nei Mongol, I viewed the opposite extreme. Desert expansion as extreme heat waves extinguishes all life. The further impact, towns, small cities, water crops consumed by migrating sand and indeed sand storms aerosols!
    Science shows that the Earth has experienced over billions of years extremes in temperature. These changes, and, clearly occurred in very short time, without notice, as shown these past 10years in PRC. A tour of Mongolia, Nei Mongol now deserts shows, mass wipe out of dinosaurs and like, fossil are being uncovered along with intact trees the vegetation appearance of being frozen. The science advice is, it was not a terrestrial impact!
    Let’s move for a moment from the emotive political driven “is anthropogenic CO2 and the cause of ice caps melting exposing mass mineral wealth and climate change”.
    Europe suffered a mini ice age in the late 1700s lasting up until early 1900s. Cause, as recent USA University 10year study revealed, was a series of mass volcanic activities within that region erupting simultaneously wherein, the aerosols were the principle factor of shutting out the sun. Now this is de-facto of what happened in China and as witnessed repeatedly in 2011, where singular, but repeating volcanic eruptions closed the southern and northern hemisphere, sunlight heat and aircraft and local life disrupted for weeks! Yes, there is CO2 nox, sox, mass increase, where science shows in prior global events these build ups correlated to temperature change.
    Herein is the missed telltale evidence. With all these events is, the corresponding aerosols, (like volcanoes), those micro particles when China, Australia, Africa USA anthropogenic land clearing over past 300 years has created mass wind sandstorms. PRC aerosols starting every February’s traverse the Earth 1.3 times. ADB PRC has invited me to reverse these events and lower CO2 starting with C4 UNFCCC vegetation.
    Here is the vast contradiction to the group of 16! Previous events from volcanic aerosols reached 500ppm CO2e build up with serious enduring climatic events. Anthropogenic emissions of CO2e are a very precise barometer of changes to come, but, we need a new approach, certainly before Rio+20 and another 20 years of talk thereafter. Politically managed UN style chats have, for 50 years been a sad waste, transient folk making “I think” decisions rather than based on hard core science and historical evidence.
    Basically the atmosphere has reflective heat v CO2 cooling blanket hence without study there appears no discernible climate Change. Who is insuring compounding risk is it Lloyds, Wall Street?
    We borrowed the planet from the historians of tomorrow, it has come to rest upon this our generation to implement 110% reparation. One nation and a few scientists differing from a world of established evidence can no longer hold the stage for whatever motivation.
    Here’s the plan and full picture. CO2 the telltale, but, it’s CO2e (equivalent) the total horror 6 gases and aerosols that is the case and point covered in a generalization. 3billion plus below poverty line and yes we need controls here “but for the grace of” with no food shelter and global loss of the food and water bowl 4 billion more may soon join them.
    (1) It’s an apolitical solution. It’s CO2e from today we need to address. Australia has shown a light much correction but a model. Grow soil in the deserts to lower CO2e to C along with food fodder and in time trees flora fauna microbic life. Well planned under UNFCCC rules makes serious money food, fodder, potable water and sustainable jobs.
    (2) Bring developing nations to study how to apply USAID EUAID to restore the 300years of clearing to also restore their economy, worth and dignity.
    (3) Carbon trading will also fund clean non polluting energy such as stoichiometric-hydrogen an Australian technology now being applied in China.
    (4) We can lower CO2 into C4 vegetation to commence the process of Earth baseline asset reparation Soil-Water-Vegetation-Atmosphere reverse the above mentioned deserts and there heat reflecting to upper atmosphere the serious contributing factor to warming.
    (5) We can employ all unemployed in essential activities doing a Roosevelt a Churchill et al.
    (6) Best of all, by taking the political motivated out of front line thinking, and engage behind the scene hands on folk, the receiver Nature waiting in the wings to assume control of baseline assets will, extend us overdraft facilities for a short time.
    (7) Let’s not print money, let’s make a foot-print to extend down the generations of historians, “manage the baseline assets, restore, reuse, recycle, repair, keep numbers balanced to available assets even the universe with apply these principles”.
    (8) Time is the enemy of Man all living matter, be it anthropogenic, be it Nature, horror change is upon us.

    Without prejudice, the solution, replicate Natures established expertise, take political egos out! We have eaten ourselves out of home, food, water, and overdrawn the Baseline Bank of Assets! I subscribe based on hard evidence, be it anthropogenic be it natures automatic emission of nox and sox to become essential nitrogen sulfates, natures humble C4 weed sequesters CO2 and grows soil. The solution evidence abundant!

    The only element missing to save man from man, is man.

    Robert Vincin
    From the coal face, hands on see Google
    vincin@emissiontraders.com.au
    61 (0) 466 823 305

    • Sam Parry on said:

      Robert, Thanks for your comment. I have to admit that I don’t follow your full line of reasoning. There are definitely points in there I totally agree with, including the fact that aerosols can have a very significant impact on our micro and macro climates.

      Indeed, it is thought that the slowdown in global warming from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s can be traced to the amount of traditional pollution that blanketed our air before passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act. Those aerosols reflected the sun’s rays and shielded us from the warming that would have otherwise occurred. As those pollutants started coming out of the air, the climate began warming again.

      One of your early points, however, I’m not sure I agree with. The U.S. has indeed warmed noticeably over the last century: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/temp-and-precip/time-series/index.php?parameter=tmp&month=12&year=2011&filter=ytd&state=110&div=0

      • I agree with you not the article by the 16 the US has warmed. The aerosols from deserts soot etc stay aloft for an extended period as indeed does CO2e. The aerosols from the series of volcanic eruptions around Europe UK in the late 1700s -early 1900s reflected heat outward. The same case is being concluded applied in same region 500yrs BC. I respectfully suggest there is no legislation repairing the desertws of the US and globe contributing to much of the upper atmoshere aerosols. The US has not impliment technology on power stations and steel mills to capture nox sox mercury when such technology out of North America is now being applied in the PRC. This technology emission capture meets UNFCCC rules therefore in a few years becomes an asset income as well as preventing the toxins
        impacting on the women children’s health
        without prejudice Robert