There's a lot of dismally wrong coverage of global warming these days (see some recent examples chronicled by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection, for example). But the way global warming gets treated on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post--particularly by George Will and his enabling editors--is particularly exquisite. For my little Ahab-like obsession with the editorial process there, check out this string of posts. Many other observers have made similar points, so you'd think that somebody over at the Post might have learned something from the experience. Today, we see that they haven't. One of the more egregious lines from George Will's recent columns on global warming is the claim that real data shows that warnings about a rise in the average global temperature are wrong. He writes: "According to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." The secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization himself, Michael Jarraud, decided he had to write to the Washington Post to tell them George Will is wrong. Here's the nut of Jarraud's letter from March 21:
It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record -- as was done in a recent Post column ["Dark Green Doomsayers," George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] -- and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.
The difference between climate variability and climate change is critical, not just for scientists or those engaging in policy debates about warming. Just as one cold snap does not change the global warming trend, one heat wave does not reinforce it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit. Evidence of global warming has been documented in widespread decreases in snow cover, sea ice and glaciers. The 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years. While variations occur throughout the temperature record, shorter-term variations do not contradict the overwhelming long-term increase in global surface temperatures since 1850, when reliable meteorological recordkeeping began. Year to year, we may observe in some parts of the world colder or warmer episodes than in other parts, leading to record low or high temperatures. This regional climate variability does not disprove long-term climate change. While 2008 was slightly cooler than 2007, partially due to a La Niña event, it was nonetheless the 10th-warmest year on record.
Today, George Will is back on the subject of global warming. The occassion for his column is the alleged uselessness of energy-efficient light bulbs. The column is basically a cut-and-paste job on a recent New York Times article on the bulbs--the same newspaper that Will claimed in an earlier column is "a trumpet that never sounds retreat in today's war against warming." Somehow, a paper Will knows is nothing but a climate propaganda machine can publish an article related to global warming that he relies on as absolute authority. But let's leave internal logic aside. Let's just deal with fact-checking. At the start of Will's column today, he argues that all this worry about light bulbs is supremely pointless because...you guessed it...
Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.
Does the Post read its own letters? Does it remember them? Do they think if you add the phrase "stastistics" you can continue to mislead on the exact same point emphasized by Jarraud? Perhaps Will's editors think if they put a link in Will's misleading statement, it somehow makes it right. Did they actually look at the linked document? If they did, they'd find stuff like this:
The global average temperature for 2007 is statistically indistinguishable from each of the nine warmest years on record.Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74°C, but this increase has not been continuous. The linear warming trend over the past 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the past 100 years.
Every time I think this sorry tale of fact-checking woe can't get worse, it does.