Published April 09, 2013
Climate change skeptics are doing a bit of gloating following a series of mainstream media reports that acknowledge what those skeptics have long held -- the earth is not warming, at least not in the last 10 years.
"The idea that CO2 is the tail that wags the dog is no longer scientifically tenable," said Marc Morano of ClimateDepot.com, a website devoted to countering the prevailing acceptance of man-made global warming.
In recent weeks, Der Spiegel, the Telegraph and the Economist have reported the unexpected stabilizing of global surface temperatures. Even former NASA scientist and outspoken climate change activist James Hansen has acknowledged the 10-year lull.
Morano said: "In the peer-reviewed literature we're finding hundreds of factors influence global temperature, everything from ocean cycles to the tilt of the earth's axis to water vapor, methane, cloud feedback, volcanic dust, all of these factors are coming together. They're now realizing it wasn't the simple story we've been told of your SUV is creating a dangerously warm planet."
Many climate scientists and environmentalists agree with Morano's description of climate complexity, but reject his denials of global warming as a problem.
"This is a highly complex calculation to make in the first place. The short period of time, only 10 years in which the increasing temperature has leveled, really doesn't tell us very much other than the fact that temperatures may still be rising but just not as fast as they were before," said Elgie Holstein, the senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund and a former assistant secretary at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"What's compelling about the climate science," Holstein said, "is that we have literally thousands of the world's leading scientists around the country pretty much saying the same thing about where we're headed, and it's not reassuring."
But the surface temperature stabilization suggests that computer models which predict harsh consequences of global warming may need reassessing.
As The Economist put it on March 30, "It may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy."
Indeed, no one disputes that levels of carbon dioxide are increasing globally, but CO2's impact has not been as great as many scientists had predicted.
"In the peer-reviewed literature, they've tried to explain away this lull," said Morano. "In the proceedings of the National Academy of Science a year or two ago they had a study blaming Chinese coal use for the lack of global warming. So, in an ironic twist, global warming proponents are now claiming that that coal use is saving us from dangerous global warming."
Holstein believes the temperature lull is not entirely unexpected or unpredicted.
"We're within ranges of these climate models that are saying we're still on track to some pretty troublesome impacts if we don't do something about it," he said.
A Gallup survey conducted March 7-10 found 58 percent of Americans say they worry a great deal or fair amount about global warming.
That was up from 51 percent in 2011 -- but still below the 62-72 percent levels seen between 1999 and 2001.