Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

George Will And Global Warming

global_hadcrut3.gif

George Will's latest column questioning the science of global warming is not a very good portrayal of the evidence in George Will's latest column questioning the science on global warming. This might be because Will mostly got the evidence from an article someone else published in the New York Times, but that Will doesn't seem to have followed up on. That brings with it certain dangers. For instance, Will, whether he knows it or not, is relying on temperature measurements out of the U.K. Met's office. Will thinks they show a "plateau" in global warming. Here's what the Met says:

The rise in global surface temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade since the mid-1970s. Warming has been unprecedented in at least the last 50 years, and the 17 warmest years have all occurred in the last 20 years. This does not mean that next year will necessarily be warmer than last year, but the long-term trend is for rising temperatures.

Brad Johnson, a climate blogger who does spend his days immersed in this stuff, writes that Will's thesis is "pinned on an ambiguity of the English language. Just as the Yankees are a winning team but did not win their last game, global warming is terribly real even if 2008, one of the hottest years in recorded history, was cooler than 2007." As Johnson explains, global warming is not shorthand for “every day will be hotter than the next everywhere on the planet.” It is shorthand for for the observation that an "anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is amplifying the natural radiative forcing of the troposphere’s temperature," thus creating a general trend toward higher temperatures. The year-to-year variability that forms the basis of Will's column is not a challenge to this theory. It is built into it.

If Will is aware of this, he does not show it. There is not a line rebutting this thinking, much less a paragraph. Given that, it is perhaps no surprise that more technical disputes are not aired, either. Will, for instance, is using the Met's measurements. But because he is not using them firsthand, he is relying on a report that arguably understated the Met's conclusions. Their data actually show that the 2000s were the hottest decade on record, much hotter than the 1990s. Indeed, if you look at the 10 hottest years on record, eight were in the 2000s. Two were in the '90s. Those two were in 1997 and 1998, which the Met says was a function of the weather event El Niño. They explain their data at length here. Will gives no airing to their explanation.

Nor does he explain why he's using the Met's data. After all, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies thinks that the 2000s have seen triple the warming that the Met estimates. Joe Romm, an actual climate scientist, is more impressed with NASA's methodology. I have no idea who's right. If Will has a considered take on this question, he's not yet published it.

All this might be fine, if not for the credibility Will has by virtue of his column. But people who are reading Will's column at their breakfast table and are not otherwise immersed in this debate might find Will's thinking convincing, unaware that the points he's raising have been continually and convincingly rebutted, and that his read of the evidence sharply differs from those of the scientists who are actually collecting and analyzing the evidence. That would be a shame.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 2, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Status Quo Wins in Health-Care Reform
Next: Chicago Loses the Olympics

Comments

I was wondering if this would be something you could comment on, and am glad to see that you are able to weigh in with a more responsible take on the subject than Mr. Will. If only you were on the front page instead of that idiot...

Posted by: donovong | October 2, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

One wonders if the WaPo editorial staff required that their op-ed writers submit their stuff without identifying writer-names, so the editors had to read and check to see if there were truth or enlightenment of some sort in the words, we would ever see Will, Krauthammer, Milbank, Gerson, and Kristol (among others), make it past the simplist test the editors could devise.

Opinions are like backsides: everybody has one (or two). Presumably, WaPo thinks some opinions, over time, are worth exposing people to. What exactly or vaguely is the criterion? Name recognition? Absurd views? Consistent non-facts? Conservative Wingnutia?

I yearn for the day when trees can live because WaPo opinion writers not worth the paper on which they are printed are gone from the scene.

Have the publisher, and editorial page editor no shame? When George Will says the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, and the oceans are cream soda, will he still be published?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | October 2, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Will impresses me with his thinking on many things however I find without fail his conclusions stupidly colored by ideology. I find many on the left equally stupid. For that reason I find neither conclusion compelling. I yearn for an objective commentarian of Freeman Dyson's ilk who states to draw a conclusion about global warming either way is wrong because we do not yet have enough evidence. Prudence, however indicates it unwise to foul ones nest. Endeavors to reduce emissions will yield advances in technology that will make all our lives better.

Posted by: BertEisenstein | October 2, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

To bad you won't read THAT argument in the Washington Post.

Posted by: adamiani | October 2, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I solve this problem by simply not reading anything he writes anymore, having discovered his opinions are almost always wrong.

Posted by: ctnickel | October 2, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if the Post will allow an op-ed specifically criticizing the Will column, like they did with the first Will column on global warming (it was pretty hilarious when they did that, by the way).

In any case, as Klein points out, Will basically strawmans the evidence since 1998. He points out that 1998 was an exceptionally hot year (the hottest on record), and then claims that there hasn't been a year matching it since is somehow proof that global warming has stalled, even though seven of the past ten years are in the top ten hottest years ever recorded. He's constructing a strawman argument (that global warming involves a straight-line upward rise), and then knocking it down rather than dealing with the actual science.

Posted by: guardsmanbass | October 2, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

No, see, 'cause there's a firewall and stuff. That's why Will can be as deceptive and factually inaccurate as he wants to be.

The "firewall" protects the "news side" of the Post from losing credibility by publishing folks like him.

That's why the Post will never lose its reputation among news consumers for honesty, integrity, and fulfilling its core charter of informing the public.

I kid, of course. Sorry Ezra, you guys are swirling down the toilet.

Posted by: antontuffnell | October 2, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

You're so much more polite about George Will than you used to be! But anyway I'm glad you can still swing that bat.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | October 2, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"I yearn for an objective commentarian of Freeman Dyson's ilk who states to draw a conclusion about global warming either way is wrong because we do not yet have enough evidence."

I too yearn to read pleasant untruths written by folks who've wandered outside of their field of expertise.

http://climateprogress.org/2007/08/15/freeman-dyson-climate-crackpot/

Posted by: antontuffnell | October 2, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Just a quick question...since human actions are causing this rise in CO2 and global temperatures, can someone explain how CO2 and temperatures have been higher in the past when there were no humans on the planet?

Sub-question – wouldn’t those changes have to be the result of natural variations in the planet’s climate cycle?

Sub-sub-question – if those were the result of natural variation, how can you separate the natural variation in today’s climate from the human caused portion?

Posted by: kingstu01 | October 2, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

> Just a quick question...since human actions are causing this rise in
> CO2 and global temperatures, can someone explain how CO2 and
> temperatures have been higher in the past when there were no humans
> on the planet?

Volcanic activity, mainly (see Wkipedia's entry on the 'Deccan
Plateau')

> Sub-question – wouldn’t those changes have to be the result of
> natural variations in the planet’s climate cycle?

Definitely -- see http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Temperature_Gallery

> Sub-sub-question – if those were the result of natural variation,
> how can you separate the natural variation in today’s climate from
> the human caused portion?

Carbon dating -- fossil carbon that comes from gas stations is
depleted in radioactive carbon 14. The C14/C12 ratio fingerprints
natural carbon.

Posted by: phaustin | October 2, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
I think you are too kind to Will by assuming he is just mistaken. I find it hard to believe he could have taken an honest look at the issues and make arguments that are so sophomoric and myopic.

Will is not acting in good faith.

Posted by: zosima | October 3, 2009 5:06 AM | Report abuse

Will may be appealing to the kitchen table non-engrossed reader, but then I find this in the Register (UK) and I wonder if we're all making a big, expensive, mistake.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/29/yamal_scandal//

Posted by: mb129 | October 3, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

zosima - You're exactly right, and Will's deliberate lying has been pointed out many times before. He's a very well paid shill, with a comfortable gig producing shallowly researched and 'reasoned' pseudo-intellectual cover for corporate interests and a dying ideology. Every time he opens his mouth on, um, anything (other than baseball, which he also mangles) he gets smacked down, and particularly in the subject of climate change. Then he comes back with yet another shallow, specious misrepresentation of the facts. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? But he wears a bowtie, so he must be one a them smart ones.

Posted by: sblaisdell | October 5, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Tiny quibble: When talking about British institutions "the Met" means the Metropolitan Police, ie London's police force. The Meteorological Office is always referred to as "the Met Office".

Posted by: GingerYellow | October 5, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company