After two decades of steady and substantial global temperature increase from 1980 to 1998, the pause in warming is causing a crisis for the climate crusade. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The recent temperature record is falling distinctly to the very low end of the range predicted by the climate models and may soon fall out of it, which means the models are wrong, or, at the very least, something is going on that supposedly “settled” science hasn’t been able to settle. Equally problematic for the theory, one place where the warmth might be hiding??—??the oceans??—??is not cooperating with the story line. Recent data show that ocean warming has noticeably slowed, too.
These inconvenient data are causing the climate science community to reconsider the issue of climate sensitivity??—??that is, how much warming greenhouse gases actually cause??—??as I predicted would happen in these pages three years ago: “Eventually the climate modeling community is going to have to reconsider the central question: Have the models the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] uses for its predictions of catastrophic warming overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases?”
A steady stream of scientific studies (often government-funded) published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that conclude climate sensitivity is overestimated were ignored by the media, with the notable exception of New York Times science blogger Andrew Revkin. But the media blackout was broken in dramatic fashion by the Economist in its March 30 edition, with a long feature about the growing doubts over the catastrophic warming projections that have been the lifeblood of the climate campaign. The Economist reviewed a number of new findings that conclude the likely range of future warming will be much more modest??—??and manageable??—??than the Al Gores of the world have been claiming.
That the Economist would break with the pack is significant because the august British newsweekly had been among the most prominent media voices beating the drum for climate catastrophe and radical action to suppress hydrocarbon energy. Now it offers this zinger: “If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch.” A Reuters story last week notes that scientists are “struggling” to explain the pause in warming. Expect other media to follow??—??if they continue to give the issue much coverage at all. The New York Times shut down its environment news desk in January and discontinued its Green Blog in March, concessions to the fact that readers are thoroughly bored with the issue. Recent opinion surveys find that public concern about climate change is at 20-year lows, not just in the United States but almost everywhere.