Mis-communicating Global Warming

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As many of you know from my previous blogs, I believe that anthropogenic global warming (AGW)--warming due to mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases--is a very serious issue. The world's climate will warm up substantially if we continue our current course. I also believe that there has been considerable hype of past and current effects of man-produced warming, and not a little exaggeration in some quarters) of the AGW effects during the next few decades. I believe my profession has not been clear enough about the mechanisms of climate change and have not provided sufficient information on the uncertainties in our predictions.

But sometimes I am driven to distraction by the crazy claims of some individuals and organizations who feel it is necessary to "enhance" the threat or to make dire threats without any scientific basis. Perhaps such individuals and groups do it out of some idealistic drive to "save the world," but in reality they are damaging the credibility of the scientific community. And the media who mindlessly repeat this fluff deserve particular opprobrium.

Want an example? A recent release by the National Wildlife Federation is a prime example of misinformation (http://www.nwf.org/Global-Warming/What-is-Global-Warming/Global-Warming-is-Causing-Extreme-Weather/~/media/PDFs/Global%20Warming/Reports/NWF_WinterWeather_Optimized.ashx).

In this wacky report they claim that global warming is causing "oddball" weather across North America. Check out this figure from their brochure:

Heavy rain in the Northwest. A sign of global warming!
Lack of snow in Colorado: Global warming!
Record snowfall back east: Global warming.
You get the message. These folks blame every type of extreme weather, cold or warm, dry or wet, snowy or not....on global warming produced by mankind.

Now as someone who is working on this very issue and has read the literature extensively, let me tell you that this is all nonsense. Furthermore, none of this has passed the review process to get into the refereed journals.

Now this would be worth a few chuckles if no one paid attention to such scarester material, but I am afraid the mainstream media picked it up and published it. Hard to believe, but true. The Washington Post ran it, plus dozens of newspapers around the U.S. Media outlets such as MSNBC gave it air time. This is not the first time that our national media picked up baseless press releases or scarester stories, and probably won't be the last. For example, there was an unreviewed article in 2007 that stated that Chinese pollution was making Pacific storms stronger. This one got on the front pages of newspapers throughout the U.S., including the Seattle Times. And a quick read revealed that work was baseless, and it never got into the refereed literature.

The U.S. mass media does not have the time or interest in carefully screening the material they print or show, so the unfortunate message is: don't believe everything you read and view. Check it out yourself if you have the time.

Finally, Global Warming hype is found on plenty of blogs. My recent favorite is one describing the recent major low off the West Coast as a "Frankenstorm"--the kind that will be more frequent as the earth warms due to mankind's influence:
http://climateprogress.org/2010/01/26/preparing-for-frankenstorms-the-most-powerful-low-pressure-system-in-140-years-of-record-keeping-slams-the-southwest/ It is completely without any basis in fact.

Now today's blog has taken on the global warming scaresters and hypers, but even more ridiculous are the claims of some organizations and websites that that GW is some plot by the liberals and leftists or that there is no science between the threat. But this is for another time.

Finally, let me recommend a wonderful lecture by one of the UW's premier scientists and public communicators, Peter Ward. Last week he gave a talk on what paleontology teaches us about the threat of CO2-induced climate change and at the end he provided a stirring call to arms regarding the need for more emphasis on public outreach by the scientific community. I highly recommend you view his presentation:

This guy is a local treasure and his books are wonderful.
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