How fossil-fueled global warming hoaxsters cherry-pick scientific data to con the incurious...
By Brad Friedman on 1/16/2015, 6:52pm PT  

It's been a rough year for the fossil fuel-funded climate change denial industry. First, their long-loved China canard fell apart. The dupes working (either paid or unpaid) for the industry had long insisted that greenhouse gas emissions reduction in the U.S. wouldn't make any difference anyway, since China, which surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest CO2 emitter in 2007, would never cut emissions.

That favorite excuse for continuing to prop up the most profitable and dangerous industry on Earth came crashing down two months ago when China and President Obama struck a deal that would radically cut carbon emissions in both nations, including China's commitment to create enough renewable energy over the next 15 years to power an entire United States. (Begging the question: "If they can do it, why can't we?!")

But with the confirmation from both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Friday that 2014 was the hottest year for planet Earth in recorded history, another favorite denialist ruse has also come crashing down.

"The year 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since records began in 1880," NOAA's announcement reads. NASA's own statement, citing both their own and NOAA's "separate analyses," echoes: "The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880."

NOAA goes on to report that "the annually-averaged temperature" in 2014 "was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average, easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04°C (0.07°F)."

"While some Democrats may be convinced global warming is continuing to occur, the scientific record does not agree," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), arguably the nation's most powerful elected climate denier and now Chair of the U.S. Senate Environment Committee, lied to the nation on the floor of the U.S. Senate in July of 2014 [PDF]. "In fact, for the past 15 years temperatures across the globe have not increased. Let's think about that. Is anyone listening here? Temperatures have not increased over the last 15 years."

That line, about temperatures not increasing over the past 15 or 16 or 17 years (sometimes it's 20, depending on how the deniers like to do their pretend math) was a lie when uttered in previous years, and with the new announcements from the world's preeminent measurers of such things, it'll be even more difficult to continue to tell the same lie --- not that they won't try...

As the New York Times reported the news on Friday: "The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions and poses profound long-term risks to civilization and to the natural world."

You'll note the Times includes "scientists say" in that explanation, because, well, some people who are not scientists and know absolutely nothing about the issue, totally disagree.

"My religious beliefs of many things that inform me, that we couldn't have any impact on the climate, the planet, the globe, creation, no matter what, no matter how much we wanted to," non-scientist Republican radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh told millions of his listeners on Thursday. "It's beyond our reach."

For many, that likely settles the issue. For those who are not brainwashed fossil-fuel industry dupes, the independently verifiable data, as confirmed by several different independent world agencies, may be more persuasive.

NOAA reports that 2014 "also marks the 38th consecutive year (since 1977) that the yearly global temperature was above average." They also note that, since 2000 alone, global temperatures have been pretty consistently through the roof. "Including 2014, 9 of the 10 warmest years in the 135-year period of record have occurred in the 21st century." The other year was 1998.

Once again, however, Limbaugh, with a far larger daily audience than NOAA or NASA, disagrees.

"The actual length of time that there hasn't been any warming is now 20 years, despite all that carbon dioxide put in the air, and they can't figure it out," Limbaugh lied to listeners in 2013 (coincidentally, or not, on April Fools Day). "Well, it's very simple. They were bat-excrement crazy! They're just flat-out wrong."

So how do folks like Inhofe and Limbaugh, and so many of the others, justify their oft-repeated yet blatant lie that "Temperatures have not increased over the last 15 years" or that "there hasn't been any warming in now 20 years"?

Since the most effective propaganda needs to be based on some slim tether to reality, they do it in a number of ways, mostly using cherry-picked factoids to accomplish it. Those factoids, however, are even less persuasive after the confirmation from both NASA and NOAA that 2014 was hottest year for the planet in recorded history.

The Japan Meteorological Agency, or JMA, announced their own similar findings, based on their own separate dataset, at the end of last year. The fourth major agency that tracks global temperatures, the UK's Met Office Hadley Centre, won't release their final 2014 numbers until next week. (So there's still hope, Rush!)

Until 2014, NASA and NOAA had both cited 1998 as the third warmest year on record, behind 2005 and 2010, which tied as the warmest. Now they regard 1998 as the fourth warmest. Before the 2014 record, both JMA and Hadley, however, called 1998 the warmest ever.

1998 was, indeed, a very warm year, thanks in part to a spike in global surface temperature averages caused by El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, which released warmth stored in the ocean into the air.

Before 2014 --- which, unlike 1998, did not have an El Niño to help spike temperatures --- deniers would often use the Hadley and JMA numbers (and ignore NASA and NOAA's numbers citing 2005 and 2010 as warmer) to suggest that if 1998 was the hottest year on record globally, any year thereafter that wasn't warmer than 1998 must mean "the globe is no longer be warming". Some even preferred to say that "it's cooling!"

Got it? If one year was hotter than any since (so long as one doesn't notice other numbers at NASA and NOAA) the global is obviously getting cooler! It's the inverse of the same basic sleight-of-hand, or Faux Science for Dummies, that Limbaugh used on the same April Fools show back in 2013 (though he wasn't joking), when he duped and/or misinformed listeners by declaring: "The last ice age was 4,000 years ago. Therefore, my friends, the earth has been warming for the last 4,000 years."

Now, the reason the four major agencies do not have precisely the same numbers, allowing dishonest cherry-pickers like Limbaugh and Inhofe to run their con, is because each organization uses slightly different ways of measuring temperature and have a different number of stations around the globe to do it.

The main differences are based "in how the different datasets deal with having little or no data in remote parts of the world, measurement errors, changes in instrumentation over time and other factors that make capturing global temperature a less-than-straightforward task," The Carbon Brief offers in one of their explainers. "Data coverage has, perhaps, the biggest influence."

For example, Hadley, which has cited 1998 as the warmest year on record (but has yet to ring in on 2014), has the fewest temperature stations of the four major agencies and simply leaves large swaths of the earth, where they have no thermometers, out of their data record. NASA and NOAA, each working with a much larger set of data, use estimates from nearby stations to help cover the global gaps where they have no direct measurements.

These two charts from NASA's Earth Observatory, show the gaps (in gray) in the different datasets during November 2010 in both the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies dataset and the Met Office Hadley Centre's...

The result is that overall numbers from each agency are pretty close, as this chart of the different agency's datasets from 1880 to 2012 show (also courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)...

So, they're all pretty close, but the differences are enough (at least until now) to allow wiggle-room for those looking for ways to deceive people about the cause of global warming (humans burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation) in order to muddle the entire issue by declaring that it's not actually happening at all, so don't even bother trying to figure out what's causing it!

There are other cherry-picked data points that these scam artists use with the "hasn't warmed in 15 years!" hoax in order to confuse folks. For example, they often use only Earth surface temperatures, where the rate of increase in temperature rise has slowed a bit during the past decade, to claim that "temperatures have stopped rising"! They haven't, even if the rate of increase has moderately slowed near Earth's surface of late.

Moreover, that cherry-picked data point, as cited by denialists, usually doesn't include ocean temperatures either, despite the fact that heat in the oceans has continued to rise unabated. That's no small point, either.

"More than 90% of global warming heat goes into warming the oceans," writes Here's an idea of what that looks like, using data from 1950 to 2005...

As you can see, it may be easier to describe land surface temperatures over the past decade as "flat", so long as one simply removes ocean temps from the equation.

But, combine land and ocean temperatures, and things look very different. Here's a chart showing the rise in combined land and ocean temperatures from NASA and NOAA data. Note the blue line is the trend from 1880 through 2014, while the smaller purple line represents the trend from just 1998 through 2014:

Indeed, the rate of growth in the average annual temperature anomaly has slowed a bit during the past decade, even if, as Vox' science writer Brad Plumer describes it, the change is "very slight indeed."

Hypotheses for the explanation of the "very slight" reduction in the global temperature increase, explains Plumer, "include the idea that some of the extra heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been stored temporarily in the ocean or that there's been an outburst of recent volcanic activity that muted the pace of warming in the 2000s." (Volcanic activity adds particulate matter to the atmosphere, such as ash, which, essentially, keeps more sunlight from reaching Earth's lower atmosphere.)

Plumer goes on to write that, "if extra heat did go into the ocean recently because of, say, strong trade winds in the Pacific, that might set the stage for more rapid warming in the years ahead." That, scientists fear, is especially true should El Niño conditions reappear to help release that ocean heat into the atmosphere.

Finally, for now, one more way in which the fossil fuel industry's scam artists misrepresent actual scientific data to hoax the public is by referring to small variations in temperature during very short intervals in a climate which, yes, may increase or decrease by small amounts over various periods due to various factors, even if the long term trendlines --- no matter whose datasets one use --- are clearly going up at an alarming rate.

Writing for Forbes back in early 2012, when climate deniers really kicked off their "no warming over the past decade!" scam, scientist Peter Gleick illustrated how small, incremental natural variations in global surface temperatures could be (and are being) used to hoax an incurious public.

Gleick used these graphs --- of land surface temperatures only (they do not include either ice surface or ocean temps) --- to illustrate how the hoax works. We've put the graphs together to make them easier to see at once, and added our own commentary to the each cherry-picked set: 10 years prior to 2012; 15 years prior to 2012; and then the entire historical record through 2012...

Of course, in addition to not including ocean temps, the numbers in the above graphs also do not include data through 2014, which, as you now know, is the hottest year for the planet ever recorded by man.

"The repeated setting of new record high temperatures in 2014, 2010, 2005, 1998 and 1997 is clear indication of ongoing global warming," David Karoly, professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne told the Washington Post on Friday. "The fact that the warmest years on record are 2014, 2010 and 2005 clearly indicates that global warming has not 'stopped in 1998,' as some like to falsely claim," Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany told the Times.

Weather Underground's Director of Meteorology Jeff Masters echoes: "The fact that NOAA rated 2014 as the warmest year on record should put to rest the bogus idea often espoused by climate change deniers that 'global warming stopped in 1998'".

Of course, it won't stop the petro-con artists. No doubt, the climate deniers still have a lot of scams left in them --- the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable in the history of mankind, can afford to come up with plenty --- but hopefully you now have a better idea of how their mouthpieces, like Inhofe, Limbaugh, and of course, the always (un)reliable Fox "News", use small pieces of facts in order to play their followers for fools. Even as the planet burns...

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Got 30 seconds? Here's NASA's quick visualization of global temperatures from the beginning of record keeping in 1880 up through 2014, as posted on Friday...