Global cooling on the brain

It's cold outside! Must mean manmade climate change is a crock. Right?

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 11, 2010 7:47PM (EST)

It is alarming how many smart people do little more than look at the weather outside and then make a decision on whether global warming is real or not. Megan McArdle, after quoting a passage from an article published in The Mail arguing that the current cold weather presages a new mini-ice age, finishes with this flourish:

Not that I am taking predictions of the weather all that seriously. 'Twas but a few months ago when I was reading the climate change community writing that the recent cooling trend had been a fluke, and that we were scheduled to return to record warm temperatures ... why, this very winter!

I'm note sure who exactly McArdle was reading, but the predictions that 2010 will be one of the hottest years on record -- if not the hottest -- are not being affected by the current cold snap that has so riveted the attention of citizens of Beijing, Washington, and London. They are based on increases in sea and land temperatures from all over the world. By those calculations, globally, 2009 was the fifth hottest year on record, and 2010 has a shot at number one.

But then, how do we reconcile the view of most climate scientists with this passage from the Mail?

[Professor Mojib Latif] told The Mail on Sunday: "A significant share of the warming we saw from 1980 to 2000 and at earlier periods in the 20th Century was due to these cycles -- perhaps as much as 50 per cent.

"They have now gone into reverse, so winters like this one will become much more likely. Summers will also probably be cooler, and all this may well last two decades or longer.

"The extreme retreats that we have seen in glaciers and sea ice will come to a halt. For the time being, global warming has paused, and there may well be some cooling."

Sounds pretty strong, huh? But I think the key words in that quote are "for the time being," -- at least judging by the upset reaction from Professor Latif after he saw the context in which his quote had been placed by the Mail.

From The Guardian:

Mojib Latif, a climate expert at the Leibniz Institute at Kiel University in Germany, said he "cannot understand" reports that used his research to question the scientific consensus on climate change.

He told the Guardian: "It comes as a surprise to me that people would try to use my statements to try to dispute the nature of global warming. I believe in manmade global warming. I have said that if my name was not Mojib Latif it would be global warming."

He added: "There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."


Latif said his research suggested that up to half the warming seen over the 20th century was down to this natural ocean effect, but said that was consistent with the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "No climate specialist would ever say that 100 percent of the warming we have seen is down to greenhouse gas emissions."

The recent articles are not the first to misrepresent his research, Latif said. "There are numerous newspapers, radio stations and television channels all trying to get our attention. Some overstate and some want to downplay the problem as a way to get that attention," he said. "We are trying to discuss in the media a highly complex issue. Nobody would discuss the problem of [Einstein's theory of] relativity in the media. But because we all experience the weather, we all believe that we can assess the global warming problem."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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