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At Last, The Grey Lady Acknowledges Global Warming Slowdown

Walter Russell Mead, Via Meadia

Earth’s surface temperatures aren’t rising at the rate scientists predicted. It’s yet another example of how quickly our understanding of the Earth’s climate is changing, and a major blow to the green movement, which has aggressively pushed these predictions to get their preferred policies through. Now, even the New York Times is acknowledging this fact:

The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace. […]

[G]iven how much is riding on the scientific forecast, the practitioners of climate science would like to understand exactly what is going on. They admit that they do not, even though some potential mechanisms of the slowdown have been suggested. The situation highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system, some of which cannot be closed until we get better measurements from high in space and from deep in the ocean.

We know that we’re continuing to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses at record rates. We know that these gasses trap the sun’s heat, like the glass in a greenhouse. But we don’t know where this heat is going, because for the past decade or so it hasn’t been showing up in surface temperature readings.

This looks like a major scientific failing, but it’s not particularly surprising that we can’t predict the future of a system as complex as the global climate. There are countless variables and relationships between variables, many of which we do not yet understand. The consensus within the scientific community seems to be that this recent warming “plateau” is happening because deep oceans are storing the heat, but scientific consensus has a tendency to change over time as new information is discovered.

What this means for our future climate is unclear. Given what we do know, it makes sense to continue to go after the so-called “low hanging fruit” of emissions reduction policy, like phasing out HFCs, increasing energy efficiency, or embracing telework. These kinds of changes will make life better, and will be worthwhile even if we’re not on track for catastrophic warming in the near future.

But what’s most remarkable here is that the NYT is acknowledging a point that would have been banished to the underworld of “climate-skeptic” blogs only a few years ago. Our knowledge of our climate is limited, and the green movement has hurt its credibility by clinging to its doctrine of “settled science” even as the science changes around it.

Via Meadia, 13 June 2013