Echoing Hume, Wash. Times cited skeptic's misleading statistic to suggest global warming "stopped in 1998"


Echoing Brit Hume's recent report that global warming "could ... be in remission," a Washington Times editorial cited a misleading statistic -- recently highlighted by global-warming skeptic Bob Carter -- to suggest that global warming might have "stopped in 1998" because of a "negligible decrease in temperature" since that year. But Hume and the Times neglected to mention why temperatures have slightly decreased since 1998: That year was the hottest on record, according to the Climatic Research Unit, the source of Carter's data.

Echoing Fox News host Brit Hume, an April 18 Washington Times editorial cited a misleading statistic to suggest that global warming might have "stopped in 1998" because of a "negligible decrease in temperature" since that year. On the April 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume cited an April 9 op-ed in The Sunday Telegraph written by global-warming skeptic Bob Carter, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, to suggest that global warming might "be in remission." Hume stated: "Carter notes that since 1998, average temperatures across the globe have not increased at all, and, in fact, have dropped ever so slightly." While 1998 was the hottest on record according to the Climatic Research Unit, the source of Carter's data, an examination of temperature data since 1998 undermines Carter's assertion that global warming "stopped" in that year. For example, neither Carter, the Times, nor Hume mentioned the fact that five different years since 1998 (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005) have seen warmer temperatures than any year preceding 1998, according to Climatic Research Unit figures. Nor did they explain that 2005 was the second-warmest year on record, according to the Climatic Research Unit, and the hottest year on record when analysis of warming in the Arctic is taken into account, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

The Times editorial, which bemoaned the exclusion of global-warming skeptics from the "political discourse," acknowledged that most scientists would "dispute Carter's view." But it did not mention why that might be the case -- because Carter's view is based on a misrepresentation of recent temperature trends:

The same week California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to reposition himself on global warming with a proposal for new greenhouse-gas cuts, a funny thing happened: A paleoclimatologist said that global warming actually stopped in 1998.

"For many years now, human-caused climate change has been viewed as a large and urgent problem," wrote Bob Carter of James Cook University in Australia in the Daily Telegraph [sic]. "In truth, however, the biggest part of the problem is neither environmental nor scientific, but a self-created political fiasco. Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate [sic] Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase."

In fact, according to Mr. Carter, there appears to have been a negligible decrease in temperature over that period. Which is not to say that he disputes the notion that warming happened in the late 20th century. Rather, Mr. Carter is pointing to a recent fluctuation in the climate data which suggests that so-called "anthropogenic" warming could not be a very significant factor -- not if gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles and surging Chinese growth could fail to tip the scales toward warming. Climate seems to vary according to a number of factors, he believes, and the man-made part was probably negligible the last few years. Mr. Carter unloaded on -- among people and institutions -- the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calling it a "gravy train" to benefit scientists who hew to preferred positions on global warming.

We bring up Mr. Carter's entry into this debate up not to endorse the scientific judgment -- we leave that to the scientists, many or even most of whom would dispute Mr. Carter's view -- but instead to observe that the political discourse often pretends that such voices do not exist.

Hume also parroted Carter's claim that "there was actually a slight decrease" in temperature between 1998 and 2005:

HUME: And could global warming be in remission? Australian geologist Bob Carter thinks so. Carter notes that since 1998, average temperatures across the globe have not increased at all, and, in fact, have dropped ever so slightly. Carter says what he calls "climate scaremongering" is merely a self-created political fiasco, as he put it, writing in the London Telegraph that global-warming devotees ignore the fact that the Earth got warmer between 1918 and 1940 before worldwide industrialization and cooled between 1940 and 1968, during the height of the growing industrial era. His conclusion: The Earth's climate changes naturally and unpredictably in cycles.

However, other data from Carter's own source contradict his assertion that recent annual temperature figures show that global warming "stopped in 1998."

A chart from a December 2005 press release from the Climatic Research Unit:


Optimally averaged temperature relative to the 1961-1990 mean





















The press release also noted that 2005 was "the second warmest year on record" at the time:

"2005 is currently the second warmest year on record and 2005 is likely to be among the warmest 4 years in the official temperature record since 1861, but final figures will not be released until February. The last 10 years (1996-2005), with the exception of 1996, are the warmest years on record."

According to a January report by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2005 was the warmest year on record. NASA explained the difference between its findings and those of the Climatic Research Unit: "The primary difference among the analyses, according to the NASA scientists, is the inclusion of the Arctic in the NASA analysis. Although there are few weather stations in the Arctic, the available data indicate that 2005 was unusually warm in the Arctic."

Further, the Climatic Research Unit stated on its website in January 2006 that the 1990s were "the warmest decade of the millennium and the 20th century the warmest century":

The 1990s were the warmest decade in the series. The warmest year of the entire series has been 1998, with a temperature of 0.58°C above the 1961-90 mean. Nine of the ten warmest years in the series have now occurred in the past ten years (1995-2004). The only year in the last ten not among the warmest ten is 1996 (replaced in the warm list by 1990).

Analyses of over 400 proxy climate series (from trees, corals, ice cores and historical records) show that the 1990s is the warmest decade of the millennium and the 20th century the warmest century. The warmest year of the millennium was 1998, and the coldest was probably 1601.

A graph on the Climatic Research Unit website illustrates the broader context for the warming trend for the "combined global land and marine surface temperature record from 1856 to 2005":

Carter has made other inaccurate statements on climate change, which have been debunked here and here. As Media Matters for America has documented, peer-reviewed evidence that human activity is contributing to global warming is embraced by the vast majority of climate scientists.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Fox News Channel, The Washington Times
Brit Hume
Special Report with Brit Hume
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