Reuters' Climate Change Drudge Bait

Reuters is purporting to examine how scientists are “struggling” to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, but fails to quote any scientists about the issue.

In an article titled “Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown” that is being promoted by the Drudge Report, Reuters claimed that short-term temperature variability “has exposed gaps” in scientists' understanding of climate change. However, the article didn't quote a single scientist about the temperature trends, instead talking to environmental contrarian and business school professor Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol, considered a conservative estimator of climate damages, to sow doubt about the quality of climate science (Reuters quoted Dr. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey scientist, about a separate topic at the end of the report).

Perhaps due to this, Reuters characterized the time period since 2000 as a “pause in warming,” without mentioning that it included the warmest decade on record or that each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record.

This map from NASA illustrates the temperature anomaly (or amount above the 1951-1980 average) between 2000 and 2009:

Additionally, while Reuters suggested that short-term temperature variations could be “a more lasting phenomenon,” the long-term trend of rising temperatures is clear, and research remains consistent on estimates of how much the Earth would warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide -- somewhere in the range of 2°C to 4.5°C, or about 3.5°F to 8°F.

Reuters offered one example of the kind of uncertainty that has allegedly caused “trust in climate science” to decline: the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s 2010 correction of an estimate of the decline of Himalayan glaciers. However, the IPCC's error was a mere typo, which did not undermine either the clear global trend of glacier melt or the broader veracity of climate change.

And while Reuters stated that “Weak economic growth and the pause in warming is undermining governments' willingness to make a rapid billion-dollar shift from fossil fuels,” many think that uncertainty about exactly how severe that warming will be should prompt a more aggressive approach to reducing the greenhouse gases driving climate change. Indeed, in an email to Media Matters, the economist quoted in the story, Tol, stated that he told Reuters that higher uncertainty actually leaves him “more concerned about climate change”:

Lower confidence means greater uncertainty. The probability that nothing much is the matter has gone up, but so has the probability that things could be much worse. Therefore, I am actually more concerned about climate change now than I was.