In his Washington Post column, George Will claimed that "evidence" of climate change is "elusive" and that scientists are overstating the threat of warming when they say -- in the words of a September 21 New York Times article Will criticizes -- that a recent "plateau" in temperatures has "no bearing" on the long-term warming trend; in fact, scientists routinely present strong evidence of long-term warming and its consequences -- including a September 2009 United Nations report Will himself cited that says "rapid environmental change is underway with the pace and the scale of climate change accelerating." Will has previously been criticized by the World Meteorological Organization, his own Post colleagues, and others for misusing scientific data to claim that warming may not be occurring.
Will claims "Evidence" of warming is "elusive"; "theories" about man-made climate change "are impervious to evidence"
Will: "[W]hat makes skeptics skeptical is the accumulating evidence that theories predicting catastrophe from man-made climate change are impervious to evidence." In his October 1 Washington Post column, Will claimed that "the word 'plateau' " in a New York Times article about global warming "dismisses the unpleasant -- to some people -- fact that global warming is maddeningly (to the same people) slow to vindicate their apocalyptic warnings about it." Will continued, "The Times says 'a short-term trend gives ammunition to skeptics of climate change.' Actually, what makes skeptics skeptical is the accumulating evidence that theories predicting catastrophe from man-made climate change are impervious to evidence. The theories are unfalsifiable, at least in the 'short run.' And the 'short run' is defined as however many decades must pass until the evidence begins to fit the hypotheses." Will further wrote:
Warnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program predicts an enormous 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century even if nations fulfill their most ambitious pledges concerning reduction of carbon emissions. The U.S. goal is an 80 percent reduction by 2050. But Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute says that would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the 1910 level. On a per capita basis, it would mean emissions approximately equal to those in 1875. [The Washington Post, 10/1/09]
U.N. report Will cited actually provides evidence for warming and its consequences
U.N. report -- cited by Will -- found that "ever more rapid environmental change is underway." Will cited a September 2009 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report as evidence that "[w]arnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive." But Will ignored actual evidence in the report that undermines his claim. Indeed, in presenting the findings -- which were "based on the wealth of peer reviewed research published by researchers and institutions since 2006" -- Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, stated, "The findings indicate that ever more rapid environmental change is underway with the pace and the scale of climate change accelerating along with the confidence among researchers in their forecasts."
U.N. report -- cited by Will -- found that Earth "committed" to warming of at least 1.6 degrees Celsius by century's end. The UNEP report further stated: "Researchers suggest that 0.6 degrees Celsius of the warming we committed to before 2005 has been realized so far. Most of the rest of the 1.6 degrees Celsius total we have committed to will develop in the next 50 years and on through the 21st century. The accompanying sea-level rise can continue for more than several centuries. Lastly, even the most aggressive CO2 mitigation steps as envisioned now can only limit further additions to the committed warming, but not reduce the already committed GHGs warming of 2.4 degrees Celsius (Ramanathan and Feng 2008)."
Report highlights growing evidence of devastation to the environment. The report also highlighted several consequences of global warming that scientists are already observing:
Sea ice loss: "Accelerated shrinking of mountain glaciers on every continent, rapid reduction of Arctic sea ice, disintegration of floating ice shelves, and increased melt rates of Earth's three Ice Sheets-Greenland, West Antarctic, and East Antarctic-provide compelling evidence of our changing climate."
Higher ocean temperatures, acidification, coral bleaching: "Climate change further threatens oceans with higher temperatures, increased acidification, and altered circulation and nutrient supplies."
Ecosystem shifts: "Since the compilation of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, serious and irreversible changes in Earth's Ecosystems due to anthropogenic activities are increasingly recognized with greater confidence and better quantification of the processes."
Will falsely cited U.N. in criticizing "enormous 6.3 degrees" prediction
U.N. did not report, as Will stated, "cataclysmic warming" of 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by century's end. While criticizing "[w]arnings about cataclysmic warming," Will asserted, "A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program predicts an enormous 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century even if nations fulfill their most ambitious pledges concerning reduction of carbon emissions" [italics in original]. In fact -- as the September 25 Washington Post article Will linked to makes clear -- a coalition of researchers in the United States, including the Sustainability Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ventana Systems, and Robert Corell, who the article stated "chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report's scientific findings," established that figure, not the U.N.
Will routinely criticized for distorting climate data
Will distorted Arctic Climate Research Center about sea ice. Previously, Will twice misused sea ice data to falsely suggest that the data undermine the overwhelming evidence that humans are causing global warming. In a February 27 column, Will falsely claimed that in his February 15 column, he "accurately reported" on the contents of an ACRC document. In fact, the document he cited rebutted the very argument he was making: the ACRC document that Will relied on actually stated that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models. In the words of TPM Muckraker's Zachary Roth, Will's new column "amounts to a stubborn defense of the amazing global warming denialist column he published earlier this month, that was ripped apart by just about everyone and their mother." On April 6, NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) released new data on Arctic sea ice levels that further discredited Will's statements.
Will criticized for "misrepresentation of the data" after distorting World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) data about global temperatures. Will wrote in his April 2 column that "[r]educing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the WMO, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998." Will presented the WMO data as evidence that global warming may not be occurring despite the fact that WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud criticized him for similarly writing in a February 15 column that according to the organization, "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." Jarraud called Will's February 15 assertion "a misrepresentation of the data and of scientific knowledge."
Will columns criticized by Post colleagues. Will's global warming columns have also recently been criticized by Washington Post editorial board member and cartoonist Tom Toles, Post weather columnist Andrew Freedman, and Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander. His fellow editorial columnist Eugene Robinson also said that Will "cross[ed] the line" in spreading global warming misinformation.