The XX Factor

Feeling Hot Hot Hot

As the Senate starts debating the climate-change bill, the pseudoscientific nonsense coming out of Exxon-funded think tanks will no doubt increase. The latest denialist rant, a memo allegedly suppressed by the EPA , sounded plausible to non-scientists but was easily demolished by actual climate scientists . It’s tempting to follow Paul Krugman and shout “Traitorous fiends!” instead of getting into annoying technical arguments over prevalence of sun spots and historical concentrations of carbon dioxide. Nonetheless, debunking the climate change denialist talking points is important, particuarly in the aftermath of the narrow margin on the climate legislation in the House .

Recently, the popular denialist blog Watts Up With That gleefully announced that global temperature for June was exactly average , showing neither warming nor cooling. The author, Anthony Watt, said that “…this should give some pause to those who are rational thinkers. For those that see only dogma, I expect this will be greeted with jeers.” Oh noes! Does one month of data utterly demolish the idea of global warming?

Of course not. In the short term, no change of temperature or even cooling is completely consistent with long-term warming. A shiny new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters and described in the excellent blog Climate Shifts , explains why periods of cooling don’t contradict an overal global warming trend. Essentially, there’s going to be little up and down squiggles overlying an overall increase in temperature. Even if we’re in a cool-temperature trending squiggle for a decade, the larger upward trend towards higher temperatures remains.

It can take specialized knowledge to figure out why pseudoscientific climate arguments are wrong. So in case you end up arguing with your cranky uncle at the next family barbecue, here’s my favorite resources on global climate change.

- Skeptical Science has a list of every denialist argument , along with debunkings from peer-reviewed science. And it has a cute little thermomenter showing which is the most popular!

- Grist Magazine has a list of arguments organized by Stages of Denial , Scientific Topics , Types of Argument , and Levels of Sophistication .

-Real Climate is written by working climate scientists and tends to be more technical. Go here for the real deal on the data, or if you want to stun your friends and co-workers with statements like “But in any case, the trend in from 2003 to 2008 in the Levitus data (the Domingues et al data does not extend past 2003), is still positive but with an uncertainty (both in the trend calculation and systematically) that makes it impossible to state whether there has been a significant change.” They also have a handy list of responses to common denialist arguments.