The “Fastest Warming Place” On Planet Earth Was Actually Cooling

  • Date: 23/07/16
  • Jo Nova

A new Antarctic study wipes out 20 years of panic about the West Antarctic Peninsula. All these years while people were crying about penguins, it turns out that the place was cooling rather than warming.

Mankind has emitting a third of all its “CO2-pollution” ever from 1998, and there was “no discernible” effect on Antarctica. Indeed, the study quietly finds that even the bigger longer warming that has happened in the last century was not “unprecedented” in the last 2000 years.

In the last decade as this cooling trend was happening in the real world – in the media, the same spot was being described as “one of the fastest warming places on Earth”:

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth, NBC, 2013

West Antarctic Ice Sheet warming twice earlier estimate, BBC, 2012

And this sort of news has been going on for years. This was “big deal” once-in-2000 year type stuff:

UK scientists say parts of Antarctica have recently been warming much faster than most of the rest of the Earth. They believe the warming is probably without parallel for nearly two thousand years. – BBC, 2001

But the news in 2016 was a bit of a bomb, prone to being misinterpreted, so the PR Team was pre-armed with excuses, from the first line of the scientific abstract which pretty much says that the peninsula still was one of the fastest warming places on Earth (if you look at warming from 1950 and ignore the last 20 years the study is studying). Great opening line. The abstract also mentions that the Antarctic peninsula is only 1% of the Antarctic (though no one seems to mention that when it was melting).

Further excuses went out in the media (from The Australian and The ABC):

1. The cooling is natural and temporary (Hey, how do they know? They know because the models which didn’t predict the cooling are still predicting it will warm).
2. “The study does not suggest that global warming has been halted…” (because it would not get published in Nature if they did).
3. It’s just a coincidence that global temperatures “paused” during the same years – this has nothing to do with the “haitus”. (Methinks someone is still hurting from skeptics mentioning “the pause”.)
4. Here’s a goodie: “It hasn’t cooled nearly as much as it had warmed before,” Steig said. (Like 20-year-trends only mattered before 1998. After that, who cares?)
5. Trite excuses make subheader status: “Long-term changes have year-to-year variability: researcher” (Like that’s news? No one seems to put that in a sub-heading when it’s a warm year. Is the aim here just to bore people into not reading the article?)
6. Distractions make subheader status: This news about cooling is not important — what really matters is ____ (insert anything else)____. Eg. The real threat is ocean warming: Leeds researcher

Contort those headlines

Something funny happens to editors with these types of stories. When Antarctica warms, melts, or loses ice the headlines are short. But when it cools you can feel the editors pain. Here’s the ABC’s catchy headline:

Antarctica: One of last century’s fastest warming places is temporarily cooling, scientists find

The WashingtonPost came up with this snappy effort:

The Antarctic Peninsula has been cooling, but that doesn’t disprove global warming

Spin the meaning

No matter how much it cools, it still warming:

“We’re certainly not saying that global warming has stopped. On the contrary, we’re highlighting the complexity of climate change.”

Complexity is the excuse for all occasions. Better leave it to experts and don’t think cooling means, y’know, cooling. One hot month is man-made but 20 years of regional cooling means nothing.

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