Yes, Prof. Derr, the Planet Is Heating Up

At the First Things blog, resident climate change denialist Thomas Sieger Derr (whose dishonest tactics Grant has exposed before), after weighing in on the cap and trade debate, lets loose with a predictable volley of faux-scientific silliness:

All this diplomatic turmoil is proceeding against a backdrop of growing public indifference. So the alarmist community has reacted predictably by issuing ever more apocalyptic statements, like the federal report Global Change Impacts in the United States issued last week which predicts more frequent heat waves, rising water temperatures, more wildfires, rising disease levels, and rising sea levelsheadlined, in a paper I read, as Getting Warmer. This is mostly nonsense, and it is certainly not getting warmer. The earth stopped warming in 1998 and since 2002 has been getting slightly cooler. Sea ice in the arctics is growing. Sea levels are not rising faster than their usual steady tiny pace. The incidence of severe storms is not increasing. And so on. If you want to worry about the climate, worry about colder weather and lower crop yields as the sun remains unusually quiet.For heavens sake, climate people, pay attention to real life, real time data and not your wobbly and unreliable computer models.

Let's go through this line by line, shall we?

The earth stopped warming in 1998 and since 2002 has been getting slightly cooler.

Actually, no. As the indispensable John Cook explains, 1998 happened to be an unusually warm year thanks to abnormally high levels of El Nio activity, but when we correct for that anomaly we find a consistent warming pattern that continues the trend of the past century-plus, with the eight warmest years on record all having occurred since 1998. The idea that global surface temperatures in an obviously extreme year can be taken as a straightforward data point to compare with temperatures from other years is as wobbly and unreliable a strategy for measuring climate trends as there could possibly be.

Sea ice in the arctics is growing.

Again: no, not really. Like the above-discussed claim about planetary temperature trends, misleading talk about sea ice has become a common trope among climate change denialists, most famously in a recent George Will column that the Washington Post fact-checkers seemed to have forgotten about. But it's every bit as dishonest when Derr appeals to it as when Will does: for one thing, it's only in the Antarctic where sea ice levels show a pattern of long term growth; and for another, as Cook helpfully explains once again, the increase of sea ice in the Antarctic is something that seems to be an effect of warming patterns in the region, not cooling ones.

Sea levels are not rising faster than their usual steady tiny pace.

Untrue. As the NOAA notes, the rate of sea level rise over the past century has been "significantly larger" than that of the past thousand years, and this trend is expected only to worsen as greenhouse gas levels rise. A similar point to that last one also holds for the incidence of severe storms, which is projected to increase as the Earth's climate warms; the fact that such an increase hasn't been observed since the relevant projections were issued in 2007 is no good reason to think that they are wrong.Mostly nonsense, indeed. If the First Things crowd ever decides to do one of those fundraising cruises that have become so popular of late, I know of a river in Egypt that would be an appropriate destination.P.S. None of this is to say that the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which Derr begins by criticizing, is worthy of support. (Even many environmentalists think it may not be.) But it's entirely possible to argue that without pretending that global warming and its effects are any less real than Thomas Sieger Derr's evident penchant for intellectual dishonesty.

John Schwenkler is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.

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