Global Warming ‘Hiatus’ Is the Climate Change Myth That Refuses to Die
By Kevin Cowtan and Stephan Lewandowsky
The record-breaking, El Niño-driven global temperatures of 2016 have given climate change deniers a new trope. Why, they ask, hasn't it since got even hotter?
In response to a recent U.S. government report on the impact of climate change, a spokesperson for the science-denying American Enterprise Institute think-tank claimed that "we just had […] the biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years."
These claims are blatantly false: the past two years were two of the three hottest on record, and the drop in temperature from 2016 to 2018 was less than, say, the drop from 1998 (a previous record hot year) to 2000. But, more importantly, these claims use the same kind of misdirection as was used a few years ago about a supposed "pause" in warming lasting from roughly 1998 to 2013.
At the time, the alleged pause was cited by many people skeptical about the science of climate change as a reason not to act to reduce greenhouse pollution. U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz frequently argued that this lack of warming undermined dire predictions by scientists about where we're heading.
However, drawing conclusions on short-term trends is ill-advised because what matters to climate change is the decade-to-decade increase in temperatures rather than fluctuations in warming rate over a few years. Indeed, if short periods were suitable for drawing strong conclusions, climate scientists should perhaps now be talking about a "surge" in global warming since 2011, as shown in this figure:
Global temperature observations compared to climate models. Climate-disrupting volcanoes are shown at the bottom, and the purported hiatus period is shaded. 2018 values based on year to date (YTD). NASA; Berkeley Earth; various climate models., Author provided
The "pause" or "hiatus" in warming of the early 21st century is not just a talking point of think-tanks with radical political agendas. It also features in the scientific literature, including in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and more than 200 peer-reviewed articles.
Research we recently published in Environmental Research Letters addresses two questions about the putative "pause": first, is there compelling evidence in the temperature data alone of something unusual happening at the start of the 21st century? Second, did the rise in temperature lag behind projections by climate models?
In both cases the answer is "no," but the reasons are interesting.
Reconstructing a historical temperature record from instruments designed for other purposes, such as weather forecasting, is not always easy. Several problems have affected temperature estimates for the period since 2000. The first of these was the fact that uneven geographical distribution of weather stations can influence the apparent rate of warming. Other factors include changes in the instruments used to measure ocean temperatures. Most of these factors were known at the time and reported in the scientific literature, but because the magnitudes of the effects were unknown, users of temperature data (from science journalists to IPCC authors) were in a bind when interpreting their results.
A more subtle problem arises when we ask whether a fluctuation in the rate of warming is a new phenomena, rather than the kind of variation we expect due to natural fluctuations of the climate system. Different statistical tests are needed to determine whether a phenomena is interesting depending on how the data are chosen. In a nutshell, if you select data based on them being unusual in the first place, then any statistical tests that seemingly confirm their unusual nature give the wrong answer. (The statistical issue here is similar to the fascinating but counterintuitive "Monty Hall problem," which has caught out many mathematicians).
When the statistical test is applied correctly, the apparent slowdown in warming is no more significant than other fluctuations in the rate of warming over the past 40 years. In other words, there is no compelling evidence that the supposed "pause" period is different from other previous periods. Neither is the deviation between the observations and climate model projections larger than would be expected.
That's not to say that such "wiggles" in the temperature record are uninteresting—several of our team are involved in further studies of these fluctuations, and the study of the "pause" has yielded interesting new insights into the climate system—for example, the role of changes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
There are lessons here for the media, for the public and for scientists.
For scientists, there are two lessons: first, when you get to know a dataset by using it repeatedly in your work, make sure you also still remember the limitations you read about when first downloading it. Second, remember that your statistical choices are always part of a cascade of decisions, and at least occasionally those decisions must be revisited.
For the public and the media, the lesson is to check claims about the data. In particular, when claims are made based on short periods or specific datasets, they are often designed to mislead. If someone claims the world hasn't warmed since 1998 or 2016, ask them why those specific years—why not 1997 or 2014? Why have such short limits at all? And also check how reliable similar claims have been in the past.
The technique of misinformation is nicely described in a quote attributed to climate researcher Michael Tobis:
"If a large data set speaks convincingly against you, find a smaller and noisier one that you can huffily cite."
Global warming didn't stop in 1998. Don't be fooled by claims that it stopped in 2016 either. There is only one thing that will stop global warming: cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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