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April 24, 2019

The Art of Climate Deception

Lately, climate science has been under attack from extreme factions of people more concerned about desired outputs than climate reality.

By Vijay Jayaraj

Lately, climate science has been under attack from extreme factions of people more concerned about desired outputs than climate reality. What’s really worrisome is that they have made their mark on our academies and public opinion.

How is it that, despite advances in science and communication, such factions can successfully alter the global climate-change narrative at will?

Welcome to the world of climate deception.

Deception is always bad. It is worse when it leads billions of people to harmful conclusions. Deception is not new in the climate sciences.

I vividly remember watching Al Gore’s 2007 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Two years later, I began graduate studies on the impacts of climate change. At England’s University of East Anglia, one of the world’s premier centers for climate science, I learned that Gore’s claims about polar ice disappearing and polar bears going extinct were false. He predicted that Arctic summer sea ice would disappear in the mid-2010s. It didn’t.

But it was not until 2015 that I discovered that the roots of deception ran deep within the climate sciences. There are two types of deceivers within the climate sciences.

There are climate deniers who deny warming completely and believe humans contribute nothing to changes in the climatic system. And then there are doomsayers who believe the warming is so severe that our world will end in a century or two — or even in just 12 years.

Just as we have both climate deniers and climate doomsday proponents in our social circles, academia too is divided about climate change, with major errors at the extremes. Intentionally or unintentionally, some academic scientists deceive the masses.

The doomsayers exaggerate the warming trend and eventually misguide policymakers into making unnecessary and restrictive policies that hamper socioeconomic progress.

The deniers ignore empirically verified climatic changes, resulting in an incomplete understanding of the earth’s climate system.

However, the deniers’ impact on public policy is small, given their small numbers and exclusion from influential positions. So I will limit my focus to doomsayers, since they are more numerous and influential and their radical prescriptions for policy changes are already spurring changes across all strata of society.

Climate doomsday proponents understand that short-term data can convince people of extreme climate change, even though the data are insufficient to establish the long-term trends on which doomsday claims depend. So they project data of the relatively rapid warming from 1970-1999 far into the future to generate scary scenarios.

The doomsayers’ myopic fixation on short-term climate change blinded them to long-term historical climate trends. That prevented comparison of current trends with similar trends in the past. It also enabled them to convince the public that the current warming, which they wrongly said was unprecedented, would continue unabated, making and the world’s future dangerously warm.

Despite being widely recognized in academic circles, the lack of significant warming between 1999 and 2018 — measured by satellites, weather balloons, and multi-source reanalyses — hardly shows up in our mainstream media. 

Instead of honestly reporting the apparent lack of warming over that 19-year period, doomsday proponents, playing on existing fears of climate change, continued to predict climate apocalypse. In fact, they went a step further. They created greater fear by using false and exaggerated climate forecasts from customized computer climate models. Most of our current policies on climate are based on these models, which have now failed for 19 years consecutively.

Besides using fearmongering tactics, the doomsayers indulged in careless (some say deliberately deceptive) handling of temperature data. Selectively using measurements from sites prone to artificial warmth from urbanization (referred to as the Urban Heat Island, or UHI, effect), they ignored measurements from rural sites. The result was misleadingly high global average temperature data.

The doomsayers do much more to sustain their narrative. They manipulate past temperature data to make the modern warming look dangerous; deny previous warm periods despite thousands of scientific papers in paleoclimatology affirming them; and ignore the poor positive correlation between human carbon dioxide emissions and global temperature levels. 

The Climatgate scandal of 2009 exposed some of these malpractices. Leaked emails between top climate scientists revealed deliberate attempts to manipulate data to show a pronounced warming trend.

As a graduate student in climate science at the University of East Anglia at the time, I was in the eye of the Climategate hurricane right when the emails came out. I often visited UEA’s Climatic Research Unit, the cradle of climate data manipulation. I have the dubious distinction now of writing against the very same research unit that helped me earn my master’s degree in Environmental Sciences.

The line between deception and truth about climate change can be very thin. The only way to avoid it is by carefully considering diverse data and drawing conclusions based on what we know about the past, not on what we think might happen in the future.

Empirical evidence — in this case observed temperature measurements from various sources, including proxy temperature measurements of past climate — should be our guiding light. But even there, we must be careful to note time scales, data sources, and possible biases.

Few people have time to dig so deeply into climate science, so the mainstream media and doomsday proponents, many in political institutions, continue to successfully deceive the masses.

Steering clear of climate deception is tough. It takes lots of reading.

But the deception could end in another way. Any rapid, undeniable global cooling would deal a severe blow to the global-warming doomsday scenario. Firsthand experience of cooling wouldn’t require much reading.

Is it likely? It seems so. Solar physicists studying the sun’s internal cycles increasingly think the next two solar cycles will have markedly less sunspot activity. Because sunspots and solar energy output correlate positively, and solar energy is the primary determinant of global temperature, the result for the earth could be temperature levels as low as the Little Ice Age of the 17th century. 

If that comes to pass, deception by global-warming doomsayers will come to an end. But just as in the 1980s and 1990s, during which prophets of dangerous man-made warming replaced those who in the 1960s and 1970s warned of dangerous man-made cooling, new doomsayers will likely replace them, demanding afresh that we stop doing whatever they say is causing man-made cooling, even though it’s actually driven by the sun.

Whatever is the case, fearmongers will always find ways to deceive. That makes it critically important that the public learn what Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman called “the key to science”: always testing hypotheses against real-world observations. That’s also what the Apostle Paul recommended when he wrote, “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in India.

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