climate change media

Chinese whispers and climate skeptics

Last week saw a rather bizarre spate of news stories about the weather, and particularly about Britain facing a new ice age. Needless to say the claim was gleefully repeated by the climate “skeptic” blogs, and it provides a rather interesting case study in internet noise.

Here’s a sample skeptic headline: British mainstream news media announces global cooling arrival, says the headline, reporting that “Britain’s major independent television broadcaster today joins major national newspapers in finally accepting that man-made global warming is history. ” That sounds unlikely, so let’s look up the source. A click through to the source finds an article on pay-per-click content site Suite101. It reports that a weatherman on ITV’s local Anglia news mentioned that new research shows how UV cycles affect the weather. The author interprets this, somehow, as a major admission of the myth of global warming, despite the weatherman not actually mentioned climate change – it’s a weather forecasting news item, not climate research. There are so many flaws in this article it’s hard to know where to start, but the author is getting paid per click and controversy is getting him more hits. (That’s why I’m not linking to it) But where is he getting his ideas from, if not actual facts?

Following his link takes me to the Sunday Times, which is behind the firewall, so I am unable to verify the story. However, the author also mentions the Express. Known for its climate denial stance, it has the headline Britain Faces a Mini-Ice Age. According to the article,  “Britain is set to suffer a mini ice age that could last for decades and bring with it a series of bitterly cold winters. And it could all begin within weeks as experts said last night that the mercury may soon plunge below the record -20C endured last year.”

Three articles in and we’re no closer to the truth, but since the Express is written by actual journalists, they may at least cite the original source even if they misrepresent it. They mention the Met Office, so let’s try there.

Over on the Met Office blog, they’re a little frustrated that their news release is being misunderstood, and calls the headlines ‘alarmist’: “there were some misleading reports that suggested this research meant we may see a ‘mini ice age’. There is nothing in this research that would indicate such as assessment and a full article on the research can be found on the Research pages of the Met Office website.” Great, let’s look at that actual research then.

Here’s the nub of the story: The Met Office, along with Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, has released some new findings on how the sun’s UV cycles can impact the climate of the Northern hemisphere. Using new satellite measurements of ultra violet light, a correlation can be identified between high and low levels of UV activity, and mild or cold winters. “In years of low UV activity unusually cold air forms over the tropics in the stratosphere, about 50km up. This is balanced by more easterly flow of air over the mid latitudes – a pattern which then ‘burrows’ its way down to the surface, bringing easterly winds and cold winters to northern Europe. When solar UV output is higher than usual, the opposite occurs and there are strong westerlies which bring warm air and hence milder winters to Europe.” You can read the full study in Nature if you’re a subscriber.

This is a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon, and according to the scientist running the experiment, “there is little direct impact on global temperatures.” Neither does low UV mean a cooling trend – it means that heat is distributed differently around the Atlantic. Does it in any way disprove the theory of man-made climate change? No, says Joanna Haigh from Imperial College. “Compared with the effect of man-made emissions over the last century, solar variations still have a very minor effect on long-term global climate trends, but this study shows they may have a detectable influence on winter climate.”

So no, Britain is not on the verge of an ice age, and anthropomorphic climate change has not been disproven by scientists identifying a UV cycle.

Ironically, the essence of skepticism is not to take things at a face value. So come on “skeptics”, a little more skepticism please.

1 comment

  1. Interesting article, I often have to fight the urge to start tracking these sorts of claims otherwise I would never get any work done!

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