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Another Fib Created by the Echo Chamber of Climate Change Denial

30/08/2013 17:49 BST | Updated 29/10/2013 09:12 GMT

Climate change 'sceptics' and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media are continuing their campaign to prevent the public from hearing about scientists' work on the causes and consequences of global warming.

The main aim of these 'sceptics' is to create a fake dispute over the scientific evidence about the role of human activities in order to distract away from discussions about how to mitigate it though policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most obvious manifestations of this cynical exercise in the manipulation of the public is the echo chamber of climate change denial.

This operates when a 'sceptic' blogger, usually affiliated to a 'free market' lobby group, posts an inaccurate and misleading article about the science, often using a misrepresentation of the findings or views of climate researchers.

The false article is then reproduced on other 'sceptic' blogs, which are usually located in countries that have significant oil, coal or gas companies, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Occasionally the falsehood is picked up by 'sceptic' cheerleaders in the mainstream media, who repeat it as if it was fact-checked news.

A blatant example of this defrauding of the public was on display last week after National Public Radio in the United States broadcast an interview on 23 August with Dr Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

He was asked during the interview about the fact that the rate of rise of global average surface temperature over the past 15 years has been slower than over the previous few decades.

Dr Trenberth pointed out that the record of surface temperature measurements does not show monotonous and steady global warming, but instead periods of faster and slower rates of temperature rise, reflecting the interaction of the impact of rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere and natural variability in the world's climate.

On periods of slower warming, he said: "They probably can't go on much for much longer than maybe 20 years, and what happens at the end of these hiatus periods, is suddenly there's a big jump up to a whole new level and you never go back to that previous level again".

He said that the recent slowdown in surface temperature warming was probably due to more heat being absorbed by the deep oceans.

However, Steve Milloy, who runs a website for 'free market' fundamentalists called 'Junk Science', decided to create confusion about Dr Trenberth's interview by drawing attention to it in an article under the headline 'Kevin Trenberth: Ocean will eat global warming for next 20 years'.

Sure enough, Milloy's false account of the interview was soon echoing across other 'sceptic' blogs, including Climate Depot, which is funded by a 'free market' lobby group in the United States, the so-called Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

And it was not long before 'sceptic' cheerleaders in the mainstream media were repeating Milloy's deception.

Andrew Neil, the presenter of The Daily Politics show on the BBC in the UK tweeted on 24 August: "Leading global warmist scientist Kevin Trenberth says 15 year temperature plateau could continue for another 20 years as oceans absorb heat".

This was consistent with Mr Neil's track record of regurgitating propaganda from climate change 'sceptics'.

He has shown a particular keenness for using the recent slowdown in global warming to argue against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But while he claims to be a journalist, rather than just a television presenter, Mr Neil demonstrated a complete lack of interest in whether Steve Milloy's account of Dr Trenberth's comments was truthful.

I sent an e-mail to Dr Trenberth to ask him if he really had said that the slowdown could last another 20 years.

Dear Dr Trenberth,

I was very interested to hear your interview on NPR this week. You may be aware that Steve Milloy and Marc Morano have been promoting to their fans an interpretation of some of your comments which I think is inaccurate - they claim that you predict that the current slowdown in the increase in global surface temperature could last another 20 years:

http://junkscience.com/2013/08/23/kevin-trenberth-ocean-will-eat-global-warming-for-next-20-years/

I interpreted your comments to mean that slowdowns usually only last 20 years in duration.

Unfortunately, the comments by Milloy and Morano are being picked up by some mainstream media here in the UK. Would it be possible for you to provide a short statement of clarification which I could distribute to UK journalists?

Best wishes,

Bob

Dr Trenberth replied.

Hi

I have not looked at those web sites. Maybe I'll look later. Your interpretation is correct.

In our models such hiatus periods in terms of global mean surface temperature last up to 15 years; in the real world there is reason to believe they could last 20 years (total). We have a new paper submitted on this topic. In any case global warming continues: sea level keeps going up, and the ocean is warming, and ice is melting. But more heat is getting deposited deeper into the oceans. That can easily change.

Kevin

We will have to wait to see whether Mr Neil corrects his misrepresentation of Dr Trenberth's comments, or instead continues to echo the fib invented by 'sceptics'.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.