THE BLOG

The 'Wall Street Journal' Parade of Climate Lies

09/06/2014 08:21 am ET | Updated Nov 06, 2014
Pool via Getty Images

That Rupert Murdoch governs over a criminal media empire has been made clear enough in the UK courts in recent years. That the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, the latest victim of Murdoch's lawless greed, are little more than naked propaganda is perhaps less appreciated. The Journal runs one absurd op-ed after another purporting to unmask climate change science, but only succeeds in unmasking the crudeness and ignorance of Murdoch's henchmen. Yesterday's (September 5) op-ed by Matt Ridley is a case in point.

Ridley's "smoking gun" is a paper last week in Science Magazine by two scientists Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung, which Ridley somehow believes refutes all previous climate science. Ridley quotes a sentence fragment from the press release suggesting that roughly half of the global warming in the last three decades of the past century (1970-2000) was due to global warming and half to a natural Atlantic Ocean cycle. He then states that "the man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether," and "That to put the icing on the case of good news, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung think the Atlantic Ocean may continue to prevent any warming for the next two decades."

The Wall Street Journal editors don't give a hoot about the nonsense they publish if it serves their cause of fighting measures to limit human-induced climate change. If they had simply gone online to read the actual paper, they would have found that the paper's conclusions are the very opposite of Ridley's.

First, the paper makes perfectly clear that the Earth is warming in line with standard climate science, and that the Earth's warming is unabated in recent years. In the scientific lingo of the paper (it's very first line, so Ridley didn't have far to read!), "Increasing anthropogenic greenhouse-gas-emissions perturb Earth's radiative equilibrium, leading to a persistent imbalance at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) despite some long-wave radiative adjustment." In short, we humans are filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use, and we are warming the planet.

Second, the total warming is distributed between the land and ocean surface on the one hand and the ocean deep water on the other. The total rise of ocean heat content has continued unabated, while the proportion of heat absorbed at the surface and in the deeper ocean varies over time. Again, in the scientific lingo of the paper, "[T]his forced total OHC [ocean heat content] should be increasing monotonically over longer periods even through the current period of slowed warming. In fact, that expectation is verified by observation ...". In other words, the ocean has continued to warm in line with predictions of just such a phenomenon seen in climate models.

Third, it is the "vertical distribution" of the warming, between the surface and deep water, which affects the warming observed on land and at the sea surface. The point of the paper is that the allocation of the warming vertically varies over time, sometimes warming the surface rapidly, other times warming the deeper ocean to a great extent and the surface water less rapidly. According to the paper, the period of the late 20th century was a period in which the surface was warmed relative to the deeper ocean. The period since 2000 is the opposite, with more warming of the deeper ocean. How do the scientists know? They measure the ocean temperature at varying depths with a sophisticated system of "Argo profiling floats," which periodically dive into the ocean depths to take temperature readings and resurface to transmit them to the data centers.

So, what is Ridley's "smoking gun" when you strip away his absurd version of the paper? It goes like this. The Earth is continuing to warm just as greenhouse gas theory holds. The warming heats the land and the ocean. The ocean distributes some of the warming to the surface waters and some to the deeper waters, depending on the complex circulation of ocean waters. The shares of warming of the surface and deeper ocean vary over time, in fluctuations that can last a few years or a few decades.

If the surface warming is somewhat less in recent years than in the last part of the 20th century, is that reason for complacency? Hardly. The warming is continuing, and the consequences of our current trajectory will be devastating unless greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide) are stopped during this century. As Chen and Tung conclude in their Science paper, "When the internal variability [of the ocean] that is responsible for the current hiatus [in warming] switches sign, as it inevitably will, another episode of accelerated global warming should ensue."

Mr. Murdoch, and the Wall Street Journal, can it be any clearer than this?