Was 2013 a record-breaking year?

A belated happy new year to all. When I was younger, the new year was the time for making ‘new year’s resolutions’, and I propose a couple at the end of this post. You resolved to eat and drink less, lead a healthier life, really clear up the mess in the backyard – and you did some of these things for a few days, until work caught up with you again. Newspapers reported what the resolutions of the great and good were, though there no follow-up stories about how they were faring.

These days there are two traditional stories, the first the release of Cabinet papers from thirty years earlier, the second the status of the preceding year in terms of ‘climate change’. The Cabinet papers really were interesting, especially because 1983 and 1984 were the first years of the Hawke Government and the floating of the $A, and because the then Prime Minister and Treasurer are still very much alive, and highly disputative as well.

The ‘climate change’ story for 2013 is somewhat unclear, but lack of clarity does not make for a good story. Since global temperatures have stabilised for the last decade and more it was clear that 2013 would be like the last few years, and so it proved. My local paper told us on New Year’s Day that it was Australia’s hottest ever year, and our own city’s second hottest. Here the metric was average temperature, not the global temperature anomaly, but nonetheless ‘weather experts’ were able to infer that ‘human-induced climate change’ was ‘another link in the chain’.

Across the Pacific it was a somewhat different story. Anthony Watts on 31 December offered evidence from the US  National Climatic Data Center that 2013 had rather more record low temperatures across the nation than record highs, in contrast to 2012, when highs greatly outnumbered lows. And the verdict of the satellite sensors at the University of Alabama, whose instruments cover the whole planet, was that 2013 was the 4th warmest year since 1979, when the UAH data start. The Canadians, not to be outdone, said that Winnipeg had experienced the coldest December since 1933.

In terms of the global temperature anomaly, which is the average of the average of the averages around the globe, compared with the similar averages from 1961 to 1990, there is nothing especially interesting about 2013 at all, and you can see this by going to the data at drroyspencer.com. The lack of statistically significant warming continues, though greenhouse gas emissions go on their merry way upwards, as they have done since the Mauna Loa data were first collected in 1950.

Now none of this is rocket science, and anyone interested in climate data knows about the major data sets and their differences. But that didn’t stop AAP writing a story that got front-page treatment in my local paper four days into the new year. ‘Records add heat to climate debate’ proclaimed the page one lead; ‘the warming trend is set to continue, experts say’. The word ‘debate’ was promising, since there has been very little debate in any real sense, just sermonising.

So I read on. Once again, the data were temperature averages, not the anomaly. At least the story referred to ‘weather’, a subtlety lost on Labor and the Greens, who got into Mr Abbott on the ground that he was ‘ignoring the science’. Those who wrote the story didn’t say what science in particular that might be. Then we got the experts, Professor  Steffen to begin, who told us that if we keep emitting carbon dioxide as we are doing, in another three or four decades 2013 would look like an average year, perhaps even a cool one. No one apparently asked him why that would be so, given the long absence of upward warming.

He was followed by familiar sidekick Professor Karoly, who told us from his pulpit that these hot temperatures ‘cannot be explained by natural variability alone … [and] could not have happened without increasing greenhouse gases, without climate change’. No one apparently asked him why then there had been a rapid increase in the first half of the 20th century, apparently unconnected with greenhouse gases.

The next expert was from the Bureau of Meteorology, who talked about the data. Now for the experts from the dissident side. Whoops! There weren’t any. That was the story – no debate at all, despite the headline.

So to my offered new year’s resolutions, to journalists and editors everywhere:

* I will stop pretending that in climate matters there is something called ‘the science’, which is ‘settled’.

* If we are running a story about temperatures, or climate generally, I will make sure that I find someone from an alternative viewpoint before I finish.

I agree that my resolutions are offered in hope only, but you have to start somewhere – and the headline did mention ‘debate’.  And while we’re on heat and warming, my next post will mention the irony of all ironies, the so-called ‘ship of fools’ that sailed to Antarctic to see what ‘climate change’ had wrought since Mawson sailed there a century ago, and got stuck in sea-ice…

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • whyisitso says:

    A suggestion for Don Aitken NY resolution:

  • PeterE says:

    Yes, thanks, the world has seen Puritanism before and now we have Puritanism with a green tinge.

  • MikeO says:

    Thanks Don it is all very puzzling as to exactly what is being stated. We get headlines about the hottest summer and claims of over 1° rise! Also saying 2013 is mainly attributed to winter. No one would try to obfuscate it would they?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I think that weather records are stories, and the media have little else at the end of the year. But the lack of interest in finding out what is really the case is hard to excuse.

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