There They Go Again

The New York Times announced that according to NASA and NOAA 2016 was the warmest year on record as had been the two preceding years. Every year at this time, the media and environmental advocates make similar announcements about the prior year either being a record setter or one of the hottest on record.

By now, most people just yawn at such announcements because they have been told the same tale for so long that it has lost its meaning, as it rightfully should. Relying on their common sense, they also realize that with the exception of a few very cold or very hot days the temperature most days is what they expect. Common sense trumps the orthodoxy.

Claims of record setting temperatures and dangerous warming make good stories but don’t conform with reality. Satellite temperature measurements show no statistically significant warming since 1998. 2016, like 1998, was an El Nino year, which means it was warmer than non El Nino years. NOAA reports that the 20th century average temperature was 52 degrees F, while the average for the years between 2000 and 2015 have been 53.3 degrees F. Clearly, the 16 years prior to 2016 years were warmer than the century average but so were the 16 years starting in 1930 which was 53.2 degrees, with 1934 was 54.9 degrees, the same as last year. A difference of 0.1 degrees for comparable periods is hardly news worthy.

Differences between recent averages average and the century average is overstated for a couple of important reasons. Newer measuring devices—thermisters—that make continuous measurements measure warmer than older thermometers which took measurements twice a day. So, earlier warming was understated and those prior measurements required adjustments, which may or may not be accurate. In addition, urban and suburban development has created more heat islands than existed for most of the 20th century. While NOAA/NASA make adjustments for those two factors, those adjustments are estimates, not precise corrections.

MIT professor emeritus Richard Lindzen’s reaction to the latest report provides a clear perspective to the annual hand wringing about annual temperature changes: “To imply that a rise of temperature of a tenth of a degree is proof that the world is coming to an end — has to take one back to the dark ages.” …“As long as you can get people excited as to whether it’s a tenth of a degree warmer or cooler, then you don’t have to think, you can assume everyone who is listening to you is an idiot.”


Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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