Lord Lawson cherry picks data to spread climate change denial

At an International Policy Network seminar this week, Lord Giddens and Lord Lawson, chairman of the climate change-sceptics Global Warming Policy Foundation, once more rolled out the familiar climate change sceptic argument that there has been no global warming so far this century.

Our guest writer is Christian Hunt, who regularly writes on climate change

At an International Policy Network seminar this week, Lord Giddens and Lord Lawson, chairman of the climate change-sceptics Global Warming Policy Foundation, once more rolled out the familiar climate change sceptic argument that there has been no global warming so far this century. While it may seem like a pretty narrow thing to pick on, this one is a fairly old chestnut, and it’s worth examining whether the argument stands up to scrutiny.

Here’s what Lawson said:

“Whereas there was some very modest warming in the last quarter of the twentieth century there has been absolutely no further warming this century so far, despite a rapid increase in CO2 emissions, and despite the models predicting an acceleration, not just a continuation, but an acceleration of warming.

That doesn’t show that there won’t be warming in the future, certainly not, it just shows that you can’t rely on these models, and it just shows that the whole picture is much more complicated than is frequently made out.”

So has warming stopped this century, and does that mean we can’t trust climate models? Well, it’s their dataset, and the Met office themselves gave a pretty clear answer about this sort of thing in 2008:

“Over the last ten years, global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend. But this does not mean that global warming has slowed down or even stopped. It is entirely consistent with our understanding of natural fluctuations of the climate within a trend of continued long-term warming.”

They also put it into bullet points, just in case:

• Global warming has not stopped;

• Natural climate variations temporarily enhance or reduce observed warming.

As Realclimate say, even given that temperatures are rising at about 0.2 degrees a decade:

“… a flat period or even cooling trend over such a short time span is nothing special and has happened repeatedly before.”

What about Lawson’s second argument – that this shows you can’t rely on climate models? This is another frequent refrain of sceptic lobbyists, but again, on this issue the MET office specifically say:

“Similar behaviour [natural fluctuations in temperature] is also seen in individual model predictions of future climate change where the long-term warming trend is forecast to exceed 2° C per century.”

In other words, the models themselves predict exactly the kind of behaviour we’re seeing in the real world.

The moral of the story is that if you pick a short enough timescale, you can find temperature patterns which do pretty much anything – but all you’re doing is cherry-picking data. To get a reliable picture, you need to look at long term trends, and the long-term trend in global temperatures remains up, at about 0.2 degrees celcius per decade.

Realclimate have also pointed out that other global temperature records don’t show the same pause in warming over the past ten years, which really only goes to show that to follow this line of argument, not only do you have to cherry-pick your time period, you also have to cherry-pick your temperature record.

There’s a wealth of evidence that climate change continues to happen – the long-term trend in rising temperatures is just one part of it. Declining Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers, sea surface temperature increasing, air temperature in the troposphere increasing – considered as a whole, the evidence is extremely robust.

So if there are legitimate differences on how to tackle climate change, (and there obviously are), let’s have them out. But let’s do it in on the basis of all of the evidence, not just the fragments that we can twist to support our own views. Otherwise, it’s kind of a waste of a good seminar.

14 Responses to “Lord Lawson cherry picks data to spread climate change denial”

  1. Joss Garman

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lawson cherry-picks data to spread climate-change denial //bit.ly/cPLW7s writes Christian Hunt on @LeftFootFwd

  2. christian

    @leftfootfwd were kind enough to post a short piece I wrote about lord lawson's treatment of temperature records – //is.gd/gQbgs

  3. Sean O'Hare

    You use references to the UK Met Office and RealClimate to support your view, yet you accuse Lord Lawson of cherry picking. Fine case dismissed!

  4. Mike Thomas

    Real Climate and Met Office?

    D- …. must try harder.

  5. John Ruddy

    Climate Change Denier Lord Lawson cherry picks data to spread climate change denial //bit.ly/9b331x < via @LeftFootForward

  6. merthyr_bill

    declining arctic sea ice? it has been increasing since its low in 2007

    melting glaciers are not evidence for climate change

    “air temperature in the troposhere increasing” not recently it hasn’t.

    global temperatures increased faster 1910-1940 than they did 1970 to present.

  7. 13eastie

    You quote Lord Lawson as saying, “That doesn’t show that there won’t be warming in the future, certainly no”,
    while simultaneously accusing him of spreading “climate change denial”.

    You plea, “…let’s do it in on the basis of all of the evidence”,
    and then try to present an argument based merely on two interpretations, backed up by no objective, quantitative data whatsoever.

    You ask to “have…out” the “differences”, yet in the preceding paragraph you show clearly your mind is already made up.

    You file this piece under “Old Politics” and then proceed immediately to polarise what should be a purely scientific issue along party-political lines.

    The way you take on an issue, which you would have us believe threatens us all, is simply childish and tantamount to playground name-calling.

    Why are you unable to see this as a matter that reaches far beyond the realm of policy? //is.gd/gQe0C

    Until you can and your alarmist “No Pressure” friends show a modicum of maturity and open-mindedness, you won’t be taken seriously, nor should you be.

  8. Wendy Maddox

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lawson cherry-picks data to spread climate-change denial //bit.ly/cPLW7s writes Christian Hunt on @LeftFootFwd

  9. Mr. Sensible

    How is the UK Met Office anything other than objective?

  10. Christian Hunt

    The Met Office are highly qualified to provide expert scientific analysis on this issue, not least because the temperature data Lord Lawson referred to is produced by the Met Office, who he cited by name, and so it’s obviously reasonable to look at their guidelines on interpreting it.

    To be fair, Lawson’s reference to the Met office was cut out by the LFF editor – so this point wasn’t made very clearly.

    Lawson’s full quote was this:

    “If you look for example at the HadCRUT temperature series, which is made by the Hadley centre at the Met office … whereas there was some very modest warming in the last quarter of the twentieth century there has been absolutely no further warming this century so far, despite a rapid increase in CO2 emissions, and despite the models predicting an acceleration, not just a continuation, but an acceleration of warming. That doesn’t show that there won’t be warming in the future, certainly not, it just shows that you can’t rely on these models, and it just shows that the whole picture is much more complicated than is frequently made out.”

  11. Tyler

    HadCrut data is hardly a reliable source either though. Apart from the change in measuring devices over different series, and the change in distribution of the measuring stations (the distribution has moved to be more equatorial) and their situation (now more urban) you have the difficulty of measuring temperature itself (try this at home with 2 thermometers)…..and the fact that the various meteorlogical offices won’t release details of the models and assumptions they use to normalise data (see Harryreadme.txt)

  12. merthyr_bill

    HadCrut data is problematic as Tyler says. The 0.6 C temperature rise is just too small to see. What we have been plotting all these years is just noise.

    The heat island effect is significant and has not been accounted for properly.

    As for temperatures going forward I wouldn’t trust anything not from satellites. There is talk of hundreds of billions of dollars transferred from developed to developing countries to help with climate change. Is the UN going to guard every weather station in the Congo? It would only take a weather station to have a blanket thrown over it for 5 minutes a day to show up more in the temperature record than 100 years of global warming!

  13. Anon E Mouse

    Will Straw / Shamik Das – Christian Hunt says; “To be fair, Lawson’s reference to the Met office was cut out by the LFF editor”

    Is this true and if so WHICH editor deliberately fudged the data to prove a case because that is surely wholly unfair on Lawson.

    To criticise him on something he said is one thing but to criticise him without actually telling exactly what was said,(therefore allowing us to form an informed opinion) frankly stinks (if it’s true).

    I think this may be the first time that LFF have actually edited an article in this way but how do we know?

  14. Author of new climate sceptic report was set to receive $1000 a month from oil lobby group | Left Foot Forward

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