Truth vs Post-Truth: What’s Causing Our Record-Shattering Global Temperatures?
The Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the word of the year for 2016, because we seem to be entering a period in which peoples’ opinions are shaped more by appeals to emotion than by facts. The word was frequently used in reference to Brexit and the US presidential election, but it’s also been long applied to the subject of climate change. Last week, a perfect example of a post-truth climate story made headlines on the alt-right Internet platform breitbart.com and then was Tweeted by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
It all started in the Daily Mail when David Rose penned an article inaccurately suggesting that the record-breaking global temperatures of the past several years were caused by El Niño, purportedly evidenced by a “plummet” in global temperatures over land. The argument was picked up by Ross Clark in The Spectator and James Delingpole for Breitbart, the latter of which was Tweeted by the US House Science Committee.
The argument is a perfect example of one of the five characteristics of science denial: cherry picking. Rather than considering direct measurements of global average surface temperatures, Rose and company only looked at satellite estimates of the temperature of the atmosphere above the portions of the Earth’s surface covered by land masses. Even though the satellite record extends back to 1979, and the surface temperature record to 1880, they only showed the data since 1997. They also primarily focused on the single month of October 2016 because it happened to be relatively cool—in the lower atmosphere, above the portions of the Earth covered by land, according to these particular satellite estimates.