The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Economist Backs Off Climate Alarmism

The Economist is finally ditching climate change hysteria. As a new piece in the British newsweekly notes, the world just hasn’t gotten much warmer over the past 15 years. We’ve been pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates, yet temperatures haven’t risen anywhere near as much as scientists predicted. Climate modeling, the editors note, is still an immensely complicated and highly speculative science:

The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. It does not mean global warming is a delusion. Flat though they are, temperatures in the first decade of the 21st century remain almost 1°C above their level in the first decade of the 20th. But the puzzle does need explaining.

The mismatch might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.

The Economist has a history of riding this doom horse pretty hard, writing in the run-up to the disastrous 2009 Copenhagen climate summit that “[n]o deal means that mankind gives up on trying to save the planet.” The magazine was also a big backer of some of the more dubious ideas to come from the global green brain trust, writing in 2001 that “the best approach to tackling this most global of problems must be through a binding global treaty,” and later that “[i]n the end, the best chance for action on climate change comes from a flexible, global treaty and a wealthier world better able to afford such a treaty.”

But in January, they gave up on the global climate treaty approach, and are now acknowledging the many nuances inherent to climate modeling. This is a sign that the global intellectual and political establishment is gradually distancing itself from the climate radicals and taking a more thoughtful and balanced approach. We also hope it’s a sign that they’re beginning to realize a more fundamental truth about the politics of climate change: that green hysteria and doom-mongering are leading causes of climate skepticism.

[Earth image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

Published on March 29, 2013 8:20 am
  • http://twitter.com/Berourke Brian Rourke

    When I took college chemistry, physics and engineering labs, error analysis was a major part of the class. In two years of college calculus I never learned about “smoothing curves” until unwanted data went away. A basic premise that I was taught “if the effect you are looking for is smaller than the potential error” the resulting data is useless. All of these basic scientific premises have been ignored in “Climate Hysteria.” A scientist is supposed to make a hypothesis, make a prediction based of the hypothesis, then conduct the experiment, and report the results in a maner that others can then conduct the same experiment and (hopefully) report tthe same results. This is the basis of the scientific method. This is what removed us from the Greek’s concepts of the four elements, “bodily humors” etc. Climate “scientists” have thrown science backwards

  • Lorenz Gude

    You correctly identify the source of my skepticism. Given that the effects of industrial pollution, like the Thames and the Hudson being devoid of fish at one point, it is simple common sense to believe that industrial activity MIGHT be affecting the global climate. But constant alarmism raises doubts. Small at first, but as the pounding continues skepticism grows. My skepticism was made semi-permanent when I heard a BBC report sometime in the 90s about small areas of Antarctica where local micro climates showed unexplained warming and cooling. The scientist being interviewed went out of his way to say that his research could not be generalized to support any theory of global climate change. When the Interview was done the reporter summed it up by saying it was further proof of global warming. The great email dump confirmed that the whole thing was more politics than science. But of course human activity could be causing global warming – the problem is that these false prophets have been crying wolf so long that they are increasingly being ignored – even by some of their most impressive allies, like The Economist.

  • rheddles

    The problem is not confined to climate science. Look at economics. The economy continues to languish. Yet continued fiscal and monetary policies are the only prescription available because it is what the elite believes. The Blue State model? Same. Public education? Ditto. The legal profession? Don’t ask. Organized religion? OMG!

    This is the hubris of an elite that is a slave to an ideology that it alone knows through it’s flawless reason independent of all prior human experience what is best for the rest and must implement that through top-down central control.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Allen/501181442 Don Allen

      Japan is living proof that fiscal and monetary polices do not always work.

  • http://twitter.com/Thirdsyphon Thirdsyphon

    The Economist has its flaws, but a propensity to indulge in “hysteria” is the very last thing that I’d accuse them of. The magazine’s position on climate change (like its position on almost everything else) is in the center of the mainstream of educated opinion on the subject. To the extent that their position is shifting now, it is doing so to mirror a parallel shift in the mainstream, not because they had some ideological axe to grind that they are now being forced to put away.
    Although it is common in certain quarters to accuse believers in climate change (anthropogenic or otherwise) of arguing in bad faith, I suspect that most of the magazine’s editors have a personal opinion on climate change that is fairly close to my own: i.e.: that it’s probably real, at least to some extent, and that humanity is probably playing some part in it. . . but they’re fervently hoping they’re wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    Not only is there no evidence that global warming will be catastrophic (which depends on the assumption of positive feedbacks) but there is every reason to believe it will be good for the planet as a whole by increasing the size of the temperate zone.

  • http://aallison.com/ Andrew Allison

    “The climate may be heating up less in response to greenhouse-gas emissions than was once thought. But that does not mean the problem is
    going away” The problem is that global temperatures have not increased at all in the face of 20 years of rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2
    levels. I repeat, global temperatures have NOT INCREASED AT ALL! It’s disappointing that The Economist is still fudging the complete and utter
    demolishing of the climate “science” scriptures.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Schiller/100000089649266 Greg Schiller

    Glad to see The Economist come around. Expect a rapid response from The Hockey Team claiming that this does not disprove global warming. Of course it doesn’t but it does disprove alarmism.

    It counters the “it’s worse than we thought” hysteria used to rationalize failed solutions. Now we can get about the business of moving to a viable low-carbon energy policy.

    Let’s focus on the things that work: LED lighting, energy-efficient power generation, switching from coal to gas and ambitious CAFE standards.

    As for windmills, solar panels and bio-fuels, let’s put plagues on them as a commemoration to monuments of human folly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.scipio Alexander Scipio

    Years ago a credible scientist noted that if he were given one cargo ship full of iron dust with which to feed plankton he could create an ice age through the resultant grabbing of CO2 and cooling of the planet. IF AGW were real – and it is not – technical ways exist to deal with it quickly. That none of these even have been under discussion shows that the entire argument is about control and wealth redistribution – and NOT about the climate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/corlyss.drinkard Corlyss Drinkard

    “The Economist is finally ditching climate change hysteria.

    I’m not raising the flag of victory for critical thinking just yet. Economist has always been slightly schizophrenic – with the tony Brits, French, and Germans bowing down in fealty to the environmentalists’ magical thinking, and Charlemagne always sounding the “perhaps, but . . .”
    To date the Economist and the envirothugs have yet to acknowledge the role of the sun and its cycles in global warming. Why? Because all the expensive carbon trading and sequestering and renewable energy in the universe will not influence the sun or its affect on earth. All it will take for Economist to revert to its traditional alarmism is a hot summer with northern Europe sweltering and panting. The very notion of greenhouse gases affecting global climate asserts as facts ideological tenets about the global ecosystem that simply are not true, have never been true, and will never be true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.johnson.1800721 Steven Johnson

    Look at the Economist in 2009, and now they see the light? The only thing they’re coming around to is the loss of credibility and reputation. This was never about science.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnnyNucks Patrick AuCoin

    The latent heat absorption of ice melting on a scale not predicted in models is the reason for the lag in global temperature rise. We won’t have to put up with this much longer, all too soon we will be back on track…..