Steven Milloy on the IPCC

21 November 2007

Former Exxon Mobil and Philip Morris lobbyist Steven Milloy has written a new column for FOX News about the IPCC's recently released synthesis report on climate change. Of course, he uses his usual diversionary tactics and misinformation to discuss the issue. For example, he says:

That key issue, of course, is whether or not manmade CO2 emissions drive global temperature. In its shockingly brief and superficial treatment of this crucial issue, the U.N. states, in relevant part, that, “Most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures, since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over every continent (except Antarctica)."
"Shockingly brief and superficial"? Maybe it just seems that way because you're only reading the Summary For Policymakers. Notice the key word there: "Summary." In reality (someplace Milloy would rather his readers not look), there is an 11-chapter report on this very issue, titled "The Physical Science Basis." At this point, I'd like to remind everyone that Steven Milloy spent the better part of his career as a lobbyist, and in all likelihood knows exactly what he's doing here.

In the following paragraph, Milloy persists with this characterization, and adds on the usual misleading contrarian talking points:
This glib statement overlooks that fact that from 1940 to 1975 globally-averaged temperature declined (giving rise to a much-hyped scare about a looming ice age) while manmade CO2 emissions increased. Global temperature has fallen since 1998 despite ever-increasing CO2 emissions. So for 27 of the last 50 years, globally-averaged temperatures have declined while CO2 emissions have increased.
First of all, this "glib statement" does not overlook the mid-century cooling period. It's not as if Steven Milloy is the only person to notice a mid-century drop in temperature. The report itself addresses that very issue (as has been done over and over). Here is a graph (adapted from Meehl et al (2004) and Moberg (2003) ) that illustrates radiative forcing attribution:

Second, the "looming ice age" talking point has been repeatedly debunked (see here and here for just two examples). It is Milloy who is hyping the "ice age scare" here. There were some (few and far between) who thought such a result possible (due to the then-recent studies of sulfate aerosols, which have a significant cooling effect - insofar as they reflect incoming solar radiation), but the weight of the scientific community (such as the very important National Academy of Sciences) said that such a conclusion would be premature. Contrast that with the overwhelming weight of the scientific community, peer reviewed journals and scientific organizations who now say that greenhouse gas emissions are primarily responsible for our recent warming trend.

Temperatures have fallen since 1998? Please. This is cherry-picking at its worst. 1998 was particularly warm due to an El Nino event that year. If you pick 1997 or 1999 as your starting year, you'll see a steady temperature increase. In fact, graphs speak louder than words. Look at this and then determine for yourself whether or not temperatures are dropping:

Milloy continues:
If there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between CO2 and temperature in the last 50 years at all, it seems to be slightly in the opposite direction from what the U.N. claims.
Take another look at the graph I just posted. It only "seems" to be an inverse relationship if you accept Milloy's (again, a former lobbyist) slick characterization. On the other hand, if you use your eyes and your brain to look at the relationship directly, you will see that Milloy is simply wrong.

It goes on:
And if we are experiencing manmade global warming, someone should tell Antarctica to get with the program.
"Global" warming means that the globe's average temperature will increase. It doesn't mean that summer will never give way to winter again. It doesn't mean that nighttime will be warmer than daytime, and it doesn't mean that you will never experience local cooling. It means that the average annual global temperature will go up. In sum, this line of argument is just petty sniping with no substance.

Milloy trudges forward:
The U.N. also says that, "Atmospheric concentrations of CO2… exceed by far the natural range over the 650,000 years." Readers, apparently, are supposed to let their imaginations run away with them as to the implications of this statement. What the U.N. left out is that the relationship between CO2 and temperature over the last 650,000 years is precisely opposite of what it has led the public to believe with statements like the preceding one. Increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 actually lag global temperature increases anywhere from 800-2,000 years according to the Antarctic ice core record that covers the 650,000-year span of time.
Let their imaginations run wild? First of all, that is a 100% accurate description. Here is a graph of the past 400,000 years of atmospheric CO2 concentration (adapted from the IPCC):

Second, the lag is true but irrelevant. Although temperatures led CO2 increases in the past (see the Milankovich cycles), there was an important feedback relationship between the two. Rather than letting their imaginations run wild, people can actually read the report itself, which describes the relationship. In sum, each one causes the other. That's why it's so significant that the two match each other so closely:

Another favored tactic of Milloy is to cherry-pick his studies:
A new temperature reconstruction for the past 2,000 years created by Craig Loehle of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement indicates that, 1,000 years ago, globally averaged temperature was about 0.3 degrees Celsius warmer than the current temperature. Since that climatic "heat wave" obviously wasn’t caused by coal-fired power plants and SUVs, the current temperature is quite within natural variability, further deflating the UN’s rash conclusion about the warming of the past 50 years.
Rather than picking one of the many reputable peer-reviewed temperature reconstructions available (there are plenty), Milloy relies on a study from Energy & Environment. Energy & Environment is a poorly regarded social science journal. It is not carried in the ISI listing of peer-reviewed journals, and it has been roundly criticized for publishing substandard papers in the past. Additionally, it's run by global warming contrarians for the sole purpose of giving other contrarians something resembling a scientific platform. Basically, it's the equivalent to an unaccredited or online college.

This is what you see when you look at real peer-reviewed scientific journals:

Way to pick and choose, Milloy. All of the reputable studies say the exact opposite of what you argue in your FOX News column.

The madness doesn't end there:
There's also the matter of the quality of the temperature records relied on by the U.N.
Even though Milloy sets this up as a criticism of the U.N.'s favored temperatures, he goes on to criticize the way NASA reads temperatures. This kinda ignores the fact that the most of the peer-reviewed journals rely on the NOAA's temperature record, not NASA's.

Oh yeah, and there is lots of hyperbole and invective, too:
drink the U.N. Kool-Aid... knuckle under to global government-directed energy rationing and economic planning... the U.N.’s frantic efforts to distract us with a multitude of dire predictions of climatic Armageddon... shockingly brief and superficial treatment... glib statement... let their imaginations run away with them... that climatic "heat wave" obviously wasn’t caused by coal-fired power plants and SUVs... deflating the UN’s rash conclusion... raised serious questions about the validity of official temperature records... the U.N. claims to have divined a global warming trend... NASA alarmist James Hansen... So we can’t possibly have all that much confidence in what the U.N. claims to be happening global temperature-wise. Don’t be distracted by the alarmist arm-waving and sideshows... There's no evidence that man-made CO2 emissions have created any environmental problem and certainly no scientific justification for handing the keys of the American economy over to the U.N.

UPDATE: Just for good measure, I'd like to point out that Steven Milloy has, in the past, misrepresented a NASA data correction, misquoted a U.K. judge, and lied about an opinion poll (as predicted prior to its publication).

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