Idiot-Proofing the "Climate Debate"

There is a warm air of celebration in the DenierSphere because the statistical mavens at Climate Audit and WattsUpWithThat have discovered an error in the October global temperatures as reported by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

As reported today by Lorne Gunter in the National Post, someone at the Global Historical Climatology Network had fed some September temperatures into the October record, leading the GISS to the conclusion that this October had been the warmest on record.

It wasn’t. Not even close.

As Goddard’s Gavin Schmidt reports at RealClimate, the GISS corrected the error as soon as it was discovered (apparently by a frequent ClimateAudit reader) and Schmidt and company are now working to ensure that such an error cannot slip by again. But the occurrence of the mistake in this instance has given Gunter and his denier buddies the excuse to suggest that it was ideological blindness allowed the error to escape unnoticed in the first place.

Well, Gunter is certainly an ideologue in good standing - well qualified to talk about blindness, even if he is incapable of overcoming it.

For example, he crows here about the unusually quick growth of Arctic sea ice this year, without bothering to explain that an unusual amount of ice grew back (and quickly) because the ocean was unusually open. It grew back more quickly this year than last because this year was cooler in the Arctic - even if the heat collected in that open ocean has skewed the October/November temperatures to unusually warm levels.

And this begins to speak to the problem of idiot-proofing this “climate debate.” First, its difficult to have a useful conversation with someone about a complex topic when that person’s only priority is to say, “Ah ha!” each time a tiny error is detected - and then to use that tiny error to suggest that the whole theory of global climate change is also faulty.

Second, the adversarial nature of the conversation has caused those on the side of science to also fall into the trap of placing too much emphasis on single pieces of information - a single hot year (or month), a single hurricane.

When Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela all sign an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report acknowledging the damaging global climate impact of their biggest export, a reasonable person (i.e., not a blinded ideologue) would have to conclude that the case has been made, fairly and conclusively, that the climate is changing and humans are to blame. Such a reasonable person might then apply himself to better understanding the science and its implications and to sharing that understanding with his readers.

Gunter, clearly, isn’t interested - which is a shame, because the need has never been greater.