Study of global warming ‘hiatus’ confirms long-range climate predictions

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Water running off a melting glacier near Svalbard, Norway.
Jan Tove Johansson / Getty

As the saying goes, “It’s easier to fool somebody than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

That seems to be the case for people who reject the scientific consensus on climate change, many of whom cling to the idea that global warming went on ‘hiatus’ for about a decade, beginning in 1998. New analysis published in Nature finds that the hiatus – sometimes characterized as a decrease in the rate of warming, sometimes as a period with no warming – can be explained by natural short-term variations, incomplete data, and inconsistencies in modeling. 

“What we are left with from the apparent hiatus is not inconsistent with the understanding of human influence on global climate. In fact, it increases the confidence in the dominant role of humans in long-term warming,” the researchers, from the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, write.

Nevertheless, climate ‘sceptics’ persist in using the hiatus to bolster their argument, leaving the researchers to suggest that it’s communication around climate science, not the hiatus itself, which needs investigating.

Climate research, which has far-reaching implications for the way humans work and live, has faced unprecedented scrutiny and opposition. While scientific processes of self-examination can move slowly, climate science – and what people believe about climate science – matters now, particularly if humanity has any hope of avoiding the worst outcomes of global warming. When the idea of the hiatus first appeared, for instance, the international community was approaching the Copenhagen climate talks. Those negotiations failed.

“Social sciences might find this an interesting period for studying how science interacts with the public, media and policy,” the researchers note.

Perhaps it will be the social sciences that reveal how to un-fool a fool.

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