The media equivalent of global warming

James Freeman:

Last month this column noted that the actions of the New York Times suggest that the people who put out the newspaper don’t think burning carbon is as dangerous as one would think from reading their product. How else to explain their marketing effort to persuade well-heeled readers to increase emissions by travelling the globe aboard a barely-filled Boeing ? And now, one particularly industrious Times reader submits evidence of another reason to resist the paper’s climate faith. In this case the skepticism about global warming comes not from refusing to take the paper seriously but from taking it too seriously.

Anyone old enough to have been a Times reader in the late 1980s may recall a series of stories that helped educate the public on how cool our planet used to be. Here’s one report from March of 1988:

One of the scientists, Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, said he used the 30-year period 1950-1980, when the average global temperature was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, as a base to determine temperature variations.

The paper returned to the topic in June of that year, and reminded readers of the planet’s colder past:

Dr. Hansen, who records temperatures from readings at monitoring stations around the world, had previously reported that four of the hottest years on record occurred in the 1980’s. Compared with a 30-year base period from 1950 to 1980, when the global temperature averaged 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature was one-third of a degree higher last year.

The following year, the paper reported a new record high in global temperatures and affirmed its climate history, which seemed to be the consensus view—at least among scientists quoted by the Times:

The British readings showed that the average global temperature in 1988 was 0.612 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the long-term average for the period 1950 through 1979, which is a base for comparing global temperatures. The average worldwide temperature for that 30-year period is roughly 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the British researchers said.

In 1991, the Times reported yet another record high, and published yet another reminder of how cool the planet used to be:

The Goddard group found that the record average surface temperature for the globe was eight-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit above the 1951-1980 average of 59 degrees. The British group found it seventh-tenths of a degree higher than the 1951-80 average.

By that point a reasonable consumer might have been ardently hoping to return to that magical era in which global temperatures averaged just 59 degrees. But in the ensuing years it must have been difficult for Times readers to stay hopeful. As the years and then the decades rolled by, The Times routinely reported record or near-record highs as global temperatures appeared to march ever higher.

In January of this year, the newspaper published a feature entitled, “How 2016 Became Earth’s Hottest Year on Record.” The Times noted the disturbing news that “2016 was the first time that the hottest year on record occurred three times in a row.” And things could be about to get much worse. “We expect records to continue to be broken as global warming proceeds,” climate enthusiast Michael Mann told the Times.

Is there any way to return to the salad days of 59 degrees? Well, it turns out to be easier than you might think. In January, as the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was reporting the third consecutive year of record highs, it noted that the average global temperature in 2016 had surged to a sizzling… 58.69 degrees.

Over the years researchers seem to have concluded that the planet was not as hot as they thought. Oops.

The most important facts in the climate debate are subject to frequent revisions. This doesn’t mean the global warming thesis is wrong, but it argues for skepticism. The Journal’s Holman Jenkins noted in 2015:

By the count of researcher Marcia Wyatt in a widely circulated presentation, the U.S. government’s published temperature data for the years 1880 to 2010 has been tinkered with 16 times in the past three years.

While waiting for the science to settle, this column’s advice to Times readers is to go ahead and fly around the world on the newspaper’s luxurious jet—if you don’t mind the company.

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