Editorial: Deciding Whether It’s Climate Or Weather

  • Date: 11/01/13
  • The Australian

WHILE most of our sunburnt country has sweltered through another summer heatwave, Jerusalem and other parts of the Middle East have been blanketed by rare snowstorms, and one of the world’s leading centres for climate science has revised downwards its medium-term global temperature forecasts.

This significant development has received little attention in Australia, where the tendency instead has been towards unproven and knee-jerk linking of the current record hot weather to the threat of global warming.

As ever in the climate change debate, there is a need for reason over emotive posturing. Britain’s Met Office — an international authority on climate — quietly added a revised medium-term forecast to its website on Christmas Eve (just why it was so shy about the adjustment remains a mystery and has fuelled suspicions).

The new forecast suggests that by 2017 the global average temperature variation (above the long-term average from 1971 to 2000) will be 20 per cent lower than what had previously been estimated. This means that over two decades temperatures will be unlikely to have topped the record year of 1998. This has prompted sceptics to contend that global warming has stopped, while other scientists describe it as a pause. Stung into issuing an explanatory statement, the Met Office says temperatures will be a “little lower” than previously predicted. “This means temperatures will remain well above the long-term average,” it explains, “and we will continue to see temperatures like those which resulted in 2000-09 being the warmest decade in the instrumental record dating back to 1850.”

In a field where temperature variations over a decade are barely sufficient to confirm a trend, the focus by some on annual, monthly or even daily temperatures to support particular cases can be inane. While activists continually urge people to “accept the science”, often too little attention is paid to the deliberations and debates within the scientific community. New Scientist this week published research suggesting sea level rises caused by global warming could lead to cooler oceans that could in turn reduce global temperatures, creating greater weather variability. We will always be confronted by floods, fires, droughts and storms. Whether climate or weather, we still have much to learn, as we look to take appropriate precautions in dealing with both.

The Australian, 12 January 2013