Breaching the 1°C barrier: climate science in the news

Earlier this month the Met Office announced that their data for 2015 so far shows that, for the first time, global mean temperature at the Earth’s surface is set to reach 1°C above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900).

Having read the original press release, I was interested in looking at how this was reported by three online news sites: the BBC, the Guardian, and the Daily Express

1. The BBC: Warming set to breach 1C threshold

This reports the Met Office findings quite accurately, although it makes a bit of an amalgamation between weather and climate when it says ‘the world would then be halfway towards 2 degrees’, which suggests a point of no return, when in fact there is no guarantee next year will breach it again (as made clear in the MO press release).

  • Some other interesting editorial choices include a whole paragraph on the difficulty of picking a baseline temperature for comparison, and strong emphasis on role of El Nino which, while important, is not such a defining factor.
  • Overall this is quite a superficial piece of reporting which takes a few shortcuts, but the historical info and the reference to the negotiations are quite useful nevertheless.
  • They have also misspelt the name of one of their academic references (should be Prof Myles Allen, not Miles Allen).

BIAS FACTOR: neutral to ‘warmist’ – a bit on the simplistic side.

2. The Guardian: World’s climate about to enter ‘uncharted territory’ as it passes 1C of warming

  • This is a much better piece, which provides a lot more context and a clear link to carbon concentration and human influence. Additional quotes were sourced from other academics, and some explanations of what it means for the UK (as well as what has been actually observed in the UK) are provided, as well as what needs to be done to keep this in check (Amber Rudd).
  • Interesting quote from Prof Myles Allen (correctly spelt this time) regarding timing of this news ahead of Paris: “International negotiations on climate change should not be in hoc to what happens… in the preceding nine months.”
  • Also very useful mention of the concept of ‘carbon budget’ (which was in the Met Office release, but not picked up by the BBC piece)
  • Interestingly, the piece ends by debunking the recent NASA study showing ice mass growth in the Antarctic.
  • Striking and effective representation of the carbon budget countdown.

BIAS FACTOR: definitely ‘warmist’ – well-researched, with relevant expert input.

3. The Express: Global warming to breach 1C but ‘it’s due to El Nino NOT man’, claim sceptics

  • Compared to the other two articles titles, which were more factual, this one straight off announces the positioning of the piece. The meta title in the internet window tab also reads: ‘Global heating myth’.
  • The ‘leading scientist’ referred to is not a climate scientist but a social anthropologist. He has never published a paper on climate change, and is a self-avowed climate sceptic.
  • Although Peiser is the only source quoted in the article, he is referenced in 3 different ways:  ‘a leading scientist’, ‘director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation’, and ‘the co-editor of the Energy & Environment journal’.
  • The Global Warming Policy Foundation claims to seek “to inform the media, politicians and the public, in a newsworthy way, on the subject in general and on the misinformation to which they are all too frequently being subjected at the present time but in the article  Peiser says ‘the science is not settled”.
  • The Energy & Environment Journal is known for providing a platform for climate sceptics, and has been criticised for its poor peer-review process.
  • The Met Office quotes are taken out of context and, it could be argued, cherry-picked to make them seem like they are making unsubstantiated claims, with an emphasis on the distorting role of El Nino.
  • There is no mention of the role of CO2 emissions.
  • The story says that ‘some researchers (not referenced) have questioned the reliability’ of the baseline temperatures used for determining pre-industrial levels, whereas the Met Office press release make their methodology explicit.
  • Also, interestingly, when clicking on some highlighted words (such as ‘emissions’), a Shell logo appeared!

BIAS FACTOR: definitely ‘sceptic to denier’ – misleading, with no relevant expert input.

This was first published as a blog on Climate & Us


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