Getting Cooler? What the World Meteorological Organization Actually Said

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For the past week, the breathless buzz on the global warming denier blogs and radio programs has been about a certain BBC News article regarding the temporary cooling effect of El Niña this year. Serial denier Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters described how the denier dramathon unfolded:

NewsBusters has just learned that a British “climate activist” was responsible for getting the BBC to radically alter its “Global Temperatures ‘To Decrease’” article last Friday.

As reported Sunday, the third paragraph of what previously had been a very balanced piece about how global temperatures have been declining since 1998 was totally reworded in order to make the report just another hysterical climate change pronouncement.

On Monday, Jennifer Marohasy, the director of the Environment Unit at Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs, received and published an e-mail exchange between the article’s author, Roger Harrabin, and a climate activist affiliated with the British Campaign Against Climate Change

Predictably, Rush Limbaugh got on the bandwagon, linking to a piece by yet another denier, and incorporated the story into his April 8th show. He adds a little more spin with the classic “there’s no consensus on global warming!” argument. Limbaugh said:

Here’s the big news, though: “Global temperatures have not risen since 1998.” That is ten years ago. “Global temperatures in fact will drop…” This is the BBC to boot: “Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. The World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer. This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.” La Nina, El Nino, these are the things that can affect global temperatures, not even sure of the models. [Transcript, subscription required.]

The saga was like a game of telephone. The story became more elaborate and fantastical as it was told, morphing a BBC article into Conclusive Proof that the world is actually cooling down. It’s boilerplate denier stuff, selectively quoting articles as well as relying on unsubstantiated claims that the BBC author modified the article based on the advice of an environmental activist. But here’s the core of the problem: the BBC article is a classic example of vague/shoddy reporting, for they didn’t even quote Michel Jarraud completely.

Here’s what the World Meteorological Organization Info Note actually said (emphasis theirs):

The long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing. Global temperatures in 2008 are expected to be above the long-term average. The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record, and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C since the beginning of the 20th Century. […] “For detecting climate change you should not look at any particular year, but instead examine the trends over a sufficiently long period of time. The current trend of temperature globally is very much indicative of warming,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, Mr Michel Jarraud said in response to media inquiries on current temperature “anomalies”. “La Niña modulates climate variability. There has always been and there will always be cooler and warmer years, but what is important for climate change in the present context is that the trend is still upwards; the global climate on an average is warming despite the temporary cooling brought about by La Niña.”

It’s right there in the lead.

Then, they even have Jarraud’s quote in bold and italics.

How much more obvious could it be?

Even George W. Bush uses “The Google”.

That’s all a reporter – and a global warming denier – needs to do to discover the real story, and to learn a little more about Jarraud’s consistent emphasis on the problem of climate change/call for action. Background information is very easy to find, and it should be the central goal of responsible journalism.

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