BEST busts Urban Heat Island Myth

BEST busts Urban Heat Island Myth
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Richard Muller not a Koch lackey after all …

During all the bad days when people were coughing up chunks of lung while the TV still touted Camels, it was never news when the Surgeon General drew the link between smoking and cancer. But it would have been BIG news if Philip Morris had funded and publicized a major study confirming the carcinogenic nature of its product.

That’s pretty much what’s happened – except with a climate twist – with the publication of a paper with the snappy title: Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average Using Rural Sites Identified from MODIS Classifications. Update: The revised version of the paper can be found here and is attached.

The paper was partly funded by the Koch brothers, famous for the pollution their industries spew and for the money they spend funding everything from climate change denial to the founding of the Tea Party. “Leading scientists” involved in the paper included people such as Richard Muller and Judith Curry, a man apparently out of his depth in climate science and a woman dangerously in love with her growing reputation as a contrarian. Many people took one look at the funder and the guest list and concluded that anything produced by their Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) group was going to be tainted fodder for the denier hoards.

We were wrong.

The BEST paper, an effort to confirm or debunk whether the urban heat island (UHI) effect was skewing climate records, has affirmed – again – that global temperature records are accurate and worrisome. In doing so, they also confirmed that UHI fan Anthony Watts is, well, a silly man who refuses to let solid, peer-reviewed science get in the way of his enthusiasms. (This is purest extrapolation. BEST really IS conducting serious science and thus there would be no occasion in which they might mention Anthony Watts’ name.)

Muller himself has promoted the BEST paper in a Wall Street Journal article. Typically, he begins by cosying up to the denier crowd – “Are you a global warming skeptic? There are plenty of good reasons why you might be.” – before breaking down and admitting that none of those “good reasons” is supported by actual data.

That said, Muller and Curry deserve credit for standing by good science. And the other contributors to the paper (Charlotte Wickham, Don Groom, Robert Jacobsen, Saul Perlmutter, robert Rohde, Arthur Rosenfeld and Jonathan Wurtele) deserve an equally enthusiastic round of applause for keeping the ship of science steady even with Koch money rattling around in the hold.

The risk they took, accepting that money and associating with Muller and Curry when the two seemed not to care about their professional reputations, has been well-rewarded. We have, again, decisive confirmation of the obvious – that anthropogenic global warming is undeniable. And we have it from the unlikeliest source.

At some point, you might even think that this would inspire someone in government to take seriously the notion that we should do something about it … no? We live in hope.

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