More On Super Freaks and Troubling Temps

As I noted in a Wednesday column, a number of reporters have recently had to revisit the most fundamental question about climate change: Is the Earth actually warming up. The book SuperFreakonomics and an article by the BBC have received widespread criticism for arguing that there is evidence we are experiencing global cooling, rather than warming.

A number of reporters have tried to explain that the relative stability of global temperature over the last ten years does not invalidate the scientific consensus that we’re headed toward a warmer world. But in my column, I lamented the fact that few have provided a nuts-and-bolts explanation of why models are better at forecasting long-term temperature trends than predicting what the temperature will in five, ten, or twenty years. It’s a complicated story that’s just too technical and dry for most daily news budgets.

So The Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Ball deserves credit for getting a 1,300-word story devoted to climate models’ troubles with decadal forecasting into the paper on Friday. The piece goes into some detail on why short-term projections are hampered by natural weather variability and limited data about clouds, ocean circulation patterns, and other factors that influence temperature.

Meanwhile, the debate about SuperFreaknomics goes on. This week, The Economist weighed in with an article siding with the critics. It called the book’s controversial chapter on global warming, “a distorted lens through which to view climate change,” and its focus on geo-engineering as a solution “a grave disservice” to readers.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, on the other, conducted a rather servile interview with Steven Levitt, one of the book’s co-authors, on Wednesday. Stewart said he was “surprised at how angry people” were over SuperFreakonomics and that he was “sorry [Levitt had] taken so much shit for it.” He then declared his support for geo-engineering. but unlike his usual performances, Stewart clearly hadn’t done much homework on the subject and didn’t seem to have handle on what he was talking about. The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson had a good post about why the fake news host should have paid more attention to sound criticism of SuperFreakonomics from “climate scientists, energy experts, and economists.”

Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.