Checkmate: how do climate science deniers’ predictions stack up? | Environment

When the global temperature readings are in for 2017, it’s going to be a very hard sell for climate science deniers.

2017 will likely be ranked either side of 2015 as the second or third hottest year on record, with 2016 still in top spot. The hottest five-year period recorded in the modern era, will be the one we’ve just had.

Communities around the world, and the flora and fauna we share it with, feel the impacts of that steady rise through extreme weather, droughts, heatwaves, shifting rains, melting ice and rising sea levels.

Levels of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and land clearing keep climbing.

But some remain convinced that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax and readily find a home for their conspiracy theories and pseudoscience in conservative media outlets and, too often, on publicly-funded ones too.

Climate science deniers love to fling around accusations that climate change models are massively over-egging the global warming pudding and should not be trusted (climate scientist Zeke Hausfather has a great technical explainer on this).

While many pseudo-sceptics are quick with an unfounded criticism, it’s rare for them to put their own alchemy to the test by making firm projections about what’s to come.

But sometimes they do and the results are often spectacularly and comically bad. Let’s have a look at a few.

The $10,000 bet

In 2005, two Russian solar physicists Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev accepted a $10,000 bet with British climate modeller James Annan that will be concluded in a couple of weeks time.

At the time, Annan had been looking around for sceptics willing to put money behind their predictive prowess.

Annan bet the two Russians $10,000 that the six-year period between 2012 and 2017 would be warmer than the six-year period between 1998 and 2003.

Temperature data from the US National Climatic Data Center – since renamed the National Centers for Environmental Information – would be used.

Annan thought human-caused global warming would keep pushing temperatures higher. The Russian pair thought that solar activity would drop away and this effect would be enough to cause global temperatures to fall.

With only one month of data to go, you don’t need a maths degree to see who is rubbing their hands.

So far, only two years between 1998 and 2003 rank in the top 10 warmest years, compared to at least five years between 2012 and 2017.

Annan told me: “Yes I am confident of winning the bet, even the threatened eruption of Agung couldn’t matter … even if it had happened earlier this year. With only a few weeks to go, there is no chance of sufficient cooling for me to lose.”

El Niño enough?

In 2011, one group of Australian and New Zealand “sceptics” predicted that temperatures were about to plummet. The year 2011, they said, would likely be “the coolest year globally since 1956 or even earlier.”

Largely ignoring the role of increasing levels of greenhouse gases, the group, led by Australian John McLean, thought instead that the cycle of warming El Niño and cooling La Niña weather patterns would be enough to explain what would happen that year. This natural cycle had entered its cooler phase in late 2010.

You might have guessed it, but the group was wildly wrong.

1422 - Checkmate: how do climate science deniers' predictions stack up? | Environment

Global temperature chart from 2011 showing the failed prediction of a group of climate science deniers Composite: Graham Readfearn/NOAA

For the globe to be as cool as 1956, the temperatures would have to have been about 0.15C below the 20th century average. Instead, they were about 0.5C above the 20th century average.

According to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011 tied as the 11th warmest year on record. At the time, 2011 ranked as the warmest La Nina year on record.

What about Newsweek?

In April 1975, Newsweek magazine ran a story highlighting how some scientists thought the world was heading for global cooling.

Climate science deniers love to cite that Newsweek story to claim there was a consensus among scientists in the 1970s that the world was heading for global cooling. They cited it so often, it became Newsweek’s most popular ever.

The dodgy logic goes like this. Because scientists were wrong then about future temperatures, they might be wrong now about projections of further warming.

Don’t think too hard about the internal inconsistency of the argument where they use some flawed predictions from the 70s to try and disprove the global warming we’re actually experiencing, but that they will also say isn’t happening.

The real story is this. Some scientific studies in the 1970s did suggest the world was going to cool.

But even back then, analysis has shown that for every study predicting cooling there were six studies predicting warming.

Plimer minus £1,000

In 2008, Professor Ian Plimer, an Australian geologist and mining industry figure, accepted a bet from British climate policy expert and economic modeller Dr Chris Hope.

Hope had been at a conference in Cambridge where, he later wrote, “most of the participants were sceptical about the influence of humans on the climate.”

Hope took the microphone and offered a £1,000 bet that 2015 would be hotter than 2008. Plimer, who thinks climate change is all natural and nothing to do with humans, accepted the bet.

Oops. 2015 turned out to be the hottest year on record, according to the UK’s MetOffice. In fact, every year from 2009 to 2015 was hotter than 2008, according to the MetOffice figures.

Plimer continues to be invited on to conservative media outlets to speak as an “expert” on climate change, while publishing books disparaging climate science and renewable energy and serving on the boards of several mining companies, including those owned by Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart.

Plimer gave an interview to the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation a few weeks ago, shortly after former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had given that group’s annual lecture.

In October on Sky News, Plimer told News Corp political commentator and fellow climate science denier Andrew Bolt that human-caused climate change was a “fallacy based on fraud promoted by fools.”

Like in 2008, Plimer continues to be wrong.

Archibald prize?

In 2006 and 2007, Perth-based geologist David Archibald made several predictions about the coming years and decades. It was going to be cool, cool, cool.

“The sun drives climate change and it will be colder next decade by 2.0 degrees centigrade,” wrote Archibald.

Archibald dismissed the role of extra CO2 in driving temperatures (big mistake) and instead plumped for solar cycles as the key driver of global temperatures. He predicted that years would get progressively cooler heading out to 2030.

According to Archibald, this would see temperatures peaking in 1998, with temperatures bottoming out around the year 2025 to levels not seen since at least the late 19th century.

What happened? When Archibald made his “prediction”, 1998 was the hottest year on record and he thought it would stay that way until at least 2030.

Now, 1998 has dropped all the way down to eighth warmest, according to the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Archibald last made headlines in early 2017, when the geologist was running for the far-right One Nation party in Australia’s federal election, and called single mothers “ugly” and “lazy”.

Cooling any minute

Don Easterbrook is a geology professor at Western Washington University who has been making predictions of imminent global cooling for the best part of two decades.

Easterbrook, a regular at climate science denial meetings run by the Heartland Institute, rejects the role of increasing CO2 and thinks that all you need for predicting future climates, is to look at natural cycles of the past.

So in 2001, Easterbrook thought: “If the cycles continue as in the past, the current warm cycle should end in the next few years, and global warming should abate, rather than increase, in the coming decades.”

So it was any minute now for cooling. In 2006, Easterbrook said: “The current warm cycle should end soon and global temperatures should cool.”

In 2008, he wrote that his “predicted cooling seems to have already begun.”

That year he also wrote: “In a nutshell, in 2001, I put my reputation on the line and published my predictions for entering a global cooling cycle about 2007 (plus or minus 3-5 years), based on past glacial, ice core, and other data … If the present cooling trend continues, the [United Nations climate change] reports will have been the biggest farce in the history of science.”

So, what happened?

According to NOAA, the following year, 2009, was the fifth warmest year on record. 2010 then tied for the warmest, then 2011 and 2012 were relatively cool at the 11th and 10th warmest years. When the data was in for 2013, that was the fourth warmest year. The years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were all progressively ranked warmest on record.

That global cooling is just round the corner though. Any minute now.

Rapid cooling

Kevin Long is an Australian mechanical engineer and one of those “long range” weather forecasters that pull together things like moon cycles and sun spot activity to make predictions.

In January 2014, Long declared the world was heading for “the most rapid global cooling trend for two centuries” and that during 2016, this event “should become very obvious to all.”

Long said it was “unlikely” that the public would be told about the coming global cooling, because of all the “anthropogenic global warming propaganda” that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was endlessly “peddling”, backed by an “extremely biased world media”.

So how’s that rapid global cooling trend going? We sort of know already, but 2017 is likely to be the second or third warmest year on record.

Climate fail army

Fellow Guardian environmental blogger Dana Nuccitelli wrote a whole book about the predictive qualities of this failed army of “sceptics” – it’s called Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics.

Apart from being wrong, all these failed predictions have one thing in common – they all reject the role that human emissions of carbon dioxide are having on global temperatures.

The natural cycles used by many to make predictions, such as El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or the activity of the sun, are well known and well studied.

But as the failed predictions show, those natural cycles have lost their grip on the world’s temperature. Carbon dioxide is increasingly in charge.

So allow me to make a couple of predictions.

First, based on their record, climate science deniers will keep telling you that global cooling is just around the corner or alternatively, that all that extra CO2 will be just great anyway.

Second, many will look to the comments section to yell that climate models are broken and global temperature records are being nefariously tampered with.

In short, the climate fail army will descend.