Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Requiem for a Meme: Global Warming has NOT stopped

Global warming has NOT stopped. We knew that it has slowed down somewhat but the most recent data show that even the slowdown was mostly an illusion; warming just keeps going on. But lies have a life of their own and can't be stopped by logic and reason, alone. It will take time before we can celebrate a requiem for this nasty meme.

Propaganda is normally based on the deformation of reality - so even the avalanche of lies surrounding us about the global warming "pause" started from a grain of truth.

Scientists had been the first to note that the rise in global temperatures had slowed down with the first decade of 21st century. That had generated some anti-science comments, for instance in 2007 on the Australian "Courier", and in 2008 with a pseudo-scientific paper by Easterbrook. But these comments remained isolated and not widely known.  

However, the "global warming pause" had all the elements needed to become a meme, a term that indicates a concept that spreads virus-like in human minds. The diffusion of this meme started after that Kaufmann et al. published a paper on PNAS in June 2011. There, they explicitly noted the slowdown of planetary temperature; attributing it to the rise in sulfur emissions in China. They were careful to state that they didn't mean to say that there was anything wrong with the concept of human caused global warming. But, perhaps, they were not careful enough to avoid using in their paper expression such as "lack of warming". These statements were picked up in various denialist sites and described as proof of the non-existence of global warming. The pause concept started to behave as a meme, spreading all over the Web.

The final push that propelled the pause meme to worldwide knowledge was probably an article by David Rose that appeared on "The Mail" of 13 October 2011.  In it, Rose showed a graph that he claimed was based on data issues by the Met Office (the British national weather service). However, Rose had arranged the time scale in order to give the impression of a pause that never existed; perhaps even "adjusting" the data a bit. Here is a comparison between Rose's plot and the real data.

Above: David Rose's plot from "The Mail", below: the real data

Even without the recent corrections, it is clear that there never was such a thing as a halt in global warming. But Rose's article had all the elements to create a successful worldwide meme. It claimed a conspiracy, it soothed public conscience, it said bad things about politicians - stuff that sells well. And it was published on a tabloid that sells almost 2 million copies per day, with over 100 million visitors per months to its website (from wikipedia). After Rose's article, the "pause in global warming"  became probably the most diffuse climate denial meme in the world.

Can this meme be stopped? It never had any reason to exist but it is also true that the mainstream media haven't picked up the new results that disprove it completely. And, in any case, memes have a life of their own; they can't be killed using reason, alone. So, it is too early to celebrate a requiem for the pause meme. Eventually, truth tends to win, but it takes time.

In the meantime, we should remember that we are not discussing about virtual entities - memes - that exist only in our minds. Global warming is a nasty thing that exists in the real world and kills real people. So, give a look to the picture below and to the associated statement, from an article by David Rose. Look at that with the eyes of an Australian who has lost everything in one of these gigantic fires. How nasty can denial become, Mr. Rose?

"Instead of focusing on the news that global warming had halted, other newspapers reported on the heatwave and raging bushfires in Australia"

From an article by David Rose on the Daily Mail


  1. Thanks Ugo,

    Im sure some denialist will pop-up here and will claim that that picture som from 2009 (and that bushfires are daily experience of Australian life...



    1. No, the 'denialists' (aka, the sceptic, or the true scientists) simply will point you to this analysis of the flaws in the paper you mention...LOL

      your turn now.

  2. The Daily Mail has penetration power.
    June 2013, Owen Patterson, UK minister whose remit includes preparing the UK for the effects of climate ... said on a BBC radio programme .. ."The climate has not changed. The temperature hasn't changed in 17 years." ...