Hold the deceivers accountable, says the AG

How hot was February 2016? Very, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Maura Healey, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

NOAA tells us that “the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for February 2016 was the highest for February in the 137-year period of record, at 1.21ºC (2.18ºF) above the 20th century average of 12.1ºC (53.9ºF).”  NOAA Global Analysis – February 2016 (emphasis added).

According to my arithmetic (12.1 + 1.21 = 13.31) the temperature in February 2016 was 13.31ºC.  This made it “likely the hottest month in thousands of years,” said Attorney General Healey at a press conference in New York on March 29, 2016.

Quite a claim. Not just the hottest in the 137 years NOAA refers to, but the hottest in thousands of years. For “thousands of years” no month has likely topped February’s 13.31ºC, according to Healey who is one of several attorneys general (all Democrats) calling themselves “AGs United for Clean Power” investigating ExxonMobil and other corporations for fraud. On what do they base their investigations? Healey explains:

“[I]t appears that certain companies may not have told the whole story, leading many to doubt whether climate change is real, and to misunderstand the catastrophic nature of its impacts.  Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be held accountable.”

Quite right too, now that we know that at a record-breaking 13.31ºC February 2016 was “likely the hottest month in thousands of years.”

And there was I thinking that February 2000 had been hotter, just because the temperature back then was 14.45 ºC.  With my pre-Common Core arithmetic and my dime-store calculator I thought 14.45 was higher than 13.31 and, therefore, that the temperature of 14.45 ºC made the month of February in the year 2000 hotter than the month of February in the year 2016 when it was 13.31 ºC.

Because in February 2000 the temperature was, in fact, 14.45 ºC.  Or rather, in 2008 the temperature in February 2000 was 14.45ºC.  Today, in contrast, the temperature in February 2000 was lower. Yes, February 2000 is cooler this year than February 2000 was in 2008.  My foundation for the foregoing (admittedly perplexing) statement is NOAA, which only a few years ago had this to say about February 2000:

“[T]he average global temperature for land and ocean surfaces combined was 0.55C above the 1880-1999 long-term mean in February, the 4th warmest such month since 1880.” Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for February 2000, published online March 2000, retrieved on May 19, 2016 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/200002.

If the temperature in February 2000 was 0.55ºC above the 1880-1999 long-term mean of 13.9 ºC, then it was 14.45ºC (13.9 + 0.55 = 14.45).  To my simple mind 14.45 ºC appears to be higher than 13.31 ºC.

But, as readers will note from the text in bold near the top of the page, the 20th century average is now a chilly 12.1º, not the balmy 13.9ºC of yesteryear.

If, like me, you have been paying attention to global warming since the mid-2000s, perhaps after watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, you may remember the days when the 20th century average was 13.9 ºC.  That was the figure way, way back in 2008.  But the following year, an odd thing happened to the 20th century average: It dropped from 13.9ºC to 12.1ºC.  So in the first decade of the 21st century, the 20th century got colder by 1.8ºC.

Obviously, the 20th century average temperature itself did not change. That would require time travel or magic. No, it was not the temperature but the way NOAA calculated the temperature that changed. To its credit, NOAA provides a clear caveat for its pre-2009 figures.  For example, if you visit NOAA’s website to look up the temperature for 1997 you will read this:

“Please note: the estimate for the baseline global temperature used in this study differed, and was warmer than, the baseline estimate (Jones et al., 1999) used currently. This report has been superseded by subsequent analyses. However, as with all climate monitoring reports, it is left online as it was written at the time.”

After that anodyne disclaimer comes this:

“The global average temperature of 62.45 degrees Fahrenheit for 1997 was the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous record set in 1995 by 0.15 degrees Fahrenheit. The chart reflects variations from the 30-year average (1961-1990) of the combined land and sea surface temperatures.”

Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for Annual 1997, published online January 1998, retrieved on May 19, 2016 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/199713.

In 1997 the temperature was 16.91ºC (62.45 ºF), according to the settled science at the time, making it the “warmest year on record.”  Today’s settled science puts the temperature for the second month of this year at 13.31ºC, a figure 3.6 ºC lower than the temperature for 1997 but (according to climate-science expert Maura Healey) “likely the hottest month in thousands of years.”

But remember, before rushing to accuse the public employees at NOAA of not telling the whole story and deceiving the public (something only people in the private sector do, especially those who work for fossil fuel companies) the agency does warn us about its 1997 report having been “superseded by subsequent analyses” Similarly, for 1998 NOAA tells its online visitors:

“PLEASE NOTE: The ranks and temperature anomalies in this report represent the values known at the time the report was issued. The actual ranks will change as subsequent years are added to the dataset. The anomalies themselves may change slightly as missing or erroneous data is resolved. Also, in 2009, NCDC switched to ERSST version 3b (from version 2) as a component of its global surface temperature dataset. Because the versions have slightly different methodologies, the calculated temperature anomalies will differ slightly. For more information about this switch please see the Global Surface Temperature Anomalies FAQ.”

Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for Annual 1998, published online January 1999, retrieved on May 19, 2016 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/199813.

After seeing a similar warning for the 2004 numbers, NOAA visitors will learn that in February of that year the temperature was 1.08°C above the 20th century average, i.e. 14.98ºC (13.9 + 1.08 = 14.98). Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for February 2004, published online March 2004, retrieved on May 19, 2016 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/200402.

To recap, according to NOAA’s pre-2009 assertions, the average combined global surface and ocean temperature in the year 1997 was 16.91ºC; in February 2000 it was 14.45 ºC; in February 2004 it was 14.98ºC; and (according to the post-2009 methodology) in February 2016 it was 13.31 ºC.

Based on the figure that NOAA used in 2008, February 2016 was almost two degrees cooler than February 2004 and more than three degrees cooler than 1997.  Nevertheless, Attorney General Healey asserts that “February 2016 was likely the hottest month in thousands of years.”  And she is investigating other people for not telling the whole story and deceiving the public about climate change.

Forgive me for repeating myself to drive the point home. As recently as 2008, the official 20th century average temperature was 13.9 ºC and today the official figure for the same period is 12.1ºC.  The new figure diverges from the old figure by almost two degrees. Anyone tempted to brand their opponents with the D for Denier and treat them as criminals should ponder that fact, or risk committing the only sin that modern liberalism seems to recognize, namely hypocrisy.

In stating, prior to 2009, that the 20th century average global combined ocean and surface temperature was 13.9ºC when it was really 12.1ºC, did NOAA deliberately deceive the public?  Should it be “held accountable,” as Attorney General Healey demands those allegedly deceitful fossil fuel companies should be held accountable? Should the states’ attorneys general and maybe the federal Department of Justice open up criminal investigations?

No, of course not. The science surrounding the climate’s sensitivity to CO2 is complex, and the scientists who study it make mistakes (as do all other humans), mistakes they and other scientists eventually discover and endeavor to correct using the scientific method.

The politicians in “AGs United for Clean Power” must know this. And that knowledge makes their conduct all the more loathsome. Because while NOAA is merely chilling temperature records, the AGs are chilling speech. You may not shed a tear for the officers, directors, shareholders, and employees of ExxonMobil but consider the underlying message that the politicians are sending with their criminal investigations. Look, they are telling us, look at what we do to powerful transnational corporations that dissent from the climate orthodoxy; now imagine how we will treat you, the ordinary citizen, should you ask awkward questions. More bluntly their message is this: “Keep your head down and your mouth shut.”

George Orwell’s Winston Smith wrote in his secret journal that freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make four. Today freedom is, in part, the freedom to say that 13.31ºC is lower than 16.91ºC. Nothing can guarantee the survival of that freedom, not even our top law-enforcement officials. To the contrary, Maura Healy and other attorneys general – elected by the people to uphold our liberty under the law – are demonstrating their contempt for it.