Climate change: On media perceptions and misperceptions

APS Physics

Wallace Manheimer,

This essay claims that the media vastly overstates the risks of climate change. It has a mandate to report an unbiased view of issues, not just present a single view of an extraordinarily complicated scientific controversy, and pretend the other side does not exist, or is corrupt. They assert a single cause for the supposed crisis, excess CO2 in the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuel, something on which billions of people depend. They advance a single solution, stop using fossil fuel. But even if we do this, how sure can we be that the environmental effects will be beneficial? The earth’s climate is extremely complicated and poorly understood, and is affected by many things besides CO2. In fact, there is plenty of easily accessible contrary evidence. Furthermore, one does not have to be Sherlock Holmes to find it, all it takes is an Internet search. Dr. Watson is perfectly capable of performing it.

To see the mainstream media’s obsession, The Washington Post, New York Times, ABC News and CBS News, all major media outlets have parts of their web site dedicated to environment and climate. Here are their web sites:

On Mar 31, 2019, I scanned about the top 40 on each web site (the entries change constantly), well over hundred entries. On the first 3, there was no entry expressing even the slightest doubt about the coming catastrophe. It was a gigantic parade of Chicken Littles. CBS did have a single entry, which expressed doubt; it concerned a glacier in Greenland that everyone thought was receding, but turns out to be growing;

Actually most glaciers have been receding for ~200 years, for most of that time, excess CO2 played NO role, i.e. there was no excess CO2.

I give special attention to NBC News. In addition to their web site expressing absolutely no doubt, Meet The Press on December 30 2018, had a special edition on climate change. As Chuck Todd, the host, said:

“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

In fact, the science is not settled; it is a legitimate and very complicated scientific controversy. CO2 is one of many, many factors affecting climate

This essay will point out just a tiny part of the voluminous data, which does not support the theory that climate change is a fast approaching CO2 caused disaster. Some of the data presented here does indicate climate change; most does not. Even for supporting data, it is not easy to tell if the evidence for climate change is real, or is just a statistical fluctuation. For the most part I let the data speak for itself with minimal explanation or interpretation.

To start, let us look at the most fundamental quantity, the temperature data. Figure 1 shows a NOAA plot.

global mean

Fig 1: NOAA temperature data 1880-2019

Figure [1] does show significant warming of about 0.6o C from about 1970 to 2000, but on the other hand, the warming plateaued for ~ 20 years after that, even though CO2 continued to be added to the atmosphere. It seems as though the longer the temperature stays roughly constant, the more hysterical become the claims that there is an existential threat. Now many politicians and media personalities are advancing the Green New Deal. Its presumed window is 12 (or maybe 10) years before the world is destroyed. The only hope is to end all fossil fuel by then, impoverishing billions. In the July 31 Democratic presidential debate, several candidates enthusiastically espoused this. However, the graph also shows an increase of about 0.5o from 1910 to 1940. Assuming the same atmospheric processes were at work during both 30-year time periods, this would argue that added CO2 was responsible for at most a small portion of the temperature rise of the more recent temperature increase. The media ignores this undeniable fact.

None other than the head of the UN declared we must keep the temperature rise from preindustrial conditions less than 1.5o C [1] (just under the temperature difference between New York City and Boston). In other words, billions of people should drastically reduce their life style because some theory predicts calamity with a 1.5o rise. However, as Fig 1 shows, there has already been a 1o rise. But now every measure of human wellbeing, longevity, health, wealth, education, environment, …. is much improved from 1910 when it was 1o cooler. I would think that if a 1.5o rise would produce calamity, the 1o rise we have experienced already would show sure indications of it. The media ignores this obvious fact.

Another thing the mainstream media emphasizes is that sea levels are rising rapidly because of added CO2 in the atmosphere, perhaps 10 feet by 2100 [2]

Chris Mooney of the Washington Post [3] puts even this to shame, he suggests as much as a 30-foot rise in the next century!

To get some perspective, note that when the glaciers melted after the last ice age, the oceans rose about 1 meter per century for about 10,000 years (~100 meter total rise). However, Ref [2] speaks of ~ 3 meters per century, 3 times the rate of rise as when the glaciers were melting, and Ref [3] speaks of ten times that rise; all because of a small increase of a trace gas in our atmosphere. Not only is a catastrophic rise potentially inevitable according to the Washington Post, but like King Canute, we have the power to command it to stop, because the cause is clear and unambiguous, additional CO2 in the atmosphere [4]. All we have to do is stop using fossil fuels; what could be easier?

In any case, let us look at a graph of sea level rise. Fig [2] is an often-quoted one from IPCC.

sea level chart

Figure 2: A plot of sea level rise from 1880 to about 2010. Notice that before about 1920, the ocean hardly rose. Then it started to rise rather rapidly to about 20-25 cm per century. Also on the figure is a straight line drawn by the author through the curve from 1925 to 1960. Notice, that after 1960, just when the effect of excess CO2 would begin to be felt, the ocean rise began to decrease.

Perhaps by 2100, the ice caps will all melt, as many speculate now, on the basis of various theoretical models. However at least up to now, there is no sign of such an impending calamity in the actual data. But the mainstream media seems oblivious to current data, it focuses only on what might or might not be 30, 80 or even 180 years from now years from now.

In any case, how valid are the theoretical models? James Hansen in 1988 predicted much greater warming today than is actually measured. Anthony Watts plotted Hansen’s 1988 calculated predictions of temperature rise as a function of year for various assumptions of CO2 input into the atmosphere [5]. His calculations are shown in Fig. 3a, and beneath it, explaining it, is the caption by Anthony Watts. He also plotted the actual temperature rise. Considering the actual rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere, the actual temperature increase (the black curve) should have been well above his maximum estimate (the blue curve).

John Christy, one of the heads of the space based earth measurements laboratory at the University of Alabama Huntsville presented testimony to congress [6] pointing out that the theoretical models have greatly overestimated the actual heating. Below as Fig. 3b, is one of the graphs he presented, along with his caption. Note that the computer models are not making random errors, if they were there would be many that under predicted the temperature rise. Since all, except the Russian model, greatly over predict the temperature rise, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that biases are built into the models. The media has little if anything to say on how disastrously wrong these earlier theories were in predicting today’s reality.

models observations

a. Temperature forecast Hansen’s group from the year 1988.* The various scenarios are 1.5% CO2 increase (blue), constant increase in CO2 emissions (green) and stagnant CO2 emissions (red). In reality, the increase in CO2 emissions by as much as 2.5%, which would correspond to the scenario above the blue curve. The black curve is the ultimate real-measured temperature (rolling 5-year average). Hansen’s model overestimates the temperature by 1.9°C, which is a whopping 150% wrong.

global mid-tropospheric

Figure 3

Now let us focus on hurricanes. The 2018 hurricane season had hurricanes doing significant damage to Houston and the Florida Pan Handle. Many commentators, including Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post [7] blamed it on CO2 induced climate change. However there always were, and always will be extreme weather events; that is the way the earth does its business. Figure [4] is a plot of hurricanes by decade from the National Hurricane Center, a part of NOAA and the National Weather Service.

landfalling hurricanes

Figure 4: A graph of number of hurricanes Cat 3 and above making landfall in the USA as compiled by the National Hurricane Center. Clearly the worst decade is not the present one, but the 1950’s; and then the 1940’s and 1960’s. After this, there seems to be a decrease in the number of hurricanes making landfall.

It is difficult to conclude from Fig 4, that hurricanes now are the result of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, yet that is exactly what the media does; it ignores the NOAA data.

Some claim hurricanes are getting more intense and destructive. But, as more people move to coastal regions, the hurricane damage will inevitably increase. However intense storms go way back. The most damaging storm to the United States was not one of the recent ones, but the terrible hurricane that hit Galveston, TX in 1900, 60 years before excess CO2 began to have any impact on the atmosphere. In that hurricane, thousands died, and the city was totally destroyed. Figure 5 is a photo of Galveston right after the hurricane hit.

Galvestan destruction

Figure 5: A photo of Galveston after the 1900 hurricane, from

What about tornadoes? USA Today reported [8] that they have gotten worse with all the extra atmospheric CO2. While there has been a slight increase in the number of tornadoes, there has been a slight decrease in the number of extremely violent tornadoes, category, F3 and above. Figure 6 is a plot, year by year of violent tornadoes taken from NOAA data. Again, the media ignores this.

Violent tornadoes

Figure 6: A plot of the number of strong to violent tornados (F3 and above) year by year from 1954 to 2014. Clearly there is no correlation with an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere; in fact if anything the number of these storms seem to be slightly decreasing with increasing atmospheric CO2.

Now look at droughts. Every time California has one of its severe droughts, we hear the TV newsmen and even the New York Times [9] say that this is all caused by excess CO2. However, Figure 7 shows the Palmer drought index from 1890 to the present.

Drought severity

Figure 7:

Palmer drought

Clearly no recent drought even comes close to the to the drought of the dust bowl in the mid 1930’s. There is certainly no increase in either the frequency or intensity corresponding with the increase of atmospheric CO2. In fact, Fig. 7 shows that over the past 20 years, the tendency for either flooding of drought has greatly decreased, just as it did in the 20 years between 1910 and 1930, i.e right before the dust bowl. Perhaps this current pause is a harbinger of a new season of floods or droughts as it was in 1930.

Regarding agriculture, here is Marcia McNutt, the editor of Science [10]:

“But now with climate change, we face a slowly escalating but long-enduring global threat to food supplies, health, ecosystem services, and the general viability of the planet to support a population of more than 7 billion people.

The time for debate has ended. Action is urgently needed. (we must) set more aggressive targets, developed nations need to reduce their per-capita fossil fuel emissions even further…”

Naturally it is intimidating to contradict Dr. McNutt, but information contradicting her abounds on the Internet. Simply type in ‘graph of agricultural productivity’ on your search engine, and many graphs will pop up, all saying the same thing, namely that agricultural productivity is uniformly increasing throughout the world. Figure [8] shows a typical example:

Crop production

Figure 8: A plot of net crop production in selected tropical countries and the world as a whole. Notice that there is a steadily increasing production, with no sign of any ‘slowly escalating but long-enduring global threat to food supplies’.

If there is to be any threat to agriculture, there is no sign of it at this point. It is very likely that one reason for this increase in agricultural productivity is the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is an important nutrient for plants [11]. The media ignores all of this.

The Polar Regions are particularly timely, as the week this is being written, April 1-5, 2019, Al Roker, for the Today Show was in Alaska discussing climate change. The entire emphasis of the series was on how climate change is occurring there right now and is having a major effect adverse on life there. Figure 9 is a picture of Mr. Roker there, discussing a scientific measuring tool with one of the scientists there.

Al Roker in Alaska

Figure 9: Al Roker (right ) in Alaska, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, interviewing one of the scientists there doing measurements of the Alaskan environment.

Of course, the assumption underlying the series, without the slightest doubt, is that climate change is real, serious, is caused by excess atmospheric CO2. It is an imminent threat to civilization. It mentioned that recently Alaska has warmed up considerably, meaning (they claim) that the polar regions are where climate change is really beginning; it is occurring there right now, and will soon move to the mid latitude and tropical regions.

Figure 10 is a graph, year by year of average temperature over all Alaska, taken from the measurements of NOAA, Alaska division:

Temperature Alaska

Figure 10: The temperature in Alaska from 1920 to the present taken from NOAA measurements.

Notice that, as the Today Show asserts, there has indeed been a significant warm up over the past 5 years. Perhaps this is a harbinger of climate change, or perhaps just a normal fluctuation. The graph shows a statistically much more significant cooling trend from 1960 to 1980. The Today Show ignored this.

To obtain further insight it is helpful to look into what is happening in the entire northern polar region, not just Alaska. The other parts of the region are the Arctic Ocean and Siberia. The information for these regions is also available [12]. The Arctic Ocean is warming some, but Siberia is cooling very significantly. Figure 11 shows a picture of the Siberian City of Yakuskt in January, 2018. The temperature at the time the photo was taken was a relatively normal value, i.e. about -60o degrees!

Siberia photo

Figure 11: Yakutusk, Siberia in January, 2018, when the temperature was less than 60 degrees below zero.

So let’s summarize the situation; Alaska and the northern ocean is getting warmer, and Siberia is getting considerably colder. Figure 12 shows polar orbiting satellite measurements over both the northern and southern Polar Regions.

Troposphere temperature

Figure 12: Global monthly average lower troposphere temperature since 1979 for the North Pole and South Pole regions, based on satellite observations (University of Alabama at Huntsville, USA). This graph uses data obtained by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) TIROS-N satellite, interpreted by Dr. Roy Spencer and Dr. John Christy, both at Global Hydrology and Climate Center, University of Alabama at Huntsville, USA. Thick lines are the simple running 37 month average, nearly corresponding to a running 3 yr average.

As Figure 12 shows, there has been a slightly increasing temperature in the Northern polar region for about the last 25 years, after about a 15-year period of a slightly decreasing temperature. In any case, the warming is much more gradual than the Today Show indicated. Also, it is worth noting that in the southern Polar Regions, the temperature has been about constant; possibly one could even see a very slight temperature decrease there. Again, the media ignores this undeniable, easily obtainable data.

So let’s see where we are. The temperature measurements do show a slight warming, and this may have been caused in part by excess CO2 in the atmosphere. It is no simple matter to separate the CO2 cause from other natural causes for the warming. The other figures of merit presented here, which the media focuses on, fail to show any evidence of destructive climate change.

The author hopes this essay will play some small role to inspire the media to consider the climate change dilemma more responsibly. They should look at actual data, compare yesterday’s predictions to today’s reality, and to view climate change alarmists with at least as much suspicion as they view the skeptics. They should recognize and focus on the enormous reduction in life style they are insisting on, for billions of people; a life style change that should not be undertaken without very, very, very convincing evidence of the necessity for doing so. In this author’s opinion, the present climate evidence, and the present theoretical understanding of it, does not nearly argue for undertaking such a change.

Acknowledgement: This work was not sponsored by any organization, public or private


1. Statement by the Secretary-General on the IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, 08 October 2018, New York,

2. Sarah DeWeerdt | Scientists can’t tell whether sea-level rise will be bad or catastrophic Dec 19, 2017 Anthropoce,

3. Chris Mooney, At this rate, Earth risks sea level rise of 20 to 30 feet, historical analysis shows, Washington Post, Sept 20, 2018

4. As the seas rise, Republicans will deserve all the blame their grandchildren assign them, Washington Post Editorial, April 12, 2019

5. Anthony Watts, James Hansen’s climate forecast of 1988: a whopping 150% wrong,, June 15, 2012

6. John R. Christy of University of Alabama Huntsville, U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology 2 Feb 2016 Testimony of University of Alabama in Huntsville.

7. Eugene Robinson. Climate change is real. Welcome to the new normal., Washington Post, Sept 17, 2018

8. Elizabeth Weisse and Doyle Rice, Floods tornados, snow in May extreme weather driven by climate change across the US, USA Today, May 29, 2019

9. Justin Gillis, California Drought Is Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say, New York Times, August 20, 2015,

10. Marcia McNutt, Science Magazine, July 3, 2015, editorial


12. Kimberly M. S. Cartier , Why Are Siberian Temperatures Plummeting While the Arctic Warms? EOS Earth and Space News 26 July 2018