Rising FOX News star leaves context out of climate picture
Photo: The time series shows the five-year average variation of global surface temperatures in 2015. Dark blue indicates areas cooler than average. Dark red indicates areas warmer than average.
Part 1 in a series on media coverage of climate change.
By TATIANA PROPHET
Jesse Watters is a rising star at FOX News, especially after the departure of Bill O'Reilly when his show Watters' World moved to weekend prime time. So when he omits context for climate data, he is misleading a huge audience.
Watters has built a reputation for keeping it real, playing the part of an iconoclast in a sea of political correctness. And he gets some things right. But his output on climate change is not elucidating the issue for the average American.
For a few years now, he has been doing word-on-the-street interviews about climate change, asking people how much the global temperature has risen in the last 15 years.
In this year's Earth Day installment, he began the segment with a few statistics.
"Earth day is this weekend, but despite constant threats that our planet is at the point of no return, the earth has only warmed about .8 degrees in the last 150 years. Now we love a clean earth, and Watters’ World supports the earth. But Miller, Dennis Miller does a great thing about, 150 years ago, a guy named Ezekiel walks out of his outhouse, digs a hole in the ground and holds a candle in a hole as a future gage for scientists to measure earth’s temperature off of? I don’t think so."
I'm not sure what he was getting at there, maybe that average temperature readings were not as reliable 150 years ago? Sounds pretty simplistic to me.
The segment then included interviews he did from Earth Day three years ago in New York. So it appears the only thing Watters recycles is his own footage. Perhaps he has become too busy co-hosting the snarky, up-beat panel show The Five, as well as taking Watters' World to prime time, to do new interviews? I happened to figure that out because I watched the 2014 version and it was the same footage.
"How much do you think the earth has warmed over the last 15 years?" he asks several people.
One man says: "35." If you've ever watched Watters' World, there's a loud buzzer indicating that the previous statement was the wrong answer.
A woman says, "3.75!" Loud buzzer.
"Fifteen degrees." Buzzer.
Another man says, "One hundred and something degrees." Watters jumps in and says, "No, you'd be cooked on the spot!"
Another woman says, "One?"
Dramatic pause. Then Watters says: "Point one-one. (.11) I thought there was global warming, what happened?"
The woman whom he has enlightened looks bewildered.
Record scratch. Then a scene from the movie "Dickey Roberts" with David Spade saying: "What, Cat got your tongue or did he eat that for breakfast too?"
First of all, Watters doesn't say whether he's talking about a warming of .11 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius. If it were Fahrenheit, that number is definitely not large enough for the change in temperature over the last 15 years. The conversion of change in temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit is by a factor of 1.8 (contrary to straight temperature conversion).
So if you look at this graph from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: Global Time Series, published April 2017, the change in temperature between 1880 and 2015 valued against the average global land surface temperature of the 20th Century, Watters' statements are not that far off. Temperature change has varied from .4 degrees Celsius cooler than average to 1.1 degree Celsius warmer than average in the last 150 years or so. That's from about .72 degrees Fahrenheit below average to about 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
As far as the last 15 years go, given that he first stated the "one point one" difference in 2014, I was having a hard time figuring which 15 years he was looking at, since there can be a wide fluctuation from year to year. For example, the 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since the year 2000, with the exception of 1998, which was .95-degree Celsius higher than average. If he started from 1998, the spread would be a mere .4 degrees Celsius.
The only thing approximating what he came to was to look at the interval between 2003 and 2014, which comes to .11 degrees Celsius difference between the overage from a baseline of zero, which would be from .89 degrees Celsius to 1.00 degrees Celsius in 2014. I'm really not sure where he got his info. But he's not way off, so I can live with his data. But it's the lack of context that concerns me. It's not like he's at the Westminster dog show making jokes about terriers. He's talking about something that could potentially affect millions of people living in coastal areas in the next 50 years.
The problem is, he doesn't tell people that the hottest years on record have all occurred since the year 2000. He also doesn't indicate that when you're looking at average surface temperatures, a fluctuation of one degree can mean a decided warming trend. Take a look at these maps showing a fluctuation in the 5-year average, first in 1880, then in 1979, and then in 2014. Blue areas are cooler than average and red areas are warmer than average.
And it only takes a degree or two to cause sea-level rise. This is only one study, but it shows that a 1 to 2 degree change in temperature has caused sea levels to rise by several meters in the past. According to NOAA, in climate.gov, in 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches (67 mm) above the 1993 average. That is the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present).
And we're not even going into the acidification of the oceans due to their absorption of carbon, which we will explore in a future installment.
In 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations published a report that said that the "safe" climate target (which would avert mass flooding and famine down the line), is 2 degrees Celsius above average for this century.
"In short, to have a two-in-three probability of not crossing the danger mark, the world is allowed to burn, at most, 1,000 gigatons of carbon in total since the Industrial Revolution, and countries have already used up more than half that budget," according to insideclimatenews.org.
It's clear from Watters' report that he disputes the prevailing climate science, as can be seen by his reference to "Climategate" in his attempted interview with Al Gore. I'll be examining "Climategate" in the next installment.
For now, though, merely stating that the climate has warmed .8 degrees Celsius in the last "150 years" does not demonstrate that we should either act like the planet is not warming or feel better about carbon emissions.
It's hard to understand how anyone could be a climate skeptic at this point, but I'm willing to look into all of the evidence and the likelihood of falsification. I would have to see major evidence of widespread falsification of evidence, or sloppy conclusions, by 97 percent of the world's scientists. Another possibility is that there is so much uncertainty in prediction, the actual future might vary wildly even if carbon emissions are putting all of us in danger. The more variables you have, and the more uncertainty you have in the data involving those variables, the more uncertain everything is.
And of course there's always the unexpected event that might cause a slowdown or mitigation of climate change's advance, as published in Science recently. But we can't just hope and pray that those events occur.
There's a major ice shelf called Larsen C that's probably going to break off from Antarctica soon. If and when it does, it will be the largest iceberg ever recorded floating in the ocean, at 5,000 square miles. When it breaks off, it won't add to sea level because it's already floating, say news reports. But when it does melt, it will. We should definitely watch what happenes with it to determine the rate of sea level rise.
Many people think the seas will rise sooner rather than later. For years, scientists have put it at about 50 to 100 years before we see coastal areas disappear. On probably no other topic is it important that we get it right. Can we afford to gamble on the disappearance of our coastal waters?