A Met Office model revision found its way into the skeptic-o-sphere a couple of days back and, from there, onto some BBC news outlets. Predictable cries of “warming standstill!” ensued.
Guardian environment correspondent Leo Hickman has started collating information on the fallout – it’s a great thread. The sanest quote, for me, from Prof Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London:
I despair of the way data such as this is translated as ‘global warming has stopped’! Global mean temperatures – whether measured or predicted – are not the issue. What matters is the energy balance of the planet and the changes that an energy imbalance will drive in the climate system – as well as the consequences for humans. 90% of the energy imbalance enters the ocean and is not visible to the global mean surface temperature value. The continuing rise in sea level demonstrates ongoing energy accumulation in the ocean (as well as a contribution from melting land ice). Even if the global mean temperature were to remain unchanged, if the geographic patterns of temperature and rainfall change, the consequences will still be potentially severe. We only need to look at what is going on in Australia at this very moment.
Yet the damage to public perception is already done, as this news audio clip demonstrates (where I first heard the story): “The Met Office now says it no longer expects global temperatures to rise between now and 2017. Climate skeptics say this shows the Met Office previously exaggerated its predictions of global warming.” This easy damage is impossible to undo, and perhaps could only be stopped by news outlets adopting clear policies for vetting science stories such as this. But will they?