Seth Meyers Fails on Global Warming

Seth MeyersTuesday night, Ted Cruz was on Late Night With Seth Meyers. It didn’t go well. I’m not a fan of Seth Meyers. He’s always reminded me of another Weekend Update alumni: Dennis Miller. A lot of people have forgotten this, but Miller was once an outspoken liberal. But as with Meyers, you could always tell that he wasn’t serious about it — he clearly hadn’t thought through his political positions. So I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Miller turned conservative. In fact, it’s better now: he has a greater grasp on what conservatives think. I’m not saying that Meyers is going to turn conservative, but his liberalism is razor thin.

Even before Cruz got a chance to talk, Meyers said something that annoyed me. After they discussed Cruz’s “world’s on fire” rhetoric, Meyers said, “At first I got excited, because I thought you were coming around on global warming… Because I think the world’s on fire literally.” But clearly, the world is not on fire. It portrays the issue in a casual and hyperbolic way that makes for easy pickings by conservatives. And in fact, Cruz used just such an attack when he later mentioned that it had been snowing in New Hampshire. I know: that’s stupid. But it is a perfectly acceptable counter to the stupid claim that the world is literally on fire from global warming.

One thing that Cruz said that made me want to bang my head against the wall was a total distortion of linguistic history. He said, “It’s why, you remember how it used to be called global warming, and then magically the theory changed to climate change?” Actually, that was the result of a propaganda campaign. According to The Guardian in 2003, “The phrase ‘global warming’ should be abandoned in favor of ‘climate change,’ [conservative branding expert] Mr [Frank] Luntz says…” One of the things that the Republican Party is really good at is branding, and I hate that Ted Cruz can go on national television and claim words that his party got changed are actually due to a changing understanding of science.

Cruz continued, “The reason is it wasn’t warming. But the computer models still say it is, except the satellites show it’s not.” He claimed earlier that the last 17 years of satellite temperature data indicated “zero warming, none whatsoever.” Meyers’ response to this was nothing at all. He didn’t even know enough to say that Cruz was cherry picking data. The audience was left thinking, “Wow! I guess there really is a debate!”

There is no debate:

Satellite Temperature Measurements

That’s from an excellent article by Tim McDonnell at Mother Jones, Scientists: Ted Cruz’s Climate Theories Are a “Load of Claptrap.” It represents an average increase in atmospheric temperatures of 0.22° F per decade for the last three and a half decades. Of course, it’s important to remember that these data are some of the worst that we have — and they still show a distinct rise in temperature. But importantly: we don’t especially care about total global atmospheric temperatures; we care about surface temperatures. One thing that falls out of the simplest of climate models is that while the lower atmosphere (troposphere) warms, the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) cools. So looking at the overall temperature will tend to understate the rise in surface temperature.

What Cruz said was not technically false. You might wonder: why did he pick 17 years and not, say, 20? It’s because 17 years ago, 1998, was one of the warmest years on record (the warmest of the 20th century). Thus, by starting there, the upward trend is small — I assume within the margin of error, because the errors on satellite temperature measurements are large. You can see this very clearly by looking at the yearly average surface temperatures provided in McDonnell’s article:

Yearly Average Surface Temperatures

I don’t mind people like Seth Meyers getting into these debates. But given the power they have to amplify voices, they have a responsibility to know what they are talking about. In this case, Meyers had absolutely nothing to say other than that he believes in global warming. Did he really think Ted Cruz didn’t have talking points about this? If you watch the video, you can see where he pauses slightly after mentioning the snow in New Hampshire. He is used to the audience cheering after he says that. Meyers did liberalism generally, and science specifically, great harm Tuesday night. Maybe it would be best if he just turned into a conservative.

Afterword

This is a great one minute long video that explains the difference between climate and weather in a really clever way. Check it out:

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