Several major newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, have published columns and editorials over the past week inspired by new research into global warming by a team led by Richard Muller, a physicist from the University of California at Berkeley.
Muller, who has been an avowed skeptic of climate change and global warming arguments, set out to prove the data wrong. Instead, he has published an essay in The Wall Street Journal that pulls no punches about its findings.
"Global warming is real," Muller wrote in his column for the WSJ discussing his findings. "Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that."
Muller's article discusses in fine detail all the reasons why both scientists and the general public have a right to be skeptical, including what he describes as the "largely awful" data quality that is collected by the temperature stations around the United States. The margin of error at 70 percent of those stations, Muller figured, is between 2 degrees and 5 degrees Celsius. What's more, instruments have changed over time and the local environments have changed. All that makes the data questionable, Muller admitted in his WSJ column.
That's why Muller and his team took a different approach, collecting more than 1.6 billion measurements from 39,000 stations around the world. That approach revealed the following: one-third of the world's temperature stations have recorded cooling temperatures, while two-thirds have recorded warming ones. This ratio reflects global warming, Muller wrote: "The changes at the locations that showed warming were typically between 1 degree to 2 degrees Celsius, much greater than the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]'s average of 0.64 degrees Celius."
Muller's team also focused on assessing the impact of so-called urban heat islands (an issue often raised by climate-change skeptics) by using satellite readings to analyze temperature trends for "very rural" locations versus "urban" locations. The analysis mapped closely to the temperature increases reported by other research groups, Muller wrote.
The new data has been submitted for peer review, so it has not been independently verified, but Muller's background as a skeptic certainly lends an aura of credibility to its finding that "global warming is real."
What remains at issue, of course, is the human factor in all this. But as I have written many times before, does that really matter? What matters, to me, is how smart the current generation of humans can be at applying cleantech and other technologies toward halting or reversing that trend.