And the Sunspots Came
The fun thing about climate predictions is that you do get results. So prophecies can be checked.
February 2010 was the first month in which the sun was observed to be sunspot-free since 2007. We marked the event here. Now it is 2013, the Solar Maximum, and so a good time to see how our hypotheses have fared in the face of reality. We stated two hypotheses. The first hypothesis was related to the notion that sunspots do, indeed, indicate a level of solar activity that may impact Earth's climate. The second hypothesis predicted that certain parties would massage, or spin, the data to prove their point no matter what is actually observed. True enough, the first hypothesis is related to climatology and the second to sociology, but we are junior scientists here and so not constrained to any one discipline.
2012 was hot. It was really hot. So hot in fact that a good three months before the year was over, CNN declared it the hottest year since records were being kept. To the eternal credit of journalistic standards at CNN, they specified that it would be the hottest year on record in the continental U.S. They also informed us that 'on record' means since 1895. Having already dabbled in climatology and sociology in the same paragraph, let's not question the statistical validity of a sample set consisting of 117 consecutive years over a period of 4.5 billion years, give or take.
But if 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental U.S., how was it everywhere else? It is, after all, a global problem, right? It takes some digging to find this, but apparently 2012 was the ninth warmest year on record globally. That would put it in the top 10 percent. But we find an inconsistency here, because the reference claims that records go back to 1880. But CNN says 1895 and they're real journalists! Anyway, not to bring statistics into it, but that would be 132 consecutive years out of 4.5 billion.
No matter, it was a pretty hot year, and there was a lot of sunspot activity. What about the spin? Did anyone try to spin it? Some have, but in all honesty the usual suspects did not draw that relationship to any great extent. The CNN article referenced above makes no mention of carbon emissions, and neither do any of the major media outlets that we could find. But most surprising is that the IPCC seems to be thinking that maybe this solar activity thing actually does impact Earth's climate. In a leaked report, it seems that U.N. scientists are at least considering the possibility that climate change is not as simple as blaming carbon, or possibly anything limited to this particular globe.
This is important, especially in view of the fact that the U.S., in particular, and most of the West, in general, have been producing less CO2 emissions. Unless you get your data from here, in which case there has been nothing but increases. The gesture is important because perhaps, finally, actual scientists are coming to grips with the fact that the Earth's climate is an extremely complicated system. 2012 was also a La Niña year, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation marches on, just to name a couple of non-CO2 factors.
So there was increased solar activity, and it got warmer. Is our first hypothesis proven? No. To assert otherwise would be to fall into the same trap that the IPCC and other august bodies have for years: the trap of oversimplifying a complex system in terms of a single input. To suggest that it was hotter simply because of increased solar activity is just as specious as suggesting that it was hotter simply because there was more atmospheric CO2.
As to the second hypothesis, was there spin on the part of the media and other organizations? There certainly has been spin, some rather strident, as we saw in one of the references above (one of many that can be found easily enough). But the major outlets, the ones so powerful that they must be named by capital letters only, and only two or three of those, do not seem to have made egregious claims on this count. An optimist may attribute this to a new maturity as may be occurring at IPCC, witness the leaked report. A pessimist may attribute it to a need on the part of these outlets to avoid appearing critical of certain individuals currently in power.
Tom Bruner is not a scientist.