The Pause that Never Happened

As part of an ongoing comedy routine, David Whitehouse of GWPF (Global Warming Policy Forum) now claims that the “pause” in global warming — the one that never happened — actually never went away. The funniest part is how lame his arguments are.

His theme is that the extreme heat of 2016 was so influenced by the recent el Niño, that if you remove the el Niño influence then the “pause” (the one that never actually happened) is still ongoing.

How much did el Niño influence 2016’s temperature? David Whitehouse quotes varying opinions. NASA’s Gavin Schmidt estimates about 0.12°C, but Peter Stott of the U.K. Met Office/Hadley Centre estimates even more, saying “about 0.2°C.” My own calculations indicate that for the NASA data it’s 0.16°C, for the HadCRU data shown by David Whitehouse it’s 0.17°C.

Naturally David Whitehouse decides to use the higher figure, so he can subtract more heat from 2016. He then “adjusts” recent temperatures to compensate for el Niño by subtracting 0.2°C from both the 2016 and 2015 values. He then produces a graph and follows it with a comment in which it’s impressive how many false statements he’s able to fit into one paragraph. Here they are:


Fig 1 shows the HadCRUT4 data for the so-called “hiatus” period. The recent El Nino years of 2015-16 are prominent. Also on the graph is the 2016 temperature without the El Nino contribution, as calculated by the Met Office. 2015 — a year with an equally strong El Nino effect — is cautiously interpolated – although the 2016 El Nino estimate is the main datapoint, (NASA Giss says that the correction for 2016 is 0.12°C and 0.05°C for 2015. The Met Office has a figure almost twice as much for 2016 which represents a significant difference of opinion between the Met Office and NASA). However, even with just the 2016 El Nino compensation the data shows that the pause hasn’t gone away. It has simply been interrupted by two very strong El Nino years. Note that there were moderate El Ninos in 2002-3 and 2009-10. Compensating for those El Ninos as well as the one in 1998 would make very little difference to the graph, and certainly would not invalidate the pause in the data. In fact it would make the temperature flatter.

I’ll share with you all my opinion of David Whitehouse’s commentary.

Let’s begin by being clear why David Whitehouse didn’t compensate for those other el Niño years: because he doesn’t know how, and nobody else did it for him.

His claim that doing so would “make very little difference to the graph” and “In fact it would make the temperature flatter” absolutely must be based on complete ignorance, because if he said that but actually knows how el Niño affects those other years, then he’d be telling an outright lie.

Referring to 2015 as “a year with an equally strong El Nino effect” as 2016, is just plain bullshit.

It’s no surprise that when he does graph temperature for us, he uses two techniques climate deniers employ regularly. First, he shows a ridiculously limited span of time, only starting with 1997. Second, he expands the y-axis to squeeze the changes into a tiny region and make them look smaller. If you actually made use of the available space more efficiently, his graph would look like this:


If you want to know how el Niño affected all those years, not just the ones David Whitehouse cherry-picks so he can reduce them, you need to know how. I’ve published research on the subject (in the peer-reviewed literature no less), so let’s help out David Whitehouse and do it for him. We’ll use his apparent favorite, the HadCRUT data from the U.K. Met Office. After removing the estimated influence of el Niño, you have this:


Removing the el Niño influence eradicates any hint of a “pause.”

We do note, however, that after removing the el Niño influence, 2016 is no longer the hottest year in the HadCRU data set. But it is in the NASA data, which — after removing el Niño — looks like this:


The main reason for the difference is that HadCRU data omit the Arctic, which soared to astounding temperature in 2016. If you leave out the fastest-warming region on Earth, you’re liable to underestimate the global average.

I actually prefer to remove the estimated influence of other things also, like volcanic eruptions and solar variations. Since the last time I did that, I’ve acquired updated data from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Without further ado, here are annual averages for four major global temperature estimates, after compensating for those natural factors:


Question for David Whitehouse: where’s that “pause”?

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31 responses to “The Pause that Never Happened

  1. That’s a truly impressive amount of dumb, even by the exceptional standards of this group. Generally, there does seem to be a plague of such folks failing to understand that they really don’t want to start down the road of ‘but if you ignore El Nino it didn’t warm so much!’ as logic will eventually force them to try to ignore La Nina effects as well and… whoops.

  2. Thomas Peterson

    How many years does it take to be called a pause? If it only takes one year we may hear talk about a new pause coming soon to a logic free zone near you.

  3. You’ve glossed over the other major deceit he’s performed. Even if you take his adjustments at face value, he’s only done it for 2015/16 and hasn’t done a thing to 1997/1998.

    How dishonest can he get?

  4. BOM is showing positive ONI by February. Today’s GFS global anomaly .61 ℃. The new pause is already paws up, and will be a distant memory by May.

  5. Rather silly to attempt to remove El Nino for the two most recent years, while ignoring El Nino effects in earlier years. I wonder whether deniers will ever try to remove La Nina effects?

  6. So…roughly subtract the ENSO effect from only the last two years of a times series that begins with a strong El Nino…amazing. Most high school children could work out what is wrong with that logic.

  7. “The Pause” is entirely based on taking the big El Nino peak of 1998 as a baseline. Without the year ’98, the entire concept of “The Pause” is null and void.
    Of course, it’s nonsense to claim that the El Nino even of 2015-2016 “doesn’t count”, while implicitly keeping the one in 1998.
    We already knew that the denialati would attempt this argument.
    And now they have.

  8. The GWPF is almost comically inept here. They really aren’t even trying. Do they figure the political split is so overwhelmingly important that they don’t even need to TRY to present professional-looking misinformation?

  9. Great post and great comments.

    Alas they show how easily we we stumble into the traps of technical details laid out by the deniers.

    It’s not about whether he correctly calculated the values. It’s not even why he didn’t make the same ‘corrections’ for 1998.

    The *real* question IMHO is why on earth one would leave out the values anyway. Those El Ninos simply expose the energy that’s reached our planet without instantaneously having had an effect on the temperatures of the atmosphere then. They just happened to do it now.

    So the ‘correct’ form of mangling the data would have been to take the ‘excess energy’ of the El Ninos and use them to actually *raise* the temperatures of the other years to demonstrate the effect that the energy stored away in the oceans would have had on the temperatures of the atmosphere.

    We’re winning the war in terms of technical details again and again without reaching the audience. The message should be “…there’s more warmth on earth and it’s not going away” – and therefore we need to fight to keep it in the data and the diagrams and not fall into the traps of technically explaining it away.

  10. He starts out with the bold statement that
    but ends with a wimper:
    ” But there is a good chance that the pause will be re-established once the El Nino warmth tails off.”

    I saw a pause up in the air
    A little pause that IS STILL THERE
    I saw it there again at noon
    Gee, I hope it comes back soon.

  11. moving into the realms of “flat earthers”

    inevitable really

  12. Remember, though, the whole idea for the Pause started with Dick Lindzen–who certainly knows better. Concentrating on the stupid actually detracts from the real situation–it’s lying sacks of shit all the way down.

  13. Remember the audience. They are neither numerate, bright nor even particularly literate. They aren’t looking for truth or understanding. What they are trying to do is find any straw they can grab to support and increasingly unsupportable position. All they want is an talking point that family members might not have heard that shuts down the argument before they get laughed out of the room.

    One positive sign, when Jonah Goldberg attacked Sara Kaplan’s WAPO article on the prospect of David Gelernter as science adviser (Gods help us), he didn’t even try to defend Gelernter’s climate denial. So do what they fear most–laugh them out of the room.

  14. If you ‘remove’ El Nino … wouldn’t you also have to remove La Nina? :)

  15. Tamino, knowing your general willingness WRT reuse of graphs, I’ve taken the liberty of using the last one above in a piece I’ve put out on FB and (momentarily!) on Hubpages. When the latter is up, I’ll post the link here. Thanks…

    • The Hubpages version is here. Readers, please link if you feel it is useful.

    • Doc Snow, one of the commenters to your post (Jack Lee) mentions the Krakatoa eruption in 1883, as if there weren’t an earlier eruption of Krakatoa around 535-555(?) CE. There’s a continual string of very large eruptions in South Pacific over centuries, all of which likely influenced global climate. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Krakatoa, I noticed a link to the page for Samalas, which may have been the source of the so-called “1259 event” seen in the ice cores, which has been associated with the 13th century cooling seen in European records.

      The members of the Denialist camp seem to forget about all those natural events when they want to look back over the centuries long climate records. They also want to ignore the more recent man-made emissions of particulate and aerosols, both of which surely have had an impact on more recent climate. As an example, the claim of a cooling trend after WW II until the ’70’s might well be the result of the continual emissions of sulfates from coal burning power plants in the “developed\ world”, which were curtailed after the Clean Air Act in the US and also in Europe. That China and India have more recently rapidly ramped up their emissions is also ignored by the Denialist, as they repeat the Big Lie about the “Pause” after 1999. Trouble is, China and India will be forced to “clean up their act”, after which we can expect the suppressed warming to return with a vengeance…

  16. I guess we can now say that Whitehouse is indulging in ‘alternative facts’.

  17. I’m sure they’re handy for Mr Trump’s tax returns too!

  18. methane madness

    ‘Alternative facts’ and ‘post truth’ reek of Orwellian intent, I always envisioned some Machiavellian genius to manifest such manipulation, not a orange blowhard. I guess this is just the banality of evil.

    • The thing that strikes me is the reaction out in ‘the mainstream’. Alternative facts are shocking! Unprecedented! Hilarious, yet dangerous! Appalling!

      We, however, have the dubious privilege of knowing that they are business as usual for the opposition.

  19. Gary Kasparov made an interesting point–that lies are very useful to an authoritarian. They can simply observe who protests and who parrots them blindly as a test of loyalty. Expect to see the Park Service suffer.

  20. There appears to be a major push on now, capitalizing on the Trump victory and its appeal to tribal identity, in the form of Google Ads featuring Trump’s picture for the “Climate Hustle” movie. They’re showing up on sane sites where you’d never expect them. It must be time to capitalize on the the Trump enthusiasm and indoctrinate lots of new rubes into the new politically correct science of the day. The U.S. Government authorized version.

    Please, Rod Serling, step out of the shadows now and explain what this fictional episode has been about. Before my head explodes.

    • Sounds like Mark Morano at work. He’s shrewd, I’ll give him that.

      • methane madness

        He’s still around? I thought Satan would have wanted his soul back by now.

        I think Hitler said something about making the lie as big as possible… be interesting to see how the missing three million zombie voters develops.

      • In Mein Kampf Hitler did write “in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility,” but it was Goebbels who turned it into the dictum “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” And lest you think this has unnecessarily strayed into Godwin’s Law territory, it has been reported in the media that Ivana Trump reportedly told her lawyer that her husband kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed. True or not I don’t know.

      • Morano is to Satan as franchisees are to McDonald’s corporate. As long as the Mission is being advanced…

      • I was starting to wonder, what did Satan get in return when he sold his soul to Morano?

      • methane madness

        In the Frontline Rump doco a interview is quoted where he is asked about the bedside Hitler book of dreams and he say’ s “who told you about that?”.