New York Times Proves There’s More to Fear than Global Warming Itself

Published November 1, 2000

In an ongoing saga that seemed to get worse and worse, three organs of impressive reputation—the New York Times, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Harvard University— managed to verify everyone’s worst fears about what’s really happening with global warming.

We don’t mean the fear about the melting of polar icecaps. We mean the fear that the media, U.N. officials, and faculty from our most prestigious private institution might be misleading the public in an attempt to promote an hysterical vision of climate change.

It started out August 19, when the New York Times reported on page one that “The North Pole is Melting” and that “the last time scientists can be certain that the Pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago.”

The Times based its story on the observations of a single passenger on a cruise ship: James J. McCarthy, professor of oceanography at Harvard University and co-chair of Working Group II (“Adaptation and Impacts of Climate Change”) of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The cruise ship in question was a Russian icebreaker that—as icebreakers do—followed open leads in the polar pack ice to continue as far north as possible, which, in this case, was to latitude 90°N. Sure enough, around the Pole was an open area of water a few miles wide. So McCarthy called the Times.

At that point, either McCarthy or the Times should have done a little research to establish just how unusual conditions were up there.

A few mouseclicks away on the wireless Internet sat the high-latitude temperature record (north of 55°N) of the IPCC. If McCarthy doesn’t know that record by heart, it’s difficult to understand why he is co-chairing IPCC’s panel on the impact of climate change.

Let’s start with summer—the season when ice melts. It’s pretty apparent that current temperatures aren’t at all unusual when compared with the broad sweep of this history for the last century. Temperatures in the 1930s and 1940s are clearly indistinguishable from those of recent decades, though few people would suggest that much of the warming 70 years ago was caused by economic activity.

It’s likely, then, that the earlier period of higher temperatures also saw summers in which there was open water at the Pole. The record of annual temperatures corroborates that. The period of above-mean temperatures that peaked in the late 1930s (68 years ago) is shaded. The current warm spell is no different in length, magnitude, or effect than what the high latitudes saw long before people could have changed the climate very much.

By August 29, the level of outrage the Times had incurred provoked a half-hearted retraction of sorts, on page D-3, where the paper admitted it misstated the true condition of polar ice, noting that about 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean is open in the summer and that those open areas do in fact sometimes extend to the Pole. McCarthy, the Times reported, “would not argue with critics who said that open water at the pole was not unprecedented.” How about the truth? Open water is common.

That’s apparent from even a cursory look at the U.N.’s own temperature data or from a study of climate history. Climatologists are pretty sure that polar regions were around 2°C warmer than they are today during the period from 4,000 to 7,000 years ago. That’s three millennia in which summer sea-ice was likely more scattered than it is today. The only ecological catastrophe ecologists might be able say resulted from this deplorable condition was the rise of human civilization.

Perhaps McCarthy, as the Times’ unchallenged source for all this nonsense, isn’t overly conversant with the climatological literature. If he were, he would have uncovered multiple papers by Rajmund Przybylak published this year in the International Journal of Climatology.

Przybylak independently examined high-latitude temperature records through the early 1990s and found a very good match with the U.N. records for latitude 60°N and higher. But when he moved even farther poleward, from 70°N to 85°N, he found a profound cooling trend since 1940.

Is that right? In 1993 University of Wisconsin climatologist Jonathan Kahl examined then-recently declassified records, available from 1958 through 1986. During the Cold War, American pilots dropped sensors from station-keeping B-52s, while the Soviets ordered the politically incorrect onto the polar ice itself for daily measurements. Kahl found a net decline in temperature, with the largest drops in the fall and winter.

Since 1986, at the highest latitudes, Przybylak’s data show no change. The fact that Przybylak and Kahl’s totally independent records line up so well in their period of concurrence (1958–1986) lends credence to the argument that, at least at the high latitudes that comprise the North Pole, we haven’t seen any net warming since 1940.

Finally, we note the long-standing records of U.S. Department of Commerce scientist Jim Angell, based on point-of-release temperatures measured by weather balloons. These extend all the way to May 2000. Since the end of the Pryzbylak record, Angell shows a number of very warm summers (2000 data are not in yet) in Santa’s Workshop.

Under McCarthy’s scenario, we’re left to conclude that somehow, only six relatively warm summers (and one below-normal one)—after decades of cooling—melted the North Pole. If this is true, then summer Arctic sea-ice has waxed and waned with even greater fluctuations throughout human history—unless somehow the temperatures taken earlier this century are all wrong, and the paleo-records left by plant traces for the last 7,000 years are also wrong.

Whither the Times? After, no doubt, having its ears singed by voicemail messages noting its obvious errors, inaccuracies, and misleads, the newspaper couldn’t quite bring itself out of denial. In the August 29 update, it stated: “The data scientists are now studying reveal substantial evidence that on average Arctic temperatures in winter have risen 11 degrees over the past 30 years.” The Times went on to quote the University of Colorado’s Mark Serreze, who earlier this year published a review paper on Arctic temperatures in the journal Climatic Change (which the Times called Climate Change. Makes you wonder if they even read the article, no?)

Serreze shows the same U.N. records averaged over the Arctic. Note the average winter rise in the last 30 years is around 1.5°C—not 11 degrees. Further, as is obvious from the U.N.’s data, 30 years ago, Arctic temperatures had descended to nearly their lowest value for the last 100 years. (Doesn’t anyone remember the global cooling/Ice-Age-is-imminent scare?) Serreze did find a small area in the Arctic that had an 11-degree rise, but that isolated segment is clearly balanced by large areas of cooling, resulting in an inconsequential change in average temperature.

What about the Times’ statement that “on average,” temperatures rose 11 degrees? It’s wrong. What about their statement that the last time the Pole was ice-free was 50 million years ago? That’s wrong. What about McCarthy’s assertion that it’s unusual to have open water at the Pole? That’s wrong.

Seems like Robert Watson, head of the IPCC, should be searching for a new co-chair before the current one melts all of that organization’s remaining credibility.

According to Nature magazine, University of Virginia environmental sciences professor Patrick J. Michaels is probably the nation’s most popular lecturer on the subject of climate change. Michaels is coauthor of The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming.


Angell, J.K., 1994. Global, hemispheric, and zonal temperature anomalies derived from radiosonde records. In T.A. Boden, D.P. Kaiser, R.J. Sepanski, and F.W. Stoss (eds.), Trends ’93: A Compendium of Data on Global Change, ORNL/CDIAC-65, pp. 636–672. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.

Kahl, J.D., et al., 1993. Absence of evidence for greenhouse warming over the Arctic Ocean in the past 40 years. Nature, 361, 335-337.

Pryzbylak, R., 2000. Temporal and spatial variation of surface air temperature over the period of instrumental observations in the arctic. International Journal of Climatology, 20, 587-614.

Serreze, M.C., et al., 2000. Observational evidence of recent change in the northern high-latitude environment. Climatic Change, 46, 159-207.