Climate departure and Daily Mail hyperbole

There was an article in the Daily Mail last week predicting a global warming apocalypse.  Here’s the headline:

Apocalypse Now: Unstoppable man-made climate change will become reality by the end of the decade and could make New York, London and Paris uninhabitable within 45 years, claims new study
Read more: Daily Mail

The Daily Mail has quite an extraordinary record of climate science reporting.  A month ago the headline was And now it’s global COOLING!. Then a week later we got Global warming is just QUARTER what we thought. Now it’s a global warming apocalypse. So which is it?

The most recent article is about a study just published in the journal Nature which pegs the date of climate departure for various locations around the world. Climate departure refers to the time at which the coldest average temperatures will be warmer than anything we’ve observed over the last 150 years. So a cold year will still be warmer than even the hottest years from the past 150.

The blogger, Martin Lack at Lack of Environment, has a good summary of the findings of this paper at A summary of the ‘Climate Depature’ research of Mora et al. There is also a good map at the Washington Post where you can see the time of climate departure for various locations around the world. See Hot spots: Global temperature rise. 

The climate departure findings are very alarming. In fact, I found them so alarming that I was initially a little dubious but I am yet to find any credible reason for being so. Even Judith Curry, a renowned climate science critic, has accepted their findings.

The idea of climate departure is, to my mind, excellent communication of the climate science problem. The general public does not understand what 2°C hotter means. If they did, we’d be well on our way to solving the problem by now. But by describing the problem with a time frame for when the coldest temperatures will be hotter than anything we’ve previously known, it has hopefully become easier to understand.

The author of this paper and his team have a press release on their website. Here’s what they have to say about it:

The seesaw variability of global temperatures often engenders debate over how seriously we should take climate change. But within 35 years, even the lowest monthly dips in temperatures will be hotter than we’ve experienced in the past 150 years, according to a new and massive analysis of all climate models. The tropics will be the first to exceed the limits of historical extremes and experience an unabated heat wave that threatens biodiversity and heavily populated countries with the fewest resources to adapt.

Climate departure will arrive first in the tropics to predominantly poor, developing countries where billions of people live. Extreme climates will put pressure on food supplies and increase the risk of conflict which will create human migration of epic proportions. The Economist wrote about this recently in a piece titled Cloudy with a chance of war.

And it’s not just humans who have something to worry about. Animals are especially vulnerable. The decline of north American moose populations is a present day example of the pressure a changing climate has on these animals.  Moose like the cold and suffer from heat stress and exhaustion. They are also afflicted by ticks and parasites which are thriving in warmer, moister environments.

I do however think the Daily Mail article is hyperbole. I don’t think anyone expects New York, London and Paris to be uninhabitable in 45 years although I am happy to be corrected if there’s some basis for this. But the paper on climate departure is still very scary and my hope is that by presenting the problem in a different way, we might have a better chance of convincing our politicians to do something about it. Is it really so hard to turn on the lights using something other than coal, oil and gas?