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By Michael Bastasch
A study meant to debunk a claim made by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt in his confirmation hearing ended up doing the opposite — it proved him right.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, found that Pruitt’s claim of a “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades is unsupported by satellite-derived temperature data, which measures the lowest few miles of the atmosphere.
Researchers supposed debunking of Pruitt, however, centers on a selectively quoted line from his testimony, which cuts out the administrator’s reference to the global warming “hiatus.”
Scientists have been debating the “hiatus” in warming for years, trying to parse out its causes and, in some cases, if it’s due to bad measurements in surface temperature readings. But the “hiatus” is extremely apparent in satellite temperature readings, stretching for about two decades.
“Mr. Pruitt claimed that ‘over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming,’” reads the study, quoting Pruitt’s confirmation hearing testimony from January.
But Pruitt actually said: “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the ‘hiatus.’”
Pruitt was clearly referring to the “hiatus,” or lack of significant warming, in the satellite temperature record that started in the late 1990s and continued until the recent El Nino began in 2015.
“This study seems to be an unwarranted kneejerk reaction to Pruitt’s ‘leveling off’ of warming comment,” Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate scientist who operates one of the satellite datasets relied upon by the study, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“But Pruitt’s comment in testimony wasn’t that precise, and it’s true that the previous warming became much weaker and approached zero over a period of approximately 20 years until the 2015-16 warm El Nino event,” Spencer said.
Pruitt has come under attack from environmentalists and some scientists for his comments on global warming. Most recently, opponents criticized Pruitt for saying that he didn’t believe carbon dioxide was the main driver of recent warming.
Major media outlets, including The Washington Post, picked up this new study’s results, criticizing Pruitt and his management at the EPA. WaPo reported, “Scientists just published an entire study refuting Scott Pruitt on climate change.”
Researchers found that “the tropospheric warming from 1979 to 2016 is unprecedented relative to internally generated temperature trends on the 38-year timescale,” according to the study.
Based on what Pruitt actually told Congress in January, however, the study essentially proves that he was correct.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue pointed out on Twitter that data presented in the study shows a slowdown in warming in the last 20 years. Maue also noted how authors used several studies on the “hiatus” in their citations, but refused to use the term in the study.
Just read through the study supposedly entirely refuting Scott Pruitt on climate change. Nope, they actually confirmed exactly what he said
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) May 24, 2017
The study’s authors used climate models to show the warming trend in satellite data couldn’t be explained by natural warming, which excludes man-made greenhouse gases.
“Our results support and strengthen previous findings of a large human-caused contribution to warming,” the study found.
But the study doesn’t address why satellite data doesn’t show nearly as much warming as predicted by climate models that include human emissions. In fact, satellites only show about half the warming predicted by climate models.
“What really matters is that observed warming in recent decades has only been about 50 percent of what the average climate model says should be happening,” Spencer said. “Studies like this are a distraction from that fact, which I suspect was the authors’ intent.”
Spencer’s data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) showed no significant warming for roughly two decades — from the mid-1990s to 2015.
The Remote Sensing System (RSS) satellite dataset, compiled by researchers in California, shows a lack of warming from 1997 to 2015. RSS operators noted the “troposphere has not warmed quite as fast as most climate models predict.”
“Just because it has warmed a little in the last 20 years does not mean climate models are correct, and that global warming is a serious problem,” Spencer said.