the national interest

Hottest Year Ever Creates Crisis for Climate-Science Skeptics

Conservative newspaper columnist George Will poses on the red carpet upon arrival at a salute to FOX News Channel's Brit Hume on January 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. Hume was honored for his 35 years in journalism.
Conservative newspaper columnist George Will Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The temperature on Earth has been on a jagged upward path for decades. Because of El Niño, 1998 was an unusually hot year. The unusual spike in 1998 has been a favored talking point by climate-science skeptics for years. For instance, the noted climate-science skeptic George Will, who has amassed credibility due to his large vocabulary and frequent bow-tie usage, has cited 1998 many times. “There has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade,” he wrote in 2009. And “there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998” again in 2009. And then twice more that year, and again in 2010.

By 2013, temperatures had risen above the 1998 level. But skeptics like Will simply began to rephrase their talking points:

Obama’s vow to adjust Earth’s thermostat followed the report that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous 48 states. But the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, who has concisely posed the actual climate policy choice (“How much should we spend on climate change in order to have no effect on climate change?”), has noted that although 2012 was 2.13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than 2011, “2008, in the contiguous U.S., was two degrees cooler than 2006.” And “2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all cooler than 1998 by a larger margin than 2012 was hotter than 1998.”

Today, scientists reported that 2015 was the hottest year on record by far. Here is a chart of recent temperatures:

Photo: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies/The New York Times

If you look closely, you can see the spike in 1998. That was the source of so much climate-science-skeptic gasbagery — hanging the denial of an obvious trend on the unusual outlier of a single year. “No warming since 1998” became “not much warming since 1998.” Now that even the revised talking point has been left in the dust, and there has been a lot of warming even since the anomalously hot year of 1998, George Will and his fellow science skeptics will have to admit the climate scientists are right ha ha, come up with a new talking point.

Hottest Year Creates Crisis for Science Skeptics