Great moments in bad reporting, climate change/Ice Age edition

You may have seen some reports recently about the “Mini Ice Age” coming up in the 2030s, and you may have wondered why this wasn’t reported anywhere beyond sensationalist UK newspapers and conservative U.S. media.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s because you can’t just throw a couple of words together and assume cause and effect.

The study, presented at the Royal Astronomical Society last week but not yet peer-reviewed and so forth, suggests the sun may be headed for another “Maunder minimum,” a period of relative inactivity last seen when there was ice on the Thames.

Naturally, some alleged science writers ran with the “Mini Ice Age!” story.

Which is not what the researcher said. The researcher was talking only about the sun. If the sun was the only factor in the Earth’s temperature, then yes, we would be getting colder. Of course, if the sun was the only factor in the Earth’s temperature, Earth would be uninhabitable. We can live and breathe and not freeze to death because we have an atmosphere. It’s nice.

The lamestream media were a little slow to respond to the “Mini Ice Age” story because, you know, research takes time. It’s much easier to draw an irrational conclusion and run to the pub, which explains a lot about the UK media (especially if you read soccer transfer gossip). Thankfully, the Post’s Sarah Kaplan came up with the following:

1. Researcher Valentina Zharkova presented this information without talking about a “Mini Ice Age.” She’s only studying the sun. It’s what she does.

2. Other studies have already taken the Maunder minimum into account. Here’s one conclusion:

Therefore, under the increasing anthropogenic emissions in the future, the impact of the grand solar minimum such as MM-type is likely to reduce the global warming by about 20%. It means that a future grand solar minimum could slow down but not stop the global warming. These conclusions should be verified by more projection experiments from many other climate models.

And they have. They show solar activity might mitigate some of the worst climate change scenarios in some regions — at least, that’s what I draw from this poorly written sentence: “For a high-end decline in solar ultraviolet irradiance, the impact on winter northern European surface temperatures over the late twenty-first century could be a significant fraction of the difference in climate change between plausible AR5 scenarios of greenhouse gas concentrations.”

So we might still be able to ski in Norway?

Here’s an older and clearer study, linked in the Post study along with the other two:

The Maunder minimum is connected to the Little Ice Age, a time of markedly lower temperatures, in particular in the Northern hemisphere. Here we use a coupled climate model to explore the effect of a 21st-century grand minimum on future global temperatures, finding a moderate temperature offset of no more than −0.3°C in the year 2100 relative to a scenario with solar activity similar to recent decades. This temperature decrease is much smaller than the warming expected from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century.


3. Other factors contributed to the freezing of the Thames, everything from volcanic ash to bridge construction.

And, you know, the fact that we had not yet wrecked the sky.

So, I’m sorry, but further research beyond concluding that A+B=C shows us that we’re getting, at best, a slight mitigating factor.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to find holes to punch in the New Yorker’s Seattle earthquake doom story.


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