Global warming predictions haven’t panned out as predicted in the past decade, but the why is a bit fuzzy, the magazine admits.
Greenhouse gas emissions have soared during the past 15 years, the magazine notes, with 100 billion tons of carbon having been added to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. Still, both air and ground temperatures during that time have remained virtually unchanged.
In fact, the editorial notes, surface temperatures have been at the bottom of the projected range of various models since 2005. If they remain flat, they will actually begin to fall below projections shortly.
“The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now,” The Economist said.
But with global temperatures up by almost 1 degree Celsius in the last century, the magazine says, “the puzzle does need explaining.”
The Economist posits several theories that might explain why temperatures have leveled off.
Among them: a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and rising temperatures between 2000 and 2010; the rising temperatures in the 1990s might have been an anomaly; or the climate is responding to higher CO2 levels in ways that scientists haven’t understood.
If the last possibility is true, the editorial notes, it “could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.” In other words, less drastic action would need to be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than has previously been sought.
But The Economist does not give up on the fact that global warming is happening. Deep ocean temperatures are rising, and may explain where the predicted extra heat is going, the magazine says.
Buried deep in the highly technical piece, the magazine admits that evidence suggests something that global warming skeptics have long maintained: Natural variations in the earth’s climate likely play a bigger role than scientific models have said.