August 21, 2022

More Climate Misinformation from the Seattle Times

If the nation is going to deal effectively with anthropogenic global warming, citizens must be provided with accurate information about the climate and how it is changing.

Unfortunately, the Seattle Times does not believe in communicating the facts but frequently provides deceptive, false, or exaggerated information.   

Last week, a story--These areas of WA are likely to get hotter--but people keep moving there-- is a good example of the kind of problematic "journalism "coming out of the Seattle Times. 


I will show you the deceptions in my blog below.  Perhaps it takes a magician to show you the details of the deceptive "dark arts" of another.  How information can be presented in a misleading way.

The claim of this Seattle Times story is that there is an influx of new residents into areas (Tri-Cities) that will see a lot more severe heat waves during future decades.

How foolish of them!  is the implied message.

The material in the article is not from some peer-reviewed research published in some prestigious journal.   No...it is based on a report Hazardous Heat by a climate activist NGO called the First Street Foundation of Brooklyn NY.  

The key graphic in the Seattle Times article is shown below, presenting the increase in the number of days above 90F during the next thirty years.  As noted in the caption, this graphic is based on "models from the NY-based nonprofit First Street Foundation."


Wow.  A HUGE increase in heat around the Tri-Cities, with  OVER TWELVE more days above 90F.  The center of the influx of new residents. 

The Columbia Basin will be a virtually Hades of Heat according to this work, with most of it experiencing more than 9 more days above 90F.

How could people be so foolish to move into this region?,  implies the Seattle Times.

Image courtesy of the Seattle Times

But there is more to notice in this figure.  Most of western Washington will only see 1-4 days above 90F, much less of a problem.

Some areas have no change (gray areas), including the north Cascades and even scattered regions in eastern Washington.  This seems very strange...why would global warming skip these regions?

How did the First Street folks get these results?  They started with global climate models driven by increasing greenhouse gases, and then did "statistical downscaling" to provide the higher resolution maps of temperature change.

What is really going on?

As I read the Seattle Times article and reviewed the First Street Hazardous Heat document, the problem with this "research" was immediately evident.  Let me show you the "dark arts" used.

I went to the Climate Explorer website and plotted the climatological mean high temperatures during summer (this was for 30 years ending 1990).   

Mama Mia! It looks a LOT like the Seattle Times plot of the change in the number of days above 90F during the next 30 years!

Temperatures are warmest in the lower elevations of the Columbia Basin.  Also warm in the Willamette Valley, with lesser warm temperatures snaking into the SW Washington.


This general pattern, locked into place by terrain and the land-water contrasts of the region, was evident in a map of the mean maximum temperatures for the last 60 days this summer (see below).


So according to the Seattle Times and First Street, there is going to be a huge increase in above 90F in just the regions that are already warm.   

So global warming is going to avoid most of western Washington but really hit hard in the regions that are already hot.  

This is simply nonsense.   Folks moving to the Tri-Cities are not being ignorant and foolish.  Let me prove this to you.

The Fallacy in the Seattle Times Story and the First Street Report

It is not an accident that the ST/First Street figure shows a big increase in 90F days where it is already hot.  IT HAS TO BE THAT WAY.  Such a figure tells you almost nothing about climate change.

But it is a good example of how picking an arbitrary threshold (in this case 90F) and determining how often you exceed it, is a totally flawed approach.  Let me show you.

Imagine if global warming increases the temperatures over the entire region by 2F (very close to the warming over the past 50 years for the globe and the region).

So places that had lots of temperatures in the 88 and 89F range, hit 90F and are counted in the Seattle Times/First Street approach.   But cooler places, WITH THE SAME AMOUNT OF WARMING, but fewer temperatures of 88/89F, would show far fewer (or NO) transitions to 90F.

So the methodology automatically suggests more of a major global warming problem in warm areas, but little in cooler areas, even with the same or even greater warming in the cool areas.

Want more proof?

Consider one year:  2020.   Here are the number of days with high temperatures of 88 or 89F at Pasco in the Tri-Cities.  THIRTEEN days.


But for Hoquiam, on the Washington Coast, ONLY One.


So warming by two degrees over the whole region will give 13 more "dangerous" events at Pasco and only one at Hoquiam.

Thus, in the Tri-Cities, a location highly accustomed to heat and where AC is everywhere, a few-degree warming and thus more transitions across the 90F barrier are worrisome, while along the coast, where AC is rare, warming is of little note.

And to beat a dead horse, here are the annual high temperatures in the Tri-Cities (Kennewick).  No obvious upward trend.



You see why the Seattle Times story was so silly?  And deceptive.

But there is more.   The Seattle Times chose not to show another graphic found in the First Street report, a graphic that contradicts their storyline about the heat around the Tri-Cities.

First Street also analyzed the situation in a different way:   instead of using the 90F threshold, they found the top 2% warmest days historically at every location and then determined how the number of days warmer than that changed with global warming over the next 30 years.   These days are called "Local Hot Days".

The result is shown below.   A VERY different map compared to the one shown in the Seattle Times.  According to these results, the San Juan Islands will show the most warming with Whatcom and Skagit Counties right behind.  Ironically, these are some of the mildest, most temperate parts of the State.  No special warming for the Tri-Cities and eastern WA in this graphic!

Graphic courtesy of First Street Foundation

End Note

The Seattle Times has an extensive history of inaccurate and hyperbolic reporting on climate change.  With scary, unfounded headlines and poorly researched stories, they are failing to accurately inform local readers about this important topic.

The folks that should care most about this poor journalism are those most concerned about climate change.

Society can not properly deal with this issue if the true nature of the problem is not accurately described.   How can we adapt to climate change if people don't understand the true threat?   Hype and exaggeration not only turn people off from dealing with the issue but politize it in a way that can lead to division and inaction.

And hype/exaggeration damages the most psychologically vulnerable.



19 comments:

  1. Is your counterargument really about how they are wrong since they don't also say it's going to be hotter elsewhere?

    You aren't denying that everywhere is getting hotter over time though, right?

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    Replies
    1. Cliff has confirmed numerous times that climate change is making the world hotter over time. But since there's plenty of people routinely raising that message, he tends to stand out the most when he points out ways the message is frequently exaggerated.

      The problem being called out here is the suggestion that specific areas are going to be affected significantly worse than others. There is, to be sure, geographic variation in the effects of climate change, but the article in question doesn't actually deal with that they way it seems to at first glance, instead choosing arbitrary thresholds to shape a narrative.

      If you take any location at all, choose a temperature that location regularly sees, and add 1 to it to reflect the approximate medium-term warming in Fahrenheit, of course you are going to see more days exceeding that number. The Tri-Cities aren't unique in this, and the warmer starting climate there is not a surprise to anyone.

      Frankly, I don't find this a particular compelling post by Cliff on exaggeration, either, because it mainly counters meaningless thresholds and insinuations, in contrast with more substantial previous posts that address actual false claims.

      However, the Times article does seem to play nicely into the pre-existing divide between eastern and western Washington. The media has become quite adept at identifying source of controversy and feeding them, and suggestions that people moving to eastern Washington are stupid tend to be well received in the Seattle area. Never mind that the specific area they focus on, the Tri-Cities, is seeing strong growth in large part due to job growth and and low cost of living, and a lot of those jobs are ones that require significant education - engineering at Hanford, tech workers at data centers, and project and facilities management at the various construction projects and the multiple major food processing plants as that industry consolidates to gain economy of scale.

      Delete
    2. No, that wasn't his argument at all.

      Delete
  2. Really shameful journalism on the part of the Seattle Times.

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  3. Some poor guy has to come up with a new climate story every week. It needs to fit the narrative to get accepted, be suitably alarming to get clicks, based on properly sciency looking study that someone else did because we don't have time to research stuff, the news prints everyday.

    What's a guy to do?

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    Replies
    1. This. Exactly this. It's about a combination of keeping up the scaremongering to stay on the approved narrative while also filling the white space on their homepage.

      If they want people to pay for their work, then maybe they should do some of it.

      Delete
  4. The part I find most compelling is where you point out that those areas already have plentiful amounts of air conditioning.

    I see no issue with the Times pointing out areas that will have more days above a given threshold, however. I know you're not a fan of arbitrary thresholds, but the fact is that most life is sensitive to temperatures outside of a relatively narrow range. It might not be the most scientific way to evince the threat of climate change, but it is intuitive and expedient. I do agree that it was framed in a bit of sensationalist way, as most things meant to attract attention these days are, but it's not particularly egregious to me to provide a heads up that a sweltering area will become even more sweltering due to climate change.

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  5. Dojima....the essential point is that the threshold approach is essentially flawed...it preferentially selects places that are already warm. There is no value in selecting one value...say 90F Why not 80? Why not 95? Humans can tolerate life in a broad range of temperatures, with heating and AC extending that range. There are millions living in Phoenix in temperatures we will never exceed even with the worst global warming....cliff

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  6. Bottom line- yes WA will have more and more over 90 days as the next 3 decades unfold. And yes, WA will get an increasing flow of migration pressure as this century of climate migration progresses- https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/agriculture/our-insights/a-reflection-on-global-food-security-challenges-amid-the-war-in-ukraine-and-the-early-impact-of-climate-change

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    Replies
    1. There is absolutely no evidence of any climate migration into our state. And because of crime and violence folks are not leaving Seattle. And according to the First Street report we WONT have a lot more days above 90F. You should read the report. Just a handful more.

      Delete
  7. Thank you for digesting the Times article. Aside from the misleading presentation of data, I find stories like this depressing because they do not talk at all about how human choices about housing, transportation, maintenance and expansion of green space can support and expand livable conditions.

    I also am not a super big fan of air conditioning and I love it when interior climate control can be managed in ways that do not force me to live at 63 degrees in the summer when 70 or even 72 or so is plenty cool enough with the right ventilation.

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  8. What do you think about First Street's work more generally? They have some pretty nifty data visualization stuff for us layperson types, and at least for my address, they're saying yes, it gets hotter in 30 years, but not alarmingly so (scoring a paltry 3/10 risk score).

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    Replies
    1. They have a lot of data and visualization folks and the leader is a marketing guy. But they don't seem to have much understanding of climatology or the systems that they are describing.

      Delete
  9. Thanks Cliff,
    From Ellensburg where it is hot -- we call it summer.
    Arithmetic and simple statistics are hard, especially for journalists.

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    Replies
    1. Well said John. Thanks Cliff for just telling it like it is...

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  10. Silly me. A couple years ago I escaped Seattle and moved to the Methow Valley. Now that I've been enlightened by the Seattle Times, I'm questioning my decision to live in a safe recreational paradise.

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    1. Some friends and I passed through Mazama around 4-5 PM yesterday. I hope you enjoyed that thunderstorm as we did. But here was no rain at all on the West side.

      Delete
  11. A classic example of "how to lie with statistics". While it isn't an actual lie, it leaves the wrong impression.

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  12. I agree media can exaggerate and/or sensationalize aspects of climate change -- as happens with most news reporting. It would be more productive to see media instead focusing on prudent steps being discussed to mitigate the impact of climate change, including on this website (which I also see as part of media).

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Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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