Those two bets are related. Our greener friends were in high attack mode on the party circuit last month as TV newscasts presented a relentless nightly stream of reports on how 1998 was the warmest year since gosh knows when. NBC got British scientist Phil Jones to say that it was the warmest year of the millennium, even though the thermometer was invented only about three‐quarters of the way through it. The figures he used were estimates based mainly on tree ring measurements prior to 1900 (that’s 900 of the last 1000 years), and those estimates are known to miss an enormous amount of true temperature variation.
As far as 1998 was concerned, the wire stories correctly noted (for a change) that all three true temperature histories — from ground‐based thermometers, weather balloons in the lower atmosphere and satellite soundings of the lower layers — showed the same thing: record temperatures. The satellite history is 20 years long, the weather balloon history is 42, and reliable global ground‐based temperature data really extend back only about 55 years. But they all were higher than kites.
The many hours spent explaining to folks that 1998 blew the top off the record because heat from the big El Niño burped its way out to space could easily have been saved if I’d just had a vest‐pocket temperature history handy. To save you a similar investment of time, there’s one included with this article. It’s intended to wrap around your business card (or if you’re not working, a credit card) for easy access at the next party.
Brandish the card while you’re being jabbed into the corner by a sharpened carrot stick (or, God forbid, a Ranch‐sauced bit of broccoli) by some punk wearing a Phish shirt. What he’ll see is absolutely no warming trend whatsoever from when the satellite measurements began (January 1979) through the end of 1997, followed by one warm year in 1998.