There was a time when Oscar winners knew how to make political statements. Perhaps the stand-out moment came in 1973, when the best actor Oscar was awarded for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather, and actor Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather on to decline the award on his behalf, in protest at the treatment of Native Americans on the silver screen and in society.
Last week’s best actor award was a lot less elegant. Leonardo DiCaprio won his first ever best actor Oscar, for all the grunting and groaning he did in The Revenant, a film set entirely in snowy conditions in 1823.
He didn’t decline it in protest, but he did take advantage of the spotlight to send a message about climate change (exceeding the allotted 45 seconds by a factor of three). He said that “our production had to move to the southern tip of the planet just to find snow”.
“Climate change is real, and it’s happening right now,” he expounded, in what became the most-Tweeted moment of Academy Awards history and reached millions of fans, most of whom get their climate change information from actors and actresses in People magazine.
The Revenant began filming in October 2014, primarily in southern Alberta, Canada. Initially, it was to have been completed by April or May 2015, but photography continued until August 2015. To find snow, production had to move to southern Argentina for the final scenes.
The alert observer might note that this period spans almost an entire year. The studio accountants would certainly have noticed the film’s budget balloon from $60-million to $135-million, in part to fund the trip to the opposite end of the Americas.
At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, during a year one might expect to encounter several seasons. I happened to be in Calgary, Alberta, in early May of 2015, and encountered no snow. I was told I was lucky and had missed it by only a week. Canadians were strolling about in shorts and T-shirts in what for them was splendid spring weather of maybe 6°C. I’d imagine it would be hard trying to film snowy landscapes in such conditions.
The change in the weather, however, took Leonardo DiCaprio by surprise. In fact, he told Variety magazine that “it was scary”. Our actor friend was apparently stunned by how suddenly the weather changed. “We were in Calgary and the locals were saying, ‘This has never happened in our province, ever.’ We would come and there would be eight feet of snow, and then all of a sudden a warm gust of wind would come.”
This was published in 2015, so it would have given him plenty of time to research the facts before talking about the weather at the Oscars. You see, it is simply not credible that any locals in Calgary actually told him this has never happened. Either he was lying or he was pranked.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a handy animation explaining how temperatures can rise sharply in Calgary, even in the middle of winter, thanks to a phenomenon known as a “chinook”. CBC calls it “Calgary’s reprieve from the grasp of winter”.
“Along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the chinook wind provides a welcome respite from the long winter chill,” CBC writes. “Few people spend very much time along the eastern slopes without experiencing these warm winds.”
These winds can bring huge temperature changes, and the phenomenon isn’t new: “The change can be dramatic. On Jan. 11, 1983, the temperature in Calgary rose 30°C — from -17°C to 13°C — in four hours, and on Feb. 7, 1964, the temperature rose 28°C, and the humidity dropped by 43 percent.”
The chair of Alberta’s climate change panel and professor at the University of Alberta, tweeted: “I can assure you that acting on the recommendations of the Alberta climate change panel will NOT prevent chinooks.”
What DiCaprio encountered is called “weather”. It happens. It changes all the time, and mostly we suck at predicting or controlling it.
But what of his larger claim, that 2015 was the hottest year on record, global warming is “the most urgent threat facing our entire species”, and that we must get politicians to enforce urgent, expensive action on everyone before it’s too late?
As his opening anecdote might suggest, this is also alarmism. The standout weather feature of 2015 was El Niño, which is the warm phase of a temperature oscillation that begins in the Pacific Ocean. “The El Niño/Southern Oscillation is one of the main drivers of the climate system,” according to the World Meteorological Organisation, “and contributes to extreme events like droughts and flooding in different parts of the world. Globally, it has a warming influence on average temperatures.”
Moreover, the 2015/6 El Niño is one of the strongest since 1997/8, and might become one of the strongest in 50 years. One would expect its effect to be visible in the temperature record, and indeed it is. But what is also visible in the temperature record is that despite the 2015 peak, measured temperatures show little or no warming for going on 20 years now.
Lord Monckton of Brenchley conveniently collated the major measured temperature records: two satellite data sets and three surface-temperature networks. He then compared the warming rate from 1990 to 2015 to the predictions made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990. The result is a series of startling infographics, showing, as he puts it, “the abject failure of official global warming predictions”.
The predicted warming rate in 1990 ranged from 1.9°C per century to 4.2°C per century. The observed warming rate, however, peaked at 1.75°C per century in 1975. Since 1985, it has been on a steep decline. Note that this does not mean the world isn’t warming. We’re talking about how fast it is happening. Over the last few decades, global warming has been real, but it has been slowing down dramatically.
It is notable that the two satellite records, known as UAH and RSS, consistently record lower temperatures than the three land-based records, known as GISS, HADCRUT4 and NCEI. One reason this is problematic is that the physics of global warming clearly shows this shouldn’t be the case. Adjustment to correct for errors in satellite measurements have reduced the discrepancy, but that the lower troposphere is not as warm as it should be hasn’t fully been explained away.
The other standout feature of the satellite records is that they both show a flat temperature trend going back more than 18 years, to July and May 1997, respectively. They both show a very clear “pause” in warming. That trend line now includes six El Niños, and ends on the strong 2015/6 El Niño event, making claims of cherry-picking flimsy. Monckton shows that if you consider the difference between the five major temperature datasets as a margin of error, you can extend claims of a “pause” to 1994, or more than 22 years.
The terrestrial temperature datasets show a minimal 1.1°C per century warming trend since 2001, and 1.6°C per century since 1990. Yet despite many a revision (mostly upwards, of course), all three of them fall stubbornly below the minimum estimate the IPCC made in 1990. They make the IPCC’s worst-case scenario look laughable.
For ever so long, the IPCC clung fast to the computer model projections it championed. By 2007, its predictions for warming were even worse than in 1990. However, in the latest assessment report, it suddenly revised its projections sharply downwards. Still, it does not match even the highest warming measure, terrestrial observations since 1990, at 1.6°C per century, let alone the roughly zero warming shown by satellite observations since 1997.
The putative cause of all this warming is atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is notable, therefore, that despite grand political gestures, economic slowdowns, and green efforts at the margins, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has not slowed. In fact, it has continued to increase at a slowly accelerating pace.
I recall first noticing the temperature standstill in 2007. At the time, the head of NASA’s GISS, James Hansen, which oversees one of the terrestrial datasets, said one can’t draw conclusions from a 10-year trend; he’d get worried if the pause lasted 15 years. Then, climatologists said 15 years isn’t enough to invalidate the predictions of climate models. Now, the slowdown is nearing 20 years, despite the El Niño heat of the last year.
The longer this slowdown lasts, the less credibility alarmist predictions will have, and the stronger the argument becomes that the climate models on which the IPCC relies have overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide, and underestimated its variability due to factors beyond human control.
In fact, discounting the enormous damage drastic action would do to the economy, it has always struck me as hubris to think humanity has only just discovered that it might affect climate in some way, only to promptly propose to implement large-scale social engineering projects to change it deliberately.
“Climate change is real, and it’s happening right now,” said Leonardo DiCaprio, who lives the life of Riley, sailing about on his super-yacht, jetting about on private aeroplanes, or hanging about in his mega mansion. He took a private jet to Davos to preach about greed and global warming, but can’t distinguish a common short-term weather phenomenon from long-term climate change.
I’m not convinced we should take his word for it that climate variation, which has been quiescent for nigh on 20 years, is the most urgent threat facing humanity. Sadly, millions of people do. DM