Lomborg: New York Times environmental journalist Justin Gillis is wrong

Guest essay by Bjørn Lomborg

Justin Gillis tells NPR how much sea levels will rise:

“experts believe sea levels will rise at least 3 feet in the next century, and that number could be as much as 6 feet.”

(91cm to 183cm, http://n.pr/ZOxRKF.)

The leaked upcoming UN Climate Panel report will likely increase its sea level rise estimates (leaked here: http://bit.ly/12ybRHI, the numbers are very similar to the new June leak of the summary for policy makers).

It estimates the average sea level rise over 95 years at 40-62cm (1.31-2.04ft, it is the average 1986-2005 till 2081-2100) Looking at the entirety of the likely ranges, the range could be as wide as 29-82cm (0.95-2.69ft).

So, Gillis tells us the one end of the spectrum is 3 feet and the highest 6 feet, while the the UN says 1 foot to 2.7 feet. His *lowest* estimate is higher than the *highest* of the UN Climate Panel’s new, higher estimate.

Yet, he justifies his numbers with “experts.” Justin Gillis seems to listen to an extremely skewed set of experts.

In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, Justin Gillis has clearly indicated that he writes about climate because he wants to push for action:

“the more I learned [about climate], the more I thought to myself, “This is the biggest problem we have—bigger than global poverty. Why am I not working on it?” From there, the question was, how do I get myself into a position to work on the problem?”


As Roger Pielke Jr.  has demonstrated going through this interview and many of Gillis’ other articles: “The notion of “working on the problem” is a fine ambition, but is clearly much more aligned with advocacy for action rather than reporting a beat. Rather than informing his readers Gillis is in the business of making an argument.” (http://bit.ly/1dcslMJ)

Justin Gillis last year wrote what Roger Pielke called “worst piece of reporting I’ve ever seen in the Times on climate change.”

It is worth reading Pielke’s takedown here: http://bit.ly/14s4jrq.


Just to be clear, there are many good environmental journalists on New York Times. But this clear example of severely skewed information is not worthy of the Newspaper of Record.

‘Temperature Rising’: Will Climate Change Bring More Extreme Weather? : NPR


Justin Gillis writes about climate change for The New York Times.

In a series for The New York Times, environmental reporter Justin Gillis has been exploring whether harsh weather events are connected to global warming or if they are simply the random violence nature visits upon us.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Kurt in Switzerland

Maybe Justin means the NEXT century, as in from 2101-2200. Curious writing, in any case!
Kurt in Switzerland

I saw this in a Bloomberg article this morning:
“Temperatures already have climbed about 0.8 degree Celsius and seas have risen about 17 centimeters (7 inches) since the industrial revolution, according to the UN. When temperature gains reach 1 degree, the world will be committed to sea levels about 2.3 meters higher over two millennia, according to the study in the journal of the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences.”
Over two millennia – that means the rising will be half the rate it now is. No worries on that score.

Tom Trevor

It is very sad how many people who call themselves journalists say they got into the business because they wanted to go something about some issue, and not because they wanted to report on issues.


oh good grief…go on and say it’s a 1000 ft and get it over with
…f’in nut jobs

The Iceman Cometh

Tom Trevor said “It is very sad how many people who call themselves journalists say they got into the business because they wanted to go something about some issue”
I have just taken a decision to abandon Scientific American after nearly 60 years of subscription. The latest issue is on food, and every article was by a ‘science writer’. Scientists used to be proud to write for them. Then came the Lomborg Affair. Since then it has been downhill.

Justin Gillis is wrong…?
Isn’t that in the “Dog Bites Man” Category of headlines?

Larry Hamlin

There is simply no NOAA tide gauge sea level rise data at coastal locations around the world that supports any notion that global sea level rise is accelerating. The rate of sea level rise has remained linear for more than 100 years at a rate of about 1 foot per century according to this empirical data. Likewise satellite sea level rise measurements which are not applicable to any coastal locations but instead represent measures of global ocean volume show no acceleration of sea level rise since these measurements started in 1992 again with the rate of sea level increase remaining linear at about 1 foot per century.
Alarmists claims of sea level rise accelerating have no support in empirical data and are based on unvalidated models which provide unproven information clearly not appropriate for policy making actions.
This situation in sea level rise claims is quite similar to the situation in global temperature rise where empirical global temperature data has undermined climate model results of ever increasing global temperatures which the empirical data shows is wrong.

John M

So “journalists” interviewing “journalsts” is what passes a news today.

Again you people are getting hung up on science and numbers. Climate is about feelings and a desire for an ever so better world. Why should a stubbornly empirical minority get to trample the positive energy of The Consensus?
If hypothetical visions of drowned polar bears being washed up on doorsteps in Kansas during weekly Cat 6 hurricanes is a necessary part of the world-creating process, why should we let denialists drag us down with grubby demands for proof? It just drains the buzz from the narrative.

Henry Clark

Sea levels fell in 2010, falling instead of rising then, and the few percent change in GCRs then was little compared to the tens of percent which will occur once the Modern Maximum of solar activity gets followed in coming decades by levels more like the LIA. The past, as in the synchronized change in rates in http://s24.postimg.org/rbbws9o85/overview.gif over prior decades (and centuries), is informative for how to really predict the future.


So Justin Gillis is not any different than his “boss”, Al “misleading hyperbole” Gore?
If Algore can get away with Force 6 hurricanes, surely his sycophants can get away with tweaking stuff for his benefit, no?


Not only is he dead wrong about the problem, he’s also bad at advocating it? That’s gotta sting.

Theo Goodwin

“the more I learned [about climate], the more I thought to myself, “This is the biggest problem we have—bigger than global poverty. Why am I not working on it?” From there, the question was, how do I get myself into a position to work on the problem?”
Really? Justin needs to get out more. There is no groundswell of complaint about warming. In fact, warming polls as barely significant. Recently, a groundswell of complaint from victims caused the CDC to increase its estimate of the rate of infection from Lyme Disease by a factor of ten. Justin might want to wait for such a groundswell on warming.


I heard that sea levels fell in 2020-2011, and it was because Australia absorbed in all.
I had no idea that Australia would act as one great big sponge. Is Australia the savior of rising sea levels caused by climate change?


Make that 2010-2011.

John Trigge (in Oz)

I recently sent the following to an Oz, publicly-funded radio station:

Sonia Feldhoff – ABC sea level rise complaint
Whilst driving this afternoon I heard a Paul(?) Willis on Sonia Feldhoff’s program refer to sea levels rising one metre by 2050 if they continue at the current rate. This would require a rate of 27mm/year.
From the CSIRO (http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/sl_hist_last_15.html) the global mean sea level trend for the last 20 years is 3.2mm/year, only around 10% of the claimed current trend.
I suggest the ABC in general and Sonia Feldhoff in particular broadly promulgate a retraction of Mr Willis’ false statement and give the public the real figures.
You might also refer to http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/sl_hist_intro.html where they show sea level rising for the past 20,000 years, long before mankind was burning fossil fuels and driving SUVs, as Mr Willis went on to blame mankind for his exhorbitant sea level rise claims.
As a regular ABC listener, I am disappointed that you unquestionably allow such distortions to be broadcast.
I apologise in advance if I have Mr Willis’ name wrong as I was driving at the time and could not record his details.
If there is a podcast or transcription of this segment of Sonia’s programme I would appreciate you advising a link to it.

[ABC is Australian Broadcast company, right? Mod]


Talking to experts is one thing, providing the evidence of worsening trends is quite another. Sometimes a worsening trend is caused by natural climate factors. Here are the experts in action:
Expect warmer winters due to global warming.
Expect an ice free Arctic in 2008, errrr 2009, errr 2013, errr 1015, errr 2016, errr 2020, errr 2040, errr2050, err 2100, errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

19 April 2013
The student who caught out the profs
This week, economists have been astonished to find that a famous academic paper often used to make the case for austerity cuts contains major errors. Another surprise is that the mistakes, by two eminent Harvard professors, were spotted by a student.

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts” – Dr. Richard Feynman, renowned physicist.


@John Trigge
Good luck with that John.
I emailed a complaint a while ago about a newspaper article which was not even remotely concerned with the facts.
I asked the ‘journalist’ how he could get it so wrong and gave him links from reputable sources to the data.
He wrote back (verbatim):
“Thanks for your feedback. You may be right, but I wrote it as I saw it (and still see it).”
They aren’t journalists, they are activists with an agenda.


Lying is apparently correlated with shaving your face with a chainsaw.
[? Mod]


According to the World Health Organization, hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health. The WHO also states that malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality, present in half of all cases. Undernutrition is a contributory factor in the death of 3.1 million children under five every year. Figures on actual starvation are difficult to come by, but according to the FAO, the less severe condition of undernourishment currently affects about 925 million people, or about 13.5% of the world population.
How many children die of global warming every year?

George Turner

Well, there’s a calculation I’ve done numerous times that says you could just take the power output of three years worth of China’s new coal plant installation, and use that power to run centrifugal water pumps at 85 percent efficiency, perhaps using the waste heat to distill and heat seawater, then pump the warm water against about a thousand feet of head pressure to dump it either in Antarctica, Greenland, or Northern Canada or Siberia, where it won’t be seen again for a thousand years.
You can easily do it at a rate that exceeds the alarmists’ projections of sea-level rise, and do so for about $20 billion a year in coal costs. You could go nuclear, but the up-front costs are greater and the likelihood that the whole scheme will be abandoned as unnecessary is quite high, and if you use coal or natural-gas fired pumps you can just quit buying fuel.
So yes, we can easily control the sea level if we really want to, the project is easy to cost and schedule, and it doesn’t require a single new invention or new idea, or even a really new piece of equipment that isn’t already commercially available.
But nobody will ever seriously suggest we do it, because the alarmists would much rather have the silly threat, aren’t people in hard hats who would make any money off the project, and non-alarmists aren’t really worried anyway.
But it might be fun to seriously push the idea and budget money set aside for “studies” to apply to this new, actual solution to sea-level rise, and then listen to the shrill screaming that ensues.

David Schofield

I emailed the UK times this week re an article saying that some London hotel with a planted wall absorbed 10000 litres of rainwater which would reduce the chance of nearby Buckingham palace being flooded. That’s about the volume of 3 compact cars! Journalists have a very poor sense of scale.


Journalists should stick to journalism by reporting the news rather than creating the news with false information and nonsense.


Ever notice these alarmists talk about sea level rise the same way guys in the locker room talk about their thangs?


Truly clueless.
Justin Gillis is to Journalism what Al Gore is to Climate Expert.
Walter Duranty would be proud of him.

Arno Arrak

The most believable data on sea level rise come from Chao, Yu and Li (Science April 11th 2008). They corrected available reports of sea level rise measurements for water held in storage by all dams built since 1900. When these corrections were applied the sea level curve became linear for the previous eighty years, with a slope of 2.46 millimeters per year. This works out to 24.6 cm per century, a little under 10 inches. Satellites have been reporting a rise of about 3 mm per year, quite close to Chao Yu & Li. I don’t know what corrections they applied, if any, for water held in storage. I don’t believe that single reading of sea level drop. It is probably an instrumental or software error because there is no record of anything like that for at least a century. I look forward to a centennial sea level rise of 24.6 centimeters, not that twenty feet of Al Gore’s he got from James Hansen, or any other number of feet.


According to Jim Hansen, the oceans are going to all boil away like they did on Venus… LOL!… so I wonder what the concern is about rising sea levels.

“………there are many good environmental journalists on New York Times”
Ok, just out of curiosity, name half a dozen (“many”) that I can trust. Or one, even.
Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

On the subject of poor and biased reporting. I just came across this example by the BBC. Describing the origin of the Norfolk Broads. They couldn’t bring themselves to say they were created by sea level rises a thousand years ago, and used the ridiculous phrase, ‘When tides began to rise’.


“the more I learned [about climate], the more I thought to myself, This is the biggest problem we have—bigger than global poverty.”

So Mr. Gillis thinks that sea levels slowly encroaching on the beach homes of the rich is a bigger problem than global poverty. What does that tell us about him?


Anthony has recently posted re a couple of Alarmist papers (Last couple of weeks, I think ) where new papers claimed a climate sensitivity of 4+ and 5+C..
Now we are getting exagerated claims for sea level rise.
Excuse me for being synical, but this smells like a diliberate campaign. We have had a substancial number of recent papers showing a climate sensitivity of of between 1 & 2C. We have also seen recent papers showing sea level rise of between 15cm and 30 cm to 2100.
This looks, to me, to be a deliberate attempt to produce high ball values to counter the much lower values coming from good science, so that the IPCC report, when published, can claim to be the middle ground.

Misattributed to Gobbles:
But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.
Actually from “War Propaganda”, in volume 1, chapter 6 of Mein Kampf (1925), by Adolf Hitler
Attributed to Goebbels in Publications Relating to Various Aspects of Communism (1946), by United States Congress, House Committee on Un-American Activities, Issues 1-15, p.19, no reliable source has been located, and this is probably simply a further variation of the Big Lie idea
Now the above has been lifted from Wiki. However, I must make an addition to help put things in perspective. Modern sedan automobilies, properly running, put out 99.7% CO2 and Water. They have enough excess oxygen to generally allow one to survive, breathing an auto exhaust (When I say 99.7 CO2 and Water, I mean as exhaust products. ALSO N2 and O2 come out. Because of TWO reasons, when asked, “What would happen to you if someone strapped a breathing mask on you and made you breath the output of a modern car…” About 90% of everyone says, “Oh, you’d die.” When quizzed why, they will say, Carbon Monoxide poisoning.” When you explain the real mixture of gasses, some people (who THINK they are quick and intelligent, but really..NOT..!) will say, “How do people commit suicide with their cars? I heard of a case..(fill in the blank) last month, week, year..etc.” Answer: They run the car in a closed garage. As the O2 is used up, the combustion shifts to CO and Water, but then engine runs long enough to make enough CO to kill a human. QED.
The point here is that it’s NOT JUST the repeating of these “enviromental myths” which engrains them in the “first level thinking” of the common person. It’s also the sad human tendancy to THINK WE KNOW MORE THAN WE REALLY DO. (I might add, sardonically, that since the advent of the air bags in cars, a LOT of these folks survive to reproduce…where in the past, they could have had a more deliberate choice to not contribute to the gene pool. Woe are we!)


If you accept the higher-end estimates for recent sea-level rise rates of 3mm/year, even the UN estimates mean that they believe there is less than a 2.5% chance these rates will hold steady or decline over the next century. According to the “experts” that Gillis quotes, there is less than a 2.5% chance these rates will only triple (on average!) or less over the next century.

So Gillis says we don’t know much about hurricanes. Perhaps he is lazy or doesn’t bother to check the NOAA site “Tropical Cyclone Climatology 1950-2011”, or the EOS (American Geophysical Union) report “Counting Atlantic Tropical Cyclones Back to 1900”. Makes one wonder about the rest of his evidence backing up his statements.


Leak, or a test release ?


JimS says:
August 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm
I heard that sea levels fell in 2020-2011, and it was because Australia absorbed in all.
I had no idea that Australia would act as one great big sponge. Is Australia the savior of rising sea levels caused by climate change?
As an Australian who has seen much of my country, I can tell you that it is entirely possible for this to have happened.
A great deal of central Australia is either semi desert or desert.
And we also have an odd geography where most of the rivers tend to flow towards the center instead of the coast. Decades can pass with no significant rainfall , followed by enough rain to turn huge areas green in a matter of weeks.
High rainfall on the coastal areas will flow into these areas. I have seen dry riverbeds that have become raging torrents in a matter of hours , all caused by rain hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of kilometers away.
I am not willing to say that this alone could explain a drop in ocean levels, not without a lot more research on the subject, but it could have been a contributing factor.
And on a slightly related note , if you are planning a visit, PLEASE do not camp in dry river beds, the water can come up so fast, you will never have a chance to get out of your tents before you are swept away.
Australia is beautiful yes, but can also be deadly if you are not aware of the dangers.

Simple really. Truth doesn’t sell newspapers. But exaggerated hyperbole does and the bigger the shock, horror, gasp factor the bigger the sales. I treat most newspapers now as works of barely literate and incomplete fiction, written by those who haven’t got the ability to write a full blown novel and as such are relegated to making up stuff and nonsense to confuse, confound and down right bullshit the readers. In Australia our press is controlled by two families so we only ever get two viewpoints on any subject, neither of which is true.

John Bell

But you can darn well bet that GIllis keeps using carbon anyway!

Steve from Rockwood

If we can’t agree on such a basic measurement as sea level rise then how can we predict future temperature changes?

Chad Wozniak

@moderator –
Yes, ABC also stands for Australian Broadcasting Corporation
@Speed –
About 200,000 children a year die from global warming – alarmism (the ethanol program’s diversion of grain from food).

David Riser

Here is a link to an article by Nils-Alex Morner concerning sea level rise; he is an expert on the subject having studied it for over 35 years. Critics think he is a bit of a crackpot, but I have read enough of his 546 papers and 10 books to know that he is at least sane when it comes to sea level science. I have a sneaky feeling there is a smear campaign against him since he is outspoken in his criticism of the IPCC.


“I don’t really waste my time on something unless I’m reasonably confident I can get it onto page one. Then, it becomes a question of what’s the right framing to get it there and can I actually pull it off..”
Those University of Georgia Journalism degrees must be pretty good. Gillis gets 9 out of 10 onto the Times A1.
And he sees himself just doing “remedial education”.

JimS says:
“I heard that sea levels fell in 2020-2011, and it was because Australia absorbed in all.
I had no idea that Australia would act as one great big sponge. Is Australia the savior of rising sea levels caused by climate change?”
The eastern half of Australia sits on top of the Great Artesian Basin, the biggest artesian water storage system on the planet. Many years of drought and water extraction for agriculture had severely depleted it. Perhaps the best way to look at it is that the seas rose so much earlier because the water from the Basin was extracted and ended up in the oceans?

David Ritson

David Ritson,
The following incident throws liight on Justiin Gillis’s mode of operation.
In his article on 5/14/13 on page 1 of Science Times Justin Gilles stated, relative to Svante Arrhenius’s work on carbon doubling, that in the 1900s Arrhenius had predicted that
“the average temperature of the earth would rise by something like nine degrees Fahrenheit” .
I wrote him that a correction would be in order stating that
“This is incorrect.Arrhenius subsequently amended the figure to 1.6 degrees Centigrade or 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit.” and referred him to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius
While only of historic value Gillis had used Arrhenius’s high preliminary value to make a point that modern values were conservatively much lower. This seemed a trivial enough correction but the Times editor replied that Gillis had been fully aware of the later value but because of space limitations had simply not included it, and therefore no correction would be made.
Such selective quotation is of course just dishonest journalism and calibrates Gillis’s credibility.


@Ron House
Just for comparison…..
The Antarctic ice sheet is currently estimated as 24.7 cubic kilometers; melting of the entire ice sheet would raise sea level approximately 56.6 m.
The Greenland ice sheet is currently estimated as 2.9 cubic kilometers, and melting of the entire ice sheet would raise sea level approximately 7.3 m.
The Great Artesian Basin is estimated to contain 64,900 cubic kilometers.

You lost a few zeros there. Antarctic ice volume is 26.5 million cubic km.

chris y

Latitude says-
“oh good grief…go on and say it’s a 1000 ft and get it over with”
Already done. In meters, not feet. By guess who? Jim the jester jousting adjuster Hansen-
In 2005, James Hansen told Tim Radford of The Guardian that the current 1 W/m^2 energy imbalance will raise temperatures 0.6 C by 2100, and over 10,000 years would raise sea levels by 1000 meters.

chris y

JimS says-
“According to Jim Hansen, the oceans are going to all boil away like they did on Venus… LOL!”
But do I count this as a sea level rise of 4000 meters as the ocean vapors fill the lower troposphere, or do I count this as a sea level drop of 4000 meters?


I think you mean the Antarctic ice sheet is currently estimated as 27,700,000 cubic kilometers, and the Greenland ice sheet as 2,900,000 cubic kilometers; as compared to the Great Artesian Basin containing 64,900 cubic kilometers? If those ratios are correct, as compared to impact upon the sea levels, then the Great Artesian Basin would have a potential maximum impact of 15 centimetres on sea level? Therefore the claim that sea level dropped by 7 millimetres is well within the range, if that much water fell upon Australia for that 18 month period between 2010 and 2011. But did it?


I note that all the commenters on this post are quoting a long term past and expected future sea level rise averaging around 3 mms plus per year.
The satellite data is indicating a sea level rise of just 1.2 mms to 1.6 mms / year as per below.
The Satellite project below will be an attempt to base all sea level measurements on the geo centre of the mass of the Earth thus eliminating the effects and errors inherent in using tectonically affected tide gauges currently used in the GMSL measurements
To quote from the following;
‘The “Geodetic Reference Antenna in Space” (GRASP):
“A Mission to Enhance GNSS and the Terrestrial Reference Frame”
[ http://www.gps.gov/governance/advisory/meetings/2011-06/bar-sever.pdf ]
From frame 3 of the above GRASP pdf.
>>>> “Impact of TRF [ Terrestrial Reference Frame ] on GMSL Record from Tide Gauges:
Competing approaches for TRF realization yield estimates for sea-level rise ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 mm / yr.
Desired accuracy for measuring global mean sea level (GMSL) rise is 0.1 mm/yr <<<<<
Note that current 1.3 mms / year to 1.6 mms / year rise in global sea levels relative to the earth's center of mass.
The GRASP satellite has a projected launch date of 2016 / 2017
There are now known to be very systematic errors in a lot of global satellite data due to inaccuracies in establishing the satellite's Reference Frames relative to their Terrestrial positions.
The GRASP project seeks to eliminate systematic satellite data positional errors so as to establish the satellite's positions to a sufficient accuracy now sought across a whole range of satellite data measurements .
Sea level measurements being just one such example where it is intended for GRASP as per PDF frame 3, to reduce the Reference Frame based sea level measurements errors relative to the Earth's center of mass, the Geocentric location, from 0.45 mms / year down to 0.1 mms / year
A further paper ; Global sea-level rise and its relation to the terrestrial reference frame"
[ http://sas2.elte.hu/tg/msc_gravi/collilieux_sealeverise.pdf ]
Also provides tables of the GMSL from many locations and that tide gauge data also shows that sea level rises have only been in the range of 1.3 mms / year to 1.6 mms / year.
Quote below from the paper indicating both the current error rate in sea level satellite measurements and the ranges of current sea level rises;
The preferred reference frames for scientific applications that require a very high degree of accuracy are the realizations of the International Terrestrial Reference System (ITRS) which are named International Terrestrial Reference Frames (ITRF).
The two latest, ITRF2000 and ITRF2005, are assumed to be expressed with respect to the Center of Mass(CM) of the entire Earth, including the oceans and atmosphere.
Both origins were constrained using Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) data, which is recognized as the most accurate technique for CM determination.
However, these two frames differ by 1.8± 0.3 mm/year for the drift in origin in the Z component, and 0.5± 0.3 mm/year (0.08 ± 0.05 ppb/year)for the radial scale change (Altamimi et al. 2007).
Such differences mostly explain the different rates of observed global sea-level rise obtained by Wöppelmann et al. (2007, 2009), 1.3± 0.3 and 1.6 ± 0.2 mm/year, respectively.
Improving our understanding of sea-level rise and variability, as well as reducing the uncertainties associated with the estimates of change, critically depend on our ability to realize a stable terrestrial reference frame.
The accuracy of the origin and scale rates of the frame is one of the main factors limiting the determination of geocentric sea level trends today.