Media Hype Hansen’s Latest ‘Alarming’ Prediction: Sea Levels to Rise 10 Feet

Climate alarmist James Hansen recently dropped a “bombshell” study about rising seas, at least according to the media hyping his claims.

The former NASA lead climate scientist claimed sea levels could rise 10 feet in 50 years, which is far more than even the alarmist forecasts of the United Nations. Hansen and 16 co-authors published the study on July 23 in the open-source journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. It has not been peer-reviewed.

CBS, NBCNews.com, MSNBC and Slate all hyped Hansen’s prediction and credentials, while downplaying or ignoring scientists who disagreed with Hansen’s findings. NBCNews.com labeled him and his co-authors “top climate change scientists.”

One geologist told the MRC that Hansen’s claim had “zero credibility” based on previous climate patterns. And even alarmist scientists reacted to Hansen’s claims with caution and criticism, saying he made “conjectures” and “huge extrapolations” with only “flimsy evidence.” Skeptical scientists have said sea levels may rise several inches in coming years, but certainly not the “several meters” Hansen and fellow authors forecast.

At least as far back as the 1980s, Hansen predicted major increased temperature and sea levels, but so far his ideas have far overestimated actual increases. The media ignored that record. Instead, Slate said Hansen was “known for being alarmist and also right,” and The Daily Beast said he has “consistently been ahead of the scientific curve.”

“The world needs to take a collective yawn at Hansen’s latest claims and ask how in the world was this man ever allowed to be in charge of the NASA temperature datasets,” Climate Depot publisher Marc Morano told MRC Business.

Outlets including CBS and NBCNews.com also brushed over Hansen’s and his co-authors’ decision to publish and promote the study before it was peer-reviewed with the express intent of influencing U.N. climate negotiations in Paris later this year. Yet media and left-wing climate advocates have bashed skeptics for “essentially never publish[ing] in legitimate journals.”

Media Hype Hansen’s Study, Downplay Criticism

Even though skeptical  and alarmist scientists both criticized Hansen’s latest work the media still promoted his apocalyptic claims about sea levels. Major outlets like CBS, NBCNews.com and MSNBC, and lefty outlets like Slate, The Huffington Post and Democracy Now! downplayed or ignored concerns from skeptical scientists, Hansen’s past failed predictions and the study’s lack of peer-review.

CBS Evening News reported Hansen’s “alarming scenario” on July 21. Substitute anchor Charlie Rose introduced the segment warning of “major flooding along every coast” in the future. CBS News National Correspondent Jim Axelrod said sea levels could rise “15 feet in the next 50 to 100 years,” according to Hansen, which was "five times higher than previous predictions.”

Hansen told Axelrod that “this is the biggest threat the planet faces” and added that “all coastal cities [would] become dysfunctional” if sea levels indeed rose by “several meters.” Axelrod showed graphics of what six cities and landmarks in the U.S. would look like underwater if sea levels rose by six to 12 feet.

On March 19, 2006, Hansen had told CBS’s 60 Minutes that “we had 10 years to get a handle on global warming.” He stood by the prediction in his interview with Axelrod, saying that “we’re essentially at the edge of that. That's why this year is a critical year.”

Axelrod failed to point out that Hansen’s latest study hadn’t been peer-reviewed even though that is a frequent complaint climate alarmists make about skeptical scientists’ research. He also failed to include any opposing viewpoints or bring up problems with Hansen’s previous predictions about temperatures and rising seas.

Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait wrote on Jan. 14, 2014, that climate skeptics have frequently claimed global warming is an “obvious hoax,” but that “no one ever publishes evidence exposing it.”  

“To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with),” Plait said.

The climate alarmist section of Think Progress, the left-wing media platform of the Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP), allowed Global Change Institute Director Ove Hoegh-Guldberg to attack skeptics on July 3, 2011. He faulted skeptics for allegedly failing to submit “their ideas to independent and objective peer-review.”

“Peer review is the basis of modern scientific endeavour. It underpins research and validates findings, theories and data,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Like Evening News, the Discovery Channel’s Discovery News site also included a series of seven edited photos with its article about Hansen’s claims. The pictures showed how landmarks across America would be flooded if sea levels rose by 12 feet.

NBC News Technology and Science Editor Matthew DeLuca wrote about Hansen’s report at NBCnews.com on July 23. DeLuca briefly noted in his fourth paragraph that the study had “not undergone a formal peer-review process,” but that other scientists could “comment” online. DeLuca failed to discuss this further or include any additional criticism the study’s lack of peer review.

DeLuca included minimal criticism of study. He said that “some scientists” had “questioned some of its conclusions,” but all three scientists he quoted agreed that man-made climate change was causing sea levels to rise. One of those scientists was alarmist Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, creator of the discredited “hockey stick” graph of warming.

Mann said “while I am skeptical of some of the details of the study, I think the authors have done a real service to the scientific discourse by putting forward some interesting and provocative ideas” for discussion.

MSNBC’s Ed Show also failed to include any critics of the study while discussing it on July 22. Instead, Schultz interviewed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., during the segment. Whitehouse is so extreme on the issue of climate change he has suggested the fossil fuel industry might be open to charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for attempting “to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.”

During the interview, Whitehouse attacked Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio for not buying into predictions of flooding from sea level rise in their home state of Florida. Neither Schultz nor Whitehouse mentioned any criticism of Hansen’s study.

Schultz also cited liberal Slate’s breathless article about Hansen’s latest climate worries. Slate’s Future Tense writer Eric Holthaus wrote about the “Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning” on July 20. Holthaus said Hansen’s “breathtaking new study” could “prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change.”

According to Holthaus, Hansen is “known for being alarmist and also right.” Of course, he also failed to point out problems with Hansen’s earlier predictions.

Holthaus didn’t criticize the lack of peer-review, instead he defended it. He gave a “necessary note of caution,” saying the study was released “via a nontraditional publishing decision by its authors.” But then he supplied Hansen’s argument for doing so: “this publishing timeline was necessary to make the work public as soon as possible before global negotiators meet in Paris later this year.”

Even though the study had not been peer-reviewed, Holthaus said Hansen planned to “personally present” his research to world leaders.

In a Huffington Post piece July 26, Hansen promoted his claims of “disastrous sea level rise” and said scientists needed to tell policymakers about the “emergency” of global warming. He said policymakers needed “to reduce emissions as rapidly as practical” through “global cooperation.”

“My conclusion, based on the total information available, is that continued high emissions would result in multi-meter sea level rise this century,” Hansen said, and warned that “building cities or rebuilding cities on coast lines would become foolish.”

Almost 24 years ago, Hansen predicted a 15 to 20 foot rise in sea levels, but during that time sea levels have risen at a much slower pace than he forecast. On Aug. 22, 1981, Hansen told The New York Times that the increase in sea levels would flood vast portions of Florida, Louisiana and New Jersey “within a century or less.”

In response, scientific researcher Dr. Ronan Connolly noted on Nov. 21, 2013, that sea levels had only risen an average of one to three millimeters per year “since records began.” At that rate (3 millimeters every year), sea levels would increase only 11.8 inches over the course of a century.

In a congressional hearing June 23, 1988, Hansen said that he was 99 percent sure climate change was occurring and being caused by humans. He presented a model that predicted increased temperatures. That model overestimated how much temperatures have actually increased “by about 150 [percent],” former broadcast meteorologist Anthony Watts said July 15, 2012.

The model was already well off track after just 10 years, according to the Cato Institute's Center for the Study of Science Director Pat Michaels. According to Michaels, “The forecast made in 1988 was an astounding failure.” The actual change in temperature was less than a quarter of what Hansen had predicted, or only about 0.11 degrees Celsius, he noted.

“Simply making scarier predictions of the future in order to alarm policymakers is not ‘good science,’” according to Morano. “Claiming that climate change impacts are ‘worse than we thought’ because predictions are now more frightening is a well worn playbook of the climate movement.”

Other liberal outlets, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Democracy Now!, also hyped Hansen’s scary new prediction with little to no criticism.

Scientists Say Claim by Hansen Has ‘Zero Credibility’

Despite the liberal media hype, there are plenty of critics within the scientific community -- from the skeptics and the alarmists.

Hansen and 16 other co-authors published their study on sea levels in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Their study said a “sea level rise of several meters” could occur in as few as 50 years, and that even the U.N.’s global warming target of 2 degrees Celsius was “highly dangerous.”

The study even took friendly fire from global warming alarmists like Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a former lead author for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Trenberth, one of the scientists whose name was on emails released during the Climategate scandal, said Hansen’s study was “rife with speculation and ‘what if’ scenarios,” and contained “many conjectures and huge extrapolations based on quite flimsy evidence,” according to The New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin.

Trenberth even said the study was “not a document that can be used for setting policy for anthropogenic climate change, although it pretends to be so.”

Revkin has often promoted climate alarmism in his role at the Times, yet his coverage of Hansen’s study was unusually critical.

Other scientists also found fault with Hansen’s claims. Western Washington University Professor Emeritus of Geology Don Easterbrook told MRC Business that Hansen’s prediction was “absurd” given previous sea level patterns. Easterbrook said temperatures abruptly increased by 20 degrees Fahrenheit after the previous ice age, which caused a “catastrophic” melting of the ice sheets and even then sea levels only increased by 3 feet per century.

He said that the current “warming of about 1 degree per century” with far less widespread melting of ice meant Hansen’s latest prediction has “zero credibility.”

Michaels agreed that “His idea has no credibility” and said that it would take a much longer time and much warmer temperatures to cause sea levels to rise as much as Hansen claimed. Michaels pointed to a study published in Nature Jan. 23, 2013, by University of Copenhagen Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen. That study showed that while sea levels were once several meters higher than current levels, this occurred during a span of 6,000 years with temperatures averaging 6 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous millennium.

Other scientists think sea levels will rise far less than Hansen has claimed. Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner, former professor of paleogeophysics and geodynamics at the University of Stockholm, said an “excellent value of the maximum rate” for annual sea level rise was 1 centimeter, or less than 0.4 inches. By that estimate, seas would only rise 0.5 meters or about 1.6 feet in the next 50 years, a fraction of the 10 feet Hansen predicted.

Coastal oceanographer Dr. Willem de Lange and geologist and environmental scientist Dr. Robert Carter wrote a report on sea level rise, published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation on July 5, 2014. They said that sea levels were “likely to rise 18 cm [7.1 inches] or less by 2100.”

De Lange and Carter said there was debate about exactly how much sea levels change, but the “one certainty is that future sea-level will continue to change at differing rates and in different directions at locations around the world, as it always has in the past.”

Editor’s Note: Marc Morano worked for our colleagues at CNSNews.com from 2001 to 2006.