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Clickbait Galore

Clickbait Galore

Our world faces many serious environmental challenges. We can meet them – but only if we act now.

Mike Bloomberg

A brief recap

Back in early September, I wrote an Opinion paper called A Few Facts about the Changing Climate which you can find here.  In the paper, I argued that although humans are unquestionably guilty of neglect when it comes to treating planet Earth with respect, there are in fact plenty of other dynamics in play.  Furthermore, I argued that some of those other dynamics are having a meaningful impact on the temperature and thus on the climate, but that those dynamics are being conveniently ignored by the global media, eager to paint as grim a picture as possible – effectively clickbait in action.  For the record, I am not about to suggest that humans are innocent – not at all – but I do believe better decisions would be taken if all facts were on the table – not just the ones which serve the media’s (financial) interests.

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Bloomberg’s latest goof-up

Fast forward to last Sunday the 3rd of December.  I was running through all the emails that had popped up in my inbox since close-of-business Friday evening and came across this alarming headline in an email from Bloomberg:

Immediately below the headline, Bloomberg posted the following chart:

Exhibit 1: 2023 temperature vs 1979-2022 daily record high
Source: Bloomberg

Bloomberg provided no accompanying text but the intention was clear – paint as ugly a picture as possible.  I am not for one second arguing that Bloomberg have fiddled with the numbers.  Nor am I arguing that average temperatures are not higher than ever (in post-industrial revolution times that is, but that is rarely pointed out).

Having said that, I am arguing that, on top of all the manmade climate problems we currently have to deal with, El Niño has arrived, and El Niños are known to raise the average temperature a fair bit.  Allow me to copy and paste from our September paper:

El Niño and La Niña, two famous weather phenomena, are part of a weather system called ENSO which has always existed.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with human activities.  ENSO is a natural weather phenomenon in the global climate system, resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.  El Niño warms up planet Earth, and La Niña – El Niño’s cooling opposite – cools it down again.

ENSO is the most influential natural climate pattern on Earth.  It swings back and forth every few years with both El Niño and La Niña affecting the oceans as well as the atmosphere.  An average El Niño raises the global average temperature by 0.2-0.3°C.  Three points on that:

(i) Although the average El Niño raises the temperature by 0.2-0.3°C, there are examples of more powerful El Niños, where the global average temperature has risen as much as 0.5°C.

(ii) When the global average temperature rises by 0.2-0.3°C, parts of the world will see a temperature increase in excess of that, and the polar regions stand out in that respect.

(iii) Extreme weather events don’t rise proportionally with a rise in the temperature.  Rather, it takes only a small increase in the temperature to have a dramatic impact on the weather.

Now, if you click on the website of the US National Weather Service, NOAA, you can find plenty of information on the El Niño currently unfolding, for example (and I quote):  “Above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) across the equatorial Pacific Ocean [are] indicative of a strong El Niño”.  In other words, the current El Niño is quite powerful.

During the 1979-2022 period represented in Exhibit 1, there was only one really strong El Niño – the one in 2015-16 which peaked over the winter months, i.e. those peak data points are not included in the numbers behind the chart in Exhibit 1.  In other words, the gap between 2023 and 1979-2022 depicted in Exhibit 1 could quite possibly be explained by El Niño – not by global warming.  It is certainly a possibility.

In El Niño years, one has to be really careful about drawing hasty conclusions, as extreme weather events are far more frequent. The current El Niño arrived in the spring and will almost certainly be with us until March/April 2024.  Adding to that, there is a 62% probability that it will continue to thrive through June of next year (source: NOAA).

What it all means

Clicking on stories like that equals higher advertising revenues, i.e. higher profits to the medium in question.  Yes, I also believe we have a serious problem.  No, I don’t believe we have reached the tipping point yet, i.e. some decisive action could still bring us back on course.  That said, it serves nobody’s interest (other than the media’s) to persistently misinform people.  If other people react the way I do, they lose respect – not only for the media, but also for the problem at heart and that is not good.


6 December 2023

About the Author

Niels Clemen Jensen founded Absolute Return Partners in 2002 and is Chief Investment Officer. He has over 30 years of investment banking and investment management experience and is author of The Absolute Return Letter.

In 2018, Harriman House published The End of Indexing, Niels' first book.