Cool Tools on The Deniers

2009-02-22

in Politics, Rants, Science, Writing

I was disappointed by a recent entry in the Cool Tools blog – a place that normally highlights useful stuff like little tripods. Their post on the 16th, which got re-posted on Boing Boing, was about Lawrence Solomon’s book: The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud – And those who are too fearful to do so. The post argued that since science is advanced by those who question current beliefs, we should encourage those who question the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

It is regrettable that the mistaken impression endures that the key tenets of climatic science are still disputed by the scientific community as a whole. Greenhouse gasses unambiguously cause warming, and humanity is unambiguously releasing those gasses. While we certainly need critical thinking to advance climatic science (there is much left to learn about feedbacks and the internal dynamics of the climate system) the kind of people who deny the existence or seriousness of climate change are not engaged usefully with the scientific discussion. In most cases, they tell stories that contradict one another (it’s not happening, it’s not caused by greenhouse gasses, it is likely to be beneficial, it is all China’s fault, etc). In most cases, I also don’t think they are genuine in their approach: they are united by the desire to avoid government regulation of greenhouse gasses, not by a substantive disagreement about what is happening in the world.

Given the strength of entrenched interests opposed to climate change regulation, people willing to add confusion to the debate will always be able to find financial support. That is, at least, until society as a whole finally appreciates that their arguments are self-serving and wrong.

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 22, 2009 at 7:09 pm

See also:

Incidentally, I can never decide between ‘skeptic’ and ‘sceptic.’ I prefer the look of the first version, but I generally go with whichever the spell checker on the machine I am using prefers.

R.K. February 22, 2009 at 8:24 pm

At this point, supporting outright skepticism about the reality of global warming and the danger it poses is at least as irresponsible as arguing that smoking does not cause cancer.

The science for each is equally settled. Actually, denying global warming in the media is more damaging. Few people these days still believe that smoking isn’t linked to cancer, whereas lots of people think there is still a real debate about anthropogenic global warming.

Tristan February 22, 2009 at 9:34 pm

“In most cases, I also don’t think they are genuine in their approach: they are united by the desire to avoid government regulation of greenhouse gasses, not by a substantive disagreement about what is happening in the world.”

Seriousness, genuineness, authenticity. Whatever you want to call it, the lack of this is one thing climate change deniers, apologists for systematic oppression, etc, have in common.

Milan February 22, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I think most climate change deniers act to delay the day when certain industries get taxed into nonexistence – coal-fired electricity foremost among them.

Do we agree about this?

Tristan February 22, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Of course, but they can only do this because they don’t really take the issues seriously. Acting in a self-interested manner when it so violently contradicts the general interest is never genuine. If it could, it would be possible to be “Genuinely inhuman”, I think it’s plainly apparent that this is a contradiction, from the universality in notion of “person” or “human”. But, someone might disagree with me on this.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 1:09 am

I have a specific question that I don’t have the ability either to answer, or even know where to look to find an answer, but I think you would know the answer.

Are there any respected Scientists, individual ones, who are still considered Scientists by the Scientific community (i.e. would still be seriously considered for research grants from mainstream universities and from the national science foundation), and who believe climate change is not caused by humans?

Milan February 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

I think the answer is yes, but they work in fields far removed from climatology. Petroleum geologists are, perhaps unsurprisingly, especially unlikely to concur with the view that humans are causing dangerous climate change.

. February 23, 2009 at 8:36 am

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Position Statement on climate change states that “the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases … Certain climate simulation models predict that the warming trend will continue, as reported through NAS, AGU, AAAS and AMS. AAPG respects these scientific opinions but wants to add that the current climate warming projections could fall within well-documented natural variations in past climate and observed temperature data. These data do not necessarily support the maximum case scenarios forecast in some models.”

Prior to the adoption of this statement, the AAPG was the only major scientific organization that rejected the finding of significant human influence on recent climate, according to a statement by the Council of the American Quaternary Association. Explaining the plan for a revision, AAPG president Lee Billingsly wrote in March 2007 that “Members have threatened to not renew their memberships … if AAPG does not alter its position on global climate change … . And I have been told of members who already have resigned in previous years because of our current global climate change position. … The current policy statement is not supported by a significant number of our members and prospective members.”

Although there have been some individual scientists who have made statements opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming, with the release of the revised statement by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2007, no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate changes.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 8:44 am

Back in 2005 “[t]he national science academies of the G8 nations and Brazil, China and India, three of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world, … signed a statement on the global response to climate change.”

The document calls on national leaders to recognize that climate change is real, reduce the causes of climate change (greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere), and prepare for the consequences of climate change.

Note that this statement was issued well before the Fourth Assessment Review of the IPCC, which stated that: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melt- ing of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”

R.K. February 23, 2009 at 9:07 am

The petroleum geologists point reminds me of the Upton Sinclair line quoted by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth:”

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

In this case, the future of the whole field depends on either the scientific consensus being wrong or its consequences being ignored.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

Knowledge about the nature of greenhouse gasses has existed since John Tyndall published the results of his experiments in 1859; the first calculations of what effect human greenhouse gas emissions would have on the planetary system were conducted by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.

When it comes to the way in which adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere increases the amount of energy retained by the planet, what scientists are doing now is producing observational evidence to confirm very old theories.

When it comes to anthropogenic climate change, both of the requirements listed in this comment are increasingly indisputably met.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 10:25 am

I should have restricted my question to just “climatologists”.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

I think a climatologist who denied:

(a) that greenhouse gasses cause planetary warming
(b) that such warming has been observed or
(c) that human activities are the primary cause of increased GHG concentrations

would get laughed out of their university department or research institute.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 10:39 am

(a) is very easy to test. Fill a tube with different mixtures of gasses, shine sunlight through it, and examine how much infrared light is emitted back out of the tube in each case

(b) can be easily demonstrated using data from ground stations, balloons, and satellites around the world. You can also look at glaciers, arctic ice, etc

(c) is a basic chemical necessity. No competent scientist could fail to understand that burning coal, oil, natural gas, and forests releases carbon dioxide.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 11:19 am

If it is really this simple, why wasn’t there total scientific consensus fifty years earlier?

I believe that as a component of total CO2 emissions, human production is something like one or two percent. It’s easy to understand why some people might infer that large increases in total greenhouse gases might be caused by shifts in natural patterns rather than human patters. It seems more intuitively likely to me that human caused climate change is more a result of the effects of human industry on natural cycles, rather than simply the direct production of greenhouse gas by those industries. Isn’t the whole game about the cyclical and counter cyclical effects? I.e. which cycles mitigate and which cycles exacerbate the warming?

A, B, and C, are not really what I meant. A scientist could believe A B and C and still not think we need to act, because they might believe that the effect humans have on global warming to be quite slight and unimportant. Someone might even believe that global warming is caused by non-human cycles, but that humans need to mitigate it if they want to survive – this person would probably advocate the “nuclear winter” style solution.

. February 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm

‘Natural emissions dwarf human emissions’

Objection: According to the IPCC, 150 billion tonnes of carbon go into the atmosphere from natural processes every year. This is almost 30 times the amount of carbon humans emit. What difference can we make?

Answer: It’s true that natural fluxes in the carbon cycle are much larger than anthropogenic emissions. But for roughly the last 10,000 years, until the industrial revolution, every gigatonne of carbon going into the atmosphere was balanced by one coming out.

What humans have done is alter one side of this cycle. We put approximately 6 gigatonnes of carbon into the air but, unlike nature, we are not taking any out.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 12:12 pm

People disagree on all sorts of things, while not questioning points (a) (b) and (c) above. For instance:

  1. Does it cost more to mitigate or adapt?
  2. How much does mitigation cost?
  3. What atmospheric concentration of CO2 equivalent is safe?
  4. Is runaway climate change possible? If so, when would it start?
  5. Will technology basically solve the problem without government intervention?
  6. Are we better off geoengineering?
  7. Who should pay for mitigation? Adaptation?

Each of these, and many more questions, arguably speaks more to the question of “How should we respond to climate change?” rather than “What is the nature of climate change?”

Isn’t the whole game about the cyclical and counter cyclical effects? I.e. which cycles mitigate and which cycles exacerbate the warming?

Both positive and negative feedback cycles are certainly important.

That being said, we have identified lots of positive feedback cycles (loss of arctic ice, permafrost, warming oceans absorbing less CO2, etc) while negative feedbacks are fewer and much more tentative (more plant growth due to higher CO2 concentrations).

I don’t think serious climate scientists believe that negative feedbacks will overpower the effects of future emissions and the operation of positive feedbacks.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 12:20 pm

But this is exactly my question – not are there any climatologists who deny global warming, but are there any who don’t think we should/need to do anything about it.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm

(i) How we should respond to climate change is a question that is informed by scientific information, but which is not itself scientific.

(ii) While I have not read the book above, the reviews and Amazon page suggest that it questions the science, not the rationale for action. The Amazon page reads like a list of climate change denier talking points: the hockey stick graph, lack of signal in Antarctica, etc. Many of them are specifically addressed in the Grist.org series listed in a comment above.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm

The IPCC 4AR says this about feedbacks:

“Future warming would tend to reduce the capacity of the Earth system (land and ocean) to absorb anthropogenic CO2. As a result, an increasingly large fraction of anthropogenic CO2 would stay in the atmosphere under a warmer climate. This feedback requires reductions in the cumulative emissions consistent with stabilisation at a given atmospheric CO2 level compared to the hypothetical case of no such feedback. The higher the stabilisation scenario, the larger the amount of climate change and the larger the required reductions.”

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I don’t think that my question is really that complex. I mean, of course you can say that how we respond to global warming is not a scientific question, but this misses the point. If you were a Scientist who was arguing that climate change is not going to cause significant problems, that we don’t need to act on it is technically a “political” extension of that, but in every meaningful way it’s included in the original “factual” assertion.

I’m not asking about the concensus. I’m asking if there are any individual climatologists not just who disagree with the consensus, but who believe those facts whose logical extension is that we don’t need to act.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Is there some special reason why the opinions of climate scientists matter more than those of others, given that the question of whether and how we should act is not fundamentally climatological?

As Richard Feynman said: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”

Milan February 23, 2009 at 1:56 pm

The only way to answer your questions is with surveys. Some have been done, though all surveys are problematic.

It is hard to identify who ought to be polled, and it is very hard to phase multiple-choice questions in a manner that will be interpreted in the same way by everyone: especially if they include subjective terms like ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’

Milan February 23, 2009 at 1:59 pm

It is worth noting that it is entirely possible to be an expert climatologist while knowing very little about the sources of anthropogenic emissions, patterns of technological development, economics, the nature of government policy-making, etc.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 2:39 pm

The reasons we should act are in a sense climatological. The reasons we should act are factual changes to the environment. Of course, we only care about those facts because they will affect human life. Still, the things which will affect human life are material changes, so, isn’t this exactly what is studied?

Milan February 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Climatologists are the best people to answer this question:

“Given X change in emissions, what physical consequences can we expect?”

They cannot answer this question alone: “At what level should we stabilize emissions?” Nor: “How much cost should we accept in exchange for a higher probability of successful mitigation?”

Climate change policy development requires the combination of many types of expertise with the legitimacy required to mandate potentially costly actions.

Emily February 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Talking in circles, I like to use highly technical terms to, in order that my point gets lost somewhere in the middle, flummox and expurgate any possible simplicity in what would (otherwise, in the way of ‘the other’ and ‘being’) be a rather, that is to say, singularly, in the sense of ‘singularity’ or ‘one-ness apart from another thing’ quite a simple statement, or sentiment.

. February 23, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Will progress in climatology affect mitigation policy? Not very much, no.
Friday, February 20, 2009

It can be argued that climatology is not an important input into climate change related policy. It is premature to take climatological input into account in adaptation strategy, while on the other hand as far as mitigation goes (i.e., on the global scale) the picture has pretty much stayed about the same for some substantial time.

Many readers will find this peculiar. Certain sorts of denialists are arguing that the tide has turned against the IPCC consensus over the last couple of years. With regard to that, nothing has changed; they have been making similar statements for twenty years. Certain sorts of alarmists meanwhile are emphasizing how things have gotten so much worse, but again these sorts of claims are nothing new. The fact is that things are pretty much about as bad as we have thought for a long time, except on the sea level rise front, where relatively new insights into ice sheet dynamics and new data about sudden postglacial sea livel rise in the past raise the possibility of rapid changes in sea level.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Milan, I may be mistaken, but I feel my question from the beginning has been simple and that it’s been avoided.

““Given X change in emissions, what physical consequences can we expect?”

Exactly – my question is “are there any climatologists that believe given the change in emissions projected in the “do nothing” scenario, that no significant physical consequences can be expected – i.e. not necessarily no warming, but no physical consequences that are detrimental to humans.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Not that I know of.

Of course, a lot rides on how you define ‘climatologist.’

Quite probably, you could find someone who calls themselves a climatologist and believes warming will be benign. I doubt you could find such a person who is respected in the field.

In any case, it is absurd to look at the comprehensive work of the IPCC and ask whether there is a single supposedly qualified person who claims to disagree.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 7:47 pm

There may be climatologists who think the ‘do nothing’ scenario, in the sense of government policy, will nevertheless mean strong mitigation action.

If you have particular beliefs about how technology and society develop, you might think that people do not need government action to coordinate their individual mitigation responses.

It’s not a position you or I are likely to find credible, but it’s one a climatologist who is simultaneously naive about politics might hold.

There may also be climatologists who think we will run out of fossil fuel before we can cause dangerous climate change.

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm

“In any case, it is absurd to look at the comprehensive work of the IPCC and ask whether there is a single supposedly qualified person who claims to disagree.”

Why – it seems you are changing sides on the “consensus means you are not a scientist if you disagree” debate? My position was always, what it means for their to be a consensus is for it to be the case that if someone disagrees they are not taken seriously. So, do you think that anyone who disagrees that climate change will cause noticeable changes will just be immediately rejected?

Tristan February 23, 2009 at 11:46 pm

“There may also be climatologists who think we will run out of fossil fuel before we can cause dangerous climate change.”

This is exactly the kind of question I’ve been trying to ask – are there climatologists who hold positions like this and are taken seriously, i.e. are eligible for national science foundation grants.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 11:53 pm

I’m sorry, but I don’t see how these are important questions.

Climatologists aren’t god-wizards with all the answers. They are specialists who contribute in an important way to climate change policy-making.

Our focus ought to be on dealing with the dangers that have been comprehensively and authoritatively identified – not quibbling over obscure academic matters while the world burns.

Milan February 23, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Again, I am led to wonder whether: “This may be a situation where having training in philosophy makes you a bit useless for actually dealing with real-world problems.”

Emily February 24, 2009 at 12:20 am

Tristan,

There is an Ottawa University professor that lectured at U of T recently, Denis G. Rancourt, who “is critical of the environmental movement for having been largely coopted into the “global warming dominant threat myth”

http://www.science.uottawa.ca/~dgr/

I also had a guest lecturer in my earth and ocean science course at UBC who was determined that the flucuations in temperature were not aided significantly by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and was convinced that what we describe as abnormalities are likely natural flucuations. Also, that it was a trend that would stabilize in the near future.

I don’t remember his exact reasoning (he pointed to the lack of historical evidence we have to look back on for temperature and weather changes), but he was a professor who received funding for his research.

Universities are still businesses. It is possible that there are many interested parties who are happy to contribute funding for differing results.

Med schools often have lots of pharmaceutical companies happy to provide free samples, dinners and incentive for particular research focuses.

Milan February 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

According to professor Rancourt’s page, he is “an activist, anarchist, and critical pedagogue.”

He has a blog that claims to be a “unique radical analysis of the global warming social phenomenon.”

All in all, none of it looks too credible.

Tristan February 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

Milan, I’m a bit offended at your continual dismissal, and then deriding of this question. I’ve not been trying to say it’s an important question, it’s just something I was wondering, and I find a bit interesting. I think lots of people on the street would like to know whether the Scientific consensus about global warming is literally every respectable climatologist, or just 95% of respected climatologists, or even just 99.5% of respected climatologists. People are interested in dissenting voices, and their reasons for opposition. And people are specifically interested, I reckon, at whether ever dissenting voice left is only funded by special interest groups, or whether there are still dissenting voices funded by mainstream organizations. And, whether if so, those mainstream institutions are simply funding them because they themselves have become corrupted by specific interest.

If there does exist this tiny minority of dissenting climatologists, that doesn’t, in my view, change how we should act at all. It’s just really interesting to me, and my interest in the sociology of scientific knowledge. And I thought you’d be the most likely person to have come across an answer to this question. Does every question I ask have to be directly at a real world problem? If that’s your standard, then your dismissal of the middle east and macro economics as boring fails to meet it – those issues are as “real world problem like” as they get.

Milan February 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

If you followed the link I posted back here, you saw the only studies I know of that have been done on what proportion of climatologists believe what.

That being said, and as I said above, there are issues of survey methodology to consider.

Does every question I ask have to be directly at a real world problem? If that’s your standard, then your dismissal of the middle east and macro economics as boring fails to meet it – those issues are as “real world problem like” as they get.

I didn’t say the problems were boring. I said the discussions were boring. ‘Intolerable’ would also have been a suitable adjective.

R.K. February 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

If you want this site to be more focused on solving real-world issues, it should be more activist and less of a discussion.

At the very least, you could encourage people to write to newspapers and politicians, as well as doing so yourself.

Emily February 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm

I agree that change requires active momentum that departs from discussion, but I’m not sure that writing to newspapers would be any more effective than regularly keeping a focused blog. Why read the opinions filtered through a newspaper editor, when you filter opinions yourself online?

Also, if you read that there’s a 1/11 chance that we’ll be obliterated by 2100, and are still unmoved to write a letter yourself without someone prodding you to, it is unlikely that you would even if they were.

Tristan February 25, 2009 at 11:48 pm

I fail to see what does not look credible about Rancourt’s site. The mere fact he disagrees does not make him de facto uncredible.

The fact that he’s an anarchist doesn’t make him un-credible either. I think anarchist is probably the only serious political position conceptually available to us right now. (Communism is too statist, liberalism is the defense of the wealthy elite against the masses, fascism fails to value freedom enough, etc..)

The fact that he’s a full professor gives him some credibility. However, it looks like all of his published work is on geoscience, and he only has an interest in the carbon cycle. This makes him not really conform to what I was looking for, a full blown respected climatologist who radically disagrees with the consensus. However, this is still interesting.

Milan February 26, 2009 at 11:30 am

If you want this site to be more focused on solving real-world issues, it should be more activist and less of a discussion.

In theory, I agree. Do you have any ideas about how to do this?

I’m not sure that writing to newspapers would be any more effective than regularly keeping a focused blog.

I think I mostly preach to the converted here. To some extent, writing posts that Google picks up is useful. At the same time, it does seem like there ought to be more effective ways of personally making a difference about climate change than blogging.

Tristan February 26, 2009 at 4:24 pm

“it does seem like there ought to be more effective ways of personally making a difference about climate change than blogging.”

It does seem that way, but I can’t think of any. I’m going to make it my days thinking-project to come up with at least one good idea, and then post it here.

Milan February 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

You could strongly encourage home-owning families and friends to install insulation and weather-stripping, them help them do so on the weekends.

If you help with one place per month, and keep it up for a few years, you could prevent the emission of many tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Tristan February 26, 2009 at 4:54 pm

That’s true – I should probably start with my own house. The basement exterior walls should definitely be insulated, and one of our doors has weather stripping which was improperly installed such that it is totally ineffective.

Milan February 26, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Plastic window insulation also seems worthwhile in this climate.

It comes in kits, with sheets that you affix to the edges of the window frame. Once it is stuck in place, you shrink it into a smooth sheet with a hair dryer. The air trapped between the window and the sheet provides the insulation, since convection won’t move it around the room.

It’s probably not as a good as a fancy new triple-pane window, but using it in the winter for many years is probably cheaper than buying the latter.
I will definitely install some next year, if I am living in the same flat.

Magictofu February 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Stanley Fish wrote about Denis Rancourt in two of his recent NYTimes columns:

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/the-last-professor/

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/the-two-languages-of-academic-freedom/

From what I have been reading on him after reading these two articles, he’s clearly a nutcase. I’m sorry to be so blunt about it.

Tristan February 27, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I tried, I couldn’t come up with an idea. However, I think the idea that you put forward, Milan, actually is very good. I don’t think it falls into the trap of being too individualistic (i.e. I’ll do my part and if everyone else does the same as me, totally independently, which one can almost guarantee won’t happen, we’ll be fine). Nor does it fall into the trap of being pure organization, pure “standing on the side of the street collecting money for greenpeace”, or “lightbulb education campaign” – in other words, totally devoid of actual activity.

But what I like most about it is that it doesn’t remain within the cost-efficiency rubrick. Rather, as I understand it, the idea is to encourage friends and family to install insulating measures, and help them do it, not just because it saves money, or etc…, but because it’s just the right thing to do. And because it’s not gathered into a small business model (sorry Emily), you have no personal interest in always being the one doing it, it’s perfectly alright, could be a goal even, of through one’s own activity of encouragement and helping out, other people will start encouraging and helping out.

In other words, this stays within a kind of social encouragement through activity logic, rather than “change social structures by beating morality into people’s heads”, or, “start a small business so you can profit at the same time as saving the planet”. I think it’s really a failure of our everyday efficiency-oriented way of thinking that we can almost always pose social problems only as epistemic problems, i.e. problems of education. And, we can pose potential activities only through business-like, self-interested models where the first questions are “how much does weather stripping cost” and “how will you pay for it” and “wholesale discount” etc…

Milan February 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm

But what I like most about it is that it doesn’t remain within the cost-efficiency rubrick.

The fact that the insulation is cost-efficient is what makes it appealing. The offer of assistance in installing it is what takes it from ‘appealing’ to ‘immediately implementable.’

People often know what is right for themselves, but need a bit of urging to actually do it.

Tristan March 1, 2009 at 3:15 am

This “urging” is exactly the aspect of the idea that doesn’t simply appeal to efficiency – it appeals to how humans actually think, which is imperfect, irrational. Human.

Milan March 1, 2009 at 11:08 am

If you want to figure out which mechanisms let you appeal to the irrational side of people, your spam folder is a good place to start.

. March 2, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Why you should believe the IPCC, part 134,992,653
The ideological tensions inside the IPCC gives its reports alarming credibility
Posted by Andrew Dessler (Guest Contributor) at 6:59 PM on 01 Mar 2009

People who argue that the IPCC is an “alarmist” body forget that virtually all of the world’s governments belong to it. Thus, governments that don’t want to do anything about climate change have just as much input to the report as countries that do.

This tension between the ideological factions of the IPCC actually gives the reports credibility. Only statements that everyone agrees to make it into the report. A few countries that object to some result can keep it out of the report. This is, in fact, why the IPCC process was designed this way.

This is why some people argue that the actual science of climate change is more alarming than that revealed in the IPCC reports. In any event, if you read the IPCC reports and find it alarming, then you can have great confidence that your alarm is warranted.

Milan March 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm

This article suggests that at least some climatologists deny the scientific concensus on anthropogenic climate change:

“Gathered here for their second annual International Conference on Climate Change at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, dozens of climatologists, geologists, economists and experts of various stripes are for the most part touting their familiar arguments against limiting industrial activity to fight climate change. Many are issuing new scientific findings that they say strengthen the argument that solar cycle variations — and not accumulating CO2 — are the chief cause of the recent warming trends.”

Milan March 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm
Milan March 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

The University of Ottawa seems especially well-endowed with climate change deniers. They have a hydrogeologist (Ian Clark), an oceanographer (Tad Murty), and an environmental geochemist (Jan Veizer).

All three apparently believe that global warming is primarily caused by natural processes.

. March 10, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Weatherization nation
What can families do to reduce home energy use?
Posted by biodiversivist

Here’s my list of weatherized add-ons:

1. Reroute gas-furnace-air-intake ducts to draw warm air from heated space rather than basement.
2. Install R-21 insulation in unheated basement ceiling (which is the floor of the first story).
3. Design and build moveable pop-in insulated shutters for all first floor windows.
4. Keep upstairs doors to bedrooms and bath closed during day.
5. Install R-11 in stairwell wall that leads from unheated basement.
6. Weather-strip door from basement to house.
7. Install insulated door on laundry chute.
8. Install insulated damper in fireplace.

Tristan March 10, 2009 at 6:32 pm

While I’m personally interested in knowing whether or not humans caused climate change, the mere fact of whether or not humans caused climate change is only contingently related to the need for political action.

If climate change is not caused by humans, but humans can reduce/prevent it’s effects by producing less C02 – they they should do it, not because of some love of natural stability, but because the effects of climate change will be bad for humans.

The only reason, I think, that rationally we should care about whether climate change is not human caused is insofar as that changes our understanding of how to mitigate it.

Is that fair?

Milan March 10, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Pragmatic knowledge is certainly the sort that can be put to work immediately, but it isn’t the only kind that is important in the long term.

Your argument is like saying the only reason for which it is good for a pilot to understand fluid dynamics is so that they can land the plane. In the longer term, such knowledge could be valuable for all sorts of reasons.

Given that our whole civilization will remain on this planet for the indefinite future, understanding how climate works and what affects it has an importance that goes beyond our current greenhouse gas emissions – even if that is the most urgent area of activity right now.

Milan March 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Also, those who agree about anthropogenic climate change have a coherent model about how the climate system works. It is incomplete, certainly, but largely joined up.

Those who question anthropogenic climate change have no such coherent model: some say it’s not happening, others that sunspots cause it, others that cosmic rays cause it, etc.

The former worldview puts us in a position to take sensible mitigation actions; the latter leaves us paralyzed, for lack of guidance.

In short, the causes of climate change matter. That goes for both the genuine causes of long-term natural climate change (orbital variations, continental drift, etc) and for the causes of short-term anthropogenic climate change.

Magictofu March 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I agree with Tristan that it is not necessary to know the cause to act… However, it allows us to relate to the issue on another moral level and, accordingly, many would use that knowledge to rightfully play on accountability and guilt to incite people to action.

Milan March 10, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I continue to disagree. Understanding the cause is important.

If the cause is sunspots or cosmic rays, how can we act to deal with them?

Magictofu March 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Milan, understanding the cause is important but not necessary. You don’t need to know what caused a fire to extinguish it but knowing what caused it will help you prevent it from happening again and probably help you do a better job at putting it down.

Milan March 10, 2009 at 9:03 pm

You realize that, if it is caused by cosmic rays or voodoo or homosexuality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not help, right?

Either it is caused by GHG emissions or it is not.

Magictofu March 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Well if it is caused by voodoo but that homeopathy can alleviate its effect, it does not really matter whether you go on a witch hunt or force people to swallow diluted substances. And considering the potential effects should be sufficient to act.

That being said, I have to admit that this discussion leeds nowhere. Climate change is caused by anthopogenic GHG emissions. The rest is purely philosophical and self-congratulatory and has no relevance to the issue itself.

Tristan March 11, 2009 at 12:49 am

I don’t see why my view is controversial – all I mean is that knowledge of the cause is only important insofar as knowledge of the cause aids us with the effects.

If climate change is caused by voodoo, that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t mitigate it by reducing emissions, I don’t think. Just because we aren’t the things causing the imbalance, doesn’t mean we couldn’t alter the imbalance by doing something.

However – and this is just an intuition – if it turned out climate change was not anthropogenic, it might make more sense to consider the really scary ideas like building mirrors or increasing particulates in the high atmosphere.

Milan March 11, 2009 at 9:04 am

In addition to the issues I raise above, your view is a pointless retreat from sound knowledge.

We know with absolute certainty that we have released large amounts of greenhouse gasses by burning fossil fuels, making cement, and altering land use. We also know that greenhouse gasses prevent some infrared radiation from radiating from the Earth into space. We know that this causes warming.

Understanding the cause is also important in relation to the moral and political questions in producing international climate change agreements.

Historical responsibility for emissions is a key moral issue, when it comes to deciding who should pay the costs associated with mitigating climate change. If it was caused by voodoo, all the coal burning in Britain and the US isn’t morally relevant; nor is the construction of coal plants in China.

Milan March 11, 2009 at 9:34 am

These aren’t guesses that stand or fall on the basis of one new data point. Taking, for example, the increasing concentration of CO2. Evidence supporting this includes:

1) Direct measurements, as carried out in Hawaii, Canada, and elsewhere.

2) Changed isotopic ratios of environmental carbon (because unstable isotopes in fossil fuels have decayed).

3) Bubbles in ice in Antarctica and elsewhere.

4) Changing ocean acidity.

5) Changes in the structure of plants (for instance, the number of stomata in them).

6) Spectroscopic measurements of the atmosphere from space.

7) The inescapable chemical fact that burning coal, oil, and methane in air generates carbon dioxide.

Etc.

Just waving away this kind of data (and the work it represents) as a philosophical hypothetical seems disrespectful as well as inappropriate.

. March 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Is the Science Settled Enough for Policy?
By nola on Science

A lecture on global warming given by Professor Stephen Schneider at Stanford University Professor Schneider discusses the pitfalls of presenting scientific ideas on global warming to the public.

. March 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

24 March 2009
With all due respect…

More interestingly is what is not cited. President Obama’s statement “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear”, can’t possibly refer to every issue in science or every potential fact. Instead he is likely referring to the basic and pretty much uncontested facts that i) CO2 and other greenhouse gases have increased due to human activity. CO2 emissions in particular continue to increase at a rapid rate; ii) the effect of these gases is to warm the climate and it is very likely that most of the warming over the last 50 years was in fact driven by these increases; and iii) the sensitivity of the climate is very likely large enough that serious consequences can be expected if carbon emissions continue on this path.

Instead this is a classic red-herring: Ignore the facts you don’t dispute, pick some others that are ambiguous and imply that, because they are subject to some debate, we therefore know nothing. Michaels (and Cato) presumably thinks this kind of nonsense is politically useful and he may be correct. But should he claim it is scientifically defensible, we would have to answer:

“With all due respect, Dr. Michaels, that is not true.”

. March 30, 2009 at 5:13 pm

A potentially useful book – Lies, Damn lies & Science

According to a recent article in Eos (Doran and Zimmermann, ‘Examining the Scientific consensus on Climate Change’, Volume 90, Number 3, 2009; p. 22-23 – only available for AGU members), about 58% of the general public in the US thinks that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing the mean global temperature, as opposed to 97% of specialists surveyed. The disproportion between these numbers is a concern, and one possible explanation may be that the science literacy among the general public is low. Perhaps Sherry Seethaler’s new book ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science’ can be a useful contribution in raising the science literacy?

The book is about science in general and about how science often is miscommunicated in the media. It addresses a range of issues, such as how statistics often is misused, how scientific progress is made in general, that the ‘scientific method’ is not always as straightforward as one might like to think, the influence of stake-holders, the importance of knowing the context of the research, relationships between science and policy, and ploys designed to bypass logic. Many of the points made in the book are probably well known for the RC readership – albeit used in different situations to the case studies discussed in the book. There is also some discussion about AGW, amongst other subjects.

. April 24, 2009 at 11:26 am

23 April 09
When Deniers Deny Their Own

The Global Climate Coalition (how’s that for an Orwellian name?), an industry-funded group that spent years vehemently contesting any evidence linking anthropogenic activity to climate change, found itself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting its own experts’ recommendations when they reached the inevitable conclusion that the contribution of manmade greenhouse gas emissions to climate change “could not be refuted.”

That’s right: even the scientists that these companies had consistently trotted out to discredit the findings of the IPCC could no longer deny the truth when faced with the hard facts. They acknowledged as much in an internal report released in 1995 in which they stated unequivocably that: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

The advisory committee that authored the 17-page report may have disagreed with the IPCC’s conclusion that anthropogenic activities were warming the climate, but that did not mean that it hewed to the skeptic line. Indeed, though it recognized that “the contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes,” it dismissed them as unpersuasive at best – plainly stating that “they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change.”

When confronted with this frank assessment, the leadership of the Global Climate Coalition did the only reasonable thing: drop the offending passages and expunge the report’s existence from the public record.

. April 27, 2009 at 11:01 am

Quit arguing with douchebags that everyone hates

Posted 7:59 AM on 26 Apr 2009
by David Roberts

The rational response to this landscape would be to spend time arguing—and displaying real confidence—that the transition will in fact be good for the entire country; that industrial states will benefit as well; that the nation will be stronger, safer, and more prosperous as a result of action. It is the waverers and nervous nellies who need attention and persuasion.

Instead, progressive media types and activists spend a wildly disproportionate amount of time running around like their hair’s on fire every time a wingnut goes on cable news or writes an op-ed saying ridiculous things. Every time Newt Gingrich or Marc Morano or Joe Barton says something stupid, green bloggers start holding strategy sessions and freaking out about how to pressure this or that media outlet to repudiate the comments. They write more about, and to, the 35% than they do the 65%.

This makes them—and the forces of climate action generally—look defensive and brittle and jumpy. It gives the wingnuttery they’re responding to more credibility and oxygen than it would otherwise have. After all, if the people who want action think these arguments are worth so much time …

Progressives need to get it through they’re heads that they won. They’re in charge; they hold the levers of power. They understand the nation’s problems and are proposing credible solutions. They should feel a sense of momentum and optimism and confidence. That feeling is contagious. It’s what draws people in and soothes their fears. It’s what broadens a movement and creates social capital.

Quit arguing with douchebags that everyone hates, part two

Milan November 23, 2009 at 3:06 pm

I’m asking if there are any individual climatologists not just who disagree with the consensus, but who believe those facts whose logical extension is that we don’t need to act.

This is from James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming:

Scientific American toom a random sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories [of the Oregon Petition] claiming to hold a Ph.D in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition – one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers – a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.

None of the “200 climate researchers” had ever published and refereed research that supported their supposed skepticism, but apparently they still felt strongly enough to sign the petition.

The Oregon petition has come up here before.

R.K. November 23, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I don’t understand the second paragraph in that quote.

Did Scientific American first guess that there would be 200, based on their sample of 30 of the 1,400, and subsequently go on to actually identify 200 specific people from the full list?

If not, how did they know that none of them published any research? And if they did go through all 1,400, why didn’t they provide those statistics instead of those based on the sample of 30?

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