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  1. Answer is pretty simple Gavin. Many journalists don’t believe in facts, just
    opinions. I recently did a radio interview (over the phone) with our independent
    Government funded public broadcaster (the ABC). During the
    interview I said that livestock was Australia’s largest climate forcing.
    The interview was then very quickly wound up. I rang the journalist/interviewer
    back a couple of days later and the conversation went roughly like this.

    Me: “Why did you wind up the interview so quickly, was it because you
    didn’t believe what I said about livestock?”

    Journo: “That’s your opinion and I’ve heard others give a similar opinion”.

    Me: “But do you believe its true, do I need to send you all the information required to verify my claim”

    Journo: “That’s your opinion, you are entitled to it”

    Me: “But do you think that what I’m saying is true or false?”

    Journo: “You are entitled to your opinion.”

    Me: … we went on like this for a while but it became obvious that he
    wasn’t going to be drawn into discussion of the validity of
    my claim.

    About a week later I had a similar phone call, but this time
    with a senior print journalist. He came within a whisker of
    saying there are no facts, just opinions.

    Comment by Geoff Russell — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:06 PM

  2. Gavin
    Very good post. One note, and you are probably aware of this, but in case you are
    not, Debra Saunders’ article in the SF Chronicle was NOT an “oped” article. She is
    a fulltime reporter/columnist at the SFC, so it is more correct to label
    that article as a “column”. An “oped” piece, literally, opposite page from the edtorial page,
    but now meaning any “commentary” by some expert or freelance writer, is
    not the same thing as a “column”. So your headline above should read “Why
    don’t newspaper columns get fact-checked?” It’s a good question, yes. Great post, sir!

    btw, my global warming lawsuit at the ICC continues to gather steam via a new
    Reuters “blog” post here: And lots of hate mail coming in, too. From the skeptics…

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:07 PM

  3. Why dont people trust newspapers? Because journos are clueless and only writing what the editor thinks will sell copy. Why would you even considering believing what you read in the paper?

    To journos (and editors) that try – they have another problem. They get a “fact” from one place – how do they check? Well their only recourse on anything vaguely tecnical from horse-racing to science is go to an authority? What is “authorities” dont agree? Given the skeptical nature of science, with anything topical there will somewhere be a scientist with a contrary view. Bellamy? Well he was on TV doing documentaries when editor was a kid – must be a reliable authority. Or more often – this authority goes with what editor wants to believe is right so accept that one.

    Democracy really relies on having an informed electorate – there must be a better way but beats me as to what.

    Comment by Phil Scadden — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:12 PM

  4. In contrast, today’s Sacramento Bee front page headline is, “Sierra Nevada climate changes feed monster, forest-devouring fires.” by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Knudson.

    Some interesting quotes:

    “I don’t envision sand dunes like the Sahara,” said Mike Yost, a retired forestry professor from Taylorsville. “But I can envision places where there aren’t going to be forests again in many human lifetimes and in some places, maybe never.”

    “You will always be left wondering: Is the tree I am planting today going to be able to survive the climate of the future?” said Mike Landram, reforestation manager for the Forest Service in California. “That will be a lingering question.”

    “Current estimates indicate that western forests are responsible for 20 to 40 percent of total U.S. carbon sequestration. If wildfire trends continue … the forests may become a source of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than a (reservoir).” [Anthony Westerling]

    “Maybe in the drying climate, it doesn’t come back as forest,” [Leah] Wills said. “Maybe the Great Basin desert, which is mainly grassland and sage, is moving west.”

    “To quote ‘Star Trek,’ we are going where no man has gone before – where no plant community has gone before.” [Malcom North]

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:34 PM

  5. Gavin, the sad fact is that the implosion of bipartisan engagement on science policy stems from the disappearance of science editors from the mastheads of the very few Republican must reads that ever had them to begin with .

    The Wall Street Journal never replaced Jerry Bishop, and let its weekly Science Journal section wither away, while The Weekly Standard , Human Events The American Spectator and National Review have undergone a sort of orbital decay into resonance with the party line of The Discovery Institute .

    Just how far gone the situation is can be gauged from encounters with the worthies who edit theses publications . Those who have written reams about science more or less weekly have too often never laid hands on a copy of the eponymous weekly journal, let alone a copy of Nature , and it is touching to see their expressions vary and their lips move as they first examine these alien journalistic life forms .

    They seldom like what they see or read but still, one tries —

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:36 PM

  6. I write for a student newspaper, and have done some articles relating to energy policy and climate change, arctic ice extent, and am currently working on one related to a recent Science paper discovering evidence of mid-latitude glaciation on Mars. Although we are not professional journalists, we do get distributed as much as some, and are held to rigorous standards as far as quality and accuracy of content.

    Still, as the only one on the staff with a decent understanding of environmental and climate topics, I could make up a bunch of stuff or cite erroneous or “cherry-picked” facts and it would easily pass through the editing process (who have a primary concern for structure and clarity). In fact, in making claims outside everyday knowledge, my editors are simply looking or a quote from at least an apparently reputable source. While “easy-to-find” facts such as how many electoral votes Obama received are once in a while corrected, the facts for some more complex stuff is up to me to find, and my editors are not going to be sifting through peer-reviewed papers and websites like GISS to make sure my numbers are right. They, and the readers, essentially have to trust that I cited a proper source and did not misrepresent the source.

    I have a responsibility to do such, and if erroneous information is pointed out after publication, the newpaper takes responsiblity and loses credibility to the wider readership. Opinion pieces are different than actual covering of stories, but still, keep in mind that *real* news outlets are seeking the facts and portraying them in an honest manner (and in fact make that a highest priority). The very reputation of that source depends on quality coverage.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:40 PM

  7. This is the fault of the editor and publisher. It is a long chain of sequential mis-judgments. The editor allowed this publication.

    The publisher is beholden to their big revenue source – print advertising. And much of that advertising is for high carbon fuel items – mostly cars but other consumer goods too. The publisher is only protecting their interests by encouraging or allowing such journalistic dreck.

    They are promoting their short term goals even if they are contrary to our long term interests.

    Nothing changes unless there is money to be made, or money to be lost.

    We could complain to the publisher, but I prefer to complain to some of their larger advertisers. No matter what they are selling, they don’t want to hear that we will not be reading their newspaper because of inept and unfair coverage.

    Comment by rpauli — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:43 PM

  8. Obviously some news outlets have political and philosophical agendas that screen and distort what is reported and how it is reported (e.g. Fox News). That is acceptable in terms of supporting free speech in a democratic system of government but it is incorrect and naive to assume that their objective is to impartially report the news.

    In Australia, our national newspaper has a similar approach to climate change as the Wall Street Journal in the US and has delighted in running ongoing contrarian arguments, including last weekend (29 November) by a staff reporter John Stapleton, “Cold snap fails to cool protagonists of global warming”:,25197,24723425-11949,00.html.

    The paper ran a related editorial piece continuing to sow confusion and doubt:,25197,24722322-16382,00.html.

    Comment by Chris McGrath — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:50 PM

  9. The NY Times, PBS, (BBC for the most part) and the ABC-NBC news networks are accurate most of the time and dig deeper into the facts and report the opinions in a fair and balanced manner. I watch Charlie Rose, Brian Williams, and read the Economist and NY Times from cover to cover and they really do care about facts. Having said this, sometimes even they interview people with extreme and rare views, sometimes experts not in consensus and sometimes people who are not experts in a given field and this is one way even these reputable news mediums can distort things. Also there was a scandal at the NY Times a few years ago with a brilliant young writer who made up the news at it suited him and sensationalized marginal world events into a fictional story. PBS is the best programming in the world, but they are not infallible and they are actually over funded and not in need of public funding, but this does not change the fact that they report on global climate change and other world events impeccably.

    The Economist is fair to both republicans and democrats, but shows how alternative energy sources are economically feasible and rewarding and how the science of climatology is progressing.

    Comment by jcbmack — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:55 PM

  10. I also recall the tobacco industry fiasco highlighted in the true to life movie, “The Insider,” and where even Wallace refused to report all the facts; money and politics Gavin, difficult to overcome special interests when they can buy and sell whole industries 20 times over.

    Comment by jcbmack — 30 Nov 2008 @ 8:58 PM

  11. Russell, I enjoyed your blog, just read it.

    Comment by jcbmack — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  12. “I don’t envision sand dunes like the Sahara,” said Mike Yost, a retired forestry professor from Taylorsville. “But I can envision places where there aren’t going to be forests again in many human lifetimes and in some places, maybe never.”

    Is that one of the experts who predicted that the forests around Mt. St. Helens would not recover for 200 years after the eruption? Give me a break.

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:05 PM

  13. Gavin.
    Excellent post.I have read every single issue of the Chronicle here in San Francisco, since 1992, when I moved here from Boston. Each and every thing that Debra Saunders writes is chock full of inaccuracies and outright misstatement of facts. Her writing is often nothing more than right wing diatribe, and her pieces on Global Warming are not worth the co2 used to create the paper they are printed on. Excellent post.
    Mark J. Fiore

    Comment by Mark J.Fiore — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:09 PM

  14. I hope you edited your post into a LTE to the San Francisco Chronicle. Saunders has written many such idiotic pieces that I’ve suffered through as a subscriber (and responded to). I took heart in the fact that she seemed to have moved on recently, but now she’s back. She seeks scientific “findings” she likes to present an opinion that gets her readership, and like most of her colleagues has no appreciation for the scientific process.

    I just had a go round with a reporter from San Diego, who wrote a piece about the San Diego Foundation’s recent study on the future of San Diego as climate changes. (
    He felt the need to quote Gary Sharp that temperature changes are all just due to the urban heat island effect because “as long as there are skeptics in the scientific community we will quote them.” I explained to him that why Sharp’s claim is preposterous, but it was clear this reporter could not differentiate real scientific debate from blather if it struck him in the face.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see many journalists capable of fact checking their own work. Since the reporters rarely have much time to do story, I think our only chance is to continue to serve as knowledgeable sources for honest reporters while knowing that hacks like Saunders don’t want to learn.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (disclosure: I am a member of the UCS Board) published a book by their media director and a science reporter that may be of interest (A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media).

    Comment by Andy Gunther — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:13 PM

  15. Presumably her boss would be interested in hearing our thoughts:

    Gilbert, Susan
    Administration, Editorial
    Assistant Managing Editor

    Comment by rpauli — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:23 PM

  16. Groan! Not Bellamy AGAIN, not the Petition Project AGAIN. Bellamy’s credibility (and along the way that of Fred Singer) on climate change at least was pretty much removed three years ago by George Monbiot. His concluding paragraph..

    It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy, embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former architect, which are based on what appears to be a non-existent data set. And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

    And one would only need to go as far as wikipedia to discover the veracity of the statement that 31,000 scientists signed the Petition Project’s slice of deception, indeed those of a sceptical (excuse English spelling) disposition need look no further than their house journal.

    In conclusion, through his Global Warming Petition Project, Arthur Robinson has solicited the opinions of the wrong group of people in the wrong way and drawn the wrong conclusions about any possible consensus among relevant and qualified scientists regarding the hypothesis of human-caused global warming. His petition is unqualified to deliver answers about a consensus in which the public is interested. He has a right to conduct any kind of petition drive he wishes, but he is not ethically entitled to misrepresent his petition as a fair reflection of relevant scientific opinion. He has confused his political with his scientific aims and misled the public in the process.

    RealClimate is an extraordinarily useful resource and I hope/believe the rebuttal wiki will develop into the same. Here in the UK the climate change bill has just received its Third Reading having been beefed up to include an 80% reduction target so maybe the message is getting through to the political class. However it seems that on some fronts, the fact that the same dwindling collection of myths, long-discredited assertions and half truths is still being recycled in reputable newspapers indicates that we are not communicating the strength of the scientific evidence and the actions that need to flow from that sufficiently well :-(

    Nil desperandum. Keep up the excellent work. As Warren Buffett said, it is when the tide goes out that you discover who is swimming naked. Whats up with that?

    Comment by John Philip — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:26 PM

  17. For what little it is worth, as soon as I read Saunders’ article in my morning newspaper (yes, I am a subscriber to cut-from-trees paper), I quickly sent a letter to the editor of the San Fran Chronicle:

    Dear Chronicle:

    Debra Saunders’ opinion about global warming (2008/11/30) continued her tradition of repeating other people’s opinions without vetting. I am amazed that the Chronicle pays anyone for so little work.

    Facts contradicting the opinions that Saunders parrots are easily available, organized topic-by-topic, with references to scientifically peer-reviewed publications, at many places such as . A nicely narrative presentation is . An index of links to such sites is at .

    Saunders used the absence of peer-reviewed articles against the existence of human-caused global warming, as evidence of suppression of those opinions. But by her argument, there is equally strong bias against “scientists” who believe the moon landings were faked and biological evolution never happened. Unlike the Chronicle’s policy for accepting opinion pieces by Saunders, peer-reviewed scientific journals require articles to have at least remotely plausible rationales that face up to all the empirical evidence. They are not outlets for mere opinions.

    Conspiracy complaints are common to deniers of global warming and deniers of moon landings. Saunders complained that the October 2008 temperature reporting mistake was barely reported in America. The real reasons that story got so little coverage are that the error was detected and corrected quickly, and the initial postings on the GISS web site aren’t very important. The initial postings only start the always more thorough checking by GISS and many, many people independent of GISS. Explanation of all that has been posted since November 11 in the “Mountains and molehills” topic on

    — Tom Dayton

    Comment by Tom Dayton — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:28 PM

  18. Gavin – I cited you, Oreskes, Hansen, RealClimate, and the IPCC reports in an email to her after her last piece on climate. At least she seems to have clicked on the links, even if she did not accept the content.

    Thanks for taking time to respond to her.

    At one time the SF Chronicle had very good science writers, who read the paper from front to back and discussed any errors in science that might occur in other reporters pieces with the edtors. Corrections would appear. No corrections appeared after Saunders last piece.

    I still live in the area, but I no longer subscribe to the SF Chronicle.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 30 Nov 2008 @ 9:32 PM

  19. As a reporter myself, this sort of thing makes me wince. Of course columnists don’t have to ahere to truth the way journalists have to. Wall Street Journal reporters frequently make fools out of the Paul Gigot led opinion page. The Wrong Way Feldman on anything scientific. In a way this bouys my spirits, since in the wake of Crichton’s tradgic early departure, my novel debunks most of this stuff.

    Comment by Mark A. York — 30 Nov 2008 @ 10:29 PM

  20. Post 17. If you click the links in this post you might get a 404 not found error. Delete the full stop at the end of the url and viola!

    Comment by Chris — 30 Nov 2008 @ 10:30 PM

  21. SF Chronicle = ‘Science Fiction Chronicle’?

    Comment by Craig Allen — 30 Nov 2008 @ 10:51 PM

  22. I think it is important not to dump on all newspaper writers, reporters, editors, copy editors and fact checkers. A reporter reporting news needs to check his or her story thoroughly to make sure the facts are correct as reported, but columnists and oped writers have more leeway to give vent
    to their opinions. An oped by definition is an opinion piece, not a news report. Debra Saunders’ stories are “columns” and columns do not have to be as stringently fact checked as news reports. Of course, editors behind the scenes and copy editors at the copy desk should do their best to make sure
    the news stories are accurate, but an opinion piece is just that, Gavin, an opinion. So are you calling
    Saunders’ pieces columns or opeds? If you don’t use the right terminology, then how can
    you expect reporters to pay attention to what you are saying above? A letter to the editor is different from a newspaper column is different from an oped piece is different from an editorial
    is different from a wire story. Agree or disagree? You still haven’t changed the headline of this post, above, or maybe you don’t think you should, and that is fine, but if you criticize Saunders, and she deserves criticicism, yes, at least get the terms correct. She is a columnist. They
    deal in opinions, not facts. Does Billy Graham deal with facts when he
    writes his superstitious religous crap? No, yet he gets published in Time and Newsweek.

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 30 Nov 2008 @ 11:01 PM

  23. At least she didn’t lay claim to the Global Warming Religion framing…that conveniently lets those who have NOT taken time to understand the simple basics of the issue confuse belief with fact.

    Any reasonable interpretation of the evidence of anthropogenic climate change suggests undertaking an immediate no regrets strategy of adaptation and mitigation, especially when the technology is at hand to produce energy with less atmospheric carbon release, or the low hanging fruit of increased efficiency–even if one has doubts one can be prudent.

    The end quip in her article about James Hansen had me searching the internet as well, as it was news to me that presenting evidence in a courtroom testimony was to be disparaged. If she has a beef with the outcome, perhaps the jury would be a better target.

    Thanks for the ongoing efforts to keep us informed.

    Comment by Jim Redden — 1 Dec 2008 @ 12:09 AM

  24. Well, don’t give up. I read the Chronicle only rarely, but had some luck (I think, it’s sometimes hard to tell whose comments had effects) in the last few years helping several other papers to be better.

    Those led to the advice in what to do about poor science reporting.

    Comment by John Mashey — 1 Dec 2008 @ 1:22 AM

  25. Ans: Because basically they are reporters, not journalists. I once offered the opinion on raido that they were parrots, bred for their large lungs and small brains, but perhaps I was doing some of them an injustice. The real problem is to catch their interest to get a reply out in the media. Hard to do until you remember that basically they are there to make a profit for the media owners. Journalism? Forget it.

    Comment by George Blahusiak — 1 Dec 2008 @ 1:25 AM

  26. Thank you Gavin and RealClimate again. There are so many things to say I don’t know where to start. The good news is that the economic depression has finally convinced people that the Bush war on science and regulation wasn’t the right way to go. The election proves that. The bad news is that innumerate humanitologists are still as poorly educated as they have always been. The questions are how bad does the climatic disaster have to get to convince the average person that we don’t need any more climatic disaster, and is recovery possible at that time?

    It seems to me that the climate contrarians are putting up a last-ditch defense at the present time, just like the Republicans were before the economic crash. Perhaps the contrarian defense has only a few months or years to go before it crashes. The Obama administration will have to rebuild the entire federal government because the Bush administration destroyed as much of it as they could. I can tell you that as a retired bureaucrat. After that, Obama can allow the truth to flow out from the government. That should make your job a lot easier. Have you, Gavin, considered applying for a political plum job in the Obama Administration? In the right position, your influence might be greater than you could imagine. .

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 1 Dec 2008 @ 1:30 AM

  27. One of the funniest things about this otherwise sorry inability of the media to get things right is how The Australian (owned by Rupert Murdoch, say no more) every now and then goes on a rant about how terrible it is that educational practices have come to be based on the apparently discredited ideology of post-modernism.

    In fact their approach to climate reporting, where they consider all facts to be relative to the mindset of the observer and that there is no objective position to be teased out of contradictory opinions (no matter how well-informed, or not), is pretty darn close to post-modernism, to the extent that I might even say that it objectively (if there is such a thing) meets the definition.

    After we had a change of government here late 2007, I thought things would get better. But no: the denial has only shifted from active to passive. The government is going into the UN Climate Change Conference with no position on a 2020 target for CO2 levels, even after having it put to them that a 2°C rise would kill the Great Barrier Reef. Dismissing the science may be stupid; accepting the science and refusing to act is criminal.

    To be entirely fair, The Australian doesn’t only treat climate change as factually mutable; I’ve complained to no effect about their scant regard for the facts in other areas too.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 1 Dec 2008 @ 1:34 AM

  28. Is that one of the experts who predicted that the forests around Mt. St. Helens would not recover for 200 years after the eruption? Give me a break.

    So, Mr. Steckis, are you claiming that the old growth forests around Mt. St. Helens have recovered?

    Or is Weyerhauser (for instance) lying when they claim to have – through aggressive replanting – transformed the blown-down and ash-blanketed old growth on their land to a short-rotation pulp farm?

    Comment by dhogaza — 1 Dec 2008 @ 2:45 AM

  29. As I’ve said before in these columns, the modern commercial media industry is not concerned with keeping the public informed. The primary responsibility of any commercial organization is to generate a return for its shareholders and a commercial media company does this by selling advertising.

    In order to maximise shareholder returns a media organization must maximise its circulation or audience and media proprietors understand only too well that controversy sells. I’m sure that Debra Saunders’ editor is very satisfied with her efforts at generating controversy and he/she will also be very happy that such a high profile website as RealClimate has responded – more fuel for the fire.

    Unfortunately, reputable information outlets such as RealClimate are caught in a Catch 22 situation. To respond to such articles merely plays into the hands of the originators but not responding would lead some to think such articles are essentially accurate.

    Comment by GT — 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:21 AM

  30. If op-eds had to be factually accurate, there wouldn’t be many of them left.

    Comment by Neuroskeptic — 1 Dec 2008 @ 4:27 AM

  31. It says it all about newspapers who have an historic political angle and a lot of them post essentially nonsense about AGW. This makes me think about all of the other stuff they print too and write about. Is any of it grounded in fact or opinion, probably opinion with a few facts at times in the main. I doubt it is there fault anyway, lots of bright people with no understanding of science workin the media and as the media is now 24/7 with endless stuff they have to pedal in order to fill that space and time makes anyone who has read good books on AGW or come here for the excellent reality fact based articles because its full of scientists who have been peer reviwed unlike the people in the media how can effectively write what the paper wants which is a easier I woud suggest.

    Comment by pete best — 1 Dec 2008 @ 5:08 AM

  32. John Phillip, regarding the UK climate change bill.

    Do bear in mind that the UK signed up to Kyoto – how have we done? Are we emitting 20% less CO2 than in 1990? Of course not.
    I wouldn’t put much faith in the CC bill.

    Comment by Mark Smith — 1 Dec 2008 @ 6:37 AM

  33. One clear inaccuracy not spuriously sourced: she says David Bellamy is an Australian. He’s not

    Comment by Oliver — 1 Dec 2008 @ 7:03 AM

  34. John Phillip – regarding the UK climate change bill.

    We signed up to Kyoto, and comitted to a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions relative to 1990. We didn’t honour that.
    I wouldn’t have much faith in the cc bill.

    Comment by Mark Smith — 1 Dec 2008 @ 7:09 AM

  35. Gavin, it is as least as bad on this side of the pond. Yesterday, the UK Sunday Telegraph, which used to be a reasonably serious, if right wing, national paper published yet another column of misinformation and misrepresentation, written by Christopher Booker, entitled “President-elect Barack Obama proposes economic suicide for US”, see:

    I did what I could to counter the flow of ignorance and denial that always follows Booker’s (and similar) writings, but it seemed a pretty lonely task at times. Which brings me to my main point: such columns as those in the SF Chronicle and the UK Telegraph are probably read by far more people than are the various web-sites (good and bad) concerned with aspects of climate change. Yet they do not seem to receive the attention that they should from those with a respect for facts and a knowledge of science. Thus, there develops in these blogs a self-sustaining feeding frenzy of denial that appears to be shifting public opinion in that direction.

    You guys on Realclimate do a great job at one end of the spectrum of comment, and obviously cannot commit to spread your message further to newspaper blogs. But there is a real need for more informed commentators on these blogs.

    The reason why Bellamy can get away with nonsense like “in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder” is that in most places such statements go uncontested. I was actually writing a rebuttal of this very statement in the UK Sunday Express yesterday (suggesting, hopefully, that the reason Bellamy has been dropped from the BBC was actually because of his disrespect for facts) – but I was called away and it remained uncontested.

    So, the greatest gap in the coverage of informed comment appears to be at this lowest level. It’s mucky and tedious and repetitive and I wouldn’t expect the big boys in climatology to get involved, but more effort by scientifically literate individuals is definitely needed. The swamp is growing.

    Comment by Slioch — 1 Dec 2008 @ 8:21 AM

  36. “Obviously some news outlets have political and philosophical agendas that screen and distort what is reported and how it is reported (e.g. Fox News)”

    No, all news outlets have a political and philosophical agenda. They also tend to be staffed by folks who are innumerate and utterly ignorant of science. As a result, most reporters simply lack the ability to have any idea what you’re talking about when it comes to a subject more complicated than who’s having a sale tomorrow. Journalists also have an unwarranted confidence in credentials, with the associated misconception that expertise in one area implies expertise in other areas. I don’t know why you single out FoxNews here – they’re hardly worse than average in this area, and considerably better than American network news operations.

    “there is equally strong bias against “scientists” who believe the moon landings were faked and biological evolution never happened”

    Excellent point, because there’s a critical difference here: I’m not aware of any effort to professionally sanction scientists who make such claims (though that may have happened and I didn’t hear about it). I think you underestimate the damage done by actions such as Heidi Cullen’s call for decertification of meteorologists who question AGW. A call for punishment of people advancing a point of view will almost automatically increase support for that point of view among journalists, even if they generally disagree with it.

    Comment by J — 1 Dec 2008 @ 8:56 AM

  37. Gavin, PLEASE write the SF Chronicle.

    In fact, why not offer a counter-point op-ed to set the record straight?

    Comment by J.S. McIntyre — 1 Dec 2008 @ 9:09 AM

  38. Re #6–can your school newspaper find a way to work with someone(s) from various departments to do fact checking?

    The letter I sent Susan Gilbert (and thanks for providing the name and e-mail):

    For many years, the Chron has printed numerous accurate articles on climate change, many of which (The Difference a Degree [F] Makes) help give context to what is happening, and will happen.

    There also seems to be an acceptance that it is OK to have columnists/op-eds on both the right and left provide political perspective based on information that isn’t true.

    I have learned from columnists whose political views differ from mine, sometimes differ by a lot. You provide a valuable service to people like me by presenting this variety of views. However, you damage public discourse when you allow columnists like Saunders to make claims that are not true, or to cite people’s whose thinking has been rejected by scientific and policiy experts. This differs from thinking that is still being debated by those communities.

    It makes as much sense to print columns which cite non-facts on climate change as it does to print columns on the advantages of smoking and unprotected sex, except that it isn’t just the individual acting on the ideas who is damaged. Innocent people, other species, will suffer.

    Please continue printing a wide variety of views. But also consider that columnists repeatedly citing facts that aren’t may not benefit the readership.

    Comment by Karen Street — 1 Dec 2008 @ 9:28 AM

  39. Mark Smith,

    The UK picture wrt Kyoto is complicated – on all GHG gases we are on probably target, thanks to a reduction in methane that was little to do with Government policy, on CO2 alone we are likely to miss the 2010 target, unless radical measures are adopted rapidly.

    I take your point about targets, however – my point was more that passing the Bill into Third Reading (by a majority of 463 to 3, from memory) illustrates that the science has (finally) got through to the MPs, who are passing a Bill that is by no means guaranteeed to be popular, leaving just the likes of Bellamy, Monckton, Melanie Phillips and Christopher Booker (any more?) to broadcast their pseudoscience in the conservative media.

    Comment by John Philip — 1 Dec 2008 @ 9:49 AM

  40. Then there’s the classic David Bellamy typo. He claimed 89% of glaciers were advancing which was strange because the source he cited claimed only 55%. Fortunately George Monbiot did some real investigative journalism and discovered that Mr Bellamy had mistyped 55% as 555 (missed the shift key) and since the total number of glaciers his source was working with was 625 after some ‘complex’ maths (555*100/625) he came up with 89%!

    Of course the original source was wrong as well, so an erroneous calculation based on erroneous data. It would be hillarious if the consequences of this nonsense was not so tragic.

    Comment by Roly — 1 Dec 2008 @ 10:03 AM

  41. I do not understand how people can be so stupid, in this case, newspaper reporters who should know better! I respect the climate models deeply, but I, as a layperson, do not understand them. Those models require advanced physics, mathematics, chemistry, meteorology, etc., but hey, do we, as laypeople, really need those models? (Yes, scientists both need and require those physical models, but that’s not my point.) The evidence for us, as laypeople, is all in the statistical models. Get Excel, Open Office, or in my case, Minitab. Copy CO2 concentrations in one column, global temperatures in another column, and run a correlation coefficient. Viola! Statistically significant all the way!! Now, yes, correlation does not prove causation, but that’s what the physical models are for. Made-made climate change proven. QED. What could be simpler?

    [Response: Actually it’s a lot more complicated than this precisely because of the correlation/causation issue. But you are partially correct, that requires phyisically-based models to demonstrate. – gavin]

    Comment by Donald E. Flood — 1 Dec 2008 @ 11:20 AM

  42. #24 John:

    Agreed, more overblown rhetoric from the wings. It’s hard to find thoughtful mainstream science articles, no doubt. Last year, for instance, she killed a good point (“Here’s the rub: If dissent is so rare, why do global-warming conformists feel the strong need to argue that minority views should be dismissed as nutty or venal? Why not posit that there is such a thing as honest disagreement on the science?”) by dropping the subject and moving on to overstate her case about funding.

    On your Deltoid post about poor reporting, I would offer R5: Reporters Can Be Ambitious. They want their articles to be read, and “Earth to Melt by 2030” or “Alarmists Paid Millions by Sierra Club” may sell more papers, so to speak, than “Thoughtful Scientists Disagree on Efficacy of Tree Ring Data Calibration”. Ah, well.

    Less a propos of this topic, but right up your alley, I imagine, is the following:

    If you’ve already seen it, never mind, but I know you have an interest in trying to get at how people arrive at their [overarching] scientific opinions. It’s about Seitz, Nierenberg and Jastrow.

    Comment by wmanny — 1 Dec 2008 @ 11:54 AM

  43. When I was a grad student, I had the privilege of attending a conference where issues of science in the press were discussed with working science journists. In later life, I had the additional privilege of writing for a physics trade publication where we had to report on cutting edge physics in a way a physics undergrad could follow. From the vantage point of this experience, I can assure you of the following trivial conclusion: Science journalism is tough. More to the point here, imagine trying to do science journalism when you have no background in the science, have sources you trust ideologically telling you not to trust the scientists and are kind of shaky on that whole objective-reality notion to begin with.
    A journalist in any specialty will tell you: if you don’t trust your sources, don’t run the story. So why the hell does Debra Saunders think she can write about science when she doesn’t trust the scientists and doesn’t understand the science to begin with?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Dec 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  44. Why is fact checking in journalism rare? Well, it is expensive and time consuming. (And even when a publication can afford the effort, we cannot always make up for lazy or biased reporting.) Newspapers, with their daily schedule, simply do not have the time to fact check articles and must rely on reporters and editors to do a good job. Being human, they sometimes fail. Remember, though, when you screw up at work, probably only a few people will ever find out. When a journalist makes a mistake, that can go worldwide.

    [Response: You are of course correct that fact checking takes time, and so it isn’t done as diligently in daily newspapers as in monthlies for instance. However, columnists do have more time than news journalists, and as this episode demonstrates, Ms. Saunders had plenty of time (days) to call NASA and get a response, so the idea that this is has to be rushed out and no-one can check everything is clearly not relevant. I have tremendous respect for the enormous amounts of work that good journalists do, and I’d love to be able to help them do it even better, but this column was not a shining example of good practice! – gavin]

    Comment by Sarah — 1 Dec 2008 @ 12:39 PM

  45. Roly mentions a classic. New Scientist didn’t bother checking an opinion letter that made improbable claims that were attributed — and checkable by calling up the agency they were attributed to, quite easily.

    “‘This is complete bullshit,’ they told him ….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Dec 2008 @ 1:48 PM

  46. The temperature records at North Pole
    and Vostok
    are still flat. Yes, not so long ago Gavin put an article about this phenomenon, but may I ask what is the model predicted exact date when one would be able to recognize the trend?

    P.S. I know, the two stations looks like cherry picking, but consider that these are located in the ideal places. No noise related to day-night temperature difference. No UHI effect either.

    Comment by Tegiri Nenashi — 1 Dec 2008 @ 2:23 PM

  47. If it included facts it wouldn’t be opinion.

    Comment by John H Walkup — 1 Dec 2008 @ 2:49 PM

  48. For Amundsen-Scott the real flat to fluctuating in that region might be an indication of instability? In fact, the flux this decade seems quite pronounced.

    Comment by Sekerob — 1 Dec 2008 @ 3:07 PM

  49. I very much doubt Saunders gets fact-checked at all (except perhaps a screening for out-and-out libel). She was hired precisely to write columns (on all sorts of topics) that upset the Chron’s generally liberal readership. I think the editors are perfectly aware that fact-checking would ruin the effect.

    On the plus side, the Chron does still have a first-class science reporting staff whose work is frequently featured on the front page.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 1 Dec 2008 @ 4:09 PM

  50. #46, Tegiri Nenashi

    The temperature records at North Pole

    Amundsen-Scott isn’t at the North Pole.

    Comment by S2 — 1 Dec 2008 @ 4:47 PM

  51. New Scientist take on the Politico article:

    Apparently they apologised for their mistake.

    Comment by Paul — 1 Dec 2008 @ 5:36 PM

  52. wmanny @42
    Thanks, yes, I’d seen that, but it’s certainly relevant.

    Steve @49

    Newspapers are under terrific, structural financial pressure.

    Since I’m fond of them, I have pointed out to some editors in the past that they need to think very hard about the kind of content they can print that has unique value-add for their audience … because otherwise, they will shrink more, and they have way more competition than they used to.

    Comment by John Mashey — 1 Dec 2008 @ 5:45 PM

  53. Please correct title – “Op-Ed’s” is possessive, “Op-Eds” is plural. Especially since this is a critique of accuracy!

    [Response: point taken! – gavin]

    Comment by Agreed — 1 Dec 2008 @ 6:38 PM

  54. Amundsen-Scott isn’t at the South Pole, either.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 1 Dec 2008 @ 6:58 PM

  55. Re: #53 (Agreed)

    My mother (an English teacher for 33 years) would be proud of you. Frankly I’d given up on expecting the proper use of the apostrophe do distinguish possessive from plural. Good on ya!

    Comment by tamino — 1 Dec 2008 @ 7:13 PM

  56. Although this is OT, it may be of interest to SF Bay Area RC readers. At least this thread has some geographic connection, i.e., PV is a little town just uphill from Stanford.

    Portola Valley Green Speaker Series Event –
    Global Warming: Update from the Frontline of Science

    The Town of Portola Valley invites you to hear Dr. James E. Hansen, the second speaker in our Pioneers of Sustainability Series. Dr. Hansen is considered one of the world’s foremost scientists focused on climate change and is well known for his testimony to Congress starting in the 1980s. Details: Tuesday, December 16th, 7:00 p.m. at the Town Center Community Hall, 765 Portola Road. Carpooling encouraged as parking is limited. For more information or to RSVP, please visit free registration & directions,

    which correctly instructs:

    “please bring a flashlight and be careful of wildlife on the road”

    PV doesn’t like light pollution, hence the flashlight advice.
    We’ll try to keep the mountain lions away that night :-)

    Our recently-opened & very green (LEED gold, at least) Town Center is worth visiting.

    We are keen to see Dr. Hansen!

    Comment by John Mashey — 1 Dec 2008 @ 7:37 PM

  57. People like this reporter don’t want to hear, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling’ – not if it interferes with their getting their THINGS; they simply MUST HAVE their THINGS – or they don’t feel ‘complete’!!!
    Therefore, WE have to get sneaky, too; by applying a little Human Psychology, for example.
    May I suggest, in the interest of providing a demonstration of my own prowess in these kinds of issues, that you seek out my posting on Open Salon?
    I Blog as JimRinX; and I think that that’s all you need to get at it.
    Because he’s already got the Money to put the same basic idea into motion, you should also check out Neil Youngs (yes, ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, Neil Young) Project at
    Even the most avaristic stupid-f**k of a Capitalist Pig OilCo Mouthpiece will want one; they LOOK SOOOO COOOOOL!!!

    Comment by James Staples — 1 Dec 2008 @ 8:09 PM

  58. I’ve been pretty much down on newspapers (& all other media) since the 1980s, when the Chicago Trib had a newsstory about something (not GW) that read more like an opinion piece.

    I’m thinking that perhaps the stance of postmodern anti-theorists (in the social sciences) that objectivity is illusory and impossible got to Western journalists and they figured, oh well, then let’s just throw out any attempt at all to be objective.

    Luckly such a disease didn’t spread to THE HINDU, one of the few good newpapers in the world. While American news sources gave global warming the silent (or occasionally the pro-con balanced) treatment throughout the 90s up to Katrina, THE HINDU was now and then accurately reporting on global warming.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 1 Dec 2008 @ 10:09 PM

  59. Please correct title – “Op-Eds” is not what Saunders writes, she writes “columns”. Especially since this is a critique of accuracy!

    Headline is inaccurate. So how can you expect columists to be accurate, if you don’t care to be accurate in the words you use above in the headline itself. Gavin, come on!

    [Response: point taken! – gavin]

    Comment by Agreed — 1 December 2008 @ 6:38 PM

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 1 Dec 2008 @ 10:46 PM

  60. No one should be surprised to find out that Debra Saunders is married to Wesley J. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

    Her columns are 90-95% predictable; however, once in a while she says something worth consideration. I can’t imagine how abysmal the pillow talk must be at chez Smith-Saunders.

    Comment by Glenn Destatte — 1 Dec 2008 @ 11:38 PM

  61. Ah. _Political_ columnist.

    “Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow – Discovery Institute … Bay area with his wife Debra J. Saunders, who is a syndicated political columnist.”

    No wonder she never made much sense when she tried to write about facts.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Dec 2008 @ 1:33 AM

  62. Here is a positive example. Some months ago I gave an interview to the German magazine “Focus”, in which I stated that already the german scientist Alexander von Humboldt wrote in 1843 that humanity is altering climate by emitting gases at the industrial centers. Now you might think that in an interview as an expert I can say what I like and if its wrong its my problem, not that of the editors. But no: the fact checking department of “Focus” came back to me and wanted to see the original source of the Humboldt quote. That’s how things should work! (But also in Germany, this in my experience is the exception, not the rule.) Maybe this is because it was about a “historic fact”, not a “scientific fact”?

    Comment by stefan — 2 Dec 2008 @ 4:53 AM

  63. The problem isn’t just on the less-regulated op-ed page. Usually, the press refuses to make any links between record-breaking temperatures and global warming. It’s obvious that the recent high rate of wildfires across California is tied to global warming; the models all predict increases in the fire season. The fact that people have expanded developments in to fire-prone regions only makes the resulting damage worse.

    Nevertheless, almost none of the stories printed on the devastating wildfires included the phrase global warming. Many will mention the increased risk factors due to out-of-control development, but almost none will mention the increased risk factors due to global warming.

    This is an across-the-board media phenomenon, as reported by the SF Chronicle, Washington Bureau: Media consign global warming to back burner, 2008

    The League of Conservation Voters has been tracking the number of questions asked of the presidential candidates on the Sunday news shows and the debates televised by the major networks. Of the more than 2,900 questions asked, only four have mentioned the words “global warming.”

    “It’s stunning,” said David Sandretti, the League of Conservation Voters’ chief spokesman.

    But it’s not the candidates’ fault. Many of the top contenders have been promoting their plans to battle climate change on the campaign trail. It’s the leading TV journalists – like NBC’s Tim Russert or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos or CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – who have relegated it to a second-tier issue.

    There are a couple of explanations for this behavior, one being that fossil fuel-based corporations, from electric utilities to automakers, buy a lot of advertising space from the media, and individual papers fear that the response to honest reporting on climate issues would be cancellation of advertising.

    Another one is cross-ownership between media and fossil fuel corporations, i.e. at the shareholder level. If the majority shareholders in Exxon and Chevron are the same as the majority shareholders in Disney (ABC), General Electric (NBC), TimeWarner (CNN), NewsCorp (FOX) Tribune, Gannet, MediaNews Group, etc – well, one can imagine these shareholders telling their media CEOs not to cover any “alarmist” topics.

    Would the SF Chronicle run an opinion piece claiming that HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS? They could then cite the “independence of the opinionators” in self-defense.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 2 Dec 2008 @ 6:57 AM

  64. I have never heard of this woman but we have someone similar here in Melbourne Australia called Andrew Bolt, they are dinosours who’s opinions rarely even line up with the facts reported in the news sections of their own paper. Busting them is as simple as visting the site of people they cite as evidence, sometimes they call on the same institution to act as good/bad guy in the same article! They are there to get attention, stir the crowd, sometimes even honestly playing devil’s advocate, whatever they are doing they are not telling the truth and they never will.

    Since my everyday news fix is via google news I have often read and don’t see them as propogandist anymore than I see the NYT as propogandist. The first 10 hits on their site for the word ‘climate’ (out of 57,500) all look like reasonable articles at first glance. The only one that stands out to me is the one bitching about the pay cheque for the Mayor’s new climate advisor.

    You guys have done enough myth-busting of the old saws this unknown pundit is regurgitating, you dont need to bang every brick in the wall into sand, let them come up with some new myths. Perhaps something on visualization would be a nice change.

    Comment by Alan — 2 Dec 2008 @ 7:01 AM

  65. Somewhat OT but I wonder if someone more qualified than myself could take a look at this post:
    IEA WEO 2008 – Fossil Fuel Ultimates and CO2 Emissions Scenarios
    Posted by Luis de Sousa on December 2, 2008 – 1:10am in The Oil Drum: Europe,

    and tell me if there is any merit to the author’s arguments specifically in regards to the assesment that modeling the increase atmospheric CO2 doesn’t currently take into consideration the fact of Peak Fossil fuels and demand destruction of the same due to economic factors.

    [Response: I had a brief look. Their extrapolation of the fuel reserve scenarios to temperatures is rather simplistic – not accounting for the known uncertainties in climate sensitivity and carbon cycle feedbacks, even if you accept their estimates of the reserve limits. Personally, I have a fair amount of scepticism about these for two main reasons – first, there really is a lot of coal around, and while Rutledge may be correct in questioning some of the reserve calculations, much of the coal is staying in the ground for economic reasons, not climatic. Thus increases in price for coal which would be inevitable given these scenarios will undoubtedly pull in more economically recoverable reserves. And that goes to the second point, that there are huge amounts of unconventional fossil fuel reserves – oil shales, tar sands, methane hydrates, etc. which, as we saw last year, are all ready to go should oil prices go up again. Therefore, I doubt very much that reserve limitations will really have much of an impact – at least in the near term. – gavin]

    Comment by Fernando Magyar — 2 Dec 2008 @ 7:35 AM

  66. I think the big problem with journalists is they don’t investigate any more. I’ve noticed that many journalists seem to take press releases from wherever they can find them and copy/paste the press release into their paper or website.

    It’s time that journalists started once again to check their stories and not rely on press releases, especially with something as important as climate change

    [Response: Don’t tar all journalists with the same brush here. There are some really good ones around who take their responsibilities very seriously. The critique here is limited to a scattered number of columnists who think that a google search and a Marc Morano email count as ‘research’ . – gavin]

    Comment by MangoChutneyUK — 2 Dec 2008 @ 8:27 AM

  67. Re #65, Be careful with this report as the Oildrum believe deeply in peaking fossil fuels based around existing known of limits of existing and easilly extractable reserves. The WEA and IPCC might take a slightly different perspective facing up to ultimately extractable reserves rather than easy ones. There are many articles regarding peak oil taking place by around 2012 – 2015, peak gas 10 years after that and peak coal around 2025 whereas the WEA although reevaluating their work recently in this report might take a higher value for peaking fossil fuels.

    James Hansen reports on these thoughts in his talks and reports but he also has another issue with Charney (quick feedback warming)limit global warming as opposed to Earths limited warming which feature long term feedbacks and hence result in a predetermined doubling of climate sensitivity from 3C for a 550 ppmv of CO2 to 6C. It seems to be unsure of what the oildrum speaks of here in this regard.

    The other issue that Hansen relates to is the demise of the poles and at what limits they have a tendency to melt. The whole thing come from some sea creatures and oxygen ratios in them which relate to the temperature of the oceans and hence measure SST over a long period of time. Antarctica formed around 34 million years ago at between 400-600 ppmv of Co2 levels and the Arctic sea ice and Greenland later (at lower levels of CO2) which means that at present the Arctic sea ice is possibly in trouble and when the summer sea ice disappears frequently Greenland will also melt more quickly. Antarctica is also in trouble come 450 ppmv of WAIS melt, whilst EAIS might be ok until more CO2 is released.

    So come to think of it, the ultimate level of CO2 is important and at present emissions at present levels we are 30 years away from 450 ppmv and possible if methane emissions continue we might excel these levels earlier than expected which might result in greater sea level rise.

    I hope this helps. RC did an excellent article on James Hansens recent earth sensitivity work and gave it a cautious approval. Hence climate sensitivity is possibly double IPCC estimates.

    Comment by pete best — 2 Dec 2008 @ 9:08 AM

  68. #65–

    Fernando, I am probably *not* better qualified than you, however this bit from the post you reference gives me some pause:

    “MAGGIC incorporates a logarithmic temperature response function to CO2 concentrations. With this function, each doubling of CO2 increases temperature by a fixed amount. This amount is by default 2.6 ºC, taken from the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. Because of this relationship, in order to increase temperatures 2.6 ºC above pre-industrial levels atmospheric CO2, concentrations have to reach circa 560 ppm; for an increase of 6 ºC, close to 1500 ppm are needed.”

    This seems a long way from the latest word on CO2 sensitivity.

    The point that the IEA ought to provide its own energy scenarios, given that the IPCC is not about energy policy per se, seems pretty reasonable on the face of it.

    I also note that there is a lively discussion going on on the OilDrum site as we write, with lots of comment and information.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 2 Dec 2008 @ 9:49 AM

  69. RE #63, “the press refuses to make any links between record-breaking temperatures and global warming. It’s obvious that the recent high rate of wildfires across California is tied to global warming; the models all predict increases in the fire season.”

    I’ve noticed the same thing over the past 18 years. It violates journalistic rules, and the need to present all the facts re “who, what, when, how, and WHY.”

    RE wildfires, at least the FRESNO BEE got it right:

    Global warming fueling hotter Western fires

    …Among other things, researchers have found the frequency of wildfire increased fourfold — and the terrain burned expanded sixfold — as summers grew longer and hotter over the past two decades…

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 2 Dec 2008 @ 10:16 AM

  70. It’s quite easy to answer. I’ve studied climatology and meteorology at the university of Berne. (You probably know the Profs. Wanner, H. and Stocker, T.). Now I am working as a meteorologist at swiss television. Basically, a scientist in a news area with a lot of editors, writers, journalists etc.
    So, here are the reasons:
    a) money: checkin’ the facts is time consuming and therefore expensive
    b) brain: to check the facts and to ask the right questions, you must understand at least something of the whole thing you’re writing about. So, if you do understand something of the whole climate change thing the chance is high, that you have actually a PhD and that you are working at a university.

    After working more than 4 years with journalists I still get struck down by their competence.
    I say:”There’ll be 10 cm of snow in the lowlands, but like 50 cm up to 1 m of snow on the mountains”
    Journalist writes:”Traffic will break down tomorrow: Meteorologists predict 1m of snow”

    That’s what I like about my job.

    Comment by Thomas — 2 Dec 2008 @ 10:41 AM

  71. “She then throws in a few completely untrue ‘facts’ (i.e. “in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder” (not) ”

    maybe she checked Wikipedia

    which confirms her statement

    [Response: Not really. There are two issues – first, that there is uncertainty in what the actual anomaly is in any one year (different products with different assumptions give different anomalies) – in the NCDC or GISTEMP analyses your interpretation of the statement (that she meant that 1998 was the record warmest year) is not true. However, that is not the interpretation I took from her statement (actually David Bellamy’s) at all – “In every year… world temperatures have been getting colder” implies to me that specifically each year since 1998 has been colder than the last, and this is not true no matter what product you look at. And finally, and this is probably the most important point – these individual year rankings at the level of less than 0.1 deg C are pretty much meaningless and anyone drawing conclusions from them is just fooling themselves. They are simply not a robust measure of global warming – long term trends are much more relevant. – gavin]

    Comment by Anne — 2 Dec 2008 @ 10:59 AM

  72. I think the Fresno Bee story is a good example of very sloppy reporting. They make the assumption of longer and hotter summers without backing it up with data. Any temperature increase in California over the last 2 decades is likely less than .2 degree.
    I think you would have to look elsewhere for causes, like poor forest management and rainfall patterns.

    Comment by Cardin Drake — 2 Dec 2008 @ 11:23 AM

  73. RE #69
    Last I remember from science class it was the province of scientists to prove causality between a cause (warming) and an effect such as a high rate of wildfires. I did not believe that it was up to journalists to draw anecdotal information together to come up with “obvious conclusions”. Might it be conceivable that wildfires have been occuring naturally for tens of millions of years? Is it also possible that California should normally be experiencing numerous wildfires every year? It’s terrible that man just happened to build a few million homes in what was previously pretty much a desert. So the solution of carbon sequestration and solar panels will make the wildfires go away?

    [Response: Consider the possibility that science may have progressed since your days in science class. For example, there is serious peer-reviewed research behind the proposition that climate change, including warming (largely through its influence on the timing and duration of the snow melt season) is leading to a measurable increase in the severity of wild fire in the western U.S., among other places (see also the discussion in the Working Group II Chapter of the AR4 report). This is not to say that other human actions such as development and alteration of the landscape, is not having an influence too. As is usually the case with such things, it’s not either/or. – mike]

    Comment by William — 2 Dec 2008 @ 11:33 AM

  74. re Wild Fires
    Gavin, I looked up the study you referenced and found the following in the Discussion Points: “Whether the changes observed in western hydroclimate and wildfire are the result of greenhouse gas–induced global warming or only an unusual natural fluctuation is beyond the scope of this work.” From “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity
    A. L. Westerling,1,2* H. G. Hidalgo,1 D. R. Cayan,1,3 T. W. Swetnam4 Science Express July 2006
    If the authors cannot conclude CO2 causation is it fair for journalists to do so?

    [Response: First of all, its ‘mike’ not ‘gavin’. The study in question was not a formal climate change attribution analysis. It was only pointing out that the increase in measures of western wild fire severity are related to warming atmospheric temperatures (through their influence on seasonal snowmelt), something you seemed to be casting doubt on. Other papers, however, such as Barnett et al, Science (08) show that this regional warming and its influence on western North American hydrology can indeed be attributed to anthropogenic climate change, from their abstract: “Observations have shown that the hydrological cycle of the western United States changed significantly over the last half of the 20th century. We present a regional, multivariable climate change detection and attribution study, using a high-resolution hydrologic model forced by global climate models, focusing on the changes that have already affected this primarily arid region with a large and growing population. The results show that up to 60% of the climate-related trends of river flow, winter air temperature, and snow pack between 1950 and 1999 are human-induced. These results are robust to perturbation of study variates and methods. They portend, in conjunction with previous work, a coming crisis in water supply for the western United States.” Lets move on. -mike]

    Comment by William — 2 Dec 2008 @ 12:19 PM

  75. I doubt if the snow melt season in Southern California had much to do with their wildfires, which is the primary thrust of the research. This is a good example of the kind of sloppy reporting we frequently see, where one fact is taken and generalized, whether it applies or not.
    Certainly they are going to go to the trouble to check and see if it has even been warmer in California over the past 2 decades, which may or may not be true.

    Comment by Cardin Drake — 2 Dec 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  76. The most glaring factual error in the article seems to be
    “The incorrect analysis was online for less than 24 hours.”
    In fact the ‘corrected’ data posted two days later was still incorrect
    and had to be changed again.

    [Response: Now that is micro-parsing. The statement is however true, the initial analysis was pulled in under 24 hours. There were 4 specific stations that weren’t correct in the first update a couple of days later, but which were corrected in the second. The final ‘October’ numbers will not however be known for a couple of months since not all data has yet been processed. I am still waiting for anyone to show any actual consequence from the initial posting. – gavin]

    Comment by PaulM — 2 Dec 2008 @ 12:59 PM

  77. PS, does Saunders’s column appear “opposite the Editorial page” (the traditional definition of “Op-Ed” though some newspapers have their political opinion columnists elsewhere.) She’s a political columnist; Op-Ed seems the right tag for it.
    ReCaptcha: restless Poison

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Dec 2008 @ 1:21 PM

  78. > maybe she checked Wikipedia
    > which confirms her statement

    Anne, that’s a picture, and without error bars.
    Imagine the same lines and dots charting public opinion support for her candidate.
    Do you think she’d reach the same conclusion, that support was falling steadily?
    Would you?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Dec 2008 @ 1:29 PM

  79. Re Mike’s inline responses to #s 73 & 74, with which I generally concur, one quibble regarding terminology. Fire severity refers to effects on vegetation or soils. The data and analysis in Westerling et al. show a relationship between climate change and fire number and size. In a less quantified way they also discuss how changes in forest fuels as a result of fire exclusion and logging (of larger, more fire-resistant trees) have contributed to increases in wildfire severity in some forest types.

    [Response: Quibble accepted, thanks for the clarification. – mike]

    Comment by Rick Brown — 2 Dec 2008 @ 1:56 PM

  80. Re: 5 and 60-61

    Much obliged for the revelation as to Mrs. Saunders Smith- Wesley J. Smith has lately overtaken Discovery Institute doyen Tom Bethell as the Science Guy at The Weekly Standard and The American Spectator

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 2 Dec 2008 @ 2:18 PM

  81. RE #72 & “Any temperature increase in California”

    Maybe they’re only referring to certain places, and not whole states, places like where super wildfires hit. If you can prove that there are more wildfires of greater intensity and spread in place where there is less drought/dryness, less wind, and shorter summers (at 95% confidence — which is what we environmentalist & responsible policy-makers like to see), then you might have a good argument against attributing increasing wildfires to global warming.

    But that still says nothing about all the other negative effects of global warming.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 2 Dec 2008 @ 2:52 PM

  82. Regarding California, I recommend:

    a) Department of Water Resources, including its own Climate Change pages.

    b) California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Needless to say, if these folks made all the rules, there are a lot of buildings that wouldn’t get built where they are.

    c) California Climate Change Portal, among which one can find Climate Monitoring, Analysis, and Modeling, and under that, one can find 2-page PDF on changes in min/max temperatures, 1920-2003, for each of 16 zones in CA.

    [Q: has CA been warming? A: yes.]

    Comment by John Mashey — 2 Dec 2008 @ 3:19 PM

  83. Re.: 78: Hank Roberts Says:

    “Anne, that’s a picture, and without error bars.”

    and what was the graph that Gavin showed, not a picture?,

    BTW I’m indifferent to politics, which you seem not to be. This is a science blog, isn’t it?


    Comment by Anne — 2 Dec 2008 @ 4:09 PM

  84. My wife and I moved form NY to Ca a year ago, the wildfires are on the rise as I both see them, speak to neighboors and family members living out her in Northern California for 20-50 years, and read the data for this region.

    Comment by jcbmack — 2 Dec 2008 @ 4:09 PM

  85. We are also in for a huge earthquake as well, I am glad we chose a rural town as opposed to a city!

    Comment by jcbmack — 2 Dec 2008 @ 4:12 PM

  86. Anne, try the Start Here link at the top of the page, and the first link under Science at the right side.
    The Search box at the top is also helpful.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Dec 2008 @ 4:58 PM

  87. Anne, 83, you never answered Hank’s question.Would you have accepted that as proof of a recession, or the loss of ratings of your favourite show (and thereby having it cancelled)?

    I suspect not.

    PS Which graph Gavin showed that didn’t have errors? E.g. all the trends from IPCC reports have error bars on them. If you’re going to ask that the spinning globe be displayed with error bars on them, please tell us how we can show such a 4-6 dimensional plot on a 2-dimensional medium.

    Comment by Mark — 2 Dec 2008 @ 5:07 PM

  88. Regarding the Gavin’s response to #65:

    ‘And that goes to the second point, that there are huge amounts of unconventional fossil fuel reserves – oil shales, tar sands, methane hydrates, etc. which, as we saw last year, are all ready to go should oil prices go up again. Therefore, I doubt very much that reserve limitations will really have much of an impact – at least in the near term.’

    Let’s ask *why* did the price of oil shoot up in recent years from cca $30 to record $147 per barrel of oil and *why* did it fell again to $50 per barrel now?

    The price rose to 147 dollars partly due to decreasing dollar value, partly due to speculations, but mainly due to tight supply/demand. Demand rose faster than the supply, so price went up, magnified by speculations and weakening dollar. At the same time, ineffective and ecologically damaging ways (low EROEI) of getting energy were suddenly economic, such as corn-to-ethanol (1st generation biofuels) or tar sands.

    However, as it has been shown, high oil price and not quite ready and ineffective alternatives (ecologically (biofuels) and climatically (tar-sands and oil-shales)) contributed to global financial and subsequently economic down-turn.

    There is also scale problem with biofuels and tar-sands – how much of them can one have? Even production of 2 mil. of barrels of oil per day from tar sand in Canada is significantly increasing their per capita CO2 emissions – and damaging surrounding environment a lot, due to low EROEI – how can they scale them any further?

    The same for biofuels – 1st or 2nd generation – again, how can one scale them appropriately, without economic recession? Problem is, they have low EROEI. See Charlie Hall baloon graph.

    I think the biggest problem is that people have to learn, that energy prices *have to* go up, whatever happens, and then maybe our economy can run without recession. Put it simply, era of *cheap oil is over*. Those who know it, should be better prepared. In the meantime, we should switch to better ‘alternatives’ than biofuels and tar-sands – namely wind, solar, and nuclear energies…

    Finally, I think there is no sensible solution to climate and energy problems in a world, where there is every day +180 000 or so people… and more than 1 000 000 000 has no access to electricity at all…

    Comment by Alexander Ač — 2 Dec 2008 @ 6:17 PM

  89. Today’s “The Australian” newspaper has more letters to editor from well known anti-AGW campaigners. As did pretty much every recent paper. If they aren’t in as named articles, they are anonymous editorials.

    The frequency and consistency with which the same people are popping up throughout the Australian media (with “The Australian” as the masthead) points to an orchestrated campaign. The really aggravating part is that they can spread scientific inaccuracies with impunity, under the banner of hearing both sides of the debate.

    It is creeping into the government broadcaster (the ABC) too – a while back the previous government stacked the board with like-minded people, and since then we’ve had to put up with La Rouche rubbish….and geologists’ observations that the fossil record shows the climate is always changing. Oh boy, smell that red herring :-)

    Being sceptical about scientific claims is one thing, but for well known scientists to spread mis-information about the claims is quite another thing.

    Is this sort of campaign happening in the European countries too?

    Comment by Donald Oats — 2 Dec 2008 @ 7:46 PM

  90. 36 J says, ” I don’t know why you single out FoxNews”

    Perhaps because Faux “news” is the standard-bearer of false news.


    “On August 18, a Florida jury unanimously determined that Fox TV intentionally distorted a news story on bovine growth hormone, and awarded fired Fox TV reporter Jane Akre $425,000 in damages. The verdict is the first ever in which journalists have been found to be protected by a whistleblower law when they refuse to bow to pressure from their bosses to distort the news…Fox is appealing the case on the grounds that there is no law, rule, or regulation against lying or distorting the news on television.”

    Yep, Fox has no qualms admitting in public that their reporters must either lie or be fired.
    Captcha says: disputed trusted

    Comment by RichardC — 2 Dec 2008 @ 8:01 PM

  91. Fox won that appeal, by the way.

    found with:

    … Florida’s whistle blower law states that an employer must violate an adopted “law, rule, or regulation.” In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation,” it was simply a “policy.” Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.

    “During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so….”


    Yes, that DID say what you thought it did.
    Read it again.

    ReCaptcha: sidewalk mouth

    Hmmmm — suggesting the Orwell Award?

    The Award

    The award is presented as a golden statue of a boot stamping on a human head, in reference to George Orwell’s vision for the future as described in his novel 1984. It is presented to individuals, organizations, policies, and ideas that embody the characteristics conjured by the term “Orwellian”.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Dec 2008 @ 8:31 PM

  92. Gavin, in response to your response to #65

    Thank-you you reading the Oil Drum article, I agree with you that the extrapolation from carbon emission to temperature and the sensitivity used is simplistic. I expanded on this area in the comments as it wasn’t my article.

    I am interested in your opinion on available fossil fuels and as important, their production rates. You say “there really is a lot of coal around” however last year we highlighted five reports by four independent groups all saying there is less coal than traditionally thought. These include two prepared for the European Commission Joint Research Centre and one for US National Academy of Sciences:

    Have you reviewed this recent thinking on coal? The school-boy idea we have 200+ years of coal bears no scrutiny today.

    On unconventional oils, there is no evidence that these can deliver the flow rates we are accustom to from conventional oil. The best and almost only game in town are the Canadian tar sands which may, if finance, clean water, natural gas etc. are all made available (which today is highly questionable) deliver 3mbpd by 2020. By 2020 conventional oil will certainly be in decline at a rate of ~1-4% per year, nullifying the unconventional contribution within a few years at most.

    It seems clear to us that within the next few decades (which I presume you consider near term) supply constraints will impact carbon emissions. It remains a concern that many working with climate change continue to assume fossil fuel production profiles that are not justified by available data and analysis.

    Chris Vernon
    Editor, The Oil Drum Europe

    [Response: The National Academies report is a good place to start:

    Further into the future, there is probably sufficient coal to meet the nation’s needs for more than 100 years at current rates of consumption. However, it is not possible to confirm the often-quoted suggestion that there is a sufficient supply of coal for the next 250 years.

    And they call for an updated and more extensive assessment of coal reserves. All very sensible, but it doesn’t support a contention that we know that there is much less coal than was thought – it rather makes it clear that there is significant uncertainty – is there 100 years, 200 years or something else? Running out of coal in 2100, it should be noted makes very little difference to the CO2 concentration by then. However, I’m perfectly happy to have people run different scenarios (see for instance Kharecha and Hansen, 2008). – gavin]

    Comment by Chris Vernon — 2 Dec 2008 @ 8:55 PM

  93. Chris Vernon (92), you are not taking into account natural carbon sinks turning into natural carbon emission sources as a feedback to current and future warming. We’re already measuring increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost and melting methane clathrates, and the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 is diminishing as it warms.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 2 Dec 2008 @ 9:33 PM

  94. Re #72: Cardin Drake Says: “I think the Fresno Bee story is a good example of very sloppy reporting.”

    I doubt that Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for “sloppy reporting.” Tom Knudson has two of them. Try reading his article.

    Re #75: Cardin Drake Says: “I doubt if the snow melt season in Southern California had much to do with their wildfires, which is the primary thrust of the research.”

    You are aware, of course, that depending upon how you define “southern California,” there are more than half a dozen mountain ranges with peaks over 10,000 feet [3,000 meters]. Snow and snowmelt are a definite factor in parts of the southland.

    There was a most interesting quote during last month’s devastating fires in southern California:

    “Capt. Leonard Grill, a 20-year veteran of the Riverside County Fire Department, watched for flaring embers in a Yorba Linda neighborhood late Saturday.

    “‘It’s gotten worse and worse every year. I can’t keep track of them any more,” Grill said of recent destructive wildfires. “These used to be the out-of-the-ordinary fires, once-in-a-career kind of fires. Now they’re every year.'”

    Capcha: election hunch

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 2 Dec 2008 @ 10:20 PM

  95. #28


    I am talking about the recovery of the biodiversity of the region. It has been unexpectedly rapid.

    For your illumination See:

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 2 Dec 2008 @ 10:29 PM

  96. Sure, much was learned about recovery watching St. Helens.
    If nothing unexpected had been observed from this one of a kind, incomparable opportunity, you couldn’t say much for the ability of the scientists. The unexpected was the whole point of tracking the outcomes over time!

    Nobody predicted, before watching the course of events, that
    “For Mount St. Helens, the season and time of day strongly influenced survival and recovery. The 1980 eruption occurred on a spring morning; …” — check it out.

    Surtsey is another textbook case.

    Steckis, you criticize a working scientist above by name speculating that he might be the author of something you maybe recall.
    Don’t you have access to a library?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Dec 2008 @ 12:32 AM

  97. On coal reserves, the thing that troubles me most is that in a “business before environment” world view, the obvious thing to do as oil gets more expensive is to invest heavily in coal gasification and liquefaction technologies, which dramatically increase the CO2 footprint of coal per unit energy.

    There could well be 200-300 years’ worth of coal for current usage but that doesn’t take into account rapid growth of demand in India and China (don’t forget Africa lurking in the background: sooner or later that continent will get its act together too). Add to that replacing oil by coal and the extra emissions from that, and not only will coal not last nearly as long as these projects, but will emit a lot more CO2 in the process.

    I’ve recently been reviewing a coal gasification proposal that includes pumping the waste stream of CO2 underground. In a plant that would produce 2.8Mtonnes of dimethyl ether to sell as a diesel substitute as well as 650MW of electricity, the CO2 they would be pumping underground would add up to 8Mt per year, which, if I did my sums right, even compressed to a liquid would be 4.7km3. That’s only the CO2 produced as a side stream from the chemical process, not that from combustion. The proposal doesn’t actually include the calculations (conveniently) so I may have dropped a decimal or some other error, but these amounts look super-crazy to me.

    As always I would love to be told I am wrong. If anyone would like to check the arithmetic feel free to mail me at philip.machanick[no spam AT]

    captcha: man drill (who says machines aren’t intelligent?)

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 3 Dec 2008 @ 1:33 AM

  98. I tried responding to Steckis in detail but it got eaten by the spam filter.

    I’ll try posting one photo of his “recovered” forest, taken in 2007:

    Comment by dhogaza — 3 Dec 2008 @ 3:02 AM

  99. OK, that appears to have gotten through. Now follow Steckis’ links, the second one of which mentions elk were seen meandering in the area not long after the explosion. This is not evidence of recovery of biodiversity. The article discusses gophers, which like some other species which were still hibernating underground on May 18, 1980, survived the explosion. Survival is not recovery of biodiversity. The article talks about an increase in fireweed – which rapidly increases after largescale disturbance like fire and clearcutting and volcanic eruptions (apparently). No big surprise to botanists here. And the article talks about an increase in mountain bluebirds, which like other cavity-nesting insect-eating birds have thrived in the dead-tree landscape left by the explosion (see photo in previous post).

    Nowhere is there evidence of the “recovery of the forests around St. Helens”, which was Steckis’ first claim, after all. Now he speaks of the remarkable recovery of biodiversity, but I rather think his reference to biologists referring to the recovery of the *forests* perhaps taking 200 years is the accurate quote …

    Comment by dhogaza — 3 Dec 2008 @ 3:09 AM

  100. not sure if it is the right place but there is this page from the “Oil drum” that is somewhat contrarian (basic argument : not enough recoverable oil or coal left to sustain IPCC CO2 emission scenario).

    comments ?

    Comment by Michel — 3 Dec 2008 @ 3:33 AM

  101. Alexander #88. I thing you overlooked what “peak oil” means too.

    It doesn’t mean we can’t continue to extract more or we’re running out *now*, it means that the ability to increase extraction or maintain it in the face of increasing demand cannot be made. So supply, as you put it, was inelastic in increasing demand.

    That’s all.

    Now, if you want to ask why demand increased, one reason would be oil is traded in dollars so non-US countries hoard dollars to buy oil. But if the dollar is falling, the oil doesn’t: you can still drive a 40mpg car 40 miles on a gallon, etc. So the “worth” of oil doesn’t depend on the value of the money used to buy it.

    So while the dollar goes down, buy and hoard the oil instead of the dollars.

    Et voila! Increased demand.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Dec 2008 @ 3:43 AM

  102. #89 Donald Oates

    “Is this sort of campaign [of anti-AGW misinformation] happening in the European countries too?”

    Yes it is, as I mentioned in #35 above. The swamp is growing.

    I think that far more effort needs to be made by scientifically literate individuals to counter this growing tide of misinformation. Sites such as Realclimate and Tamino’s Open Mind do a great job at one end of the spectrum of comment, but they do not, and cannot be expected to, reach the great mass of the public. They read the sort of garbage articles that Saunders writes in the SF Chronicle and Christopher Booker writes in the UK Telegraph and the stuff you mention in the Australian.

    I despair of a scientific community that deigns not to get involved sufficiently at this level of comment. Yes, it is repetitive, boring, mucky work: but it needs to be done, and if it is not then a greater and greater proportion of the population will come to believe that AGW is a scam. And each one of those has a vote.

    As far as the USA is concerned it seems to me that the campaign to unseat Obama has already begun, and it will be based on the unpleasant short term effects of trying to deal with AGW and convincing people that it is not necessary.

    The most useful outcome of the above discussion would be if it gave rise to an organised structured campaign to better counter the tide of misinformation at the level of the daily newspaper. All it needs for evil to flourish is for good men to remain silent.

    Comment by Slioch — 3 Dec 2008 @ 4:23 AM

  103. Re;Re#92, Gavin

    I know that this is somewhat speculative but is it known at what CO2 (GHG) levels that natures sinks potentially become sources? If James Hansens recent work on earth sensitivity regarding short term charney feedbacks and long term earth feedbacks (Ice Albedo and forestry movement northwards etc) states that the Arctic summer sea ice is almost certain to disappear and 425 ppmv threatens a lot of Antarctica’s ice sheets (WAIS and some EAIS. Then is the threat of Methane release and/or rain forest change/collapse and the oceans ability to soak up Co2 a natural threat to continuing CO2 release regardless which fossil fuel to 2050?

    Some of the environmental writers are starting to realise this potential future of the planet but what is the reality in the eyes of real climate (GISS) and other scientific climate bodies?

    Your recent article on James Hansen’s earth sensitivity seems to agree with him although there is uncertainty (the article is excellent by the way).

    Comment by pete best — 3 Dec 2008 @ 4:34 AM

  104. Chris Vernon,
    I think one source of confusion people have is to be found in the term “…at present rates of consumption…”. I know of no one who expects energy demand to decrease in coming years–either nationally or globally. What is more, with oil peaking or about to peak, there is every possibility of using up coal reserves within 50 years, even if reserves are not significantly underestimated. Such rapid release of CO2 would likely push us out of the range where humans could make any meaningful efforts to limit climate change, as natural sources of CH4 and CO2 would start to dwarf manmade sources. And even if that were not sufficient, anyone who thinks we couldn’t find a way to exploit tar sands, oil shale, etc. underestimates both human ingenuity and shortsightedness.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Dec 2008 @ 8:21 AM

  105. Donald Oats—Your description of what goes on in Australia is completely untruthful.
    The previous government [ conservative]did not stack the board of the ABC [ national broadcaster], as you describe–it did nothing more or less than have other governments—and , in any case, it’s not the board, but the on-air journalists and interviewers who create the perceptions on this issue and others—and most have links to the Leftist party [ Labor] now in power—and have no shame when it comes to pushing the Left view on this and every other subject— that’s how it was right through the term of the conservative government—-and now.
    Almost all the people they interview on this and every other issue are from the Left.
    Sceptical scientists are almost never heard or interviewed on Australia’s ABC, or any other news media outlet—only the Left AGW view is tolerated , and makes it to the mainstream media.
    There’s almost a complete blanket shutdown in Australia, on any alternative views on this issue, and sceptical scientists are sneered at and denigrated, while people like Tim Flannery are treated like gods —infallible—no matter what they say.
    Debate on climate change is extremely rare except on the blogs—[ it’s only recently that The Australian has challenged the shutdown of debate] —and when a miniscule amount of debate on air is allowed, a sceptical view invites certain ridicule—and any prominent politician who expressed doubts re the consensus would risk political suicide.

    [Response: This is a caricature. What the Australian has been printing recently (see Deltoid posts going back months) is not worthy of the name of serious debate – it is politically-driven nonsense dressed up as dissent. People would take your critiques much more seriously, if the debate you were promoting was seriously about the issues – cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes, the role of mandates, energy efficiency, equity etc. Instead, the ‘sceptical’ side you seem to be is just the same old rubbish. David Bellamy? Michael Duffy? Please. As for Tim Flannery, we’ve often been critical of some of his comments, and we’d do the same if they came from anyone else. The debate is not between sense and nonsense, it is in making sense of the options ahead. That should be what you are pushing for. – gavin]

    Comment by truth — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:14 AM

  106. re 102 Siloch.

    Have a look at the Telegraph web-site. Go to the “earth” section, where the environmental coverage is. I won’t pretend that I’ve examined every article, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find many that are AGW sceptic. And that’s the Telegraph – the most right-wing of the UK broadsheets.

    If the AGW message is not gaining wide currency with the populace at large (I don’t know if it is or not), it certainly isn’t due to lack of promotion in the newspapers or the BBC.

    I wonder, indeed, if the media’s constant explanation of all unpleasant ‘natural’ events as being due to AGW might be turning it into some sort of fetish, which many find easy to ignore.

    An interesting thing I observed yesterday. Some school children aged about 10 or 11 were waiting at a bus stop. One of them dropped a sweet wrapper on the ground. One of the others pointed at the discarded litter and shouted “Global Warming!” They all laughed.

    Comment by Mark Smith — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:50 AM

  107. Re: 82 & 94
    Nobody has doubted that there has been warming from 1920-2003. The Fresno article asserted that warming over the past 2 decades was causing increasing wild fires in California. That is highly unlikely. I can’t tell from your graphs how much warming has occurred in the last 2 decades, but I think it is probably minimal. Certainly it is for the last ten years. Was last winter unusually warm or cold? Who knows? Not the reporter. They never fact-check anything, and the Fresno article was a mish-mash of generalities that were just plain wrong. It wasn’t hard for me to find this. Why couldn’t a reporter?
    “The connection between global warming and the long-term increase in fire activity is relatively strong across the mid-elevation forests of Alaska, Canada, and parts of the western United States, where observed data show clear temperature and fire trends. For Southern California’s coastal chaparral ecosystems, the fire record shows occasional large fire years, but no statistically significant trends.”

    Comment by Cardin Drake — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:59 AM

  108. Philip Machanick (#97): 8 Mt of CO2 is 8 million tonnes. Density of liquid CO2 depends on temperature and pressure but we can approximate it with the density of H2O which is 1 tonne/cubic meter. Which is 1 Gigaton of H2O/cubic kilometer (I think you may have dropped a factor of a thousand in the cubic meter to cubic kilometer step). So 8 Mt of CO2 is about 0.008 km^3. Total global CO2 emissions is about 26 Gt, so if we successfully liquify our global CO2 emissions then we are talking order of 26 km^3.

    Comment by Marcus — 3 Dec 2008 @ 10:21 AM

  109. Gavin:
    Exactly what in my post is caricature?
    Are you going to pretend that we actually do get real debate on this issue in Australia[I’m not sure how you would know, since you don’t live here—- maybe you monitor Australian television etc—so point me to the debate].
    I made one small mention of The Australian, with no comment except to say it was calling for debate.
    Where did I mention David Bellamy and Michael Duffy? I did not
    My issue is that there is no debate allowed—the debate I’m promoting is debate itself—-and in your advice to restrict the debate to the policies that completely assume the unassailability of the ‘consensus’, you are tacitly proclaiming that there should be no debate on AGW itself—no matter what scientific views are put forward by others.
    That does appear to presuppose infallibility on the part of the AGW scientists.
    Apparently I must be pushing for , not debate and discussion by other scientists, who could possibly be critical of you[ but may actually have insights to offer], but only those policies that will turn our countries inside out, wreck economies, cause disruption and dislocation, with possibly no effect on the world’s climate at all.
    In any case that’s a debate that is also shut down, so it would be great if that could begin, alongside the debate that includes scientists who question the ‘consensus’.
    Let’s just have a bit of democracy instead of this ‘post-normal science’.

    [Response: There is a huge difference between democracy and spending all of ones time promoting ‘debate’ with people who think the Earth is flat. You’d find it a darn sight easier to promote debate if you had serious critiques to put forward. The problem with your ‘side’ on this, is that the anti-GW public intellectuals have allowed their critical faculties to whither in order to advance political (not scientific) agendas. This is a huge failing on their part, and in no small part probably adds to their (apparent) lack of credibility with the ABC (outside of Counterpoint where it appears to be a necessary requirement). What is needed is not for ABC or whoever to give equal time for nonsense, but for that constituency to start making sense. At which point things might rebalance. – gavin]

    Comment by truth — 3 Dec 2008 @ 10:28 AM

  110. Re: Cardin Drake (#107): Speaking of fact checking, why don’t you read the whole article that you cite?

    “A possible connection between Southern California fires over the past decade, including the current fires, and climate change depends on the extent to which the ongoing drought in the greater Southwest may be related to climate change. Some researchers suggest that the extent and severity of the recent drought may be related to warming-driven early snowmelt, northward retreat of winter storm tracks, and expansion of desiccating subtropical high pressure into the southern mid-latitude locations, such as the southwestern United States (Seagar et al. 2007; Science, Volume 316).”

    From the Fresno article: “Scientists also have discovered that in many places nothing signals a bad fire year like a short winter and an early snowmelt. Overall, 72% of the land scorched across the West from 1987 to 2003 burned in early snowmelt years.” and “One of the first to make the link was Anthony Westerling, an assistant professor at the University of California at Merced whose 2006 paper in Science magazine found fires grow more unruly in years when the mountain snowpack melts early.”

    Also, I note that the Fresno article talked about fires in the northeast of Sacramento, northern California, the West in general, and Oregon. None of those is specifically addressing Southern California, which is anomalous among western regions in having the least correlation (but not zero) between standard climate warming indicators and forest fires.

    For an article from the Fresno Bee, it seems quite good, actually. I mean, a perfect article might have clearer citations to the research and do a better job of determining the scope of possible attribution – but we aren’t talking about a peer-reviewed science article for crying out loud!

    Comment by Marcus — 3 Dec 2008 @ 10:43 AM

  111. I agree. But it cuts both ways. There are plenty of articles with “global warming is causing XYZ problems” that are based upon faulty assumptions and data. I’d hazard to say this far outweighs the contrarian articles.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:28 AM

  112. Mark Smith, #106. Well, it is good that young people now are getting a laugh about climate change, as they are the ones who will likely bear its burden. Your point about the environmental coverage in the Telegraph is actually quite germane to the post. It emphasizes the discrepancy between the news and the editorial page. Since there is really not anything in the news that contradicts the consensus view of climate and anthropogenic causation, denialist editors and columnists are left with nothing to do but spin the facts into a creaky edifice that can support their own inconsistent position.
    ReCaptcha is getting deep: power boring

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:38 AM

  113. slioch @102

    Actually, if Saunders’ articles must be published somewhere, a San Francisco paper is one of the safest possible places for them :-) In some other places, they might actually have some effect.

    mark smith @106
    re: Telegraph
    Do you understand the difference between reporting and opinion?

    If not, again see what to do about poor science reporting, specifically the discussion of split opinion-vs-reporting in the Wall Street Journal. The Telegraph seems to take a similar approach. I went to the website and searched for booker climate … and that was enough to be quite clear.

    If a newspaper has political reasons not to like scientific facts, the best way for it to prevent facts for being acted on without totally destroying their credibility is:

    a) Provide reasonable factual reporting, which gives them cover … to
    b) Nullify that by giving prominence to very-nonfactual opinions.

    Causing confusion and doubt is quite sufficient… and newspapers must be careful when reporting facts, but they can print any opinions they want, and on many topics, that’s just fine, but politically-motivated OpEds that offer opinions on science really aren’t worth much.

    Comment by John Mashey — 3 Dec 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  114. There are many studies on California wildfires and global warming, all of which support a link between the two. Here are some additional ones:

    “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity, Westerling et. al”

    The research is the most systematic analysis to date of recent changes in forest fire activity in the western United States. The increases in fire extent and frequency are strongly linked to higher March-through-August temperatures and are most pronounced for mid-elevation forests in the northern Rocky Mountains. The new finding points to climate change, not fire suppression policies and forest fuel accumulation, as the primary driver of recent increases in large forest fires.

    Massive California Fires Consistent With Climate Change, Experts Say

    (Oct. 24, 2007) — The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future — as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods…

    Fire forecast models developed by Neilson’s research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought that has recently hit parts of the Southeast, including Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages.

    Yes, that was last year, which helps explain the firefighter quoted in #94. Quiz: we all know that “no single event can be attributed to climate change”, right? So, how many single events does it take? How do we distinguish between noise and a trend? Maybe reporters should start talking about that, instead of just repeating the “no single event” mantra. After all, every historical record is made up of single events, and if no single event can be attributed to anything, then we can’t attribute anything to anything, can we?

    These predictions have been around for about ten years – see 1998:

    “Climate change would cause fires to spread faster and burn more intensely in most vegetation types,” the researchers concluded in their report. These faster, hotter fires could be expected to frequently escape containment, despite increased fire suppression efforts. This would result in many more acres being burned than under the current climate. “The biggest impacts are seen in grass vegetation, where the fastest spread rates already occur,” says Fried. “In forests, where fires move much more slowly, projected impacts are less severe.”

    However, one of the noted effects of warming on trees is an increased susceptibility to insect outbreaks, as well as other effects on tree health – effects that are not included in climate models:
    “Climate Change Caused Widespread Tree Death In California Mountain Range, Study Confirms”

    ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2008) — Warmer temperatures and longer dry spells have killed thousands of trees and shrubs in a Southern California mountain range, pushing the plants’ habitat an average of 213 feet up the mountain over the past 30 years, a UC Irvine study has determined.”

    Note also that the study ruled out pollutants such as ozone as the culprit, because, quote: “the area does not have unusually high carbon dioxide levels, and they did not observe the characteristic speckling on plants caused by ozone damage. Also, if it was pollution, all of the plants would be suffering, not just the ones at the bottom of their range.”

    Unfortunately, similar synergistic effects are occuring within the Canadian boreal forest, which is under assault by pine beetles who are thriving due to warmer winters in Canada. This is something that climate models will not see, as it involves an ecological interaction between species – meaning that fire predictions should be adjusted upwards somewhat.

    This biological factor is why there is not a simple relationship between the use of fossil fuels and temperature – there isn’t even a simple relationship between fossil fuel combustion and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due to biological and chemical responses, ranging from insect infestations to outgassing permafrost.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 3 Dec 2008 @ 1:43 PM

  115. Op-Eds probably don’t get fact checked, because many like Saunders don’t cite facts as much as they reflect those who agree with their own opinions.

    The following quote from her latest article suggests that she’s more interested in selling papers than in sciencel
    ” But if a study or scientist does not (predict) the end of the world as we know it, it rarely rates as news.”
    Alao from the column”
    “Bellamy notes that official data show that “in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder, and in 2002, Arctic ice actually increased.”
    ” Richard S. Lindzen recently wrote: There has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”
    What about the fact that the Artic in the fall of 2007 shrank to the smallest ice surface area on record? What about the continued shrinking of mountain glaciers? The continuing rise of sea level?Also are we to accept a ten years of temperature record as a long term trend?
    And another
    ” Alas, it is hard to see Goddard as objective when its director, James Hansen, testified in a London court in September in support of six eco vand–ls. A jury then acquitted the six Green…… activists on charges of vandlizing a British coal-fired power plant based on the “lawful excuse” defense that their use of force would prevent greater damage to the environment after Hansen predicted the one ……….. plant could push 400 species into extinction.Of course, he could be wrong.”
    Given her track record, how do we know her reporting on Hansen’s testimony isn’t twisted, even though, it sounds like the logic of his testimony seems to be on the mark.
    Can we believe Leon Lederman’s remarks in his book “The God Particle”? It rings of truth among those who ignore the weight of evidence pointing to AGW
    “The range of abilities among scientists is also huge.——————.We count among us minds of also power,those who are (extremely0 clever———haveuncanny intuition———–. we also have jerks, and those who are just dumb……dumb!”
    “you mean relative to you others” my mother once protested
    “No, mom, dumb like anyone is dumb”
    “So how did he get a PHD?” she challenged.
    ” Sitzfleisch,Mom” ” Sitzfleisch: the ability to sit through any task,to do it again and again until the job is somehow is
    done. Those who give PHDs are human too. Sooner or later they give in.”
    It wouldn’t surprise me if many of the31.0000 scientists, she cites , as rejecting the evidence, fall into this category.There are many peole who may lack in formal education, but compensate this with native intelligence.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 3 Dec 2008 @ 2:48 PM


    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Dec 2008 @ 2:58 PM

  117. Truth – (yeah right) – you have the extrordinary idea that AGW is “left” idea, like an economic opinion rather than fact. Are you implying that the “conservatives” prefer fantasy to fact? This seems to be a good characterization of the Bush administration, at least seen from the outside, but I have too much respect for conservatives to accept this as a blanket idea. I do think that left and right will have different opinions on the way to deal with climate change but not with the basic facts.

    Comment by Phil Scadden — 3 Dec 2008 @ 3:44 PM


    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Dec 2008 @ 4:55 PM

  119. Are you implying that the “conservatives” prefer fantasy to fact?

    Do keep in mind that Conservapedia did, for about a half year, in its article about “reality”, acknowledge that “reality has a well-known liberal bias” :)

    Comment by dhogaza — 3 Dec 2008 @ 4:57 PM

  120. Hey truth,

    The real problem for pundits wanting to push a skeptic/delayist agenda in Australia is that it is now bleeding obvious to the general public that the climate is warming. When we hear skeptics banging on about how it has been cooling over the last decade, it jars with the reality apparent to our own eyes in the ongoing tragedy of the Murray-Darling System collapse, and the dieing gardens and parks of south-eastern cities and towns. Then we hear about the record low arctic ice, melting glaciers, the trend analyses from our Bureau of Meterology etc. and it all appears to be pointing in the same direction.

    For a long time various members of my extended family kept clinging to the possibility that this was all just climactic cycles and variability and such. No longer. They understand that such cycles and variability are part of the system, but that there is an overlying warming. We all hope that we might see a few more cool wet cycles some time soon, but understand that the odds are diminishing.

    The skeptics will not regain the public’s confidence until their point of view starts to reflect reality.

    Comment by Craig Allen — 3 Dec 2008 @ 5:45 PM

  121. Marcus (108) — The carbon emissions for 2007 CE was about 8.5 GtC from fossil fuels and 1.5 GtC from deforestation; the toatal is about 10 GtC, that’s about 38 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

    Which is worse that you wrote.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 3 Dec 2008 @ 5:47 PM

  122. I replied to Alan (64), and his ridicule of Andrew Bolt, one of only a handful of journalists in Australia who is willing to say there’s any contrarian view on AGW at all, and my post was deleted.
    It appears it’s permissible for Alan to attempt to tear down this [almost] lone questioning journalist, yet it’s unacceptable for a fellow Australian to counter that with the alternative view of Bolt’s work.
    Most of Andrew Bolt’s comments on this subject are accompanied by views or accounts of results , from scientists who are questioning and seeking information on, the integrity of the global temperature measurements and the quality of the stations and the methods used in that —the tree ring data and methods etc.
    The general point I’ve been making in my three comments [ only two posted, one of which was a reply to a spray against me by Gavin], is illustrated on this blog, as well as in the wider community.
    It’s open season on anyone who questions the ‘consensus’ at all—-they must expect to be demonised, sneered at and ridiculed—but those who attempt to smear the questioners are welcome to do so—especially if they’re complimentary to Gavin and others.
    In Australia, we have a situation, where, on any occasion that climate change or environmental issues are raised in parliament, the Labor government takes the opportunity to accuse the Opposition [ conservative side] , of AGW scepticism, with accompanying slurs and jeers —knowing the media is on the side of the Left, and would make it political death for any prominent Opposition politician to suggest caution or open-mindedness— even wanting to delay carbon trading till the economic crisis has eased, is treated as almost criminal.
    We’ve already seen world food shortages and price inflation resulting from the use of corn and other crops for biofuels—– and the Amazon forests of Brazil, and the peat lands of Asia, are still being destroyed to grow other crops and for biofuels.
    You take a great deal upon yourselves with the claims to all-knowing infallibility that attitudes here imply—especially with your attitudes to other scientists who wish to test and verify your conclusions.

    [Response: Don’t be an ass. No-one is claiming to be infallible. It might be surprising to you, but we all interact with other scientists who are testing our conclusions all the time. But they aren’t the ones misquoting statistics, making infantile allusions to the Nazi’s, ignoring decades of research or getting on their high horse because their obvious inanities are criticised. The way to stop be jeered at is to stop saying dumb things. It’s not that hard. Really. – gavin]

    Comment by truth — 3 Dec 2008 @ 7:32 PM

  123. Thanks Marcus (#108). Unlike the denial bunch I do care about getting things right. The notion of sequestering any reasonable fraction of 26km3 per year of highly compressed CO2 is better than 1,000 times the number but hardly reassuring. David (#121): his figure related to carbon sequestration so deforestation is not entirely relevant. Thanks though for the update: WikiPedia has emissions as 27Gt for burning fossil fuels in 2004, so your numbers illustrate how fast the problem is growing.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:10 PM

  124. Truth
    “you are tacitly proclaiming that there should be no debate on AGW itself—no matter what scientific views are put forward by others.
    That does appear to presuppose infallibility on the part of the AGW scientists.”

    We’re all fallible, the pros and the cons.The whole purpose of debate is for each side to present arguments that support its conclusions. In this case scientifally based evidence.Those who accept AGW do so based on the vast weight of evidence supporting it.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:14 PM

  125. Philip Machanick (122) — Well, lets just remove all of the excess, plus put back some of what was created before. Using the slower, underwater method of enhanced carbonate formation suggested in

    to remove 50 billion tonnes of CO2 per year will require drilling 100,000 holes ever time the previously drillied rock had fully reacted to form carbonate. Assuming a drilling depth of 3 km into the underwater rock at a cost of about $600+ per meter of drilling costs, that’s about $200 billion each several years. (If I’ve done this properly, ths is highly afordable, even at twice my estimate of the drilling costs.)

    Comment by David B. Benson — 3 Dec 2008 @ 9:37 PM

  126. Folks,

    I know I’m wasting my time, but what the heck.

    I’ve read quite a few of your posts, and likely all of the theoretical bits you and others have posted here over the last year or so. I’ve also read one of Gilbert Plass’s 1956 papers, haven’t gotten to his other work yet. I’ve spent a bit of time with Goody and Yung, Atmospheric Radiation.

    I know you will find this incredible, but I disagree with your take on radiation physics on a very fundamental level. I in fact disagree with the application of radiation transfer physics to the atmosphere altogether.

    As far as I can tell, there is a fundamental error in using a path to describe a state function.

    Radiant emission from a substance in thermal equilibrium is a state function. Plass applied radiation transfer physics, a path function, because it was the hammer he knew how to use from his time calculating neutronics of nuclear piles. It was a poor choice, and has continued since that time.

    Kirchoff’s laws were not developed from observation of gases, or even of semi-transparent substances. They were developed from observation of solids. In fact, a general physics book on the topic will usually refer to emission from surfaces, and scale the emission by surface area. A surface is a physical thing. It is a phase boundary. Surfaces cannot be arbitrarily assigned at various atmospheric heights to partition the atmosphere into layers. Kirchoff’s laws take into account substances in which the options are reflection and absorption of radiation. Transmission changes things considerably.

    IR measurements more or less amount to counting photons that reach the detector. Yes, I am aware that is not the instrumental method, but it is the information we attempt to acquire. The CO2 bending mode is active at 667 cm-1, about 15 microns if you prefer. An IR detector in space simply answers the question of how many photons of that frequency arrive. The measurement is transmittance. It is a net value, and accounts for all physical processes that occur between source and detector. The difference between perceiving an absorption spectrum and perceiving an emission spectrum is simply the background. If the background (source) radiation is in excess of the emission from the sample, then an absorption of radiation will be observed. If the background radiation is less than the emission from the sample, then an emission spectrum will be observed.

    Spectra of the atmosphere show an absorption spectrum because the source (surface of the planet) emits considerably more radiation in the CO2 bands than does CO2 in the atmosphere (sample). If you wish to measure CO2 emission lines, you need to have a weak background source, and pretty good detection limits.

    In general, emission from the planet is measured on the W/m^2 scale. Emission from gases in the atmosphere is measured on a microwatt/cm^2 scale. This provides two orders of magnitude difference in intensity on the y-axis alone. The emission peaks also tend to be sharper, so you’ll probably get another order of magnitude on the x-axis.

    I know that a number of folks watch this site like a hawk, just looking to shoot down some poor uninformed fellow like myself. So, please provide for me any data that supports a claim that CO2 in the atmosphere emits at 15 microns on the same order of magnitude as the planet emits at 15 microns.

    In a model where CO2 simply passes radiation to other CO2 molecules, the atmosphere doesn’t heat up at all, only the CO2 heats. If CO2 collides and dumps heat into N2 and O2, then the atmosphere warms, but the energy of the photon has been distributed. You can either hand off the photon to the next CO2 in the chain, or you can heat the atmosphere. Both can’t happen.

    Back to the difference between path functions and state functions. Radiant emission from a sample in thermal equilibrium is a state function. This is why you can use Stefan’s Law to calculate radiant emission. Substances have a variety of emissivity coefficients, varying from 0 to 1, and substances emit radiation in very different intensities, even when at the same temperature. This is why a thermos bottle is silvered. When calculating the emission from a substance using Stefan’s Law, you just need the proper coefficient and the temperature of the sample. It doesn’t matter if the sample obtained its energy by radiative heating or resistive heating, or whatever else is in play. How the energy got into the system simply doesn’t matter. The sample emits energy based on its own state.

    In the troposphere, as you well know, the gas phase molecules maintain a Boltzmann distribution of states. Nitrogen and oxygen, which are not IR active, maintain a Boltzmann distribution just as easily as CO2. The emission from CO2 occurs based on the Boltzmann distribution of states, the absorbed radiation from the surface serves only to warm the system, providing a slight adjustment to the Boltzmann distribution. Again, it doesn’t matter how the energy got there, it matters that the energy is there, and that the CO2 is in thermal equilibrium. An attempt to tie the CO2 emission back to the original absorption – which is what radiation transfer physics tries to do – is bound to fail.

    Anyway, you can rest assured that this is a product of my own addled brain. I’m not getting a dime from the oil companies or from Senator Inhofe, although it’d be nice.

    Feel free to throw all the jabs you like.

    If anyone out there actually would like to convince me, perhaps in a somewhat constructive fashion, direct me to a measurement that demonstrates that CO2 at 1 atmosphere pressure and 300 K emits energy at 15 microns with the same intensity as a mixture of lanthanide oxides at 300 K.

    By the way, pointing out that the method used accurately replicates the spectra observed isn’t going to be good enough. I am aware that matrices of fitting factors are thrown into those computations, both for the IR active regions of the atmosphere, and separately for the continuum, that clearly cannot come from CO2. It is possible to fit anything with enough parameters. It leaves me in mind of the solar system models with epicycle upon epicycle to keep the earth at the center. That was a good bit of work. If those astronomers had had access to enough computing power, there would have been no need to recalibrate and place the center of the solar system in the sun. They would have been able to very accurately compute planetary positions, albeit in a much more complex fashion. I rather suspect that the application of radiation transfer theory to the greenhouse effect is much the same problem.

    I suppose it is quite confrontational to post here. Believe it or not, that isn’t really my intent. I legitimately disagree with the popular conclusions, and I’ve provided reasons why. I don’t expect any of you to agree with me, but I suppose I’m hoping one of you will drop something valuable that I haven’t seen before – or maybe I’m just a masochist, but at least I’ve thought about the problem and am not blindly believing whatever I hear.

    Have at it.

    Comment by Jim — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:05 PM

  127. #96.

    Hank: “Steckis, you criticize a working scientist above by name speculating that he might be the author of something you maybe recall.
    Don’t you have access to a library?”

    What working scientist did I critcise by name? And what was his name? I do not recall criticising anyone by their actual name.

    And Dhogaza: There are voluminous references to the rapid recovery of forests at Mt. St. Helens. You just “cherry picked” the negatives out of the references I quoted.

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:15 PM

  128. Saunders belongs to and speaks for the Conservative movement founded in the fifties by Bill Buckley and the National Review. The movement has become the ideological arm and watchdog of the Republican Party. Her standing within the movement depends on how well she promotes the program of the movement and popularizes its language and ideas, such as they are, and spreads the talking points put out by the party. She should be read, then, as a party hack/flak-catcher. She will not change until the party changes, or the movement, whichever change comes first.

    She is useful to the SFC because she attracts readers, most of them wanting to hear their own thoughts echoed back to them in a more literate form than they themselves can construct, but also many others who find her congenial and provocative, and still others who find her obnoxious and want to take her apart or win her over. Those readers, when added to all the others readers the Chron attracts, make the advertising the paper carries worth the cost to the advertisers, who do not buy that space in order to push ideas and agendae but to push sales of their own products, e.g., shoes. Will Hearst once said to me, “I’m a newspaper man: I sell advertising.” His grandfather would approve. That he might also approve Saunders is another matter, but if she didn’t attract readers who have money to spend on things other than advertising, she would be out of work. The owners and editors, like the good investigative reporters they no longer hire and back up, do still follow the money.

    Comment by Alexander Mac Donald — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:20 PM

  129. “Here’s another reason why people don’t trust newspapers.”

    What an appropriate first line.

    Comment by naught101 — 3 Dec 2008 @ 11:44 PM

  130. Correction to my post above: for forests read vegetation

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 4 Dec 2008 @ 12:02 AM

  131. Jim #126, interesting post, some of it is accurate, but you should read further on Kirchoff’s laws for one and more detailed analysis of CO2.

    Here are good reads for you, and I look forward to further discussion with you on each of the issues you post on here and potentially in the future.

    The World of Physical Chemistry
    By Keith James Laidler (you can find it on Scholar)

    Peter Atkins is the best, but this will do for a start. Out of time fore now, but I have some answers for you, I will get to tomorrow, from my head as well:)

    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 12:52 AM

  132. Also this is not quite what you asked for, Jim but this is a good read

    as well, but we will discuss your post further, line for line, I


    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 1:21 AM

  133. One final read before we discuss:

    Fundamentals of Weather and Climate
    By Robin McIlveen (also on scholar)

    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 2:13 AM

  134. There are voluminous references to the rapid recovery of forests at Mt. St. Helens.

    Then you’ll have no problem supplying some that will show that the destroyed old-growth ecosystems on Mt. St. Helens have regenerated in a mere 38 years.

    You just “cherry picked” the negatives out of the references I quoted.

    Well, no, I didn’t cherry pick at all, unless snarfing up the first thing I saw counts as “cherry picking”. I hit the 2nd link you posted (it coming after the first and before the third) and the first four things discussed were: 1) elk meanderings 2) gopher survival 3) fireweed nirvana 4) mountain bluebird and (since they don’t make their own cavities) by implication other cavity nesters benefiting from *dead* trees (snags).

    If you call that cherry picking, well, fine.

    Comment by dhogaza — 4 Dec 2008 @ 3:39 AM

  135. Jim, #126.

    So you reject the photon nature of light, then?

    Raytracing is impossible.



    Comment by Mark — 4 Dec 2008 @ 3:40 AM

  136. What working scientist did I critcise by name? And what was his name? I do not recall criticising anyone by their actual name

    So you don’t remember which scientist(s) made the (apparently accurate) prediction that forest recovery on Mt. St. Helens might take a couple hundred years?

    If you were to find us a cite for that prediction, then we’d have a name, and also an actual black-and-white written statement to check for accuracy in the prediction department. Since you first claimed “forest recovery”, then said “I didn’t mean forest recovery, just regeneration of biological diversity”, it’s really hard to say if the scientist you’re criticizing was wrong or not.

    Also, what basis do you have for imagining that old growth forests on the flanks of Mt. St. Helens would regenerate more rapidly than old clearcuts that weren’t replanted at lower elevations on the Gifford Pinchot?

    Typical tracts of forest in the OR/WA cascades with old growth structural characteristics have an overstory of old trees ranging from about 120 years old to 300 years old depending on elevation, latitude and precipitation.

    Now if you provide us with a quote from a biologist back in 1980 that claims it will be 200 years until we see the first green plant or fireweed blossom, you might be on to something. But “forest regeneration” … a couple hundred years to replace the old growth stands on the flanks of Mt. St. Helens is perfectly reasonable.

    Comment by dhogaza — 4 Dec 2008 @ 3:54 AM

  137. It’s hard to fathom this extreme sensitivity, Gavin—especially when you are the big winners—the ones who are treated with all the deference in the world by most people in the world—– with your work revered and unquestioned by most governments.
    I commented here , because I believed the claims made about the situation in Australia , by two other Australians , were not true.
    From then on, I have been defending myself against charges of inanity, that I’m asinine, infantile, dumb etc, for describing truthfully the lack of debate , and the climate of intimidation that makes it impossible for a prominent politician to even in the smallest way, question the ‘consensus’.
    Are you referring to me when you mention ‘misquoting statistics’?
    I don’t think I’ve quoted any statistics at all.
    When you say the only issues now worthy of debate by anyone, are carbon trading, and carbon taxes etc, not whether or not AGW is a reality, then surely you’re saying that it’s not possible that any other scientists could conceivably have anything to contribute that might alter the alarmist view.
    I haven’t actually been jeered at , at all, by the way—-except here —-it’s hapless politicians who allow the slightest whiff of apparent doubt to creep into anything they say on this subject , who have been on the receiving end of that—and they’re not dumb at all.

    [Response: I’m not sensitive – just tired. The problem is that you are thinking of everything as a monolith – either everything any mainstream scientist says is correct or it is all wrong. The reality is much more subtle – there is much that is beyond reasonable doubt (the human cause of GHG rises, the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the understanding of the greenhouse effect etc.), and much that is as yet uncertain (regional consequences of the global warming, ice sheet dynamics, interactions of aerosols and clouds etc.). Discussion of the former is boring and pretty much futile since there is no new information, while discussion of the latter is interesting and with lots of new information coming in. The implicit assumption that you are making is that all discussion reduces to worrying about the ‘A’ in AGW – it doesn’t. And note, the ‘A’ stands for anthropogenic, and that is not synonymous with alarmist. – gavin]

    Comment by truth — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:14 AM

  138. David B. Benson (#125). I don’t have access to PNAS at home but the Science Daily article appears to have its C and CO2 muddled: “4 billion tons of atmospheric carbon a year—a substantial part of the 30 billion sent into the atmosphere by humans”; 30 billion is the figure for CO2, not carbon.

    I don’t know where you get your drilling costs. I am no expert in this but here’s an article putting the cost per metre at more than double yours ($3.8 million for a 2,800-metre-deep well = $1,357 per metre) and the cost per metre must be higher as you go deeper. But let’s take this number since you only want to go to 3,000m, and you will have to at least double your numbers. Then you need to quantify “each several years” and find enough places where the right rock exists near a large body of water.

    Another question: if this will cost around $400-billion a shot as you suggest (as amended by possibly more realistic calculations on the cost of drilling) who will pay for it? The obvious thing is to impose an extra cost on carbon emissions. Let’s take a crude approximation based on the International Energy Agency’s 2006 figure of 12Gt oil-equivalent energy consumption. A m3 of oil is roughly 800kg, so that translates to 15 billion barrels of oil. So $400-billion adds $26 to a barrel of oil (assuming your “each several years” is optimistic and you do this every year). Coal is roughly 5 tonnes per barrel of crude equivalent so that would add about $5 per tonne to coal.

    If your numbers as expanded on here are about right, yes, this is potentially affordable compared with some alternatives.

    But also, you need to consider that if this really works as advertised, it will be a license to consume fossil fuels at the fastest possible rate, so we will exhaust them in a matter of decades, and we’ll need to find alternatives anyway. So why not spend the $400-billion “each several years” on getting those alternatives up and running, and cut out this intermediate step?

    Since you presumably have access to the PNAS paper, could you tell us how they handle the fact that sea water is not principally a CO2 solution in water, but has a lot of other chemicals and living things mixed into it?

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:14 AM

  139. Re #126, Jim, Your enourmous post seems to be stating something along the lines of debying GHG abilty to trap heat released from the surface of the earth thus denying AGW. Is that the case?

    Comment by pete best — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:49 AM

  140. Jim, Your entire thesis seems to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of blackbody radiation. Think about it. In thermal equilibrium, energy absorbed at 15 microns will equal energy emitted in the same band. It won’t depend on the material or the state of the material. I don’t know your mathematical background, but I would strongly recommend reading the treatment of the subject in Landau and Lifshitz “Statistical Mechanics”. I’m afraid that this is not the sort of misunderstanding that is likely to be cleared up by a response on a blog page. You need to sit down with someone who actually understands this stuff and work through it.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Dec 2008 @ 8:09 AM

  141. RE Jim #126 & “I’m not getting a dime from the oil companies or from Senator Inhofe, although it’d be nice.”

    I think this is how it works. The oil companies (and don’t forget coal) and Sen. Inhofe look for persons with the following:

    1. Someone who sounds articulate in science and sounds like they are denying global warming, say on a blog like RealClimate. Perhaps able to bandy about a few esoteric complex equations nobody (except a handful of scientists) understand anyway, but look VERY impressive to laypeople.

    2. Has some letters at the end of their name, like Ph.D… Art History, or whatever. Even DDS will do, or KPN, whatever.

    The oil companies might then bring them on board one of their many oil-funded institutes of climate change denial, perhaps to be a spokesperson.

    For instance, there are even some religious institutes of climate denial — like ACTON INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION AND LIBERTY, heavily funded by Exxon — so whenever a religious radio station, TV program (like those on EWTN), or newspaper wants someone to comment on the lack of global warming, they just get a speaker from that institute. See:

    As for Sen. Inhofe, he’s interested in making his list of 400 “scientists” who deny global warming into a list of 401. Not sure if there’s any money in that, but the oil guys might notice, then bring the person into one of their funded institutes.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 4 Dec 2008 @ 10:13 AM

  142. Re: Mount Saint Helen’s: A look at the Point Reyes National Seashore out near Inverness and the Point might give some impressionistic clarity to recovery issues. The entire area lost its red wood forests to logging by the 1930s. There has been little recovery since then, though a lush thin layer of green, like a protective scab, has covered the area for decades since then. It’s pretty but somewhat bleak in comparison to the lush forests recorded in photographs of the area from the late nineteenth century. Yet logging is almost a benign method of ecostrophe when compared to the forces unleashed on Mount Saint Helen’s.

    Comment by Alexander Mac Donald — 4 Dec 2008 @ 10:14 AM

  143. Jim, rather than take over topic for your discussion of radiation physics — some readers will be very willing to go into extensive detail about that if you invite it — why not put it somewhere it can be found later, and invite people to talk it through with you? Maybe there’s an appropriate thread somewhere.

    Else it’s going to end up where it’s headed — in a topic about fact-checking newspaper columns. Not optimal use of the thread.
    Just sayin’ — part of the art of helping people find things is putting them where people will look.

    Picking the most active current thread on top at RC (or anywhere) is a mistake, if you want your thesis to be paid attention to for more than a week.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:25 AM

  144. #122 “truth”: I think it is you now who is being somewhat economical with the boolean complement of false… :-)

    While Andrew Bolt has made his opinions clear concerning AGW, he is by no means nearly a lone voice in the Australian Media. People who do not accept AGW has any merit scientifically are regularly contributing their opinions in newspapers; there are also many journalists who do not accept AGW in part or entirety. Off the top of my head, but in sorted order, are the following journalists: Piers Ackerman, Janet Albrechtsen, Ian Blair, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Michael Duffy, Gerard Henderson, Chris Kenny, Terry McCrann, Christopher Pearson, Dennis Shanahan, Tom Switzer, Peter Walsh, Alan Wood. There are plenty more.

    These journalists pay a lot of attention to broadcasting “the other side of the debate.” To the best of my knowledge however, they don’t show much inclination to *investigate*, they opinionate. Anytime they start showing an investigative interest in the scientific approach towards climate science generally, and the theory of anthropogenic global warming for the current era, will be a good day for journalism.

    Stop Press: The Australian Letters page (Fri 5th Dec) has William Kininmonth, David Evans, and Rod Griffin – not a coincidence, I’m sure.

    [Response: These letters are typical of what I was alluding to. It’s not ‘balance’ to state truisms (such as climate is always changing) as if they are some profound contribution to the ‘debate’. A letter writer’s opinion that the recent warming is because of a shift in the Pacific in the absence of any evidence does not weigh equally with the IPCC report. The proof by assertion that the ‘sun was wot done it’ is not in the least bit convincing. If this is the best that the Australian commentariat can come with, they are rightly being ignored. – gavin]

    Comment by Donald Oats — 4 Dec 2008 @ 12:17 PM

  145. Philip Machanick (138) — Thank you for the cost corrections and the remaining comments!

    Here are two links which should work for you:

    For each pair of holes drilled, the method is supposed to remove one million tonnes of CO2 per year from seawater; I’m no geochemist so cannot explain it. However, it is clear that this process will go on for some time; again I don’t yet have a firm estimate of how many years, but just to guess, suppose the equivalent of ten years at the million tonne rate; that’s ten million tonnes of CO2 removed per pair of boreholes.

    Suppose, because there are so many to be drilled, that each pair costs ten million dollars; the cost is around one dollar per tonne removed. To remove the approximately 40 billion tonnes of emissions each year then requires around $40 billion per year. This keeps the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere from going up abour 2 ppm per year. But we want more, we want it to go down. Another $20 billion per year will then presumably cause the concentration to decrease at 1 ppm per year. In about 25 years we will be at Hansen’s 350 ppm.

    He has stated that this is the maximum safe level. I opine that nothing above 300 ppm CO2e will do in the long run. Ok, keep going for another fifty+ years.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 4 Dec 2008 @ 2:19 PM

  146. The BBC seems to be fairly well supported on this board. But I have just begun to document the BBC’s reluctance to report climate change seriously. Like not reporting the recent methane plumes in the Arctic when others in the UK did:

    Another item, less weighty, but more telling is this report found on the English section of the BBC website:

    “Mild weather delays Bewick Swans” BBC (News: England) 28 Oct 2008

    The piece makes no reference to climate change but all the external links make this connection. The external links are to The Telegraph, The Times, Channel 4 News, The Independent and Biggleswade News. Even the Sun reported this as a climate change story.

    I think the BBC is particularly prone to Geoff Russell’s criticism(“it’s just your opinion” #1) … unless, of course, it’s one of their copper-bottomed experts!

    As public service broadcasters, I think they have a special responsibility.

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 4 Dec 2008 @ 2:42 PM

  147. “As far as I can tell, there is a fundamental error in using a path to describe a state function.”

    Actually, this statement is fundamentally in error. The whole point of a state function is that it is path independent. Hence ANY path describes the differences in initial and final states. If you use the actual path taken, that is just gravy, explanation-wise.

    Comment by t_p_hamilton — 4 Dec 2008 @ 3:03 PM

  148. 142 Alexander said, “logging is almost a benign method of ecostrophe when compared to the forces unleashed on Mount Saint Helen’s.”

    I disagree. Logging takes nutrients away from a region. Volcanos contribute gobs of nutrients. The recovery rate after Mt St Helen was totally unsurprising. Any gardener who has sprayed pesticides or herbicides will tell you that regrowth of a young, weedy biome chock full of insects occurs very fast. The shrill calls of a few ignorant ecophiles, though well-intentioned, were 100% counter-productive. It’s unfortunate that the noisiest in any movement are often blinded by their own zeal. “truth” takes the opposite tack- that a hugely diverse set of weeds and pests is the epitome of biodiversity! Sorry “truth,” but one can’t grow a 400 year old tree in less than 400 years. A sapling or a weed ain’t the same thing.

    My favourite example of unwarranted hype is the spout that millions of cigarette filters are littered each year and a SINGLE filter takes years to decompose. Yep, true, but a million filters will decompose just as fast as one filter. Lies and misdirection are wrong even when the cause is just.

    Comment by RichardC — 4 Dec 2008 @ 3:47 PM

  149. > millions of cigarette filters

    The old “Micronite” type made with asbestos, or the newer ones made with acetate plastic? In either case, volume as well as time matters.

    If you haven’t looked this up at all, you might be able to believe the concern is unwarranted, but “decompose” doesn’t mean “go away” for
    “the number one type of litter—cigarette filters”

    Marine Debris & Plastics: Environmental Concerns, Sources, Impacts and Solutions
    SB Sheavly, KM Register – Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 2007

    You can look this stuff up.

    Logging and vulcanism raise the same issue — both time and condition affect the recovery time.

    Methods for better control of the course and aftermath of both logging and volcanic eruptions are desirable.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Dec 2008 @ 4:34 PM

  150. #146 Geoff Beacon

    I think your concerns about the BBC are well founded. This from 5 September 2007:

    “The BBC has scrapped plans for Planet Relief, a TV special on climate change.

    The decision comes after executives said it was not the BBC’s job to lead opinion on climate change.”

    “The BBC says it cut the special because audiences prefer factual output on climate change. Environmentalists slammed the decision as “cowardice”.

    “This decision shows a real poverty of understanding among senior BBC executives about the gravity of the situation we face,” said activist and writer Mark Lynas.”


    Comment by Slioch — 4 Dec 2008 @ 4:57 PM

  151. Actually state functions tell the difference between initial and final conditions, whereas path functions tell the way, or “path,” it took.

    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 5:21 PM

  152. Jim you may email me at for more information, but listen to Ray as well, as he knows what he is saying.

    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 5:23 PM

  153. 149 Hank says, “decompose” doesn’t mean “go away” for “the number one type of litter—cigarette filters”

    Decompose does mean go away. Wiki says 10 months to 15 years. Point is that a billion filters will decompose in 10 months to 15 years, just as one filter will. (We’re talking about current filters, of course) A quote structured to fool people into multiplying quantity times duration is deliberately misleading.

    “number one type of litter” had two HUGE caveats – collected and marine. In other words, filters float. And is that number one by pieces, weight or volume? In any case, the comment is hype. The plastic rings which hold drink cans are likely a far greater environmental risk. They last forever and are way good at killing. By contrast, if something can eat a filter, it can likely expel one without harm.

    Yep, cigs are nothing but addiction and death. No need to add exaggerated claims. Filter litter is unsightly but pretty benign, especially on land.

    Comment by RichardC — 4 Dec 2008 @ 5:44 PM

  154. re

    #137 Gavin: “Discussion of the former is boring and pretty much futile”

    #144 Gavin: “The proof by assertion that the ’sun was wot done it’ is not in the least bit convincing. If this is the best that the Australian commentariat can come with, they are rightly being ignored.”

    The trouble is, constant repetition of ‘it’s the sun wot done it’ and similar refrains appears to be very convincing to a large proportion of readers, most of whom are scientifically illiterate or have only the slightest understanding of climate science, but all of whom have the vote and make personal decisions about whether to fly half way round the world on holiday or buy the latest gas-guzzler.

    You, Gavin, already do more than your share on Realclimate, but I believe the scientific community as a whole ignores such letters and columns in newspapers at our peril.

    On numerous occasions one finds statements similar to the following, which show how people are being persuaded that AGW is a scam by these sort of articles and letters and websites: from “RoyFOMR”, on:

    “How can a non-scientist, like myself, make sense of all these claims and counter-claims where AGW is concerned?
    After struggling with a Maths and Physics that I could, at best, gormlessly gawp at, I decided that, for me, another approach was needed.
    Which camp did I trust most? I initially presumed that two camps, pro-AGW and anti-AGW, existed.

    On pedigree, consensus and ‘common-sense’ – there was only one winning candidate – The Pro-AGW’ers!

    Clearly, mankind was on the eve of climatic armegeddon – and had only itself to blame!
    This was an opinion I was more than willing to share with anyone close enough or daft enough to listen to my pontifications.

    The more prescient among those unfortunates who read these words may suspect that I’ve changed my opinions and shifted my prejudices.

    I’ve done both- maybe temporarily- but that’s where I am today.

    My mistake- if that’s the right word – was when I stumbled upon an Internet blog-site – WattsUpWithThat.

    Once there I bounced about to other url’s – as many pro-agw as anti. Slowly I began to form opinions that were 180 degrees (neither C/F or K- just Euclidean) from where I started.

    The ‘deniers’ about AGW, suddenly, became the rationalists. Their open, sceptical transparency compared with, what too often for my comfort, repetitious mantras about peer-reviews and scientific consensus came over very honestly!”

    We cannot afford to conclude that responding to this anti-AGW propaganda is boring and futile. We cannot afford to ignore it. These letters and articles should be countered with polite, reasoned, factual information.

    What chance we have of avoiding catastrophic climate change depends to a large degree, I believe, on taking the mass of people with us. For that the scientific community as a whole needs to expend a far greater effort.

    Comment by Slioch — 4 Dec 2008 @ 5:58 PM

  155. Re my comment #145: I just reread the PNAS paper and realized I made a mistake of not one, but two orders of magnitude! So I’ll have to rework some estimates using a somewhat different technique.


    Comment by David B. Benson — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:29 PM

  156. Re: Gavin’s response to #137:
    “The implicit assumption that you are making is that all discussion reduces to worrying about the ‘A’ in AGW – it doesn’t. And note, the ‘A’ stands for anthropogenic, and that is not synonymous with alarmist.” – gavin]

    It(Anthropogenic) definitely doesn’t equate with alarmism. However, it is very important in any discussion about global warming. If humans are the cause, then humans can more readily take corrective measures.
    Good luck with changing the Sun’s output, or the Earth’s orbital parameters. Reducing the emissions of CO2 caused by burning fossil fuels(especially coal) is a lot more doable. AGW is synonymous with Alarmist GW? No way! Alarmism is not one of the factors affecting the Earth’s climate.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:34 PM

  157. Slioch (#154): unfortunately it’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you respond, the editors feel validated because they’ve generated a flurry of activity and the denialist position is elevated to a debating position. If you don’t, the mythologies get propagated unchallenged. I went through the same thing with the HIV-AIDS denial position that was dominating government policy in South Africa for some time. That one only went away when people were dying in such big numbers that denial became seriously delusional.

    A ploy I’ve used in online comments on this sort of garbage is to include a link to my blog (which comments editors frequently let through). This means I can get in a short response, while redirecting readers to place where the issue is discussed in more depth. I’ve had a few nasty interactions with denialists (I suspect some may slightly dislike this one) but also managed to get some good material up taking apart some of the most obvious misconceptions. RealClimate does this better than I can but we have to counter the death by 1,000 blogs phenomenon whereby the junk dominates search engine hits.

    If enough others who are well-informed on the issues do this, it will at least mean that the net-connected universe will tend to have a higher hit rate in their searches on the good stuff.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 4 Dec 2008 @ 6:49 PM

  158. Donald Oats:
    I agree that those journalists you list , touch on the subject now and then, and make known their scepticism re the anthropogenic nature of any warming that’s happening—and for that I applaud them—–[ all of them have been treated as pariahs—as stupid—as ‘dinosaurs’, the epithet used by the poster I replied to here—-all the invective that anyone showing even the vaguest possibility of scepticism or questioning of the ‘consensus’ must endure] —but it’s Andrew Bolt who raises it in a sustained way, and he who cites various views, research etc on a regular basis.
    That’s the reason I said he was the ‘ [almost] lone questioning journalist’—-which is not a lie, as your cute preamble seems to suggest.
    I would never have raised any names at all , had another comment from Australia not ridiculed him.
    You are being misleading when you say those others ‘pay a lot of attention to broadcasting the other side of the debate’—an occasional reference, short interview, or call for the alternative scientific views to be heard, is not debate. Up until now, there has been no debate, [ except for the ABC’s pretence at one on Martin Durkin] —-and anyone even trying to ask for it has been pilloried.
    You seem to want to imply some dark motivation for the increase of letters in The Australian on the subject—-but surely the simple reason is that the Australian government is about to announce the details of their carbon trading scheme on December 15.
    It’s said to have been seriously watered down—and hopefully, in this economic crisis, that’s true.
    I want lots of research into renewables of all kinds for all the reasons most people do, but none of them are anywhere near ready to replace coal and oil etc , and I don’t want Australia and other countries, especially the US, done in by bad policy on inadequate information.
    And Gavin, you must know that it would not be possible to give the details that back up those suggestions of alternative possible drivers of warming mentioned , in a letters column of a newspaper.
    That’s where these people are helpless—-they don’t have the luxury of being on the acceptable ‘consensus’ side—–they’re at the mercy of the media that wants any theory or alternative scientific concept encapsulated into a soundbite.
    But what about the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976/77—have you written anything on that ?
    Do you know of any reason why it would not be implicated in the warming?
    And , although the details are not given on the letters page, there is quite a bit of research, is there not, by quite distinguished researchers, suggesting that the sun is the driver of the recent warming?

    [Response: No, there really isn’t. Show me one serious paper that demonstrates that a shift in 1976 can give rise to a 30 year warming trend globally. Show me one serious paper that demonstrates that solar forcing is dominant in causing those same trends. And then tell me how you can think that these causes are in the least bit compatible with each other and with the known greenhouse gas forcing. In their eagerness to find something (anything!) to avoid dealing with reality, the logically incoherent and inconsistent arguments put forward by those you are championing do indeed mean their voices will be ignored. That is their fault alone. Should they decide to start advocating something that resembled a coherent position, they might find that things would change. – gavin]

    Comment by truth — 4 Dec 2008 @ 7:13 PM

  159. Okay,

    I’ve read your responses. Thank you.

    JCBMack, I appreciate your references, and the fact that you took my points seriously. I’ll get out of everyone’s hair after this, and just bug JCBMack for a while.

    I appreciate the link. I agree with the development of Kirchoff’s Law with a closed system in thermal equilibrium. However, an open system is a very different matter. It is the crossing from a closed system in thermal equilibrium to an open system approximately in thermal equilibrium that is the basis for my disagreement.

    In fact, using the LTE arguments, any substance could be declared to emit as a blackbody … but they don’t. This is why I insisted on an experimental measurement to validate the hypothesis. Experiment is the only means of scientific validation. The emission spectrum from a substance can be used as a fingerprint, just as the absorption spectrum can be used. The emission lines of a number of molecules have been observed in the atmosphere, and the intensities are not on the same order of magnitude as the emission from the planet’s surface. I have not however found a good reference for measured emission lines from atmospheric CO2. Perhaps they are markedly more intense than I expect.

    Proceeding by small increments through the atmosphere so as to retain the radiative properties because the temperature has not changed does not appear to be a good approach. It appears similar to moving a mile one millimeter at a time, then declaring that you have not moved at all because each increment was small. The troposphere is in fact colder than the surface, on average, and real absorption does occur. The spectrum of the earth from space shows this.

    So, Ray, I do appreciate that you responded, but we’re really not talking about blackbody radiation because the system is open rather than closed. I know I did use the term thermal equilibrium, by which I was referring to the attainment of a Boltzmann distribution of states in the gases of any given sample in the troposphere. I did not mean to imply that the atmosphere was in thermal equilibrium with the surface, it isn’t.

    With that said, I’ll get out of your hair, except JCBMack. I hope you’re willing to continue this in bits and pieces over the long haul. I should have more time over the Christmas break.

    Lynn, Thanks, but I really don’t think I want to change careers at the moment, although your suggestions were good, and we could probably all use a few extra bucks. Of course, if by some miracle JCBMack convinces me to change my mind, I’d be leaving a perfectly good job for nothing.

    I hope at least some of you may realize that not all folks who disagree with your position are necessarily stupid or politically motivated. It is often quite important to question things, even those that are considered fundamental and are documented in textbooks. After all, people write textbooks, and even science textbooks change, sometimes dramatically.


    Comment by Jim — 4 Dec 2008 @ 9:58 PM

  160. Jim I am available and I will discuss this further with you once you email me, I will also have more time after Xmas day (gotta keep the wife happy:)

    Comment by jcbmack — 4 Dec 2008 @ 10:32 PM

  161. Well, this is slightly OT, but along the lines of educating journalist / editors / friends who who ask “where do I start learning?” I just finished David Archer’s “The Big Thaw” and recommend it highly as a nice exposition for a general audience. See Amazon.

    The popular term “Long tail” may apply, although in a different way.

    A minor nit :-) There’s an old story of two researchers determined to write a perfect paper, which they checked carefully. When it was published, they discovered they’d left a typo in a reference to one of their *own* papers…

    p.177: David Archer, “Methane hydrdate stability…”

    Comment by John Mashey — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:04 PM

  162. > unsightly but pretty benign, especially on land.

    Do you know how that stuff gets into the ocean?
    Think it “goes away” on land, without going somewhere?

    Seriously, you can look this up.

    Try p.37 of this PDF file, which sums up and gives citations to the research. It’s always a good practice to occasionally test what you think. Local groups like this one make it easy to find things out.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:21 PM

  163. Jim, I suppose I should put this up as a post since people continually get it wrong:

    There is a REALLY neat experiment described in Applied Optics 35 1519 (1996) by Evans and Puckrin. Essentially anyone with a half decent FTIR or even a good dispersive instrument could do this experiment with undergraduates

    The paper is simple enough that any interested amateur could understand it and it is elegant (IMHO) in the parsimonious way that it answers a complicated question.

    So, you asked for it and you got it.

    Instead of turning on the glowbar light source in your spectrometer, place a gold mirror at 45o above liquid nitrogen in a dewar, so that the detector looks through the spectrometer at the LN2 surface at 77K. Then you can place your sample in the light path and measure the emission.

    Because the temperature of the “source” is so low, 77K, the spectrometer is looking at a source of very low (almost no) emission and will not see any absorption of the light launched into the system, but only emission from any gas in the light path.

    Evans and Puckrin showed that the radiative transfer codes could reproduce the measured emission spectra essentially perfectly.

    This means that not only do you SEE the effect of that 0.03% CO2 in the IR emission spectrum, but you can, from first principles, calculate what it looks like. They looked at the emission from CFC-12, but the principle is the same.

    To quote them:

    “In atmospheric radiation codes such as FASCDIP, (note the one they used – er) the absorption spectra of gases are used to calculate emission spectra. These emission spectra actually determine the atmospheric greenhouse radiation; any increase in this radiation will affect the surface energy balance and will cause global warming. In large climate models and most radiation codes, Kirchoff’s law is assumed to be valid without any caveats. However, there have been questions raised recently by Barett as to the validity of Kirchoff’s law in the atmosphere. Hence an experimental verification of Kirchoff’s law for laboratory cells containing greenhouse gases which shows the validity of the radiation codes should be beneficial in answering such criticisms of the global warming theory. In this paper we have demonstrated that radiation codes predict the correct emission spectrum of CFC-12 from a laboratory gas cell even though the cell is not in a blackbody cavity. These laboratory measurements will also assist in the measurements of absolute greenhouse fluxes……”

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:23 PM

  164. A nice 2005 summary of the return of life to the Mount St. Helens blast zone and future prospects is at:

    Comment by Dave Werth — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:43 PM

  165. Jim:”I have not however found a good reference for measured emission lines from atmospheric CO2. Perhaps they are markedly more intense than I expect.”

    via, has a good figure, with the reference

    L.S. Rothman, D. Jacquemart, A. Barbe, D. Chris Benner, M. Birk, L.R. Brown, M.R. Carleer, C. Chackerian Jr., K. Chance, L.H. Coudert, V. Dana, V.M. Devi, J.-M. Flaud, R.R. Gamache, A. Goldman, J.-M. Hartmann, K.W. Jucks, A.G. Maki, J.-Y. Mandin, S.T. Massie, J. Orphal, A. Perrin, C.P. Rinsland, M.A.H. Smith, J. Tennyson, R.N. Tolchenov, R.A. Toth, J. Vander Auwera, P. Varanasi, G. Wagner (2004). “The HITRAN 2004 molecular spectroscopic database”. Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy & Radiative Transfer 96: 139-204.

    Also, two CO2 bands are expected to be intense, and they are. IR band intensity is directly related to the dipole moment change (first derivative). The carbonyl stretch in organic spectroscopy is always intense, primarily as a C=O bond stretches, the bond becomes more polar (resonance structure C-O with a formal negative charge on O starts to become more important, if you believe in resonance). The asymmetric stretch of the C=O bonds in CO2 leads to differing magnitudes in individual bond dipoles, making the molecule polar, and the change from nonpolar to polar is large.
    The O=C=O bend is intense because the molecule goes from nonpolar when linear, to polar when bent (the individual polar bond moments no longer cancel by symmetry).

    Comment by t_p_hamilton — 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:46 PM

  166. Jim (#158): no one is saying that everyone in disagreement is an idiot. There is a big difference between your willingness to discuss with someone well qualified and the kind of repetitious bluster we see so often on the opinions pages. Especially in Australia. Here’s a factoid that may explain a bit: Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal.

    David BB (#155) no problem with making a mistake. Look for my name above for another one. It’s refusing to admit it that’s objectionable. From having looked at other proposals (remember iron filings?) to magick away CO2 I can’t say I’m optimistic but don’t let that stop you.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 5 Dec 2008 @ 2:06 AM

  167. Jim #158,
    Jim, I have a question for you and Ray Ladbury and others for your topic.
    I posted it under the thread mountains and molehills here in realclimate, since there is already a discussion about this.
    Best regards

    Comment by Guenter Hess — 5 Dec 2008 @ 2:44 AM

  168. How odd anti-smoking forces should chose the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition to declare war on cellulose bases cigarette filters instead of celebrating this minor triumph of carbon sequestration– as butts tend to outweigh the renewable fuel combusted, cigarettes per se may be better than carbon neutral.

    But all means let us lobby for filters made of Biochar, as activated charcoal is called these days. Only the dourest of the neopuritan Elect could object to smokers simultaneously reducing their tar intake and CO2 output, and as radiative forcing is certainly a two pipe problem, climate conference organizers who lack the courage to accommodate smokers risk doing a grave disservice to humanity.

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:22 AM

  169. Jim:

    “Proceeding by small increments through the atmosphere so as to retain the radiative properties because the temperature has not changed does not appear to be a good approach.”

    Well that is wrong.

    If this was true, differentiation and integration would not work.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:42 AM

  170. Lawrence: “Good luck with changing the Sun’s output, or the Earth’s orbital parameters.”

    But the Sun’s output is very slowly going up, no disasterous climate change from that forcing would happen for millions of years. The Earth’s orbital parameters indicate we should be going out of the warm interglacial and into a glacial period, so no warming there.

    So the requirement to change these are not an issue.

    So we only have CO2 that we produce to undo.

    Lucky for your argument there, isn’t it.

    So I take it you’ll be promoting the MMCC/AGW arguments so that people do not sit on their bums and wait to see how hot it gets, yes?

    Comment by Mark — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:46 AM

  171. Jim,

    LTE does not make things radiate as a blackbody. In general, if something has a measurable temperature, it can be said to be in LTE.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 5 Dec 2008 @ 6:51 AM

  172. Thanks Slioch #150,

    “The BBC has scrapped plans for Planet Relief, a TV special on climate change.

    The decision comes after executives said it was not the BBC’s job to lead opinion on climate change.”

    I think my examples are of non-existent factual reporting. Does anyone know of any others?

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 5 Dec 2008 @ 6:59 AM

  173. Re# 160, Public service broadcaster, I guess that must take into account global warming but no as the BBC is now obsessed with Dr Who, ratings and Digital TV but it did run the programs by the geologist on climate change recently and by the same person on earth history which did mention warming by GHG.

    The BBC to a degree may have a point about AGW as the UK Government now is passinga climate change bill through parliament in an attempt to make 40% of us drive electric cars from electricity from sustianable sources and CCS coal.

    Comment by pete best — 5 Dec 2008 @ 7:53 AM

  174. Pete #173

    I remember the programs but I got the impression that, after giving strong trails/adverts for the programs initially, they clammed up. I didn’t notice that the programs were mentioned much by other BBC programs, as they often do.

    OK, I may be exploring an outrageous hypothesis, but did someone higher up in the BEEB have a quiet word? They were strong programs that could have been used for further discussion.

    More concrete examples would be interesting.

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 5 Dec 2008 @ 8:40 AM

  175. truth,

    Honestly, I’d rather hear the right side, than a for wrong sides to get equal show time just for the sake of “balance.” If there was a real debate or, if as gavin mentions, you can point to serious peer-reviewed papers contradicting AGW then you may be right in your request for a wider array of viewpoints. But no one requests “journalistic balance” to entertain flat-earth or creationist arguments, and AGW denialism is no worse.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 5 Dec 2008 @ 9:01 AM

  176. #175–“AGW denialism is no worse.”

    Chris C., don’t you mean “no better?” :)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 5 Dec 2008 @ 10:17 AM

  177. Ike, #63, and Slioch, #150, come close to stating what should be considered somewhat in all this talk about the SF columnist and her untruths.

    That is, the product of the mainstream media in the industrial world is “consensus”. The media masters know that to let the “consensus”, regarding AGW, develop that it is real and must be addressed will be very detrimental to many of the customers (advertisers) of their media empires. It will also be phenomenally disruptive to the industrialized consumer society the industrialists have already established here in the US and seek to establish world wide.

    Hence the denialists and doubt-sowers can be expected to be around and gainfully employed at these media outlets until sea level rise floods those same offices in many cities on Earth. Such is the world we live in.

    Comment by Mike Tabony — 5 Dec 2008 @ 10:23 AM

  178. Re #174, its quite possible as the BBC seldom mentions AGW these days or discusses the political implications too much, well not on Radio 5 at all these days anyway although I do not know about Radio 4, nor the TV news programmes. What should the BBC report on exactly ?

    Comment by pete best — 5 Dec 2008 @ 10:32 AM

  179. As of this morning, the San Francisco Chronicle has not published any letters to the editor about Debra Saunders’s Sunday article. Unless I’ve been too pre-coffee bleary to notice them.

    Comment by Tom Dayton — 5 Dec 2008 @ 10:55 AM

  180. Chris (#175)

    What about a petition for No10? (

    “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to instruct the BBC to report the truth about man-made climate change irrespective of ‘journalistic balance’.”

    Any better wording? Who would sign?

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 5 Dec 2008 @ 11:14 AM

  181. One more, to counterbalance Dr. Seitz’s excusing littering as a form of carbon sequestration, a few posts back. Just look at the numbers.,0,679460.column

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Dec 2008 @ 12:14 PM

  182. Mark,
    I was trying to make the point,apparently not too successfully, that man(and women)based causes of GW are more easily correctible than natural effects.Solutions such as dimming the Sun, have been proposed, and rejected based on various factors, one being that the continuing emissions of CO2 would still add tothe acidity of the oceans.
    You say:
    “So I take it you’ll be promoting the MMCC/AGW arguments so that people do not sit on their bums and wait to see how hot it gets, yes?”

    I won’t be promoting anything,Mark. I’ll remain a student here at RealClimate and see how the science continues to unfold.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 5 Dec 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  183. Newspapers aren’t high-minded organisations dedicated to informing the public. Maybe they were once, but like most businesses nowadays they have to follow the money or go under. Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide media success comes not from following a particular ideology, but from telling his audience what they want to hear. The world shouldn’t be like this but it is, and we’ll have to learn to live with it.

    There’s a simple way to get your message across: be entertaining! Give the media a story their audience will like and they’ll run with it. Right now, all they can see is a bunch of worthy scientists with letters after their names slugging it out with another similar bunch. It’s no good saying “the science proves we’re right”, because the other side are saying the same thing. Some journalists can check it out for themselves, but the majority can’t. And even fewer of their audience can.

    Here’s my plan: science is about prediction. Very few understand the science, but everyone understands a bet. Gavin &c come up with a list of ten predictions, some short-term, some medium-term. I’m willing to bet $100 that their predictions will be largely correct. Get enough people on board and we’re talking serious money. Then all we have to do is find someone to take the other end of the bet. Anyone who spouts poor or discredited science can be asked to put their money where their mouth is. If they don’t take the bet, that’s news – they don’t really believe what they’re saying. If they do take it, great! I stand to make some money, which I’ll donate to RealClimate. More important, we can start building up some quotable data which the average Joe in the street can understand. “Out of 500 bets completed, ALL have been won by AGW proponents and none by denialists” would be a VERY good quote! :)

    Comment by not a boffin — 5 Dec 2008 @ 12:55 PM

  184. 162 Hank, yes, once decomposed, harm only occurs via atomic elements, such as lead. Cellulose is benign, and tobacco, once degraded, can’t have anything in it that didn’t already exist in the biosphere. The paper you linked to says that cigarette butts are only 8 to 10th most common ITEM, and they are awfully small. One plastic cooler vs one cigarette butt…

    Entanglement is the biggest threat, along with ingestion of non-degradable plastic. Cigarette butts have neither problem. The paper says that butts are safe up to the immense concentration of one butt per 40 litres of water, and even then the toxins are released within an hour and persist for a mere seven (or was it 10?) days. Yep, according to your paper, cigarette butts are small, infrequent (only around 80 butts per kilometre of beach) and safe at far higher concentrations than found in the real world.

    Comment by RichardC — 5 Dec 2008 @ 1:07 PM

  185. not a boffin. That’s been done several times. All attempts to get a bet going have been refused.

    Shows how secure they are in their predictions, doesn’t it?

    Yet they are still listened to. The story of the refused bet doesn’t even get to your ears, and you’ve thought about it yourself.

    And I would say that this may be the world we live in but that doesn’t mean we should live with it. Even if I cannot change the world, that is no reason not to try as hard as you can. Even if you fail, the Sun will die, the universe will exhaust itself in the heat death of inevitability rendering anything we do ultimately pointless.

    And in an existence where the end result is pointless, we have two choices:

    a) give up and die
    b) don’t accept that pointlessness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it

    I go for (b). I may not change things. I may not make a difference. But the pointlessness of trying doesn’t mean I will give up.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Dec 2008 @ 1:19 PM

  186. RichardC, I’m trying to convince _you_ to look this stuff up, by giving you just a few examples of the information. You need to read more than the examples. You looked at the British information. Now try reading some of the US info:,0,3821918,full.column

    Want to know how the material breaks down, what chemicals come out of it? Museums are a good resource because they track this carefully in isolation. The museum conservation books detail what comes out of the material over time. Want to know the research the tobacco companies are doing about additives to the filters, trying to get them to actually break down instead of fall apart? You can find that with Google Scholar, in publications from Japan Tobacco. You don’t want to inhale what they’re adding to the filters though.

    Seriously, man, I’m not trying to do your homework for you, I’m urging you to check your own beliefs by looking for information for yourself. It’ll take more than some guy on a blog to change your mind. You can change it for yourself. Same as for climate change.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Dec 2008 @ 1:19 PM

  187. RichardC, 184, the cadmium and mercury from batteries was in the system before. But it still poisons the groundwater because we dump them in landfill. Because it gets concentrated through the biological systems.

    Something small that doesn’t degrade becomes a choking hazzard, even though the materials existed before.

    When things change, you don’t rely on guesswork unless you have no other recourse.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Dec 2008 @ 1:23 PM

  188. Fair enough Lawrence.

    However, working to get people to change the CO2 waste produced will reduce the certainty of harm in the future. It will reduce the energy needs and thereby keep the reserves available in case of disaster from another source. It will keep the planet cleaner. And the harm to the economy? Horses used to be a major part of the economy. No more. And the economy had a hiccup in the changeover and now is as good as ever. Maybe better.

    So help your children. Or someone else’s. It doesn’t hurt.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Dec 2008 @ 1:26 PM

  189. Just out of curiosity, did you send this post to the editors of the Chronicle?

    Comment by Aramingo — 5 Dec 2008 @ 2:15 PM

  190. BBC may have some issues regarding global warming, but PBS is still reporting on it and doing specials like always and the NY Times is still a good paper.

    Comment by jcbmack — 5 Dec 2008 @ 2:36 PM

  191. One correction, I meant to say phase state; grading papers, dealing with transition state…lol.

    Comment by jcbmack — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:10 PM

  192. My answer to the question is:

    1. Fact-checking can be time-consuming.

    Apart from anything else, what does a newspaper do if it fact-checks an opinion piece and then has to completely gut it necessitating a complete re-write? They have column inches that need filling.

    2. Free speech makes people lazy. At best. Other times people abuse it.

    On the Guardian “commentisfree” blog, they have a tagline that states “Comment is free… but facts are sacred”. Only the first part of that holds. People can say what they like, because it is their opinion. Also, it turns out it is rude to point out to them that what they say is complete bunkum.

    Personally, I’d be embarrassed to base an argument on incorrect facts, and you’d think it would be through this sort of social pressure that people would be encouraged to self-check their facts.

    Now that just about every established fact is open to ridicule, this social pressure breaks down, and can sometimes be used to suppress inconvenient truths.

    I’m not suggesting that legislation should be used to outlaw lying, but clearly there is a problem here, and I don’t know what can be done about it.

    3. Controversy sells newspapers.

    This also helps to explain why a great deal of reportage of just about anything, let alone complex science, is inaccurate.

    Comment by Timothy — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:17 PM

  193. Very good post. One note, and you are probably aware of this, but in case you are
    not, Debra Saunders’ article in the SF Chronicle was NOT an “oped” article.

    Comment by Ed Halbert — 5 Dec 2008 @ 3:54 PM

  194. I don’t know if Richard Steckis will return or not, but the recent government summary linked by David Werth makes the reality of the “rapid recovery of forests on Mt. St. Helens” very clear:

    “The first 25 years of vegetation recovery at Mount St. Helens can be viewed as the opening chapter in a long-term (200 to 500 year) successional sequence that, in the absence of another large-scale eruption or other disturbance, will eventually return the 1980 blast zone to an old-growth forest.”

    So, apparently, those biologists back in 1980 who claimed it might take 200 years for the forests to recover might be very wrong, as Steckis tells us.

    Wrong in the wrong direction from his point of view, though. Wrong in that 200 years might not be nearly long enough.

    Comment by dhogaza — 5 Dec 2008 @ 5:13 PM

  195. Philip Machanick (166) — What was the other one? I already noted your comment #138, but didn’t see any others related to peridotite weathering.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 5 Dec 2008 @ 5:26 PM

  196. Re: #146 The BBC may have been well advised not to rush into attributing the Berwick swans’ behaviour to climate change. The swans started to arrive in the UK from Siberia a couple of days after that story (3 Nov) (they had reached the Netherlands in late October) and an early Nov arrival is not unknown according to the Slimbridge reserve

    ‘It’s not unheard of for the swans to arrive this late. Over the past 20 years, Bewick’s have arrived at Slimbridge between 13 and 29 October, but the last time the swans arrived in November was in 1981 when they flew in on the 3rd. They are still a good week off the record for arriving late – back in 1967, the first Bewick’s didn’t arrive at Slimbridge until 9 November. ‘

    So the swans did not stay in Siberia, but I didn’t see many stories correcting the earlier reports when they did arrive in the UK.

    Comment by Swan upping — 5 Dec 2008 @ 5:59 PM

  197. 187 Mark, no, the cadmium in batteries was not in the system before. That stuff was mined from far below the “traditional” biosphere. Fertilizers are often made from mined rock, so I have to retract my “was already there” comment for tobacco. By the way, tobacco is good at absorbing heavy metals and so is on the short list of plants that can be used to help clean up after a nuclear incident. Koop once said that 90% of smoking-related cancer is probably linked to radiation.

    Hank, I’ve looked the stuff up. I hate cigarettes and despise the tossing of butts, but filters are primarily visual pollution. Cigarettes are deadly, butts are butt ugly. My proposal? Switch the age requirement for smoking to a specific date. If you’re legal to smoke today, you’re legal. If not, you never will be. No new smokers allowed.

    No, I don’t mind if you smoke — as long as you don’t exhale. Me? Yes I smoke — if I catch fire… And remember, cancer cures smoking.

    Comment by RichardC — 5 Dec 2008 @ 7:21 PM

  198. > primarily visual pollution
    Nope. That’s only true if you don’t look at the research.
    That’s op-ed in a nutshell.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Dec 2008 @ 8:07 PM

  199. Re:#188
    You and I are on the same side on this, Mark. I’m for saving the planet for everyone’s progeny, including the flora and fauna we depend upon, and those we don’t necessarily depend on.

    It ain’t much but all my bulbs are flourescent or compact fluorescent. I take public transportation all the time( not
    too hard here in NY City). I’ve tried to promote to managment the advantages of putting solar panels on the roofs of our condo units. They say it’s too long a payback period( 11 years according to them). I say the sooner we start the closer we’ll be to gainingt some independence from the power company.

    As to the economic side , I firmly believe that erecting wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels, and the transmission
    lines needed to accompany these renewables, will help the economy by constructing the hardware and putting people to work operating and maintaining these units. There are( in my opinion) professional prevaricators among some columnists,economists, and scientists, that say it’s not so, and switching from fossil fuels will hurt, but I believe the opposite is true.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 5 Dec 2008 @ 9:19 PM

  200. David B (#195) if you mean what was the other error, I meant in my calculation on volume of CO2 in #97.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 5 Dec 2008 @ 9:25 PM

  201. Gavin – regarding your comment about David Bellamy, you might like to know that he has been a global warming skeptic since at least early 1993 (i.e. before his BBC documentaries stopped).

    I did a survey after the Earth Summit in 1992, which was sponsored by the Conservation Foundation (for which David Bellamy is the president), on what “UK environmental decision-makers” thought about the summit, and what should be done next. Respondents were from NGOs, government and business. The report “The Road from Rio” was published in 1993, and had a foreword by Jonathan Porritt. One of the findings was that environmental decision-makers were particularly concerned about “protecting the atmosphere”. (Which we reminds me, I should make a copy of this available as a downloadabble PDF.) In discussing this once with David Bellamy in early 1993, he told me that, in his view, global warming was not happening and that we were heading for another ice age.

    At that time, I knew very little about global warming and, as he was such an eminent scientist, I took his word for it! Now, I tend to think it is all wrapped up in his dislike of wind farms. According to an email exchange I had with David Shreeve of the Conservation Foundation in 2004, David Bellamy has been against wind farms since around 1990.

    Peter Winters,

    Comment by Peter Winters — 5 Dec 2008 @ 11:08 PM

  202. > solar panels
    I’d suggest checking solar hot water (preheating the input to regular water heaters). I think the payback is always going to be faster, and for sure the technology’s not changing nearly as fast as solar photovoltaic panels.

    (Besides solar collectors, there are also some interesting air-water heat exchangers coming out, mostly still in Europe, also for boosting water heater input temps.)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Dec 2008 @ 11:26 PM

  203. T P Hamilton, what you pointed to is the HITRAN data base maintained by Larry Rothman at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. It is available to anyone working in climate related areas by request.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 5 Dec 2008 @ 11:29 PM

  204. RichardC, you forget that the reason why such metals are deadly are because they can be concentrated because they have been collected somewhat. I note you didn’t counter mercury.

    Would that be because it shows that you are wrong is discounting the possibility that the chemicals are being concentrated and this can change benign to malign.

    And no counter for the choking hazzard?

    Comment by Mark — 6 Dec 2008 @ 5:45 AM

  205. Mark writes:

    And in an existence where the end result is pointless, we have two choices:

    a) give up and die
    b) don’t accept that pointlessness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it

    I go for (b). I may not change things. I may not make a difference. But the pointlessness of trying doesn’t mean I will give up.

    Right on! The ship may be going down, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a living hell while it’s still floating. Well-brought-up people have always regarded the Tower and the tumbril as the place for best clothes and best manners. We may be on the sinking Titanic, but let’s keep playing Nearer, My God to Thee until we’re actually in the water.

    Seriously, right on!

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 6 Dec 2008 @ 6:01 AM

  206. OFF TOPIC ====================

    2008 is the coldest year since 2000 and the skeptics are gonna swarm over this regardless of the la nina event bringup that lovely cold eater in the pacific ocean to bring some releif to the temperature rises.

    So Global warming is off – lets burn the oil, gas and coal, develop the tar sands, prospect for more fuel of fossil variety and wait for the atmosphere to warm an amount that cannot be argued which requires about 450 ppmv of CO2e. Then we can sit back and watch the ice caps pass away over 100 years off cause and effect.

    I like wasps in winter and flowers in late winter – so beautiful, can’t be anything wrong can there ?

    Happy Christmas to all climate people. Its so cold it might snow ;)

    Comment by pete best — 6 Dec 2008 @ 6:41 AM

  207. 204 Mark, it takes decades for toxic effects to accumulate enough to *maybe* kill a smoker. 40 cigarettes a day must have hundreds of times the toxins of a single butt (to counter the relative size argument), accumulation via ingestion is far less efficient than via smoking, and we accept larger risks to wild animals than people, so I don’t see toxic effects to wildlife being an issue. Digestive tract blockage? Filters are very weak when wet. They’ll shred and pass through.

    Filters pose one significant risk to the environment – discarded cigarette butts can start fires. (This is my last butt post – back on topic for me!)

    Comment by RichardC — 6 Dec 2008 @ 10:05 AM

  208. OK, the media are atrocious; haven’t heard one word about the UN Climate Conf in Poland. So WE have to do something to spread the news. Here’s something I got from They want us to comment on their YouTube video so it will get enough comments to be promoted by YouTube:

    I need your help with an experiment. Can you take 2 minutes watch an animation and help take over YouTube?
    A little background: starting a week ago, a few members of the international team have converged for the annual UN Climate Conference. It’s a little crazy here–over 9,000 people representing 190 countries have gathered to negotiate our collective future. Things are changing by the hour, and there’s both bad news and good news to report.


    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 6 Dec 2008 @ 1:41 PM

  209. A graph of ENSO values going back to 1876 is at the link below.
    Does anyone know of link to the values used in constructing that graph?

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 6 Dec 2008 @ 5:52 PM

  210. Deborah Howell, Washington Post ombudsman, has a piece on getting the science right, mostly focusing on medical hype:

    Her main points:
    · Look for the evidence.
    · Look for context.
    · Look beyond the lead paragraph and headline.
    · Who sponsored the research and who makes money from its findings?

    “In the end, all that counts is evidence.”

    This doesn’t address op-ed pieces. It does reference a report including luminaries such as Donald Kennedy as project advisors.

    Comment by Karen Street — 6 Dec 2008 @ 6:44 PM

  211. Pat, the 1876 chart (and some of the other related links on that NOAA/PMEL page) go to entries on Dr. Kessler’s page, at this source:

    PageUp to the top of that page for his contact information, I think that’s your best bet for answering where the chart data came from.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Dec 2008 @ 9:09 PM

  212. General response, oil availability. I suggest you guys pick up or read at the bookstore, the latest newsletter from atomic scientists or read the latest reports coming from the UK from several geologists. The oil availability has gone flat, whether or not you want to agree with the ‘peak theory,’ or whether that has actually occurred as of yet. I do not have the newsletter right on front of me, as I decided to read it at the book store (those flimsy magazines are 12.00 a piece)but it does contain loads of information regarding the shrinking importing of oil due to increased middle eastern domestic usage and reduced yields at key locations. I am considering obtaining a subscription, however, as it has detailed and to the point factual articles.

    Comment by jcbmack — 7 Dec 2008 @ 1:34 AM

  213. Not a boffin(183):
    As Mark(185) said, the bet thing has been done—and the predictions have been made by the AGW side, I believe.
    It’s the AGW side making the predictions, not the sceptics as Mark seems to be saying.
    But have the AGW model predictions proved to be correct?
    There certainly seems to be questioning on whether they have—on heating of the troposphere—-on increase in frequency and intensity of hurricanes and cyclone —on predicted soil moisture level changes—on ocean warming—-on increased frequency of El Nino —-on increases in coral bleaching events related to warming—on glacier retreat correlated with AGW [ some of them having retreated when there was no anthropogenic CO2].
    From what I’ve read, the model predictions don’t correlate too well with observations—and with so much at stake, surely it’s natural that people would question the models.
    And the fact that sceptics refused to bet might just mean that they think the issue is too important for betting—maybe they’d rather have alternative views considered and discussed , without the sneers and extreme condescension—and anger.
    I think, from what has happened so far, ‘not a boffin’, your confidence in the outcome might be misplaced.

    Comment by truth — 7 Dec 2008 @ 9:18 AM

  214. 207: a single cancer cell is not considered to be dangerous.

    Fail again.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Dec 2008 @ 9:40 AM

  215. 215 Mark, were you alluding to the fact that most everyone develops a single cancer cell frequently and the immune system usually kills it off? Whatever your point (or joke?) was, it’s clear as mud. Could you explain it, please?

    “He who resorts to anecdotal absolutes has lost the debate.” — but such things sell newspapers. The National Enquirer figured out that hitting core fears and beliefs is more profitable and politically effective than truth, and that cancer has spread unchecked.

    Comment by RichardC — 7 Dec 2008 @ 11:06 AM

  216. The ironically named “truth” says, “But have the AGW model predictions proved to be correct?”
    He then proceeds to a laundry list of results from individual studies that are still active areas of research–hardly predictions. Maybe, “truth” you could spend just half the amount of time you devote to your favorite denialist propagandists and learn enough about what the science actually says to make your posts germane. Pretty please. Climate becomes evident on timescales of 30 years or longer. We do not yet have sufficient resolution in the models to make confident predictions on ENSO or tropical storm activity. We do know things will get warmer, large, episodic storms will increase, sea levels will rise, etc. This is sufficient to establish climate change as a serious threat.

    ReCAPTCHA alludes to for whom the bell tolls: Meeting Dunne

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Dec 2008 @ 11:40 AM

  217. Mark, enemies do not lurk in -all- the shadows here. You might try forming alliances rather than beating everyone into submission; just a thought.

    Comment by Arch Stanton — 7 Dec 2008 @ 11:54 AM

  218. Folks,
    I know I’ve been difficult (and perhaps a bit dense), but if you would indulge me one last time, and then I will go away for a while. Many of you have responded already, and have provided lists of references for me to try to understand. I am, as you are no doubt well aware, a bit out of field. I am cutting and pasting all of your responses to me into a Word file.. (I hope that doesn’t violate any copyright laws of RealClimate, please let me know if I shouldn’t do this.) I move slowly, and it will take me some time to get through all of this – at least months I’m guessing. If I get through it, and still have objections, I hope you won’t mind if I come back briefly.

    Before I sign off, (and I will check your posts before I post this, in case it has been answered), please indulge me one last time, if you will. Ray and Eli, you seem to be experts in the area of radiation, so your comments would be particularly appreciated. Up until about 2 years ago, I had never encountered the term Local
    Thermal Equilibrium (LTE). I would like to provide my understanding here, in my own words, since I don’t have the book at home anyway. This will give you the opportunity, if you choose, to see how I am thinking about it, and where I am wrong (or not).


    1. Radiation emitted from a pinhole in an enclosure takes on the Planck distribution, which means the radiation is a characteristic of temperature only. The size, shape, and composition of the enclosure do not effect this distribution. The presence or absence of materials within the enclosure does not effect this distribution.

    2. It is therefore assumed that all materials within the enclosure, or comprising the enclosure, share common radiative properties when the temperature is uniform throughout – true thermal equilibrium. This was postulated by Kirchoff, and the emission from a pinhole has been measured, and does indeed follow the Planck distribution.

    3. Therefore, removing the enclosure, if the temperature is not altered (since the radiation is only a function of temperature), provides for retention of the Planck distribution. We get a theory of LTE that says when the temperatures are stable, we can use the Planck distribution for the emission, and do not need to worry about the composition.

    4. If I have missed anything, please provide it. My disagreement rests with point 3, so particularly criticize that one if I’ve misrepresented the theory.

    5. The data does show a Planck distribution from an enclosure. I have yet to see any data that shows a Planck distribution from anything else. There are copious data that demonstrate IR as a useful “molecular fingerprint” both in absorption and
    emission. Lampblack is about as close as we get to a true blackbody. There appear to be no blackbodies. It appears that based on measurement, enclosed radiation attains a Planck distribution, but open radiation does not obtain a Planck distribution.

    6. From what I have read, the calculations used to predict the greenhouse effect incorporate the assumption that in LTE things radiate according to the Planck function, and that this is based on an argument similar to what I have presented, in which removal of the enclosure leaves the enclosed substance with a Planck emission

    7. At the moment, I don’t accept this because I don’t believe there is any data to support it. I don’t know of any measurement of emission in an open system that takes on a Planck distribution – certainly not in the range of standard ambient temperatures and pressures, and certainly not from the gas phase.

    8. If I have misrepresented the LTE argument, please correct me.

    9. I have much to read and study – it will take much of my spare time – Thank you.

    10. If you wish, I can be contacted at .

    11. If I get through all of this and change my mind, I will let you know. If you think I’ve been unjust in my arguments, and if I discover I am wrong, I will post an apology.

    I appreciate your time.

    Comment by Jim — 7 Dec 2008 @ 11:55 AM

  219. #213, truth

    But have the AGW model predictions proved to be correct? There certainly seems to be questioning on whether they have—on heating of the troposphere—-on increase in frequency and intensity of hurricanes and cyclone —on predicted soil moisture level changes—on ocean warming—-on increased frequency of El Nino —-on increases in coral bleaching events related to warming—on glacier retreat correlated with AGW [ some of them having retreated when there was no anthropogenic CO2]

    From what I’ve read, the model predictions don’t correlate too well with observations

    Being a bit less vague would help you a lot in getting some useful feedback from the more knowledgeable posters. Can you reveal your sources? Produce some numbers?

    My thoughts on your objections:

    Climate models do not predict hurricane intensity explicitly. The resolution of climate models is too low for that. Any predictions regarding hurricane intensity are based on the models’ predictions of ao SST’s.

    RealClimate had an article about El Nino and global warming. Read it and then report if you still think climate models predicted an increase in El Nino frequency. My conclusion from reading the article and linked articles was: part of the models do not simulate El Nino accurately, so can’t be used to do any meaningful predictions. Others do a better job, but are not unanimous in their predictions. So I would like to know where your claim comes from that the climate models predicted an increased frequency of El Nino.

    Coral bleaching events? Never heard of a climate model predicting these.

    I don’t think explaining past glacier retreat falls under the category of ‘predictions’. But anyway, glaciers are very localized artifacts. Climate models are not fine grained enough to be able to predict individual glaciers. If you see any glacier that does not ‘behave as predicted’, it is because climate models do not predict the length of individual glaciers.

    That’s four claims you made about failing climate model predictions that imo were never predicted in the first place. Therefore I ask you kindly again: where are your sources?

    Comment by Anne van der Bom — 7 Dec 2008 @ 12:54 PM

  220. Hi Jim, First to clarify–the type of radiation I am expert in is the type that breaks your electronics in space. I’m a physicist who has looked into these issues and refreshed my recollection of what I learned 25 years ago in grad school. On this site, I’m a student just like all the posters.
    I think it is important to understand the processes that give rise to the Planck distribution, which is just the equilibrium distribution of a photon gas at a given temperature. But how do photons come into equilibrium, since they don’t interact with each other? The only way is for them to interact with matter and through processes of absorption, re-radiation, collisional excitation and relaxation, etc. come into equilibrium with both the matter and itself. You may have read that there are no true black bodies, and this is true. Matter can only absorb and emit electromagnetic radiation at energies corresponding to energy transitions within it. So we introduce terms like grey body, where absorption and emission vary over the spectrum. However, where you do have absorption and emission, you do get something that looks blackbody, but with chunks missing in between. It’s important to understand this stuff thoroughly before moving on. If you don’t understand black-body radiation, you wont’ understand planetary atmospheres.
    As to LTE, it is an abstraction at some level. At equilibrium, temperature and pressure are constant. That’s not the case in the atmosphere. So we divide the atmosphere into small volumes where it does apply. Still the volumes and times over which it applies are large and long with respect to the molecular processes. It’s an approximation that allows us to do the math (note that nobody really knows how to handle systems far from equilibrium in general). What is more, it works very well precisely because of the short timescale of molecular interactions. Physics (especially stat mech) is full of approximations that may look suspect to people who aren’t familiar with them. Usually they are implemented to make the calculation easier. Then people develop new ways of doing the calculation without the calculation (e.g. computer models, etc.) and find the approximation yields the right result. We’ve been saved by the law of large numbers more than once.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Dec 2008 @ 1:34 PM

  221. Jim, do over complicate matters, but you are on the right track with your reading and questions.

    Comment by jcbmack — 7 Dec 2008 @ 2:26 PM

  222. Jim 218. Difficult in that it is hard to separate genuine query from denialist rhetoric. Mostly because your queries have not been phrased accurately enough to be able to tell the difference.

    The optimists answer a question that you may have meant based on you being sincere but when they get the question wrong, the answer helps neither.

    And pessimists (like me) take the idea that we might as well consider answering as if it were a denialist asking that question because it saves time.

    I think you need to think carefully.

    Point one: LTE. There’s a reason why it’s called Local Thermal Equilibrium. Often it’s because there is no equilibrium. But it is assumed there is because it makes some difficult terms tractable or disappear.

    Consider whether LTE is the right model for what you’re trying to ask. I suspect it isn’t, but it takes someone with MUCH more quantum radiative transfer knowledge to answer that definitively.

    Point two: the radiative body assumes reflection and ignores absorbtion lines. This is DEFINITELY not the case when you’re talking about a partially opaque atmosphere.

    Consider whether your model for plank radiation is applicable in the earths atomsphere. I think we can all agree it has problems. Big problems.

    Point three: EVERYTHING that is several optical depths thick and has no temperature gradient over that depth is a black body in its personal radiation (differences being mainly in the reflectivity), lamp black and actually *being* black doesn’t change it. But it does help to remove any single spectra incident radiation from skewing your results because that energy gets thermalised quickly and doesn’t get to reflect much. That really is where the earth’s atmosphere has problems (see #2 above). It’s optically thick at much of the IR range but optically thin at visible range.

    Now, as to your queries.

    1: Irrelevant to the discussion. The set up of the enclosure is to exclude external influences outside the remit of the phenomenon being investigated.

    2: This is an assumption that throws away lots of terms we don’t want to consider in generating the equation for a perfect black body. Just like a perfect gas, this breaks down when you look closely (an ideal gas has molecules of no extent, so, for example, triple collisions are impossible, which isn’t true in a real gas).

    3: This is, AFAIK, incorrect. It is *a* conclusion but not the one that is the reason for doing this modeling assumption. Removing the enclosure doesn’t change the radiative properties of the constituents unless new energy is introduced by the removal of the barrier. E.g. 15micron radiation. You may be setting this up to fail.

    4: Yes, see #3 above. LTE can be applied to the quasi-static state of the atmosphere but the assumptions mean that LTE isn’t L enough. I have to say I don’t see why you bring this up, though. Lets see if the remaining points show this up.

    5: Look at the sun. Not with your eye but with a photometer behind a diffraction grating. Draw the intensity at each wavelength. Compare with Planck’s formula. Good (if not complete) match. See “Point three” above.

    This still hasn’t shown anything to discuss though.

    6: This was true for initial computations. However, radiative transfer physics has put most of this on a firm footing that doesn’t require anything near the simplifications needed before. Is the problem that your knowledge is too old?

    7: This really does seem like a non-sequitor to me. Why does the lack of a physical system that demonstrates that prove the model wrong? See also the Sun’s photosphere. Heck the pyrometer for measuring temperatures relies on black body for its measurement. Look it up in a metrology course or google it. Obsoleted mostly by photometers backed with diffraction gratings, but still used in terrestrial measurements that don’t need huge accuracies.

    8: I fail to see where LTE has let you down. Your beef seems to be “Well, it’s all nicely argued, but where is this done in reality?”.

    Well, in the atmosphere on the earth, for example. That’s a little bit bootstrapping but the conclusions for LTE application to the atmosphere agrees with the unmodelled quantum radiative transfer calculations done on the same system.

    So if I can try to explain what I see as a solution is that

    a) LTE is pretty good at overall features.
    b) LTE is terrible at minutae where the assumptions break down
    c) However, that is taken into account and is the entire reason for CO2 being a GHG, though it is outside the LTE model and therefore modifies the output
    d) You CAN mix models, you know. LTE for most of the energy modelling, modification by another model and feedback to account for non-linearities
    e) The lack of what you want to see in expression of the model is a fault of your own desire to read up and TRY to see where a phenomenon elicits the answers you seek
    f) Any failure in LTE is merely because the assumptions break down. Why you think that makes LTE wrong, I can’t see.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:04 PM

  223. Arch, 217. Where’s the fun in that?

    If someone throws stuff at you and when you turn to face them they say “Hey, just a bit of a larf”, this doesn’t mean they are telling the truth.

    Likewise, if someone says “Hey, I just want to learn but surely…”, it doesn’t mean they want to learn.

    Now if they ask a question that CAN be answered and couldn’t have been countered by the querist themselves if they’d just thought about it, then I don’t thump them metophorically. If the same person asks a good question then asks a dumb one, they get answered as best I can (if I can) on the first and thumped on the second.

    That’s how you train animals to do things properly. Reward the good behaviour, punish the bad. And do so whether they have been good before or not.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:08 PM

  224. Richard 215. Recent medical tests and models have shown that a single cancer cell a much bigger danger than they’d assumed.

    Likewise “well, it has to be concentrated even more” is hand-wavy and a hand-wavy answer of “So? Single cancer cells are deadly” is as good a rebuttal and as well backed up.

    You see, I can’t see why you refuse to think about whether the waste produced by, for example, filter tips could be harmless just by simply saying “they used to be there before, so how bad can they be now”?

    In the same way you can’t see what I was on about.

    So it looks like I nailed about the right level of rigour in my answers as you have.


    Comment by Mark — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:12 PM

  225. 213: “It’s the AGW side making the predictions, not the sceptics as Mark seems to be saying.
    But have the AGW model predictions proved to be correct?”

    How about “The climate is going into it’s cooling cycle”? That’s a skeptic (OK, denialist, but you don’t want to call yourself that, so we’ll use the term you’ll accept) prediction. Worse, they DON’T EVEN HAVE A MODEL!!!!

    Please try again.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:15 PM

  226. > 207, 214

    Life is full of little surprises.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:20 PM

  227. As always, well said, could not have said that better myself, ray.

    Comment by jcbmack — 7 Dec 2008 @ 3:48 PM

  228. Jim,
    that is actually it… Ray, Eli, Mark, and myself have answered your questions, comments and explained the science, the knowns, unknowns, and uncertainties; the experiments performed, the basics of the math applications and how these laws work out. Each of us from our respective fields and approaches. I entertained your questions, because it is not always good to attack people with questions and contrary views until you see what they are asking (and what they think they are asking) and what they know and do not know, in this regard I was more optimistic because for me it is as fun to go into rigorous details form that perspective as it is for Mark to be pessimistic. I hope these discussion have opened up your eyes. In Pchem there are a lot of things we cannot directly observe, but the approximations fit the results we see. To own a P chemistry book is fine, but to understand it is another matter. There really is no more that can be explained to you without you having taken physical chemistry and understanding stat mechanics and stat thermodynamics. Perhaps you were not genuine as Mark asserts, or assumes, but there really is no further the explanation can go in this regard.

    The atmosphere is not static and altitudes change properties as do optical thickness already pointed out, the earth is an open system, but this does nothing to change the properties of green house gases observed or the attributions made, no not years of discussion, just a few long days. I wish you luck, get to a decent university, I think your inquisitive mind may make you a scientist yet.

    Comment by jcbmack — 7 Dec 2008 @ 4:16 PM

  229. > train animals to do things properly. Reward the good behaviour,
    > punish the bad. And do so whether they have been good before or not.

    “… Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to use punishment sparingly is that punishment fails to address the fact that the bad behavior is occurring because it has somehow been reinforced—either intentionally or unintentionally. That is, owners tend to punish bad behaviors some of the time while inadvertently rewarding these same behaviors at other times. In this way, they accidentally set their pets up to receive punishment repeatedly by sometimes unintentionally rewarding the bad behavior, which is how the behavior was learned in the first place. This inconsistency is confusing to the animal and can cause frustration or anxiety. Punishment also fails to tell the animal what it should be performing instead…..”

    Acting punitively may be very reinforcing to the person doing it.
    Be wary of that.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Dec 2008 @ 5:44 PM

  230. The quote above is a brief excerpt from this page:
    Recommendations and citations are provided there.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Dec 2008 @ 5:49 PM

  231. 226 Hank, of course a single cancer cell represents a danger, just as a loaded gun represents danger. The issue is absolutism VS. probability. Yep, some animals in a population will be exposed to a toxin from litter, some of those will develop a single cancer cell (or some other life-threatening harm) and a subset of those will die. If the probabilities are 0.01%, 1% and 10% for a given non-human species, then the 0.00001% fatality rate is not significant. Nobody has posted any evidence that the actual probabilities are higher. The null hypothesis does not require evidence to hold the field. Your contention, that there is significant harm, requires evidence. Do we disagree on the definitions? I say it would take at least a 0.1% extermination rate even in a low-R species to be considered significant.

    223, Mark, punishment teaches the punished to either avoid punishment or to punish the punisher. By reducing human motivations to amoebaesque levels, you lose sight of real human responses. That’s why building more prisons and dropping more bombs simply doesn’t work. Besides, the example given – of inflicting “punishment” by entering text on a computer (Take THAT!) assumes that the “punished” gives a dang. Punishment usually teaches the punished to hate the punisher. It also teaches bystanders to despise the punisher. Did you read Arch’s 217?

    Comment by RichardC — 7 Dec 2008 @ 8:55 PM

  232. The simplest way of describing LTE is to say that if you can find a single temperature which characterizes the quantum state distributions of energy and the kinetic energy distribution you have LTE. Sometimes you settle for close enough, the balance being that the smaller the volume you are talking about, the larger the fluctuations consistent with LTE.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 8 Dec 2008 @ 12:10 AM

  233. re 231: That’s why there’s reward for good behaviour.

    Odd that you forgot that.

    Comment by Mark — 8 Dec 2008 @ 3:43 AM

  234. RichardC writes:

    That’s why building more prisons and dropping more bombs simply doesn’t work.

    [edit – too OT sorry]

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 8 Dec 2008 @ 8:18 AM

  235. On the issue of \behaviorist posting\ (#223, et seq.), I would say that the model used is inappropriate. Specifically, in training an animal there is a hierarchical power relationship, more or less accepted by both parties to the training. On a site such as RC, however, this is not the case. Behaviorist punishment/reward strategies implicitly bring such relationships into play, and the usual, predictable result is a power struggle. One player will probably end up going away angry; the other may feel vindicated–reinforced!–but will not have changed anyone’s mind.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 8 Dec 2008 @ 9:08 AM

  236. RC works using reward (e.g. “Good question!” from Gavin or another contributors) and by timeout. That’s effective, proven quality site.

    Don’t mistake ‘punishment’ for ‘behaviorist’ — not so.
    A real expert explains:
    “Get real

    If in real life you have to wade in with an aversive to stop something from happening … so be it. Animals do reprimand (the official biologist term) their young and each other.

    You’ll have interrupted or stopped a dangerous event. Just don’t kid yourself that you’ve taught or guaranteed any particular change for the future.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Dec 2008 @ 11:31 AM

  237. A discussion on the influence of the oceans and observed atmospheric warming. Likely not the right place for this, but there were some psuedo related discussions in this thread. Also I’m not familiar with the journal or authors.

    Compo, G.P. and P.D. Sardeshmukh. 2008. Oceanic influences on recent continental warming. Climate Dynamics, DOI 10.1007/s00382-008-0448-9.

    Comment by Rando — 8 Dec 2008 @ 1:18 PM

  238. Negative reinforcment works well. You offer soemthing or take something to reduce the occurence of an action. Like when you take tylenol to get rid of a headache. More practically to this discussion, when a student who acts up is given points or tickets to buy something in the classroom store each day he or she does not engage in problematic behavior. Behaviorism does not promote punishment, nor does the current paradigm of cognitive behaviorism. Burrhus Frederick Skinner (more famously referred to as BF Skinner) was on to something in his experiments and resulting from the “Skinner Box,” among other experiments showing the powerful forces of “Operant Conditioning,” or learning conditioning. For the behaviorists pscyhology is the science of behavior, not the mind. Of course the accidental discovery by the physiologist Ivan Pavlov with the canines must also not be forgotten, in which the simple pheneomnea of classical conditioning was discovered (or more aptly, a phenomena that became coined classical conditioning) or the early works of John B. Watson, Edward Thorndike or the modification of such applications in the 1970’s and 1980’s by the cognitivist (constructivist as well) psychologists.

    In addition the countries of the world that have the death penalty in place have some of the highest violent crime and homicide rates in comparison with the countries that do not. Justice is an important concept, however, it must executed with great care, prudence,compassion, and great skill in order to increase the probability of it having the desired affect, though heinous crimes must be dealt with in absolute firmness, many criminals, mentally ill persons and white colar offenders may benefit from psychotherpay, psychotropic medications and group talk therapy in a secure mental hospital seeting. then again, career criminals with no conscience for what they do may have Axis II personality disorders with other co-morbid features on Axis I and perhaps other personality atrributes that make therapy virtually useless. Punishment is a social ideal, not a psychologcial one, but with overcrowding in prisons and towns amd cities fighting the building of new jails, something must be applied beyond the standard punishment which,obviously does not work.

    Regarding animals it is tempting to punish bad behavior, but this is not condcuive to a mid or long term “learning process.” Animals as George Herbert Mead, especially canines and (and later on felines) may recognize facial expressions in humans, (modern evolutionary psychology and biology has revealed that they do better than humans) but they cannot attach the same level of meaning, and a punishment follows a similar path where its affects are short lived and can become counter productive.


    “Behavior therapy (also called behavior modification or behavioral therapy) may be defined as “the application of experimentally derived principles of learning to the treatment of psychological disorders.”[1] In practice, it takes the form of “psychological counseling to change activity that is undesirable or potentially harmful. Treatment most often is directed toward changing harmful habits, such as discontinuing cigarette smoking, dieting to lose weight, controlling alcohol abuse, or managing stress more effectively.”[2]

    While founded in behaviorism, behavior modification has long been used by psychotherapists, parents, and caretakers of those with special needs who don’t necessarily have a behaviorist “philosophy.” It involves some of the most basic methods to alter human behavior, through operant reward and punishment. Classical conditioning, which aims to affect changes in behavior through associations between stimuli and responses, can also be a component of behavior modification, but it is generally less useful in applied settings because it focuses solely on basic involuntary reactions to stimuli and not on conscious learning associated with a behavior’s function or context.” (end quote)

    Diagnostic and Statistics Manual IV- Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR)

    Sarason & Sarason Abnormal Psychology: The Problem of Maladaptive Behavior.

    Neil Carlson Physiology of Behavior

    New Encylopedia: Behaviorism.

    Consider Ethics Bruce N. Waller.

    Encyclopedia of Philosophy (unabridged)

    Theories of Personality Susan Cloninger.

    Further reading related to this discussion but outside its scope:

    Comment by jcbmack — 8 Dec 2008 @ 2:31 PM

  239. jcb, I don’t kill anyone.

    Not unless the word is mightier than the sword…

    Comment by Mark — 8 Dec 2008 @ 3:21 PM

  240. 236 Hank, you touch on a good point. Love is the critical factor which allows parents and peers to use punishment effectively. Private sites can use techniques, such as the [edit] phrase, as they link into the peer connection. Columnists, on the other hand, often display hate mail in their office as a badge — if nobody “punishes” them, then they didn’t write an effective piece. Controversial columnists aren’t fact-checked because that would be fatal to their business, and besides, “technically correct” is good enough. Like cigarette butts causing a single cancer cell to develop in a tiny percentage of insects allows folks here to maintain that butts are dangerous — passing fact-checking isn’t terribly hard and doesn’t require more than the barest smidgen of a factoid. Reasonable and Rational can’t be enforced, and Unreasonable resonates – either positively or negatively – with plenty of folks who have a dollar waiting to be spent on a newspaper.

    Comment by RichardC — 8 Dec 2008 @ 3:24 PM

  241. Relevant:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Dec 2008 @ 4:37 PM

  242. Mark,I enjoy your posts even when we diagree or end up agreeing when we did not want to… I just added my psychology background to the mix, since Hank went somewhat extensive with it. This place keeps me sane.

    Comment by jcbmack — 8 Dec 2008 @ 6:09 PM

  243. The problems I have with the green movement, Hank are just as strong and numerous as I have with denialists, to create a greener earth you need steel, concrete, CH4 and CO2 emissions anyways and we could never do away completely with carbon footprints, we can merely reduce in the next few decades provided that the lagging of CO2 does not slow things down, (which it will aha!) but seriously we cannot just move onto communes and have gardens, that utopian ideal never worked in the sixties and seventies; the heat waves in Ny and the global heat waves in the nineties coincide with the gasoline and population booms of their respective decades, however,and I am not assuming you,Hank believe that many alarmists are actually educated enough to understand what needs to be done and why; the green movement in some ways is more toxic than denialist and certainly more than many skeptics.

    How many people picture huge structures built to help us become more green with 300 pound engineers and 30 year old scientists with no hair and so forth? This is a dirty, expensive, multi factorial job that we have under way. No easy answers. With the improvements made in utilizing DC current, now that AC current is not the only application with those transformers (Nikola Tesla)we could generate more powerful lines and implement some wind power. Might even be able to accomodate lines for pickens. No references, any engineers who read this know what I am driving at.

    Comment by jcbmack — 8 Dec 2008 @ 6:16 PM

  244. Eli, I agree anything more than that we either need to treat it with very nasty phsysics, chemistry, and math or conversely just say which is equally true: no one knows, past Hyrdogen we cannot measure it all, and the atmosphere is a vast open system. Methane is far too large in an open system, as is CO2 and so forth. Approximations and results that agree closely with the laws and current theories. Jim had no idea what he was really asking, but I felt it best to tell him as much as possible, actually Atkins explains it nicely in the language of math.

    Comment by jcbmack — 8 Dec 2008 @ 6:34 PM

  245. As mentioned above THE HINDU is a much better newspaper than the ones we have here in America. Not only are they talking about the UN Climate Conf in Poznan, but about the 24 mill climate refugees of today, and the 200 mill expected by 2050.


    They operate under the assumption that they have to present the news…not overly dwelling on tabloid stories like the OJ trial.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 10 Dec 2008 @ 9:38 AM

  246. As mentioned in #58 THE HINDU is a much better newpaper than the ones we have here in American. Not only are they reporting on the UN Climate Conf in Poznan, but also the 24 mill climate refugees at present, expected to climb to 200 mill by 2050.


    They operate under the quaint notion that they should report the news.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 10 Dec 2008 @ 9:40 AM

  247. The UK media on climate.

    I think that the BBC web site is considerably better than its other offerings but I don’t have much time to follow it.

    BBC TV and Radio channels are very poor. I would not like to blame their two correspondents Roger Harrabin and Susan Watts. The problem lies higher up in the BBC. They appear to have decided that Science will lower its audience figures. The best that they have offered recently, was a series by a geologist called Ian Stewart called the Climate Wars. That series was a lost opportunity. It appeared to follow the contrarian agenda but without reaching its conclusions. It was good on Keeling and some of the other observations. But it was too timid to spend much time on the science or the history. It started with a warning sent to the US president about an impending ice age which was eventually overthrown by one hot summer which he remembered as a child… and then some more hot years in the 1980’s. The history was truncated just as in the GGWS programme on Channel 4. In the final programme he attended a contrarian conference and gaped at Monckton who was reduced to conspiracy theory. It was a shallow offering like all of the rest.

    Several years ago ,there was the partially controversial and confusing Horizon programme called Global Dimming which was discussed in Realclimate. It is time for an up-date. There have been signs of an improvement in Horizon recently when a high energy physicist was given free reign to present (and write) an entire programme on “Time”. I wonder if one of you experts could be persuaded to approach the BBC with an offering to write one on climate?

    Radio 4’s Moral Maze is a centre for denialism. The self appointed expert Melanie Phillips, is given tacit support by Claire Fox and receives no serious opposition.The climate crisis raises major moral issues which cannot be discussed on that programme.

    The Guardian’s CIF columns tend to have a green leader article followed by a huge number of angry or crazy contrarian comments from all over the world. Once again it would be nice if the Guardian could be persauded to invite a professional with forensic skills like say William Connolly. As for the mob,their comments do need to be answered from time to time.

    I am not sure that the general public appreciates the fine distinctions being made between opinion pieces and reports.
    In any case, The Daily Telegraph does not always separate opinion from reporting (contrary to a remark above). In 2004 it had a report about Solanki headlined “Its the Sun thats to blame”. This was supported by the article but was contradicted by by Solanki’s own papers in 2004. The Telegraph group is intimately tied up with the Monckton/Lawson family as was well illustrated by the huge coverage they gave to one of Monckton’s ‘papers’.

    The Daily Mail is of course home to well know contrarians.

    Channel 4 appears to be run by contrarians. They have never put on a serious programme on the subject.

    This is a serious situation because we have a government which won’t go beyond incremental changes if it means moving ahead of public opinion. It may be worse than that. In the UK agreeing with you is often a way of shutting you up. I have my doubts sometimes that the agreement is more than skin deep.

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 15 Dec 2008 @ 6:50 AM

  248. Jim:
    RE: LTE.
    I think you get the same problem at the macroscopic level i.e for thermodynamics. The whole subject was originally developed for reversible systems at equilibrium for which it became possible to define first entropy and then temperature. But to restrict it rigorously to equilibrium would have made the subject unuseable. What about heat conduction considered by e.g. Fourier? That is irreversible and entropy is being created. In the modern approach (I believe) you pre-suppose that conditions are close enough to equilibrium to define a local temperature. Then you can develop Onsager’s equations etc. etc. Of course it is possible for these to be violated a long way from equilibrium and the same is probably true for radiative transfer at low enough pressures when there are not enough collisons between the excited CO2 molecules and their neighbours to reach LTE (The last bit came as an answer to one of my questions to RC, way back)

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 15 Dec 2008 @ 10:38 AM

  249. jcbmack@243

    I really can’t make head or tail of that word salad. Can you try and rephrase your point (if any)? What makes you think “the green movement” is demanding that we “just move onto communes and have gardens”? Frankly, I think the problems you have with “the green movement” are in your head, not the real world.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 15 Dec 2008 @ 12:08 PM

  250. Geoff, environmental groups and scientists don’t have the money to spend on advertising.

    There’s 90% of your reason there.

    Comment by Mark — 15 Dec 2008 @ 1:22 PM

  251. Nick,
    I am not saying we should not move forward towards a more green society, what I am saying is that a huge percentage of people in the green movement are not scientifically literate and make choices and fight for changes detrimental to the environment. Read my posts about electric vehicles in mountains and molehills and in contrarians and you will see that I know that those EV were great and would have reduced emissions by a huge margin and that I support wind mill placements, but without engineering and proper policy the green movement is a detrimental ideology on several levels. Just look at the physics, chemistry, ecology, biology and engineerin. Again I support a rational green movement, the only thing in anyone’s head that is false is your denial.

    Comment by jcbmack — 15 Dec 2008 @ 2:05 PM

  252. Mark some scientists and environmental groups do advertise because they do have the money.

    Comment by jcbmack — 15 Dec 2008 @ 2:11 PM

  253. Geoff
    I stop watching broadcast television a couple of years ago when I realised I only turned it on once a week in summer for the MotoGP. So I can’t comment on that. But I think the Guardian gives good coverage, if stories are current, and I seem to recall that Monbiot had a piece about the crazies that comment not too long ago.
    I’m not a fan of the mob currently running the country, yet they have made some pretty impressive promises. Now we must wait to see if they have the money and the willpower to back them up, e.g. carbon-zero newbuilds from 2016, 80% emission reductions by 2050, of course it would help if they also stopped building on flood plains.

    Comment by Richard C — 15 Dec 2008 @ 2:30 PM


    (the “Hot Spot” mistake continues to be repeated; RC cited for correction).

    [Response: This is really becoming a litmus test for cluelessness. Or maybe a Rorschach test? – gavin]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 20 Dec 2008 @ 12:59 PM

  255. Hank,
    Good Lord, Evans is just sad. [edit – sorry, but that was offensive]

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 20 Dec 2008 @ 1:31 PM

  256. Dear RC team,
    Off-topic, but could you explain for us Rest of the World what the composition of Obama’s team might mean for action on climate change? It sure looks as if denying dinosaurs are being replaced by sensible people, congratulations!

    [Response: One simply couldn’t have asked for better than Chu (DOE), OSTP (Holdren), and Lubchenko (NOAA). I’m awaiting the announcement of the new NASA head w/ great anticipation. The short answer to your question is that there is good reason to expect major action w/ all major obstacles cleared and with the executive and legislative branches now working together on this. -mike]

    Comment by Ark — 20 Dec 2008 @ 2:29 PM

  257. Ark (256) — Look at recent threads on

    Comment by David B. Benson — 20 Dec 2008 @ 3:22 PM

  258. Thanks David (257),
    That’s really climate progress, impressive!
    It also robs the deniers and confusers, that take so much of the RC time for so little content, of their Washington amplifiers. Hopefully the attention can, here as well, shift towards science again.

    Comment by Ark — 20 Dec 2008 @ 5:20 PM

  259. Regarding the numerous comments on climate change and fire, beginning at #4 and ending at #114:

    The question of whether or not climate change is altering fire regimes (~= fire frequencies, sizes and intensities) is a topic where I would say angels wisely fear to tread, because it displays (at least) two serious attribution problems also shared by climate change science alone: (1) the possible confounding by other potential causes and (2) scale issues, particularly, whether the scale is large enough given the knowledge of system behavior/determinants. As scientists we have to be REALLY CAREFUL on topics like this, or we risk giving the contrarians real ammo. Unfortunately, this is in fact happening, I’ve seen it directly (but won’t name any names).

    Regarding the second point, I’ll let the climate modelers respond, but my understanding of the current state of the science is that climate change attribution is still primarily at the global to continental scale, and breaks down in proportion to the reduction of that scale (i.e. much harder, maybe currently impossible?, to attribute at the local to regional scale, outside of the arctic locales). The difficulty then of saying that climate change is responsible for observed effect x in local area y (say, fire regimes in California), should be apparent. Fire regimes in the western USA?. Better maybe, if the climate change attribution evidence is correspondingly stronger there.

    On the first point, however, there are without qualification serious issues. The primary of these, is that most fire-prone areas have experienced serious alterations of the natural regime, via fire reduction policies over the last ~100-150 years, with a resulting large buildup of the amount and continuity of fuel. These increased fuels are well known to affect fire behavior, including final fire size, spread rates, controllability, fire intensity (heat level, ecological damage etc), and resulting landscape pattern (which in turn affects future fire behavior/pattern). Similarly, fire frequencies are a function of ignition rates, which are known to vary as a factor of both human behavior patterns and lightning ground-strike rates.

    Fire prediction and attribution is complicated and is made uncertain by human behavior uncertainties. Attribution also suffers from the same problems of the empircial climate record, only moreso, i.e. the fact that the direct historical record is limited (e.g. the NIFC fire history database used in the Westerling et al (2006) study mentioned above (post #74) goes back only to about 1970), and the fire history proxies have the typical problems of proxies in general (i.e. uncertainty or under-determination of the process creating the observed proxy data). Nevertheless, they are generally good enough to show that fire frequencies have dropped drastically over the last 150 years, so real care must be exercised when making any statements about increased fire rates relative to some 20th century baseline.

    As a side note, I consider the Westerling et al paper to be less than definitive evidence regarding the role of climate change in western USA fire activity (since ~1970). Changes in fuels, ignition rates, and suppression efforts are not considered, only fires over 1000 ha are considered (

    [Response: use html for less than signs i.e. & l t ; -gavin]

    [Response: Climate change detection and attribution is indeed now done at the continental/regional scale and with respect to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation regimes. Such developments in the science constitute not only the basis for the Barnett et al paper which attributes changes in western U.S. hydroclimate to anthropogenic forcing (this was linked earlier in this comment thread) but, constitutes one the key developments in the science of climate change detection and attribution in the 4th IPCC assessment. You should acquaint yourself w/ the actual state of the science before making dismissive pronouncements about it. -mike]

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 28 Dec 2008 @ 3:13 PM

  260. Thanks Gavin. Didn’t know there was a character limit. End of previous:

    As a side note, I consider the Westerling et al paper to be less than definitive evidence regarding the role of climate change in western USA fire activity since 1970. Changes in fuels, ignition rates, and suppression efforts are not considered, the use of the metric used to define length of fire season is suspect, and only a tiny fraction of all fires since 1970 is considered.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 28 Dec 2008 @ 4:30 PM

  261. I meant to add however, that the fire frequency-climate proxy relationships are pretty strong for the fires Westerling et al did consider, so the other factors mentioned may not be that important for the set of fires they studied

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 28 Dec 2008 @ 4:41 PM

  262. I’m not making any dismissive pronouncements about it Mike. I know that attribution is solid at the continental and subcontinental scales, and said so. The Westerling et al paper is also of entire western USA scope and I specifically stated that the confidence at that scale would be stronger than for, say, California. But at SOME ill-defined small scale attribution confidence is seriously degraded, is it not? Moreover the larger point I was making was the potentially serious confounding by other factors that contribute to a given observed phenomenon, which can be exacerbated by difficulties with the historical record and (perhaps) by the mentioned scale issues, if small enough.

    [Response: ok. -mike]

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 28 Dec 2008 @ 5:01 PM

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