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  1. I disagree that “global warming” is a problematic expression. The issue is knowing the distinction between three concepts: Greenhouse Effect, Climate Change, and Global Warming. Many people do not understand the differences between these terms.

    Global warming Theory is specifically the theory that anthropogenic sources of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are causing the Earth’s global temperature to increase. When the average non-scientist uses the term “Global Warming”, that is what they mean.

    However, many non-scientists also get confused and think that the Greenhouse Effect is Global Warming or that any reference to Climate Change is referring to global warming.

    In fact the job of climate researchers is to establish whether or not temperature records indicate warming. Then it has to be established how much of any warming is due to natural Climate Change and how much (if any) can be attributed to the effects expected from anthropogenic sources according to Global Warming Theory.

    Comment by David Russell — 31 Dec 2004 @ 1:47 PM

  2. The reference to Lindzen in the last paragraph will be confusing for the more general reader. I’d briefly outline his theory and then refute it.

    Comment by Wil Burns — 31 Dec 2004 @ 1:51 PM

  3. First, I was told, define your terms. Here is a start.

    Global warming is a term that is generally and widely used both within and outside the scientific world, to identify the theory that carbon dioxide produced by human activity, is acting to increase the surface and low atmosphere temperature of the Earth.

    A rational person would add, Carbon Dioxide is of course one of the many imperfectly understood factors, such as methane, water vapour, dust and organic particulates operating through a variety of chemical, physical, hydrodynamic and processes which affect the global climate both locally and worldwide.

    Comment by Edward Teague — 31 Dec 2004 @ 2:00 PM

  4. Although global warming may, at times, lack precision because of the differences in the intent of the questioner and the perception of the answerer, I think there is a danger in the use of the term “climate change” as well. This is the preferred terminology of the Bush administration because it sounds so benign precisely because it is even more imprecise that “global warming”. Climate change is a given and doesn’t precisely deal with the anthropogenic issues either.

    Comment by tom — 31 Dec 2004 @ 2:38 PM

  5. When commenting on the matter, I will generally protest that I prefer the term global climate change and don’t fuss beyond that. For discussions with the public, rather than scientific debate, “global warming” has the meaning, roughly, of human-caused global climate change as described by the IPCC and there seems no reason to be pedantic about it.

    Comment by Randolph Fritz — 31 Dec 2004 @ 6:06 PM

  6. This arrogant scientist sneers at the language of public discourse characterizing it as unsophisticated. In fact the public understands the issue and he doesn’t. People ask you if you believe in global warming because they have rightly perceived that this is an issue of belief. There is a technical aspect to the global warming debate but least relevant part of the global warming debate involves the climate science.

    People believe in ideas and ideologies for a number of well understood reasons. These include:

    Ontological comfort. Belief in life after death, Gaia, and a paternalistic God are all powerful concepts. We see just such a belief pattern in global warming believers who find in rising temperature data confirmation of mankind’s sins against nature. Alas much believe in the falsity of global warming is also faith based. Rush Limbaugh says in effect that man can’t cause climate change because the world is only subject to God’s will. No other scientific issue has so much religious belief at stake.

    Power interests People defend the Republican or Democrat parties as a way to promote poliical interests. Global warming has been promoted consistently by those who seek political advantage. Al Gore wrote in effect that he should be made global environment czar with trans national authority. He and Clinton have both used the Kyoto Treaty as a partisan issue in Presidential politics. Naturally most Republicans now respond to the global warming issue refelexively as an simply an undisguised partisan ploy. No other scientific issue has so much political power at stake.

    Monetary interests People will of course react to issues that involve sums of money differently from issues in which money is not involved. When you consider that the Kyoto Protocol would redistribute tens of billions of dollars, you should not be surprised that beliefs are influenced. No other scientific issue has so much money at stake.

    All of these issues swamp the climate science issues in relevance. When we argue about abortion we don’t expect recent findings about fetal development to be as relevant as is the belief in Roman Catholicism. We know that economists study the effects of litigation but we don’t expect their most recent findings to much impact on the Democratic Party both for questions of power and money.

    For better or worse, global warming is a spirtual, political, economic issue. In this arena climate scientists are only one kind of voice and hardly the most relevant.

    Comment by pat — 31 Dec 2004 @ 6:54 PM

  7. I would suggest you be very careful about changing the terminology at this stage of the game. The skeptics will be dishonest as ever and say the terminology was changed because of weakness in the science. It will not be true but it will happen. I can here the local news, climate scientists have back peddled on the term “Global Warming”.

    It also worries me that this is being discussed so soon after Buenos Aires where the Bush administration tried to change “climate change” to “climate variability”.

    The problem isn’t the terminology, the problem is the multi-nationals like Exxon/Mobil that are throwing huge amounts of money around to confuse the issue.

    Comment by Peter Walling — 31 Dec 2004 @ 8:03 PM

  8. I agree with Mr. Fritz…global climate change is a more accurate reperesentation. We know that the climate will change but will it be warmer or cooler? Data is far too limited to arrive at a defintive answer as to what will happen in the next few thousand years. It is easy to see the dichotomy that exists between those that believe that the earth will warm and those that believe that the earth will cool. Only time will yield the answers. From my own meteorological studies, there are too many variables – questions arise as to what type of forcings may occur from anthropogenic and natural changes to the global climate. We can only make educated guesses as to what will happen in the future but in the end they are only guesses…

    Comment by mike — 1 Jan 2005 @ 12:00 AM

  9. I don’t think that anybody reasonable out there denies that altering atmospheric composition is possible given enough of the right gases. In that trivial sense we all believe in the greenhouse theory as a valid theory. You just have to look at Venus for a bit to settle that issue. The question really is whether the current facts on Earth right now are something to worry about and worth doing anything in a public policy sense.

    In a similar sense, one can intelligently talk to economists about life without practical inflation. In fact, there’s an entire community of “hard money” advocates who favor its elimination and study periods where there was no such thing as inflation as money was a near constant store of value. Generally they’re called gold bugs. Famous gold bugs include Congressman Jack Kemp. Whether we’re in a hard money regime or a currency debasing regime is a useful set of questions for economists as inflation is only “useful” if it is a surprise.

    To “believe” in global warming is, in general terms for the layman, to say that we’re in a period where the human effects are both potentially and actually large enough to be more than static, the actual effects are tilted towards warming, and the consequences of these effects are negative. In other words, there’s something going on, we’re warming the planet, and it’s going to get us in trouble.

    The truth is that we don’t know when or how the next crisis will hit, the next category 9 quake with tsunami, the next asteroid, the next major shift that will stress humanity to its breaking point. All we know for sure is that the more resources we have stored up, the wealthier we are, the greater our chances of being able to survive, adapt, and overcome it. With global warming prevention strategies all seeming to take huge bites out of global economic growth, a global warming death toll has to be balanced against improving the economies of the third world to prevent all those other causes of death that would have to be foregone in a global warming prevention regime.

    I find the term is generally useful in a public policy sense, though it can be twisted by demagogues on both sides of the argument. Shifting terms will not improve things without other changes. Just ask the negro/colored/black/ people of color/ african-american and now black again whether the changing labels did them any good.

    Comment by TM Lutas — 1 Jan 2005 @ 12:03 AM

  10. Regarding Randolph Fritz’s suggestion that avoiding the phrase “global warming” is pedantic, I (unsurprisingly) disagree.

    The main point of my contribution was to make communication more effective. I have seen this difference in the use of the phrase “global warming” cause remarkable miscommunications between scientists and nonscientists.

    Getting the public to stop using “global warming” as a phrase representing the entire vast conceptual muddle of climate science and climate policy that they are currently beset with is unfortunately not a realistic goal in the near term. What is realistic is to urge the scientific community to understand first that the important and precise concept that they refer to as “global warming” has no name in the public understanding, and second that when non-specialists use the phrase they generally are talking about a much broader subject, usually with a lot of ill-conceived notional and emotional baggage.

    One way for scientists to begin clearing the muddle is by noticing and if possible avoiding phrases that are dreadfully confused and emotionally charged in public usage.

    This may indeed have the appearance of pedantry or even evasiveness, but it’s nothing of the sort. It is exercised only in the interests of disentangling the muddle, which is, after all, what this site is for. Thus my plea to tolerate the scientist’s insistence on a clear definition of terms.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Jan 2005 @ 12:33 AM

  11. Way back when I took basic physics, I don’t recall the term “warm” being used other than informally to refer to an arbitrarily lesser amount of heat. Warmth just plain has entirely positive linguistic associations — think “warm and …” I suspect that for most people “cuddly” comes to mind, with “cozy” a close second. Was “global warming” coined by a scientist (maybe someone knows about this), but at a time when whoever that was thought that the effect was likely so subtle that “heating” just seemed like too strong of a term, and any conclusions as to possible outcomes (as implied by something like “disruption”) would have seemed like too big of a step?

    Since it’s probably too late to get rid of “global warming” absent a concerted long-term effort to do so, I suggest switching to a phrase like “climate disruption” that will have the effect of shifting public discourse in the right direction even while “global warming” remains in use. “Forcing” would actually be better than disruption in the technical sense, but has the problem of itself needing explanation. “Change” has the same positive association problem that warmth does, and as someone pointed out the Bush regime would love it if we went that way. People understand what disruption means (although it does have the drawback of having three syllables). “Human-driven climate disruption” would actually be better, and would perhaps be best for both scientists and activists to use even if the press will tend to knock it down to just plain “climate disruption” in many instances.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 1 Jan 2005 @ 1:07 AM

  12. Edward Taegue alleges that:

    Global warming is a term that is generally and widely used both within and outside the scientific world, to identify the theory that carbon dioxide produced by human activity, is acting to increase the surface and low atmosphere temperature of the Earth.

    This is incorrect. While this definition lies well within the spectrum of common usage, in scientific discourse the term global warming refers to a tendency for the mean surface tempreature of the planet to increase over a given period. As such, it is not limited to the contemporary situation nor to greenhouse gas forcings.

    He also states that:

    Carbon Dioxide is of course one of the many imperfectly understood factors, such as methane, water vapour, dust and organic particulates operating through a variety of chemical, physical, hydrodynamic and processes which affect the global climate both locally and worldwide.

    In this he makes an assertion that is uncontroversial. Its purpose appears to me to be polemical rather than discursive.

    The term “imperfectly understood”, while correct, slyly implies to the casual reader that existing knowledge is insufficient to draw any meaningful conclusions about whether “carbon dioxide produced by human activity, is acting to increase the surface and low atmosphere temperature of the Earth “. Of course, this does not follow.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Jan 2005 @ 1:27 AM

  13. lets keep it simple: how is it possible to argue AGAINST the fact that an ever increasing number of internal combustion engines and other carbon dioxide emitting devices increase the risk of ACCUMULATION in our atmosphere ??? and that such an ACCUMULATION is bound to have an effect on air pollution and climate ??
    this is especially true in developping countries megapoles: have the “nay sayers” ever visited: bombay, calcutta, cairo, jakarta, mexico city, shangai …???
    incomprehensible “jargon” is a time tested method by every “old guard” protecting their turf: be it in business, education, heath-care, law, politics etc… so forget the jargon and listen to time tested “common sense”…regards

    Comment by jean paul pinzuti — 1 Jan 2005 @ 10:17 AM

  14. There is no “danger” in the use of “climate change” unless your goal is to confuse people into thinking that any climate change must be the result of anthropogenic sources. In order to understand what is happening now, it is absolutely necessary to look at what climate has done in the past … before the industrial revolution. And any discussion of climate evidence prior to the industrial revolution is “climate change” not “Global Warming”.

    In addition, you cannot simply say that once the industrial revolution begins we need only use the term “Global Warming”. To take such a position implies that the natural climate forcers can now be ignored. How much of any warming the last 100 years is natural climate change? There have been warming and cooling trends in the last 150 years. If it is credible to claim that CO2 is an important climate forcer, then it must be acknowledged that the 1940-1970 cooling trend had some other cause. Perhaps industrial pollutants contributed, but almost certainly natural forcers such as solar variations were behind the cooling. It is well established that sunspot cycle length correlates with the temperature anomaly during the last 140 years. As such, “climate change” in the last 150 years is still relevant.

    I have to disagree with Michael Tobis on the use of “global warming” in reference to any condition of rising planetary temperatures. “Global Warming Theory” posits that humans are causing an increase in average planetary temperatures through increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Natural warming cycles fall under the category of “climate change”. The planet cools and falls into ice ages. Then it warms and pops back out. Such warmings and coolings are “climate change” and discourse should not be muddled by referring to such events as “global warming” or “global cooling”.

    Comment by David Russell — 1 Jan 2005 @ 12:24 PM

  15. I agree with Steve Bloom that “human-driven climate disruption” or “climate disruption” for short is a better name for the cluster of concepts that is currently called “global warming”. I’d appreciate such a shift in the press but don’t expect it. Realistically, the scientific community needs to understand the public’s overloading of the phrase “global warming”, and the public needs to understand the scientist’s aversion to using imprecise phrases.

    I think that William Connolley’s summary of the consensus position provides us with a very useful way to disentangle the confusion. Let me try to put names to the parts of it:

    One way to define “global warming hypothesis” is the union of all four of the above, and another is the union of the first three. Teague and Russell assert confidently that the “global warming theory” (presumably ‘theory’ means ‘hypothesis’ here) is the union merely of the first two points only. By that definition, the “global warming theory” is demonstrably vastly more likely to be true than false.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Jan 2005 @ 3:02 PM

  16. It’s interesting to read the comments here so far. They represent, to a certain extent, a microcosm of those one sees from the public. I happen to share Michael Tobis’ view, which will no doubt appall him ;-), that the term is imprecise, though perhaps for a slightly different reason. When we limit discussion to the term “global warming”, I’m not sure that the public understands the scope of the problem. So what if the temperature goes up by a degree globally? It’s the “so what” that IS the problem and it is the various so-whats that need to be described to the public. By creating an environment where the global temperature is increasing we are changing the weather and therefore the climate and it is those changes, possibly rapid changes, that are the concern. Climate doesn’t kill people. It doesn’t destroy their crops. Weather, or the lack of it, does and the public has to understand that through our GHG emissions we altering the weather on a global scale. Given that, I’m not sure that “global climate change” is even appropriate, because climate is not a static thing. It changes all the time and does not require a human component to do so. Perhaps what is needed is a two-fold statement, one highlighting the linkage between weather and climate, because I’m not sure that the distinction is clear to the public and secondly a statement about it being human-caused. Anthropogenic is the term of choice right now, but try using it in a group of non-scientists and you are likely to see a lot of confusion about what is being discussed.

    Comment by David Ball — 1 Jan 2005 @ 4:52 PM

  17. Re comment # 13, it is quite easy to argue that the balancing factors in the worldwide climate system that have ensured we have not slipped into a runaway greenhouse effect (see: atmosphere of Venus) are robust and are able to handle orders of magnitude higher human greenhouse gas contributions to the system before we have to worry. This doesn’t mean that the argument is right or wrong but the idea that such things are a prior decided without the messy necessity of research and gathering evidence proving such assertions is antithetical to science and belongs with the Michael Moore and Ann Coulter mindset.

    I count myself a skeptic that the case has been proven for global warming sufficient to engage in the human destruction that will ensue from pulling that much growth out of the global economic system. The cost of delaying or denying economic growth can often be hidden and very often it is. Only with a political collapse, such as 1989 E. Europe or a natural disaster such as today’s Indian Ocean basin that you end up undeniably staring the consequences in the face.

    Even granting the most optimistic of assertions of our state of knowledge of the climate end of things, the utilitarian balancing test that must be done for proper public policy is undoable without a very good understanding of the economic end of the equation. Where is the human misery minimum point? Is it in doing nothing, concentrating on mitigation of any effects as they crop up or in a major prevention campaign?

    The major disadvantage of a prevention campaign is that you have to decide early, decide big, and it seems to extract the largest price tag in increased human suffering elsewhere, concentrating that suffering most on the poorest among us. For most people, that creates a very steep evidentiary requirement that can’t be met by the style of hand waving evidenced in comment #13.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that the optimists on the state of our climate knowledge are right. I think that there is quite a bit left to learn about how this planet works. I strongly suspect that there are enough holes left in our knowledge that the optimists are very much engaging in politics and not science when they make categorical statements.

    Comment by TM Lutas — 1 Jan 2005 @ 6:13 PM

  18. A quand une traduction francaise de ce site qui m’intéresse beaucoup ?

    Réponse: Malheursement, nous avons ni le temps ni la competence de faire les traductions en temps reel. Si on trouvera des colleagues francophone qui veut nous joindre, on peut visiter la question de nouveau. On s’excuse! – gavin

    Comment by garaud — 1 Jan 2005 @ 6:51 PM

  19. It seems that the terms ‘global warming’ and “climate change” are both easy targets for skeptics who want to emphasize the natural variability of climate, while downplaying the role of anthropogenic forcing. Perhaps scientists should insist on clearly communicating more precise scientific terms to the media and the public, such as ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’, ‘changes to atmospheric composition’, ‘climate disruption’, and ‘human climate forcing’. These terms are more precise, less controversial, and less politicized than either “global warming” or “climate change”.

    Comment by George Roman — 1 Jan 2005 @ 7:11 PM

  20. Global fever.
    People in temperate latitudes associate being warm with comfort. A warm day is a nice day, and in winter keeping warm is vital. Warmth in an emotional sense is a positive state – friendly, loving, open-hearted.
    It may be scientifically accurate in measurement terms, and it was probably necessary twenty years ago when I first heard it used, to get the concept itself into the public dialog – but as a descriptor for lay people it’s misleading, it isn’t accurate at all.
    Fever is.

    Comment by Bucky — 1 Jan 2005 @ 9:25 PM

  21. I do think it is important to find good terms and arguments for explaining climate change to people who know nothing about it.

    I asked a professional (psychologist) friend – is the term “global warming” loaded? She thought about it for a bit and said “yes”. She thought the term carried many hidden meanings, all of which basically boil down to “threatening to people”. It’s probably not a good term for this reason alone – it scares people and when people are frightened, they are not amenable to argument and rational thought, to say the least. In fact, people are then almost invariably prone to psychological defense (denial, rationalization, And this kind of defense is even more understandable when we consider all the benefits that an economy based on fossil fuels has conferred on people – at least up to now. And since a solution moving away from fossil fuels seems so insurmountable, people will be defensive anyway. Tough problem.

    I’ll submit the climate model term climate sensitivity. This leads to a further question – sensitivity to what? To which you can answer, sensitivity (or climate response) to a doubling (or more) of CO2 in the atmosphere. This leads to the question – why should more CO2 make a difference? To which you can answer, CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs and re-radiates infared heat radiation (thus acting like the glass in a greenhouse, just like the inside of your car on a hot day when the windows are all rolled-up). Etc.

    An aside Re: #7, I didn’t know about the Bush administration attempt to introduce the term “climate variability”. Now that’s scary.

    Comment by dave — 1 Jan 2005 @ 10:22 PM

  22. I use “climate change” when talking about regions…
    … as in “climate change is in progress in the Upper Midwest….
    My paper on earlier snowmelt runoff and increasing dewpoints
    for river basins in the Upper Midwest and northern Great Plains
    shows that to be happening…
    my paper is at

    I use “rapid global warming” to indicate the global warming that
    is happening now is or will be too rapid for many species to adapt to.

    I think “global climate change” is ok to use. I don’t like it when
    some think “global warming” is just temperatures. Global warming and
    climate change must also identify “hydrologic change”. Hydrology is
    an essential ingredient of climate that must not be overlooked because
    water is essential for life and can also cause much destruction and
    death as we’ve just witnessed with the Tsunami.

    Pat N

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 1 Jan 2005 @ 10:38 PM

  23. In comments #9 & 17, TM Lutas alleges, without evidence, that addressing the potential consequences of elevated-global-average-surface-temperatures (for lack of a better term!!!) will lead to unacceptably negative economic consequences.

    I am unable to follow the argument. Given the uncertainty of the ecological consequences, not to mention the climate consequences, it seems quite far fetched to argue as if it is known that the economic consequences would necessarily be negative. Indeed, I would hazard the argument that addressing the human causes of increasing concentrations of radiatively active gases in the atmosphere would more likely contribute positively to the economy (at local, regional, national, and global scales).

    Afterall, who designs, builds, installs, and maintains more efficient devices? Answer: People with jobs, of course.

    Who designs, builds, installs, and maintains devices that generate energy from renewable resources? Answer: People with jobs, of course.

    Who transports, imports, exports, and sells these devices? Answer: People with jobs, of course.

    Thus, there is no reason to assume that reducing reliance upon technologies that add CO2 and other gases to our atmosphere will necessarily lead to economic disruption. Additionally, a concern about potential economic change in no way alters the scientific evidence pointing to a detectable anthropogenic role in future climate change.

    In other words, the tactic of dismissing the science regarding the magnitude of potential social and ecological (and even economic) consequences associated with a human-induced enhanced greenhouse effect (or other term suggested above!) by economic fear-mongering just doesn’t wash.

    [My apologies for this digression focusing primarily on economics, rather than science, however I felt it was important that TM Lutas’s claims receive at least a bit of comment.] Carry on with this wonderful service …

    Comment by RD Alward — 2 Jan 2005 @ 5:12 PM

  24. Richard Lindzen’s comments on global warming and carbon dioxide are very apposite. It is a matter of spectroscopic fact that the infra-red absorption bands for CO2 are currently saturated in the first 50 metres of the troposphere. If the Chinese expand their car population to 30 million and add considerably more CO2 to the atmosphere, there would be no additional contribution to global warming by CO2. Moreover, if the Kyoto enthusiasts succeed in reducing CO2 emissions by 60%, the Lambert-Beer law tells us that saturation will occur in the first 100 plus metres and global warming will not be reversed. It is clear that climate change if it does occur must be linked to changing water vapour distributions over the planetary atmosphere and we need to ditch the red herring of CO2 (apologies for the metaphor foul-up!) if we seriously wish to understand the behaviour of our climate.

    Comment by Alec Melvin — 3 Jan 2005 @ 11:31 AM

  25. I don’t think that the debate over what term to apply to the general problem is all that important. If one were to find the “perfect” term to apply, I don’t think it would change the situation very much in terms of governments and people taking action. It seems, based on polling and daily experience, that there is a general acceptance among the public that climate change/global warming is happening already.

    I believe that the missing piece is that there is not a general sense that the problem is urgent. I think this is true even among many, if not most, declared environmentalists. Obviously the urgency of the problem is a point of great debate and the scientific thinking appears to range more signficantly. However, when I as a layperson look at the scenarios presented by the IPCC and others about when we have to start reducing GHGs to stablize atmospheric concentrations in the 450 to 500 ppm range, and thereby minimizing warming and the related consequences, it appears to me that we have to have started already to significantly replace fossil fuels with effiency and non-fossil sources of energy.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to concentrate on educating decisionmakers and the public about the nature of the problem and solutions? There is some interesting work that suggests there is very poor understanding of the stocks and flows nature of GHGs and the timing issues involved. See John Sterman’s “Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming” article ( I’m not sure, even a little cynical, that this would make a difference. But one of the things we know for sure is that the concentration of GHG’s is increasing.

    Comment by John Bolduc — 3 Jan 2005 @ 12:09 PM

  26. Most of this thread is garbage! There is nothing imprecise about the term global warming. You either accept the basic sceince that increasing greenhouse gases such as CO2 is gong to warm the planet, or you don’t. If you don’t then you’re either an idiot or in the pay of someone whose an idiot. Sorry to blunt but I’m Australian.

    This whole topic is pandering to idiots – call a spade a spade and if they want to play pedantic little games because they don’t understand or don’t want to understand basic science and commonsense, then call it like it is – they’re idiots and nothing you can say will change that fact.

    Comment by kyan gadac — 3 Jan 2005 @ 12:22 PM

  27. The language of the public debate should be, where possible, the language of the scientific literature. The loss of ambiguity would do much to defuse the flummery of so-called skeptics. Let the scientists sort it out and take the lead here. Journalists and others writing for public consumption should follow.

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 3 Jan 2005 @ 5:47 PM

  28. I hesitate to join this discussion, but it has irritated me beyond all reason, so I must.

    Science involves skepticism. Certainly some skeptics are ignorant, but a large number are not, and if you cannot tolerate dissenting opinion without labelling the beholder of such an idiot, stooge, or fellow traveler of intelligent designists, then please drop the pretense of being a scientist and join a religious order or a political party. Even a plain spoken Aussie should accept this.

    Why berate the general public for their misunderstanding of this subject, and then propose to solve the problem by adding a thick layer of pedantic verbiage? This will not increase precision one iota. Besides, scientists should be cautious about berating everone else for ignorance when the scientists misapply statistics to this issue so badly themselves.

    The general public probably understand the whole issue better than we scientists think, and they have a good gut feeling for linkage of the issue to the economy, or at least to that portion of the economy that affects them directly. You will not lower concentrations of GHGs without economic dislocations that affect the majority of the general public. Stop trying to fool them with the idea that all this change will pay for itself.

    Next, I do not see what is so “missing-the-point” about the hierarchy of questions that exasperate Michael Tobis. They appear to parallel the hierarchy of concerns any reasonable lay person, or scientist for that matter, should express about a scientific issue. And by answering them Tobis would illuminate exactly what we know without any doubt, and what issues are highly uncertain. What is so missing-the-point about wondering if hurricanes will become stronger or more frequent? Any person who pays for insurance, pay taxes, or has assets in the subtropics should ask such a question. It is absolutely to the point; albeit a bit narrow of scope. The problem seems to me that scientists do not like to address such questions because they often have to say, “We don’t know,” and this makes science appear a bit irrelevant. However, acting in a smug and condescending manner toward the public does science no good either.

    Finally, while it is true that people who work on ideas, technologies, and products all contribute toward the economy, one has to worry about funding horrific boondoggles, and pursuing unhelpful ideas. Not all change pays for itself. The dotcom fiasco of the late 1990s should be a cautionary tale about good money chasing bad ideas involving technologies. It takes time to replace the investment capital lost in such “bubbles.” Our present quandary is that fossil fuels are marvel-sources of portable, flexible energy. It is going to be a long effort to find viable alternatives for all purposes.

    Comment by Kevin T. Kilty — 3 Jan 2005 @ 7:43 PM

  29. Theory…A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

    Whether you think the kinks have been worked out of evolutionary “theory” or not, it is, by definition, a theory. There are many prominent scientist(evolutionary biologist, physicists etc.) that point to many undetermined and unresolved issues in this theory as there are many undetermined and unresolved issues in global warming. Hopefully, as you endeavor in your science, you will not see your destination while your map is incomplete. Global warming and evolution are obviously very pertinent, but dogma applied to any theory, philosophy etc. only serves to repress an open exchange of ideas, which ultimately only serves to create discord. Scientists should be careful not to go the way of the journalist and become irrelevant in the eyes of the public, who truly need them to see the world as it is, not the way one would wish it to be.

    Comment by jim brogli — 3 Jan 2005 @ 7:54 PM

  30. Re #24: I do not understand this post about an argument by Lindzen nor can I find a good reference on the internet that explains what is meant here.

    Could someone tell me what this is supposed to mean? Nobody responded to it and I don’t know what that means. Not worth discussing? or not? I assume this is unrelated to the Iris Hypothesis concerning clouds and water vapor feedback. So, what is this (gavin? eric?)

    Comment by dave — 3 Jan 2005 @ 8:08 PM

  31. I find it confusing that the NWS Climate Prediction Center issues
    “climate” outlooks which have nothing to do with the subject of
    climate change or global warming.

    The NOAA NWS strategic plans use “Climate variability and Change”,
    which I find tob be confusing, even misleading at times. This is a
    major federal agency with direct ties to local and national media,
    local and state agencies, other federal agencies, and businesses
    world wide. NOAA, NWS have the machinery to educate the public
    about global waming. Why isn’t this working like it should?

    [Comment #42 under “Will Full-Ignorance” seemed pertinent here, thus
    the relevant part is repeated above.]

    Pat N

    Comment by Pat N — 3 Jan 2005 @ 8:44 PM

  32. I find comment #24 confusing. Increasing the optical depth of the atmosphere affects the
    temperature even if the optical is already greater than one, even if it is much greater than
    one. This is based on a static radiative model for the atmosphere (I’m an astrophysicist)
    so it’s bound to be simplistic, but I think it addresses comment #24. Lindzen must
    be misquoted here, or something. I understand he’s a controversial figure here, but I
    enjoyed taking Applied Math 1 from him many years ago and I can’t believe he’d say
    something so clearly wrong.

    Comment by Ethan Vishniac — 3 Jan 2005 @ 9:02 PM

  33. Where is George Lakoff when you need him to comment?

    I would argue that the ultimate goal of any climate change discussion is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Inspiring people to action, influencing policy, and raising public awareness are far more important to that end than the precision of scientific terminology. While I would agree that it is essential to ground any discussion of climate change in sound science, it is equally, if not more important, to frame the debate in a manner which inspires people to care. So phrases like “climate forcing” and “anthropomorphic climate change”, while accurate, lack the emotional gusto to raise any eyebrows. In fact, many people from the general public won’t even understand these terms. In the case of people that don’t understand or aren’t interested in the discussion because of the terminology used, the scientific community will have failed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite using precise language.

    I am not asking scientists to take on the role of journalists or advocates; this is a slippery slope. However, the language scientists use to frame the debate influences public opinion, by default, by its very “sex appeal” for lack of a better term. Therefore, scientists have a responsibility to choose terms carefully, not for the sake of scientific precision as Dr. Tobis argues, but for the sake of emotional impact. The purposeful avoidance of politically or emotionally charged terms, instead opting for neutered, scientifically precise terms, is just as slanted as the journalist, advocate or politician because of the way language defines a discussion.

    My vote is for climate disruption or climate crisis, neither of which confuse the scientific discussion. Climate crisis, in particular, stays true to the sense of urgency required to address this largely uncertain phenomenon.

    Comment by Dave — 3 Jan 2005 @ 9:31 PM

  34. Mr. Kilty suggests that the general public is being berated for their misunderstanding of the issue. I do not think that is the case. There is general confusion, and the fault belongs jointly to the scientific community, the press, and those who deliberately obfuscate these matters. This site is an effort to improve the contribution by the scientific community to the discussion, largely by facing the disinformation rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

    Mr. Kilty suggests that scientists misapply statistics badly. This seems to me surely a gross overgeneralization, but I don’t know specifically what he means by this.

    Mr. Kilty suggests that someone is trying to “fool the public” that the economic changes required by these issues will “pay for itself”. This is certainly off topic for this thread, and probably for the entire website. For what it’s worth, I don’t feel that the carbon constraints will “pay for themselves” in the absence of environmental impacts, but that has little to do with the purposes of my article, nor, as I understand it, of this site.

    Mr. Kilty suggests that the scientific community is loathe to admit uncertainty in any particular matter. There is a grain of truth to this, because the obfuscators take the slightest admission of uncertainty and elaborate it into a cloud of doubt over the entire sphere of interest. That said, my litany of questions was intended to indicate to the scientist, for whom “global warming” constitutes a number (typically expressed as degrees Kelvin per decade), the array of issues that are hiding in the phrase as commonly used. My point was simply to prevent a common source of misunderstanding between scientists and the public.

    I believe this site has already addressed many of these questions and will continue to try to address them one at a time. However, I feel that any question misses the point that does not address the enormous magnitude of global change that appears increasingly likely as vigorous policy action continues to be delayed by decades.

    Mr. Kelly’s concluding paragraph is something I mostly agree with, as I would venture most of the contributors here do. I would note, though, that in his response he refers to the “portability” of fossil fuels, which seems to refer to their use in vehicles. Many other comments here seem very focused on vehicular use of fossil fuels. In fact, vehicular use of fossil fuels constitute a rather small part of the emissions burden, and the bulk of the risk in the future comes from coal-burning power plants. These are not trivial to replace, but are prehaps easier to address than internal combustion engines.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 3 Jan 2005 @ 9:40 PM

  35. As others have pointed out, Alec Melvin’s confident assertion that he has found an elementary error in the proposition that increasing CO2 can cause increasing surface temperatures, despite the generally held opinion in the geophysical sciences, is incorrect.

    Among the many ways to disprove Melvin’s idea, perhaps the clearest is to refer to the surface temperature of Venus, which if here were correct, would be inexplicable.

    Melvin’s idea should not be attributed to Lindzen, who never said anything of the sort.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 3 Jan 2005 @ 9:49 PM

  36. Can we get back to the science, please? Let’s not get lost in semantics and the meaning of the term “global warming”. The Earth’s climate is warming. What do the climate models say? The natural forcings show a slight cooling. Therefore, the correct answer to “how much of this warming is due to human influences” is, as noted in another post, more than 100% of it.

    I (comment #30) and then another poster (#32) responded to a very confusing comment regarding some Lindzen theory about saturation of pC02 in the lower troposphere:

    It is a matter of spectroscopic fact that the infra-red absorption bands for CO2 are currently saturated in the first 50 metres of the troposphere. If the Chinese expand their car population to 30 million and add considerably more CO2 to the atmosphere, there would be no additional contribution to global warming by CO2.

    Nobody has responded. Why are we arguing about these terms? I say this as a former theoretical linguist who taught undergraduate level courses in advanced logics, semantics and formal language theory (many years ago). Now, people are mentioning George Lakoff in their posts. This could not be more irrelevant to climate science. C’mon, let’s get away from this.

    I would much rather hear about advances in climate modeling, our understanding of the carbon cycle and the possibilities involving abrupt climate change, not to mention a number of other subjects of interest.

    And by the way, Michael Tobis, I got a B.A. University of Chicago, 1975 – just to establish some common ground here.

    Let’s get real.

    Comment by dave — 3 Jan 2005 @ 10:37 PM

  37. Michael Tobis wrote: (#34)
    > Mr. Kilty suggests that the general public is being berated
    > for their misunderstanding of the issue. I do not think that
    > is the case. There is general confusion, and the fault belongs
    > jointly to the scientific community, the press, and those who
    > deliberately obfuscate these matters.

    I think people have a responsibility to learn what’s going on.
    They need to know where to go to for advice about regional climate
    change and global climate change / global warming. I think NOAA’s
    National Weather Service(NWS), with their many local offices and
    direct ties to media and local govs, need to start educating the
    public on climate change. The local NWS meteorologists and
    hydrologists could be having face to face discussions with
    highschools, with the public at local libraries and with local
    government employees at city, county and state offices. I think
    doing that would be a great public service. Why isn’t it being done?
    … two reasons … 1) NOAA Administrators and NWS directors have
    not allowed their staffs to talk with the public about global warming.
    The Administrators and directors are saying that global warming is
    too political or too controversial to allow their staffs to discuss
    it with the media or public. Those employees that choose to speak
    out about global warming happening risk loosing there jobs. 2) The
    majority of meteolorologists in the U.S. have been and still are
    SKEPTICS on global warming. Many don’t understand that global
    warming is happening and they haven’t taken the time to investigate
    nd see that it is.

    Another group that could help are the State climatologists. Most
    are members of the American Association of State Climatologists(AASC).
    State climatologists have a primary background in meteorology and
    archiving of meteorological data for the periods of record (most
    from 1890-current), but their knowledge of paleoclimates and the
    disciplines involved in climate other than weather atmosphere is
    limited. For example… they know little about hydrology, arctic sea
    ice, vegetation and transpiration processes, etc. Yet, because their
    title includes climate, the public perceives these “climatalogists”
    and meteorologists as good sources for information climate
    change/global warming, but they are truly lacking in that, in general.
    However, they convey the skeptic views on global warming to the media,
    local governments and other… usually off the record on an informal
    basis. Tax payer funded meteorologists and mislabled climatologists
    should not be telling the public that there is no global warming
    problem… but in fact many of them have been doing that for many
    years already. When will that stop?

    Some of this is at another post (see thread titled:
    “Will-full Ignorance”,… beginning with “Dano” …

    Pat N

    Comment by Pat N — 3 Jan 2005 @ 11:59 PM

  38. OK, I just saw your comment #35 re: the Melvin post #24. As you said, Lindzen never said anything like this. Which partially explains why I could not find any information about it on the web and eases my frustration about why there was no response to it. However, with respect to your response

    >>As others have pointed out…

    In all cases like this, a web link to further information would be helpful.

    Also, there is no end to delusional, unsubstantiated, psychologically or politically motivated arguments against the on-going reality of climate change (warming). Thanks for that post.

    Have a good one.

    Comment by dave — 4 Jan 2005 @ 1:06 AM

  39. I won’t bore you all with too much economics but the idea expressed in comment #23 that adding government regulation to force less CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions deserves at least one example to demonstrate the capital destroying effect of such initiatives. It may surprise some here to find out that when a US company is through with its machines, they don’t automatically go to the scrap yard for recycling. Very often, a machine, an entire production line, even an entire factory can be sold for far more than its scrap value to someone else, often in the third world, who will happily continue to use the equipment for many years more.

    Such sales are anticipated from the moment of purchase. Obviously, a factory whose equipment is too polluting to continue operations profitably must be closed down and replaced but the old equipment can no longer be sold. That’s destruction of capital, just one example, and there will be many, many more in a real global warming control regime.

    Comment #26 is of interest. I’m pretty sure that it’s accepted science that the climate is a complex combination of factors some of which tend to warm and others cool the planet. The end resulting climate is a balance of the factors with all sorts of feedback loops that ensure that when the solar cycle or other extra-planetary events cause a hiccup, the whole system doesn’t spin out of control, searing (or freezing) life away. Global warming is not, contrary to kayan gadac’s assertion, whether there are factors like CO2 that warm the planet. Obviously they do that, otherwise we’d freeze. Rather global warming is an assertion that the cooling factors are unable to adjust to human contribution to the warming factors, something that I think is much less certain because you’re talking about the interaction of several systems. Furthermore, it’s not clear to me whether the solution is to stop contributing to warming or, instead, to increase our contribution to global cooling.

    Comment #33 is, frankly, dangerous to true science. While I would be the last person on the planet to say that there is no place for advocacy, it’s poisonous to assert (and to permit the assertion without challenge as well) that all discussion must be advocacy. The ultimate goal of science is to discover the truth about the universe around us, to the extent that it can be discerned using the scientific method. If the “ultimate goal of climate change discussion” is advocacy, climate change discussion simply isn’t science and you should all turn your grants back in if they were obtained with the expectation that science should result.

    I think that global climate change is, or at least can be, valid science. Assertions that it ultimately is advocacy in every case should be offensive to any scientist no matter what your position is on the question of global climate change. Defend science as science! The facts will be discovered and solutions will be found but you lose your influence if you lose your objectivity. Don’t let it happen.

    Comment by TM Lutas — 4 Jan 2005 @ 3:59 AM


    I think that William Connolley’s summary of the consensus position provides us with a very useful way to disentangle the confusion. Let me try to put names to the parts of it:

    1. The detection hypothesis: The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century; 0.1 °C/decade over the last 30 years.

    2. The attribution hypothesis: People are causing this
    Global warming.

    3. Prediction hypothesis: If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate.

    4: Climate change cost/benefit hypothesis: This will be a problem and we ought to do something about it.

    One way to define “global warming hypothesis” is the union of all four of the above, and another is the union of the first three.


    Comment by FxsI — 4 Jan 2005 @ 4:09 AM

  41. A quick side note on TM Lutas comment’s and those interested in the economics of climate change:

    There is quite a bit of economic research being done on climate change, efficient emission path’s etc. For a start look a Nordhaus’ RICE and DICE models, but there is plenty more in the various journals.

    Obviously this is NOT the topic of this blog, but I thought it might be good to point out that research on the economics of climate change is happening as well for those interested.

    Comment by Dlwer — 4 Jan 2005 @ 11:06 AM

  42. Still a lot of idiots – look, the problem is not the scientists and not the general public. We can see global warming happening with our eyes, we can see satellite pictures of vast brown clouds of pollution over the Asian sub-continent, we can see rainfall dropping in temperate Australia and be wondering where the water for the cities is going to come from in 5 years time. We can see animals abandoning habitat and changing migration patterns across the world, we can see glacies and snow lines retreating and we can see, if we’re bothered, the hard statistics of the actuaries.

    No the problem is the coroner’s problem – is this negligence, wilful or is it just stupidity. Are these people lying or are just incapable of understanding what everybody else can understand. I’d say to these so-called skeptics stand up and be counted tell us who’se paying you to be such idiots.

    Comment by kyan gadac — 4 Jan 2005 @ 11:27 AM

  43. Re Comment 34, ” In fact, vehicular use of fossil fuels constitute a rather small part of the emissions burden, and the bulk of the risk in the future comes from coal-burning power plants.”–whatever the future, here are some numbers for the recent past:

    in 2002 31% of GHG from fossil fuel combustion came from the transportation sector [=petroleum], 40% from electrical generation, 17% from industry, according to the Executive Summary, U.S. GHG Emissions and Sinks, 1990-2002, Table ES-4.

    in 2002 43% of GHG from fossil fuel combustion came from petroleum {31% from petroleum used for transportation}, 36% from coal, 21% from natural gas, according to the same source, Table 3-3.

    I developed the percentages I give from numbers given in the above source.

    Comment by Bruce Marshall — 4 Jan 2005 @ 11:34 AM

  44. TM Lutas, I just wanted to respond to your comments about my post, #33.

    I believe that I misrepresented myself in saying that all climate science discussions should aim at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What I really meant is that all sound scientific discourse about climate change has concluded that humans should curb greenhouse gas emissions or face the consequences of a rapidly changing climate. I think there is a subtle but discernable difference.

    However, I stand by my assertion that the language used to frame the discussion of climate change affects the way the subject is understood and acted upon.

    Normally, I wouldn’t even respond to a discussion of terminology as it relates to scientific discourse among peers however, Dr. Tobis clearly stated that scientists should mind the terminology the use when addressing the general public and media, which requires a different responsibility. The terminology used to describe climate change to the general public will affect how the subject is understood or its perceived relevance. I’m not saying scientists should be advocates, but I am saying that they are, by default, framing the discussion through the language that they use. Precise scientific terminology (what I percieve to be stale) will elicit an and emotional response whether that was the scientist’s intention or not, albeit a response that is perhaps muted or disinterested, unlike the response to a term like “global warming.”

    Perhaps it is only the scientist’s job to be precise, and true to the science. But in this purist scenario, it wouldn’t really be the scientist’s job to frame the debate in the media and to the public. In reality however, scientists do coin the terminology and frame the debate, and with that comes a responsibility.

    Comment by Dave — 4 Jan 2005 @ 4:30 PM

  45. In response to Dave’s # 38, by “others pointing out” the problem with Melvin’s postings, I simply meant himself and Mr Vishniac on this list. I had never heard this allegation before and don’t expect to run across it again.

    Melvin hasn’t got much of a footprint on Google, but the citation index shows someone by that name as an expert on natural gas production and combustion. I didn’t see anything on radiative transfer. As a guess as to where his error arises, perhaps reradiation is not important in the processes he studies. It’s critical in establishing radiative equilibrium in an atmospheric column.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 4 Jan 2005 @ 5:10 PM

  46. Back to comment #34 for a moment. The contribution of vehicles to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere is not a negligible concern. Something like 40% or more of the emmissions are from transportation sourses. Now if you think that CO2 concentration can be stabilized by ignoring this, and the Earth could find a way to just absorb that 40% contribution, then fine–get rid of all other uses of fossil fuels, but keep gasoline, diesel, JP-4, etc for transportation. However, I doubt this is possible, so to prevent the abandonment of fossil fuels causing a huge dislocation in transportation, which will produce a huge disloaction in both commerce and manufacturing, then we must find a viable alternative PORTABLE, and flexible source of energy. The pertinent question is perhaps: how much more CO2 can the atmosphere handle while we find this alternative? What are the risks? What are the likely consequences? Please correct me if I am wrong, but you, Mr. Tobias, appear to be irritated by the public and skeptics asking such questions in awkward fashion.

    Finally, to explain my cryptic remark on statistics, there is a preponderance of use of statistics that depend on Gaussian probability (models employing Gaussian processes) whereas the climate, and weather, and economy and interactions of all such are strictly non-Gaussian, non-stationary. Treating climate uncertainty in this manner will lead to exactly the result of Long Term Capital Management treating risk calculations in the derivatives markets as Gaussian processes.

    Comment by Kevin T. Kilty — 4 Jan 2005 @ 6:31 PM

  47. The line that needs to be drawn between scientific neutrality and social responsibility per the discussion between Dave and TM Lutas is an important and non-trivial question.

    I don’t think that scientists ought to be policy advocates in general, but when the public and political perception of the state of knowledge is willfully and consistently misrepresented by paid propagandists, the usual scientific style of expression gets lost in the shuffle. What’s intended as an error bar gets passed through “uncertainty” and “imperfect knowledge” to alleged “ignorance”. At some point, we need to stand up for our work and say, “no, we really do know what we are talking about, and here is what we know.”

    I suggest that the scientific community has a moral responsibility to make sure that the public and the policy sector understands the state of knowledge in a situation of such importance well enough to take appropriate action. Such understanding doesn’t exist at present, at least not everywhere.

    For us to say what we say in the expected formal, equivocal scientific way, is tempting but apparently inadequate. This is what we have been doing, and we see that the extent of public understanding of the science is, if anything, in retreat (especially in the English-speaking countries, for some reason). While we qualify and equivocate in the formally correct manner, those with narrowly affected economic interests who seek to undermine public understanding are in no way constrained to argue fairly.

    Staying cool and neutral and above the fray is the natural tendency of most scientists, and as Lutas points out, is not just culturally expected but demanded. I disagree with Lutas in his suggestion that we be extremely rigorous in this regard, as long as so much confusion is arrayed around us.

    We shouldn’t say things that are wrong, and as much as is reasonable we should stay out of policy debates in our professional capacity. That said, it is not in the interests of the field or the public that we be underestimated or misunderstood. In the present circumstances, we need to advocate for our results, not just state them. The line between advocating for the science and advocating against policies that seem thoroughly out of touch with the science is not always clear, and that’s where the difficulty arises. Erring on the side of neutrality may be taken to excess, to the detriment of the field and the world alike.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 4 Jan 2005 @ 6:47 PM

  48. Mr. Kilty’s questions, far from being irritating, are in my opinion salient and well-posed. I haven’t the time to do them justice right now even within my own limited capacity. I’m also uncertain whether they are in scope for this site, which is intended to be primarily about physical climatology and not about policy.

    Mr. Kilty also alludes to the question of how we can stabilize CO2 concentrations. I think this particular point is an excellent topic for an essay on this site.

    I maintain that both the near-term and long-term picture are dominated by coal. The petroleum situation is likely to take care of itself soon enough. There really isn’t enough known or anticipated petroleum available to do the sorts of damage we are most worried about. The total fossil fuel reserves are dominated by coal (unless you count clathrates, which is another topic we ought to take up) and it is those reserves that can easily quintuple the carbon load of the climate system. I believe that the focus on vehicles and thence on petroleum is misplaced.

    see e.g.

    According to a report on David Appell’s blog last month, quoting the Christian Science Monitor, the US along with China and India are bringing up hundreds of new coal-fired power plants. This is infrastructure that will be with us for far longer than our vehicle stock. Let me abandon scientific neutrality long enough to say that this is a very very very bad idea, much worse than big cars and bad train service.

    see (cached) under the heading “Future GHG emissions”.

    Also, I don’t think Kilty has told us enough about who has misused a Gaussian approximation and where to motivate a discussion. Perhaps he’ll try harder.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 4 Jan 2005 @ 8:40 PM

  49. That’s an excellent post (47), Michael, and close to how I feel.

    Keep up the good work, sir.


    Comment by Dano — 4 Jan 2005 @ 9:00 PM

  50. So many directions, so few of me to follow them. The original topic, the “precision” of the term “Global Warming” probably deserves discussion in light of the fact that the entire scientific topic defies precision in so many ways it is hard for even like-minded people to agree substantially. I’ll pick on an aspect of this that is previously undiscussed here: ocean chemistry. The problem we are concerned with is the result of certain human activities which involve many pollutants, but primarily fossil fuels. NOx and SO2 affect climate certainly, both through their positive and negative forcing roles, and through the changes in precipitation that were identified in the last two years. So the Greenhouse Effect is one part of this.

    But major impacts from this group of pollutants are not limited to warming. SO2 and NOx are generally regarded as respiratory health threats and their climate role is considered secondary, but most of the other greenhouse gasses cause other impacts as well (the ozone hole). The one I am most concerned about is ocean chemistry. If you go to and download the Abstract Book (look on the left panel) you will find enough background to confirm that this is a matter of serious concern, perhaps as much so as the high end of the warming estimates currently being taken seriously. To sum it up to a group of people who haven’t previously mentioned it, rising C in the ocean acidifies the water, and over the next century may change the pH of the ocean sufficiently to drastically change survival rates for the most common plankton and corals. Which in turn raises questions about the viabilities of the fisheries and even the ocean’s role in refreshing oxygen. Not permanently, but perhaps strongly during the millenium of carbon emissions.

    Thus the problem caused by emissions of fossil fuels is not accurately considered by the term “Global Warming”. It is adequately reflected in “Climate Change”, and I’m warming to “Climate Disruption”. Because I make some effort to accomodate imprecision, I’m quite happy to see a variety of terms tossed into the ring, so we can see which one is left standing.

    I’m reminded that linguists feel that a complete conversation consists of four statements, the initial comment, an acknowledgement that reflects the comment from the listener, an affirmation (or correction) by the original speaker, and an acknowledgement of the third statement by the listener. This is reflected in debate format, and our legal system, but not in blogging. I’m not sure how it could be, given so many speakers and listeners, but I’m thinking about it. Do societies conform to the same rules of communication that individuals do?

    Comments on other threads embodied in this one:

    I want to note that people who make assumptions about the impossibility of controlling CO2 emissions without economic harm are ignoring the fact that there is a massive untapped potential for efficiency improvements. The world has decreased per capita emissions since some time around 1980, and this is largely due to the ongoing application of these efficient technologies. Yet the technologies continue to improve faster than we are implementing or adopting them. This site would do well to have a detailed discussion of the economics of CO2 reduction. There is plenty of evidence that the no-losers’ strategy to controlling CO2 is of primary importance in preserving and improving economic growth in the near future in the absence of any concern about climate. Many many many examples, but DOE’s Clean Energy Future report (on google) for example finds that an aggressive CO2 control strategy (not very aggressive by my standards) costs 18% less than doing nothing, over 20 years. California saves about $14 billion per year (50% of total electric spending) as a result of almost 25 years of spending about 1% ($200 – $300 million) per year on efficiency.

    Gilbert Plass demonstrated in the 1950’s that the saturation of CO2 in the lower troposphere did not preclude a warming impact from increasing CO2. I’m still looking for the actual study in which he describes this demonstrtion, but Spencer Weart’s book “The Discovery of Global Warming” and his website make it clear that this was a critical event in the evolution of current science. (Weart is a historian for the American Institute of Physics).

    I would like to agree that petroleum is limited, and by the same token, natural gas is too, but the economics of oil shale and other synfuels is such that it is entirely feasible to release an enormous fossil reservoir of these substances as vehicle fuels if we are not lucky enough or deliberate enough to move toward efficiency and renewable resources. Synfuels were already on the market at oil prices of $20/barrel, and today’s prices make it a sure thing that more will be coming, if all that is relied on is market prices.

    Australians are rude, which is why Continental Shift placed Australia so far away from the rest of us. But in light of the imprecision of this subject, Australians have a purpose. I’m also still not sure what it is, but I remain open to their contributions.

    Comment by Ned Ford — 5 Jan 2005 @ 1:09 AM

  51. Why berate the general public for their misunderstanding of this subject, and then propose to solve the problem by adding a thick layer of pedantic verbiage? This will not increase precision one iota. Besides, scientists should be cautious about berating everone else for ignorance when the scientists misapply statistics to this issue so badly themselves.

    It is not berating them. It is merely stating a fact. The verbiage currently being used means different things to different people. To make sure that there are no ambiguities, simple easy-to-understand terms need to be adopted and used by ALL of the scientific community. Standard terminology is essential. We are not after precision, but understanding. It isn’t the people here who need to understand either. It is the large majority of the public who are non-scientists, who get their information about climate change from a sensationalist media, and for whom this issue takes a back seat to everything from the PTA meeting to paying the mortgage. Those are the people who need to understand because ultimately they are the ones who are going to address the policy aspects of the problem with their votes.

    Comment by David Ball — 5 Jan 2005 @ 1:09 AM

  52. Is it the situation that the verbiage is the barrier to reducing GHG emissions? Or is it that people believe there are no consequences to waiting for some clearer understanding of the problem. As I mentioned in post #25, the poor understanding about the stocks and flows nature of GHGs appears to be a significant barrier to action. What kind of verbiage would address this problem?

    Comment by John Bolduc — 5 Jan 2005 @ 10:54 AM

  53. I really need to pull out of this conversation for a while – it’s starting to take more time than I can afford. (If anyone knows of any way I can be paid for this sort of work, do let me know!)

    However I would be remiss in not thanking John Bolduc for his contributions. Let me acknowledge his point. While I maintain that attention to nomenclature is necessary in communications with the public, I agree that it isn’t sufficient.

    I especially thank John for his link in posting #25. I encourage every interested reader to follow up on it.

    Thanks also to David Ball, with whom I’ve had some disagreements on usenet sci.environment, for his support. With that I will bow out of the discussion for the time being.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 5 Jan 2005 @ 12:10 PM

  54. RE: 24 30 32 35 36 and the saturation of absorption on CO2 lines. Well, you seldom hear those who deny global warming comment that the same deal exists in spades for water vapor. Therefore, they should say that adding more water vapor to the atmosphere won’t make a difference either.

    And that would be wrong for the same reason (and more reasons).

    The confusion arises because almost everyone who knows about IR spectroscopy, knows only about IR ABSORPTION spectroscopy (the molecules absorb IR light). Molecules both absorb and emit in the IR. The argument of saturation on the CO2 lines looks at only half of the process, the absorption and omits the other half, the emission, which is equally important in the atmosphere, but not in your Perkin-Elmer IR spectrometer.

    Let me try and explain the atmospheric process.

    Molecules can vibrate. Each possible vibration, has a fixed energy. Molecules with the lowest possible energy are said to be in the ground state. At atmospheric temperature almost all molecules are in their ground states. A molecule can only absorb light whose energy exactly matches the difference between the ground state and the next highest (in energy) vibrational state. When it does that, the molecule absorbs the light and becomes vibrationally excited. It is now in the first vibrational level.

    Homonuclear diatomics (O2, oxygen, and N2, nitrogen) cannot absorb IR light. The two most important gases in the atmosphere that can do so are H2O and CO2, followed by methane, CH4

    Now comes the fun part. Within a relatively short period of time, the excited molecule hits other molecules (oxygen, nitrogen, whatever) and the vibrational energy becomes heat. This warms the area near the excited molecule. Since energy is conserved, the greenhouse gas molecule returns to the ground state. Most in denial stop here.

    BUT the atmosphere has been warmed by the process, all molecules have more energy, and a greenhouse gas molecule CAN be vibrationally excited if it has a hard collision with another molecule. There is an equilibrium between the excited CO2 molecules loosing energy and returning to the ground state by collisions and the ground state CO2 molecules gaining energy and becoming vibrationally excited because of collisions.

    It is simple (if you have taken General Chemistry) to calculate the percentage of CO2 molecules that are excited at any time. It turns out to be ~ 7% at room temperature. Any particular molecule is only excited for a short period of time until it loses vibrational energy by collision, but there are always a large number of excited molecules which can emit, and do emit

    Here is a way of thinking about this: Think of the atmosphere s a tilted board that you roll balls down (pichenko or pin ball). The balls represent IR light, and you are going to shoot many of them off one after the other. If there were no obstructions the balls would drop to the bottom quickly. Now put some pins into the board and it takes longer on average for any one ball to get to the bottom. The pins represent greenhouse gases. Most importantly the number of balls on the board at any instant increases. By analogy, that means that there is more energy (heat) in the system.

    There are other thing to think about. The temperature of the air locally determines the emission rate. It also affects the absorption rate, although less strongly. In general, a hotter gas will absorb and emit IR more strongly than a colder gas. In the troposphere, temperature decreases as you go up. This means that higher levels absorb less than lower levels.

    Hope this helps.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 5 Jan 2005 @ 5:59 PM

  55. Am I crazy to think that redistribution of water in climate change may have altered pressure on the ocean floor in such a way as to precipitate this tsunami? It seems a little suspicious that this extraordinarily unlikely tectonic event would happen during our period of great climatic tumult were there not causal link.

    Response: Not completely crazy, but this is a tiny tiny factor compared to the forces propelling plate tectonics. First, a large part of recent sea level rise is due to thermal effects and this does not affect bottom pressure at all. Secondly, processes like isostatic rebound (as the crust adjusts to the melting of the NH ice sheets 15,000 years ago) are much stronger and yet do not appear to have had much impact on tectonic processes. Correlation does not prove causality. – gavin

    Comment by Ion Freeman — 6 Jan 2005 @ 3:35 PM

  56. Re: Comment #41, thanks for the pointer. I’ll be following that link to better educate myself on the subject.

    Re: Comment #44, I’m glad that you stepped back from your original assertions. Unfortunately, your new ones are only somewhat better. It is simply not true that “all sound scientific discourse about climate change has concluded that humans should curb greenhouse gas emissions or face the consequences of a rapidly changing climate” because a rapidly changing climate is a matter of a balance being shifted between a complex system of greenhouse gas sources and sinks and not a simple system where you have only sources and sinks are an unchangeable constant.

    In such shifts, you can solve the problem of a changing balance by adjusting your sources or your sinks. Which one to adjust, or if you decide to do both in what proportion do you do it, is a matter of public policy upon which reasonable people can differ. This, of course, assumes that there is even a problem at all, that the medieval warming period where climate was warmer than today isn’t really true/relevant, which is something for another thread.

    What you are engaging in, again, is advocating a political policy preference under color of scientific authority. People do this on both sides of any question, hoping that nobody will notice the cheating and be carried by the stirring rhetoric to join the bandwagon. Bandwagons and rhetoricians are to be used by the scientist with care because intemperate use of these tools draws down your credibility to the level of the paid propagandist that comments #47 talks about. The proper response is not to fight lies with lies but with the truth, in as rigorous a fashion as is possible.

    The alternative path you’re demonstrating may provide short term gains but at the cost of long-term erosion of belief in the scientific community and science itself. Those long-term effects are already showing up because a previous generation already played this dangerous game and you’re paying the piper today. Continuing down that path will lead to a cumulative effect.

    I wish to be clear, there is nothing wrong with scientists also being advocates. There is nothing wrong with deploying your personal and professional reputation to back up your policy pronouncements. There is something very wrong in twisting the actual science so it is more convenient for a particular form of policy advocacy. You will get caught and both your personal reputation and your profession’s reputation (if they’ve let you get away with it) will suffer. More distressing, the certainty that all these fine peer reviewed papers are relating actual facts and not just clever propaganda will also suffer.

    Re comment #47, I suggest that there are exaggerations happening on both sides of the climate change debate. I believe that a lot of the paid propagandists on the skeptic side are pushing so hard because they want to slow down or halt precipitous action that is ill-conceived and promotes unwise solutions. Those bad solutions are out there, the most famous being the Kyoto Treaty, currently set to expire in 2012 and dying on the vine as even its advocates realize that it can’t work. There was a lot of wasted effort and money in that debacle that could have been deployed better.

    An insufficient separation between scientist as scientist and scientist as advocate worsens the problem of push back as delaying tactic. Whatever the truth is, I’m confidant that it will win out. I also believe that it will win out quicker if most scientists retain their “just the facts” approach and do misuse science to push pet policy objectives.

    Re: comment #48 I would suggest that all those coal plants are being brought on line because the coal is there and the only other practical alternative, nuclear, has so much scientific misinformation surrounding nuclear power that it is now impossible to site such plants at a reasonable cost in the US. The same luddites that put up posters showing mushroom clouds over nuclear powerplants and talking about how they can explode are purveying just as false information (on the alarmist side) on global warming.

    Re comment #51 I would agree that there are lots of efficiency improvements available on a global basis but you always get your best bang for your buck with early improvements to do simple things. The classic example I recall is putting tarps on coal cars saves you more on saved coal blowing off the tops of the cars than the cost of the tarps (and the labor to put them on and take them off) not even counting environmental savings. But once you’ve done all the simple things that make you money and the medium-hard things that don’t cost too much, all that is left is the hard, expensive stuff with ever fewer returns for more and more money spent.

    The world is in different phases of efficiency. The 1st world has worked on efficiency issues for decades now. The 3rd world is far, far behind. The normal solution would be for efficiency oriented reform to concentrate on the 3rd world where you can get the most bang for your buck. The Kyoto treaty shows that just the opposite dynamic is likely to result from world policy makers gathering on this subject.

    Comment by TM Lutas — 6 Jan 2005 @ 3:42 PM

  57. Ion (#55) —

    “Am I crazy to think that redistribution of water in climate change may have altered pressure on the ocean floor in such a way as to precipitate this tsunami?”

    To “think” as in hypothesize? No. To “think” as in believe? Yes.

    “It seems a little suspicious that this extraordinarily unlikely tectonic event would happen during our period of great climatic tumult were there not causal link.”

    Last year, Stephen Cooke won the Georgia lottery twice in one day. It seems a little suspicious that this extraordinarily unlikely event would happen during our period of great climatic tumult were there not a causal link.

    To hypothesize that climate change can influence tectonic events is not crazy (although it’s not very plausible either), but to offer a single, not-so-unlikely event as evidence is ridiculous. You would have to look at a vast number of tsunamis, and develop a much better understanding of earthquakes than we have right now, to even start thinking about this issue.

    Comment by Aaron — 6 Jan 2005 @ 4:58 PM

  58. TM (#56) —

    “I would suggest that all those coal plants are being brought on line because the coal is there and the only other practical alternative, nuclear, has so much scientific misinformation surrounding nuclear power that it is now impossible to site such plants at a reasonable cost in the US.”

    I agree that many people are unreasonably frightened of nuclear power, but I also think that people who favor nuclear power are often too quick to dismiss all criticism as ignorance or Luddism. There’s still controversy about how well we can store radioactive waste, for instance, and I think it’s reasonable to say that we should wait for more certainty before we generate loads more of it.

    Comment by Aaron — 6 Jan 2005 @ 5:14 PM

  59. #56 TM Lutas –

    I’m afraid that you’ve misinterpreted my comments. I never said that I thought scientists should advocate a political policy preference (or at least, I clearly restated the intent of my initial comment). I said that scientists should choose their terms wisely because of the emotional baggage, or lack thereof, associated with certain terminoogy. I also noted that it would behoove scientists to use well-understood terms when addressing the general public.

    In the real world, scientists frame the debate through the language that they use, even those that are 100% true to the science. You and I may have to just agree to disagree on this latter point.

    Comment by Dave — 6 Jan 2005 @ 6:38 PM

  60. I’d caution anyone from hypothesizing a possible link between the recent tsunami and climate change… should wait for careful analysis by experts in geophysics and earthquakes to explore this issue, rather than speculate drastically as Ion Freeman has done in post 55. I think the chance of some climatic factor triggering such a seismic event are extremely slim.

    Although forming hypotheses is an integral part of science…this should ideally be done by experts in the field, and should be based on some empirical evidence from previous research, and well-established physical, chemical, and biological principles. For example, some experts are hypothesizing that sea level rise over the next few decades will increase the future vulnerability of coastal communities to tsunamis triggered by seismic events. This is not simply idle speculation, as some editorialists might claim, but is based on principles of physics and oceanography, combined with strong evidence indicating the potential for sea level rise (as explained by the IPCC). The empirical evidence that forms the basis for concern over a risk of sea level rise includes research showing measured increases in radiative forcing from higher atmospheric CO2, measured increases in ocean temperature and consequent thermal expansion of the ocean, recent melting of glaciers, recent increases in sea level from tidal gauges, etc..

    Another hypothesis is that the natural coastal protection from tsunamis and waves provided by coral reefs may be significantly reduced by increased atmospheric GHG concentrations. This is also based on empirical evidence and principles of ocean chemistry and marine biology….for example, the deposition of calcium carbonate by corals is gradually being reduced by increased aqueous CO2 in the ocean and the resulting changes to chemical equilibria, as reported in Kleypas (1999) and Caldeira and Wickett (2003). The latter reference concludes that the coming centuries ‘may see more ocean acidification than in the past 300 million years’.

    This touches on a much broader and extremely problematic theme: because of uncertainties in climate change science, the full costs associated with doing nothing to reduce GHG emissions cannot be calculated, particularly because many impacts are expected to occur in the future. However, such costs could end up being very significant and extremely painful to absorb. It is likely that there will always be some uncertainties due to the complexity of the problem, but this does not mean that there is absolutely no scientific basis for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as some editorialists and industry lobbyists claim. We have no idea what level of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere will be ‘optimal’ and not ‘dangerous’……on the other hand, reducing GHG emissions until the science is better understood seems to be a wise action. A ‘wait and see’ attitude could be very detrimental over the long run, and initiatives to reduce GHG emissions need not be extremely damaging to current economic interests if designed carefully (sorry about this digression to policy, but many in the public are thirsty for the potential policy implications of climate change).

    Kleypas J, Buddemeier R, Archer D, Gattuso J, Langdon C, Opdyke B (1999) Geochemical consequences of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on coral reefs. Science 284: 118-120

    Caldeira, K., Wickett, ME (2003). Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH. Nature 425: 365

    Comment by George Roman — 6 Jan 2005 @ 6:59 PM

  61. WRT TM Lutas’ comment about having the choice of adjusting sinks or sources I too favor pie today and pie tomorrow. For a serious discussion you have to be specific. Please describe how to adjust which sinks and at what cost. BTW, ocean fertilization is a minefield, not a slam dunk. Now discuss how to adjust which sources. IMHO improving efficiency with intelligent controllers, raising fleet mileage world wide to ~ 6 l / 100 km (this is a science bog, and we should use SI, but for the visiting firemen that’s ~ 40 mpg or so) would be places to start. Nuclear is an interesting option, as are wind and tidal power.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 6 Jan 2005 @ 10:25 PM

  62. Well, I was really inspired by this:
    I don’t read NASA press releases generallly, but one of the news articles on the tsunami contextualized it by referring to this release, in which NASA says that, and I quote from the title, “RETREATING GLACIERS SPUR ALASKAN EARTHQUAKES.” So, I’m suspecting that subtler changes in the distribution of the earth’s water — say, equatorial sea surface level rises — may have played a role in bringing on this enormously unlikely geologic event.

    And I completely reject George Roman’s view of science. There’s a role for lazy armchair geophysicists!

    I looked up the Stephen Cooke story — he bought the same numbers twice! That’s got to be somewhat common; that someone who did that would eventually win a lottery isn’t so terribly unlikely, but I’ll grant it is less likely to have a causal link with climate change.

    Response: The tsunami discussion is way off topic. This thread is now closed. – gavin

    Comment by Ion Freeman — 7 Jan 2005 @ 8:18 AM

  63. Re comment chain #33, 39, 44, 56, 59, Dave – The nub of the disagreement is in the following statement “What I really meant is that all sound scientific discourse about climate change has concluded that humans should curb greenhouse gas emissions or face the consequences of a rapidly changing climate. I think there is a subtle but discernable difference.”

    I happen to agree that there is a difference but the one thing it certainly shares with it’s predecessor in comment #33 is that it is wrong (just wrong in a different way). Science, as science, does not make policy distinctions. The above quoted sentence contains a policy preference.

    If the climate is a complex system of counteracting effects, some cooling, some warming, the limit of what science can show is that there is change happening to the balance, the likely new balance points will be suboptimal, and a shift in the balance to a more optimal point x would improve things. Science can also present the options of sinks and sources that can be adjusted. Science cannot determine the broad question of sink adjustment or source adjustment is preferable, whether prevention or mitigation is preferable, or whether simply enduring the change is the best policy of all. These are all policy distinctions and honest men may differ.

    Embedding policy preferences into statements that claim to be purely scientific is not science but pseudo-science and it does not require a lot of scientific depth to spot the imposture. In the terminology talk of how to present things better what should be #1 on the hit parade is keeping science distinct from passionately held policy beliefs by equally disciplining alarmists and skeptics when they stray into combining policy and science in inappropriate ways.

    Re: comment #58 Aaron – I would agree that it’s certainly possible to do nuclear power tragically badly. Chernobyl proved that once and for all. Given the awful and unlikely to be repeated set of circumstances necessary to create Chernobyl, I rather think that the problem is less on the side of the nuclear power proponents and vastly more on the side of the opponents. If you think that there’s anybody out there thinking of building a nuke plant sans containment (or other similar sized gaffe), let me know.

    Re: comment #61 Eli – I would suggest that you don’t have to be an expert in the field to spot gross distortions such as leaving out a major branch in the public policy decision tree. I do not claim field expertise and I think I shall pass on trying to swim the depths of the subject. On the other hand, if even a middling sharp amateur can spot bias, it’s no wonder that plenty of other people can as well.

    If you leave the language and argumentation markers of somebody who is trying to con the general public, don’t be surprised when you’re not listened to.

    Comment by TM Lutas — 7 Jan 2005 @ 1:18 PM

  64. OK, I can’t see leaving #63 as the closing comment.

    When T M Lutas offers to refrain from plumbing the depths of the matter one hopes it does not provide an excuse for loudly promoting a misunderstanding of the crucial aspects of the physics.

    It’s clear that Lutas has not followed the link proposed by John Bolduc in #25, and therefore suffers from the common but critical misunderstanding of the climate science that colors the policy debate everywhere, which is a sort of quasi-equilibrium assumption. All the (rather elementary) economic theory I’ve seen has been based on steady-state quasi-equilibrium arguments, but I’m sure some economist has noticed that not all systems are near equilibrium. Not all, apparently. Speaking of “new balance points” that may be “suboptimal” in the context of climate change policy takes equilibrium models much too far, and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues.

    The climate system is already far from an equilibrium state as a result of human actions. Systems with response times of centuries are already in play. What we’re discussing is not the “new balance” but the size of the excursions from the natural patterns, themselves naturally interacting and operating on numerous time scales. The nomenclature that Lutas uses demonstrates a profound failure to understand the nature of the problem.

    I am of course in agreement with Lutas that scientists must choose their words carefully, (that was my whole point) and #61 is surely a case in point,

    Still, Lutas should understand that people attempting to speak with authority on matters they misunderstand will provoke responses that while ill-considered, don’t reflect “markers of somebody who is trying to con the general public”.

    (I personally believe that someone politically smart enough and ethically cynical enough to plan a con job of the proposed magnitude would surely find more effective ways to apply their criminal intelligence than to seek a doctorate in a geophysical science so that they can join a vast shadowy conspiracy to tap into increased funding of a few branches of climate science.)

    Perhaps ill-chosen words are rather markers of frustration with gross misunderstandings of the facts of the matter among people who choose to present themselves as having some relevant expertise. Economic reasoning is all well and good, but one must use an appropriate economic model. In this case speaking of “suboptimal balance” shows a very severe misunderstanding of the physical science. Any economic model of global climate change that has no time sense (as well-explained at least in some measure in the paper that Bolduc points to in #25) is simply not worth considering.

    Whether we should be discussing economics or policy on this site at all is another matter. Clearly, it may be hard to avoid.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 7 Jan 2005 @ 5:34 PM

  65. A problem at the nexus of policy and science is people jumping into the muddle proclaiming the obvious has been missed by others. The always answer is that others have considered the obvious, found that it is obvious but wrong or no help, and moved on. It is a corollary to the old saw that every problem has a simple but wrong answer

    TM Lutas’ point about considering sink enlargement. is a good example. Sink enlargement has been considered. It is some help, but not nearly sufficient. It would/will buy some time, just as the emission reduction mandated by Kyoto will. No sink enlargement strategy is without its own costs. As a matter of fact there is an entire volume of the IPCC report on this

    So the answer is not that TML has found something obvious, but that we need to find a way to better inform him. Since this kind of argument is raised constantly, one needs a resource that would allow folk to come up to speed without having to constantly convey the same information, one person at a time, in an interchange involving hundreds of people across a subject that involves many science and policy areas.

    Traditionally this is the function of a FAQ. Something that you point people to when they jump into the exchange, but don’t have the background to deal with the ongoing correspondence. Since RealClimate has moderated postings, the moderator could refer writers to an appropriate area of the FAQ before posting the submission. Kind of “I’ll post this if you wish, but I suggest you look at XXX first. Get back to me with your decision” Now, of course, we have to have volunteers to write the FAQ, or perhaps we could adopt sections of the Wikipedia.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 7 Jan 2005 @ 5:44 PM

  66. BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
    … “Those sharply different perceptions led to a clash even over
    what language should be used in discussing disaster relief. Bush
    administration emissaries opposed the use of the phrase “climate
    change,” employed since the days of the first Bush administration,
    in favor of “climate variability,” a much more nebulous term.” …

    > The NOAA NWS strategic plans use “Climate variability
    > and Change”, … This is a major federal agency with direct
    > ties to local and national media, local and state agencies,
    > other federal agencies, and businesses world wide. NOAA, NWS
    > have the machinery to educate the public about global waming.
    > Why isn’t this working like it should?
    > (post #31 of this thread)

    I think “global warming” is better than climate variability,
    climate change, or climate variability and change.

    BTW, even though off topic and now a closed thread, I appreciated
    getting the link which is shown in post #62 by Ion Freeman.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 8 Jan 2005 @ 2:15 PM

  67. “I would agree that it’s certainly possible to do nuclear power tragically badly. Chernobyl proved that once and for all. Given the awful and unlikely to be repeated set of circumstances necessary to create Chernobyl, I rather think that the problem is less on the side of the nuclear power proponents and vastly more on the side of the opponents. If you think that there’s anybody out there thinking of building a nuke plant sans containment (or other similar sized gaffe), let me know.” (#63)

    I don’t think that nuclear accidents are much of a problem at all. The major stumbling block that I see is the waste, which we are currently capable of generating much faster than we are currently capable of safely storing. In other words, the waste disposal problem will only get bigger.

    Comment by Aaron — 9 Jan 2005 @ 1:45 PM

  68. Stripped of its sophistries, global warming might just be used to refer to the lastest ploy of the state in keeping ignorant masses in a state of alarm over the impact of the great natural forces upon our lives. These forces sometimes interfere with our lives in ranges from discomforting (stranded in the Cincinnati airport) to terrifying (killed in Phuket).

    This current model easily comports with those employed by any BCE theocracy, each with its own educated priesthood that can be relied upon to talk rings around the skeptics within the laity; particualrly whenever primal fears need to be remediated through some form of human sacrifice (ranging form dollars to fair maidens)

    Global warming refers to a belief system in the knowledge of a priesthood whose claims of understanding of how man’s endeavors effect the mighty natural forces (and by implication of how deleterious outcomes can be avoided for some appropriate payment in kind, offerings, grants etc) is in fact grounded in reality.

    Of course there is no reality here, just as there is no such thing as “climate prediction”

    How much would you be willing to pay to avoid last years crop failure?

    That question is just as relevant today as it was when it was first posed by Pharoah’s priests….and also every bit as unscientific

    Response: I can’t wait for the day when people start offering us climate scientists their fair maidens…. – gavin

    Comment by Bruce Frykman — 10 Jan 2005 @ 6:53 PM

  69. I don’t think there’s a geologic problem with nuclear disposal. There are vast areas of the southwest with craton geologies, with virtually unlimited available spaces below the water table.

    But, politically, there’s millions of voters who won’t understand that. So, we’ve chosen geologically active Nevada with 4 electoral votes.

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 11 Jan 2005 @ 12:21 PM

  70. re #68:

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 11 Jan 2005 @ 1:38 PM

  71. I have tried to raise awareness in informal settings. While most educated people are aware of the phrase “global warming”, most are not, in my experience, aware of the fact that the CO2 concentration is historically high, or rising at an historically unprecedented pace. I say “It is beyond question that the composition of the atmosphere is changing.” This line has been successful in increasing the concern in each of about 10 times I’ve tried this argument.

    Comment by Zachary Levine — 22 Jan 2005 @ 10:34 PM

  72. […] Coby Beck made a similar observation last November; RealClimate addresses some of the problems associated with "global warming.". And as happy as I was to see the Rev. Pat Robertson acknowledging climate change last year, we […]

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  73. […] Coby Beck made a similar observation last November; RealClimate addresses some of the problems associated with "global warming.". And as happy as I was to see the Rev. Pat Robertson acknowledging climate change last year, we […]

    Pingback by JeffMcIntireStrasburg » Blog Archive » Green Myth-Busting: Global Warming and Cold Weather — 24 Oct 2007 @ 1:12 PM

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