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The Last Word for Now…

Filed under: — group @ 25 February 2005

Of possible interest to our readers, there was an interview yesterday on the BBC (“Today Programme”) regarding the supposed controversy about the “Hockey Stick”: A climate scientist Professor Michael Mann suggests global warming is caused by mankind (mp3 file). Also available on the BBC website is the real audio file of the interview.


68 Responses to “The Last Word for Now…”

  1. 1
    Richard Starkey says:

    An excellent interview by Professor Mann. Came across very, very well and put a few people straight!

  2. 2
    dave says:

    Good interview, very clear.

    So, Mike – have you been given any opportunities to set the record straight in any American media? Science Friday? Living on Earth? Public Television? The New York Times? other?

    Fox Broadcasting or the Wall Street Journal? (just kidding!)

    I often get climate science news from British sources and can’t find it in American sources, at least on the web.

  3. 3
    Benedict Eastaugh says:

    Dave: we islanders are just more fascinated by the weather than our cousins from across the pond… ;)

    Thanks for the mp3 download; the BBC’s radio player service is rather tedious.

  4. 4
    dave says:

    If I understand the regional climate change effects going forward, I can certainly understand why you guys in the UK and in Europe as a whole are more interested in “the weather” than the “see, hear and speak no evil” bipedal big-brained hominids in the US.

    Still, here in the Western US, we have severe long-term droughts other deleterious effects to look forward to. So, we’re not going to miss all the fun.

  5. 5
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #2, I don’t get any climate news in the U.S. on TV (I don’t have cable) or the newspaper – except occasionally on PBS. I asked my college students (here in Edinburg, TX) if they had heard of the Kyoto Protocol. Not one of them had. Luckily one or two students knew Kyoto was a city in Japan. I asked them what global warming was. I got a few correct answers, a couple of “ozone layer” answers, but no one else even knew about it. And since my course topics don’t relate to environmental science, I have a hard time bringing up such topics. I did so last semester, and a few students made fun of me.

  6. 6
    Alan says:

    Global warming may be fact and so too is the human race headlong rush to burn any and all fossil fuel to fuel so called economic ‘growth’. Our economic metabaolism is addicted to this form of energy and the development of mature and sustainable economies is occuring at a pace and fraction of what is required. Add to this the expectant emergence of India and China as carbon kings then we have, at present, no real chance of bringing about the changes needed to bring emissions under control. What is needed is political will, an alternative economics where poluter pays underwrites all policy and not merely ‘spin’ alongside this is needed a new psychology for growth and development of the whole person. The war on terror is the wrong target particularly as Blair described himself as terrified by the threatend consequences of man made global warming if we fail to act. How long will it take to awaken the elctorate to the need for urgent action, personal sacrifice and unilateral action to demonstrate the willingness to lead so others may have the confidence to follow. What actions can we take as individuals and as small groups to bring about the critical mass of opinion needed to radicaly alter perceptions.
    When we succeed in picking up the baton then we will see and feel and hear a sea change in the development of the alternative sollutions and technologies at the correct pace. We should be building our Mullbery Harbours now. When we do this we will be and remain world leaders and therebye secure Britains place on the rapidly changing world stage.

  7. 7
    grundt says:

    Alan,
    Things seem to be like you paint them. Sloooooooow.
    After reading what Lynn has written, I feel as If all of us,
    doomsday – looking environmentalists are something like right.
    We are reading warnings since the early 1980´s. And writing comments
    in local papers for community information.
    I think the next neutron-star will come before our Conscience.

  8. 8
    dave says:

    Re #6:

    Meaningful policy action on climate warnimg must come from the top down and here in the US , that means at present the Bush administation. You can change to low-energy lightbulbs, turn your heat down, don’t use the “heated dry” in your dishwasher, drive a Prius, install solar panels, etc. etc., all to your heart’s content but it wouldn’t change our situation with respect to GHG forcing of Earth’s climate one little bit. On the other hand, a national policy 1) urging conservation of energy, (2) making huge financial investments in making alternative energy cheaper and more effective (3) making realistic appraisals of the energy-in/energy-out ratio for the so-called “hydrogen economy” or the energy costs of extraction for the Canadian Albertan tar sands – these are the sort of foward-looking moves we need. No costly foreign wars but lots of boost to the Amerian economy which can market new energy-efficient technologies to the rest of the world, including China, India and Brazil

    Never depend on vested energy interests to make a sound decision about climate change. They can not since they are interested in maintaining quarterly profits into the future. In so far a the Bush people are in bed with the fossil fuel industry, hopes for a progressive national policy look more and more remote.

    Personally, I think the the world has just about reached “Peak Oil” [where yearly extraction and production lags behind demand - not just last year - which happened- but indefinitely into the future] and are coming up fast on a similar situation for “Natural gas” [methane} – where prices, at least in the US, are skyrocketing and where no credible analysis of the situation sees anything but a looming severe gas shortage in the next decade or so.

    What will people do when oil and gas become too expensive and alternative energy sources are underfunded, immature or, in the worst case, just inadequate? They will do two things:

    1. Build more coal-fired energy plants
    2 Build more nuclear (fission) plants

    to attempt to keep up with world-wide energy demand.

  9. 9

    My struggle began when Dr. James Baker, the director of NOAA in year 2000, was on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather for 5 consecutive nights during January of 2000, brought global warming to the American people. I became aware of the seriousness of global warming by listening to Dr. Baker in January of 2000.

    In watching the interviews with Dr. Baker, I became convinced that NOAA would continue to bring major attention to global warming during the months and years ahead. Why was I wrong? What happened that Dr. Baker and his concerns were no longer visible to the American people, more than 10 months before the November 2000 presidential elections?

    I wrote to Dr. Baker in January of 2000 concerning responsiblities of NOAA and U.S. government agencies on global warming, I wrote to Richard Daley, Secretary of the Department of Commerce and to Vice President Al Gore. No replies.

    I listened to the presidential address in late January of 2000. Some of the right words were used on global warming, but the manner in which the words were expressed to the American people did not seem to be sincere. What discussions took place on global warming by leaders of the Clinton administration and the directors of U.S. government agencies from January of 2000 to November of 2000? Why didn’t the serious alerts broadcast by NOAA director Dr. James Baker on CBS in January of 2000 continue into the other months of year 2000? I could make a guess. I’d prefer facts.

  10. 10
    Hugh says:

    Thanks Mike
    The piece came across as sound and balanced.
    I would like to say however that the BBC doesn’t always get it quite right. Also aired last week was an edition of ‘The Moral Maze’.
    Here various experts and interested parties are asked to justify their moral stance on various issues.
    Last week it was ‘Climate Change’.
    Prof Steven Rose and a couple of others were pitted against the deeply entrenched views of the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips (who was very proud to state more than once ‘I’m only a journalist’).
    Guest speakers included Bjorn Lomborg (who was unfortunately introduced in glowing colours untarnished by the patina of peer criticism that should have dulled them). He said…what he usually says.
    Phillips however, toward the end of the programme became progressively more hysterical. Her argument that the consensus was flawed and that anthro-warming was a figment of the collective scientific imagination appeared to be built on the foundation that the rest of the panel was calling Lindzen a liar simply because they seemed to understand the importance of ‘the consensus’ and she didn’t.
    The most unforgivable miscalculation by the editing staff was though, I feel, to give Phillips the last word.
    Once again, hysteria, excess volume and selective use of science were allowed to obfuscate the issue.

  11. 11
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    To #8
    First, the interview was great. Dr. Mann said that the attacks on the “hockey stick” were mudslinging, explained how the attacks were scientifically incorrect and offered facts to dismiss the attacks.

    George Bush is more than just in bed with fossil fuel companies, he was the head of a petroleum company, as was the vice-president. The Bush administration favors the fossil fuel companies and will take no action on climate change, because the companies would lose profits.

    The Bush administration has demonstrated hostility towards environmental regulation. Industry lobbyists and lawyers who have fought environmental regulation have been appointed heads of the environmental agencies. Environmental lawsuits are settled by the administration on terms favorable to industry. The general public, and especially environmental groups, have been shut out from environmental policy and regulation. Science has been suppressed or tailored to benefit the regulated companies. Wholesale changes have been made in regulations at the agency level but in a way that avoids the public from noticing.
    I worked in environmental law when George Bush was Governor of Texas, and I saw first hand these types of tactics and how George Bush misrepresented his environmental record.

    On the surface the Bush administration has made some statements that it accepts the climate change science, but this is just window dressing to placate the critics of his environmental policies (see my comment #14 under the Why Looking for Global Warming in the Oceans post). These statements are whitewashing his denial of climate change science and refusal to propose laws and regulations addressing climate change. Environmentalists call these types of actions “greenwashing” and greenwash is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (10th Edition) as the “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”.

    There is hope on the state level with proposals by California and New York, but the anti-environmental regulation spin machine has attacked them too. The Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy group, has criticized the states for acting on climate change and referred to them as “rogue states”.

    [Response: Please remember that this is a science site. We are likely to curtail discussions if this thread becomes any more partisan. - gavin]

  12. 12
    Luke Silburn says:

    Regarding post #10. Melanie Philips is a crackpot. Sadly she gives good copy for a programme like ‘The Moral Maze’, which is long on contention and rhetorical grandstanding, short on rational discussion to illuminate a complex subject and loves its revisionist contraversialists with a rare passion. Witness the prominence David ‘I-enjoyed-pulling-wings-off-insects-as-a-child’ Starkey acquired as a result of being their pet attack dog – Ms Phillips aspires to follow in his tracks but, sadly for her, is handicapped by being not nearly as intelligent as she thinks she is.

    Fortunately R4 is many things and not all of it is the sort of intellectual bloodsport that doesn’t let inconvenient facts get in the way of giving someone a good kicking that is ‘The Moral Maze’. Has Melvyn Bragg done an ‘In Our Time’ on climate change yet? I’d trust that strand to get things mostly right.

    Regards
    Luke

  13. 13
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Thanks Gavin for pointing out the nature of my comment (#11). I took a careful look at my comment. It is very political and partisan but that wasn’t what I intended. I did cross a line with that comment.
    I have no dislike for George Bush as a president generally, but I think his policies on the environment and climate change science could be better. Being fair I think the Bush administration has proposed some good ideas (market incentives, cap-and-trade and technology), but there needs to be action based on these good ideas.
    Again thanks to Gavin for being patient with my comments. This will be my last word for now, unless it is a science related comment.

  14. 14
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Listened to the interview, & am glad at least the British get to hear about GW (and we, through this website). I forgot to mention in #5 that when I spoke with a Democratic National Committee caller & mentioned GW, she said she had not heard much about it, and no one had ever brought up the topic to her as an issue. So I feel that rather than disinformation, we in the U.S. are suffering primarily from lack of information or coverage – and at least one friend took that to mean that GW had been disproven (since she never heard about it anymore).

    This brings me to a host of other “forcings” that the physical sciences can’t really deal with, and even the social/behavioral sciences have a hard time quantifying & nailing down – the cultural, social, and psychological “forcings” (or impacts, influences, factors) on climate change. Cultural includes shared technology, as well as beliefs, values, knowledge (including scientific knowledge), etc. Social would include the impact of “other people,” social status/role, social structure, social relationships (including economic, kin, power/political relations, etc.); and psychological would include motivational, cognitive processes & cognitive content of individuals. A total “climate science” would include all these other “forcings,” that all interact with & interpenetrate each other & the strictly environmental.

    I realize this site is limited to climate science in the narrow sense, which gives it sharp focus & strength. So to simplify an already exceedingly complex issue, we can hold “politics” etc. constant, with the understanding it actually is a variable in the equation & not really a constant. Afterall the social/behavioral sciences almost entirely (& wrongly) hold the physically sciences constant.

  15. 15
    John Bolduc says:

    Re #14, the reason for lack of action is not lack of information. There is so much information through various media that it could be an obstacle to action. If you follow the news postings on climateark.org, it seems like there is a blizzard of coverage.

    There are 150 local governments in the U.S. that are formally working on climate change (see http://www.iclei.org/us/ccp). The northeastern states have adopted goals and plans, and are implementing actions. The west coast states are doing similar things. There are businesses and institutions working to reduce emissions. But obviously it’s not enough since emissions continue to increase.

    While there is not lack of information, there is a lack of understanding. Some of that is from the disinformation campaign. Some of it is the nature of the problem. It’s too overwhelming for some people, making them feel helpless. It is perceived as being far off in time. People don’t understand the stocks and flows nature of the problem.

    Given the history of policy making in the US, I think the state and local initiatives have to be seen as the way to building toward federal action. Taking information from sources like RealClimate and trying to relate it to our communities would be a start. This can be useful, for instance, in getting your community to join the ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection campaign. There are other sources. A new report has been issued by researchers at Tufts University, Boston University, & the Univ. of Maryland on projected climate impacts in the metro Boston area. See http://www.tufts.edu/tie/climb/ . Processing the great information that is out there and making it tangible for citizens at the community level can really help build a solid foundation for action at higher levels of government. I wish there was a faster way, but I think we have to be in this for the long haul, even if it seems like we don’t have time.

  16. 16
    Dano says:

    Good post John B. I had a similar conversation yesterday, about decision-making in today’s information-rich environment. You’ve phrased the issue in a useful way.

    One must not only make one’s work intelligible for other scientists, but also for decision-makers. However the structure of organized science does this, I don’t really care – but if one’s results sit on a shelf and no one knows the implications for society or the individual, then what good is it?

    Best,

    D

  17. 17
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Response to #15
    Great points about taking action from John Bolduc.

    I get too caught up in the politics of climate change science. There is an aggressive, highly organized and very loud campaign that uses negative tactics to undermine climate change science with the goal of preventing laws and regulations addressing climate change from being made. I let my outrage at the negative tactics get the better of me. My training as a lawyer (the U.S. legal system is called an “adversarial system”) overcomes my training as a scientist. That explains my comments when I rail against the negative political, public relations and scientific tactics. I think I need to calm down. I’ll take a deep breath and count to ten.

    Maybe we should move on to taking action and not spend time and energy in a political fight. We do need to improve efforts to get accurate scientific and other information to the public. That should be the first step, and RealClimate is a great step in this direction. The state and local level is the best place to start. Most of the current federal environmental laws were passed in response to a grass-roots political movement that started on the local level. This will be a long-haul and difficult struggle but it is worth it.

    There are websites to find articles from the popular media on climate change that are an alternative to the information on conservative advocacy groups’ websites.
    I hope that this is not seen as too partisan, but the environmental group Environmental Defense (ED) has in the “Latest News: Global Warming in the News” section articles from the press from around the world on climate change. The articles are current; some were released the same day ED posts them. There is some slant because they don’t seem to post “denialist” type of pieces, but it is a pretty comprehensive source. It is at:
    http://www.undoit.org/undoit_article.cfm
    The National Resource Defense Council (NDRC), another environmental group, posts some scientific studies. The name of the environmental group in “The State of Fear” is a play on the NRDC’s name. There is slant on the NRDC’s website, but it does list a variety of studies from peer-reviewed journals like Science and Nature and from groups like the National Academy of Science from 2004 to 2000. “Global Warming Studies an Annotated Bibliography- A Summary of Recent Findings on Changing Global Climate” is at:
    http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/fgwscience.asp

  18. 18
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #15, glad to hear people in your area know all about GW, but that doesn’t change the fact that people I know don’t know about it, and we don’t get it in the news over here (not that many actually tune in to the news or science programs).

    Another troubling point is that environmental sociological studies have shown that there is not much of a correlation between knowledge about and concern over environmental problems on the one hand, and behavior to address those problems, on the other (which is not too unusual for attitude-behavior studies). Only when they loaded a variety of environmental problems into one variable and a variety of measures to address the problems into another variable did they get a moderate correlation (I think around .5 or.6). This is depressing: the people who are knowledgeable and concerned don’t do much.

  19. 19

    Thanks for this very useful exchange. Is the mendacious Wall Street Journal report attacking Mann (to which he refers in the Today interview) available anywhere? The Journal keeps its stuff behind an expensive subscription wall. If there is something resembling an electronic copy floating around – strictly within the bounds of legality and copyright, of course – I would be glad to know of it.

    One of the reasons for asking is that I am organising a debate on the politics of climate change for http://www.openDemocracy.net, and want to get a better handle on how media manipulation and misrepresentation works. This debate will be published 20 April to 10 June. A summary of it will be presented to the G8 leaders, among others, at their July summit via openDemocracy’s partner for this project, the British Council. Also looking for other key examples of mendacity.

    I’m at: caspar.henderson@opendemocracy.net

  20. 20
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #19: A link was posted on 2/15 in “A disclaimer” comment #4. I just checked it and it’s still live.

  21. 21
    dave says:

    I couldn’t agree more with comments made in #15 “While there is not lack of information, there is a lack of understanding…” and #17 “We do need to improve efforts to get accurate scientific and other information to the public. That should be the first step, and RealClimate is a great step in this direction….”.

    Here is an article by Moser and Dilling at NCAR that provides lots of information about the challenges of communicating climate change to the public.

    My own take, which you can find here, laments the diffuse nature of climate information, especially on the web, and focuses on solutions in which persistent, comprehensive stories promoting understanding of various aspects of climate change science should be communicated to the public. Such stories should be based on the science but explain it so that it is accurate but understandable to laymen. Here is a short list of the kinds of communication channels that have failed to provide the overall understanding the public and policy makers need, in no particular order.

    1. the mainstream media coverage of climate science stories (CNN, MSNBC) etc
    2. sporadic ad-hoc press releases by science labs, organizations (NCAR, EurekaAlert, Goddard)
    3. superficial and sparse coverage by environmental organizations (UCS, NRDC)
    4. inaccessible and complex reporting in science magazines (SCIENCE, NATURE)
    5. science-oriented weblogs (John Fleck, Quark Soup/David Appell)

    This scattershot approach to disseminating “real” climate science is overwhelming and does not tell a coherent story (e.g. about melting ice sheets, 20th c. climate, etc.) to the public.

  22. 22
    Dano says:

    Lynn, one possible reason for the disconnect you mention above: [the] correlation between knowledge about and concern over environmental problems…[vs] behavior to address those problems is due to our lack of ecological education and the success of the ability of our society to disconnect cause and effect – ignore ‘externalities’.

    Our leaders grow up with this, too, and must be educated about externalities and true costs of stuff. Framing true costs is very tricky. ‘Embodied energy’, ‘ecological economics’, ‘true cost-benefit analyses’, etc attempt to bridge that gap in a way that allows understanding of an issue.

    Hopefully, soon, science will wake up to the fact that you can’t plop a paper down without explaining what it means in terms that folks can use. This site is a good first step. More steps need to be taken.

    Best,

    D

  23. 23
    John Hunter says:

    Given that the Mann et al. results have often been described as the “cornerstone of the IPCC’s promotion” (or words to that effect), it is probably worth considering what the IPCC Third Assessment Report actually said. I’ll look just at the Summary for Policymakers, which quantifies the certainty of many of its statements using, for example, words like “likely” (which means 66-90% chance of being true). In all, I have counted 52 such statements (if anyone sees fit to do an “audit” of my counts, they may well find I am out by +/- 1 or 2). These are distributed as follows:

    Virtually certain (greater than 99% chance of being true): count = 1

    Very likely (90-99% chance of being true): count = 19

    Likely (66-90% chance of being true): count = 28

    Unlikely (10-33% chance of being true): count = 2

    Very unlikely (1-10% chance of being true): count = 2

    TOTAL COUNT = 52

    So, where does the Mann et al. hockeystick appear in this? Well, it accounts for just two of the “likely” statements, which are:

    “New analyses of proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicate that the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years.”

    and:

    “It is also likely that, in the Northern Hemisphere, the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year.”

    Now, “likely” means “66-90% chance” of being true, so the IPCC TAR accepted that there was roughly a 1 in 4 chance that each of the “Mann et al.” statements was incorrect. There were also 22 statements which were “more certain” than the “Mann et al.” statements (i.e. the ones in the “virtually certain”, “very likely” and “very unlikely” categories). McIntyre and McKitrick have therefore spent a huge effort in trying to show that, for 2 (relatively uncertain) statements out of the 52, the probability of them being incorrect was rather higher than the 1 in 4 estimated by the IPCC!

    The MM treatment of the Mann et al. results seems rather similar to the following scenario. My doctor says that it is likely that I have cancer. I ask him what he means by “likely”, to which he replies: “well, there is a 1 in 4 chance that I am wrong”. If I were reasonably sensible, then I would probably do two things: (1) start to plan my life as if I DID have cancer (e.g. consider possible treatment or plan for a shorter life than I previously assumed) and (2) seek better advice from elsewhere so that I could improve the certainty of my diagnosis (e.g. seek a second opinion). However, I could choose to do neither of these (precautionary) things and essentially ignore my doctor’s diagnosis. I would instead elect to “shoot the messenger”, by attempting to show that the diagnosis was flawed and that the doctor was incompetent (e.g. that his diagnostic tools were not up to scratch or that he did not keep a good filing system) — now that would be a REALLY dumb response wouldn’t it?

    (My thanks to Professor Aynsley Kellow for bringing the uncertainty estimates of the IPCC TAR once more to my attention.)

  24. 24
    John Bolduc says:

    Re #23, that is an interesting way of looking at TAR. I just read the steering committee report from the Exeter Conference (International Symposium on the Stabilisation of Greenhouse Gases – Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, held last month in the UK). It also speaks in terms of probabilities. The questions and the responses, as presented in the report, seem to me to be structured in a way that is useful to decisionmakers and to the general public. For example the report states: “… limiting warming to a 2 C increase with a relatively high certainty requires the equivalent concentration of CO2 to stay below 400 ppm. Conversely if less certainty was required concentrations could rise to 550 ppm equivalent.” This kind of statement helps laypeople bracket the problem and at least enable some judgement of the level of risk that should be tolerable.

    The report also goes on to say, which I found useful, that “If action to reduce emissions is delayed by 20 years, rates of emission reduction may need to be 3 to 7 times greater to meet the same temperature target.” And “Limiting climate change to 2 deg C implies stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of all greenhouse gases. The CO2 concentration must not exceed 500 ppmv, if the climate sensitivity is 2.5 deg C. Global emissions would need to peak in 2020 and decline to 31. GtC/year by 2095.” I’m sure these statements are fraught with uncertainties and can be debated until people are blue in the face, but they are being made by well-informed, trained scientists.

  25. 25
    John Bolduc says:

    Re #18, Lynn I have a vague recollection that you mentioned you are in Texas. I agree with your point that even knowledgeable people fail to act. I know many declared environmentalists who don’t integrate climate change into their thinking about other environmental issues. I think they too suffer from the scale of the problem and don’t understand the immediacy.

    But even in Texas, where oil is a big industry, there are people who take note. Austin (which I know is not typical of Texas) has a great public utility that is a leader on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Both Austin and San Antonio are members of Cities for Climate Protection. I’ve met staff from the City of Houston at a meeting on the public health implications of climate change. One way to get to people who don’t care or are not knowledgeable about climate change is to find a connecting issue, such as air quality, energy security, financial benefits, etc. Fortunately, the things we need to do to reduce GHG emissions also benefit us in other areas, like reducing conventional air pollutants. It’s at least a way to start and get one’s foot in the door to tie in climate change.

  26. 26
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #25, yes, I think Austin & San Antonio are different, but there is Green Mountain Energy (100% wind generated electricity) available in Texas & some other states. It costs .05 cents per KWH more (or about $1 more per month). Unfortunately, I’ve had to drop out of my environmental clubs for now due to a heavy teaching load, but was trying to appeal on all levels re all environmental problems, and still it’s like swimming against a tidal wave of indifference & some hostility (“I’m not causing any problems!”). So at great personal cost to me (I really should have written a couple more academic articles over winter break to secure my academic career), I have written a screenplay about GW (more realistic than WATER WORLD or DAY AFTER TOMORROW) & am now looking to make contacts in Hollywood – knowing that it is extremely unlikely (that’s less than a .01% chance) of getting it made into a movie. But I would sacrifice my shaky career on the off chance of reaching more people.

    Re #23, thanks for the definitions. I’ve long claimed that people living in this world should be trying to avoid false negatives (doing nothing to abate a problem that is actually happening). I call this the “medical model.” However, I understand that scientists have to protect their reputations by avoiding false positives (claiming a problem exists when it does not), which I call the “scientific model.” A friend once got a cancer test result by mail that said “negative,” and she panicked, thinking it meant she had cancer.

    Quite frankly even a “very unlikely” <10% chance re GW (esp. runaway GW), would not give me a lot of solace. It certainly won’t stop me from practicing energy/resource efficiency & conservation.

  27. 27
    John Hunter says:

    For the anal retentive among you (and I readily admit to being in that class), I noticed an error in my posting #23. The category “Virtually certain” is defined in the IPCC TAR as “greater than 99% chance of being true” rather than “greater than 90% chance of being true”. The mistake was pretty obvious and also pretty unimportant — can one of you guys just correct it for me — it doesn’t need a posting!

  28. 28
    fffox says:

    Is it true what is said about this site being antiscienticic?

    [Response:No. -gavin]

  29. 29
    David Ball says:

    Re: # 28.

    I guess an important question is: Who is saying that it is antiscientific? I can imagine a great number of people who dislike this site specifically because it attempts to remain true to the science and the moderators refuse to be drawn down the inevitable side tracks that crop up whenever new climate science appears in the literature. It’s these side tracks that lead to muddying the waters around the science and make it more difficult for open discourse on climate change issues to take place. Frankly, I appreciate the clarity that they bring to these issues.

  30. 30
    Mark Lawton says:

    I heard the BBC interview with Michael Mann on my car radio – actually it made me late for work as I wanted to hear it all. Excellent stuff, game set and match to Mann, I think. Anyway as a result of the interview, this web site got a mention and so I checked it out. As an interested but non scientific person I find it really refreshing to be able to read informed comment that has not been filtered through journalists.

    Here in the UK, we are not short of articles in the quality press about climate change but you never know how much spin they are putting on the known facts. Actually, the science behind it is often noticeably absent. This is not helped by some scientists who think they are media pundits and are keen to have their name in the papers, even when they have no evidence to back up their assertions.

    The most important facet of the climate change debate for me is that the real battle for the hearts and minds of the British public has already pretty much been won. When you get to the stage when ordinary people are aware that the climate is acting cranky and comment upon it on a regular basis, the opinions of the antis do not seem to carry a lot of weight. The fact is the British have a national obsession about the weather and it is the focus of casual conversation at supermarket checkouts up and down the land. People above a certain age are very much aware that some of the weather we have experienced for at least the last 10 years goes beyond the normal variations that are to be expected in our variable maritime climate. Maybe if the politicians got out more they would hear what is being said.

    What we need now is the political will to make hard choices and do something about it.

    Anyway, thanks for putting this website together. I’ll stick with it and who knows, maybe in couple of months I might be able to understand the 30% of it that goes right over my head!

  31. 31

    I just read this excellent post, Greenhouse Effect, that you all might be interested in.

  32. 32
    dave says:

    Re: The Last Word

    And so, following the name of the post, here’s what I think of the “last word for now”.

    I see that the comments in this thread have gone the usual way, mostly away from the science and towards a generally unfocused discussion of everyone’s frustration about (e.g. #30) “the political will to make hard choices” regarding climate change. Most of the comment threads about realclimate posts go this way because I think that most of us who regard the problem as very serious feel stymied, especially in the United States, about the political corruption that prevents the problem from being taken seriously.

    Mike’s interview on the BBC was terrific but as far as I can see, there was no follow-up in the American press.

    Often, there is good information in the comments about the posts but the ambiguity on the realclimate weblog between the scientific and political issues continues – this mirrors the real world situation. There is also the problem that all sorts of scientific claims are made without serious substantiation and often I get the feeling that responders are just making things up from half-baked anecdotal sources. After all, realclimate is not a peer-reviewed resource. Of course, many of the comments by Gavin, William, et.al. are very informative.

    I am happy that climate scientists have taken on this difficult but necessary work to communicate reality to the public about climate change but also disappointed at the lack of serious response in the political/news world at large and by some of the comments.

    The site is invaluable and I hope it’s influence will expand over time but, as usual, there are problems.

  33. 33
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Re: Comment #32

    I’m glad that the owners of this site have restricted political discussion: politics usually boosts the noise half of the signal/noise ratio.

    Anyone who is interested can create their own web site devoted to the politics of climate policy. This site (hopefully) will remain as a resource.

  34. 34
    dave says:

    Re: Jeffrey’s comment #32

    Yes, I quite agree and also hope that realclimate remains focused on reliable climate science information. To clarify a bit, when a post is made (about the hockey team, Ruddiman, warming of the oceans, et. al.), my hope has been that the U.S. political/news world would simply visit here, read the post and use that information, including the noted uncertainties, in their reporting of climate change stories, especially when there is a question of consensus in the worldwide scientific community. As far as I can see, that is not happening. It is no doubt naive to look for this kind of journalistic practice but one can hope.

    Also, the IPCC TAR is off the map as far as climate science reporting goes here in America. There are exceptions, of course, like Revkin at the New York Times.

  35. 35
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    To #31 Robert McClelland
    That was a good link. I could not read the entire article, but the first paragraph stated that the new ocean study adds weight to the consensus climate change science. The “Economist” magazine saying this could be a positive step getting climate change science widespread acceptance. Considering that they did treat Bjorn Lomborg like the second coming, if the “Economist” starts to accept climate change science this is an important victory.
    The Economist article is at:
    http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3690634
    The study of arctic lakes also discussed is at the PNAS site at:
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0500245102v1?ijkey=4a08e009cfa92b2b11078190eb392d7fd376f87c&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

    There have been other important endorsements. James Baker, the former Secretary of State for George Bush Sr. and an important part of George Bush Jr.’s election campaign, has urged action on climate change so he must also have accepted the science. the article is at:
    http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2005-03-04T012047Z_01_N03513172_RTRIDST_0_SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT-BAKER-DC.XML
    Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has proposed a bill addressing measures to address climate change, so another important republican politician has gotten on board. He was interviewed at:
    http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/03/01/hagel/
    Even the environmentalists have been saying some progress is being made. The director of Environmental Defense’s climate program wrote an editorial at:
    http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/opinion/11052831.htm

    It’s good to see that some progress is being made. It might not be much, and it is still not enough, but it is a good start. This shows that the push to get the science out has been working. If concerned people and groups keep working even more progress can be made. I now this is a difficult struggle and there are some who strongly oppose it, but it can be worthwhile.

  36. 36
    Mark Lawton says:

    Re: Dave’s comments #32 & #34.

    I can understand Dave’s frustration at the lack of a serious response to the issues. What does it take to change this? Unfortunately I think the answer is, a lot of dead Americans and massive economic loss. The politicians will only act when they can no longer afford not to. It took 9/11 to galvanise them into action to sort out terrorism and I see no reason to suppose that it will be any different with climate change.

    The time will come when the political/news world will be looking for answers from sources such as this site. In the meantime all you can do is keep plugging away and getting the facts out there.

  37. 37
    Hans Erren says:

    re: 36

    “The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.”

    Yeah.

    [Response: We're trying. - gavin]

  38. 38
    John Finn says:

    From the “lake study” abstract

    … Arctic reveal widespread species changes and ecological reorganizations in algae and invertebrate communities since approximately anno Domini 1850

    I have serious doubts that any “species changes ..” occurring in 1850 are, in any way, connected with an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. What do you reckon, Gavin?

    [Response: Which study are you referring to ? - see post 48 for the complete reference - thibault]

  39. 39
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    The “lake study”

    The study does not state that there have been species changes connected to GHG concentrations in 1850. The idea is to compare the change in species communities (i.e. the relative abundance of a variety of species in an ecosystem; in this case algae, insects and crustaceans in arctic ponds and lakes) to the anthropogenic climate change.

    To see if species have changed due to anthropogenic climate change you must know what species were there before the anthropogenic climate change. The starting point of the study has to be before the anthropogenic climate change, hence the use of 1850 as a starting date.

    The study does show that the change in species is consistent with anthropogenic climate change.

    I think the most sobering statement in the abstract is: “The widespread distribution and similar character of these changes indicate that the opportunity to study arctic ecosystems unaffected by human influences may have disappeared.”

  40. 40
    dave says:

    Re: #36, #37:

    Let’s not forget this part of the realclimate statement of purpose:

    RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. [Emphasis added]

    That this public information function is not apparently successful (so far) is what I was lamenting. Developing a quick and reliable response to misleading nonsense is a good thing in the case where someone providing mainstream commentary actually notices. Otherwise, there is a slang term in politics for what going on at realclimate.org: “inside baseball”, meaning that we’re just talking among ourselves about the details of scientific issues that obviously have much wider applicability.

  41. 41
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Here’s another positive note about climate change science gaining wide acceptance by the general public.
    A group of influential evangelical christian church leaders supports efforts to address climate change. An article is at:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/10/national/10evangelical.html

  42. 42
    Eli Rabett says:

    Re 38, I would wonder if acidification from coal combustion was significant in those lakes. That is one thing to look for among others.

  43. 43
    DrMaggie says:

    Re 38: John, I’m not a native English speaker, but somehow I don’t think that “since approximately anno Domini 1850″ is not the same thing as “in 1850″…

    Now, I confess that I haven’t had the time to read the full article, but from the last sentence of that same “lake study” abstract – “…the opportunity to study arctic ecosystems unaffected by human influences may have disappeared” – I don’t get the impression that the authors think that the anthropogenic contribution to climate change is negligible. What do those of you that read the article in its entirety think?

  44. 44
    Colin Keyse says:

    In response to Robert’s post No 31. I am very grateful for the link. An excellent and concise presentation of the arguments. For those of us in the UK, it would be very heartening to hear more of the work that is going on across the US at neighbourhood, county, city and state level as this seldom reaches us through our media: we only get the national administration’s line on things. I am a great advocate of profound change being driven from the bottom up, and believe that in the UK as well, Civil Society has a driving role to play in making the changes we need to, quickly enough. RealClimate is an indespensable tool in checking what are often gut reactions with the available scientific concensus. The UK national and regional administrations are starting to act now, at last, and both the new UK sustainable development plan “securing the future” and the SD framework which supports the three regional government plans were launched simultaneously in London and Edinburgh on Monday of this week.

    The link is : http://www.sustainable-development.gov.uk/, but beware as the full report is over 150 pages long. The executive summary gives a good idea of the content and the level of support now moving behind the issues. There are lots of other good links on this page too.

    Access for lay people like me to the kind of information that Realclimate provides is invaluable. Please keep it up

    Colin

  45. 45
    John Bolduc says:

    Re #44. Here are some links to give you a sense of sub-national climate change action in the U.S. It is interesting that some countries are trying to engage Americans at the state and regional level. The eastern Canada provinces have a climate change action agreement and plan with the 6 New England states of the U.S. There have been many visits by EU officials to the New England states. The Climate Group (http://www.theclimategroup.org/), based in the UK, has noted some of these sub-national actions. I realize this is straying from the purposes of RealClimate, but I think it’s useful to consider how the science is communicated to the lay public and decisionmakers and how the information is interpreted. It should affect how scientists communicate their work. Also the links below demonstrate I think that even though our federal government is not taking significant action on this problem, that the science is affecting important decisionmaking at other levels of government anc civil society, which will hopefully in turn lay the groundwork for federal action some day.

    New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Action Agreement (see the 26th, 27th, & 28th annual conference reports)
    http://www.cap-cpma.ca/default.asp?mn=1.62.24.40

    Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
    Nine northeastern states are developing a cap and trade system for GHG emissions from powerplants
    http://www.rggi.org/

    West Coast Governor’s Climate Initiative
    http://www.energy.state.or.us/climate/Warming/Regional_Intro.htm

    Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels Initiative to Recruit 100 US Mayors to Adopt Kyoto Protocol Locally working through the U.S. Conference of Mayors
    http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/

    Pew Center on Global Climate Change (has several relevant reports
    http://www.pewclimate.org
    See: “Learning from State Action on Climate Change”; “Climate Change Activiites in the United States: 2004 Update”; “Greenhouse and State House: The Evolving State Government Role in Climate Change”

    ICLEI/Cities for Climate Protection – U.S.
    There are 150+ U.S. local governments (municipalities & counties) involved in reducing GHG emissions
    http://www.iclei.org/us/ccp/

    The Climate Trust (disburses funds from regulated projects in Oregon on GHG reduction projects)
    http://www.climatetrust.org/

    Clean Air – Cool Planet
    Works with local governments, businesses and institutions in the Northeast
    http://www.cleanair-coolplanet.org/

    Chicago Climate Exchange (GHG trading program)
    http://www.chicagoclimatex.com/

    CLIMB Project (Climate’s Long Term Impacts on Metro Boston)
    Projection of climate change impacts on the metropolitan Boston area; funded by EPA. Final report issued in Feb. 2005.
    http://www.tufts.edu/tie/climb/

    Evangelical Christians Meeting on Climate Change
    Important meeting today in Washington, DC
    See New York Times today (March 10), http://www.nytimes.com

  46. 46
    Roger Smith says:

    Add a site to the list above- the New England Climate Coalition is the regional group working to turn the New England Governors’ promise into concrete action plans and is also engaged in RGGI. I coordinate the Connecticut Climate Coalition and have found this site quite useful for keeping up with the science. If readers in New England are interested in the politics, which is beyond the scope of Realclimate.org, please visit http://www.newenglandclimate.org and please contact us.

    The New England Climate Coalition
    A coalition of over 250 organizations in the New England states working to ensure the creation and implementation of state climate action plans.
    http://www.newenglandclimate.org/

  47. 47
    John Finn says:

    The study does show that the change in species is consistent with anthropogenic climate change.

    Does it.

    So when did anthropogenic climate change begin?

    [Response: Conventionally, you start to notice post-industrial modifications to the greenhouse gas content from about 1750. More significant after 1850, maybe dominant by 1950. Of course, if you follow Ruddiman's thinking, it could be 5000 years ago.... - gavin]

  48. 48
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    The “lake study”
    The study is titled “Climate-driven regime shifts in the biological communities of arctic lakes”. It is on the PNAS website the link is:
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0500245102v1?ijkey=4a08e009cfa92b2b11078190eb392d7fd376f87c&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

    For John Finn:
    the study states “Although the instrumental record of temperature across the Arctic is incomplete and generally of short duration, warming appears to be concentrated in the decades between approximately anno Domini 1915-1940 and approximately anno Domini 1965-2000 (5). However, proxy data indicate that much of the Arctic began to warm considerably earlier, in the mid-19th century (6).”

    “Changes are especially pronounced in areas believed to have warmed the most (e.g., the Canadian High Arctic), whereas the smallest changes occurred in regions that have experienced very little or no recent warming (e.g., Labrador and northern Quebec)”
    “Moreover, the timing of these changes, as early as the mid-19th century in some sites (Fig. 1), corresponds well to independent climate proxies, including varved sediments and tree rings (6). The general trend of increasing beta-diversity values with latitude (Fig. 3) suggests that polar amplification of climate warming (1, 5)is mirrored by the magnitude of compositional change in aquatic communities, a result that highlights the ecological sensitivity of arctic lakes and ponds to climate change”

    For Eli Rabett:
    “Nonclimatic anthropogenic impacts cannot explain these patterns (12-14).”
    “Polar regions are affected by stratospheric ozone destruction and by deposition of persistent organic pollutants and other anthropogenic compounds (acids, nutrients, and metals). However, these phenomena are largely restricted to the latter half of the 20th century, thus postdating the observed initiation of algal and faunal changes by several decades.”
    “Our records are inconsistent with atmospheric acidification or nutrient inputs, which are typically accompanied by losses of diatoms, such as Cyclotella (14, 37), and not their pronounced expansion (Fig. 1).”

  49. 49
    John Finn says:

    Conventionally, you start to notice post-industrial modifications to the greenhouse gas content from about 1750

    Gavin

    You are well aware that is not quite the same thing as the climate warming due to enhanced ghg content.

    More significant after 1850, maybe dominant by 1950.

    Difficult to disagree with. Yes possibly more significant Post-1850 than Pre-1850 but
    how significant – in terms of increased radiative forcing – between 1850 and 1900 say.

    But, in any case check my next post which is addressed to Joseph O’Sullivan and DrMaggie.

  50. 50
    John Finn says:

    For John Finn:

    the study states “Although the instrumental record of temperature across the Arctic is incomplete and generally of short duration, warming appears to be concentrated in the decades between approximately

    anno Domini 1915-1940 and approximately anno Domini 1965-2000 (5). However, proxy data indicate that much of the Arctic began to warm considerably earlier, in the mid-19th century (6).”

    Joseph O’ Sullivan (and DrMaggie)

    The study also states “Moreover the timing of these changes ,as early as the mid-19th century, in some sites corresponds well to independant climate proxies. ”

    That more or less covers me on the “in 1850″ dispute. But, more importantly, I believe it shows that the study has made a mistake in assuming that Arctic warming in the mid-19th century is due to an increased greenhouse effect – presumably because it coincides with the industrial revolution. I stand by my original point. I have serious doubts that any Arctic warming – in this period at least – is due to human effects.

    In 1850 there were about 54 Mt of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere due to solid fuel burning. This represents a steady rise from a base level of about 3 Mt. To put this into perspective, there were about 1630 Mt of CO2 emissions in 1950 – i.e. about 30 times as much. In other words, 1850 atmospheric CO2 levels would be virtually unchanged from the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. They were only at 295 ppm by the end of the century. In a nutshell – there was no increase (Ok, Gavin – miniscule) in radiative forcing There are other problems in the argument for the human/warming link which are related to equilibrium delay but we’ll leave that for now.

    If the researchers of the “lake study” were intent on demonstrating the human contribution to warming (and the resultant ecological changes) they would have presumably used ice-core records to show the ghg content at the time. There is nowhere in the report to show this has been done.


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