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Wall Street Journal Again

Filed under: — david @ 3 February 2006

The Wall Street Journal has published another fair and balanced critique of climate change science and negotiations, in a Business World commentary by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr, here. A summary of the arguments is as follows:

1. It will never be possible to prove that global warming is real. In the same way, we point out, it will never be possible to prove that anybody died from lung cancer because of smoking. Did you actually witness that first DNA mutation?

2. The reasonable lay person cannot be expected to read a scientific paper, so the rational response is to ignore the issue.

3. A paper about frogs did not argue convincingly that people cause global warming.

4. People sometimes distort the truth (truly a shocking charge coming from the WSJ).

5. Global change negotiations are stalled in politics, so the science must be wrong.

Final thought: When climate does change, we’ll be able to fix it anyway.

138 Responses to “Wall Street Journal Again”

  1. 101
    David H says:

    Re:99 Ah, right, James.

    So if I pay I can have it?
    Why then, in the words of the well quoted email, did someone say, “Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

  2. 102
    TopsyT says:

    Re: Comment #100 from Dano. You obviously have worthwhile info to pass on but you are seldom clear. That is true in the two comments here as well as at other blogs. May I repsectively request that you spend less time being rude to people and more time in clarifying your thoughts?

  3. 103
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Sorry, Justin (#93), for not being explicit. I was referring to glaciers in the Himalayas. They ARE melting & fast (in geological terms), and when & if completely melted with have dire consequences for a very large chunk of humanity.

    I’m not as sure about people living in Greenland & Antarctica, how they might suffer or benefit from GW. But, as pointed out by others, more heat, means more evaporation, means more precip, incl snow in colder places, which could increase some glaciers for now.

    Also, I understand that the Arctic data were unclear re warming/cooling trends. I may be wrong on that. But the important point is that GW is an AVERAGE of all temps around the world, and some will be below that average & some above, and it is even possible, esp. in this early phase of GW, that some places might be getting colder for now. Again, I may be wrong, but I think the most recent findings are that no place on earth is getting colder now. But even if a few places are, that doesn’t change the fact that the average is going up.

    Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

  4. 104
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE 103 I meant to say the Antarctic data were unclear.

  5. 105
    Paul Dougherty says:

    The WSJ article indicates that there are two ways of arriving at an opinion; think for yourself or rely on others. It is reasonable to assume that thinking for oneself would produce the highest degree of certainty. My conclusion in reading opinions on the subject of climate change and, as this thread confirms, is that the opposite is true.
    No one can expect all interested people to have the time to truly think for themselves on a complex issue such as this. But a little humility in the form of a healthy skepticism and an open mind regarding other opinions is warranted for these folks.
    For those who think they have thought for themselves and who have strongly held opinions, I have a few questions.
    1) Have you read the IPCC reports on Climate Change and I am referring to the scientific section not the Summary for Policy Makers? If so, do you see enough certainty there to reach simplistic conclusions and support simplistic cures?
    2) Have you read the just published 150 page book of the National Research Council entitled, “Radiative Forcing of Climate Change… Expanding The Concept And Addressing Uncertainties”? This should be mandatory reading for those who want to be truly informed. It distills the science of Climate Change into one readable 150 page work and is eye opening to say the least.
    If you have read these two publications, I have no doubt that you will agree that climate is changing and that both man and nature are involved. Do you not also agree that man affects the climate in more ways than one?
    Assuming that you truly appreciate the complexity of this issue, are you still able to arrive at the simplistic conclusion that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is the root cause of Global Warming and that cutting back on such emissions will solve all of our problems?

    What happens if we go all out to comabt CO2 and future knowledge says that we were wrong and that other human involvement like land use, methane, aerosols (yes they can lead to warming), etc. was an even bigger factor than previously thought? How much credibility would you then have in changing policy?

    Be careful folks… this is too big of a problem to allow emotions and half-baked opinions lead the way.

  6. 106
    Dano says:

    Re: current #101:

    The data are freely available for study.

    The data are not available for character assassination.

    Any other questions?


    Re: current 102 [TopT]:

    The Dano character is intended, for my purposes, to shine light on (and trace the source of) obfuscatory and mendacious tactics and rhetoric, usu. by mirroring others’ rhetoric. Some recipients get it, some don’t; the ones that don’t usu. aren’t paid shills, which is useful information. The other purpose is to test argumentation.

    Neither purpose is well-suited to what you are asking for, and for that I apologize. Enlightenment principles don’t do what I need with the denialist crowd. I’m sure all this causes consternation, and [maybe somewhere else and not here] if you have some ideas I’m willing to listen to them.



  7. 107
    Ian K says:

    Re 105
    Paul Dougherty says the WSJ article suggests that a you can arrive at an opinion on global warming by thinking for yourself or relying on others. I disagree: this author considers the diligent layman can only do minimal thinking for himself and that he should use his little knowledge to be skeptical about the opinions of the better informed.

    My own slant on forming an opinion is that I accept scientific facts more than 100 years old. (Surely scientists then weren’t worried about losing funding, etc when they were investigating abstract and esoteric aspects of the atmosphere.)

    I believe Victorian scientists carried out the following thought experiment. Pretend the atmosphere is perfectly transparent. What will be the temperature of the earth on the basis of only solar input, heat radiated from the surface, etc? The result of this calculation was that the average temperature of the earth should be about minus 17-18 degrees C!!

    As the average temp of the earth is about 30 degrees warmer than that, they concluded that warming factors were at work in the atmosphere! They knew that such gases as CO2 absorbed infrared radiation so they concluded that GHG played a big role in the temp difference.

    This (schoolboy) information is what I believe a diligent layman should bring to the debate on global warming.

    If he is then told that CO2 has increased from 280 to 360 ppm as Holman W Jenkins, Jr suggests, he will be well armed to consider the implications. Hey, this represents a 77% increase!. Even if he guesses CO2 contributes only a third to atmospheric warming wouldnâ??t he be very worried at the implication of this increase? Simple-mindedly: shouldnâ??t the temperature of the globe have risen by 7.7 degrees due to this increase!

    So my take on the present global warming debate is that a truly diligent person would be very worried indeed by the implications of changes in GHG. Such a person should worry about all those computer models all right.

    I am a layman when it comes to climate models but my skepticism prompts that they understate the seriousness of the situation not the reverse! I am comforted that there has not yet been a rise of 7.7 degrees but I rely upon scientists to reassure me not the GW deniers.

    So Paul Dougherty you may think that reading two publications justifies inaction. I am trying to think these issues out myself. I may have many uncertainties and confusion but at the bottom of my heart a little diligent layman is very worried and wondering why everyone else isnâ??t worried too.

  8. 108
    Justin Rietz says:

    RE: #97, 100, 103, 106

    Thank you for the links, the last one being especially helpful, and the other constructive comments. Admittedly, I am a layman (though I have training in regression analysis), and still part of the “sceptic” crowd – popular media covereage of GW is often shallow, and to feel comfortable making a decision for myself, I need to wade through the data and discuss with others before I can make a firm decision one way or the other. If others see that the “answer” is obvious, I apologize for my devil’s advocate tendencies.

    I hadn’t read before that current climate models predict near-sea melting of glaciers while interior mass increases. Has this been known for awhile – when was the first model (or models) created that took this into account?

    [Response: The idea is a commonplace. You don’t need a model for that (only to quantify it): warmer air implies more moistture implies more precipitation, and as long as that falls as snow this implies more mass incresase. Conversely, warmer air implies more snowmelt. Given their current configurations, in Antarctica (which is cold nearly all over) the melting doesn’t come in; so increased ppn dominates. For greenland, the interior is cold but the edges warm (in summer); hence there is a balance. See-also for some more – William]

    Another point brought up is the one about temperature averages. The problem I have with averages is that averages are easily skewed (the extreme case being the scenario where temperatures everywhere are unchanged or slightly down except for one area with a substantial temperature increase, leading to an average temperature increase). Do GW models take this into account, and if so, how? Along these same lines, can someone recommend a good source from which to get detailed descriptions of how climate models are created? Nothing as detailed as source code for algorithms, but qualitative info on the handling of measurement outliers, the choice of temperature data sources, etc?

    [Response: If you don’t like averages, you can always look at maps: But averages are good, in that they summarise things in one number. Of course, that leaves out the details. As for GCMs, try and let me know if you find anything better! – William]



  9. 109
    Dano says:

    Re current #108 [Rietz]:

    You also, Justin, may want to try Google scholar for a start; that’ll narrow down your search and then if you are lucky and have time to go to a decent library, you can go right to the articles you want. Scholar filters out the noise you get on regular Google.



  10. 110
    Paul Dougherty says:

    Ian, Thank you for taking the time to read my comment. Your point about the quantification of the CO2/greenhouse effect is not complete. There are many qualified scientists on this thread who can explain this far better than I can. For the moment it is my understanding that, if there were no feedback mechanisms, then the increased quantities of CO2 would not lead to an alarming temperature increase but would be at the lowest end of IPCC projections. These feedback mechanisms in the form of water vapor and cloud formation are where uncertainties prevail.

    Your statenent, “So Paul Dougherty you may think that reading two publications justifies inaction.” came totally from your own bias as I said nothing of the sort in my post. After 15 years of involvment with this issue, I can assure you that the quantity of publications I have read is well over a thousand rather than just two. Further I do not believe that inaction is justified and I am at a loss to explain how you read that into my words. My concern is taking proper action and doing so in a manner that respects different but legitimate viewpoints.

    It is my opinion that a large factor standing in the way of proper action on climate change is the zealotry of many Global Warming proponents. A few years ago Jim Hansen made a reasonable and doable proposal for mitigating Global Warming that would have (in my opinion) produced demonstratable results relatively quickly. It had the proven action on ozone as a good model to track. His suggestion was deemed polically incorrect by those who prefered establishing an authoritarian international bureacracy. So here we are, doing nothing, feeling good by venting our spleens and waiting for Rome to burn. Such a posture is as big a part of the problem as the so-called “deniers”.

  11. 111
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #110: My impression was that a lot of people on the “denier” side of the issue had misinterpretted Jim Hansen’s position. I personally haven’t heard Hansen make the complaint that you are making. Do you have any evidence that he would even agree with your assessment here?

    By the way, is any attempt to regulate greenhouse gases by international treaty, no matter how flexible and market-based, considered by you to be “establishing an authoritarian international bureacracy”? That itself might be part of the problem.

  12. 112
    Roger Smith says:

    “It is my opinion that a large factor standing in the way of proper action on climate change is the zealotry of many Global Warming proponents. A few years ago Jim Hansen made a reasonable and doable proposal for mitigating Global Warming that would have (in my opinion) produced demonstratable results relatively quickly. It had the proven action on ozone as a good model to track. His suggestion was deemed polically incorrect by those who prefered establishing an authoritarian international bureacracy. So here we are, doing nothing, feeling good by venting our spleens and waiting for Rome to burn. Such a posture is as big a part of the problem as the so-called “deniers”

    Just a clarification of the politics to hopefully move us beyond the blame game. Paul- the international climate negotiations were started by nations including the US (not by environmental groups, though they certainly played a supporting role) and the emission reduction system known as the Kyoto Protocol was the result of international negotiations. If you don’t like it, blame your national officials (including the US administrations) for creating it, including the market-based emissions trading element.

    Jim Hansen’s near term “no-regrets” approach to global warming (including black carbon reductions) largely fell on deaf ears because the Bush administration in the US had no intention of doing anything to regulate global warming. If you don’t want to implement any solution, it doesn’t matter how helpful the suggestions are. Some US states (particularly in New England) are going ahead and looking at Hansen’s suggestions, and this is largely driven by the work of environmental groups, so I think your blame is misplaced.

  13. 113
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 108

    I think the question of skewed averages is pretty minor – in part because the temperature records you normally see are aggregated from more frequent measurements and thus should be reasonably well behaved, but more importantly because temperatures are only a small part of the total information used for model verification. See PCMDI’s Coupled Model Appraisal for example (caution – 20MB pdf). Temperature data isn’t directly used to drive model behavior at all. It would be interesting to see robust methods applied to temperature records (as in the latest RC post on the proxy record) but I wouldn’t expect it to make much difference.

    The other obvious place to look is the IPCC TAR, e.g. ch. 8.

  14. 114
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #105 (PD): You wrote “What happens if we go all out to comabt CO2 and future knowledge says that we were wrong and that other human involvement like land use, methane, aerosols (yes they can lead to warming), etc. was an even bigger factor than previously thought? How much credibility would you then have in changing policy?”

    Take a look at how these forcings happen in the real world. Doing so leads rather quickly to the realization that they are to a great degree interdependent, and so the conundrum you pose becomes weak on a large scale. Taking land use as an example, a large portion of CO2 generation is from transportation, but the largest factor in determining the extent of transportation is land use; i.e., if one changes, the other changes. Major land use changes happening now in the Amazon and Indonesia result in major emissions of CO2 and aerosols (including considerable black carbon). A major source of future methane emissions will be from melting permafrost, but this is a product of warming substantially driven by CO2. You get the idea. So, while an all-out effort to reduce CO2 emissions only would probably not be ideal compared to one balancing all forcings, it could not be ineffective. (And I should note for the record that of course a focus just on CO2 is not on the table; Kyoto, and safe to say all successor treaties, focus on GHGs generally, very specifically including methane.)

  15. 115
    Mark A. York says:

    And this WSJ view is driven home by Deutsch in this chilling interview.

  16. 116
    Chuck says:

    Regarding #29 — you don’t even have to look at locations in different continents to see large differences in local, seasonal climate this year. Example: Denver, Colorado is having one of their warmest and driest winters on record this season, while just 75 miles west in Summit County, Colorado (where my vacation condo is located) they are having one of their snowiest (but not necessarily coldest) winters on record, with local ski resorts reporting double the accumulated snowpack compared to 30 year averages.

  17. 117
    Steve Latham says:

    Re 115 — I can’t wait to hear the next three parts!

    [Response: Here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. (hat tip BadAstronomy) – gavin]

  18. 118
    Ian K says:

    Re 110
    Paul, I am sorry if I have overstated your position. I think (?!) I am like you in that the more I read sometimes the more I get confused. That is why I made my little homily on 100 year old science. I have tried in my own mind to clear away the clutter of the present sophisticated elaboration of GW issues and get to some bedrock of simple science on which to base an opinion. To form an opinion maybe I need to start from a simplified view of a problem. Then I just pray that I havent oversimplified it!

    Maybe some of the scientists who moderate and/or contribute to this site could explain what simple scientific facts help them to clarify their opinions on GW? What cuts through for them? I suspect they would not say that they were confused, or alternatively, convinced about the seriousness of the problem because they have read the IPCC report (but maybe Im wrong)?! More information please!

  19. 119
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re the WSJ & NASA PR people (#115, #117 & “Hansen” post), it occurred to me that we’re looking at this the wrong way.

    We’re criticizing them for obfuscating and obstructing science. Their much more serious flaw is that they are totally violating public trust (& the media do hold this trust, as well) in not spreading information about a very serious problem to the public, a problem that will likely affect all Americans & all peoples of the world (at the very least by harming the economy). NASA PR people & the WSJ should be learning what the scientists are saying, translating that into lay-speak & informing us about GW & about solutions we can follow.

    They should not be between 99% (or 101%) & 95% (scientific standard) certainty requirements on a “scientific issue.” They should be way far on the precautionary side of a “very serious problem,” explaining to the public how skeptical and cautious scientists are (which they have to be to protect their reputations), but that we as people living in the world can act on far less certain information to mitigate this very serious problem.

    When in doubt, mitigate GW in every cost-effective way we can. That’ll take about 10 years & get us down to 25% of our GHG emissions (at least for Americans, who are living high on the inefficiency, profligacy hog). After that, then we can reassess & see if the tech people have gotten on the mitigate GW band-wagon & whether we can half again our emissions cost-effectively, or whether we might have to start sacrificing so that our future generations can have live in a healthy, human life-sustaining world.

    That is their real fault & sin (since Deutch is a Christian, that should also be a concern of his — ending up in a much hotter place than a globally warmed world), that they have not done their job of encouraging people to mitigate GW. And it is a double fault/sin that they have gone beyond a “do nothing” silence, and have actually thwarted & sabotaged their duty of fulfilling this public trust by obfuscating and obstructing the science of GW.

    The fact that our U.S. GHG emissions have increased 16-18% since 1990 (while I have decreased mine by perhaps 75% in the same period) is proof the NASA PR folks, the WSJ, and all the media, & the entire U.S. government have totally failed us in their public trust, and have made a mockery of it.

    The fact that the gracious scientists here at RealClimate are attempting to fulfill the mission of those folks (of informing the public in a language they can understand), highlights the extent to which those folks are sabotaging their job & their sacred duty.

  20. 120
    jevons says:

    I just threw my wallet in the woodstove.

  21. 121
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #29

    I like the phrase ‘climate destablization’. There is a sense in which this is statistically verifiable, without any climate models whatsoever. Consider the 417,000+ years of data in the Vostok ice core record. The single most notable feature, to me, is the relatively stable record of the last 12,000 years. Nothing similar occurs previously.

    So without doing any fancy statistics, I’ll opine that the most probable forecast is for less stable climate than is currently enjoyed, this stability included such minor excursions as the so-called little ice age.

  22. 122
    Steve Sadlov says:

    Here are two changes in the climate that I am 100% certain to have been caused by human activity:
    1. The emergence, across the globe (not just in the cities) of an array of heat sources. As humans have expanded in population they have come to live in more places where they previously did not. And toward the latter portions of the great expansion, the emergence of technologies for heating, and both the distribution and storage of electrical energy, resulted in a situation that whereever humans have ended up, there have emerged multiple devices dissipating thermal energy in situ. This is unprecedented. A crude modelling of this effect, which one could then superimpose onto a preexisting thermodynamic regime, would consist of introducing an array of heat sources onto the surface of an infinite solid half space with a thermal conductivity X1 in a gaseous medium having a thermal conductivity X2. You do the math / PDEs.
    2. The expansion of human population mentioned in “1” above has also resulted in modifications of the albedo of the earth’s surface, and in the introduction of human built structures with a vast and diverse range of thermal conductivities, albedos, thermal inertias and other relevant characteristics.

    I am 100% confident that both of these situations I have mentioned above have modified the Earth’s climate.

  23. 123
    Steve Latham says:

    Steve, is that a flame or are you trying to contribute something meaningful? Please elaborate. I’m sure Jevons affected the climate by throwing his wallet in the woodstove, but I’m just as sure that the impact won’t be noticeable.

  24. 124
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #123. Have you ever taken an upper division course in energetics? Ever read Verhoogen (an NAS publication) or any of the many text books which lay out especially what I wrote in my #1 bullet point? Of course it’s not a flame. Let me draw upon an anology. A motherboard of a computer. Imagine that the CPU is a megalopolis whereas the smallest chip resistors are farms and small human settlements. That is the world of 2006. The world of 1850 would be something like the earliest printed circuit boards, with only a few components on them.

    [Response: Imagine if you would stop spinning fantasies and put some numbers down on paper, to see if anything you are saying actually makes sense. –raypierre]

  25. 125
    Steve Latham says:

    Mr. Sadlov, I apologize for questioning your motives. I’m afraid that I’m a simple population geneticist and am quite ignorant of non-biological energetics. Nevertheless, I have read that the earth receives a great amount of energy from the sun and that altering the atmosphere to retain even a very slightly greater proportion of that energy can make all the heat energy released by human activity seem like a fart in the wind. I mean the heat part of the fart — the methane probably has a larger effect! With your expertise in upper level energetics I’m sure you can do the calculations better than me.

  26. 126
    Don Baccus says:

    RE: #124 “Imagine that the CPU is a megalopolis whereas the smallest chip resistors are farms and small human settlements. That is the world of 2006.”

    Then ask yourself “why do you need to put a fan and heatsink on the CPU?”

    It’s because air is such a lousy conductor of heat.

    You might also ask why most automobile engines are water-cooled, rather than air-cooled. Same answer.

    Knowing facts such as this, why would I expect that cities would significantly warm the atmosphere?

  27. 127
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: 126. You are absolutely correct. Air conducts quite poorly. However, it convects brilliantly. Add to that wind, which imposes further movement of air. So, as we further develop this aspect of the model, we start to make some sense of these inputs. The Arthropegenic Thermal Dissipation (and to an extent, Albedo Modification) results in “hot spots.” In still air, convection will occur over them. In moving air, the effect will vary. In all cases, each hot spot will result in an effect that, when applied to entire cities, is termed “UHI.” In terms of a model, I will, for the sake of argument, represent a nominal “hot spot” and its effect as F(x,y,z,t,a, etc) where the variables represent the “usual suspects.” It should be possible to begin to estimate the net effect of these “hot spots” over various areas in question – region, continent, world. To get an idea of what this may look like, refer to IR images taken at night of continental areas. The cities are large hot spots and there are also many other smaller ones. There is an areal distribution of them. Sum / integrate them in order to understand their effects. Since it is not really possible to list them all, the next best thing would be to try and estimate a “per capita hot spot” and map it to the world’s population distribution to the extent that it is known. Then integrate away and let a major clue regardng the truth be revealed.

  28. 128
    Dano says:


    This has already been done. Do you think you’re on to something that no one else is? When do you publish your work updating others’?

    And I’m confused by your description of convection. Are you stating that wind advects convected air to a hot spot? What are you trying to say? Maybe that convects heated air upward? Is this finding of yours new?



  29. 129
    Coby says:

    Re #127
    Steve, it seems to me that there is an easy way to test this hypothesis without doing all the real work that others have done many times over (and found UHI effects to be negligible).

    Look at the global anamoly map here:
    and look at where people on earth live here:

    There is no hint of correlation whatsoever between urban population and warming. Perhaps I am being naive and you can point something out to me (this is not rhetorical, I am always ready to learn), but it really seems to me that this complete absence of any correlation puts to bed conclusively the idea that the global trend in average temperatures is an artifact of Urban Heat Islands.

  30. 130
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #128 and #129. Yes of course, GISS, the surface record, etc. Taking this even further, let us throw out all “corrections” done thus far to the surface record to account for “UHI.” Let us also cease regarding most “rural” stations as any sort of demonstrated “no UHI baseline.” Instead, let us assume that every surface recording station may be subject to Arthropogenic Surface Effects of various types, represented by a function A(x,y,z,t, etc). What I would suggest is that the approach needs to be to try and understand the error owing to such effects at each and every station. I mentioned earlier that it might be possible to map this function to the one I suggested earlier, using population density and a per capita Arthropogenic Surface Effect interval arithmatic approach. But it is not quite that simple. The effect would also tend to vary based on the innate climate of the area in question and on the level economic development of the inhabitants. There has been some derision here of this or attempts to make is seem like an already trodden path. However I seriously doubt that the complete approach I have in mind has been tried with diligence. In fact, I know it has not been tried.

  31. 131
    Dano says:

    RE 130:

    This has already been studied. You haven’t stumbled upon anything. You have failed to realize the UHI stops at dirt, irrigated fields, as soon as the concrete ends in most places. Your next visit to the library to familiarize yourself with the literature will confirm this for you.

    Good luck,


  32. 132
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #131. UHI is a misnomer. You either understand why it is, or, you do not.

  33. 133
    Dano says:


    I’m not sure how your reply addresses any of the concerns by any of the recent commenters here. And you have your work cut out for you, writing the authors of so many papers and book chapters, telling them of their use of the misnomer – I don’t envy you that task, whoo-ee buddy!

    But you seem to imply that you have found a magical method by which the surface thermometers are polluted by ‘convection’, if I folla your comments. Your words are muddled somewhat and your responses are sorta vague, but you appear to claim something about cities and warming. There is a rich literature on this topic. A good library will have these articles for you to read. Best of luck in your search.



  34. 134
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #133. Interesting that you assume I am unfamiliar with the literature. Oh, well, with that, I’ll leave you to ponder the difference between the current paradigm regarding surface measurement error factors, and, a better one. Your loss is my gain.

  35. 135
    Dano says:


    I presume your “gain” is the gain in notoriety you presumably will soon achieve with the Galileo-like breakthrough you infer in 130. Best of luck!!!!!!!!!!


  36. 136
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #130: The difficulty with this “complete” approach (complete in a academic methematical/statistical sense, I suppose) is that it boils down to a demand that climate science successfully model chaos before any of its results are accepted (by you, anyway). With the UHI, climate scientists have looked at it, made adjustments for the obvious effect, then looked again to make sure nothing non-trivial was missed. It wasn’t. Absolutely there is still disagreement on this point from a few outliers (most prominently Roger Pielke Sr.), but note that the argument is over whether there is still a non-trivial effect that has not been taken into account. There’s a fairly cheap experiment that can be done to determine if there is something non-trivial going on, but RP Sr. would be among the first to agree that if the experiment shows it’s trivial (which almost everyone else is convinced is so likely to be the case that the experiment isn’t worth doing) it can be ignored. (This is perhaps obvious, but the sort of trivial effects I refer to can certainly be non-zero.) Summing up, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

    I should note since I mention RP Sr. that despite disagreements with the climate science mainstream on a number of issues, he somehow manages to still be part of the IPCC consensus. You might think about why that’s the case.

  37. 137
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #136. Characterizing various non-urban heat islands (for example, very small hamlets or homesteads in the NWT or certain places in the Great Basin) would be a good start. A small grid, capable of discerning thermal features on the order of some of the turbulence structures and capable of discerning the true “edges” of human induced local effects, could be a start. Combine this with some of the excellent finite element models out there and in use in the engineering fields and we start to sort through the chaos. We can debate whether or not some bias has been overlooked until the cows come home, but there is nothing like a more detailed and finely partitioned model, combined with real measurements of gradients and net effects, to once and for all put an end to all the debates. The fact that the misnamed term UHI still enters into the debate at all suggests that this would be worthwhile. Is it likely that human engineered engergy dissipation, thermal inertia and albedo changes at the surface result in a bias of such extent that it floods real changes across time and space? My own guess is probably not. But is it possible that there has been a bias large enough to want to take it out using a more sophisitcated methodology than those used thus far? I say yes there probably is. So let’s redo the math, make better models for human engineered dissipation, thermal inertia and albedo changes, and take some measurements in places that can validate the improved math and models. Any takers? If I were young again, I’d certainly consider this for a dissertation.

  38. 138
    Rob Arlen says:

    What first caught my attention to this exchange was the summary of the WSJ commentary. I see several parallels with the evolution debates, not just with the credibility of the science, but with the perceptions of laymen and the use/misuse of information. It is interesting to see the Darwin birthday postings (others noted the similarity, too).

    Two simple facts – CO2 has increased (measured, not “hypothesized”), and it IS a powerful greenhouse gas. These are well accepted facts. To deny the first, one would have to debunk a great body of data; to deny the second, one would have to deny the laws of physics. The next step is to determine whether temperatures are in fact rising. Mr. Byerly (#38) has spent time examining various temperature records looking for some interval that may show what is happening, and cannot seem to find anything to prove warming. Perhaps he’s cherry picking (he would not be the first), perhaps he is simply ignoring some other factors as some have pointed out (#39 & #44), and apparently he is not considering other evidence. See Nature articles from 2 January 2003 (Root, et al. 2003). Here are summaries of several reports of various organisms move further north, higher in altitude, becoming active earlier in the year, and/or staying active later. Also, see Cayan, et al. (2001) and Easterling (2002) in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society for even more phenological data. The Puget Sound region has seen marked reductions in snow pack since 1950 (temperature changes), potentially affecting municipal and irrigation water supplies, hydroelectric power, and fish (Mote, et al. 2005). I tell denialists that there are so many other species on earth that DO know the warming is occurring, which puts them in an awkward position at the very least. And did I mention glacial melting? As with evolution, it is not just one parameter, but the convergence of evidence from several sources.

    There is another WSJ piece from 1997 (“Science Has Spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth” by Arthur B. Robinson and Zachary W. Robinson, December 4, 1997) which may already have been discussed, which tells us:
    “What mankind is doing is moving hydrocarbons from below ground and turning them into living things. We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the carbon dioxide increase. Our children will enjoy an Earth with twice as much plant and animal life as that with which we now are blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the industrial revolution.
    Hydrocarbons are needed to feed and lift from poverty vast numbers of people across the globe. This can eventually allow all human beings to live long, prosperous, healthy, productive lives. No other single technological factor is more important to the increase in the quality, length and quantity of human life than the continued, expanded and unrationed use of the Earth’s hydrocarbons, of which we have proven reserves to last more than 1,000 years. Global warming is a myth. The reality is that global poverty and death would be the result of Kyoto’s rationing of hydrocarbons.” I first thought it was parody until I saw that the authors are with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (check that one out).

    Jenkins does talk about belief processes and how people perceive issues based on the spokesmen. True to an extent. He does not mention that it works both ways â?? I am very cautious with what the WSJ, Cato, Discovery Institute, etc. present. These are very biased institutions with political and ideological axes to grind. Are they believed by some simply because of that? I am sure it happens.

    Rob Arlen

    Cayan, Daniel R., Susan A. Kammerdiener, Michael D. Dettinger, Joseph M. Caprio, and David H. Peterson, 2001, “Changes in the Onset of Spring in the Western United States,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, March 2001, pp. 399-415. (see also comments by D. Lilly and response, BAMS, October 2001, pp. 2265-2266)

    Easterling, David R., 2002, “Recent Changes In Frost Days And The Frost-Free Season In The United States,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 2002, pp. 1327-1332.

    Mote, P.W., A.K. Snover, L. Whitely Binder, A.F. Hamlet, and N.J. Mantua, 2005, “Un-certain Future: Climate change and its effects on Puget Sound – Foundation Document.” Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, University of Washington. 37 pages. (available at or

    Root, Terry L, Jeff T. Price, Kimberly R. Hall, Stephen H. Schneider, Cynthia Rosenzweig, & J. Alan Pounds, 2003, â??Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants,â?? Nature, v.421, 2 JANUARY 2003, pp. 57-60.