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Heat Rising at the Washington Post

Filed under: — group @ 4 April 2006

The Washington Post has published a second op-ed in as many days about global warming (“Spinning Global Warming”, By Robert D. Novak, Page A19, April 03, 2006–story is no longer available on the website, but the Chicago Sun Times version is available here). In this one, Novak claims that Hansen in 1988 over-predicted global warming by 400% (a story originated by Pat Michaels and subsequently propagated by Michael Crichton). This story is a fabrication that has already been set right by us in 2004.

Smearing Hansen, a leading climate scientist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to have become sport among contrarian commentators (see our earlier discussions here and here). As ad hominem attacks and “shoot the messenger” strategies are often the last refuge for those losing the substantive debate, this might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become.

We are Earth scientists. We are not part of a vast conspiracy to perpetrate a hoax, nor are we crowd-following herd animals. We are concerned about the world we are leaving to our children. We have not asked James Hansen, but we would venture a guess that his motives are similar. As scientists we have a duty to speak out when our findings strongly suggest that a dangerous and harmful development is underway – just like someone who sees smoke billowing out of a house has a duty to call the fire brigade.

As scientists we are of course not above criticism. The public, or the fire brigade, is very welcome to ask critical questions. What exactly do you see – is it just smoke, or do you see flames? How much smoke? Are you sure you’re not exaggerating this? Could there be some other explanation? Readers of this site know that we are very happy to discuss every piece of evidence publically, critically and in great detail – that’s what this site is for.

We’ve become used to a crowd of by-standers hanging around the phone booth while we’re making the call. “Hey, you’re making it all up to be in the media and get rich!” they shout. Or “Hey, you actually care about the fire being put out, so you’re politically motivated!” Or they shout: “How dare you call the fire brigade when you’re only 90% sure there is a fire! Talk more about uncertainty!” We do care, of course. And we are professionally trained to not let this distort our judgement, to take a step back and critically examine all the evidence.

What is happening at the Washington Post, unfortunately, has nothing to do with a critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger. It has nothing to do with a quest to come to a real understanding of the issue. The editorials mentioned above show no respect for the truth; they shamelessly use distortion and deception to discredit climate science and climate scientists. It is hardly new that us humans can go to great lengths when it comes to denying unwelcome truths – what is surprising and disturbing, however, is that the Washington Post does not seem to have a quality control in place that ensures minimal journalistic standards, such as intellectual honesty and basic fact-checking.


141 Responses to “Heat Rising at the Washington Post”

  1. 101
    John L. McCormick says:

    Re#95, Coby, what goes around comes around.

    This link:

    http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/LttrtoPaulMartin.html

    will take you to the similar 2003 letter to the Honorable Paul Martin pleading the same. Interesting note: of the 61 2006 signators, 31 signed the 2003 letter.

    So many scientists eager to toss their Dr. credentials into the political ring and with wild abandon.

    Just a history piece I thought you might find interesting.

    And, thanks for the time and effort on your new page. Five stars.

    John McCormick

  2. 102
    John L. McCormick says:

    Re#100, Barton, could you be more specific about impacts? I’d like to know what to tell my children so they will know what to tell their children.

    John McCormick

  3. 103
    Richard Ordway says:

    re. 51 “Humans thrive in a warm climate”.

    I beg to differ. I have lived for two years in the Country of Benin (Dahomie) in west Africa. The French named it “the white man’s grave”. The number of diseases, at least 11 varieties of poisonous snakes (some of which strike at your head), mosquitos, insects,scorpions, millipedes, parasites, crocodiles and such in “a warm climate” made it a beautiful, but living hell. Every move you made, you had to question just for your health’s sake.

    I could not drink the water because of the parasites, walk barefoot because of the parasites, swim in the water because of the parasites, or walk in water because of the parasites. I walked around being fully clothed, because of the tse tse flys which gave you and domestic animals the fatal “sleeping sickness” (which killed one of our pets and our friend’s horse) and against the mosquitos which carried at least five different types of malaria. I myself got (what doctors now think) a form of ebola and had to be air-evacuated out. I was bleeding from all orifices and almost died. We found one of the world’s most aggressive, poisonous snakes, a black mamba, in our house. I almost stepped in our house on a scorpion which has such strong pincers that it can draw blood.

    My dad had a friend, there who died of an unkown disease. I probably personally saw a friend get parasitic worms as it was the only time he walked barefoot into a lake to fish. One of my cousins while working on a PHD went to West Africa to research fish, and came back with several types of malaria and was hospitalized and is still suffering five years later from it. (Our whole family now have digestive problems which none of us had before Africa).

    Most of our clothes and ancient family linens were destroyed by mold. We had to every week take awful-tasting, bitter malaria pills…and some friends still got malaria inspite of them. Even the natives were very sick with their acqired immunity. It was a living hell.

    So as the climate sceptic Fred Singer famously quotes: People LIKE Warmer Weather.” No thanks. “I have lived there”…and many people and myself almost died due to it. Think about it.

  4. 104
    Anonymous says:

    You know I think it is ironic that we all of you folks so concerned about the environment and C02 actually collaborating on a website about it! Computers are one of the most expensive products to produce. Silicon chips are much more expensive in resources, manpower, and electrical power than any other human invention. And yet all of you own computers, the website obviously runs a a server, and probably a power hungry set of them. It seems a little like hypocrasy to me. All of this griping about it but no one actually does anything to stop it themselves, what sacrifices have you made? What technologies or comforts did you give up? Obviously you have a computer and most likely broadband. Don’t make me laugh and say you own a hybrid car! Or maybe you don’t own a car, good for you, do you still take the bus, turn on a light, watch movies? I am sure all of you do. If you want to lower emissions use less yourselves. Collaborating on a website via a bunch of computers is not doing that at all.

  5. 105
    Dano says:

    Re 102:

    Coby describes the letter as an embarrasment, but thank you for compiling into one place a list largely comprised of usual suspects. Leading lights all, including my bud Hans! Certainly we see political pleading/work/willingness to toss their “credentials” into the ring from these folks all the time.

    Best,

    D

  6. 106
    pat neuman says:

    re 99. The link at
    http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/~lautenberg/press/2003/01/2006329921.html

    was found at Climate Science Watch (CSW):
    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/

    Also at CSW is this related summary:

    Government Accountability Project memo to climate scientists
    on new NASA media policy
    Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2006

    In December 2005, NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen was threatened with â??dire consequencesâ?? by a political appointee for statements he made about the implications of climate change that were seen as inconsistent with the administrationâ??s political agenda. In the wake of strong public criticism of this heavy-handed attempt at censorship, on March 30 NASA Administrator Michael Griffin released a statement and a new information policy to govern how the agency will deal with the news media. An analysis of the new policy by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) identifies areas that GAP considers an improvement, but also says â??in six critical areas the new policy falls short of genuine scientific freedom and accountability, and potentially undermines the positive guarantees.â??

    See Details at:
    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/

  7. 107
    pat neuman says:

    Re 104. What sacrifices have you made?

    Excerpt:
    —–
    I moved recently so that I now walk or bike to work, year round. I
    have not flown since 1997. I’ve never been over seas. I biked to work
    from 1979 until my office moved in 1994. After my office moved, I
    commuted 26 miles per work day for 5-6 years until my daughters
    graduated from high school, then we moved. I think … people need to make sacrifices to reduce personal energy consumption. I encourage others to share information on the size of the footprint they are leaving behind. Most people I know could move closer to work if they decided it was important. I think the majority of air travel is unnecessary, business and pleasure. The people that live near the airports are being harmed by air pollution and increasing noise. Most airports have tripled in size and traffic over the last couple decades. I think the people that don’t fly should be rewarded. I agree … that conferences requiring extensive travel are harmful. I think that many of the people that go to these over seas and cross-country conferences are being hypocritical and/or are motivated more by self-interest than anything else.

    Pat Neuman
    Chanhassen, MN
    —–
    Excerpt from post at ClimateConcern yahoo group dated Dec 21, 2000,
    Subj: How big is your footprint?

  8. 108
    Stephen Pranulis says:

    Reply to #104 from anonymous. â??You know I think it is ironic that we all of you folks so concerned about the environment and C02 actually collaborating on a website about it!Computers are one of the most expensive products to produce.â??
    Much cheaper than a Hummer…

    â??Silicon chips are much more expensive in resources, manpower, and electrical power than any other human invention.â??
    I think they are the biggest bargain on the planet. I can buy chips for next to nothing on the web or go to the dump and scavenge them for free. By the way, when I tele-commute by working on line, from home, I save far more energy than I spend by commuting in my hybrid car.

    â??And yet all of you own computers, the website obviously runs a a server, and probably a power hungry set of them.â??
    Servers have been getting less and less energy intensive over time. The power that runs my computer is converted to heat and that helps heat my computer room for at least half the year. Are you implying that people who use science to recognize the effects of human activity are somehow not entitled to use computers?

    â??It seems a little like hypocrasy to me.â??
    Seriously, are you implying an all or nothing solution? Life is more complex than that, isnâ??t it? Are you suggesting that people advocating the wise use of technology are hypocrites if they donâ??t revert to stone axes?

    â??All of this griping about it but no one actually does anything to stop it themselves, what sacrifices have you made?â??
    I am doing stuff to stop it and I make lots of sacrifices.
    I sacrifice the pleasure of driving an exciting, high speed, status symbol car.
    So I therefore sacrifice the pleasure of being respected and judged positively by people who judge others by their car.
    I sacrifice the pleasure driving a four wheel drive vehicle and knowing that, if some major cataclysm struck, I would be able to drive on mud or dirt, and thereby gain whatever advantage could be gained by being able to drive off the shoulder for a few feet.
    I sacrifice the warm comfort of acting as much as possible like everyone else.
    I sacrifice the pleasure of just doing things in energy intensive, wasteful ways.
    I sacrifice the pleasure using all my free time for pleasant activities, and instead use some of that time to help educate people.

    â??What technologies or comforts did you give up?â??
    Who is saying anything about giving up technologies? Is someone at this site saying that giving up technologies will prevent global warming? My impression is that people here are talking about using technology wisely. That is my position. Are you concerned that someone is trying to take away your comforts? Why donâ??t you tell us about your position on comforts you are concerned about losing. The most accurate information and valuable information one can bring to a discuss is often statements of fact about one’s own position, about one’s own thoughts. One can only infer what others are thinking, and one might be very good at that, or very bad at that.

    BTW,I have a lot of fun using solar energy to heat my swimming pool, while cooling my house. For the price of running a small pump for a few hours ( pennies) I have a warm pool and I almost never use air conditioning for my house. I am not in any way advocating the â??repeal of technologyâ??.

    â?? Obviously you have a computer and most likely broadband.â??
    You could tell us how much power yours uses. You could share information on the most economical ones to use.

    â??Don’t make me laugh and say you own a hybrid car!â??
    I own two hybrid cars.

    â??Or maybe you don’t own a car, good for you, do you still take the bus, turn on a light, watch movies?â??
    I use energy efficient lights. I turn off lights when I donâ??t use them. I use windows to illuminate rooms. My energy bill is going down each year. Win, win. I just donâ??t have time for many movies.

    â??I am sure all of you do.â??
    It looks like you are searching for facts here. I think that is a good thing.

    â??If you want to lower emissions use less yourselves.â??
    Are you familiar with the expression â??Preaching to the choirâ???

    â??Collaborating on a website via a bunch of computers is not doing that at all.â??
    Sorry anonymous, you didnâ??t make your point. Using computers can enhance communication, learning, understanding, and problem solving, and this website is doing all of those things, with the aim of lowering emissions. Moreover, the amount of energy used by computers is miniscule compared to the amount wasted in heating homes inefficiently, and driving wasteful vehicles above the speed limit.

    My belief is that we could run our own lives far more efficiently without much serious sacrifice, and without damaging our economy.

  9. 109
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Today’s Washington Post carries three letters grouped beneath the headline “Cold Columns and a Warmer Earth.” If they are available online, I can’t find them. So I will report what they say:

    The first letter is from Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist, who calls the Will and Novak columns “nothing more than attempts to divert public discourse.”

    She charges that “the editorial real estate used” for the two columns “could have been better spent engaging the real debate — how to solve global warming before we cause irreversible damage.” As far as I know, that charge is the closest that anything in the Post has come to answering RC’s charge that the Post’s editors were journalistically unethical — do I overstate RC’s charge there? — in printing the columns.

    The second is from Werner John of Shutesbury, Mass. It rebuts Will and concludes by saying “Earth needs people wise enough to value more than economic growth.”

    The third, from John McCormick — maybe the same John McCormick who has commented above? — also rebuts Will, but projects onto Will a motive I don’t think Will actually has, namely, that he just wants “compliments from his fans.” I’ve been reading Will for a third of a century, and my view is that he cares only about being right — which is why I agreed with RC’s posting in the earlier related George Will thread that Will’s performance on this issue is simply baffling, since Will is so ludicrously wrong on this one in ways easy to discern. (From Mr. Novak I’m not surprised to see what we’ve seen.)

    It seems to me that the three letters do a good job, but I still hope that someone at the Post itself engages RC’s ethics (again: am I overstating?) charge against the Post. If you agree that the Post should rebut that charge, or hold itself accountable, or in any case explain why the two columns appeared, you can write to the Post’s ombudsman Deborah Howell at ombudsman@washpost.com to ask for a public answer.

  10. 110
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #104,

    Anonymous, your criticisms about our electricity usage is unfounded. Where I live (Winnipeg, Manitoba), we get all our electricity from hydro dams, which are far more carbon-neutral than coal-fired power plants. (Doesn’t it send a shudder down your spine that we here in Manitoba do not use coal in electricity-generation?)

  11. 111
    pat neuman says:

    re 109.

    A more important point is the responsibility of government officials to the public regarding global warming. I would like to see some explanations at RC on why people here spend excessive effort countering statements by Crichton, Will and Novak while saying little or nothing about the more serious downplaying of anthropogenic global warming by NWS and NOAA officials. For example, the lack of people posting comments to RC on this April 6, 2006 Washington Post article.

    Excerpts:

    Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and
    Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey
    scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the
    past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking
    on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their
    reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news
    leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media
    altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over
    climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being
    fought in other federal science agencies as well. …

    Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical
    Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests
    have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk
    from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer’s
    colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only “a partial
    sense” of what government scientists have learned about climate
    change.

    “American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to
    know what we’re doing,” he said.

    Researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

    Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House
    By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    April 6, 2006; A27
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/05/AR2006040502150_pf.html

    Also at:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClimateArchive/message/3070

  12. 112
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Re 110: Fair enough, and moreover I’ll say that I’ll bet I’m far from the only one who read that article when Hank Roberts in #88 originally reported its availability. So I don’t disaagree. But it’s also true that the present posting is about the Washington Post, its two columnists’ offenses, and — if you agree with the RC scientists — the Post’s offense in even printing the two columns. Maybe you’re right that the topics in this thread and others should shift from the nature of the civic discussion to the nature of government action and inaction. But it’s probably also true that I’m not the only one who believes, rightly or wrongly, that in the long run the key to all of this is an informed citizenry — which requires sensible public discussion.

  13. 113
    Roger Hill says:

    Sue the bastards. Let it go to court…anyone perpetrating the BS get’s fined, their paper forced to apologise.

    It’s our kids and gradn kids future.

    Time to start fighting CO2 with fire!

  14. 114
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Comment 112 refers to 110 but should refer to 111 instead. (The numbers changed after I wrote comment 112.) Maybe someone could edit 112 and then just delete my present comment. Thanks.

  15. 115
    pat neuman says:

    re: 112, 92

    2nd example in 92 shows a letter by three senators to James R. Mahoney, Deputy Administrator, NOAA. The letter states:

    … Congress mandated reports summarizing the results of federal climate research to provide a solid scientific basis for public policy. Political interference has now tainted these reports and diminished their usefulness to Congress and the American people, …

    Why wasn’t hasn’t there been any discussion at RC on the tainted government report called Our Changing Planet and the efforts by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CSSP) who I think may now have new leadership ( http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/ ).

    I doubt running the new CSSP report on the planet through the NAS will be of much help if any based on what I’ve seen done by the National Academies re the National Academies new NOAA’s NWS AHPS report date Mar 2006, to cover the period from now through 2013.

  16. 116
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #113,

    Roger, there’s a slight mistake in the site you have for your URL. There’s a 404 error message on it, but I found the site adding a character to the link.

    Here’s the correction:

    http://vtlink.net/users/wxman/weatheringheights/Global%20Warming/GWinpictures.GIF

  17. 117
    Steve Latham says:

    Another Re: Anonymous’ 104:

    In BC we also get a lot of energy from hydro. Unfortunately, even if we got all our energy from non-C02-emitting sources or if we gave up computers and all abiological sources of energy, CO2 emissions would continue to increase because there is plenty of demand from others. Maybe the price would drop a bit and encourage those others to use their environmentally less friendly sources of energy less efficiently. That’s why collaboration is important.

    Regarding hypocrisy, some people seem to think that environmentalists should all commit principled suicides. Those people have no imagination! I hope you can understand that using fewer resources helps, and I hope you can understand that cost-benefit analyses can be applied to the use of energy — using a computer to understand and talk about global warming for the purposes of fighting it may save more emissions than turning the computer off.

    There are better rebuttals above, Anonymous. I hope you can learn from them and make more considered comments in the future.

  18. 118

    Please do not glorify yourselves by calling yourselves “scientists”. I prefer the term “politico-scientists” – you are in the pocket of the government and ecological activism. We all know it. At least stop fooling yourselves and stop using science as the banner you wrap yourselves around. You are no more about science than Kent Hovind is.

  19. 119
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #117,

    Ce n’est pas vrai, M. Tremblay.

    What the “contrarians” in the White House and in the US government are doing to prevent Dr. Hansen from speaking out about his findings is completely contrary to “libertarian” beliefs, that freedom of expression and speech is a most prized possession. The freedom to know what is really going on is also key.

    What the US government and fossil-fuel-company-affiliated lobby groups are doing is absolutely contrary to what your beliefs as a “libertarian.” Those people are the ones by which you should be most offended and not scientists like Drs. Mann, Hansen, Schneider, et al. who are the real truth-seekers.

  20. 120
    Stephen Pranulis says:

    Re: 117 Comment by Francois Tremblay. George Will is the one with the degree in political science. Its from Princeton, if I am not mistaken. What is your definition of a scientist? The gentlemen who run this site appear to have more than sufficient credentials to meet any reasonable definition of a scientist. Also, could you elaborate on the phrase in the pocket of government and ecological activism. The current government seems to have lukewarm concern for ecological preservation, if any. Being in the pocket of both the government and in the pocket of the doctrine of ecological activism would really be quite astounding. You say that we all know it. Would you mind revealing who the members of we are? And what it is? I would really appreciate the clarification. Thanks!

  21. 121
    pat neuman says:

    re 112 Just checking, moreover did you read this article too?

    Censorship Is Alleged at NOAA
    Scientists Afraid to Speak Out, NASA Climate Expert Reports
    By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, February 11, 2006; Page A07
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/10/AR2006021001766.html

  22. 122
    Eachran says:

    John Monro, post 91, started the ball rolling with his comments on peoples capacity to understand and their level of understanding, so some background first.

    I come from a family of maths and science types and each member has graduated from university : my sister in maths, I in economics, statistics and econometrics, my two daughters in agricultural sciences and my two foster sons in engineering – my sons and daughter in law are also scientists or engineers. I spent two years in my early twenties teaching maths to secondary school children (11+) and I discovered something surprising to me at the time because I never had a problem with maths at school and I thought that others were like me : barely 5% of the population is comfortable with “number”, the rest struggle and avoid thinking about it if they possibly can.

    Similar considerations apply to science if one observes how many struggle with basic concepts like : mass, weight, volume and density.

    To understand science you need to be comfortable with maths up to a certain level so my guess is that less than 5% of the population is comfortable with science and even those sometimes forget : two examples on Archimedes ; one on the familiar issue of ice floating in the sea (the Arctic) which some of your posters have commented on already and misunderstood and to which an engineer friend of mine said after I reminded him of Archimedes “of course Eachran how stupid of me” ; and, the other of a job I did for a very talented and intelligent literary type who needed to fill holes in the driveway “Don’t you need to empty the water from the holes first before you put the aggregate in?”. Even after I asked the question : what happens to the water in a full bucket if I drop a rock in?, I still had to undergo, whilst perspiring from effort with the wheelbarrow, several minutes of observation before “yes of course, how stupid of me”.

    And if one isn’t “comfortable” what does one do? Firstly, try to move into the comfort zone and then ask an expert, of course. But as we all know there are experts and experts : Do you know a good plumber/dentist/doctor/lawyer and so on? It is a familiar question from family, friends and neighbours. Asking experts is the rule even for people who are almost, or could be, experts. But smart people always ask experts they trust.

    Climate science? Well it’s complicated isn’t it? Even for intelligent people like me (sorry for the immodesty) with a good background in maths and science (and just about everything else) it is still difficult to become completely comfortable. After a few months of self-education, initially directed by Father William, I feel that I am in some sort of comfort zone but not “there” just yet. But I can recognise the deniers from the rest fairly quickly and I don’t have a problem, nor lack of confidence in giving them a virtual smack in the chops because, as Lynn (I recollect?) has suggested, perhaps they should be prosecuted and ordered to do community work helping to teach maths and science to 5 year olds and in the process, and under guidance and supervision, learn something themselves. But you as a group, RC, are experts and I trust you and I suspect a lot of others do too.

    So : how to deal with the Washington Post or anyone else?

    Well, it is not really the WP at fault : lots of doubters and Lomburg supporters are no longer, including my favourite journal (except for Iraq and AGW) The Economist which now actively supports mitigating and adaptive efforts to deal with the problems. Time did a very good issue this week : surely no one can quibble with a front page of “Be worried. Be very worried.”.

    I shall say what you cant do first : you cant compete with BigOil nor its hired hands, on their terms – they have more resources than you and can out-market and corrupt anything, for a significant period and before “truth” kicks in, if they wish ; and, you cant win the marketing battle and why should you want to – how can a bearded and apparently unkempt “earth” type and expert, on French TV news explaining that the situation is critical, compete with the imposing, well dressed and apparently cultured Mr Crichton showing off his ignorance before a willing, indulgent and appreciative audience impressed by such things.

    What you can and must do is never give up and never accept ignorance as the default : as a German green politician Petra Kelly, now dead and her life cut short poor woman, remarked once : “Never let a challenge go unanswered”.

    You should as an expert group send a letter to the WP saying what you must say. It is the right thing to do.

  23. 123
    Matt says:

    With so many scientits, its fun being the layman.

    We have done much of this, dirtied London with coal smog, cleaned it up, deoxygenated wetlands then sometimes restored them, smogged LA, cleaned it up somewhat. We know about pollution control, us 95% of the population. Remember, we all have a popular notion of the ozone hole, it is in our vernacular. Global warming is a common term.

    Remember the forest fire debates? We should have none, we should have oocasional large ones, and finally, we should simulate nature and have rapid, intense ones. We are having that kind of debate. It is really a cultural debate among scientists. Scientists do have hidden biases.

  24. 124
    Don Baccus says:

    #123: “:Remember the forest fire debates? We should have none, we should have oocasional large ones, and finally, we should simulate nature and have rapid, intense ones. We are having that kind of debate. It is really a cultural debate among scientists.”

    There is no such cultural debate among scientists working in the field. Fire supression was institutionalized on our forest and range lands because of a cultural belief that “fire is bad”. Over several decades, ecologists learned that many of our forests and rangelands have co-evolved with fire. As our knowledge grew, scientists began attacking the cultural bias that led to the suppression of each and every fire.

    Also … “We should have none, we should have oocasional large ones, and finally, we should simulate nature and have rapid, intense ones.”

    Well, not really. You can make a case for each of these depending on the particular ecological system you’re talking about. There are forests in the world that very rarely experience fire, others that experience burns very frequently, and others that lie in between those two extremes.

    That’s the real message forest ecologists bring to the table. The right fire management regime depends entirely on a proper understanding of the ecology of the ecosystem being managed.

    Not cultural bias.

    You have made a decent analogy in the sense that the timber and grazing industries first responded to our growing knowledge of fire ecology with disbelief and ridicule.

    Much as the oil industry has responded to our growing knowledge of climate change.

    But your example gives hope, perhaps. The use of fire as a management tool when appropriate is gaining wide acceptance within much of the timber and grazing industry. I have personal experience with one ranch in Southeast Oregon that quietly adopted prescribed burning on their private holdings when they saw how well it worked on nearby BLM land, with great basin rye and other grasses replacing sagebrush and greasewood. It is probably no coincidence that the son of the ranch owner (who helped work the ranch) had an undergraduate degree from our state ag university.

    This was many years ago, and they kept the fact that they were doing prescribed burns very quiet, in order to avoid ridicule by others in the community. But after a few years had gone by, acceptance of prescribed burning became much more widespread.

    We seem to be seeing a similar growth in the understanding of global warming by the general public. Perhaps someday it will grow to include our political leaders.

  25. 125
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #123, “Remember the forest fire debates? We should have none, we should have oocasional large ones, and finally, we should simulate nature and have rapid, intense ones.”

    The reason why governments and companies didn’t want forest fires was because it ate into forestry industry profits. It left fewer trees to be clear-cut by logging companies. It was not about nature at all.

  26. 126
    Mark A. York says:

    Stephen Berg is correct. I’ve spent 15 years walking clearcuts for the federal government documenting and trying regenerate damaged fisheries, the result of industrial logging. My book, a self-published memoir is about that. Global warming is making this worse by increasing the lifespan and range of pine bark beetles. It’s a bad scene. Had my book been a “denier thesis” it would have been instantly picked up by Regnery. Such is popular publishing. My message wasn’t popular, only real. I’m still working on the popular aspect.

  27. 127
    pat neuman says:

    White House muffles climate researchers
    Sunday, April 09, 2006
    By Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

    Excerpt

    … In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers
    aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching
    that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report
    had several references to global warming, including “Mass
    bleaching … affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has
    incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated
    with global change.”

    A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several
    others mentioning climate change. NOAA has yet to release the report.

    James Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and
    atmosphere, said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report
    because “its scientific basis was so inadequate.” Now that it is
    revised, he said, he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef
    Marine Park Authority to approve it.

    “I just did not think it was ready for prime time,” Mr. Mahoney
    said. “It was not just about climate change — there were a lot of
    things.”

    On other occasions, Mr. Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told
    researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. …

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06099/680385-115.stm

  28. 128
    Dano says:

    RE 123:

    Remember the forest fire debates? We should have none, we should have oocasional large ones, and finally, we should simulate nature and have rapid, intense ones. We are having that kind of debate.

    It is the opposite: historically many forests have frequent low intensity fires and occasional big ‘uns. The frequent low intensity fires are what forests are most highly adapted to. It is no debate: only misinformation.

    The frequency is all relative, of course, as Mark York knows, as some Pondo forests have a Fire Return Interval of ~5-25 years while Red Fir forests in the Sierra have a FRI of ~125-200 years.

    And what 125 and 126 said.

    Best,

    D

    [Response: If I may allow myself the luxury of a little speculative thinking, the forest fire suppression example may have a broader lesson to teach. The control exerted by humans over the GHG content of the atmosphere means that there is at least a chance that we will at some point have to decide whether to suppress the next few ice ages or not. Even if Dave Archer’s ideas about the effect of the long tail of CO2 turn out not to work, one might be able to do it with long lived manufactured GHG’s like SF6. In terms of impact on industrial society, I could see a lot of advantages in cancelling an ice age. Now, the question is, what if we get 50,000 years down the pike and find out that the glacial-interglacial cycle had some critical biogeochemical role to play, just as the periodic “bad” forest fires do? (Now back to your more sober, regularly scheduled discussion…) –raypierre]

  29. 129
    Coby says:

    Re Raypierre’s comment to Dano:

    I don’t disagree with the hypothetical canceled ice age “frying-pan/fire” problem you suggest, nature always seems to have a “plan”. I would note though that this is different in a significant way. The 10-100yr cycles of forest fires is something that can be adapted to through evolution, hence its eventual necessity to a well developed ecosystem. 100Kyr glacial cycles strike me as outside of the realm of natural selection, but I have no formal knowledge about that. What you are describing fits in more with a Gaia type of view.

    [Response: It’s a very interesting point you raise, but I think evolutionary biologists would be quite comfortable with evolution allowing adaptation to 20-100Kyr cycles. For example, relatively few large land mammals went extinct during the Pleistocene, presumably because all the ones that were vulnerable died out early on, leaving the more fit to survive and radiate. This is one of the arguments used to suggest that extinction of large N. American land mammals during the most recent deglaciation had something to do with hunting (a controversy that’s still open, so far as I know). Earlier on, penguines adapted to the long,slow cooling leading up to Antarctic glaciation. I’ll confess, though, that I didn’t have any particular mechanism in mind when raising the question of the long term impact of canceling ice ages. On the other hand, it the surprises that get you — nobody anticipated the role of surface chemistry in the ozone hole until it happened. –raypierre]

  30. 130
    pat neuman says:

    re 127 … On other occasions, Mr. Mahoney and
    other NOAA officials have told researchers not to
    give their opinions on policy matters. …
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06099/680385-115.stm

    I’ll vouch for that. In Jan 2004 my supervisor with NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) North Central River Forecast Center located in Chanhassen, MN told me that Mr. Mahoney wanted me fired for opinions that I expressed in an Oct 30, 2003 national press release. I was given a Decision to Remove memorandum from NWS July 15, 2005.

  31. 131
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Re Raypierre’s comment to Dano in 128:

    Wait . . . are we actually talking about tuning GHG levels to the point where we can cancel ice ages, yet not cause any serious damage?

    Well, I guess one is allowed to indulge in some really far out speculation now and then. And 100 years from now we will know a lot more about the topic. But in the meantime, let’s be sure to fence this off as pure speculation, or a thought experiment. It isn’t meant to be part of the current debate, is it?

    [Response: Absolutely. It’s not meant to be a part of the current debate about what should be done about global warming. I’m raising the following question: suppose off in the DISTANT future, you knew an ice age would come but knew you could delay it substantially by wilful increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Should you do this? –raypierre]

  32. 132
    Don Baccus says:

    “The reason why governments and companies didn’t want forest fires was because it ate into forestry industry profits. It left fewer trees to be clear-cut by logging companies. It was not about nature at all.”

    It’s not really that simple (and I’ve been involved in forest conservation issues for 25 years, on the board of one of the two lead co-plaintiffs of the spotted owl suit in the 1980s, for instance).

    Until the post-WW II era, in the Pacific Northwest, at least, timber companies didn’t WANT the government putting federal timber on the market. They lobbied against it. Companies like Georgia Pacific had huge private holdings of old-growth forests and they feared that timber put onto the market by the feds would lead to lower prices and therefore lower profits.

    Yet the USFS was very active in supressing fires. The paradigm was that fire is destructive, is bad, and not just because of timber value. It was thought to be bad for wildlife (ever see the movie “Bambi”?), and for forests themselves. In the pre-war era, the USFS managed much of its forestlands here as virtual wilderness (designated Primitive Areas covered much of the Cascades range, for instance). They supressed fire in such areas as best they could.

    After WWII the USFS reinvented itself as an arm of the timber indusry, of course. That didn’t change their philosophy regarding suppressing every possible fire, but it sure increased the money available to do so.

    I have no illusions about the timber industry, after all they fought Oregon’s law mandating post-harvest reseeding on private lands, passed in the late 60s or early 70s. Now they call themselves “the tree planting people”!

    I actually suspect some timber industry leaders are fond of wildfire now. During the Biscuit fire (a 100-year event in southern Oregon a few years back) the USFS was running its fire lines intentionally through protected old-growth stands, stacking the logs conveniently out of the danger zone for later sale. The timber companies didn’t even have to harvest the damn sticks themselves.

  33. 133
    Mark A. York says:

    The forest fires of 1910 locked that paradigm in. Fire became a foreign invader to be squelched at all costs. The policy continues to this day. What the industrial logging did was provide more kindling and stair steps to catastrophic “crown” fires. Which is why the Clinton roadless Rule was so good for the forests. Part of my focus was the declaring “dead” green old growth trees for these fire salvage sales such as the Bisquit. The Storrie fire in my story. For more see Dr. Steven Pyne: Tending Fire and others. Controlling ice ages is way above my pay grade.

  34. 134
    Stephen Berg says:

    An interesting news item here:

    “Conceding on climate change

    For the first time, energy execs are requesting caps on carbon emissions. But will new regulations be too little, too late?

    By Amanda Griscom Little”:

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/04/10/muckraker/print.html

    If the Salon article requires a password, see this link:

    http://www.grist.org/news/muck/2006/04/06/griscom-little/index.html

  35. 135
    pat neuman says:

    re 134, Conceding on climate change:

    I believe that many individuals will reduce their individual emissions in trying to make a difference in the rate of global warming and it’s consequences. However, I’ve conceded that humans will fail to reduce their GHG emissions enough to sustain life on Earth (in all but a greatly diminished existence).

  36. 136
    Dano says:

    RE 134 and comment to 128:

    I did a weekend of field work in the Sierra after the Cleveland fire, censusing green stems. The salvage sale afterward included many ‘dead’ trees as an enticement for private companies to make more money in stumpage. Without that census, decision-makers would have believed the USFS that all the trees died in the fire, and private loggers would have had a field day.

    That is a preamble to raypierre’s interesting comment; whereas in a technological context this idea may be interesting, but morally and ethically I recoil from the plan. Mankind’s desire to control nature almost never works and we have ample evidence of the unintended consequences of some grand scheme to re-jigger natural processes. Fire suppression [as in Don’s #132] is one example, Army Corps projects another, and I see many downsides to suppressing an ice age; biogeochemically, I visualize ice ages as a ‘rest’ period of lower entropy between more intense periods of higher entropy [or Net Primary Productivity, either way].

    Best,

    D

  37. 137
    Don Baccus says:

    #133, #136: Yeah, so-called salvage logging is essentially a hoax on the public, a way to cut old-growth (and younger living trees, but here in Oregon big sticks are the focus) without awakening significant public opposition.

    Dano, I agree with everything in your second paragraph, too.

  38. 138
    Steve Sadlov says:

    This thread includes shamanistic ideas of people who worship sticks and rocks (e.g. Gaia worshippers) and yet some here try to make out the so called “skeptics” (AKA non-group-thinking peers) to be some sorts of snake oil salesmen? Just a bit logically inconsistent, I would say.

    [Response: I, and the others, have tried hard to keep out the shamanistic stuff, and I don’t think we’ve let all that much through. None of us has all that much time to spend on moderation of the comments, so its inevitable the job will be a little spotty and inconsistent. Which of the things that got through on this thread do you consider “shamanistic?” I thought I was doing pretty well. Remember, you never get to see how much of the shamanistic stuff we’re managing to hold back! –raypierre]

  39. 139
    Dan says:

    For those that may have missed this from The New York Times op-ed page this past weekend:

    PAUL KRUGMAN: Swift Boating the Planet

    A brief segment in “An Inconvenient Truth” shows Senator Al Gore questioning James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, during a 1989 hearing. But the movie doesn’t give you much context, or tell you what happened to Dr. Hansen later.

    And that’s a story worth telling, for two reasons. It’s a good illustration of the way interest groups can create the appearance of doubt even when the facts are clear and cloud the reputations of people who should be regarded as heroes. And it’s a warning for Mr. Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue: you’re going to have to get tougher, because the other side doesn’t play by any known rules.

    Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that “the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore’s movie shows the moment when the administration’s tampering was revealed.

    In 1988, Dr. Hansen was well out in front of his scientific colleagues, but over the years that followed he was vindicated by a growing body of evidence. By rights, Dr. Hansen should have been universally acclaimed for both his prescience and his courage.

    But soon after Dr. Hansen’s 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990’s, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

    Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen’s predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

    In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud â?? that is, it wasn’t what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range. So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen’s prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being “on the high side of reality.”

    The experts at http://www.realclimate.org, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen “might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become.” But I think they’re misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak.

    There’s a concise way to describe what happened to Dr. Hansen: he was Swift-boated.
    John Kerry, a genuine war hero, didn’t realize that he could successfully be portrayed as a coward. And it seems to me that Dr. Hansen, whose predictions about global warming have proved remarkably accurate, didn’t believe that he could successfully be portrayed as an unreliable exaggerator. His first response to Dr. Michaels, in January 1999, was astonishingly diffident. He pointed out that Dr. Michaels misrepresented his work, but rather than denouncing the fraud involved, he offered a rather plaintive appeal for better behavior.

    Even now, Dr. Hansen seems reluctant to say the obvious. “Is this treading close to scientific fraud?” he recently asked about Dr. Michaels’s smear. The answer is no: it isn’t “treading close,” it’s fraud pure and simple.

    Now, Dr. Hansen isn’t running for office. But Mr. Gore might be, and even if he isn’t, he hopes to promote global warming as a political issue. And if he wants to do that, he and those on his side will have to learn to call liars what they are.

  40. 140

    Re #129 which ends “Now, Dr. Hansen isn’t running for office. But Mr. Gore might be, and even if he isn’t, he hopes to promote global warming as a political issue. And if he wants to do that, he and those on his side will have to learn to call liars what they are.”

    Well the good news is that Gore IS prepared to call a spade a spade. See todays’s Guardian: Gore: Bush is ‘renegade rightwing extremist’ Oliver Burkeman and Jonathan Freedland Wednesday May 31, 2006 The Guardian
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1786442,00.html

  41. 141

    Re 140 I meant re #139 of course :-(


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