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WSJ Editorial Board: Head Still Buried in the Sand

Filed under: — group @ 7 February 2007 - (Português)

While the rest of the world has basically accepted the conclusion of the latest IPCC report, one small village still holds out against the tide – the Wall Street Journal editorial board. This contrasts sharply with the news section of the paper which is actually pretty good. They had a front-page piece on business responses to global warming issues which not only pointed out that business was taking an interest in carbon reduction, but the article more or less took as a given that the problem was real. However, as we have pointed out before, the editorial pages operate in a universe all their own.

This would not be of much concern if the WSJ wasn’t such an influential paper in the US. However, the extent of its isolation on this issue is evident from the amusing reliance on the error-prone Christopher Monckton. They quote him saying that the sea level rise predictions were much smaller than in IPCC TAR (no they weren’t), that the human contribution to recent changes has been ‘cut by a third’ (no it hasn’t), and that the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) was written by politicians (no it wasn’t – the clue is in the name).

Even more wrong is the claim that “the upcoming report is also missing any reference to the infamous ‘hockey stick’ “. Not only are the three original “hockey stick” reconstructions from the IPCC (2001) report shown in the (draft) paleoclimate chapter of the new report, but they are now joined by 9 others. Which is why the SPM comes to the even stronger conclusion that recent large-scale warmth is likely to be anomalous in the context of at least the past 1300 years, and not just the past 1000 years.

Thus on any index of wrongness, this WSJ editorial scores pretty high. What puzzles us is why their readership, who presumably want to know about issues that might affect their bottom line, tolerate this rather feeble denialism. While we enjoy pointing out their obvious absurdities, their readers would probably be better off if the WSJ accepted Jeffery Sachs’ challenge. For if they can’t be trusted to get even the basic checkable facts right on this issue, why should any of their opinions be taken seriously?

291 Responses to “WSJ Editorial Board: Head Still Buried in the Sand”

  1. 201
    Steve Reynolds says:

    198>”Skeptics”, here’s a hint: Unless you have an advanced understanding of chaotic dynamics and most likely an advanced degree in climate studies or a related field–you probably don’t really understand the science well enough to call yourself a skeptic.

    IMO that is an anti-scientific attitude that lends credence to the charge that climate science is led by an elite ‘Priesthood’ that will tell the rest of us ignorant people what to believe.

  2. 202

    [[“Congress must recognize the Bush Administration’s tampering with studies on global warming and other scientific research as an impeachable offense,” says Jody Grage, who serves as treasurer of the Green Party.]]

    And we all know how successful the Green Party has been at engaging the American people.

    It will be enough to get Bush and his staff out of office in 2009. Pursuing revenge wastes time, money and effort that could go to more productive things.

  3. 203

    [[I think you mean “all” discussions, since your beloved models can’t account for the effects of water vapor, right? And none can correctly model even the recent past, right?]]

    Wrong on both counts. Where are you getting your misinformation?

    [[Most of these uncertainties have more scope to make the situation worse rather than better.”
    Interesting! statistical uncertainty running only one way!!! LOL!!]]

    You never studied statistics, did you? There are many situations where uncertainty can be greater in one direction than another. For an example, the number of moons of Jupiter can be arbitrarily high (the present figure is over 100), but it can’t be less than zero. The uncertainty is almost all in one direction.

    [[But unless you know for sure the climate history over the past thousand years or so, how do you arrive at a baseline to measure change against? Where is the universally agreed-upon baseline?]]

    We know the climate history to 1,300 years ago, and have proxies that allow us to study climates much further back than that.

    [[Hint: it was colder then. then it warmed up. then it got colder again, several times. Please explain, with hard data, why such a cycle isn’t going on today.]]

    It is going on today. It takes tens of thousands of years to make noticeable changes. Do a Google search on “Milankovic cycles.”

    [[Yet the IPCC says that it’s 90% certain that humans are causing GW, sufficiently high that the US has to abandon economic growth for years to come! ]]

    No one said the US has to abandon economic growth. You made that up.

    [[Yeah, but the human impact wasn’t there, so how do you tease apart what % of the observed warming today DOESN’T come from natural sources? And, of course, you need to explain why the temperatures later fell, causing a new glacial period. Cro-magnon campfires, maybe?]]

    Milankovic cycles. See above.

    [[LOL!!! In other words….what – EV! IOW no scientists have ever studied the Cretaceous or Peistocene climates. Snork.]]

    Actually, there have been many attempts to reconstruct far-past climates. For the past 40 years climatologists and planetary astronomers have been working on “the Faint Young Sun problem,” which concerns the climate four billion years ago. According to news posted just today, they are close to cracking it.

    [[Dead wrong, for the very reasons you cite. You agree you can’t account for climate cyles in the pre-industrial past, (including the inconvenient Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age) but you claim to “infer” with great confidence that humans are causing all the CO2 changes and temperature increases observed today. Balderdash.]]

    No, it’s quite easy to infer. The new CO2 is deficient in carbon-14. That means it’s not coming from the biosphere. The carbon in it must be old carbon. As in fossil fuels.

    [[But for GW, where are the indisputable facts? Where are the falsifable experiments to make the case? Where is the iron-clad case made, beyond a reasonable doubt, that humans have caused all the CO2 increase of recent years, AND that this increase has swamped natural climate variation and led inexorably to temperature increases? They don’t exist — it’s all prediction and inference, the latter assuming an overall confidence level of 90%.]]

    It’s easy to get the answer you want if you answer the question yourself. If you want the evidence, go read the past 40 years or so of the Journal of Geophysical Research, Journal of Climate, Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, and for that matter, Nature and Science.

    [[ So the industrial world is asked to give up all the gains in living standards made the last 100 years because some scientists and “policy makers” (all disinterested of course!) say that despite their ignorance about the climate over great gouts of geologic time, they can INFER human-induced GW.]]

    No, the industrial world is not being asked anything of the kind. Straw man argument. You would be much more believable if you didn’t make up stuff.

  4. 204
    Stephen Pranulis says:

    Re: #199 It is only fair to note that the a number of facts about nuclear power have in fact changed. For example, proof of the ability of a poorly designed and operated nuclear plant to disperse significant contamination globally was clearly provided by the Chernobyl disaster. On the other side of the balance, it is also a fact that some newer reactor designs appear to be far safer, and could produce dramatically less waste than older ones. IHMO, it is yet to be determined whether nuclear power will ultimately be a lifeboat, a plague ship, or something else.

  5. 205
    dan allan says:

    Joel (184):

    Making dubious claims in bold does not make them true.

    Typically, whenever I take the trouble to fact-check suspicious right-wing claims, they turn out to be wrong, and the more emphatic, often the more completely wrong. So if you want people to believe you, try a few citations, rather than boldface.

    Raypierre is completely right. The issue is not Exxon selling oil. They have every right to do that and we can’t blame them for providing something that we all want to consume. The issue is their concerted effort to lie and distort the science.

    As for ‘futurists’ saying we will run out of oil in 20-30 years, in the 1960s, (a) there is a difference between a futurist and a scientist, and (b) I frankly don’t even remember that claim from so-called futurists. I do remember claims of 40-50 years, which turned out to be mistaken, but whether these came from serious scientists, or were exaggerations or worst-case-scenarios reported as likelihoods in the media, neither I nor you have any idea.

    I am no Ralph Nader fan, but I don’t really believe he said what you claim he said. Show me the quote.

    Lastly, did Exxon want to switch to nuclear, as you say? I don’t believe that either. Show me. Don’t just make stuff up because it “sounds right” to you. The companies investing in nuclear in the 1970s and 1980s were, as I recall, electric companies, not oil companies. The oil companies had a disincentive against cannibalizing their own oil-based revenue streams. Further, they had a distribution network of gas stations for their product that could not easily be converted to a non-fossil-fuel based energy economy. To the electric power companies on the other hand, coal, hydroelectric and nuclear are more or less interchangeable nodes on the power grid.

    I am confident you are wrong on all of these points. Show me some citations (from someplace other than the American Spectator or its ilk), and I might be persuaded that I am mistaken.

  6. 206
    Pat Neuman says:

    Re: 202

    Truth be told and heard so that maybe some people won’t make the same mistakes again.

  7. 207

    To Andrew #
    Re: Jonah Goldberg in the LA Times relating increased GDP to global warming

    Better yet! Heres a pretty compelling case for bringing back pirates to solve global warming from

    Church of The Flying Spahetti monster – scroll down to the excellent graph!

  8. 208
    William Astley says:

    In reply to â��The problem we have in coming up with a label for the “sceptic”/”denialist” camp is that it is hardly a monolithic movement. There are some who are genuinely sceptical (Christy at UAH comes to mind, though I wonder if his religious outlook biases his scientific judgement.). Others like Lindzen are scientific contrarians, who have found that they can distinguish themselves by their dissent from consensus more than they can by their research. Every scientific field has them. These two groups are very small.â��

    I think it is inaccurate and unfair to label Lindzen as a �Scientific Contrarian�. Lindzen does not stand alone.

    There are fundamental unexplained cyclic and non-cyclic events (large climatic changes) in the paleo proxy data.

    For example, why did the glacial/interglacial cycle change (700 kyrs ago) from a 41kyr cycle to a 100 kyr cycle? What is causing the polar see-saw (Simultaneous cooling of the Antarctic when there is warming of the Arctic and visa versa. (See the attached paper by Svensmark that explains the phenomena and provides a hypothesized mechanism to explain the polar see-saw.)

    There is a new connected scientific hypothesis that has been developed in the last decade that attempts to explain what is causing the glacial/interglacial cycle and the abrupt climatic changes in the proxy data. Scientists that are promoting this new hypothesis are �monolithic� in terms of the hypothesis (there is one not many hypotheses). The scientists in question are approaching the problem in a scientific manner, they provide data and logic to support their hypothesis.

    They are not �flat earthers� or �denialists�.

    The Antarctic Climate Anomaly and GCR Svensmark�s 2006 Dec Paper

  9. 209

    To dan allen,
    I actually remember reading Lewis Mumford – a British old fogey – in the 60’s: on the limits of extracting stuff from the earth, predicting shortages around now.
    Not a scientist exactly, but a fun read.

  10. 210
    joel Hammer says:

    RE: 205.

    Everything I said I know to be true because I lived it. I am 60 years old. I used to worship Ralph Nader. I used to be a raging, long haired liberal.

    It is undeniable that our current dependence on fossil fuel is due in large part to the activities of the environmental movement back in the 1960’s. Anybody my age knows this.

    Just look into the history of the Clinch River Breeder Reacter project. Nader made that a big target of his anti-nuclear campaign in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. I was in school in Nashville then and went to one of his rallys against it and actually spoke to Mr. Nader very briefly. I gave him some information regarding a possible leukemia hotspot in TN. At that rally Mr. Nader mocked the claims by Big Oil that they needed to go nuclear. His last words at that rally were “Just keep importing plenty of cheap foreign oil, and don’t forget the 10 per centers, wind and solar.”

    BTW, “right wing claims” is a very inappropriate term. I was at a restaurant with some young liberal acquaintances recently. Somehow it came up that I was wearing sandals. One young liberal acquintance said that was strange footware for a right winger. I had to point out that what seems like “right wing” behavior to young liberals is really just pragmatism, based on experience. In my case, my athlete’s feet is much easier to keep in check if I wear sandals, not shoes.

    Young people often mistake pragmatisn for conservatism or “right wing thought.” They’ll learn.

  11. 211
    J.C.H says:

    Exxon Nuclear Company, Inc

    Lee Raymond (a trained scientist) used to run it. He has said the growth of nuclear power is limited by environmental and site problems.

    …In the late 1970s, as oil prices skyrocketed, Exxon diversified into an array of fossil-fuel alternatives, including nuclear and solar energy. In 1983 it opened the lab here in Annandale, a sprawling brick complex with 19 acres of interior space.

    But after several years, Exxon still couldn’t see prospects for renewable energy turning into a money-maker, especially since oil prices were falling in the 1980s. In the mid-1980s, the company decided to get out of the business and tapped Mr. Raymond, a South Dakota native then in his 40s, to oversee the retrenchment. “I was sent to clean it all up,” he recalls. “What all these people are thinking about doing, we did 20 years ago — and spent $1 billion, in dollars of that day, to find out that none of these were economic,” he says. “That’s why I feel so strongly about it — because I’ve been there and I’ve done that.” – WSJ, 6.15.05…

  12. 212
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 209, Joel, history is on your side.

    Ralph Nader can be celebrated for some of his contributions to a safer world but I do not count his anti-nuclear crusade among them.

    From the outset, he campaigned to choke the U.S. nuclear power industry on its garbage. By organizing a national crusade against permanent disposal of nuclear waste or storing it until reprocessing became safe and affordable, he has ruled that current spent fuel rods will remain at the plant site. Thus, populations near plant sites are victims (and potential victims) to groundwater contamination from leaking storage tanks and pools.

    He traded a solution away and created a problem. And, he has dictated the nuclear option will be unreachable for our children in a future where nuclear power might be a necessary option.

    I am not an advocate for nuclear power. But, I believe we have to get past the dimwitted view that stored nuclear waste will be a threat for thousands of year; would that we had that much time to will to our children.

  13. 213
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    In science one acknowledges the results of inquiry. Global Warming deniers don’t. They’re not even akin to people who hold relgious dogmas which are contradicted by Science. They’re closest to carnival barkers and con-men. One needn’t link them to the Holocaust and all that baggage for one to see that there’s rank insincerity and (given the potential for harm) moral failing.

  14. 214
    Mark A. York says:

    I ran afoul of this opinion writer, albeit on another subject, my opposition of “fanfiction,” which is one of her hobbies, but Ms. Young gravitated to my political charcterization of the false sceptics and a watering down of the language of global warming.

    Here’s why:

  15. 215
    Mark A. York says:

    RE #196

    James Taranto failed to graduate from my alma mater CSUN. The Heritage Foundation put him into this job regardless. His denialism is based on pure political bias and nothing else. It’s all he has.

  16. 216
  17. 217
    Charles Muller says:

    There’s a lot of trials here for qualifying “skeptic / contrarian / deniers, etc.” from a psychological, or political, or professionnal (scientist or not, climate scientist or not) or venal (lobbies) background.

    But far less precision for an exam of the real content of their critics and the level of skepticism. Let’s examine some assertions :

    > Recent warming is a new evidence for intrinsic variability of climate on decadal / centennial / millenium scale.

    > Most part of recent warming comes from natural factors, that is sun irradiance and cosmic ray / nebulosity feedback.

    > Most part of recent warming come from anthropic factors, but we cannot quantify land-uses, aerosols and GHGs relative weights in this recent trend.

    > Models accuracy and models uncertainty implies that we are still unable to get a reasonably constrained attribution for the 0,6 K detected in past 50 yrs.

    > As far as weather is chaotic, and climate models comparable to weather models, we can say anything for any recent or future warming from any model.

    > IPCC is a worldwide conspiracy for the fund-raising in favour of leftist science, ecologist subversion and UNO totalitarianism.

    > Warming is good for life. Warming comes from oil-combustion. Oil-combustion is good for life.

    All these assertions can be qualified as “skeptic/contrarian, etc.”. But for sure, they’ve not the same level of acceptability (in a scientific or simply objective discussion).

    Finally, everybody agrees that real and rational skepticism is a good thing. So, as a last resort, it would be interesting to knwow on what point scientists are (really and rationally) skeptic in climate science current conclusions? I think better estimates of sea-level projections is an example, so far some researchers express their doubts.

  18. 218
    Mark says:

    Finally there are the greedheads–those who really don’t care about the science. They figure that it’s fine if the swamp rises as long as they own all the high ground.

    Interesting. This hardly describes a denialist/skeptic, if we are talking about someone who irrationally rejects the scientific facts. This conflation of people who disagree with the science and those who disagree with the majority on its significance and what to do about it, is part of what makes people suspicious of global warming science. In order not to be a crazed evader of the “facts”,” you have to buy in, not only to the science, but a package deal that includes a statist political action plan, too.

  19. 219
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re:201. Steve, you have the same right to an opinion that I do–namely, you can attend graduate school for 5-6 years and get a PhD in a relevant subject that provides you with an understanding of 1)relevant subject matter such as dynamics of chaotic systems, atmospheric physics, etc., and 2)an understanding of how science works, including the subject of scientific evidenc, scientific confidence and scientific consensus. Once you do this, and then establish yourself as a reasonably competent researcher, your opinion may count for something, but only because you will realize the importance of constraining your opinion to what the evidence allows you to say confidently. Right now, you don’t even know what the evidence is, let alone how to interpret it. So, want to take me up on my suggestion of getting a relevant education, or would this spoil your “objectivity”.

  20. 220
    isaac.held says:

    Re #196:
    I find that I rarely, if ever, need a term that lumps together everyone that disagrees with the global warming consensus, when discussing science. And since this blog is supposed to be focused on science, I would be much happier if at least those writing the lead articles could make a more serious attempt at using more nuanced language. When talking about the remote possibility that solar variations are responsible for a substantial part of the late 20th century warming, one can talk, if necessary, about “solar enthusiasts”, etc. The term “denier” makes me cringe, and can be profoundly counter-productive, regardless of the innocuous dictionary definition.

    [Response: Agreed that we have strayed from the straight and narrow, no matter how good the intentions. Discussion of science communication almost inevitably leads into the sorts of political questions that have dominated this discussion, but we’ll try to restore the proper balance with the next few posts. –raypierre]

  21. 221
    Jim Eaton says:

    As I recall, David Brower started out in favor of nuclear energy, became an opponent, then modified his stance. He felt that nuclear energy was appropriate in the right location — which he deemed approximately 93 million miles from earth.

  22. 222
    dan allan says:

    A note on nuclear versus oil. I do think there is value in investing in nuclear power. but is anyone really claiming that, had we invested more heavily in it in the 1970s and 1980s, instead of abandoning it, we would not be burning fossil fuels? What percent of U.S. needs could realistically come from nuclear, given the finite number of sites from plants, the lack of an efficient technology to transport the energy significant distances, the difficulties with powering cars with it?

    [Response: Well, France gets practically all of its electricity from nuclear power, has less empty space for siting than the US, and powers essentially all of its rail transport with electricity. One way to frame the technical feasibility issue, then, is whether there is something fundamentally different in the US situation that would prevent something similar happening. Eliminating our coal based electricity generation would knock out around a third of our CO2 emissions, and one could go further with electric trains replacing some of our present transport. I don’t want to argue the desirability of going nuclear to this extent, and would prefer that people not get into political differences from France that might prevent the nuclear option in the US, but it would be illuminating to know if there are any purely technical hurdles that would prevent the French solution from being scaled up to the US. Would this bump up against nuclear fuel supply limits, for example? Does the US population distribution pose problems that are not faced by France? Let’s try to think of this as an intellectual exercise, and put aside the question of the desirability of going nuclear. –raypierre ]

  23. 223
    dan allan says:

    By the way, here is something neither liberals nor conservatives seem to talk about anymore. but seem to me the single most important, business-friendly, environment-friendly policy the planet could adopt: discouraging large families.

    Obviously, this reduces stress on the environment only in the long-term. But then AGW is a long-term problem, no? And it is the one way to fight AGW that simultaneously fights every single other pollution issue, food supply issue, etc. Population stabilization at 6 billion versus 9 billion gives us all an opportunity to either consume 50% more resources and produce no more pollution, or produce 50% less pollution, or any compromise we choose in between. It is a hedge against any food production declines we might see with AGW, and therefore should please those who support accommodation to warmer climate as well as those who support limits on carbon emissions.

    Consider this: Which decision will have a more negative effect on the earth’s environment, buying an SUV, or having a 4th child? If one thinks about it, in the long run, the child will ultimately be responsible for a lifetime of cars, energy, resource consumption, and children. The child is of course far worse, and the difference grows exponentially through the generations. Why have people stopped talking about population control? Incidentally, before people tell me this is not a problem in the U.S. and Western Europe, where birthrates are low, I realize that (although the U.S. pop is still growing organically a bit faster than it should). But I am speaking of the world as a whole.

    [Response: Somewhat dangerous territory, but anyway here are a few numbers to be going on. US population is projected to grow to 392 million by 2050, according to the US census . Go a little beyond 2050, and let’s call it an even 100 million growth. At current US vs. Chinese percapita emissions rates that’s like adding a billion Chinese. Definitely a factor. It means that, to make room for these new US citizens, the US will need to work even harder to reduce its percapita emissions. There are obvious ethical concerns about the way China implements its population policies, but certainly one ought to factor in China’s population policies when evaluating what China vs. the US is doing to limit future emissions. –raypierre ]

  24. 224
    Eli Rabett says:

    #217, carbon emissions would be down by about 1/3 in the US if we had followed the same path as France.

    There have been recent discussions here about the fraction of electricity generated in France by nuclear. I remember is as somewhat above 90%.

  25. 225
    John D. says:

    It is only human nature to believe you are right in your opinion, whether it be science based or not. Some skeptics are that way due to what they have personally experienced in life while some will follow any cause or anti-cause. Some scientists are the same. Just because a person is a physicist does not mean they are always 100% right. History shows that science has sometimes been wrong and so have skeptics. Until any debated scenario becomes a full blown catastophic reality, no one is even close to being right on the subject.

    It’s like encountering a grizzly bear on a hiking trail. Science, based on others experiences tells me that if I keep an eye on the bears mannerisms, it will more than likely indicate it’s next move, under perfect conditions. Personal experience tells me that in this newly developing situation, there are too many variables yet to be disclosed, for me to place full trust in that idea. What to do?

    Let’s not be too harsh on each other just because one camp believes they are the absolute truth because they have a physics degree and the other just expresses an opinion from a viewpoint that perhaps others have overlooked, or maybe have never been taught to see certain possibilities, to even consider as an option. Two-sided open debate is what keeps the world from totalitarianism. Only time will tell who will be eating the crow feathers, so to speak.

  26. 226
    llewelly says:

    Eli, this IAEA piece claims ‘The country with the largest share of nuclear electricity is France at 78%.’

  27. 227
    David Price says:

    The thing about nuclear is the limited supply of uranium. If all the world’s electricity was nuclear generated uranium reserves would only last 4 years. Funnily enough uranium is found in coal. It could be recovered from the flues of coal fired power stations. But that would mean prolonging the use of coal fied stations. Tricky.

  28. 228
    John D. says:

    Easy solution for you, but not one that your parents considered, obviously.

  29. 229
    Dan Hughes says:

    re: #205. See #199. And remember Google and Wiki are your friends. While Westinghouse and GE did get into the nuclear power plant business, so did Combustion Engineering and Babcock Wilcox. Power plants from all four companies are operating today.

    re: #204. The Chernobyl plants were not designed for electricity production. They were primarily designed to produce materials for making fission and fusion bombs. A small amount of electricity production was an add-on feature. The accident was human-caused by people not following written procedures.

    re: #210. Exxon Nuclear Fuel became Exxon Nuclear Company, or a part of the later company.

    re: #219. China is projected to exceed the US total CO2 emissions very soon now; like maybe before or during 2009. I think we can also say that we all hope that all of China does not approach the US per capita emission rate.

  30. 230
    Dan Hughes says:

    Oh, I forgot. Nuclear electricity production in France is closer to 70% than to 90%.

    And, the principles of neutron physics that allowed the Chernobyl accident to happen were never a part of any reactor anywhere designed to produce electricity. No power reactor operating today can undergo the processes that allowed the Chernobyl accident.

  31. 231
    Hank Roberts says:

    Teetering along the edge of this topic — anyone recollect how the WSJ editors handled the chlorofluorocarbon science, as it went from surprising to globally politicized to dead certain to “we were lucky more than smart” over time? The politics flared up faster because there was less at stake, or simpler chemistry, or better measurement and histories, or whatever.

    What we didn’t know for decades — what was actually the critical decision — was adopting chlorination rather than bromination, for most of the industry in these longlived new compounds that looked so useful.

    After the fur had stopped flying, I guess, we learned — long after the fact —- that using chlorine rather than bromine as the halogen for almost the whole CFC industry was in fact the drop-dead binary decision point.

    We lucked out, supposedly..

    Or if you believe in the market (here cue the WSJ editorial hymn), then it made the right decision in its mysterious way, and la de dah.

    Does the WSJ editorial position have anything to say in retrospect about that whole
    CFC issue? do they still think it’s a crock?

    Maybe they relax once they think any glob of new science is well enough understood that the future it gives has been priced into the market properly. Some sociologist or media historian must have studied how editorial opinion changes over time, haven’t found any such work yet.

  32. 232
    Mark A. York says:

    Oh I don’t know John D. I’ve wandered around with grizzlies a bit, and I trust the recommendations of those with experience, including those who were mauled. Making noise almost always works to warn them of your presence. It will work to get a solution to global warming going too. Focusing on the uncertainty after a certain point is unlikely to yield much value to the over-arching question.

  33. 233
    Rod B. says:

    This might be off-topic, but I’ve seen it mentioned here a number of times: what exactly are the “massive” subsidies that the fossil fuel industry gets, viz-a-viz renewable energy?

  34. 234
    Hank Roberts says:

    >fossil fuel subsidies
    You probably don’t want to repeat the kerfluffle over definitions. This has a good bit of info:

    “… There has been extensive debate over how to define a subsidy. ….

    Subsidies comprise all measures that keep prices for consumers below market level or keep prices for producers above market level or that reduce costs for consumers and producers by giving direct or indirect support.

    This is essentially the same as the definition used by the IEA (UNEP and IEA, 2002). More specifically, energy subsidies are defined by the IEA as:

    any government action that concerns primarily the energy sector that lowers the cost of energy production, raises the price received by energy producers or lowers the price paid by energy consumers (UNEP and IEA, 2002, p.9).

  35. 235
    Mark A. York says:

    They (Taranto et al) loved this one:

    “Scientists said they expect the ozone layer will have fully recovered sometime around 2065-2075 — just in time for global warming to have a shot at destroying all life on Earth.”

  36. 236
    John D. says:

    My mistake: My comment #228 was directed at #223 and not #219. Sorry for the confusion.

  37. 237
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Re 219:
    >Right now, you don’t even know what the evidence is, let alone how to interpret it. So, want to take me up on my suggestion of getting a relevant education, or would this spoil your “objectivity”.

    Ray, how do you know anything about my education, experience, or familiarity with the evidence? Not that I think it is required, but I do have a degree in physics, a PhD in electrical engineering, and 30 years experience in infrared sensing (which is a narrow part of the GW debate, but so are the fields of most scientists here).

    I believe that as long as someone has a good grounding in the fundamentals and the desire to learn the details of the specific scientific argument, they are entitled to judge for themselves how convincing the evidence is. Telling people capable of understanding the evidence that it is not their place to question the ‘experts’ is not compatible with the scientific method.

  38. 238
    Mark A. York says:

    Here’s a perfect example from a 2003 Taranto column relating ozone depletion and global warming.

    “In an item yesterday, we expressed mystification at the Boston Globe’s claim that “global warming” increases the risk of skin cancer. It turns out there is a hypothesis according to which it would. The Web site of a company called Environmental Support Solutions explains how it’s supposed to work:

    Ozone depletion gets worse when the stratosphere (where the ozone layer is), becomes colder. Because global warming traps heat in the troposphere, less heat reaches the stratosphere which will make it colder. Greenhouse gases act like a blanket for the troposphere and make the stratosphere colder.

    Ozone, the theory has it, acts as a filter for the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which cause skin cancer; thus, if all this is true, “global warming” would increase the risk.

    Of course, there’s a lot that science doesn’t know. We were reminded of this by the headline of an Associated Press dispatch: “Scientists Study Why the Elderly Fall.” One of these days they’ll discover gravity.”

    Yeah, let’s head to the barn fast. It’s what he always does.

  39. 239
    Mark A. York says:

    I couldn’t find anything back to the ’80s, but in 2001 Daniel Henninger, who is on the board at a high level, denied the ozone hole scare flatout.

    “Lawn chemicals, nuclear power, food additives, fluoridated water, high-tension wires, implanted silicon, cancer clusters, agricultural pesticides, the ozone layer, allergies, microwaves, vaccines, bioengineered foods–how did a sophisticated, well-educated people manage to let itself be frightened by modern life itself?

    I have sometimes felt that living in America now must be a little like what it was to live in a medieval village on the edge of the Black Forest in the 12th century.”

    Me too, but not for the reasons Henninger does.

  40. 240
    raypierre says:

    Like Eli, I too had remembered French nuclear electricity as about 90% of the total. My thanks to llewely for checking the actual numbers. The proportion depends on whether you go by consumption or total production. Nuclear production does cover about 88% of French electricity consumption. However France exports a lot of electricity, so nuclear only covers 78% of the total generated. If you add in hydropower, then nuclear plus hydro accounts for about 90% of total French electricity production, so French electricity production is almost totally decarbonized. There’s a good summary at . On a related issue, there’s an interesting discussion of the waste issue at . That source claims that, with reprocessing, the high level waste volume from a family of four using electricity for 20 years is “a glass cylinder the size of a cigarette lighter.” As an exercise, try comparing that to the mass of waste carbon dioxide for the same amount of electricity generated by coal.

  41. 241
    dan allan says:


    Thank you for your replies. Regarding going nuclear, as I said, I am not anti-nuclear, but I do think we are in danger of misleading if we assume the French model will fit us conveniently. First, I presume that per capita electricity consumption is significantly lower in France than in U.S., so to match their 90% from nuclear, we would need either more reactors per capita, or that dreaded “personal virtue” that Cheney spoke of – conservation (unless I’m mistaken about our per capita electricity consumption.

    Second, I do think the U.S. pop distribution is more problematic. France has no massive population center like the mid-Atlantic to NY corridor, where there are virtually no sites close enough to the population centers and rural enough to be palatable. The U.S. may have lower pop density, but in terms of getting the electricity to people who need it, placing reactors in the Dakotas won’t help much – at least, that is my understanding.

    Still, we clearly could have more reactors than we do.

    Regarding population control, of course the Chinese method is morally “problematic”, to say the least. But here is a simple possibility: our tax system “rewards” children by providing a deduction for each child. I’m fine with that for the first two. After that, why should we be providing a positive incentive for further stressing our country’s resources and our planet’s?

  42. 242
    Paul Dietz says:

    The [Chernobyl] accident was human-caused by people not following written procedures.

    Like any sufficiently complicated accident, there were multiple causes. For example: the choice of reactor type, in which loss of cooling water caused the reactivity to increase. Or the placement of a graphite plug on the end of the control rod, so reactivity initially went up as the control rod was inserted. And, of course, the lack of a true containment building.

    Blaming operators for error misses the point that the design of the reactor should assume the operators are only human, and will sometimes do damnfool things.

  43. 243
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sure, it’s the size of the cigarette lighter, but how hot is it? Probably lights cigarettes for centuries, and glows in the dark. Adding a new one each year per family … nah, storing them at home isn’t going to work out.

  44. 244
    Edward Barkley says:

    In response to criticism (mid-comment) from William in my original posting #84, I must interject. I have read your reporting on the topic in question, and the figures and graphs in the article are clearly manipulations of statistics. Humans (as well as journalists) write and read via an inverted pyramid of relevance. Those figures are meant to indicate a continuing trend toward elimination of sea ice. Do I really have to call your attention to figures 2, 3 and 4 or to how they would be interpreted by common journalists? This is the very definition of propaganda. This community is so used to reading data generated via computer models that you see no difference between true evidence and synthetic.
    Having waded through the considerable statistical soup of this topic I have yet to see the hard scientific data that would lead me to believe there is a strong alternative to gasoline. Certainly none that would lead me to believe that we should do anything but increase the funding of research and development of more efficient internal combustion engines by automakers and oil companies. By many of your own admissions, ethanol is hardly the panacea it has been presented to be. And certainly more mechanical engineers should be consulted on the wisdom of increased wind, solar or bio fuel investment than climatologists.
    The predictions I see being made on the site are of a certain character – long term, disastrous and untestable (see comment #106). You must admit that the recommendations the “scientific consensus” is making are substantial and expensive to the global energy generation infrastructure. As I stated before, the claims you are making are dramatic and require dramatic evidence. (the irony of comment #115 was quite amusing to me). Let’s assume that statistics over time in the sea ice reduction article prove to be true. Those numbers should be predictive in the short term. I need proof beyond “consensus”. Is this a scientific forum or isn’t it? Don’t tell me that global climatology is too complex for this type of short term experimentation. I aced my linear algebra and electromagnetism classes – I can handle it. Explain it to me. Prove the theory. You won’t need consensus. We need to agree in advance on the parameters of the experiment. What factors will be ignored? Small things like cyclical changes in the orbit of the earth around sun over thousands of years, perhaps? How are the measurements to be taken? What are the variables. What are the precise predictions for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years? To be facetious…if the polar bears are truly on thin ice and the end is near, how do I know that shaving them is not the better answer than some carbon dioxide sin tax on America. Given that your community did a poor job of calling last year’s hurricane season, what are the chances of rain next week in Portland?

    [Response: Its very hard to understand how you can interpret our article, which clearly sets out that the 2040s stuff is an extreme case, as propaganda. And how fig4, which shows all the time series, is a manipulation?Those figures are meant to indicate a continuing trend toward elimination of sea ice – well yes, since thats what the observations and all of the models say, what do you expect? You seem to end up confusing weather and climate. As the pix make clear, there is year-to-year variablility. See for more – William]

  45. 245
    beyondtool says:

    I would like to clarify my statement about losing jobs, since it incensed a few. Obviously if there is economic downturn from our current unsustainable economic growth there will be a loss of jobs and a depression. This is inevitable anyway, for anyone who understands that the earth is finite and the world economy depends on the limitless supply of resources. That world view may have worked well back in the 1800s but today the signs are finally showing us that many of the resources we depend on are rapidly disappearing (re: oil, salmon, fish, clean water, biodiverse forests).

    There will no doubt be new opportunities for employment in a downshifted economy..however they will be alien to today’s westernized culture. We have equated happiness, success and fulfillment with economic affluenza. Money is our god and it is destroying the planet. Tommorrow’s economy should be focused on education, organic farming, sustainable energies, local community, rather than the sharemarket, globalisation, cheap labor, luxury goods and the pathetic drivel of advertisers urging us to consume, consume!

    I am quite aware that I must sound like a renegade hippie sprouting wonderful communist theories..But the writing is on the wall, the evidence all around us..are we so shortsighted to miss who we really are, the custodian’s of this wonderful planet?

    Cutting through all the crap, I think everyone should be agreed that the only way forward (at least until a “miracle” technology is invented) is to use less. Even a 5 year old can understand that!

  46. 246
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 245

    Edward Barkley wants the AGW experiment to continue until he is satisfied all the deck chairs are in line and the crew is maintaining order at the lifeboats.

    Edward, as the commercial says…life comes at you fast and the luxury of certainty (beyond any doubt and obtained through rigorous application of the scientific method) is not ours to enjoy.


    The doctor tells the patient that observation and the lab results indicate the left leg is gangrenous. Prognosis is frightening…the periphery of the gangrenous tissue will affect adjacent tissue and the spreading cannot be contained. Death will follow. Treatment requires removing the lower leg from the knee joint.

    The patient grabs the arm of the doctor and snarls your admonition posted in # 84;

    [As I recall the Scientific Method as I was taught it in college, a hypothesis will remain such unless it makes predictions that are testable and can be verified in experiments that are repeatable.]

    So, you do not touch my damned leg until your diagnosis can be verified in experiments that are repeatable.

    The doctor asks the patient if he is willing to be a volunteer in the experiment.

    The patient remains silent and curses again, under his breath.

  47. 247
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 238: You may be a fine engineer, but your post was sufficient to illustrate that you do not understand how science works. A PhD in EE may have equipped you to develop instruments for climate research, but it would not equip you to understand the science thereof. Likewise, I do not presume that my PhD in particle physics makes me an expert. I examine the evidence and form my own opinion, but that counts for precisely butkis in the scientific debate. Scientific consensus works–and it works by having those researchers who are most knowledgeable about a subject butt heads and bludgeon each other with evidence until they can agree what the body of evidence allows them to say. The layman(myself included) plays not constructive role in that process except to educate him or herself as much as possible.
    The place the layman plays a constructive role is in the debate about how to address the science. I no more trust climate scientists to tell me about economics than I trust layment to tell me about climate research.
    I apologize if my response was a bit abrupt, but the “scientific priesthood” argument is a bunch of BS usually spewed by those who do not understand the scientific method. I thought it was crap when Paul Feyerabend spewed it in the ’70s and I don’t think it has any more merit when spewed by certain hack science fiction authors today.

  48. 248
    joel Hammer says:

    According to the Vostok data, the CO2 level is now higher than at anytime in the last 400,000 years. Are we hotter now than at anytime in the last 400,000 years? Not according to those charts on the Vostok data. So what gives? Was the world substantially ice free during the last 400,000 years?

    The point is this: If you really believe that CO2 drives global temperature, not some unknown force, then the globe is going to heat up a lot no matter what we do regarding limiting CO2 emissions. Even going back to the stone age won’t help. Six billion primitives can pump a lot of CO2 into the air just burning trees and charcoal.

  49. 249
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 245 Edward, do you think that linear algebra and electromagnetism represent the pinnacle of difficulty in mathematics and the sciences? Did you ever maybe think that the detailed subject matter of climate change, which experts study 30 years to master, might be a bit much for you to come to grips with after reading a 1000 word essay on the subject?
    Having said this, the basics of climate change are quite simple and do not rely on climate models. To realize that humans are changing the climate it is sufficient to realize that:
    1)CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
    2)Humans have increased greenhouse gases to their highest point in over 600000 years
    3)Greenhouse gases increase the overall energy in the climate system.
    4)A greenhouse mechanism has greater effect at the poleward than in the tropics
    …and so on. These are all empirical facts, and they add up to anthropogenic climate change. The science is clear and cogent and virtually incontrovertible. What remains to be solved is how we deal with it without 1)wrecking the economy, 2)adopting draconian political solutions, 3)ending human civilization as we know it. That is where debate should be centered at this point.

  50. 250
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 249: The contention is that CO2 is A DRIVER of climate, not THE DRIVER. When CO2 content is higher, the energy in the climatic system tends to be higher than it would have been otherwise. We are raising CO2 far above the levels experienced since the dawn of human civilization, so it is not unreasonable to expect that some of the infrastructure of human civilization (e.g. agriculture, transport, regional building techniques…) could be adversely affected.
    As to the rest of your post, it is simply a falcy. The way we decrease energy consumption is by increasing technology, not decreasing it. In the short term, increased efficiency and conservation represent our best hopes for buying time so we can come up with better technologies. There is every reason to expect that these developments will result in economic growth rather than recession–just as has every other push for technological development.