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Broad Irony

Filed under: — group @ 13 March 2007

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

[update 3/20/07: The New York Times has run a short letter from us w/ a link to RealClimate for more info (scroll down to 5th letter; the 2nd letter from James McCarthy of Harvard is quite good too, as are some of the others).]

The first rule when criticizing popular science presentations for inaccuracies should be to double check any ‘facts’ you use. It is rather ironic then that William Broad’s latest piece on Al Gore plays just as loose with them as he accuses Gore of doing.

We criticized William Broad previously (Broadly Misleading) for a piece that misrepresented the scientific understanding of the factors that drive climate change over millions of years, systematically understating the scientifically-established role of greenhouse gases, and over-stating the role of natural factors including those as speculative as cosmic rays (see our recent discussion here). In this piece, Broad attempts to discredit Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” by exaggerating the legitimate, but minor, criticisms of his treatment of the science by experts on climate science, and presenting specious or unsubstantiated criticisms by a small number of the usual, well-known contrarians who wouldn’t agree even if Gore read aloud from the latest IPCC report.

Broad starts out by quoting Don Easterbrook (Western Washington University) with a statement,

there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.

Thrown in for good measure is a similarly poorly-supported quote by Kevin Vranes (who is referred to as a climatologist, but who now works on science policy) that

questioned whether his [Gore's] presentations were overselling our certainty about knowing the future.

Unfortunately, neither Easterbrook’s inaccuracies nor Vranes oversold certainties are mentioned. We reviewed the movie ourselves, looking hard for such ‘inaccuracies’, and could only find one minor area (the explanation of the complex relationship between the global surface temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations over glacial/interglacial cycles) where justified criticism might be levied (and here, the accusation was only that Gore simplified a complicated relationship, something that is arguably unavoidable in a movie intended for mass popular consumption).

Broad then draws upon the same false dichotomy used previously which seems to equate the mainstream of scientific opinion (that global warming and climate change is real, almost certainly in large part anthropogenic, and likely to lead to substantial and potentially deleterious changes in our environment if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) with “alarmism”, and places contrarians at the very fringe of scientific thinking on an equal footing with mainstream scientists. He goes on to trot out a number of the usual suspects, reciting the usual specious claims and half-truths.

Among the worst, is this one

Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

This is dishonest in at least two different ways. First of all, Broad conveniently forgets to mention that the 2006 Hurricane season was accompanied by a moderate El Nino event. It is well known that El Nino events, such as the 2006 El Nino, tend to be associated with stronger westerly winds aloft in the tropical Atlantic, which is unfavorable for tropical cyclone development. The season nonetheless produced a greater than average number of named storms in the tropical Atlantic (10), 3 more than the typical El Nino year. But El Ninos come and go–more or less randomly–from year to year. The overall trend in named tropical Atlantic storms in recent decades is undeniably positive. We can have honest debates about the long-term data quality, but not if we start out by misrepresenting the data we do have, as Broad chooses to. Additionally, this is a clear misrepresentation of what Gore actually stated in his book. Gore indicated that it is primarily Hurricane intensities which scientists largely agree should be expected to increase in association with warming surface temperatures, and specifically notes that

There is less agreement among scientists about the relationship between the total number of hurricanes each year and global warming.

Next. Roy Spencer, best known for his satellite work arguing against warming of the atmosphere (which turns out to have been an artifact of a combination of algebraic and sign errors), criticizes Gore for pointing out that recent warmth appears to be anomalous in at least the past 1000 years. Spencer does this by both mis-characterizing the recent National Academies Report on the subject which indeed pointed out that there are numerous lines of evidence for precisely this conclusion, and by completely ignoring the recently-released IPCC Fourth Assessment report, which draws the stronger conclusion that the warmth of recent decades is likely anomalous in at least the past 1300 years.

We also find it amusing that Broad takes anything Robert Carter has to say seriously, given that he doesn’t even believe that current rises in CO2 are human caused (judging from his Senate performance). Sea level rise statements from the IPCC Summary are horribly mischaracterised. Easterbrook’s implication that global temperatures have varied by more the 20 times the medieval temperature anomaly over the Holocene is simply laughable (only if you include the deglaciation might that be true, but since that was before the onset even of settled human communities it seems less than relevant).

This article is very disappointing, not just because it gets things so wrong, but because it misses an opportunity to address a much more substantive issue. It is inevitable that working scientists will find popular presentations of their work lacking in depth and nuance (after all, depth and nuance are what we do!). Whatever you may think about Al Gore’s movie, it is indisputable that it has raised awareness of the issues and left a substantial part of the public hungry for more information. That hunger can only be fed by people who are closer to the science than Gore, and it is inevitable that the AIT will be used as a springboard or contrast for further presentations. A better article would have investigated how that is happening and how that is affecting public awareness of the science. Unfortunately, this article does nothing to improve public awareness, and that is deeply ironic.


[Hat tip to David Roberts for pointing out his own article on the Broad piece. David picks up on some additional morsels we left out]

[Update 3/14/07: See also excellent discussions by Tim Lambert and Andrew Dessler]


166 Responses to “Broad Irony”

  1. 51
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 44: gtpunch, exactly how is whether it is warmer or not upen to interpretation. Certainly not at the poles, where ice is melting in huge volumes. Certainly not in the amount of time between first and last frost. Certainly not in terms of overnight low temperatures. These are exactly what is expected from a greenhouse mechanism.
    The lag between CO2 and temperature in PAST epochs has been beaten to horseburgers–basically why would we expect CO2 to lead in the past. Nobody has suggested CO2 is the only variable that can cause climate to change. In past epochs, the warming started via some other cause (orbital perturbation etc.) and then ghg were released as permafrost and the oceans warmed, prolonging and intensifying the warming.
    You say Earth has survived past warming epochs greater than the present one–certainly true. However, nothing like this has occurred during the epoch of human civilization–that is what is at risk here.

    The fact of the matter is that NO ONE can predict exactly what will happen when we add significant amounts of energy to the climate, because the climate is a chaotic system. However, if you draw comfort from that fact, then you haven’t thought the matter through (particularly in light of the era of remarkable climatic stability of the past 10000 years) and you don’t understand chaotic systems.

  2. 52
    Craig Allen says:

    Re #11:

    As a matter of fact Al Gore did play a significant role in arguing for and pushing for the implementation of legislation that was instrumental in making the internet what it is today. See here and here.

    No one picked him to make the ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. He set about making it himself having previously spent years earning his stripes by presenting the message to live audiences.

    From outside the US it seems incredible that so many on the right there can so blatantly employ or accept baseless character assassination to undermine anyone with information or a message that undermines the extreme right perspective. And they do it while claiming the moral high ground, hogging a disproportionately high percentage of media time and moaning about being disadvantaged because they are on the fringe.

    And to top it off they turn around any try to pretend that anyone pointing out a right-wing pundit’s demonstrable track record of poor arguments and use of repeatedly discredited ideas is somehow unfair and dishonorable!

  3. 53
    Nathan says:

    Can anyone address the “issue” that CO2 rises allegedly lag temperature rises? At least debunk it?

    Thanks.

  4. 54
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 53: Hopefully you will have read post 49. I also mention the reason briefly in post 51. Basically it comes down to this: Who ever said all warming epochs are CAUSED by CO2. The CO2 increases in warming epochs the begin via other means (e.g. orbital fluctuations, etc.) serve as positive feedback onto the initial warming.

  5. 55
    Craig Allen says:

    One of the ongoing points of contention in this debate is the weight of expertise and research backing each of the various lines of argument.

    It would be great if someone could put together a website that assists the scientists to demonstrate their weight of opinion. I’m imagining a site that presents a comprehensive list of all the theories and lines of reasoning (possibly in some hierarchical manner). The site would then allow each climatologist to create an account, to list their peer reviewed papers (as proof of credibility) and to vote on the scientific validity of each idea. The voting options might be categories along the lines of ‘totally accept’, ‘strongly accept’, ‘have significant reservations’, ‘totally reject’. The vote tallies would be clearly shown as a bar graph in the header of each concept’s page, and possibly as icons beside each heading on the contents page.

    Ideally, each concept could be described in the admirably easy to read manner of the How to Talk to a Skeptic pages, but would use totally neutral language and would present arguments both for and against. Each would also be linked to a list of relevant literature.

    Voting should be open to anyone with published peer reviewed papers – even if the consensus among other scientists is that a particular paper is dodgy and discredited.

    In this way it would be possible for the public to quickly gauge how well supported each assertion in the debate is.

    Are there any website development guru’s out there among the readers who can put such a site together? You would be doing us all a huge service.

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    Craig, the IPCC sets out the level of understanding of each of the identified forcings every few years; explaining that might suffice; else you’d just have a new argument started.

  7. 57
    Mike MacCracken says:

    Having held the Vostok chart (unfolding upwards) in 1997 when VP Gore gave a talk on this issue for 30 minutes without notes, I was impressed how well he knew his material. Then last year, I saw the movie, and was impressed with his greater set of graphics and his knowledge. Early this year, I got to twice hear him give his talk to those he is training to spread his message, and what was immediately evident is that he knows a lot more than is in the movie–his talk had 275 visuals and went over two hours both times. And I understand he has a working inventory of something like 900 visuals to draw from, tuning each talk to the audience.

    The idea of judging what he knows by what is shown in the movie is a bit like judging a book by its cover–one is seeing only one perspective on his understanding–the second time I saw his movie I could not believe how much had not been included (it might not have been in the talks they filmed). Having been at these training session sto help answer scientific questions, two observations: (1) any that I made the first time, he had absorbed and incorporated by the second time, and this was the observation of one of the other scientists who likewise had done this; and (2) By the end of the full days he devoted to this task, I was getting the impression he was passing questions to me so he had a break to take a sip of a soft drink, not because he did not know how to answer the question. Everyone needs to see him give a full talk and answer questions before questioning his depth of understanding–not just of the main thrust of findings, but of how the data were gathered and the range of interpretations and uncertainties. The film would have had to be several times as long and with no family clips to come close to doing his understanding justice.

  8. 58
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#53, the correct phrasing seems to be that “CO2 and CH4 lags temperature change at the very beginning of the glacial-to-interglacial transitions”. This is from the ice core records, which also show that CO2 and temperatures rise together.

    The issue is discussed at a previous RC post in 2004: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=13 :

    “Does this prove that CO2 doesn’t cause global warming? The answer is no.

    The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data.

    The 4200 years of warming make up about 5/6 of the total warming. So CO2 could have caused the last 5/6 of the warming, but could not have caused the first 1/6 of the warming.”

    What the ice cores also show is that the climate can change very rapidly: see http://www.aip.org/pt/vol-56/iss-8/p30.html for a good article by Spencer Weart on rapid climate change. This means that the climate system can be very sensitive to forcings under the right conditions.

    This is typical behavior for the contrarian camp – they never look at the whole picture, but only pick isolated issues where the levels of uncertainty are highest. If an uncertainty is removed from the list by better data collection and modeling, they then move to focus all their efforts on the next topic. Since 1980 or so, first it was the radiative behavior of CO2; then it was the water vapor feedback effect; then it was solar forcing, and now they’re clutching at a last few straws, such as the uncertainty in the mechanisms that lead to CO2 increases in the glacial-to-interglacial transition. This has been loudly trumpeted by Sherwood Idso’s CO2science website, in their nonsensical commentary on http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v429/n6992/abs/nature02599.html (Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core, Nature 2004 abstract) (CO2science is the worst of the worst when it comes to scientific distortion and deception)

    The contrarian camp seems to be running out of bona fide scientists who will give them support, so they are reduced to distorting the work of others.

    Contrarians also seem to avoid discussing the 55 mya Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which provides more support for the current estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2: http://news.mongabay.com/2006/1207-petm.html

  9. 59
    Craig Allen says:

    Re #53 “Can anyone address the “issue” that CO2 rises allegedly lag temperature rises? At least debunk it?”

    You will find explanations here and here.

    Re #56

    Unfortunately the IPCC website is a shocker. I have struggled to find find any useful detailed up-to-date information there. It certainly gives no information about the outsider theories we see tossed around (and regularly debunked here at RealClimate). And I am unable to find any information about the people behind the IPCCs work. Frankly it is a good demonstration of how bad scientists can be at communicating with the public. I trust the consensus approach of the climatology community, but the IPCC site is next to useless as a resource to be used when discussing the science and the validity of the consensus with others.

  10. 60
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#59,
    Craig, that’s true, I had to hunt for quite a while before finding the useful TAR sections of the IPCC website, but here they are:

    2001 TAR – The Scientific Basis
    http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/index.htm

    2001 TAR – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilty
    http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/index.htm

    2001 TAR – Mitigation
    http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg3/index.htm

    Still, if you’re looking for a specific piece of information, it’s easier to use the google site search function, for example type this into the Google search box:

    site:www.grida.no baseline

    I still don’t understand the rationale behind the choice of baseline in the 2007 IPPC FAR SPM…for some reason they decided to use the period 1980-1999 as their baseline,instead of the more generally accepted 1961-1990 WMO normal period baseline that was used in the TAR… and NOAA is using the 1971-2000 baseline. I look forward to reading the IPCC justification for this choice… which might be what? Better satellite data?

  11. 61
    Richard Simons says:

    gtpunch:

    1970 AD: A few cooler than average years caused panic. Early arrival of next Ice Age predicted. Turned out to be… a few cooler than average years.

    Please give just one citation to a climatologist who said this or admit you are playing fast and loose with the truth.

  12. 62
    Kat says:

    Hi, I was referred here by a reader…I’m wondering if when you scrutinized the movie you were aware of the following alleged inaccuracies?

    eg. “The MPB (mountain pine beetle) is a species native to this part of North America and is always present. The MPB epidemic started as comparatively small outbreaks and through forest management inaction got completely out of hand.” – Rob Scagel, M.Sc., forest microclimate specialist, Pacific Phytometric Consultants, Surrey, B.C., comments on Gore’s belief that the mountain pine beetle is an “invasive exotic species” that has become a plague due to fewer days of frost.”

    or

    regarding SEA LEVEL:
    “I can assure Mr. Gore that no one from the South Pacific islands has fled to New Zealand because of rising seas. In fact, if Gore consults the data, he will see it shows sea level falling in some parts of the Pacific.” – Dr. Chris de Freitas, climate scientist, associate professor, University of Auckland, N.Z.”

    or

    “Gore is completely wrong here – malaria has been documented at an altitude of 2,500 metres – Nairobi and Harare are at altitudes of about 1,500 metres. The new altitudes of malaria are lower than those recorded 100 years ago. None of the “30 so-called new diseases” Gore references are attributable to global warming, none.” – Dr. Paul Reiter, professor, Institut Pasteur, unit of insects and infectious diseases, Paris, comments on Gore’s belief that Nairobi and Harare were founded just above the mosquito line to avoid malaria and how the mosquitoes are now moving to higher altitudes.”

    (cited in:
    http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=d0235a70-33f1-45b3-803b-829b1b3542ef )

    I’m curious to know what IS the truth on some of these issues…perhaps someone reading this can enlighten me?

  13. 63
    Mark A. York says:

    “It certainly gives no information about the outsider theories we see tossed around (and regularly debunked here at RealClimate). And I am unable to find any information about the people behind the IPCCs work.”

    Well Craig welcome to the real world where “outsider theories” don’t count when judged against scientific reality. This is about scientific reality not BS, thus, there’s no need to debunk the debunked except in journalism where they never seem to catch on. Look harder for the IPCC folks, they’re scientists of merit.

  14. 64
    Wang Dang says:

    More Irony?

    After reading the Broad piece in today’s newspaper, I turned the page to read that Arctic explorers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen abandond their current arctic exploration. The goal of the current expedition was to raise awareness of the impact of global warming on the Arctic. Why did they quit after seven days? Damaged equipment, frostbite, and extreme cold temperatures. How cold? They estimated -103F at night. They suggested that global warming could cause such unexpected temperature extremes.

    http://www.yourexpedition.com/explore/ArcticOcean2007/pressroom.jsp

  15. 65
    Mark A. York says:

    “eg. “The MPB (mountain pine beetle) is a species native to this part of North America and is always present. The MPB epidemic started as comparatively small outbreaks and through forest management inaction got completely out of hand.” – Rob Scagel, M.Sc., forest microclimate specialist, Pacific Phytometric Consultants, Surrey, B.C., comments on Gore’s belief that the mountain pine beetle is an “invasive exotic species” that has become a plague due to fewer days of frost.”

    I don’t know if Gore called the MPB exotic or not, although I doubt it, but I wrote a chapter on this in my novel and just yesterday was hired by Los Angeles county as a Japanese Beetle trapper, which IS an exotic species. That said, the pine bark beetle is native and present, but controlled by temperatures, which of late have so abnormally warm in North America that they never die off in the winter due to drum roll…global warming. They used to. Drought makes their work easier. When will they stop? When they reach the east coast and run out of coniferous forest at the sea’s edge according to a forester in BC. How’s that lookin for ya in the “inconsistancy” department? Do exotic and native have a similar meaning here? For 25 points.

  16. 66
    Dave Rado says:

    #61, re. sea level rises, the sea level is not even, just as temperature is not even. Sea levels are indeed falling in some places and rising in others, but in the context of global warming we are talking about the *global mean* sea level, and that *is* rising quite rapidly (more rapidly than was predicted in the 2001 IPCC report). There is no controversy about that fact among genuine oceanographers at all. See:
    http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Image:Recent_Sea_Level_Rise_png
    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=314

    I’m not up on the other points though.

  17. 67
    Larry Risch says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, I felt sites like this would be a better place to get science. Nor am I climate scientist, so I won’t try to judge either way.

    I was wondering if the 20′ sea level change that is suppose to be in the movie isn’t overstated, since the UN says it will be less than 2′ in the next century? (I guess 20′ is after the Greenland ice sheet completely melts, or slides into the ocean?)

  18. 68
    Harry Eagar says:

    Mark A. York may be a journalist. I doubt it, but the threshold is pretty low. He obviously has never been in a newspaper newsroom, though.

    I have.

  19. 69
    BarbieDoll Moment says:

    13.) “Many people don’t trust politicians and they are justified in their belief.

    I don’t know that the average person trusts or puts great stock
    in scientists and their work, either.


    Science, Man and the International Year of Physics

    Stefan Michalowski Executive Secretary, OECD Global Science Forum
    Published: January 2006
    http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/1724/Science,_Man_and_the_International_Year_of_Physics.html


    …”Why are the accomplishments of modern science so poorly reflected in the emotional and spiritual life of society? A possible reason is that, despite the magnificent achievements of the last hundred years, science is not advanced or internally consistent enough to have great appeal for ordinary citizens. Scientists pose profound questions, but they are still far from providing satisfactory answers. They have earned the right to ask â??why is reality the way it is, and not some other way?â?? but the socalled explanations provided to dateâ??something about multiple universes or various forms of the Anthropic Principleâ??cannot be considered to be the final word.”…

    And as far as this piece in the NYT; anyone who reads newspapers
    know that most newspapers are one way or the other; liberal, left or right wing; for the most part.

    “THE PUBLIC EDITOR; Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?”
    DANIEL OKRENT July 25, 2004
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D01E7D8173DF936A15754C0A9629C8B63

    “OF course it is. “…

    For better or worse, newspapers ENDORSE specific candidates in large write ups when they are running for election or re-election to office.

    So, personally, one takes these things with a grain of salt and notes that the reporter who did the story doesn’t seem to carry an affinity for Al Gore.

    A bigger issue is the lack of confidence by the public within
    the climate sciences field, in due part to the differing proffered perspectives of the issues (it’s a nonissue, it isn’t a crisis, it isn’t happening, it is happening…) in addition to the notion
    that EVEN if the public were to agree that untoward climate changes were happening; would they be willing to act on it in relation to the economics
    of the cost of the action.

    Consider for example the huge federal government tax deficit burden that is being left for the children and grandchildren of today and tomorrow. It’s up to something like $28,000.00 plus or minus some change per person.

    Consider that many people are one or two
    paychecks away from being homeless. Sure the stockmarket may be “good”, but
    its the big CEO’s and stock holders reaping those profits. Not the employees of the company.

    And additionally, the stock market is currently, and uncharacteristically being propped up and driven by the past artifically astronomically high home values; with
    many of those homes being subprime loans that are ending in defaults, with the notes left in the stock market firms that bought up those notes.

    Gee, doesn’t anyone remember Coolidge being told the market was going to crash
    and he needed to act upon it however, the president decided to ignore it; which was his general policy pattern. And of course, the bag fell
    into Hoover’s lap bringing the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing
    Great Depression.


    Public agrees global warming exists, but divided over seriousness of problem 18-Feb-2007

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-02/su-pag021307.php

    “A majority of Americans agree with most scientists that the Earth is getting warmer, but they are divided over the seriousness of the problem, according to surveys conducted by Jon Krosnick, professor of communication and of political science. Their uncertainty is based on a beliefâ??shared by two-thirds of the populationâ??that scientists themselves disagree about global warming.”…

    …”Ongoing surveys

    In addition to these findings, Krosnick will discuss work on three surveys in progress. This includes an update to a joint ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford poll on global warming released last March, which revealed that public concern about global warming has spiked sharply over the last decade and that 70 percent of people think that global weather patterns have become more unsettled in recent years. Krosnick said the new survey results, to be released in April, will gauge how public perception on global warming has changed during the last year.


    Secondly, New Scientist magazine has commissioned a survey by Stanford and Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan think tank, that will assess how educating people about the cost of addressing global warming affects their support for specific solutions. “People may support ameliorative efforts until they learn that these solutions are costly, at which point their support could evaporate,” Krosnick said. However, as the Stern report on global warming reported last October, the cost of doing nothing to combat global warming ultimately may be a lot more expensive for society than tackling it now, he said. Survey results will be released May 12 in New Scientist.”…

    “…
    Finally, Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment is funding a survey to be released this summer that will look at which effects of global warming the public is most worried about. These include both local effects, such rising sea levels and increased storm activity, and worldwide consequences, such as species extinction. According to Krosnick, the survey will gauge how media coverage that reflects the views of both scientific skeptics and believers influences public opinion about global warming versus reports that only include statements by experts convinced it is a serious problem.
    “…


    The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It
    http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/BPDLogin?application=np


    ..”Current Debt Held by the Public Intragovernmental Holdings Total Public Debt Outstanding

    03/12/2007
    Debt Held by the Public 5,041,373,406,144.03
    Intragovernmental Holdings 3,791,660,464,269.03
    Total Public Debt Outstanding 8,833,033,870,413.06
    “…

    The Nationâ??s Long-Term Fiscal Outlook January 2007 Update – The Bottom Line: Federal Fiscal Policy Remains Unsustainable
    http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07510r.pdf


    The Financial Condition of Our Nation’s Government
    Ross (AR04) – Floor Statements – May 25, 2005
    http://www.house.gov/list/press/ar04_ross/morenews/floor_052505.htm

    …” I contend this evening that it is every American citizen’s problem, because every American citizen’s share of the national debt equals $26,000. $26,000 is each individual’s share of the national debt, including the children, the babies that are being born today. Every United States citizen would have to write a check for $26,000 in order to get our Nation out of this hole that we are in.
    “….

  20. 70
    Nuna says:

    Was wondering if RC ever focuses on those who are trying to oversell rather than deny AGW?

    NPR’s Weekend Edition recently had an interview
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7579967
    with someone from globalwarming101.com as they started out from Iqaluit to document warming induced changes in Arctic Canada as part of an education program (hence the name of the website and expedition). They told NPR the temperature was 28F when it was about 9F and had not been above 20 for weeks and that the average temperature for that time of year was -30 (which would be near the record daily lows rather than the average).

    Falsehoods and hyperbole from both sides just make the public think that everyone is telling their own self-serving story and not reporting the facts. To engage in both when you claim you are “educating” the public and students is unforgivable. Would be good to call everyone on their misrepresentations.

  21. 71
    gtpunch says:

    @Richard Simons “Please give just one citation to a climatologist who said this or admit you are playing fast and loose with the truth.”

    Kukla, George J., et al. (1972). “The End of the Present Interglacial.” Quaternary Research 2: 261-69.

    Kukla, George J., and R. K. Matthews (1972). “When Will the Present Interglacial End?” Science 178: 190-91.

  22. 72
    Jason S. says:

    You write: “Thrown in for good measure is a similarly poorly-supported quote by Kevin Vranes (who is referred to as a climatologist, but who now works on science policy)…”

    Frankly, it’s elitist to imply that you must be a “working scientist” to be able to express a credible opinion as to whether aspects of the science are being oversold (if you read between the lines, that’s the implication). The parenthetical comment and use of “but” give the appearance of a passive aggressive attack on Kevin’s credibility just because he’s not just like one of you (a scientist doing purely science).

    Let the record show Kevin earned a Ph.D. in climate/oceanography from Columbia and was an AGU Congressional Science Fellow (for a Democrat, FWIW). If you’ve read anything he’s written, you’ll see his views on the science are well within the mainstream and he has a very sophisticated understanding of the science and politics of the issue. He thinks outside the box, and calls it as he sees it with refreshing candor and wit.

    See his post at Prometheus on the issue: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001138point_made_its_the.html

  23. 73
    pete best says:

    Is the USA ever going to do anything collectively about climate change, in a recent article “lets call the coal thing off” (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/12/muckraker/) James Hansen was speaking regarding coal in the USA and the fact that 159 new plants are slated to be opened over the next decade but because caol sequestration technology does not exist it could spell disaster for the environment because coal plants are build to last 60 years. James Hansen is calling for a moratorium on coal plants until such a time as new technology can reduce its environmental impact.

    This sounds awful to me, from someone in Europe who knows that some of the best climate science work is produced in the USA, isn’t anyone in congress or the senate listening to the IPCC and GISS/NASA?????

  24. 74
    Craig Allen says:

    # 61 re: sea level rises.

    I took Al Gore’s statement as an assertion of the worse case eventual sea level.

    According to the preliminary findings of the South Pacific Sea Level & Climate Monitoring Project South Pacific sea levels are rising on average by 8mm per decade. This would makes it about 75cm by 2100. There has been an increase in the rate in recent decades, and they acknowledge the expectation of climatologists that there may be a lag on the response to the recent rises in global temperature. Even if the rate of rise does not increase, this rate will pretty much condem most salt marshes, a large proportion of mangroves and many of the fisheries dependent on such ecosystems (google for “sea level rise global warming mangrove collapse” to get the low down on this).

  25. 75

    [[Care to comment on how changes in C02 levels follow temperature changes in the data, rather than the other way around? The Earth has recovered from far higher temperatures and C02 levels in the past.]]

    Care to comment on how greenhouse gases work? You seem to be forgetting that. If you put more CO2 in the atmosphere, the ground will be warmer, all else held equal. That is physics, not a statistical correlation with paleoclimate data.

  26. 76

    [[Arctic explorers Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen abandond their current arctic exploration. The goal of the current expedition was to raise awareness of the impact of global warming on the Arctic. Why did they quit after seven days? Damaged equipment, frostbite, and extreme cold temperatures. How cold? They estimated -103F at night. They suggested that global warming could cause such unexpected temperature extremes.]]

    Which proves what, exactly? That climate is really cooling rather than warming? That the Arctic isn’t melting? What does this anecdote prove other than that two people planned an expedition badly?

  27. 77
    Dave Rado says:

    #69 Why are you quoting sea level figures for ONE REGION? And misleading even for that region because you are not quoting the South Pacific average but only one small group of islands within it?

    Do you also subscribe to the Chrichton school that claims that the fact that not all regions of the world are warming at the same rate, and the fact that a few regions are even cooling slightly, proves global warming must be a myth? Can’t you see that failing to distinguish between a global average and a single regional figure is extremely intellectually dishonest?

    The global average sea level rise is the ONLY figure that is relevant, and that is currently running at 1.85cm per year, and the rate of increase is accelerating fast – see:

    http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Image:Recent_Sea_Level_Rise_png
    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=314

  28. 78
    Charles Muller says:

    #69 I didn’t find on the website you indicate the 8mm/dec for the monitored area (note that such a trend would give a 8cm rather than 80cm sea-level rise for 2000-2100).

    On the last consolidated report (link thereafter), values range from 1,7mm/yr (Fiji) to 7mm/yr (Tonga) for 1993/1994-2006
    http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/projects/spslcmp/reports_6mths.shtml

  29. 79
    Dave Rado says:

    Was wondering if RC ever focuses on those who are trying to oversell rather than deny AGW?

    Yup – see for instance:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/05/gulf-stream-slowdown/
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=225
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=105

    And also, there are orders of magnitude more denialist articles being published than overselling ones; and also, the overselling ones are mostly guilty only of exaggeration, whereas the denialist ones are generally guilty of outright mendacity. There is all the difference in the world between taking the high (and therefore unlikely) end of a range of projections and presenting it wrongly as if it were a forecast: and actually being mendacious.

  30. 80
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    I think Gore gets the higher sea level rise from James Hansen. Hansen has said, of the drastic rise in sea levels, that they exist in no other model than the historical record. Depending upon how closely you think the 21st century matches our almost archaic past, Hansen’s either being prescient or a fool. Regardless, I don’t think even Hansen imagines that the Antarctic ice will melt in the next 93 years. I think the higher sea levels are imagined to come after hundreds of years of higher temperatures.

  31. 81
    Leonard Evens says:

    I’ve just read Broad’s article. I think his major problem is his idea, introduced earlier, that there is some “middle ground” in the scientirifc community of those who accept the basic science of global warming and the necessity to deal with it but who “reject extremists” at both ends. As a result, he accepts at face value statements made by various people without checking their bona fides or attempting to probe more deeply into the issues raised. It is a very superficial treatment which throws things together more or less out of context. An example is his bringing up Peiser as though he were disputing Gore’s claim. As noted above, Gore quoted Oreskes work in the peer reviewed scientific literature, where it still stands unchallenged. There are other such examples of Broad’s accepting criticisms at face value. His piece is poor journalism and specially egregious since it appears in the Science Times, where we have some expectation of competence.

  32. 82
    Nuna says:

    #79 [There is all the difference in the world between taking the high (and therefore unlikely) end of a range of projections and presenting it wrongly as if it were a forecast: and actually being mendacious.]

    And would you consider overstating the observed temperature by 20F or misrepresenting the seasonal average temperature – and doing both on a national radio program (as in the case I was citing) – just taking the high end of the range or as an example of mendacity?

  33. 83
    caerbannog says:


    Kukla, George J., et al. (1972). “The End of the Present Interglacial.” Quaternary Research 2: 261-69.

    An excerpt (courtesy of Dr. Connolley — http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/quat_res_1972.html ):
    (page 263):

    “When comparing the present with previous interglacials, several investigators showed that the present interglacial is in the final phase … and that if nature were allowed to run its course unaltered by man, events similar to those which ended the last interglacial should be expected soon, possibly within the few next centuries.”

    That hardly supports the proclamation, “A few cooler than average years caused panic. Early arrival of next Ice Age predicted…”

  34. 84
    caerbannog says:

    Just a quick followup note. In post #83, I was replying to post #71 (gtpunch).

  35. 85
    Matti Virtanen says:

    You write:

    “We criticized William Broad previously for a piece that misrepresented the scientific understanding of the factors that drive climate change over millions of years, systematically understating the scientifically-established role of greenhouse gases, and over-stating the role of natural factors.”

    Maybe this is poorly formulated, or do you really wish to imply that, the role of greenhouse gases prior to the existence of humans was a non-natural factor?

  36. 86
    Dan Hughes says:

    On a positive note, applications of software V&V and SQA procedures would very likely reduce problems like those noted above in this thread, as well as these and these. There are usually plenty of errors to go around in all very large-scale Big Science programs. Better to get them before the fact, not afterwards.

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    Matti, their text is correct.

    You’re reading the sentence as though it lacked the comma before “over-stating” — if that comma weren’t there, the latter two points would, as you thought, describe the first one.

    They list three reasons for criticizing Broad’s previous piece:

    – misrepresented the scientific understanding …,
    – systematically understating …., and
    – over-stating the role of natural factors.

    Those — with the comma — are three different problems.

    Your point is a good caution, because that’s far too much to ask of most readers — breaking up text using carriage returns to separate points is always helpful; run-on typing is confusing to the reader and often

  38. 88
    Joel Hickman says:

    While I agree with your article, and I hate tom nitpick, in order to defend your position, I will anyway. From Broad’s aricle:
    Professor Easterbrook disputed Mr Gore’s claim that “our civilisation has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this”. Nonsense, Professor Easterbrook said. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century”.

    In other words, Broad says that the implies that the climate changes observed in the last century are not noteworthy because natural changes over the last 1500 years were 20 times greater.

    This was not the charge you actually answered in your article, and I was hoping to get your perspective on this.

    Thank you

  39. 89
    Joel Hickman says:

    Correction: sorry, I meant 15000 not 1500

    While I agree with your article, and I hate tom nitpick, in order to defend your position, I will anyway. From Broads aricle:
    Professor Easterbrook disputed Mr Gore’s claim that “our civilisation has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this”. Nonsense, Professor Easterbrook said. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century”.

    In other words, Broad says that the implies that the climate changes observed in the last century are not noteworthy because natural changes over the last 15000 years were 20 times greater.

    This was not the charge you actually answered in your article, and I was hoping to get your perspective on this.

    Thank you

    [Response: Define 'our civilisation'. At minimum it involves cities and agriculture which didn't emerge until the Holocene. Glacial variability was indeed larger, but there was no civilisation to be discomforted. I've since been sent Easterbrook's figure and his claim is drawn purely from the Greenland ice core (which doesn't reflect global climate by any stretch) and his labelled MWP and LIA are off by about 1000 years. Not an impressive debut. -gavin]

  40. 90
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #87: And how! :)

    Re #88: I think the RC post referred to medieval temperature anomaly when it should gave said modern temperature anomaly. Easterbrook’s attempted comparison was to all variations in the last 15,000 years (note not 1,500 as you quoted it), including the medieval warm period, with post-1850 AGW-dominated warming. This is just a technical distinction, though, since if we’re comparing on a scale of 20x the distinction between the medieval and modern warming ceases to be important. As the post points out, the only possibility for a temp excursion on that scale is a deglaciation, which for a variety of reasons is not at all comparable to what we’re experiencing now. That said, if we continue with business as usual emissions and warming such that we climb into the Pliocene temperature range that ended with the beginning of the current deep glacial period three million years ago, we will subject our descendants (and perhaps our very immediate descendants) to the results of a very interesting experiment to determine whether the remaining ice sheets can be induced to behave as the more extensive ones did 12,000 years ago. What fun, eh! :(

  41. 91
    Rod B. says:

    re 22: Ike, so Lindzen would be acceptable if only he sounded like your recommended and scholarly Pat Robertson?

  42. 92
    Mark A. York says:

    “Mark A. York may be a journalist. I doubt it, but the threshold is pretty low. He obviously has never been in a newspaper newsroom, though.

    I have.”

    Well Harry that may be but your comment only punctuates my point. What was your point? I have no credentials? I have a journalism and science degree and have quoted the notable science writer KC Cole on editors and their ignorance of science. Broad is a case in point. That said, it’s no wonder I can’t get in a newsroom on the payroll. Even on my college paper at CSUN I had a hard time getting the publisher to run science stories because he felt they excluded minorities and women. I didn’t think that was true, but I wasn’t running the place.

  43. 93
    Janis Mara says:

    I want to thank the many people whose reasoned posts have contributed greatly to my understanding of this issue. In particular, I have watched in bewilderment at the foaming rage with which some conservatives attack Al Gore, and many of the posters above explained the origin of those sentiments.

    Just wanted to echo another poster’s comment about how this debate should not focus on Gore personally. Is it not true that such attacks are called “ad hominem?”

  44. 94
    Nathan says:

    Craig (and others), thanks, that certainly answers the charge.

  45. 95
    James says:

    Re #89 response: [Define 'our civilisation'. At minimum it involves cities and agriculture which didn't emerge until the Holocene. Glacial variability was indeed larger, but there was no civilisation to be discomforted.]

    You might also note that there are cases of civilizations which were apparently destroyed by climate change. Offhand, the Anasazi and the Maya come to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

    It’s also argued that a major reason for the lack of archeological evidence of the human expansion into North America is that it took place during the last Ice Age, along the Pacific Coast, so all the shoreline sites are now under 100 feet or so of water.

  46. 96
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #95: James — The Anasazi appear to have just moved south. The Mayans were destroyed by climate change. So were the peoples of Ur III, sometimes called Akkadians(?).

    Further, the great movements of peoples from Central Asia, invading at least to the south and west, are thought to be occasioned by periodic climate change.

  47. 97
    Bob Aegerter says:

    Al Gore has trained more than 1000 people to present his slide show on Global Climate Change. In the training he cautioned presenters to have three budgets for each presentation:

    a time budget
    a hopelessness budget
    a complexity budget

    Scientists have never accepted the concept of a complexity budget. “Many a 16th century scientist has turned over in his grave on hearing the freshman engineering professor say in reference to his life’s work: It is intuitively obvious that….”

    I have watched the layman’s eyes gloss over three minutes into a good, but too complex presentation.
    Movies are mostly entertainment. They do not attract only the serious students of science. I was relieved that AIT was not simpler and more exaggerated than it was! The previews had more hipe! Al Gorge put his finger on the problem when he said the human race does not respond to long range problems, only the immediate crisis. Those of us who are concerned about Global Climate Change are proposing upsetting a very comfortable apple cart: An economy that gives us a very, very comfortable life style but runs up an enormous deficit to the environment.

    That is not a message the comfortable want to hear.

  48. 98
    Elizabeth says:

    re: 62 (and adding to what Mark York said at 65)

    Kat – The Scagel quote about the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) appears to be from a blog and is misleading at best. You might try doing your own google search before believing everything you read on a blog. Thereâ??s lots of scientific literature on the MPB should you care to learn more. The MPB issue is a particularly fascinating collision between land use practices and climate change and is well worth reading up on. You might start with the Canadian Forest Service MPB website – http://mpb.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/index_e.html

    There are two separate but closely related issues with the MPB and climate change.

    1. The impact of climate change on MPB outbreaks

    The mountain pine beetle is native to the pine forests of western North America where it normally exists at very low densities, infesting only weakened or damaged trees. Under conditions conducive to survival, populations may temporarily increase allowing beetles to infest healthy trees. On rare occasions, these increases are rapid and widespread, leading to landscape-level outbreaks and the mortality of large numbers of trees. Although there have been 4 outbreaks during the past century in western North America, the ongoing epidemic is unprecedented in its size and severity â?? causing the mortality of mature pine over 12-13 million hectares in British Columbia alone. It is projected to continue until the majority of mature pines in the province have been killed. Both forest management practices and climate change have worked independently and in relationship to create this extraordinary forest disturbance event.

    (from a presentation by Dr. Allan Carroll, research scientist in insect ecology with the Canadian Forest Service)

    2. The impact of climate change on the anticipated spread of the MPB to the east coast (i.e., MPB as non-native invasive species)

    “The area of climatically suitable habitats is anticipated to continue to increase within the historic range of MPB. Moreover, much of the boreal forest will become climatically available to the beetle in the near future. Since jack pine is a viable host for MPB and a major component of the boreal forest, continued eastward expansion by MPB is probable.â??

    Impacts of Climate Change on Range Expansion by the Mountain Pine Beetle. 2006. Carroll, A.L.; Régnière, J.; Logan, J.A.; Taylor, S.W.; Bentz, B.; Powell, J.A. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre, Victoria, BC. Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative Working Paper 2006-14. 20 p.

    In conclusion, the MPB is indeed a growing problem due to climate change both where it is native and where it has become a non-native invasive. So, I donâ??t think you can find fault with whatever Gore said about the MPB in AIT.

    And, since Iâ??ve already written a too long comment, let me make it longer by pointing out that the MPB is an example of how there are ecological â??tipping pointsâ?? and how difficult it is to predict the effect of climate change on ecosystems. Let me also add that ecosystems are an unquantified but huge part of our economy. Besides cleaning the air and water, ecosystems provide flood control, pest and disease control, and much more. The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the U. S. alone is estimated to be $4 to 6 billion per year. Try this website for more information – http://www.esa.org/teaching_learning/pdfDocs/ecosystemservices.pdf

  49. 99
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Isn’t it kind of an odd world when science journalists and science fiction writers start thinking that they understand science better than actual scientists. I mean I did some science writing once upon a time, and not once did I tell Steven Weinberg or Brian Greene that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

  50. 100
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #82

    And would you consider overstating the observed temperature by 20F or misrepresenting the seasonal average temperature – and doing both on a national radio program (as in the case I was citing) – just taking the high end of the range or as an example of mendacity?

    That sounds like mendacity although I haven’t listened to it; but in the context of RC they can’t rebut evey loony who appears on the radio; they only rebut substantive articles in major newspapers or substantive television documentaries on major channels; and in that context, I stand by what I wrote in #79.


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