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A Tale of Three Interviews

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 April 2007

The release of the IPCC Working Group II summary report (on climate change impacts) lead to a large number of stories on climate change in the media and, inevitably, lots of requests for media appearances for climate scientists on the journalists’ Rolodex. On the same day, there was a short article in Science on the ‘framing’ of science communication.

The Science piece, by Scibloggers Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet, make the point that the way science is expressed in public makes a difference to how it is received. So much, so uncontroversial. However, it generated some trenchant counterarguments, (and countercounterarguments), possibly because they start off criticising a bit of a strawman ‘scientist’ who thinks that ‘if only laypeople better understood technical complexities… controversies would subside’. It’s certainly possible that such people exist, however, they are unlikely to be found among the scientists who are active in trying to communicate to the public. However, instead of arguing about this in a rather abstract way, I thought I’d illustrate the issue by discussing three interviews I did last Thursday and Friday in relation to the IPCC WG II release.

I was asked to do three TV appearances to discuss the upcoming report: CNN (World News Tonight), Bloomberg Media (Peter Cook’s Money and Politics) and the Weather Channel. Each interview was very different – CNN and the Weather Channel pre-taped them, Bloomberg was live. CNN’s interview was from a news reporter who knew the basics, who asked questions that she was interested in and ended up with answers that were comprehensible at the level of the average viewer. The Weather Channel interview was done by Heidi Cullen who is much more versed in the topic (and has a climate science background) and is very aware both of the real issues and the fake ‘pseudo-debates’ that often surround the topic. Her questions were spot on, but possibly at a higher level than would be appropriate on CNN. In both cases, the details of the new report were of less interest than the overall message that the IPCC reports and climate science community are giving.

The Bloomberg producers (who come with a very ‘Wall Street’ focus/attitude) however, still see this as a partisan political debate and while they had a brief factual intro from their reporter, they followed it with a spokesman from CEI, Christopher Horner – author of the “Incorrect guide to climate change” (I’ve possibly got the book title slightly wrong), – and then me. As you might expect, the subsequent 5 minute ‘conversation’ was neither informative nor entertaining, and I doubt that anyone watching was the least bit swayed, intrigued or had their curiosity piqued or their prejudices reinforced. Horner zipped through his grab-bag of talking points (mostly focussed on the imagined failings of the IPCC process), which probably went over the heads of any civilians watching, while I tried to stick to the point that climate change impacts have started and will likely get worse (when I could get a word in edgewise).

So what does this tell us about the ‘framing’ of the issue? First off, the interviewee doesn’t get to change the ‘frame’ in a 5 minute TV interview – however often you are on. Instead the frame is imposed mostly from the editorial and production decisions. It’s easy to see that the CNN and Weather Channel producers see climate change story in a ‘news event’ frame, for which they get outside expertise to explain some of the finer points. Bloomberg see this in a ‘political controversy’ frame and set up their interviews accordingly. Horner would like the frame to be about ‘political/scientific corruption’ which clearly appeals to some, but since he asks you to believe lawyers over scientists, it’s unlikely to get very far (scientists are roughly 3 times more ‘trusted’ than lawyers). Given the other channels decisions’ and the House/Senate hearing a couple of weeks ago, I think that this ‘framing’ has probably had its day but will likely linger on in some corners for a while.

How do frames shift then? Despite what some might think, it is a matter of education – not of the general public though (as welcome as that would be) – but of the gatekeepers: the journalists, editors and producers. Communication efforts are much more likely to succeed if they target the people who communicate for a living, rather than the general public directly. While the overall frame for climate change has clearly moved from ‘controversy’ to ‘news event’, there are still sub-issues that advocates for specific policy changes are fighting over – those are however, more subtle and aren’t so much of a problem of ‘pure’ science communication, and so I’ll leave it for others to discuss those.

155 Responses to “A Tale of Three Interviews”

  1. 101

    Numb, precisely what evidence do you have that the world is not warming? We’ve got the evidence from land-based temperature stations, oceangoing temperature measurements, radiosondes in balloons, satellite observations, boreholes, lake and ocean sediments, the O16/O18 ratio in seashells, and tree rings, all of which agree with each other as to what the temperature history of the world has been. What’s your evidence that they’re all wrong?

  2. 102
    Numb Nuts says:

    My problem with the politics of Global Warming in general is that it is not scientifically based and by this I mean that the data presented as evidence is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, only the inconvenient truth. Studies that discard data because it does not support a theory is not science. I cannot argue with you that there is not some clear empirical evidence that points to warming (an article about ice climbers in Oregon comes to mind), but for “scientists” to selectively include data that only supports their hypothesis is disingenuous (we’re throwing CEOs in prison now that have done that type of thing – and rightly so).

    [Response: I suggest you read the IPCC reports (linked to the right). In them you will not find ‘proof by Oregon mountain climbers’ but instead hundreds of scientific studies. – gavin]

  3. 103
    Deech56 says:

    RE #99 barry: I also engage in arguments on our local newspaper site, so I am sure that we run into the same positions. The way I like to argue (frame?) is that climate science is like any other science – there are observations, testable hypotheses and data. Since I am a scientist in another field (biology/medical research), I feel a bit perturbed by attacks on fellow researchers, regardless of field of study. All that any of us is trying to do is discover how the physical and biological worlds work.

    If they distrust the science, I try to point out how we rely on the same processes to come to conclusions in other sciences. If they distrust the scientists (controversy = grant money), I try to point out that academic and industry scientists have these same “issues” as climatologists. And for good measure, there are denialists in any number of fields – personally, I like to point out those who cannot accept a viral cause for HIV.

    I do like your tactic of pushing the burden of argument back onto them.

  4. 104
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 99 The same people hold that climate scientists are avaricious and/or trapped in some kind of group think.

    Scientists avaricious? Hmm…. I wonder what they are greedy for? I can’t imagine scientists praying at night for global warming to be real – they stand to lose just as much as any other citizen. The usual response, the lure of big grants, is not a credible answer. If climatologists weren’t studying global warming, they would be studying something else – there is certainly no shortage of interesting questions to be investigated in climatology or any other field of science.

    The group-think stereotype must be based on politics (seeing politicians on TV reciting their party’s talking points). But, as others have pointed out (if not on this thread, then on other RC threads), there is every incentive for scientists to be iconoclasts: They make their reputation, and money, by making new discoveries and generating new knowledge. Yes, one might avoid being overly bold in a grant proposal, and some grant money is targeted for certain areas of research, but once a scientist gets a grant he/she can (in most cases) study pretty much what ever they want. No doubt there are cases in which a group of scientists adopted a common position on a subject without carefully examining the evidence, with the result that they all believed something to be true turned out to be false. But, the beauty of science is that it is self-correcting – someone will sooner or later overturn flawed explanations and theories. And the more attention devoted to a subject (such as AGW), the faster flawed explanations and theories will be rooted out.
    Your challenge to the skeptics to come up with a better model for climate predictions is a good one – maybe someone will take it up and prove mainstream climatology wrong on AGW. I think everyone, including the RC moderators, would welcome that. I’m not optimistic that it will happen, though.

  5. 105
    Dan says:

    re: 100. No, Nuts, I most certainly do not make your point. Do not be so disingenous. It just so happens that the *data* show the greatest warming has occurred recently. Thus the period of current warming happens to be the period of *greatest* warming. We are interested in what has caused the greatest warming. We now know that. Especially the literally thousands of climate scientists world-wide who have studied climate, conducted experiments, and published their studies in the peer-reviewed literature. Which you can read for yourself and learn from.

  6. 106
    tamino says:

    Re: IPCC footnote

    “7 A subset of about 29,000 data series was selected from about 80,000 data series from 577 studies. These met the following criteria: (1) Ending in 1990 or later; (2) spanning a period of at least 20 years; and (3) showing a significant change in either direction, as assessed in individual studies.”

    In order to determine whether data sets show more evidence consistent with warming or not during recent decades, it is necessary to eliminate data sets which do not include the time period under consideration. Therefore eliminating data sets which do not go as far as 1990 is not just sound, it’s essential.

    It’s also necessary to eliminate data sets which don’t span a period of at least 20 years; otherwise they really give no information about the existence or absence of a trend, and the direction of the trend if it is present. I’ve analyzed a lot of climatological time series, and even 20 years is rather sparse when looking for trends. It’s evidence of the strength of global warming trends, that so many data sets show statistically significant results with only 20 years of data.

    Eliminating those data sets which show no significant trend in either direction does not invalidate statistical tests to determine whether or not one direction of trend predominates. What’s being tested is whether there is more evidence in one direction or in the other; for that test, the data sets which showed no significant change in either direction are irrelevant.

    So it is patently false (and rather naive, statistically) to claim that the above procedure constitutes any kind of selection bias which could affect the outcome of the comparison.

    The IPCC report states that of the 29,000 data series included, 89% showed trends consistent with warming while 11% showed the opposite. This means that approximately 26,000 of the series meeting the selection criteria indicate warming, only approximately 3,000 don’t. That’s not just solid statistical evidence, it’s very strong evidence.

    However, the number of data sets which show no trend in either direction is useful information. Of the 51,000 data series which did not meet the selection criteria, if, say, 50,000 were removed because they didn’t cover the time period under consideration (didn’t go as far as 1990), that’s a very different situation than if, say, 50,000 showed no trend in either direction. Therefore I’d say that this part of the IPCC report, although entirely correct and free from the accusation of “cherry-picking,” nonetheless excludes useful information.

  7. 107
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Rebel Without Any Facts

    Benny Peiser: In a Winter Commencement Address at the University of Michigan two years ago you called yourself a heretic on global warming, the most notorious dogma of modern science. You have described global warming anxiety as grossly exaggerated and have openly voiced your doubts about the reliability of climate models. These models, you argue, “do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields, farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.” There seems to be an almost complete endorsement of the world’s scientific organisations and elites of these models together with claims that they reliably epitomize reality and can consistently predict future climate change. How do you feel belonging to a tiny minority of scientists who dare to voice their doubts openly?

    Freeman Dyson: I am always happy to be in the minority. Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

  8. 108
    barry says:

    RE #103 “If they distrust the science, I try to point out how we rely on the same processes to come to conclusions in other sciences.”

    I do the same, Deech. However, demonstrating this without a scientific background is beyond my abilities. I can say that gravity theory has uncertainties, but I don’t think the comparison is accepted because climate science seems more uncertain, and I don’t know enough to say differently. And, not understanding the science very well (the guts of it), I have to concede that I am playing the same game as my ‘opponents’. Even though my position seems reasonable in that it is aligned with consensus, I am merely citing from my ‘team’ without really knowing what I’m talking about. I’m using ‘talking points’, same as them. I’m about to fish for more in this post. Doesn’t feel too intellectually honest, not knowing how they’re derived in much detail, but my gutsd tell me to press on. (Joshing, somewhat)

    It would be useful to have a link that shows or discusses modeling for other, well-known and more generally accepted theories to offer as a comparison. There are thousands of factors that influence climate (that’s a talking point I use), and these are studied. How does this compare with the number of factors in more (publicly) accepted scientific theories, and is there more or less uncertainty in the models? (Less certainty for climate science I’m guessing) Saying that climate science is a theory like any other doesn’t seem to have much impact on skeptics as a free-standing statement. How can that be demonstrated?

    If someone suggests, say, that climatologists don’t study the biological/chemical make up of the ocean in terms of it changing over time, off I go to illconsidered or realclimate or google or IPCC 2001 (where I found an answer). As skeptics claim that this or that component is overlooked, is there a comprehensive ‘list’ somewhere? The table of contents for IPCC 2001 is a bit unwieldy for that purpose.

    The tenor of the conversation here is much better than the public fora I visit (and they’re stand outs in the forasphere). It’s almost worth knuckling down for a few years to learn some science just to enjoy a more civil conversation (numb nuts notwithstanding)!

  9. 109
    Deech56 says:

    RE #108 barry: You raise some very good points that we all experience when we engage in debates with the doubters. For me, the main “talking point” revolves around the data. The beauty of this is that this is more than a mere talking point, it is a foundation of science. Data don’t lie. Trends that are apparent from independent sets of data are even better. When satellite records agree with ground records, people need to take notice. If the argument comes back that there is no such thing as a global temperature, then one can come back with the obvious: there’s a whole lot of meltin’ going on. Going hand-in-hand with the data is the role that data play in testing the hypotheses generated by the models. Hansen and others generated predictions back in the day and we have had 20 years of data since then. How good were their predictions?

    You make a good point about the models and whether they are used elsewhere in science. I have a bit of tunnel vision – despite the hopes of many, animal and human systems are too complicated for computer modeling. But what all sciences have in common is that scientists generate testable hypotheses, and that the acceptance or rejection of these hypotheses is based on the data.

    The “forasphere”. I like it. BTW, I have seen some of our regular comments posters arguing on other sites (mostly in ScienceBlogs), and it’s instructive to see how they do (very well, I might add) outside the friendly confines of RealClimate. With the publication of the new IPCC report, there is a great opportunity to get the message out. What tremendous resources RealClimate and Coby Beck’s site are for the rest of us.

    One last point: not many deniers with whom I argue are open to a change in their viewpoint. What I do hope is that others who are on the fence will consider the science and that those who agree with the science will add their voices.

  10. 110
    Rod B. says:

    A couple of clarifications, Deech56, just to keep processes accurate. It’s true data don’t lie. But data don’t always “tell” the truth either. There is precise accurate data, precise but less than accurate data, ball park data from accurate sources, and ball park data from conjecture. Plus “accurate” and truth are not necessarily synonomous. And your fallback position that even ‘if the data don’t work, tell ’em the cherry blossoms are coming out earlier,’ is rather specious.

    What you say about deniers might be true if “deniers” is taken literally. But that puts them in the same camp of the protangonists who, as a rule (but not entirely), are absolutely dogmatic about their beliefs — not only intransigent and closed-minded, but want to stiffle any mention of opposing viewpoints and debase the person offering them. Us “skeptics”, however, try to listen and hear with an (mostly) open mind.

  11. 111
    Valuethinker says:

    Alvia Gaskill

    You’ll be aware that Tech Central Station is funded by a lobbying group, with strong right wing affiliations? Doesn’t mean it is always wrong, but on many questions, it does call into question their ‘objecctivity’.

    Interesting article about Freeman Dyson. He seems to be saying we should be optimistic because of our ability to do amazing things, and life’s ability to adapt. But then he implies we should *do nothing* about global warming ‘because it’s not a real threat’. So it’s humanity’s ability to act which makes it special, but not in this case?

    His specific point about the models puzzled me. He doesn’t seem to deny that human beings are causing the CO2 rise. He knows (I would presume) that James Hansen’s team predicted accurately the global cooling effect of the Mount Pinatubo explosion (thus validating the important work on aerosols). Yet he says the models tell us nothing about the likely future under a big CO2 increase?

    Actually Chinese scientists have done some of the leading work on global warming (not always in their own countries, to be sure). So I’m not sure he’s right when he says the Chinese and Indians aren’t worried. Rather what their *politicians* have said is they have more urgent problems, and the burden of dealing with this must, in the first instance, fall on the nations who have emitted the bulk of the CO2 to date (ie the developed nations).

    In addition, China has made energy efficiency a national priority in its latest 5 year Plan.

    His diagnosis of the English class structure and how academia v. Thatcher played out is incorrect, so it certainly casts doubt on other socio-political observations he might make.

  12. 112
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re #110 Rod B

    This is the kind of seemingly balanced view that is really misleading. Scientists who believe in the reality of AGW do so because they have (1) scientifically consistent analysis to explain it and (2) data from multiple lines of research to confirm the analysis.

    I am sure any protagonist would change his or her mind if you could just demonstrate where the analysis or data are wrong. In science, that is through peer review. Where is the peer reviewed literature that would undo the understanding presented by the IPCC? Scientists who have their work challenged by other scientists through the media, rather than through normal channels, get a bit testy for good reason.

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 62, 64, 75, 75, Aaron, how’d your ‘task for the week’ preparing for the California water supplies meeting turn out? If you’re able to follow up or have done so somewhere, give a pointer to where? I know there are quite a few Ca.-centric blogs talking about water supply where details of your meeting would be interesting.

  14. 114
    Numb Nuts says:


    “Scientists who have their work challenged by other scientists through the media, rather than through normal channels, get a bit testy for good reason.”

    I am new here, but a have read that scientists are used to having their work challenged and I can understand how a challenge coming from outside the scientific community may be annoying. The IPCC released their report to the world through the media, so are you suggesting that it should not be subject to any challenge from outside the scientific community or that the burden of disproof be delivered only from within the scientific community?

  15. 115
    Figen Mekik says:

    The burden of disproof should be delivered by people who understand the science and who are able to disprove it by testable, repeatable scientific findings and analyses, and who demonstrate that they are doing this with their peer reviewed publications. Not people offering opinions or rhetorical counter arguments simply because they can.. You don’t have to have an affiliation with a scientific institution to publish in peer reviewed media.

  16. 116
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 114

    My point was really about scientists who challenge the work of other scientists through the media, rather than in conference or through the literature.

    However, it seems to me that scientific conclusions that have reached the level of consensus can have the consensus undone only by other scientific work. I see no other basis for believing what is most likely to be true about a scientific question.

    As to the IPCC report, it is certainly expected that challenges will come from outside the scientific community, since the public policy implications of the conclusions are enormous. However, ultimately, any challenge to the underlying science of the report must be based on science.

  17. 117
    Hank Roberts says:

    Note the challenges to the scientists’ work happen even _within_ the IPCC process.
    The final scientists’ draft was amended by the politicians; both have been released so you can compare them.

    For example:


    Earth Negotiations Bulletin – Eighth Session of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: 2-6 April 2007

    ….. A bold header, which stated with “very high confidence” that many natural systems, in all continents and some oceans, are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases, was discussed in plenary and in a contact group co-chaired by Belgium and Sudan.

    China, supported by Saudi Arabia, proposed changing the statementâ��s confidence level from “very high confidence” to “high confidence.” France, Austria, Belgium, UK, US, Germany, Canada and others opposed changing the confidence level from what had been assessed by the Lead Authors. The UK, opposed by China, proposed using a likelihood statement noting that the impacts are “very likely.”

    The Lead Authors restated their “very high confidence” on the statement. They explained the rationale that when independent lines of evidence, each having a similar outcome and each carrying “high confidence” by themselves, are evaluated collectively, they imply a much higher confidence due to their consistent conclusion.

    The question was returned to plenary early on Friday morning. The Lead Authors elaborated on the scientific basis for the statement. Saying that scientists in his delegation disagreed, China, supported by Saudi Arabia, continued to oppose the “very high” confidence level. The Lead Authors requested that if the “very” were removed, a footnote be inserted noting that the authors do not agree with the statement and that the authors have “very high” confidence that natural systems are being affected by regional climate change. They added that having a government questioning widely-employed and sound methodologies and then putting into question the work of Lead Authors was unprecedented in the IPCC, and asked to record a formal protest.

    When the matter was taken up again at the end of the meeting, the US suggested deleting the confidence level and leaving the rest of the statement. Japan, with the Lead Authors “strongly supporting,” called for inserting a footnote stating the Lead Authors’ views that the statement carried a very high confidence level. In the final text, the confidence level has been omitted and no footnote has been included. ”

    END QUOTE from:

  18. 118
    Deech56 says:

    RE: #110 Rod B. The example I cited is not specious – melting of ice caps and glaciers ( I donâ��t recall mentioning cherry blossoms, although that is a major part of life where I live) is actually a third set of data that reflects longer term (seasonal) effects. One argument Iâ��ve heard against the concept of “global temperature” is that the measurements do not have any physical meaning. The fact that ice loss correlates with the other measurements of global temperature strengthens, rather than weakens, the argument that the temperature records reflect what’s happening in nature and that they have physical meaning.

    You say that you look at the information with an open mind; I have no way of showing that you do not, but the position I take is that higher consideration should be given to what is in the scientific literature, not think tank reports or editorials. We would expect that of any science.

  19. 119
    Mark A. York says:

    What is anyone’s opinion of these works? I got this comment from a beta reader of my novel. Sounds like a denier.

    Hubert H. Lamb. ‘Climate; Past, Present and Future (Methuen, London,Vol. 1 1972, Vol. 2 1977) and his later work; Climate, History, and the Modern World (Methuen, NY, NY, 1982).

    In addition:

    “Idso et al, Rasool et al, Ciasis, Essenhigh, Indermuhle, et al, Newell et al. etc. These scientists have looked at the history of climate, atmospheric CO2, going back a long time, plus the issue of radiative saturation of the infrared in the atmosphere as affected by various greenhouse gases.”

    “Quite frankly, the global climate gets affected by a lot of factors, in addition, the climate over the last million year has gone through a lot of changes very poorly correlated with anthropogenic atmospheric CO2. Most serious scientists confess they truly don’t know what drives the climate with any precision.”


    [Response: Lamb could justifiably be called the father of modern climatology and his books are surprisingly impressive even after 30 years. Of course, many aspects of the science have moved on from what he had available to him. So, well worth a read, but if someone is quoting it as gospel, then it’s probably suspect. Half the other references (Idso, Newall, Essenhigh) are worthless, Ciais and Indermulhe are standard works on past CO2 changes though. The last line is very odd. Over the last 800,000 years (and probably back to at least 2.5 million years), climate and CO2 are highly correlated. No one would claim that CO2 is the only factor in natural climate change, but it’s certainly an important one, even if one cannot be absolutely ‘precise’. Overall, there is little of substance in the statements. -gavin]

  20. 120
    woodentop says:

    Is there any evidence of AGW? I’m struggling to find any, other than bald assertions… I have a science degree and a law degree so feel perfectly capable of evaluating evidence.

    [Response: Read the IPCC reports (linked on the sidebar). Plenty of meat in there…. – gavin]

  21. 121
    Numb Nuts says:


    “Over the last 800,000 years (and probably back to at least 2.5 million years), climate and CO2 are highly correlated.” (citation needed)

    [Response: The first 400,000 years is Petit et al, 1999, the continuation to 650,000 can be seen here: and the full 800,000 years Dome-C record will be available soon. -gavin]

  22. 122
    Mark A. York says:

    Thanks Gavin. My response was those were dated, and the red flags were waving all over by his matter-of-fact certainty about the doubt ala Crichton. His saying Scientific American had lost credibilty in the scientific world and had an agenda was the coup de grace. Denier. I pointed him here and to Weart.

  23. 123
    pat neuman says:

    Re: 99

    Many people in the Twin Cities no longer distrust the global warming science or the scientists.

    The top anchorman in the Twin Cities recently said:

    Well, they can’t be talking about me. I’m not a skeptic.

    Great speeches were made today at the Step It Up rally on Global warming at the MN State Capital including those by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Keith Ellison and others. It was very successful. Several thousand people looking to learn more and act on global warming.

  24. 124
    Numb Nuts says:


    This is like going to college for free. I think I have done more reading in the last four days than in my entire Grad program.

    Every time I go to another link, though, it generates more questions than it answers. Ugh! You should charge for this! It’s the wave of the future you know. Seriously, though, I am appreciative that you are not like the *nix RTFM crowd ;-). You have been patient and gracious. If I get too annoying . . . you’ll let me know.

  25. 125
    James says:

    Re #119: I think you missed an obvious response to your correspondent’s claim that “the climate over the last million year has gone through a lot of changes very poorly correlated with anthropogenic atmospheric CO2”. The response being, of course, that there has only been significant anthropogenic CO2 in the last century or so, so of course the other 999,900 years show no correlation. Depending on how you define the term, you can argue that there weren’t even humans for much of the period!

    [Response: You’re right. I didn’t see the ‘anthropogenic’ snuck in there, probably because the very idea that human-related causes could have been important over the last million years is ridiculous. As you say Homo Sapiens has only been around for a tenth of that time…. Thanks! – gavin]

  26. 126
    Mark A. York says:

    Well weren’t the changes Earth-driven only? We weren’t there, but the point is we’ve documented a new change now, not seen before. If that’s what is meant by the quote then I’d call that a real red herring. This is the type of false comparison they use. The disturbing thing is he has a background in geochemistry, but that has been taken over by economics and engineering. I don’t know why they don’t get it. Or just won’t.

  27. 127
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’d suspect the author was trying to say ‘few changes associated with the level of CO2 we have nowadays’ — showing he doesn’t understand the importance of the rate of change, nor the chicken-and-egg cause/effect.

    Charitably, that’d make more sense than thinking the author really was confused enough to believe in pre-human anthropoids who caused anthropogenic changes in prehistoric CO2 levels. He’d have mentioned Atlantis and Lemuria if he thought they were responsible, eh?

  28. 128
    John Mashey says:

    re: #125
    “that there has only been significant anthropogenic CO2 in the last century or so”

    Gavin? are there new results, or interesting research going on to confirm/disconfirm the CO2 part of Ruddiman’s hypothesis?

    And also, anything to look for along the lines of “in the absence of further studies ruling out boreal wetlands…”, i.,e. the CH4 part?

  29. 129
    Neal says:

    I must admit to being very conflicted…I have closely followed the IPCC publications and the recent journalistic confirmation of “consensus” re: climate change and man/CO2 causality. At the same time scientists like Lindzen, Patterson and Legates (to name only a few) continue to put forward equally compelling science to the contary. Patterson shows charts that indicate no causal correlation between CO2 and temperature – both in the longterm past (1-15 million years) and in the recent (last 100 years)…so…I remain conflicted. Can you explain what’s wrong with their “science” and how you can claim CO2/temperature correlation when the temperature map of the last 100 years shows temps rising from 1900-1940 but dropping significantly from 1940-1970 and then rising again while CO2 is a smooth curve ever rising? Thanks.

    [Response: The basic issue is that the ‘counter-science’ you are seeing is based on attacking a strawman facsimile of what the real science shows. The consensus is not that CO2 is the only thing that is important for climate, nor that we think CO2 is a problem because of some correlation with temperature changes. Instead, the concern is based on taking everything into account (including solar, volcanoes, aerosols, ozone depletion, land use change etc. etc.) and seeing how each impacts a whole range of metrics (not just the global mean temperature) which are then compared to observations. The fact that there is a good fit on dozens of levels – though only if the physics of greenhouse gases are included – is a testament that the physics is basically correct. With respect to the twentieth century, it is only in the last few decades that CO2 (and the other greenhouse gases) has become the dominant forcing – prior to that, you are seeing a combination of many different effects that are sometimes all going in the same direction, and other times not. In the early part, greenhouse gases were rising, but so was solar, there was a lack of volcanic eruptions and so you get warming. From 1940 on, greenhouse gases were still rising, but so were industrial aerosols (a cooling effect), solar was static and volcanoes were more common.

    The only way to sort out these different effects is to quantify them in models and see how it all works out (and what the uncertainties are). It’s because we’ve managed to reduce the uncertainties, in particular for the last few decades, that we’ve been able to attribute the current rise to CO2 etc. Not only do current theories match what we see, there is no other coherent theory that does anything like as well. – gavin]

  30. 130
    Janis Mara says:

    I’m responding to your remark, Gavin, “Communication efforts are much more likely to succeed if they target the people who communicate for a living, rather than the general public directly.” Do you mean that it’s more effective to talk to the press rather than, say, address a Step Up rally? Or have I totally misunderstood?

    And as far as the three videos in which you appeared, I agree that it’s hard to explain even simple subjects in that length of time. If it’s more effective to get the word out via the media, I’m thinking the newspapers might be a better vehicle? Especially because the information doesn’t zip by as quickly.

    Janis Mara

    [Response: The point of communicating is to hopefully tell people something they don’t already know, so the media tends to be more effective at catching people who wouldn’t look it up for themselves. Addressing rallies might be fun (not that anyone’s asked me though), but I’ll guess that you mostly preaching to the already informed. – gavin]

  31. 131
    Neal says:


    Thanks very much for the explanation re: the “counter science”. That helps explain some of the conflict. If I understood you correctly CO2 has only recently become the main forcing factor in the complicated global climate/temperature equation…does that also imply that the other factors – solar activity, volcanoes, water vapor, reforestation (I hope), ozone depletion/recovery – could modify the models going forward? In your judgement does it make sense to focus almost solely on CO2 emissions and limit what man contributes going forward? it possible that if we do that, even successfully, global temperatures will continue to rise (presumably, at some point)? What is the right and measured response in your judgement?

    [Response: The other effects are certainly important and clearly provide opportunities for reducing the net human impact on the climate (i.e. reducing black carbon ‘soot’, preventing tropical deforestation would both be helpful). Future solar changes and volcanic activity will modify the answers a little, but are unlikely to dominate the response. See the first figure here for an idea of the relative size of the forcings. The reason why there is a focus on CO2 going forward is that i) it is currently the fastest growing forcing (CH4 thankfully is reasonably static, further reductions are therefore both possible and would be very beneficial), ii) CO2 perturbations have a very long lifetime – roughly 15% of CO2 emitted now will still be affecting climate 500 years on, and iii) there are no quick fixes, and so prevention of really large CO2 increases relies on forward action for decades before improvements will be seen. That is the problem and the challenge. -gavin]

  32. 132
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Addressing rallies might be fun (not that anyone’s asked me though)

    And Earth Day’s next weekend, good grief.
    Heck, doing a critique and correction of the other speeches made would be admirable (wry grin).

  33. 133
    Eric says:

    The proponents of “framing” have some interesting points to make, but this is the third time in recent years they’ve come around making these claims. The first was George Lakoff with “Don’t Think of an Elephant” in 2004. Then came Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shallenberger with “Death of Environmentalism.” The playbook for these guys was:

    * Make a big stir by accusing some portion of the “the establishment” of screwing up their communications

    * Promise to solve the problem, if only some funders will cough up big bucks for research. Use copious buzzwords to describe the research you intend to conduct.

    * Disappear without making any actual specific recommendations for what the target of their critique could do better.

    Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet have followed the first two steps of this playbook to the letter. Let’s hope they break the pattern and actually put forward some useful suggestions on how the scientific community can do a better job.

    If not, start the clock ticking on their 15 minutes.


  34. 134
    Mark A. York says:

    Oh were it that easy Hank. It ended badly.

    “We (he and Gavin) disagree on the interpretation of the data, as is my right as a competent geochemist. The Vostok data are fairly clear and unambiguous in that when periods of low temperature ended, and temperatures rose (as determined by D/H ratios), the concentrations of CO2 lagged behind. That is, CO2 followed the rise in temperature. Typically, if an event follows another action, that event is not considered to be causality. Basic science. The arguments put forth of ‘feedback’ raise not only my eyebrows (which are quite bushy), but also those of other scientists. Therefore, natural events drove the global warming that ended at least five periods of glaciation.”

    “Now, consider this. I don’t increase my grant by waving my hands around and crying ‘wolf.’ The reality is I don’t have a grant, nor do I seek one, nor do I want one. I have no vested interest in this argument. Now, I’m not saying that is Dr. Schmidt’s motivation – far from it. Yet, most of the time, I stay away from this type of discussion because it quickly becomes vicious and ad hominem – especially when funding is involved.”

    He was definitely not the proper critiquer of my novel which, is peopled with those just like him. Heh, can’t say there isn’t conflict though if you can get into a fight about the science. Conflict drives stories and in the end there is a winner. He wasn’t aware of the nature of my work.

    This was the second response.

    “Facts are hard things, and any scientist knows that facts beat models every time. Dr. Schmidt is a modeler, and as such, uses data to create scenarios. Currently, there are theories as to why the CO2 levels rise after the climate warmed following the last few ice ages. There are theories that there is some form of feedback, however, any good geochemist knows that that biologic processes are well-correlated with temperatures. Rice paddies give off more CO2 when warm than cold, the same is true with swamps. Cold seawater holds more CO2 than warm water. This is by far the most reasonable explanation.

    Any good physicist knows that there is a limit to transmitivity of IR through gases, beyond a given concentration, saturation takes place. This happens with CO2 in the atmosphere. Lastly, water vapor is a far stronger IR absorber than CO2 (responsible for over 90% of heat trapping), and is the main reason that this planet is not an iceball. Primordial Earth had a reducing atmosphere, and methane acted as the greenhouse gas.”

    See anything unfamiliar? I sure don’t. Sceptic 101.

  35. 135
    Stormy says:

    A few commentators mentioned economists. They are the ones that need addressing; they are the gatekeeps, the trolls under the bridge, if you will.

    I attempted to find economists who had accepted the science of global warming and who, at the same time, believed that the free marketplace was the answer to societal issues.

    See “Global Warming: In Defense of the Marketplace?” at

    Guess what I found: Not one free-market economists. Not one. The myth that privatization and free markets will raise all boats runs exactly counter to what is required to deal with global warming and all its associated ills: pollution, potable water, rising seas, weather, depletion of natural resources, species extinction, etc.

    There is a strategy you can use to counter such people, but it requires that you understand their underlying philosophy–and address it directly.

    There are a couple of other tenets to the free-market credo: One is a belief that technology can do anything; the second is that continued economic growth is essential, otherwise the world will collapse.

    One site that I mention in my piece is Mises.Org. After pooh-poohing environmentalists…and global warming, the writer says that even if there is a problem, the solution is found in technology. Simply set off a few nukes at strategic locations. Yes…a nuclear winter.

    Even Norhaus’ response to the Stern report is predicated on the belief that global warming is just too iffy to justify its cost. Nordhaus believes in globalization and growth. People who unreservedly believe in globalization as it is now fashioned believe in free markets. At best, they are luke-warm to the science of climate change. It challenges too many of their closely held beliefs.

    In short, I suggest you start thinking seriously about the nature of your opponents. There are openings for the scientific community to employ, but it must start considering a real strategy based on the philosophical beliefs of its opponents.

    Know your opponent. I have spent a great deal of time in economic blogs. Now I have been invited to write for one. AngryBear blog site is taking a risk with me.

    Global warming is one of my issues as well as globalization as presently structured. The two are intimately wedded.

  36. 136
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #130 response by Gavin “The point of communicating is to hopefully tell people something they don’t already know, so the media tends to be more effective at catching people who wouldn’t look it up for themselves. Addressing rallies might be fun (not that anyone’s asked me though), but I’ll guess that you mostly preaching to the already informed.”

    I’ve learned a fair amount over the years listening to speeches at political rallies – even when you know the basics, an informed speaker can give you details you didn’t know, or illuminate the issue from a new angle. However, the main point of political rallies, and other forms of campaigning (as opposed to longer-term educational work), is to motivate people who already agree with you to do a bit more than they are doing now – change their personal behaviour, sign a petition, write to a newspaper or elected representative, make the specific issue a priority in the way they vote, talk to those they know about it, get involved in direct action. Ask anyone who’s helped run an election campaign – the main strategies are always to increase the salience of particular issues and to get the vote out, not to convert die-hard opponents or even waverers. For the latter, education, and/or perceived “frame shifts” in the views of those they mix with and/or respect, can work. For the former, drastic changes of view do occur, but are not common – putting effort into bringing them about is probably an inefficient use of scarce resources!

  37. 137
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, you may have a winning climate skeptic bingo card there.
    Don’t know if showing it to your publisher would help, but the reviewer certainly was pulling the comments right out of their “discredited, assert louder and more often” collection.

    The “IR bands are saturated” thing is popping up everywhere again lately.

  38. 138
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah Hank he hit the trifecta and bailed on the discussion. It’s a pity really, because my novel displays all the ideas and answers here in a fictional story structure. Of course it mirrors reality in way Crichton did not. Naturally, I don’t yet have an agent or publisher for it. This does show you never know who you may meet in a writing contest. We both lost, but I don’t know what he wrote.

  39. 139
    Ingrid Tobar, Dept. Geosciences UMKC says:

    In response to the main entry, I agree with Gavin; a 5 minute TV interview is not the right tool to change the “frame”. However, there may be instances when 5 minute interviews make a difference and may even cause those “frames” to change, but this is not always a good thing.

    I would argue that those instances in which someone’s standpoint on global warming has been completely upset after viewing a 5 minute interview could be more dangerous than not changing that persons’ “frame” at all. What sorts of arguments could someone present to defend carbon emission reductions if his/her only source of information consists of a 5 minute clip on ET, between the latest news on Tinkerbell and the week’s celebrity scandals?

    Sadly, media works to sell only that which the public will buy. If a thorough review of climate change should require more than 5 air minutes, but the public won’t buy it, well, then you will just not see such a report on TV; maybe only on public television. This misinformation culture is dangerous because people’s perceptions maybe changing while they remain uninformed, unable to make a critical assessment of the controversy.

    Ultimately the burden of responsibility falls on the audience. It is unacceptable for media to continue providing mediocre and misleading information. However, in the end it is a personal choice: to seek more sources of information beyond what the TV set will offer or remain uninformed. It is a matter of critical judgment and analysis which should be done on a personal basis. Unfortunately, many find it more convenient to leave reflection, criticism and other considerations in the hands of publicists.

  40. 140

    #11 – I think you make an pertinent point regarding our attachment to fossil fuels. I live in Wimbledon, and I was astounded to see that a new restuarant called Coal has been opened.

    I work in branding, and one way of understanding brands is to view them in terms of relationships. Let’s consider coal as a brand. The industrial revolution was powered by coal. As a society, we have a 200 year relationship with coal, and we may well pleasant personal memories of coal (warming-up in a cold night; times with our grand-parents; pubs in the country etc.).

    Psychologists Greenspan and Shanker (see reference below) tell us that each of us builds a vast library of images and emotions in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. For each image to be meaningful, it must be invested with emotion . They also say that it is our emotions which organises our intelligence. Any particular experience can be attached with a different emotion for different people â?? they give the example that a loud voice may be considered inviting or jarring.

    People develop relationships with brands over time based on their experiences with it. Intuitively we know that strong relationships with brands are not likely to disappear overnight; though they may suffer from crises, interruptions from outside forces or be otherwise impaired. It follows that rational arguments alone may not be enough to change people’s opinions about the deadly threat that coal now poses for us all.

    (Reference – The First Idea: How Symbols, Language and Intelligence evolved from our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans, (2004), p.25 Stanley I. Greenspan & Stuart G. Shanker)

  41. 141
    Michael Gell says:

    Re 135. Free markets do not exist, because to be free means to have no constraints. In reality, markets are constrained systems, with sources of constraint arising through various channels. Perhaps one way to see the role of markets, and the players (eg business and industry) in those markets, with respect to climate change is to work through the nature and dynamics of various constraints in moving to future scenarios, which can be modelled.

    Simulations (based on far-from-equilibrium models) of corporate carbon downsizing and business competitions in markets reveal that businesses can use climate change as a cornerstone of potent new forms of competitive strategy. The transition to low-carbon economies can be used to remove significant cost structures from business (through energy conservation, waste minimisation, etc) and application of business and market ecointelligence can be used to outperform competitors, and even drive them out of business as competitive carbon downsizing becomes dominant across marketspaces, both national and international.

    Thus, for example, a shrewd government will put in place frameworks (ie constraints) for carbon reduction, so that business and industry can work within the framework to deliver amazing levels of eco-competitiveness and eco-innovation while delivering step-change carbon downsizing.

    Conversely, a government that is not concerned about the vibrancy of the businesses and industries operating within its economy and their competitiveness in world markets might take an approach based on doing as little as possible about climate change and luring them into a false sense of well-being in which status quo inefficiency, waste, unnecessary costs and emissions bloat will be fine forever. It won’t.

    What is happening across markets now is giving rise to a redefinition of what a business needs to be and do. Corporations, at least the smart ones, recognise how the landscape has already changed and how further changes are building across markets, including capital, insurance and reinsurance markets. They are lining up on a cusp, ready to transition and transform into the primitive stages of a low-carbon economy. The ones that don’t transition and transform may find their niches have gone.

    The way forward is to establish quickly an intelligent combination that can be used to guide business and industry into modes of behaviour that deliver the significant reductions of GHG emissions that are so necessary. That guidance, which may be in the form of mandated year-on-year absolute reductions of emissions assessed against performance targets, will provide level playing fields. The alternative, ignoring climate change and carrying on business-as-usual, will merely provide levelled playing fields.

  42. 142

    [[Free markets do not exist, because to be free means to have no constraints. ]]

    In theory a free market requires an infinite number of infinitely small producers and consumers. But in practice, effectively free markets exist all over the place. The fact that they aren’t perfect free markets doesn’t mean supply and demand analysis is useless, any more than the nonzero volume of real gas molecules means the ideal gas equation is useless.

  43. 143
    Michael Gell says:

    Re 142. Decomposition of constraint profiles across market types does not yield zero-constraint systems. In reality all markets have some form or forms of constraints; it is just that some are more or differently constrained than others.

    It is because humans in their endeavours have chosen largely to ignore constraints of limitations on the earth’s resources and threshold constraints on natural (eg climate) dynamics, that we have the problem of climate change.

    Constraints is not a concept that fits in well with carbon-intensive economics. It is, however, a concept that needs to be at the heart of any carbon-reducing or carbon-constrained economics that might emerge.

  44. 144
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 3143:
    “It is because humans in their endeavours have chosen largely to ignore constraints of limitations on the earth’s resources and threshold constraints on natural (eg climate) dynamics, that we have the problem of climate change.”

    I would beg to differ, at least in terms of “cause” in relation to a “failure to respond”. It really isn’t about an inability to observe contraints. That’s likely just a symptom.

    I think a more obvious argument would be to attribute the problem to behavior patterns that are essentially evolutionary in origin.

    IMHO (and that’s all it is, informed though it may be), as a species, the bigger “obstacle” is that we react to crisis; we rarely plan for it. And if things are comfortable, or solutions to perceived problems are troublesome, we are content to wait until the problem is so large it cannot be ignored before we make an effort to react to it.

    In terms of GW, this is potentially a real killer, as the effects that are in set in motion today, when things still do not seem so bad in terms of climate-effects, won’t have a full impact for 20-30 years.

    We don’t address what we don’t see.

  45. 145
    Mark A. York says:

    He came back one more time:

    “Well, it is obvious that youâ??re not a scientist, and actually know very little about the world of science. You obviously do not know the significance of a scientist being invited to the Gordon Research Conferences. As for me being out of date, I doubt that.
    So, in conclusion, I now realize that you spout the cant of a true believer without truly understanding the science.”

  46. 146
    R Deschain says:

    “…it is a matter of education – not of the general public though (as welcome as that would be) – but of the gatekeepers: the journalists, editors and producers.”
    So, your view is that we are dependent on this group of intellectually bankrupt, front running, corrupt, and congenitally dishonest brokers to understand the experiments, results, and limitations therein, to assimilate that information, and then to pass it on to the general public in an unbiased, accurate, and understandable manner? I surely hope you jest, or are mistaken at the least. If your assessment is correct, we are truly doomed, at least for the current “enlightenment”…


    [Response: We are not absolutely dependent – since people can always find out for themselves should they choose. However, to state that the media are irrelevant would be naive. – gavin]

  47. 147
    Stephen Berg says:

    Check out for more on this.

  48. 148
    Hank Roberts says:


    Good site. Headline for the current story is unfortunately quite misleading for anyone who fails to read the body text, however.

  49. 149
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also interesting:
    Foot soldiers take up the fight to revitalize the planet
    Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    “Some questions are hard to anticipate. Valva recalled one: ‘Is there any evidence that other planets are heating up? This would support some people’s theory that the sun is actually getting hotter.’

    “At Demee-Benoit’s talk to science teachers at Chabot, three people persisted in challenging what she was saying. ‘I think temperature goes up, and then carbon dioxide goes up,’ one said. “The science doesn’t really add up,’ said another. ‘Global warming is cyclical,’ insisted the third.

    “It turned out they were infiltrators — youth organizers from the Lyndon LaRouche movement. The followers of the controversial political activist, a perennial presidential candidate, have been showing up at presentations around the country.”

  50. 150
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hank, the whole issue of warming on other celestial bodies is a red herring. The energetics of the climates on these bodies bear zero resemblance to Earth. Jupiter, for instance, receives only 4% of the solar radiation Earth does–hardly enough to drive the storms we see in its atmosphere. Most of its energy is generated internally. The Jovian moons are either stone-cold dead or receive their energy from tidal interactions with their giant neighbor. Saturn’s system is similar. We have a climate model of Mars that explains the warming there quite convincingly in terms of decreased planetary albedo and dust-storm activity.
    Anyone who brings this up is either ignorant or disingenuous–Lindzen could only cop to the latter charge.