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Cockburn’s form

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 June 2007

Alexander Cockburn (writing in the Nation) has become the latest contrarian-de-jour, sallying forth with some rather novel arithmetic to show that human-caused global warming is nothing to be concerned about. This would be unworthy of comment in most cases, but Cockburn stands out as one of only a few left-wing contrarians, as opposed to the more usual right-wing variety. Casual readers may have thought this is a relatively recent obsession of his (3 articles and responses over the last month), however, Cockburn has significant form* and has a fairly long history of ill-informed commentary on the subject of global warming.

There may be more elsewhere, but while he was writing for New York Press he had at least two articles on the subject: Global Warming: The Great Delusion (March 15, 2001) and Return to Global Warming (June 21, 2001). After both articles, I wrote letters to the editor (here and here) gently pointing out the misconceptions and incorrect statements (though obviously to little avail). To whit, the deliberate confusion of weather and climate, guilt by association (he linked climate modelling to biological warfare research!), the complete mis-understanding of the Harries et al (2001) paper showing satellite evidence for the increased trapping of long wave radiation by greenhouse gases etc.

Rather than simply rehashing the obvious mistakes in his current ‘science’, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at all of the pieces together. The first thing one notices is that Cockburn always tries to shy away from giving the impression he came up with any of his anti-global warming theories himself. In each case, there is a trusted ‘advisor’ or acquaintance who is available to inform Cockburn of the latest foolishness. In 2001 it was Pierre Sprey “a man knowledgeable about the often disastrous interface between environmental prediction and computer models” and now it is Dr. Martin Hertzberg “a meteorologist for three years in the U.S. Navy”. Neither of whom appear to have any peer reviewed work in the field.

In common with the right-wing contrarians, Cockburn’s opinions are not formed from a dispassionate look at the evidence, but come from a post hoc reasoning given his dislike of the purported implications. This line from the Mar 2001 piece discussing the fact that sulphate aerosols have a cooling effect on climate, is a great example:

‘You really want to live by a model that installs the coal industry as the savior of “global warming”?’

That is, since any model that shows that aerosols have a cooling impact (which is all of them) apparently encourages the coal industry to pollute, the model physics must be flawed. The same theme is apparent in the more recent articles. Because carbon offsetting and credits have not worked as well as expected (see this excellent Financial Times report), it is clearly the scientists who raised the issue who are at fault. Bad consequences clearly imply bad science.

This backward logic is clear from reading his articles. At first it was the models that were uncertain, the water vapour that was ignored, and it was the ‘speculative’ nature of the IPCC that he found unconvincing. Then it was the uncertainty associated with aerosols that nailed it for him. Now it is that the CO2 increase itself that is self-evidently bogus. He drifts from one pseudo-factoid to another, hoping to land upon the one thing that will mean he doesn’t need to deal seriously with the issue.

It is probably inevitable that, as dealing with climate change becomes an established concern, those who make a habit of reflexively being anti-establishment will start to deny there is a problem at all, coincidentally just as the original contrarians are mostly moving in the other direction (i.e. there is a problem but it’s too expensive to do anything about it). It is a shame, because as some oil companies and their friends are finding, it is difficult to get a place at the table where solutions are being discussed if you have claimed for years the whole thing was a hoax. As some left-wingers start to follow in the footsteps of these unlikely bedfellows, they too will find their association with specious arguments and simple nonsense reduces their credibility – and along with that lost credibility goes the opportunity to shape policy in ways that might be more to their liking.

Denial of a problem – perfectly exemplified by Cockburn’s articles – is fundamentally a short-term delaying tactic, but as a long term strategy, especially once policies start to be put in place, it is simply short-sighted.

Back in 2001, I invited Cockburn to visit our lab to discuss the science. Even though it was never responded too, that invitation remains open. A truly open-minded journalist would take me up on it… So how about it Alex?

Apparently the English usage of ‘to have form’ in this context is not widespread – it means to have a record or past habit, probably derived from horse racing but often used as slang in referring to past misdeeds…


214 Responses to “Cockburn’s form”

  1. 101
    pat n says:

    Re: peer-reviewed scientists, engineers

    Peer-review doesn’t exist for climate / hydrologic change work at federal agencies (river forecast centers, others) and likely doesn’t exist for runoff frequency work in federal agencies (USGS, COE, others), in my experience (ending July, 2005)

  2. 102

    #59, #61, #66

    You know, it might be a 2 billion and maybe 150 years, if you are lucky — but there is a basic denial of the fact that we are living over the capacity of the planet. There has been a good deal of scientific analysis, this is not just my opinion. Also see the destruction of jungle animals (“bush meat”) and of fish populations, for human survival.

    Deniers will always grab onto whatever they want – the truth, or one’s best insight into truth, should be spoken and others will come to see the truth. It will be the increasing fight over energy, the decline of natural resources, and other factors, that together will apply pressure on the population. We have already seen the beginning of it. Some may be thinking that the United States and Europe will be immune from this, but likely only temporarily so. Walls and missile shields, the equivalent of gated communities, are being built.

    Read the book “Collapse”. Civilizations can be at their peak one year, and seventy years later be nearly extinct. By “change of philosophy”, I meant that most couples would need to agree to not having children. I did not say this is easy or even likely to happen, but you may also not have seen growth on a petri dish – one day flourishing, a day or two later, extinct from overcrowding and self-poisoning. I am not saying we will be totally extinct, but that the world’s life will change dramatically. I think that the creeping reality of this century is very hard to face – the warning alarms, however, are sounding all around us.

  3. 103
    fredrik says:

    Ray, why are you categorising people as engineers and scientist? Do you really belive a quantum mechanics professor know more about climate than a professor in structural dynamics or mathematical system theory? Griffin probably only have limited knowledge about climate but the usual physics proffesor also limited knoweledge about climate.

    To label all engineers as crackpots as you and for example Barton actually do in your comments is the exact thing as if I call Barton a crackpot because he is a Christian. The first seems to be ok here but not the last one. Why?

  4. 104
    Nicolas L. says:

    Ok, I’m gonna try to go straight to the point. Malthus was wrong because of 2 major flaws in its thesis:
    - he assumed population would grow exponentially when food supply would grow arithmetically. During 19th and 20th century, and to to technical progress and intensive agriculture, food supply actually grew faster than world population.
    - he assumed population growth would not naturally stop by itself, which is of course wrong given the demographic transition phenomena that touches all populations reaching a certain standard of living. The main population growth takes place during the transition period of a developing economy to a developped economy, then stops and is replaced by a slow population decay. Population growth is just a temporary state lasting about 100 years, more or less 50 years.
    The problem with Malthus is that he made a static analysis, assuming the conditions he was observing at the end of 18th century would stay the same during time. He was predicting a shortage in food supply for the middle of the 19th century… Observations didn’t confirm his theory, did they?

  5. 105
    fredrik says:

    What are an engineer according to you? Is a profesor of structural dynamics working in a university and writing peer-reviewed papers a scientist or an engineer?

    Is he doing research according to you?

  6. 106
    ray ladbury says:

    fredrik, Now where did I call any engineer a crackpot? I believe that what I said was that engineers do not typically have a working knowledge of how science is done on a daily basis, because they do not do science. Should every lawyer be considered a literary critic because they do a lot of writing? The difference between an engineer and a scientist is in the way they approach a problem and in the problems they tend to approach. In my own field, I work with about 50% scientists and 50% engineers. Some who have engineering degrees approach problems like scientists, while a few scientists approach problems like engineers. Both science and engineering are powerful disciplines. Both scientists and engineers sometimes suffer from delusions that their training and brilliance may make up for a lack of specialized knowledge when they look into a new field. Both usually find out that they are wrong. It has been my experience that many denialists are engineers, perhaps with a little experience of computer modeling, which they feel gives them insight into why climate change is bogus. Dr. Griffin, whom I’ve met, seems to have stepped into such a situation, and still seems to have some of it on his shoe. So, fredrik, please accept my apology if what I said could be construed as an attack on engineers. It was not intended that way. Had Dr. Griffin been a professor of geology, I would have pointed out that that does not count as specialized, relevant knowledge. And as to my own field of expertise, no, radiation physics doesn’t help me out a whole helluva lot either. I do at least practice science on a daily basis though.

  7. 107
    Daniel C. Goodwin says:

    Re 82, from John McCormick:

    My point is that solutions to global warming are usually discussed in purely technological terms, so as to answer the question: How can we preserve life on Earth without changing any of our habits? Clearly there’s no business-as-usual solution, and the search for it is futile.

    The solution (if there is one) would entail much more than a change of habits. In Collapse, Jared Diamond discusses several societies for whom environmental depletion posed the question: “In solving this problem, which of our core values are we willing to jettison, and which are too precious to lose?” The severity of our current predicament is a global analogue. In human history, some societies marshaled a sufficient capacity for change, and some did not. The Norse Greenlanders decided they’d rather die than eat fish (though it’s hard to understand why they hated fish so much), and so they disappeared. Stuff happens.

  8. 108
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    #56, Timothy, sorry I should have been clearer (I keep forgetting this is a very literal forum). You did not cherry pick articles, you picked out a reasonable sample of tipping point articles. The problem was with the articles themselves. They do not reference models or comprehensive measurements to support the tipping point hypothesis. Your follow-up post does the same, but the observations are being cherry-picked. Here is just one example of more snow in greenland:

    http://edgcm.columbia.edu/images/stories/ScienceToday/Greenland/fig9.png

    This type of hypothetical result works against tipping point. There are many others: some types of clouds, energized jet stream, more storms, concentrated convection, and other negative feedbacks leading to cooling. The tipping point articles routinely ignore any of these factors.

  9. 109
    SecularAnimist says:

    Richard Ordway wrote: “… just don’t say that Griffin has or insinuates he or NASA has provable evidence that GW is not ocurring or that humans are not causing most of it”

    As I understand it, Griffin did not say that. In the quotes I have seen, Griffin acknowledged that global warming (“a warming trend”) is happening, and he did not address whether humans are responsible for it or not. He suggested that anyone who thinks we should avoid radically altering the Earth’s climate and biosphere with anthropogenic warming is “arrogant”. Which, as I wrote previously, is inane blithering rubbish worthy of Rush Limbaugh.

  10. 110
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re Comment 84 Ray Ladbury says in part:
    My criticism was directed against the tendency of some engineers to think that because they have had a course in thermodynamics, they are experts in any system where energy is conserved.

    Ray, you don’t need thermodynamics to know that if my house is losing say 9000 Btu/hr. during the winter,it loses it hour after hour and day after day to to the outdoor surroundings and I have to compensate by,in my case, burning oil to keep a thermal energy balance. The loss due to the temperature difference between the house and its surroungings is compensated for by the boiler’s input. If my boiler gives me say 80,000 Btu for every gallon of oil- then my oil usage is (9000x24x30)/(80,000)=81 gallons/month. My checkbook tells me more than thermodynamics, in this case.
    One point that I haven’t seen mentioned so far was that Sadi Carnot, himself,who laid the foundations of the second law of thermodymanics, was primarily considered a military engineer, concerned with designing steam engines.

  11. 111
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #98, J. S. McIntyre writes: “Dr J presented Griffin’s resume, which clearly shows him to have a rather exclusive engineering background that has no apparent relation to climatology, as a rebuttal to the argument that Griffin is not credible as a climatologist, and therefore his public comments as the head of NASA were, in essence, egregious. His reason for doing so was to suggest Griffin did have credibility as a scientist.”

    This provides a nice lead-in to looking at Griffin’s actual background and what he actually said. First, along with his Ph. D. in aeronautical engineering, Master’s degree in electrical engineering, and Master’s degree in civil engineering, he has a Bachelor’s in physics (Johns Hopkins), a Master’s in aeronautical science (Catholic University), a Master’s in applied physics (Johns Hopkins), and a Master’s in business administration (Loyola College). If nothing else, he gets some sort of prize as a campus rat, although I suspect most of those degrees were achieved while working full time or while on educational leave from his employment or military service. It seems extreme to describe that as a “rather exclusive engineering background”. It is true that there is no obvious connection to climatology, but, in fact, the objectionable parts of his comments also have little connection to climatology. Overall, it would appear that Griffin has an extensive background in both engineering and science.

    So what were those comments? They are available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10571499 .

    First, he agrees that global warming exists and that recent evidence has “pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of it was manmade.” He then adds that “Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can’t say.”

    Steve Inskeep follows up, asking whether it is a problem mankind has to wrestle with. Griffin responds (with a non sequitur), “To assume it is a problem is to assume that the state of the Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change.” He continues with an obvious, but irrelevant fact, “First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown.” Finally, he passes to the critical remark, which is not climatological, but rather political and ethical: “And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

    Finally, Inskeep asks him how his feelings/beliefs might impact putting together the NASA budget. Griffin responds correctly (but dodging the question) that “Nowhere in NASA’s authorization, which of course governs what we do, is there anything at all telling us that we should take actions to affect climate change either one way of another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do that rather well. I’m proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change”

    An obvious follow up question that Inskeep did not ask is how Griffin’s feelings/beliefs might affect how NASA’s upcoming budgets affect the ability of NASA to monitors climate and to research the climate system in the future.

    I happen to disagree with Griffin’s political and ethical pronouncement, but like all of us, he has a right to those views, whatever his background in climatology. However, those views and some of his earlier actions make me appreciate that we now have some real congressional oversight of NASA.

    Best regards.

  12. 112
    Hank Roberts says:

    Eric, did you read the text that accompanies that model image you posted above?

    You posted:
    > the observations are being cherry-picked. Here is just one example of more snow in greenland:
    > http://edgcm.columbia.edu/images/stories/ScienceToday/Greenland/fig9.png

    And here’s the accompanying text:

    “However, snow depth and snow cover (figures 9 and 10) show that the increased rate of snow fall cannot keep pace with the increased melting and thus both snow depth and snow cover would be expected to decrease as global warming proceeds into the mid-21st century.

    “The implication is that, although the new scientific observations show an increase in the elevation of the interior Greenland ice sheet, the ultimate impact of Global Warming will be a reduction in the size of the ice sheet …”

    Was that your point, that people can look at an image and draw a mistaken conclusion, if they don’t read the text?

  13. 113
    Timothy Chase says:

    Regarding Griffin…

    As a coder, I had to pick between a fellow who was undoubtedly a very good coder at one time – but had been a part of management for a fair number of years since then and someone who had far more recent experience in a number of different areas. I picked the guy with the recent experience – and fought for him – pushing hard against people several levels above me.

    (I convinced them – but then a bad quarter prevented the company from being able to fill any vacancies.)

    I think Griffin may have been quite good at engineering spacecraft at one point – but I wouldn’t want him designing one that I had to fly in – now that he has been an administrator for so long.

    However, even if he were still involved in design, I really don’t think it would be that relevant – when it comes to climatology. Someone who specialises in radiation physics, thermodynamics or fluid dynamics could very well have a great deal to offer that would be of value – but they would be far less of an “authority” than someone who actually specialises in climatology. And in any case I would place a great deal of emphasis on peer-reviewed publications within what is at least a closely related discipline.

    But lets set all of that aside for the moment.

    I find the following statement incredible:

    “And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings, where and when, are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

    It isn’t a question of vanilla vs. chocolate. It isn’t a question of whether you would prefer to live in Los Angeles or Seattle. It is serious climate change which threatens to displace millions, cause water scarcities for somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion and starvation on scales that are unprecidented in human history – and that is just for starters. Moreover, it is a question of how fast climate change will take place – and both how uncontrollable and unpredictable it may become.

    ** ** **

    Nearly 15000 glaciers and 9000 glacial lakes are found in the Himalayan mountain chain which stretches 2500 km across five countries â?? Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, India and China. The mountain range feeds nine perennial river systems in the region and constitutes a lifeline for nearly 1.3 billion people downstream.

    Himalayan glaciers are shrinking at an average of 10 to 60 m annually, with some retreating by 74 m a year. In China, glaciers have been retreating at a rate of 5.5 per cent in the last three decades. With current climate change projections two-thirds of Chinaâ??s glaciers are likely to disappear by 2050, and almost all would be gone by 2100.

    The Impending Himalayan Outburst
    June 2007
    http://www.nepalmonitor.com/2007/06/the_impending_himala.html

    (emphasis added)

  14. 114
    Rod B. says:

    “Once the hydrogen sulfide smell becomes noticeable, is it already too late?” and “Will people start thinking that the hydrogen sulfide smell is normal?”.

    Not necessarily, but most likely, because it’s a forerunner to coming lethal concentrations. Interestingly, as H2S concentration builds up, long before fatal dosing, one of the first thing to go is smell (our ability to detect H2S from its odor).

  15. 115
    David Bruce says:

    Just for the record, there is a vast library of peer reviewed Engineering publications. Some of us can even spell and do grammar.
    And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

  16. 116
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    I found an interesting article when I was participating in a discussion on gristmill. On a post about invasive species a commenter recommended a book about the subject.

    I googled the title and found a review in the journal Ecology and the reviewer, an ecologist at U. of Washington, brought up some interesting points that are relevant to pieces like Cockburns. It was a good summary of judging the value of books and articles in a politically charged scientific area.

    http://striweb.si.edu/basset/PdFs/Longino2004Arthropods.pdf
    Deprogramming invasion biologists? is the article that applies to climate change as well is it does to ecology.

  17. 117
    Doug Watts says:

    “I think your table needs to have more than just the carbon-is-evil policy makers.”

    Rhetoric like this does not enhance credibility.

    Why not just say the “Boyle’s-Law-is-Evil” policy makers ?

  18. 118
    Doug Watts says:

    Re: 112.

    I imagine the “increased snowfall” will be an upcoming canard. Glaciers only grow when snow accumulation exceeds melting. If melting rates increase more quickly than the rate of increasing snow fall, the glaciers still shrink.

  19. 119
    ray ladbury says:

    OK, I see folks are still hung up on the fact that I placed part of the blame for Griffin’s comments on the fact that he is an engineer. Programmers and scientists, IMHO, are equally vulnerable to the delusions of adequacy when it comes to their competence in fields outside their own. I only know that in my education as a physicist (which may not have been typical), the point was driven home that if you disagree with the scientific consensus in a field well outside your area of expertise, you had better have done some really serious homework and have really good understanding and reasons for your disagreement.
    I work with a lot of engineers and a lot of scientists. It is my experience that the engineers are more likely to question anthropogenic causation of climate change without having a deep knowledge of the subject. Again, I do not claim that experience is typical.
    Another point: I have met Mike Griffin. He retains a good working knowledge of what it takes to build a spacecraft. He is also a pretty good administrator. After the cipher named Sean O’keefe and the misguided leadership of Dan Goldin, Griffin is someone who at least knows which end of the rocket should point up. I say this despite the fact that I have serious reservations about the wisdom of manned space flight–a goal Griffin views as the real purpose of NASA. To his credit, he was good natured and forthcoming when I asked him some rather pointed (some might say insubordinate) questions about the manned program.
    Griffin made a mistake–voicing an opinion on a topic that he has not thought out very clearly or deeply. Making climate policy is an area that he views as outside his job description and his interest. Frankly, I do not know if you could get him to change his opinion by presenting him with more information. However, I don’t think his personal views will influence his decisions at NASA. If there is renewed funding for climate research at NASA (and I hope it is) it will be earmarked by Congress, and Griffin (hopefully) won’t be able to touch it. This is something that will bear watching. The cuts to NASA’s science budget have not been isolated to the climate program. The spending used to be 50-50 between science and manned. It is now more like 30-70 in favor of manned space flight.
    However, I would rather have an administrator who expresses the occasional intemperate opinion but to whom I could go with a serious technical problem than an administrator who mouths all the right words but has no passion for building satellites.

  20. 120

    Re #114:

    As impressive as EdGCM is in its output, I encourage people to look at the output more closely and much more critically. It’s a nice toy, and a great way to slurp up processor power by the MFLOP, but I wouldn’t base any decision in any aspect of my life (other than “Do I buy a larger computer?”) on it.

  21. 121
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    #112, Hank, the increased snowfall is a negative feedback regardless of the net glacial mass. Hansen’s “albedo flip” is a perfect example of cherry picking: “Snow-covered ice reflects back to space most of the sunlight striking it. However, as warming causes melting on the surface, the darker wet ice absorbs much more solar energy” (http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/2/2/024002/erl7_2_024002.html)

    The modeled increase in snowfall (again regardless of the net change) contradicts his albedo flip premise. There are many other negative feedbacks that Hansen ignores: increased rainfall (http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=Science&article=UPI-1-20070601-19364200-bc-us-climatechange.xml) and related negative feedbacks: more energetic polar vortex, more concentrated convection, etc.

    Cherry picking is when an article talks about positive feedbacks without mentioning the negative ones or at least a comprehensive model that includes both.

  22. 122
    ray ladbury says:

    Malthus thesis is sound. Populations do tend to grow exponentially unless there is some “moral restraint”. There are plenty of examples in nature as well as of human societies where such “restraint” has been instituted. Keep in mind that when Malthus was writing, any type of birth control was extremely rudimentary and unreliable). At that time, a woman tended to become pregnant as soon as she stopped lactating–roughly every 2 years. The advent of birth control is a type of moral restraint–based on the moral supposition that women should have the right to control their reproduction. The fall of birthrates in industrialized countries is based on one thing Malthus probably could not have anticipated–the tilt of urban economics to favor fewer children. Still, I would contend that the basic tenets of Malthus were correct. Unless population is regulated, it will outstrip the ability of production to support it and crash. If nothing else, we can extrapolate the unrestricted population curve to the point where the mass of the human population equals the mass of the planet–and clearly that provides an upper limit that will not be transcended (and if you think space travel can do it, you need to look at how much energy it takes to accelerate a human and all his or her infrastructure to escape velocity).

  23. 123
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim Dukelow wrote regarding Griffin:

    Finally, he passes to the critical remark, which is not climatological, but rather political and ethical: “And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

    [...]

    I happen to disagree with Griffin’s political and ethical pronouncement, but like all of us, he has a right to those views, whatever his background in climatology.

    I agree with Jim’s point that Griffin’s controversial remark is “not climatological, but rather political and ethical”, and I agree that Griffin, like anyone else, “has a right” to whatever political and ethical views he may hold.

    However, Timothy Chase comments regarding the same statement by Griffin,

    I find the following statement incredible [...] It isn’t a question of vanilla vs. chocolate. It isn’t a question of whether you would prefer to live in Los Angeles or Seattle. It is serious climate change which threatens to displace millions, cause water scarcities for somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion and starvation on scales that are unprecidented in human history – and that is just for starters. Moreover, it is a question of how fast climate change will take place – and both how uncontrollable and unpredictable it may become.

    Now, there is overwhelming, rapidly increasing empirical evidence, and overwhelming, rapidly strengthening scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming, if we do not “wrestle” it to a halt in the very near future, will cause exactly the unprecedented suffering, deprivation, displacement and death to hundreds of millions of human beings that Timothy Chase succinctly describes.

    And indeed that is only the start, since continued accelerating anthropogenic global warming, combined with the carbon feedbacks that it is already triggering, threaten not only the continued existence of human civilization, but the survival of the human species, along with the survival of a majority of all Earth’s species, and conceivably threaten the capacity of the Earth to support life — at least anything resembling the rich, diverse biosphere that we know today.

    I would submit that if Griffin does not accept the overwhelming scientific consensus about the grave threat presented by global warming, if he believes that it is a relatively trivial problem that we don’t need to “wrestle with”, then he is in fact profoundly ignorant of climate science and what it tells us about global warming. In that case, his ethical & political views are subject to the criticism that they are based on ignorance — an ignorance that is legitimately seen as outrageous and shocking for a man in his position, who moreover is taking advantage of that position to publicize his ill-informed ethical and political views.

    On the other hand, if Griffin does recognize the seriousness of global warming, if he is cognizant of the vast suffering and harm and irreversible damage to all life on Earth that it portends, then his “ethical and political view” that it would be “arrogant” to try to prevent it is the “ethical and political view” of a madman or a monster, and is rightly condemned by anyone whose ethical or political views place any value whatever on the well-being of sentient beings.

  24. 124
    Timothy Chase says:

    Eric (#108) wrote:

    #56, Timothy, sorry I should have been clearer (I keep forgetting this is a very literal forum). You did not cherry pick articles, you picked out a reasonable sample of tipping point articles. The problem was with the articles themselves. They do not reference models or comprehensive measurements to support the tipping point hypothesis. Your follow-up post does the same, but the observations are being cherry-picked. Here is just one example of more snow in greenland:

    http://edgcm.columbia.edu/images/stories/ScienceToday/Greenland/fig9.png

    This type of hypothetical result works against tipping point. There are many others: some types of clouds, energized jet stream, more storms, concentrated convection, and other negative feedbacks leading to cooling. The tipping point articles routinely ignore any of these factors.

    In G8 summit declaration: Comment #18 I point out that snowfall will actually increase the absorbtion of sunlight with glaciers since melting snow is darker than the glaciers themselves. Additionally, snow will cause the expansion of drains through which water reaches the bottom of glaciers, lubricating them and accelerating the rate at which they descend. In places like Greenland and the western Antarctic Peninsula this will result in their descent towards the ocean at an accelerated rate. Elsewhere it will result in some dramatic flooding (see the article I linked to in #113) and more rapid onset of water shortages and decreased agricultural output as rivers dry up (ibid.). Negative feedback? Well, yes, I suppose the snow is a temporary negative feedback, but results in other, stronger positive feedbacks. It should also be noted that the increased rate rising sea level mentioned above carries with it additional positive feedbacks of a fairly serious nature as rising sea level due to either Greenland or the western Antarctic Peninsula will increase the rate at which ice is lost from the other. And in all cases, glacier loss increases the albedo feedback where glacier melt lowers the albedo of the earth and thus increases the degree to which sunlight is converted into thermal energy – and this will feed into other positive feedbacks.

    Now you refered to “more storms” and more “concentrated convection.”

    Well, we aren’t sure that there will be more storms – I don’t think anyone has done the analysis as of yet. Likewise, if by “concentrated convection” you are refering to tornadoes, currently the evidence we have is only suggestive. However, if you mean hurricanes of increased intensity, well yes, that looks quite likely at this point – and there is a substanial amount of evidence suggesting that it has already begun. But I am not sure that this is the sort of “negative feedback” people will actually wish to see. Moreover, it carries with it a positive feedback of sorts that we weren’t aware of before: increased circulation of warm water towards the poles – resulting in the more rapid loss of albedo.

    However, if by increased convection, you mean what we are seeing in the Antarctic Ocean where increased convection is carrying more water vapour into the stratosphere, resulting in more rapid loss of ozone, decreased greenhouse effect in the stratosphere as ozone is a greenhouse gas,leading to stronger winds at the surface, well, yes, the increased convection is a negative feedback of sorts, but given the stronger winds at the surface, this is decreasing the ability of the Antarctic Ocean to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – which itself leads to more positive feedback. Similarly, your so-called “negative feedback” is resulting in the faster rate at which the Arctic is warming, resulting in the lower uptake of carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere by the ocean – and thus contributing to the global rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    Now what about clouds?

    There isn’t much reason to expect the lighter, more dispersed clouds. The increased evaporation (which itself leads to higher levels of water vapour in the atmosphere and an increased greenhouse effect) will, upon condensing into clouds tend to result in deeper, darker clouds – which won’t be that effective at increasing the albedo of the earth. Storms are more likely to dump their rain prematurely, over the ocean where such evaporation takes place – and this substantially increases the likelihood that, for example, the Amazon river basin will dry out and become a desert. The fires which may very well sweep through would themselves increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and diminish the ability of the biosphere to absorb carbon dioxide. Likewise the droughts and higher temperatures in other areas will diminish the ability of the biosphere to absorb carbon dioxide. As such, at present this is more of a positive feedback. The oceans can do without the rain, where it will become more likely, but we can’t, where it will become less likely – except in more infrequent and more intense when it does occur.

    But you will notice that of the things you’ve mentioned, I have left the “more energized” jet stream until last. The jet stream itself is part of a circulation of warmer air from latitudes closer to the equator towards the poles. As such, it would actually be increasing the rate at which the polar regions warm – resulting in positive feedbacks which I have already mentioned. But at some point those positive feedbacks will have melted away with the ice and the destruction of much of our ozone. Once these other more positive feedbacks have disappeared, the negative feedbacks you have mentioned (e.g., hurricanes) will remain and help to stabilize the climate, increasing the rate at which thermal energy is lost to space. But by that time the earth will have become quite different from what we have known over the past ten millenia, much closer to something we haven’t known for the past 200 million years.

  25. 125
    Nicolas L. says:

    No population grows forever exponentially (or grows forever at all), neither in nature nor in human societies. There is always a regulation of some kind, the food shortage and increased competition being of course the most �extreme�. Our modern human societies have their own regulation which is demographic transition. We can discuss to know if demographic transition is a natural or moral phenomenon. I�d say it�s mostly natural. The moral component of it, meaning the acceptation of contraception, historically follows the beginning of the transition. The most of the movement is due to the transition from rural life with subsistence agriculture to urban life. This phenomenon can be qualified as �natural� as it is not driven by any law (in the jurisdictional sense) or moral behaviour. People just go where jobs, meaning money, meaning food, are.
    Secondly, Malthus was not only wrong in not anticipating future demographic movements like this, but also in thinking resources and mostly food supply grow up arithmetically. Food supply in the last 2 centuries, grew also exponentially, and in fact faster than population.
    Basically, he was wrong on the two main suppositions on which his theory relied on.
    Finally, the stricter conscious population�s regulation attempts that we can see in China and India are pretty inefficient to reduce effectively the population. All they do is reducing the growth rate, which we can predict will follow its course until China and India become fully developed countries.
    Ok, I�ll stop here but you can visit wikipedia and their very interesting link on demographic transition:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition

  26. 126
    Steve says:

    Metaphorically, Mr Cockburn simply enjoys hearing himself talk.

    I’m a longtime subscriber to The Nation. I have long ago learned to skip his column and head straight for the crossword puzzle.

    When he wrote a column defending Stalin by minimizing Stalin’s well-documented crimes (not 10 million killed — only 5 — or some such balderdash), it was clear that he had no credibility as a journalist whatsoever.

    He just likes to stir the pot and generate dozens of letters to The Nation so that he can get a few more column inches in the letters pages for his reply, which is usually ad hominem and mean spirited.

  27. 127
    Rick says:

    Since Steve brought us back to the nominal topic of this thread, I’ll chime in. About a decade ago, I was very involved in a conservation issue that Cockburn chose to write about. His indifference to facts became apparent quite quickly, and was confirmed by a friend who knew Cockburn’s fact-checker. When Cockburn’s penchant for ad hominem reached the point it was indistinguishable from the behavior of a sociopath, I gave up on both him and The Nation.

  28. 128

    Re #122 — Ray has hit it exactly. Malthus’s thesis, in a nutshell, was:

    Population will expand past the food supply, and then people will die, unless they practice “moral restraint,” i.e., don’t have as many kids as they could.

    That thesis, at least in the long run, has never been shown to be wrong. You can alter the conclusion a bit by expanding the food supply, but that can never be more than a temporary solution. Population will always hit whatever food production rate you come up with — unless you “practice moral restraint.”

  29. 129
    John Mashey says:

    re: #125
    Malthus may well have the last word, although he didn’t really foresee the effects of:
    - Industrial Revolution
    - Mass urbanization and drop in subsistence farming
    - Green Revolution

    Malthus published ~1800, at which point ~80% of people in USA lived on farms, then:
    1900: 40%
    2000: ~2%

    Having grown up on a farm (1950s-1960s), I an attest to it having plusses, but it is also very hard work, and especially if you have livestock, neverending. I’ve run into people waxing lyrical about how nice it would be to live on a farm … but none of them had grown up there. First-world farmers are embedded in a high-tech civilization, and it can be OK, and it works to have only 2%. India is still 60-70% farmers.

    Just as we’re entering a new climate domain, we may be entering a new domain of food+population:

    1) We have likely gotten most of the “low-hanging fruit” from the Green Revolution, except perhaps in Africa. See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug [1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner]

    It may well be that GM {foods and fuel-plants} will help, although that certainly causes opinion conflicts for some environmentalists. I wouldn’t automatically assume there’s another Green Revolution just lying around.

    Anyway, food yields are leveling off in many places. and Borlaug thinks good food yields are important to minimize deforestation.

    2) It is not at all clear that the mass urbanization ongoing/expected in many less-developed countries will lead to the same sort of demographic transition as happened in the existing developed countries, which managed to get rich as they urbanized, and had cheap energy to help that work.

    3) Does anyone get nervous at the prospect of huge third-world mega-cities (where most population growth is expected), with lots of barely-fed people? That seems like a good recipe for political trouble, especially in an era when energy won’t be so cheap. Although there are plenty of other reasons, the progress of Zimbabwe from breadbasket to basket-case, even with just 35% urban population, does not augur well. Hungry people = political instability, and large, poor cities have been prone to pandemics.

    4) Another recipe for trouble: societies that have a large excess of young men with minimal marriage prospects tend to have social trouble. The normal 105:100 mail:female birth ratio is already over 135:100 in some areas of China and India… Of course, this problem is self-correcting, eventually.

    5) In urban environments, many people really don’t *really* understand how food gets there (and how energy-intensive it is). A grad school colleague was from New York City, and his only office decoration was a NYC subway map. He liked chocolate milk, so one day we took him the farm at the edge of the (Penn State) campus, and showed him the dark chocolate cows. He wasn’t really sure we were kidding. :-)

    Anyway, some people interpret Borlaug’s Green Revolution as nullifying Malthus, but Borlaug doesn’t agree with them… Borlaug’s 1970 Nobel acceptance is still relevant, and the last part of his talk is rather Malthusian:
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1970/borlaug-lecture.html

  30. 130
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Timothy, quite frankly I am confused about ozone. Isn’t ozone depletion (as bad as it might be otherwise), a negative feedback? Also wouldn’t increased winds from stratospheric cooling increase CO2 uptake at the ocean surface? By concentrated convection I meant the concentration of cool cloud tops especially over oceans allowing greater subsidence and LW radiation to space in the clear areas. As you note, increased snowfall (in Greenland) might be a temporary negative feedback. But tipping point is about the present, not the long term.

    Perhaps this paper helps answer the ozone question: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/97/4/1412.pdf My main question is does stratospheric cooling due to loss of ozone contribute to net warming by reducing IR into space or does it cause cooling by allowing more IR into space? It seems like it would also depend on any convective transfer with the troposphere which would depend on concentration of convection (which I believe generally increases with GW). In that case ozone depletion would part of a negative feedback.

    As for the oceanic CO2 uptake, it seems intuitive that CO2 transfer increases with wind speed. Here’s an example: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/pubs/outstand/feel2331/figs.shtml in figure 4.

    Clouds are a big unknown and your points are good, except, as I have mentioned here before, for fires. They are short term negative feedback from aerosols. Probably more unknowns than knowns even with fire especially considering what happens after the fire.

    Finally about the jet stream. There are reasons for the energized (highly oscillatory) jet to be a negative feedback and some for it to be positive. The positive ones like warming polar regions are partly offset when considering corresponding cooling (and lowered CO2 output) in nonpolar regions. The jet would also cause more concentrated convection as I noted above.

    You are correct that more hurricanes and monsoons will cause lots of other problems, but they are nonetheless negative feedbacks.

  31. 131
    James says:

    Re #104: [Ok, I'm gonna try to go straight to the point. Malthus was wrong because of 2 major flaws in its thesis]

    Those are “flaws” only in the sense that Newton’s Laws are flawed because they don’t take relativistic effects into account. Similarly, the constants in Malthus’ equations can be changed. In particular, the agricultural productivity per acre can be increased by technology, or more acres can be cultivated, but both of those have obvious limits. So far food production has kept ahead of population growth, but it’s a race that ultimately can’t be won.

    [- he assumed population growth would not naturally stop by itself, which is of course wrong given the demographic transition phenomena that touches all populations reaching a certain standard of living. The main population growth takes place during the transition period of a developing economy to a developped economy, then stops and is replaced by a slow population decay. Population growth is just a temporary state lasting about 100 years, more or less 50 years.]

    Would you care to cite even one example where this has happened, other than temporarily & locally? In fact, if you consider the global population, I think you will find that the situation is exactly the opposite. Thanks to the spread of western medicine, the last century or so saw a great increase in population growth, because more humans survived to reproductive age. Now that’s returning to something approximating historical norms, as the expectation that most children will survive to adulthood becomes the norm. But that norm is still an increase.

  32. 132
    John Mashey says:

    re: #128, #104
    Most estimates I’ve seen say ~9B in 2050, with most of the growth in Africa and Asia, usually expected in large megacities.

    People might be familiar with Normal Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace prize winner (i.e., Green Revolution), but if you aren’t … he’s probably one of the most impactful humans in history (that many don’t know):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

    Many people have credited him for disproving Malthus … BUT
    he didn’t think Malthus had been disproved … merely held off 30 years.

    His 1970 acceptance address is still worth reading:
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1970/borlaug-lecture.html

    “Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the “Population Monster …
    Malthus signaled the danger a century and a half ago. But he emphasized principally the danger that population would increase faster than food supplies. In his time he could not foresee the tremendous increase in man’s food production potential. Nor could he have foreseen the disturbing and destructive physical and mental consequences of the grotesque concentration of human beings into the poisoned and clangorous environment of pathologically hypertrophied megalopoles. Can human beings endure the strain? Abnormal stresses and strains tend to accentuate man’s animal instincts and provoke irrational and socially disruptive behavior among the less stable individuals in the maddening crowd.”

  33. 133
    Greg Bacon says:

    Dissidents Against Dogma

    By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

    “Now read Dr. Jeffrey Glassman, applied physicist and engineer, retired from California’s academic and corporate sectors, who provides an elegant demonstration of how the absorption and release of CO2 from the enormous carbon reservoir in the earth’s oceans controls atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This absorption and release is very much a function of the earth’s temperature and Glassman shows how the increase in atmospheric CO2 is the consequence of temperature, not the cause.”

    Copied and posted from Cockburn’s latest screed on GW (June 9-10) i have a question about his comment on how the…” increase in atmospheric CO2 is the consequence of temperature, not the cause.”

  34. 134
    Greg Bacon says:

    Debunking the Debunkers

    After reading more of Cockburn’s latest article on Climate Change online in Counterpunch, June 9-10 edition, came across the name of a certain Patrick J. Michaels that Cockburn quotes.

    Went to a site called “Exxon Secrets Factsheet” and googled Mr. Michaels and this is part of what they found out about Michaels:

    Michaels is the Chief Editor for the “World Climate Review,” a newsletter on global warming funded by the Western Fuels Association. Dr. Michaels has acknowledged that 20% of his funding comes from fossil fuel sources: (http://www.mtn.org/~nescncl/complaints/determinations/det_118.html) Known funding includes $49,000 from German Coal Mining Association, $15,000 from Edison Electric Institute and $40,000 from Cyprus Minerals Company, an early supporter of People for the West, a “wise use” group. He received $63,000 for research on global climate change from Western Fuels Association, above and beyond the undisclosed amount he is paid for the World Climate Report/Review. According to Harper’s magazine, Michaels has recieved over $115,000 over the past four years from coal and oil interests. Michaels wrote “Sound and Fury” and “The Satanic Gases” which were published by Cato Institute. Dr. Michaels signed the 1995 Leipzig Declaration. In July of 2006, it was revealed that the Intermountain Rural Electric Association “contributed $100,000 to Dr. Michaels.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/GlobalWarming/story?id=2242565&page=1) ALEC advisor. http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=11310 and http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3558

    Surely, just because someone receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from organizations like Exxon Mobil and others wouldn’t affect their scientific neutrality, now would it? (Tongue planted firmly in cheek)

    Have done several searches on names in past Cockburn articles and guess what? Nearly all of the people he cites can be found on the Exxon Secrets site and they all have received some type of money from companies like Exxon Mobil.

    Coincidence, huh?

    Here’s the link to that excellent site:

    http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/listorganizations.php

  35. 135
    Nicolas L. says:

    re 128: “Would you care to cite even one example where this has happened, other than temporarily & locally?”

    Of course I do :): this phenomenon happened in all the European countries with no exception. And it is everything but temporary.
    Demographic transition is already completed in all of North American and European countries, but also in some Asian countries. Lots of these countries now experience a negative population growth, and those who still manage to keep a positive (but still small) population growth (like USA) do it thanks to the immigrate populations.
    Here are some sample of population growths in developed countries:
    _the total world growth is 1.116
    _USA: 0.894
    _UK: 0.275
    _European union average: 0.16
    _Germany: -0.033
    _Poland: -0.046
    _Japan: -0.088
    _South Africa: -0.46

    Demographic transition is nothing like theory, it�s been fully observed in all developed countries. And this explains why population growth follows a logistic model, not an exponential model.
    If you want global data: The world population growth rate is expected to decline during the 21st century. The world population growth rate had its peak around 1960, when it was over 2%, and is slightly declining since (1.116% now). It is expected to be near 0.5% in 2050. You can go check this here:
    http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/world.html

    Now, another link to learn more about Malthusian theory and population demography:
    http://geography.berkeley.edu/ProgramCourses/CoursePagesSP2006/Geog130/geog130.html
    Itâ��s the program of the Berkeley University course on “populations and natural resources”, I followed it a few years ago and itâ��s quite instructive :).

  36. 136
    GERALD RELLICK says:

    The article cited at the beginning by Justin Podur at Znet, â??GW Suspicions and Confusions,â?? (http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=12796&sectionID=57),
    is itself suspicious and confusing, not to mention downright awful. Podurâ??s approach to the GW debate is to focus on â??elitistsâ?? and â??leftistsâ?? battling for control. By my count he uses â??elitistsâ?? 22 times and â??leftistsâ?? 19 times in his article. But from his poor writing itâ??s not clear who or what these people/groups are, or if they are fighting against or with each other. His article offers no real insight into either the scientific or policy issues involved in the GW debate.

    RC should have become suspicious when reading two of Podurâ??s most stupefying statements:

    â??I believe there are some things that can be known about the natural world, and scientists have uncovered some of these things, including about the climate system.â??

    Imagine that: Podur believes science has some credibility!

    And this, from his next-to-last sentence in the article:

    â??Rather than a debate over the validity of discredited scientific positions, what is needed is a debate on how to resist the elite agendas that have led to the warming, then to its denial, and that now seek to co-opt movements for change.â?? [my emphasis].

    If the scientific positions are â??discreditedâ?? then why would there be a debate over their â??validity?â?? And worse, â??agendasâ?? (elite or otherwise) do not â?? as best I understand it — lead to warming. Rather, I think it has something to do with the earthâ??s response to a variety of chemical and physical changes that leads to warming.

  37. 137
    James says:

    Re #135: [Here are some sample of population growths in developed countries:]

    Funny, I seem to find quite different numbers. A few minutes with Google comes up with, for instance:

    US population, from factfinder.census.gov:

    2006 299,398,484
    2000 281,421,906
    1990 248,709,873

    UK population increased by 7.7 per cent since 1971, here: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=6

    European Union: “Data from the EU’s statistical office shows that between 1975 and 1995 the EU population grew by just over 6%. From 1995 to 2025 however, this growth is expected to almost half to roughly 3.7%.”, here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2053581.stm

    [The world population growth rate is expected to decline during the 21st century. The world population growth rate had its peak around 1960...]

    Notice that this is the growth rate, not the population growth itself. Even if the rate declines, as long as it stays above 1.0, the population keeps increasing.

    This squares with my hypothesis that here is what we might call a natural (positive) population growth rate, which is probably partly psychological. That is, there’s a goal of having X number of surviving offspring, X being the most you can expect to raise successfully. Throughout most of human history, people had to have C * X to ensure X survivors, where C was usually 2 or more. Then along came western medicine, reduced C to nearly 1, and as a consequence increased the growth rate because there was still an expectation of large C. After a few generations, that expectation is changing, and so growth rates are declining, but only back to their previous levels.

  38. 138
    Nicolas L. says:

    re 137 : “Funny, I seem to find quite different numbers. A few minutes with Google comes up with, for instance”

    Actually no, we have the same numbers, but we have a different way to interpret them :). The population growth declines once population growth rate is below 0. This already happened in a few countries that finished their demographic transition. USA is the exemple you give, and still has a quite positive population growth rate thanks to its immigration policy. Without immigration, US population growth rate would become negative around 2015, and US population would start to decline.
    Due to the nature of demographic transition, the world population growth rate is declining since the 60′s. There’s no clue to say for now it will stabilize above 0, and actually the demographic history of developped countries would tend to show it will go slightly below 0, meaning world population will stabilize and even start to diminish. The maximum population under this model is hard to predict but studies go from 10 to 12 billion after 2050. Decline would start around 2100. Of course, this doesn’t anticipate the probable huge effetcs of GW.

  39. 139
    John Mashey says:

    re: #135
    Rich urbanized societies have made / are making / will make the demographic transition, but that’s not the (population) problem.

    http://www.finfacts.ie/biz10/globalworldincomepercapita.htm estimates the 2005 per capita incomes
    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/LUC/Papers/gkh1/chap1.htm shows the 10 countries which will contribute most to world population growth (1995-2025), listed in order below.

    2005 $ Country
    ….$ 720 India
    ..$1,740 China
    ….$ 690 Pakistan
    ….$ 560 Nigeria
    ….$ 160 Ethiopia
    ..$1,280 Indonesia
    $59,590 USA
    ….$ 470 Bangladesh
    ….$ 120 Zaire (Congo)
    ..$2,770 Iran

    Of these countries, exactly one is already rich&urban, and several others are headed that way, but have long ways to go. For some, it’s very hard for to see how these grow to be rich urban societies any time soon.

    Nicholas K: can you give us references to indicate why you think that the rest of the world can turn into urbanized rich in the same way that developed countries have, especially given pressure on water & topsoil, and (over next 50 years) likely diminished availability of cheap oil?

    In some cases, the expansion will come in vast slums. Can you cite some references to believe that these generate the same demographic transitions as living in Manhattan or Tokyo or London?

    Have you visited any large city in India, or breathed the air lately in Bejing or Shanghai? Mumbai is built on an island, mostly near sea-level, and has 25M people. Shanghai is “building Green City on One Meter Elevation land”, and already has ~19N people. When I first visited Beijing in 1988, it was mostly bicycles … not any more. Given that most of the growth is expected in developing countries, in urban areas, 2.5B people is akin to having 100 more Mumbai/Shanghai’s by 2050. Is that for real?

    At least 4 of the countries on that list depend on rivers fed from the Himalaya. Most of those countries have sizable coastlines.

    Anyway, I think people understand a fairly smooth demographic transitions from rural-farming to urban-industrial, over 150 years, but it would be encouraging to believe this will also happen in the next 50 years, on a much vaster scale, without causing trouble. So, what is there to help us believe that? in the absence of convincing evidence, I’d stick with Borlaug in being nervous.

  40. 140
    Ike Solem says:

    Regarding Cockburn’s most recent piece, it’s clear he has no understanding of the topic. As usual, the politically motivated commentators are comfortable with scientific and logical inconsistency. The piece is essentially ‘argument by reference to my chosen experts’ but has some glaring self-contradictions.

    The most obvious one is this phrase: “…the other huge embarrassment facing the modelers is the well-researched and well-established fact published in many papers that temperature changes first and CO2 levels change 600 to 1,000 years later. Any rational person would immediately conclude that CO2 could not possibly cause temperature if the rise in CO2 in comes centuries after the rise in temperature”

    This has been addressed at RC and many other places, and the explanation is that multiple forcings, including Milankovitch, initiate a process which leads to atmospheric CO2 rises, decreasing albedo, etc. Think of striking a match – is it the initial friction, the reactive chemical tip, or the wooden stick that is responsible for the total observed temperature rise?

    Cockburn then says “Unfortunately for the climate modelers the history of the earth’s many temperature and CO2 swings tells us that it obviously does not get worse and worse. After any given warming phase begins, thousands of years later the cyclical Milankovitch decrease in the sun’s heat kicks in….Obviously the “bad” CO2 must disappear due to some “feedback” that the modelers haven’t thought of yet, i.e., one that keeps the earth’s climate in rough equilibrium.”

    Of course, any examination of the science would reveal that there are multiple mechanisms for drawing down CO2 – photosynthesis overtaking respiration being one likely one, leading to carbon storage in cooling soils and in the ocean. Cockburn ignores the fact that 100+ million year old fossil carbon is being added to the active carbon pool, thereby changing the entire system.

    Earlier in the piece, Cockburn states that “…the absorption and release of CO2 from the enormous carbon reservoir in the earth’s oceans controls atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This absorption and release is very much a function of the earth’s temperature and Glassman shows how the increase in atmospheric CO2 is the consequence of temperature.”

    Yes – just like the conversion of chemical energy to heat energy by a match is also the consequence of the temperature change due to the initial friction of striking a match. How could this possibly be, Mr. Cockburn? What’s odd is that Cockburn seems to be saying that CO2 affects temperature and also that it doesn’t – or is he just trotting out a supplied list of contrarian arguments? Does he really believe that infrared-absorbing atmospheric gases have no effect on planetary surface temperatures?

    There are other false claims; one is that modelers are incapable of handling water vapor, which is false – although clouds do remain a source of uncertainty – which doesn’t mean that global warming is a hoax, it means a broader spread in the predictive output, in both positive and negative directions. The most egregious claim is that changes in solar energy output are responsible for the observed warming – he ignores neutron-flux data on the flat solar output since measurements began, as well as the other evidence against this (greenhouse gases lead to stratospheric cooling; increases in solar output would lead to stratospheric warming – which isn’t observed).

    I think what Mr. Cockburn is really upset about can be seen in this opening phrase: “The left has been swept along, entranced by the allure of weather as revolutionary agent, naïvely conceiving of global warming as a crisis that will force radical social changes on capitalism by the weight of the global emergency. Amid the collapse of genuinely radical politics….”

    Mr. Cockburn seems to dream of some radical political upheaval leading to a ‘communist revolution’ – a la George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. He has no problem with misrepresenting and distorting scientific inquiry if it helps with this aim. If anything, all this confirms the words of Freeman Dyson:

    “Science will always have to defend itself against enemies of freedom on two sides, against ideological enemies on one side and against commercial enemies on the other. The ideological enemies are not only Christian fundamentalists on the Right, but also dogmatic Marxists and environmentalists on the Left. The commercial enemies are not only monopolistic corporations interested in profits, but also corrupt politicians interested in power.”

    I would have posted this on his ‘counterpunch’ web site – but it doesn’t allow comments, which is unsurprising.

  41. 141
    El Cid says:

    Re: 140.

    I am “politically motivated,” but I believe that Cockburn is wrong both on his scientific and his political analyses in regard to anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

    He appears to have made a logical error in assuming that if it were true that capitalist and global economic elites could manipulate the worldwide response to anthropogenic global warming, then they would only do so if AGW were fake.

    But he fails — in an extraordinary failure of insight for an experienced political writer like himself — to consider the possibility that elites could BOTH manipulate (and I mean that in a realistic, limited fashion, in the ordinary ways of PR, or backing political campaigns, etc., not any movie-style puppetry conspiracy notion) the global response to AGW and at the same time AGW could be TRUE.

    It is a simple and logical observation about the elementary social and economic aspects of the world to say that IF AGW is true, and IF the elites whom Cockburn doesn’t like / trust are demanding a global response to AGW, it is ALSO true that they wish to shape that response as they prefer.

    Why is this so complicated for him to understand?

    For example, whether he were right or wrong in his perception that AGW concerns were being used by the nuclear power industry to make more money, it is NOT logically necessary that AGW be false in order for that to happen.

    If I were the evil nuke industry conspirator hypothesized by Cockburn, why would it be necessary for AGW to be false in order for me to work as hard as I could to convince everyone that my (nuclear power) industry would be the right place in which to spend a lot of money fighting AGW?

    Wouldn’t I do that whether AGW were true or not? In fact, wouldn’t my job be even easier if AGW were true?

    And if it were true that a given $1 Billion spent in conservation yielded greater rewards to fighting AGW and in social benefits than that same $1 Billion invested in, say, my industry of nuclear power, wouldn’t I (as a self-interested nuclear industry type described by Cockburn) be working even harder in order to make sure that government spending, etc., prioritized my industry over that of conservation?

    Notice that I’ve listed lots of exciting intrigues, scandals, and fights over resources, perfect for muck-raking leftist investigative reporters to launch into, and yet none of it requires that AGW be false.

    And that’s before considering the science, which overwhelmingly demonstrates that AGW is real and significant.

  42. 142
    fredrik says:

    “I believe that what I said was that engineers do not typically have a working knowledge of how science is done on a daily basis, because they do not do science.”

    Someone with a PhD in any subject has a degree as a researcher. He should now how to do research and many of them works as researchers. PhD in engineering subjects also publish in peer-reviewed journals. I dont see any difference between a researcher working in for example physics and one researcher working in for example structural dynamics. A lot of research in engineering subjects is modeling of some process. I see no fundamental difference between modeling an offshore windturbine and modeling the climate. The methology is the same.

    I can see a difference between researcher and non researcher but not a fundamental difference between a researcher in a engineering field and a researcher in a science field. That is my point and you seem to disagree with it.

    “I do at least practice science on a daily basis though.”

    What is it to practice science? Do gavin practice science? Do people modeling offshore windturbines practice science?

  43. 143
    nicolas L. says:

    re 139 John

    I was initially just trying to debunk this whole idea of “let’s get the world population back to 1 billion quickly” and the myth of the Malthusian ever growing population (until a big catastrophe comes), but this question is much larger and overpasses the simple demographic problem.
    Basically, your question is: will the future population growth of developing countries know a demographic transition, and most of all will it be environmentally and socially “friendly”? Do I get it right?
    First, do I believe that countries like China and India will experience the same demographic transition?
    If you look at the population census and projections in the future for India(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_India), you’ll get those decadal population growth rates:
    _ Between 1960-1970: 20%;
    _ Between 1990-2000: 17%;
    _ Between 2020-2030: 11%;
    _ Between 2040-2050: 7%;
    With this projection, we can estimate a maximal population somewhere between 2070 and 2100, and around 2 billion people. Of course this is a very ruff projection, and possibly one should build a multi-scenario model with different economical growths and birth and death rates. But the result is this: Indian population will probably not “go further” than 2 billion people. At the same time, we can see the rate of people living below poverty line goes down since the 60′s. It was 55% in 1973 (320 million people), it’s now around 23 (250 million people). The overall population growth doesn’t seem until now to diminish resources available for each people, as it’s well compensated with economic growth.
    We can also say the population of India will have quadrupled between 1950 (beginning of Indian economic growth) and 2100. We can compare it to the demography of the first industrialized country and most flourishing economy of the 19th century, England.
    English population was around 15 million ppl in 1840, it’s now around 50 million (more than tripled). When we compare the two, we can see similarity in the phenomenon.
    And we can make pretty much the same thing with China. So, yes, I do believe demographic transition will happen in those countries.
    Now, about social and ecological impacts. I’m not sure I’m the most qualified to answer this, as my field of study is more in Eastern Europe. But judging by what we have known in Europe, the costs will be high. We just have to look at the state of our natural resources (for example in France, where I leave) to see that it suffered a lot from our activities. And the social costs lead to numerous revolts of workers by the end of the nineteenth century in most of European countries, most notably of course in Russia. No much people seem to remember now, but in the nineteenth century London was known for its space devouring urbanisation, criminality rate, pollution rate and of course its multiple shanty towns. All around the biggest cities of the world (New York, Paris), you could find those horrible living conditions and places. It’s pretty much the same phenomenon we see now in the biggest cities of the emerging countries.
    We also have to deal with the fact that we used without any restriction fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, which of course present emerging countries have to at least partially avoid (and by partially, I’d like to say totally). There I’ll let some other ppl answer, because I’m not a specialist in the energy field.
    So, the question is: will emerging countries be able to develop and avoid too deep consequences on environment and social activities? If I had the answer, I’d probably be very rich by now. But I keep hope in human ability to find new ways and technologies quickly. I actually prefer believe in that, that saying “we’re already doomed, let’s reduce world population by 80%”.
    Now, of course, there is still the case of Africa. Africa is really where the big development problems are. Africa is facing a huge population growth (multiplied by 2 in 50 years), but its development level is still very low. I think that if we got a problem itâ??s mainly here, and if there is some urgent action to take, itâ??s the right place to go. Before trying to install an opened market in Africa, which is the main issue of the development policies that took place so far in this continent, we should try first to help build solid social and political structuresâ?¦ but for now it sounds like utopia unfortunately.
    Ok, hope I answered your question. And of course, this is just my point of view, I don’t expect everybody to agree on such a huge issue :)

  44. 144

    [[Demographic transition is nothing like theory, it�s been fully observed in all developed countries. And this explains why population growth follows a logistic model, not an exponential model.]]

    There seems to be some confusion here over what Malthus said. He did not say “population always expands exponentially, in every case.” He said, “population expands exponentially, unless moral restraint is practiced.” The folks in the low- or zero-growth first world did not achieve non-exponential growth magically, they achieved it through widespread use of contraception and abortion. That’s the technological equivalent of Malthus’s “moral restraint.”

  45. 145

    The answer to the “CO2 follows temperature increase” folks is simple. In natural global warming, it does. The present warming is not natural. The CO2 is not coming from the ocean, it’s coming from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and cement manufacture. We can tell from the isotope signature that most of the new CO2 is not, repeat not, from the ocean.

    Just because natural warming can happen doesn’t mean warming is always natural. Cockburn’s stance is equivalent to saying, “People have died of natural causes for thousands of years, so this guy with the twenty bullet holes in him can’t have been killed by another human being.”

  46. 146
    nicolas L. says:

    re: 145

    No confusion :). As I have already pointed, “moral restraint” of contraception is a secondary reason for demographic transition, which is much closer from a natural phenomenon.

    125: “We can discuss to know if demographic transition is a natural or moral phenomenon. I’d say it’s mostly natural. The moral component of it, meaning the acceptation of contraception, historically follows the beginning of the transition. The most of the movement is due to the transition from rural life with subsistence agriculture to urban life. This phenomenon can be qualified as “natural” as it is not driven by any law (in the jurisdictional sense) or moral behaviour. People just go where jobs, meaning money, meaning food, are.”

    Malthus only saw a few “solutions” to population growth: natural catastrophes, misery (mostly famine from food supply shortage), moral restraint (sexual abstinence) and vice (like murder). Apparently, he missed a big one.

  47. 147
    Timothy Chase says:

    Barton Pual Levenson (#144) wote:

    There seems to be some confusion here over what Malthus said. He did not say “population always expands exponentially, in every case.” He said, “population expands exponentially, unless moral restraint is practiced.” The folks in the low- or zero-growth first world did not achieve non-exponential growth magically, they achieved it through widespread use of contraception and abortion. That’s the technological equivalent of Malthus’s “moral restraint.”

    Here is another way of looking at it.

    Malthus was right all along – but modern society imposes moral restraint simply as the result of its own development. A modern society requires a skilled workforce and compulsory education. Children require too much investment on the part of the parents before there is any chance of the economic return one would get when in earlier times they could have helped you by working alongside you in the fields. Children become a luxury – particularly if you want them to have the same opportunities that you had.

  48. 148
    joe c says:

    I’m a layperson so please excuse my ignorance. I understand that “peer review” is the process in place, but isn’t the “peer review” process, like any other haman analysis process, subject to political or other biases by the reviewers? Have any of you scientists experienced these biases in that process?

    joe

  49. 149
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Of course there are biases, but the biases tend to be diluted by using multiple, randomly selected reviewers. Also, if rejected, a paper can be resubmitted to either the same journal or a different one. Keep in mind that reviewers are being judged, too. If they are too biased, then their influence in the community will diminish. I’ve been on all sides of the process–reviewer, author, and selecting reviewers. There are some authors whose work we know cannot be sent to some reviewers, becuase it will be savaged. Also, keep in mind that reviews are supposed to be anonymous. That also encourages honesty. All in all, the system works well.

  50. 150
    Nick Odoni says:

    Just as an aside to the above contributions – much of it very interesting, as usual – has anyone looked into what NASA’s Michael Griffin was getting at, when he suggested that we shouldn’t take the Earth’s present climate as being ‘optimal’? Do I detect here the glimmerings of a (cycnical?) new counter-argument from the sceptics/contrarians, namely that a changed climate could/would be better for mankind? For example, has anyone done any research on what the ‘optimal’ Earth climate would be? And if not, is there a flaw or weakness in the arguments of those of us concerned about the way things are going?


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