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Convenient Untruths

Filed under: — group @ 15 October 2007 - (Svenska) (Español)

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann

Update 10/18/07: We are very disappointed that the Washington Post has declined to run an op-ed placing the alleged 9 ‘errors’ in a proper scientific context, despite having run an extremely misleading news article last week entitled “UK Judge Rules Gore’s Climate Film Has 9 Errors”.

Last week, a UK High Court judge rejected a call to restrict the showing of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) in British schools. The judge, Justice Burton found that “Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate” (which accords with our original assessment). There has been a lot of comment and controversy over this decision because of the judges commentary on 9 alleged “errors” (note the quotation marks!) in the movie’s description of the science. The judge referred to these as ‘errors’ in quotations precisely to emphasize that, while these were points that could be contested, it was not clear that they were actually errors (see Deltoid for more on that).

There are a number of points to be brought out here. First of all, “An Inconvenient Truth” was a movie and people expecting the same depth from a movie as from a scientific paper are setting an impossible standard. Secondly, the judge’s characterisation of the 9 points is substantially flawed. He appears to have put words in Gore’s mouth that would indeed have been wrong had they been said (but they weren’t). Finally, the judge was really ruling on how “Guidance Notes” for teachers should be provided to allow for more in depth discussion of these points in the classroom. This is something we wholehearted support – AIT is probably best used as a jumping off point for informed discussion, but it is not the final word. Indeed, the fourth IPCC report has come out in the meantime, and that has much more up-to-date and comprehensive discussions on all these points.

A number of discussions of the 9 points have already been posted (particularly at New Scientist and Michael Tobis’s wiki), and it is clear that the purported ‘errors’ are nothing of the sort. The (unofficial) transcript of the movie should be referred to if you have any doubts about this. It is however unsurprising that the usual climate change contrarians and critics would want to exploit this confusion for perhaps non-scientific reasons.

In the spirit of pushing forward the discussion, we have a brief set of guidance notes of our own for each of the 9 issues raised. These are not complete, and if additional pointers are noted in the comments, we’ll add them in here as we go along.

  • Ice-sheet driven sea level rise Gore correctly asserted that melting of Greenland or the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels 20ft (6 meters). In the movie, no timescale for that was specified, but lest you think that the 20 ft number is simply plucked out of thin air, you should note that this is about how much higher sea level was around 125,000 years ago during the last inter-glacial period. Then, global temperatures were only a degree or two warmer than today – and given that this is close to the minimum temperature rise we can expect in the future, that 20 ft is particularly relevant. The rate at which this is likely to happen is however highly uncertain as we have discussed previously.
  • Pacific island nations needing to evacuate Much of Tuvalu is only a few feet above sea level, and any sea level rise is going to impact them strongly. The impacts are felt in seemingly disconnected ways – increasing brine in groundwater, increasing damage and coastal erosion from tides and storm surges, but they are no less real for that. The government of Tuvalu has asked New Zealand to be ready to evacuate islanders if needed, and while currently only 75 people per year can potentially be resettled, this could change if the situation worsened.
    In the movie there is only one line that referred to this: “That’s why the citizens of these pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand”, which is out of context in the passage it’s in, but could be said to only be a little ahead of it’s time.
  • Climate impacts on the ocean conveyor The movie references the Younger Dryas event that occurred 11,000 years ago when, it is thought, a large discharge of fresh water into the North Atlantic disrupted the currents, causing significant regional cooling. That exact scenario can’t happen again, but similar processes are likely to occur. The primary unresolved scientific issue regards how quickly the circulation is likely to change as we move forward. The model simulations in the latest IPCC report show a slowdown in the circulation – by about 30% by 2100 – but there is much we don’t understand about modeling that circulation and future inputs of freshwater from the ice sheets, so few are willing to completely rule out the possibility of a more substantial change in the future. Further discussion on what this really means and doesn’t mean is available here and here.
  • CO2 and Temperature connections in the ice core record Gore stated that the greenhouse gas levels and temperature changes over ice age signals had a complex relationship but that they ‘fit’. Again, both of these statements are true. The complexity though is actually quite fascinating and warrants being further discussed by those interested in how the carbon cycle will react in the future. We’ve discussed the lead/lag issue previously. A full understanding of why CO2 changes in precisely the pattern that it does during ice ages is elusive, but among the most plausible explanations is that increased received solar radiation in the southern hemisphere due to changes in Earth’s orbital geometry warms the southern ocean, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, which then leads to further warming through an enhanced greenhouse effect. Gore’s terse explanation of course does not mention such complexities, but the crux of his point–that the observed long-term relationship between CO2 and temperature in Antarctica supports our understanding of the warming impact of increased CO2 concentrations–is correct. Moreover, our knowledge of why CO2 is changing now (fossil fuel burning) is solid. We also know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that the carbon cycle feedback is positive (increasing temperatures lead to increasing CO2 and CH4), implying that future changes in CO2 will be larger than we might anticipate.
  • Kilimanjaro Gore is on even more solid ground with Kilimanjaro. In the movie, the retreat of Kilimanjaro is not claimed to be purely due to global warming , but it is a legitimate example of the sort of thing one expects in a warmer world, and is consistent with what almost all other tropical mountain glaciers are doing. There is indeed some ongoing discussion in the literature as to whether or not the retreat of ice on Kilimanjaro is related to the direct effects (warming atmospheric temperatures) or indirect effects (altered patterns of humidity, cloud cover, and precipitation influencing Kilimanjaro’s ice mass) of climate change, and that argument isn’t yet over. But these arguments would be of more relevance if (a) we were not witnessing the imminent demise of an ice field that we know has existed for at least the past 12,000 years and (b) most of the other glaciers weren’t disappearing as well.
  • Drying up of Lake Chad It is undisputed that Lake Chad has indeed shrunk rapidly in recent decades. While irrigation and upstream water use are probably contributing factors, the dominant cause is the reduction of rainfall across the entire Sahel from the 1950s to the 1980s and with rainfall today still substantially below the high point 50 years ago. There is substantial evidence that at least a portion of this drying out is human-caused. A few recent papers (Held et al, PNAS; Chung and Ramanathan and Biasutti and Giannini) have addressed causes ranging from Indian Ocean changes in sea surface temperature to the increase in atmospheric aerosols in the Northern hemisphere. Gore uses this example to illustrate that there are droughts in some regions even while other areas are flooding. Unfortunately this is exactly what the models suggest will happen.
  • Hurricane Katrina and global warming Katrina is used in the film as a legitimate illustration of the destructive power of hurricanes, our inability to cope with natural disaster, and the kind of thing that could well get worse in a warmer world. Nowhere does Gore state that Katrina was caused by global warming. We discussed this attribution issue back in 2005, and what we said then still holds. Individual hurricanes cannot be attributed to global warming, but the statistics of hurricanes, in particular the maximum intensities attained by storms, may indeed be.
  • Impact of sea ice retreat on Polar bears As we presaged in August, summer Arctic sea ice shattered all records this year for the minimum extent. This was partially related to wind patterns favorable to ice export in the spring, but the long term trends are almost certainly related to the ongoing and dramatic warming in the Arctic. Polar bears do indeed depend on the sea ice to hunt for seals in the spring and summer, and so a disappearance of this ice is likely to impact them severely. The specific anecdote referred to in the movie came from observations of anomalous drownings of bears in 2004 and so was accurate. However, studying the regional populations of polar bears is not easy and assessing their prospects is tough. In the best observed populations such as in western Hudson Bay (Stirling and Parkinson, 2006), female polar bear weight is going down as the sea ice retreats over the last 25 years, and the FWS is considering an endangered species listing. However, it should be stated that in most of the discussions about polar bears, they are used as a representative species. Arctic ecosystems are changing on many different levels, but it is unsurprising that charismatic mega-fauna get more press than bivalves. In the end, it may be the smaller and less photogenic elements that have the biggest impact.
  • Impact of ocean warming on coral reefs Corals are under stress from a multitude of factors; overfishing, deliberate destruction, water pollution, sea level rise, ocean acidification and, finally, warming oceans. The comment in the movie that rising temperatures and other factors cause coral bleaching is undoubtedly true. Bleaching episodes happen when the coral is under stress, and many examples have been linked to anomalously warm ocean temperatures (Australia in 1998 and 2002, all over the Indian Ocean in recent years). Corals are a sobering example of how climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in eco-systems, potentially playing the role of the straw that breaks the camel’s back in many instances.

Overall, our verdict is that the 9 points are not “errors” at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point). But behind each of these issues lies some fascinating, and in some cases worrying, scientific findings and we can only applaud the prospect that more classroom discussions of these subjects may occur because of this court case.

492 Responses to “Convenient Untruths”

  1. 351
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #346, Joe Duck – you keep citing Lomborg. See here and here.

  2. 352
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #346 Sea level rise

    The reason I think we know enough to start mitigating yesterday is the probability that we cross a tipping point, combined with the time constant of GW (= a few hundred years). Hence it is possible that things will spin totally out of control – like 5 K warming for example, massive droughts etc.

    Suppose we had this discussion about acid rain. If the view that we’d better wait for more evidence before doing something prevailed, I would be disconcerted, but not overly so. Acid rain would stop within months of us ceasing to put dirt into the air, and we could more or less bring the situation back to what it was before ,any tiem we chanegd our mind. Raypierre has a nice piece on this (see p8 in particular):

    About sea level rise, people talk about a rise of up to 1 m this century, and oh I guess that’s ok then. Firstly, a 1 m is definitely NOT ok. Secondly, like there will be some magical cut off in 2100! Do you think another metre after 2100 will not be bad?

    Besides that Hansen makes a good case that faster melting is in fact possible:–unless-we-act-now.html
    He may be wrong of course. But should we base public policy on that assumption? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

  3. 353
    Dave Rado says:

    Sorry the second link in my post regarding Lomborg is broken – I meant here.

  4. 354
    J.C.H. says:

    344. Comment by Joe Duck — 22 October 2007 @ 3:04 PM

    Why are you saying “in this century” or “likelihood of a rise greater than 20 feet in the next century”?

    Where did you get those timeframes?

    Most of the people here read the post about the IPCC’s section on sea level the day it was posted. Read the 308 comments to “The IPCC sea level numbers” posting and count the number of times anybody says there is going to be 20 feet by 2100, or 2200.

    Who is the person who first strung those type of words (20 feet of sea level rise by) together?

  5. 355
    John Mashey says:

    Joe Duck:

    Does the world end in 2100?

    Do you breathe a big sigh of relief if SLR is less than 20 feet in 2100 and say “no problem”?

    New York City and Boston are close to 400 years old. Do you care what they look like 400 years from now? How much will it cost to defend/replace them and all the other cities built on low-lying coastlines?
    Especially in an era where there is *no* petroleum left for cheap energy?

    Try:, set meters=7 as an example, and look around at the Boston and NYC metropolitan areas to see what’s above sea level and what isn’t. Don’t bother looking for New Orleans, look at Baton Rouge.

    Question for everybody: firetree is nice for looking at sea levels and doing what-ifs. I haven’t seen an interactive combination of that with population. Anybody know one?

    I have seen the USGS website:

    and a nice presentation by E. Lynn Usery, with lots of useful charts:

    although I think the SLR’s there are just from the melt, so don’t count thermal expansion.

  6. 356
    David B. Benson says:

    Joe Duck — This is not really the proper forum to consider policy. However, to see how correcting some of the other problems fits well with adapting to climate change, follow Biopact:

  7. 357
    Joe Duck says:

    Hank asked:
    Joe, why do you keep talking about a 20′ sea level rise “this century”

    I’m confused Hank – Al Gore started this dialog… I’m quoting this because 20 rises are presented here and in AIT as something we should be worried about. My read of the science suggests this rise is unlikely enough, and the models are so uncertain, and even if it’s coming it’ll be extremely difficult to mitigate against, that I can only conclude we should choose to put the resources and potentially forgone GDP towards current catastrophic conditions in developing countries. My beef is not so much with people worrying about unlikely events, it’s with the suggestion we should allocate resources according to those concerns.

    AIT and many folks here suggest this is likely enough to be of some concern – are you saying it’s of great concern but if we don’t start doing things now we have little hope of changing it? If something is very unlikely to happen in 100 years I’d argue we can reasonable assume that it’s best to wait for technological improvements and better information before acting in expensive ways.

    John Mashey:
    No the world won’t be ending anytime soon and certainly not this century, which is my key point. Most of the people here are worrying in great disproportion to a reasonable assessment of risk, assuming as I do that IPCC data is the best science to date. Large scale mitigation efforts generally have huge costs and often yield questionable benefits. Am I wrong to think that these huge costs are largely ignored here, while the benefits are generally discussed in terms of preventing planetary catastrophe?

    Dave: I’m familiar with the Danish decisions on “A Skeptical Environmentalist”. The initial criticism of the book was *overturned* by the Danish body supervising the scientific dishonesty folks who chastised Lomborg. The mess was highly political and IMHO sheds no light on Lomborg’s scientific credibility or lack thereof.

    Lomborg is a firm believer in AGW, but suggests that alarmism is trumping a quality discussion of science in the political and public media realm. He’s right on both counts.

  8. 358

    Who is the person who first strung those type of words (20 feet of sea level rise by) together?

    I was. Read my lips. 20 feet of sea level rise by 2100.

    Get used to it.

  9. 359
  10. 360
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Read my lips
    Or your website, here.
    But … well …. you are this Elifritz, right?

  11. 361
    David B. Benson says:

    Yet another inconvenient truth:

  12. 362

    That’s me. Dr. Michael Shermer the skeptic speculates that there is NO EVIDENCE for intelligent life in the universe. I agree.

  13. 363
  14. 364
  15. 365
    Dave Rado says:

    #357, Joe Duck

    The mess was highly political

    Evidence please.

  16. 366
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #357, Joe Duck

    while the benefits [of reducing emissions] are generally discussed in terms of preventing planetary catastrophe

    Have you read the IPCC AR4 Working Group II Report? No mention of planetary catastrophe there, but it projects far greater costs if we do nothing to reduce our emissions than Lomborg would have you believe, especially for the third world.

  17. 367
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joe Duck, Actually, even if we had a 20 foot sea-level rise by 2100, this would probably not even be the most serious consequence of climate change. Rather the increased likelihood of extreme weather events, of droughts and of increased unpredictability of weather (especially rainfall), will make it extremely to feed, house and otherwise meet the needs of 12 billion people. There is also a high probability that ranges of invasive species, pests and possibly diseases will expand in a warmer world. Decreased fertility of Earth’s oceans is also something that seems to be coming about.
    I think that what you and Lomborg and many others are not taking into account is that all of the infrastructure of civilization has been developed during the past 10000 years of relative climatic stability. To meet the challenges of the next 100 years, we will have to develop sustainability–both ecological AND economic. We cannot sacrifice the economy or development to combat climate change, because these are coupled problems. If we sacrifice economic health to combat climate change, we will both lose public support and fail to be able to pay for new technology to help us mitigate adverse climate effects. If we sacrifice development, then the poor will burn whatever energy resources they can obtain, making our efforts in vain. And, of course if we ignore climate change, it will negate progress in both development and the economy. If we don’t solve all of these problems, we will solve none of them.

  18. 368
    Jim Eager says:

    Re 357 Joe Duck: ” I’m quoting this because 20 rises are presented here and in AIT as something we should be worried about. My read of the science suggests this rise is unlikely enough…”

    The rapidity and enormous extent of Arctic sea ice melt that we’ve just witnessed was not thought likely to happen this early either. If nothing else, it illustrates that all bets are off on likely time lines for changes in the cryosphere, so pardon me for not being persuaded by your argument that discussion of the consequences of destabilization of the Greenland ice cap is nothing more that rank alarmism.

    “If something is very unlikely to happen in 100 years I’d argue we can reasonable assume that it’s best to wait for technological improvements and better information before acting in expensive ways.”

    This sounds remarkably similar to the new fall-back position of those who have been resisting acknowledgment of AGW from the outset.

  19. 369
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 350

    Gosh, Joe.

    If all anyone was discussing was Kyoto, you might actually have a point, and even then a lame one, as Kyoto was never intended to be anything more than something to build on.

    Given this site is rife with a large number of discussions re proposals that postdate Kyoto one would think that you wouldn’t stoop to such an obviously transparent straw man, but then, given as you were channeling Lomborg, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

  20. 370
    Mike Donald says:

    #363 Re-sciam article


    I read that article before somewhere. It states :- “after emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels rose to 8.4 billion metric tons (1.85 X 1013 pounds) per year, “. I think they’ve mixed up their “C” with “CO2”. Multiply your carbon tonnes by (44/12) to get the right amount of CO2 tonnes I believe.

    They got it right in another article. But they’re not the only offender.

    “The world emitted 25 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2003”

  21. 371

    [[So here is a simple question. If the almost 100% CO2 atmosphere on Venus were to replace with an equivalent mass of dry air, would the surface temperature go up or down?]]

    Way, way down.

  22. 372

    [[I’m worried that talking about catastrophe is leading to our foregoing GDP]]

    Who, precisely, is suggesting “foregoing GDP?”

    [[ or funding very expensive mitigation efforts while current catastrophic conditions of health and poverty in 3rd world are too widely ignored. ]]

    Who is advocating ignoring third-world poverty? If you’re implying that fixing AGW means we can’t alleviate third-world poverty, I think that’s grossly wrong, not only because the two are not mutually exclusive, but because fixing AGW will improve, not hurt, third-world conditions. A billion Asians depend on glacial melt for their fresh water. If we just let AGW happen, many of those people are going to die.

    If you, personally, want to alleviate third-world poverty, may I suggest giving money to Presbyterian World Missions, Oxfam, or CARE? I can get you contact information for any of the three. Or are you advocating a massive increase in foreign aid?

  23. 373

    T Elifritz says:

    [[That’s me. Dr. Michael Shermer the skeptic speculates that there is NO EVIDENCE for intelligent life in the universe. I agree.]]

    Even on Earth?

  24. 374
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 362

    That’s me. Dr. Michael Shermer the skeptic speculates that there is NO EVIDENCE for intelligent life in the universe. I agree.


    No evidence is not the same thing as saying the likelihood for complex life (from which, by our understanding, intelligent life could emerge) is unlikely, as I’m sure Dr. Shermer would point out. That said, discussions of whether there is intelligent life elsewhere strike as interesting and hopeful, but right now one wonders how long it will reign here.

    Speaking of Shermer, he was a climate skeptic until relatively recently:

  25. 375
    Kevin Meaney says:

    #330 and #371

    Paul, I think you fell for the lack of qualifiers in Fred’s trick question. He specified the equivalent mass of dry air. But Venus’ current atmosphere has a high albedo reflecting nearly all of the incoming solar radiation. If you replaced it with the equivalent mass of dry air you would change the albedo of Venus at the same time. I don’t have the tools or the data to do the calculation but I’d guess a prediction of way way down without crunching the numbers is risky.

    If however you specified all other things being equal, ie you changed the atmosphere without changing the albedo then I think you would be correct.


  26. 376
    Phil. Felton says:

    Re 371: [[So here is a simple question. If the almost 100% CO2 atmosphere on Venus were to replace with an equivalent mass of dry air, would the surface temperature go up or down?]]

    Way, way down.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson



    Chemistry of Atmospheres: An Introduction to the Chemistry of the Atmospheres of Earth, the Planets and Their Satellites by Richard P. Wayne

  27. 377
    Joe Duck says:

    may I suggest giving money to Presbyterian World Missions, Oxfam, or CARE? I can get you contact information for any of the three. Or are you advocating a massive increase in foreign aid?

    Yes you may. Other excellent charities serving the developing world effectively are Grameen Bank, KIVA, and

    RE: Foreign aid: Yes, on purely strategic as well as moral grounds I support a massive reallocation of a portion of our current military budget to foreign aid -primarily infrastructure development in health, education, and water.

    RE: Foregoing GDP. Most large scale mitigation approaches involve foregoing GDP for participating countries. Above I was asked not to use “Kyoto” to suggest this type of challenge because it’s too easy a target to show the huge economic challenges of mitigation. This comes from the reduction in productivity associated with decreases in fossil fuel consumption. I think this is true even in the Stern report which is among the most optimistic scenarios for how the economics would shake out, though I think Stern maintains that we’d “get back” the lost GDP in the future. If Stern’s characterization of the economics is right, then most economists who are experts in this field are wrong.

  28. 378
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joe Duck,
    I think that it is a mistake to assume that mitigating climate change will not impact the global economy. However, I think it is also a mistake to assume all of the impact will be negative. First, for the US to shift away from Oil cannot be a bad thing. Second, the new technologies required will undoubtedly find applications outside of their original mitigation applications, just as the space program or the Manhattan Project were net growth generators.

    It is also a mistake to assume that if we do nothing we will not incur heavy costs. Sea level rise gets most of the attention because its occurrence (though not its magnitude) is a certainty. However, while we are unsure of how probable other adverse outcomes may be, these could have much higher costs. A measure of the credibility of these risks is the fact that many government agencies (DOD, DOC, HHS, DHS…) are already planning for them.

  29. 379
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The Fred Staples Red Herring Challenge: What would the surface temperature of Venus be if its atmosphere were replaced by dry air. Careful here, as this takes out not just the CO2, but also the SO2. Thus, Venus albedo would decrease by a factor of ~1.7 and more sunlight would get in. There’s also the question of the reactivity of 20% O2 at 92 atmospheres, so it might be a short-lived thought experiment.
    However, the net effect would have to be a decrease in temperature. For one thing, while the surface temperature of Venus (now) is ~750 K, the blackbody temperature is only about 237–below that of Earth. That shows that the greenhouse effect is very important in the energy balance. Moreover the pressure broadening in a 92 Bar atmosphere has to be significant. Finally, if we assume logarithmic scaling, the drop from ~100% to 380 ppm for CO2 has to make a big difference–much more than the 1.7x increase in sunlight reaching the surface.

  30. 380
    David B. Benson says:

    Mike Donald (370) — Thanks for noting the mistake in the Sci-Am article. My understanding is that the additional carbon beig added to the active carbon cycle is about 8 gigatonnes per year. Maybe you would care to post a correction on their web site. For some arcane reason I cannot post there.

  31. 381
    Hank Roberts says:

    Okay, time to compare Google vs. Google Scholar.

    There are a _lot_ of pages now claiming that Hansen and Lea (2007) predicts 20-feet by 2100. It’s just amazing how these have accumulated since I last checked a year or more ago.

    This is how gossip trumps facts — people say things in print and people don’t check.

    Example, just one recent one of many such:
    July 5, 2007
    By Ben Preston (Contact)
    “… a group of six American scientists — including UCSB paleoclimatology professor David Lea (pictured above, left, with NASA’s James Hansen) — recently published a paper stating that the IPCC’s sea-level rise estimate of approximately 16 inches during the next century is too conservative.

    “The group — led by James Hansen, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies — predicts a sea rise of about 20 feet by 2100. The paper — which references nearly 100 scientific articles, publications, and statistical reports — unequivocally states ….”

    Followed by a quote that doesn’t support the statement made.

    There’s a contact link on the page if anyone wants to bother the author about facts and fact-checking. Sigh.

    You can look this stuff up. Ben Preston apparently did not.
    He doesn’t say WHAT study, but by author names, my guess is he claims to be describing this one:

    But you can look this stuff up.

    The closest language I can find in the actual paper is this:

    —–begin excerpt——

    “…. We find it implausible that BAU [Business As Usual] scenarios, with climate forcing and global warming exceeding those of the Pliocene, would permit a West Antarctic ice sheet of present size to survive even for a century.

    “Our concern that BAU GHG scenarios would cause large sea-level rise this century (Hansen 2005) differs from estimates of IPCC (2001, 2007), which foresees little or no contribution to twenty-first century sea-level rise from Greenland and Antarctica. However, the IPCC analyses and projections do not well account for the nonlinear physics of wet ice sheet disintegration, ice streams and eroding ice shelves, nor are they consistent with the palaeoclimate evidence we have presented for the absence of discernable lag between ice sheet forcing and sea-level rise.”

    —– end excerpt ——-

    Why do people let gossip convince them even against the facts?

    “Gossip, apparently, is so valuable to us that we rely on it even when it contradicts the hard evidence we have on hand.”

  32. 382
  33. 383
    Mary C says:

    I question just how much of a negative impact mitigation efforts will have on the GDP in the U.S. Almost certainly a negative impact on the fossil fuel industries, of course, but they are a “mature” industry with little to no growth potential (with the exception of coal in the U.S., China, and perhaps a few other places–but coal has other huge problems). Research and development of alternative energy sources, followed by manufacturing and installation programs,etc., have great potential for a positive impact and even a major boost to the economy in unexpected ways. Of course, that assumes that the people who wish to maintain the status quo get out of the way. And it would be a major help if the U.S. government got behind and supported the transition. There are many ways the political establishment could do this, from tax policy to research funding to use of the bully pulpit to get people on board. In spite of the fact that we have a lot of naysayers in this country, money is starting to flow from the venture capitalists into alternative energy start-ups, and new businesses are springing up, growing, and making money. A danger is that rather than leading the way through the use of one of America’s strongest assets–our attitude toward innovation and refinement of technology–we’ll be held back by the head-in-the-sand attitude of the denialists and the go-slow crowd so that other countries such as China and India with fast developing economies and a thirst for energy will bypass us. Right now, China is building coal plants like crazy but they are not uncognizant of the problems they are unleashing. India is taking advantage of wind energy in some interesting ways. It’s likely to be a question of which major economy wises up first.

    In addition to the economic potential from the development of renewable energy sources, some existing companies have already discovered that they can operate significantly more profitably by switching to renewable energy sources–in spite of the fact that the prices for such systems are still quite high–and by finding various ways to reduce energy use, which is, of course, a way of operating more efficiently.

    Developing countries also have huge potential for benefiting from the development of alternative energy. Although some African countries, for example, have large reserves of oil, they don’t have the infrastructure to use it locally. Currently most of it is flowing to the industrialized world, and, as the Nigerian women keep proclaiming, the citizens of those countries are not the ones primarily benefiting from its extraction. Dispersed local power supplied by solar energy or wind energy could make a difference much faster and much more cheaply.

    I never understood the thinking behind the refusal to sign on to Kyoto. Ideally, yes, it would have been desirable to put constraints on those countries where fossil energy use was expected to be growing rapidly. However, turning American ingenuity loose on the goal of reducing CO2 could have had entirely positive consequences for both this country and for the world in spite of whatever was happening in the developing world. Unfortunately, there were a few powerful vested interests that knew that the results for them would not be wonderful, and they somehow managed to instill in people like Joe the idea that ingenuity, innovation, new technology, and greater efficiency would have a negative effect on the economy.

    Political analyst and author Kevin Phillips points out in an interview ( that Holland prospered mightily through the use of wind power but, for a couple of reasons, the baton shifted to the British with the development of coal. That era, too, eventually was superceded to a certain extent by oil, and it was the young United States that was poised to prosper there. Sticking with old technologies in the face of changing realities is not the recipe for prosperity.

  34. 384
    Mary C says:

    Ray said: “A measure of the credibility of these risks is the fact that many government agencies (DOD, DOC, HHS, DHS…) are already planning for them.”

    So are the insurance companies, and if that doesn’t tell you something,….

  35. 385
    Hank Roberts says:


    And have you ever had your used but beloved car hit by someone, and had their insurance company tell you

    “We’ll pay you the “total loss” amount and take the car, because it would cost us more than that to fix the damage on that old thing.”

    What will they say about our old Antarctic ice cap? It’s melting a bit, gotten a bit ragged around the edges. Will they say it’s a total loss just to avoid the cost of fixing it?

  36. 386
    Svend Jensen says:

    Al Gore & Nobel Prize – (un)justifiably attacked by Stephen Lendmann, Alex Cockburn etc:,

    I am not from the USA and have no idea of the validity of below criticisms of Al Gore posted on InformationClearingHouse…
    As far as I am concerned ANY reasonable !!! politician who advocates mitigating and adapting to global climate change has a role to play. It is unrealistic to expect life long politicians to have a sqeaky clean slate….we don’t really have much choice at the moment.
    Excuse the vociferous nature of below which I have shortened..

    ”…..the current Nobel Peace Prize honoree, Al Gore. CounterPunchers Alex Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair wrote the book on him in 2000 titled “Al Gore: A User’s Manual.” It’s a critical account of a “man whom his parents raised from birth to be president of the United States” and who always put politics over principle. He built his credentials for the high office around pro-business, pro-war, anti-union and phony environmental advocacy as no friend of the earth then so who can believe he’s one now.

    His 1992 book “Earth in the Balance” was more theater than advocacy. In it, he assessed the forces of planetary destruction that included air and water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, overpopulation, ozone depletion and global warming. He highlighted the impact of auto emissions and need to phase out the internal combustion engine but made no effort in office to do it.

    Then as vice-president he used his “green credentials” to sell the pro-business, anti-worker, anti-environmental NAFTA to the environmental movement. He also supported clear-cutting logging practices including in old-growth areas. He ignored an assessment that this practice risked the extinction of hundreds of species. He backed a 1995 spending bill “salvage logging rider” that opened millions of National Forest lands to logging and exempted sales of the harvest from environmental laws and judicial review for two years. He and Clinton further allowed South Florida’s sugar barons to devastate thousands of Everglades acres and gave away consumer Delaney Clause protection that kept carcinogens out of our food supply.

    Throughout his political life, Gore supported Big Oil and was tied to Occidental Petroleum Company and its “ruthless tycoon” chief, Armand Hammer. In return for supporting company interests, he got political favors and patronage from Hammer and his successor, Ray Irani who was a major DNC contributor and got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom as a bonus reward.

    Does this man deserve a Nobel Peace Prize (let alone to be president) along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” The Nobel Committee ignored Gore’s environmental record and went on to say “for a long time (he’s) been one of the world’s leading environmental politicians (through) his strong commitment, reflected in political activity, (that) strengthened the struggle against climate change.” Contrary to his easily accessed public record, not his posturing, The Nobel Committee blindly added “He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.”

  37. 387
    J.C.H. says:


    • Business Leader of the Year: Swiss Re. The Zurich-based insurer “has a history of
    sensitivity to climate change concerns.” Among its recent initiatives: co-sponsorship of
    a major 2005 report highlighting the disastrous effects of global warming, calling on
    governments to take stronger action to address the issues.

    They’ve been doing reinsurance since 1863. They are masters at doing the math on the likelihood of premiums paid escaping their grubby (pencil lead, actuaries) little fingers.

    So why is one of the more successful capitalist entities around requesting governments damage their own GDP by mitigating global warming now?

  38. 388
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I am not from the USA and have no idea of the validity …

    Hmmm, got any rumor sites about _your_ country’s leaders I can quote from without knowing anything about their validity? Seems like fun.

    Trust me, as the USA’s politicians go, Gore’s not half bad.
    And as our _ex_politicians go, he’s quite fine.

  39. 389
    Svend Jensen says:

    388 Hank Roberts
    Point taken, I hardly expect US politicians or EU spin artists for that matter to be Ralph Nader clones or coming from Vermont.

    Even in Angela Merkel’s Germany where i am working at the moment, at the recent Potsdam Nobel prize winner climate convention Merkel and other politicians ” were pushing the interests of the German energy cartel (RWE, E.ON, etc.) in all respects, inter alia by approving ca 40 coal-fired power stations and donating emission rights to those corporations in the near future, is quite risible.”
    Furthermore, german highways cater for sacred 160km an hour plus drivers in large Mercedes, BMW and SUVs etc:,. Automobile and petro-chemical big boys carry a lot of clout in germany and have generous slush funds…
    Dutch politicians are in a dilemma with rising sea water lapping around and the largest Petrol refinery, Royal Dutch Shell-nigeria connection, and largest container port in europe…
    Scandinavian politicians could be considered as reasonably ‘honest’. However the French and Brits with Tony Blair at the top, who has surprise, surprise disappeared from public view, are not even worth thinking over..

  40. 390
    Svend Jensen says:

    re 387 Swiss Insurance..
    Classic written on Swiss banking system back in the early 90s I think where it stated :
    ‘If a Swiss Banker jumps over a cliff, you jump straight after him – it has to be worth it !!!’
    Only problem today there is not much snow to break the fall, glaciers are receding, ski industry is collapsing and various mountain faces are crumbling with the perma-ice melts..
    Dour Swiss are getting nervous…
    Then all these Katrinas, Greek and Calif Fires, English floods, German storms etc.,….their backs are to the wall..
    These Swiss Re guys are spooked..

  41. 391
    Rod B says:

    “The prosecution rests.” (331)

    I’ve never seen it rest…

  42. 392
    Joe Duck says:

    Mary, Ray, others RE: mitigation and GDP
    Ray wrote:
    I think that it is a mistake to assume that mitigating climate change will not impact the global economy. However, I think it is also a mistake to assume all of the impact will be negative

    True of course, which is why cost benefit calculations are so important when you are allocating resources, and why allocating them emotionally or politically (as humans almost always do) is so problematic. In the same way a rational person looks for climate guidance from climate scientists, we look for economic guidance from economists. Both disciplines use predictive models that are subject to levels of uncertainty, but since we can’t all become experts in all fields we look to the experts for guidance in their fields of expertise. I worry that some climate scientists think they have a good sense of how to allocate economic resources and form policies in response to climate change. I think they have no better sense of that than I do, and probably much worse sense than an economist would.

    My understanding is that most economists suggest we should do cheap but not expensive GW mitigations (looking for citations to support this now).

    Doesn’t reason suggest we should assume peer-reviewed, expert economist calculations are the best way to proceed rather than allocating massive resources based simply on the assumption that GW is bad, therefore mitigation must be massive?

  43. 393
    Dan says:

    Meanwhile, the White House is at it again, editing the Center for Disease Control climate change testimony. See;_ylt=AsAhE7.xeeYz_3V2xU2pbJis0NUE
    There can not be a more disingenuous, anti-science (when it does not conform to their preconceived beliefs) administration in the history of the US.

  44. 394
    Jim Eager says:

    Re 392 Joe Duck: “Doesn’t reason suggest we should assume peer-reviewed, expert economist calculations are the best way to proceed rather than allocating massive resources based simply on the assumption that GW is bad, therefore mitigation must be massive?”

    Would these be the same economists who have always considered environmental damage and degradation to be “external costs” and thus excluded them from their calculations?

  45. 395
    Ray Ladbury says:

    And from the “some things never change” department:

    White House edits CDC climate testimony;_ylt=AtEWhu8UzGTOHi7XEbpo53l34T0D

    While the low-hanging fruit certainly makes sense–things like increased conservation, etc. What we should be aiming for is cost-effectiveness of the solutions. For instance, development aid in terms of energy solutions may not be a cheap option, but it is one that will pay dividends now and well into the future if we handle it properly.
    As far as trusting the economists, it needs to be remembered that many of these economists have been in the denialist camp until recently. Then they were in the global-warming-is-good-for-us camp or the do-nothing camp, and now they are in the Do-little camp (BTW, one of the first hearings on climate change in the House was chaired by Congressmen Tom Delay and Jim Doolittle–Doolittle and Delay–you can’t make this stuff up.) Estabilishing trust may take awhile, but I agree, talking to the economists is essential.

  46. 396
    Majorajam says:

    Joe Duck,

    Look all you like, but stay well clear of Lomborg if you’re interested in veracity or rigor for that matter. His analysis, if the word applies, is not worthy of passing grade on an undergraduate thesis. He has not even considered risk, let alone uncertainty, (his conclusions are predicated entirely on mistaking expected values for point estimates not subject to variability- one wonders whether the man is familiar with the multi-billion dollar gaming industry). The former turns out to be a pretty big deal- to a dominating degree- as the best thinkers on this subject, including Stern, will eagerly tell you.

    Even forgiving these eye-popping oversights, there is no value added- he eschews cost and benefit analysis, favoring instead emotive stories about poor suffering 3rd world: this is an example of a) a red herring error (there is no analysis to support that this trade-off is the operative trade-off in funding decisions) b) conflating charity and self-interest (which is patently and transparently manipulative), &, by coincidence of the first two, c) exploitative of 3rd world suffering, (meaning he’s learned well from Big Tobacco’s Africa Fighting Malaria lobbying group).

    As for Lomborg’s honesty, which has come up a number of times, see comment #182 on this thread. The polar bear bit is the stuff of legends. Of course, it is only the oblique tip of the veritable planetoid that are Lomborg’s audacious and dishonest ‘errors’. The finding of the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty was well substantiated- This contrasts well with the political motivations of the conservative government ministry that asked them to reconsider their verdict. The DCSD cited The Skeptical Environmentalist for fabrication of data, selective discarding of unwanted results, deliberately misleading use of statistical methods, distorted interpretation of conclusions, plagiarism, & deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results. They may have had him on the Kennedy assassination too, but I’ll have to check that. I could go on about other things he has written and said ad nauseum, btw, but one should acknowledge the point where there is little credibility left to call into disrepute.

    If you are interested in a CBA that supports moderate mitigation of emissions, look no further than one Richard Tol, for example. He is likewise not a denier, not that I would endorse his thinking. Having corresponded with him on a few blogs, I have very little faith in the robustness of these analyses (Tol for example believes ‘there is no obvious relationship between drinking water and heat stress’, which I find laughable in its lack of substantiation. And I’m not entirely picking on him in that these will nearly exclusively have it that global warming will reduce death from disease as a result of the balance between CVD and infectious disease in a planet of rich people. The assumptions in the later and the cavalierness of the former speak for themselves).

    The most promising paper I have seen is a working paper by Weitzman that goes directly to the money issue on this subject- uncertainty. Unsurprisingly, it looks very likely that uncertainty will auger for more pain in terms of mitigation than a center of the distribution CBA would- and rightfully so. I will see if I find a link.

  47. 397
    James says:

    Re #389: [..I hardly expect US politicians or EU spin artists for that matter to be Ralph Nader clones…]

    Since this seems to have degenerated towards politics, we might consider the fact that Ralph Nader made his reputation by destroying the US auto industry’s first (and to date only, IMHO) attempt to build a fuel-efficient automobile. How soon some people forget…

  48. 398
    J.C.H. says:

    ‘The IPCC’s economic models reckon, on average, that if the world adopted such a price the global economy would be 1.3% smaller than it otherwise would have been by 2050; or, put another way, global economic growth would be 0.1% a year lower than it otherwise would have been. …”

    Read the rest of the article here:

  49. 399
    Mark A. York says:

    “the sake of rational, long term policy making and resource allocation everybody should rally around the best science rather than the best rhetoric.”

    I think that’s true Joe Duck from S. Oregon. Unfortunately all you have is fallacious rhetoric. Education is here for the taking.

  50. 400
    Dave Rado says:

    Joe Duck, #392

    Doesn’t reason suggest we should assume peer-reviewed, expert economist calculations are the best way to proceed rather than allocating massive resources based simply on the assumption that GW is bad, therefore mitigation must be massive?

    How about the IPCC’s WGIII report, which is a peer review of all the peer reviewed literature in the relevant areas.