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A day when Hell was frozen

Filed under: — rasmus @ 7 February 2008

“Hell train station” I was honoured to be invited to the annual regional conference for Norwegian journalists, taking place annually in a small town called ‘Hell’ (Try Earth Google ‘Hell, Norway’). During this conference, I was asked to participate in a panel debate about the theme: ‘Climate – how should we [the media] deal with world’s most pressing issue?’ (my translation from Norwegian; by the way ‘Gods expedition’ means ‘Cargo shipment’ in ‘old’ Norwegian dialect).

This is the first time that I have been invited to such a gathering, and probably the first time that a Norwegian journalists’ conference invited a group of people to discuss the climate issue. My impression was that the journalists more or less now were convinced by the message of the IPCC assessment reports. This can also be seen in daily press news reports where contrarians figure less now than ~5 years ago. But the public seemed to think that the scientists cannot agree on the reality or cause of climate change.

I find that the revelation of a perception of the climate problem within the climate research community that doesn’t match that of the general public problematic. What I learned is that this also seems to be true for the journalists: it was stated that their perception of climate change and its causes were different to the general public too.

The panel in which I participated consisted of a social/political scientist who had investigated how media deals with the issue of climate change and the public perception thereof, a science journalist, an AGW-skeptic, and myself. Despite the name of the place, the debate was fairly civil and well-behaved (although the AGW-skeptic compared climate scientists to mosquitoes, and brought up some ad hominem attacks on Dr. Pachauri).

The science journalist in the panel advocated the practice of reporting on issues that are based on publications from peer reviewed scientific literature. I whole-heartedly concur. I would also advice journalists to do some extensive search on the publication record of the individuals, and consider their affiliations – are they from a reputable place? Also, it’s recommended that they consider which journal in which the article is published – an article on climate published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons is less likely to receive a review of competent experts (peers) than if it were published in a mainstream geophysics journal. Finally, my advice is to try to trace the argument back to its source – does it come from some of those think tanks? But I didn’t get the chance to say this, as the debate was conducted by a moderator whose agenda was more focused on other questions.

Short of telling the journalists to start to read physics in order to understand the issues at hand, I recommended the reading of Spencer Weart’s ‘The Discovery of Global Warming’. The book is an easy read and gives a good background about the climate sciences. It also reveals that a number of arguments still forwarded by AGW-skeptics are quite old and have been answered over time. The book gives the impression of a déjà vu regarding the counter arguments, the worries, politics, and the perceived urgency of the problem. I would also strongly recommend the book for the AGW-skeptics.

One reservation I had regarding the discussion is being cut off when I get into the science and the details. I had the feeling of taking part in a football match where the referee and all the spectators were blind and then tried to convince them that I scored a goal. The problem is that people without scientific training often find it hard to judge who’s right and who’s wrong. It seems that communication skills are more important for convincing the general public that scientific skills. Scientists are usually not renowned for their ability to explain complicated and technical matters, but rather tend to shy off.

I’d suggest that journalists should try to attend the annual conferences such as the European (EMS) and American (AMS) meteorological societies. For learning what’s happening within the research, mingling with scientists/meteorologists, and because these conferences have lot to offer media (e.g. media sessions). Just as journalists go to the Olympics, would it not be natural for journalists to attend these conferences? – but I missed the opportunity to make this suggestion.

Hell seems to be fairly dead on a Sunday afternoon. I almost caught a cold from the freezing wait for the train – although the temperature was barely -3C. This January ranked as the third warmest in Oslo, and I have started to acclimatise myself to all these mild winters (the mountain regions, however, have received an unusually large amount of snow). Our minister of finance was due to attend the meeting to talk about getting grief, but she didn’t make it to Hell due to a snow storm and chaos at the air port (heavy amount of wet snow due to mild winter conditions).


366 Responses to “A day when Hell was frozen”

  1. 1
    Andy Revkin says:

    A better link for Spencer’s valuable book is here: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/
    It’s the full text with hyperlinks.

    Another (hopefully) useful resource for people writing about climate and other complex environmental issues is the 2005 Field Guide for Science Writers of NASW.org. My chapter in that book, on covering climate and the like, is available online here: http://www.onthemedia.org/episodes/2006/12/08/chapter.html

  2. 2
    Jim Roland says:

    I would suggest that instead of including an AGW-sceptic in debates, journalists look for someone who disputes the economic value of mitigation measures or raises the China-India issue. These issues (particularly the latter) are now much more of public interest and concern values and politics rather than contesting simple science.

  3. 3
    Charles Raguse says:

    The paragraph (third from article bottom) in which you say “…people without scientific training often find it hard to judge who’d right and who’s wrong. …” should be emblazoned in gold, and be placed in full view of every science-based writer, who purports to communicate with others than his/her actual peers. The two sides of the ‘red herring coin” are writing about a topic the writer simply is not qualified to write about, and reading an essay that, in its pontifical erudition, defies understanding by anyone other than the writer.

  4. 4
    Jim Roland says:

    PS. It was already evident Hell was freezing over again, with The Eagles putting on yet another reunion tour!

  5. 5
    Bob Ward says:

    It isn’t just the Norwegian public who believe that scientists don’t agree on the causes of climate change – a survey of the UK public last summer indicated that 56% strongly or tend to agree that “Many leading experts still question if human activity is contributing to climate change”: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/polls/2007/climatechange.shtml

    It is clear that the media has played a role in this by giving greater prominence to voices of dissent, even when they offer no evidence to justify their views. But the problem is often at editorial level, rather than at the level of individual science reporters, who generally appear to be aware of the landscape of views on this issues. As an example, the editorial staff at the BBC (and the BBC trust) are in a bit of a muddle at the moment on this issue because they seem to think that impartiality means giving coverage to any point of view, if honestly held, regardless of its accuracy (see, for example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2007/02/how_green_should_we_be.html). The media are generally much better at illustrating ranges of opinions, rather than at assessing to what extent different viewpoints are supported by the evidence.

  6. 6
    George Robinson says:

    As you say, the mountain regions have received a lot of snow, especially the high ice plateaus like Jolsterdals glacier, perhaps as much as 8-10 meters already this winter, and still more comes in every day with the “mild” westerly winds.

    [Response: For snow conditions in Norway, see SeNorge.no (there is an English button on the page). -rasmus]

  7. 7
    Sam Gralla says:

    That book sounds like exactly what I need to better inform myself of the story of global warming. I’m going to order it today. Could you recommend any other books for skeptics? (I’m the sort that would really like to be convinced that the scientists are really doing everything right.) I guess the issue I’m most skeptical about is the quantitative utility of simulations–that is, being a physicist and knowing simulators and their results, I’m well-aware that complicated simulations never give reliable numbers. And we don’t do anything half as complicated as earth’s long-term climate, of course. I guess there’s less likely to be a book that will help me check that opinion; but hey, maybe there is?

    Thanks for the nice, measured, informative [silly editorializing removed]

    -Sam

  8. 8
    Dodo says:

    And who was the AGW-skeptic?

    [Response: Onar Åm. -rasmus]

  9. 9
    dbeck says:

    MUST SEE VIDEO FOR JOURNALISTS
    Global Warming Contrarians Exposed

    An extremely informative, in-depth account of four of the major global warming “confusionists” is available free-online.

    Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego Science Studies Program is currently giving a lecture about the people at the center of the denialist camp. It is exceptionally well researched back to the first scientists to raise a red flag about the rising CO2, and who have been proven to be correct with alarming accuracy in their projections of climate change.

    She very powerfully dismantles the idea that “nobody could have predicted what we now know to be true”. The answer to that is: “Not only could they have, but they did”.

    But people weren’t very concerned in the 50′s and 60′s, seeing the problem as one far off in the future.

    After making an indisputable account of the scientific community’s knowledge before the eighties, she examines the people who have seemed to ignore what was known, and more importantly, why they continue to this day to argue that ‘the debate is not over’. This is the purpose of the lecture and video as the title is “The American Denial of Global Warming”.

    “We think that the scientists are still arguing about it, because this is what we have been repeatedly told” (by the press) states Oreskes. Journalists feel a need to give balance to their work and rightfully so. But in the case of a handful of deniers against a couple thousand scientists, the need to hear from the very few is ridiculous and, as she explains, harmful.

    The famed republican strategist who gave us such wonderful phrases as “The Clear Skies Initiative”, “No Child Left Behind”, “Healthy Forests Initiative” (which have all been proven to be spin) Frank Luntz wrote “…you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue”. Mr. Luntz has since given up that idea, but other republicans, sadly, have not, Oreskes says.

    She uncovers revealing documents and some humorous facts about the deniers and their tactics. “The plan was never to debate fellow scientists in the halls of science, but rather in the mass media”, says Oreskes, with the main goal to confuse the public instead of proving a scientific fact.

    It was the same tactic for confusing the public about the link between cancer and cigarettes, and ……… not surprisingly …….. it is some of the same people doing it now on the CO2 issue.

    I highly recommend this video. It very clearly explains a situation that is causing much harm to the American public’s understanding of a very dangerous situation.

    *************

    The American Denial of Global Warming, 12/12/07, free on-line, 58 min.
    http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=13459

  10. 10
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Interesting post, Rasmus. I have to say that I think that one of the reasons this debate has turned so nasty is that since the so-called sketics have no science on their side, they are left with little but ad hominem attacks and outright lies. And climate scientists, being human, tend to respond in a hostile manner. At the same time, we need to realize that some people stand to make a lot of money by prolonging this debate and by increasing the distrust on both sides. As long as the corporate mother ship sows the seeds of distrust in the minds of the denialists and tells them what they want to hear, the fact that the facts are on our side won’t matter.

  11. 11
    dbeck says:

    Another HUGE problem in getting the science out to the public is this thing that news organizations have about publishing a story from another news organization (senseless copyrights).

    For instance, in the past two years there have been over a dozen reports of research findings in newspapers around the world where the scientists gave some grim data on one part of the climate. But unless you have a ‘google alert’ for ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ you wouldn’t have seen it.

    It seems to me that this type of ‘selfishness’ should be suspended in this situation.

    Here’s a list of just such articles with their stricking statements [you will notice that exactly one is from an American agency]:

    Dec. ’06 – Globe is Warming Faster Than Scientist’s worst predictions. Our worst fears are exceeded by reality.
    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article2110651.ece

    **************
    Oceans

    Jan. ’07 – Earth is Losing its Ability to Absorb CO2?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/jan/19/frontpagenews.climatechange

    May ’07 – … (the Southern Oceans) are beginning to release the CO2 they have stored.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=455735&in_page_id=1965
    This link is not functioning. To retrieve this article you must enter “Ocean ‘less effective at absorbing climate change gases’”
    into google’s search engine.

    Oct. ’07 – …the ability of (the Atlantic) ocean to absorb CO2 has dropped by half….
    http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7008907686

    Feb. ’07 – World’s sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate. Sea levels are rising even faster than scientists predicted.
    http://www.environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2004718,00.html

    May ’07 – 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream.
    http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2007/05/86525.html

    **************
    Other Positive Feedbacks

    Mar. ’07 – Tundra Disappearing At Rapid Rate. “It’s like it waited until conditions were just right and then it decided to get up and run, not just walk.”…..This sets up a “positive feedback,” the same process that is associated with the rapidly decaying Arctic ice cap.
    http://www.mbeconetwork.org/newsitem.php?news=2

    Aug. ’07 – Arctic lakes are beginning to release methane and CO2. A global tragedy of monumental proportions is unfolding at the top of the world…
    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2007/08/13/008.html

    Nov. ’07 – The increase in forest fires in the boreal forests have weakened one of the earth’s greatest terrestrial sinks of carbon dioxide.
    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3115537.ece

    **************
    CO2

    Feb. ’07 – Carbon dioxide rate is at highest level for 650,000 years.
    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article2211568.ece
    This link is not functioning. To retrieve this article you must enter “Carbon dioxide rate
    is at highest level for 650,000 years” into the Independent’s search engine.

    Oct. ’07 – New CO2 evidence means climate change predictions are ‘too optimistic’ Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing much faster…. than scientists have predicted….
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article2719627.ece

    **************
    Glaciers

    Jan. ’07 – Glaciers (water supply) Melting 6 X Faster Than ’80s
    http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Melting_Glaciers_Show_Climate_Change_Speeding_Up_999.html

    Sept. ’07 – Glaciers are moving much faster towards the sea because of previously unknown factors. (Greenland ice is) advancing toward the sea at seven miles per year, compared with three and a half miles before.
    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ji-VBJ-GzgzCFcdspzNBU5kKAB3Q

    **************
    Polar Ice

    Jan. ’07 – The Pace of Arctic Global Warming is Staggering. “….the change “is happening so extremely fast, much much faster than we have seen in thousands and thousands of years. “Climate change in the Arctic is not coming. It is here.”
    http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Arctic_Region_As_Global_Warming_Barometer_999.html

    Mar. ’07 – … the Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, and glaciers are in massive retreat.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSSYD27511820070326

    April ’07 – …. the (sea ice) that we’ve observed is actually declining much faster than the models have shown.
    http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2007/04/04/3916309-cp.html

    Sept. ’07 – ‘Remarkable’ Drop in Arctic Sea Ice Raises Questions
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2007/arctic_minimum.html

    **************

    Jan. ’07 – Reduce CO2 in Ten Years, or Climate Will be Out-of-Control. ‘If we fail to act, we will end up with a different planet’.
    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article2116874.ece

    July ’07 – No Link Between Cosmic Rays and Global Warming
    http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/07/no-link-between.html

  12. 12
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob Ward, I agree that the problem is more at the editorial level than with reporters who actually cover science, and I think the reason is as mundane as it is insidious. Editors are interested in selling papers, and conflict is more interesting than consensus. We see the same thing in politics all the time–if a candidate is rising in the polls, suddenly you start to see critical pieces written. If a candidate is falling (e.g. with John McCain this Summer) out come the “don’t count him out yet” pieces. At some point, editors will have to learn how to cover issues for which there is only one legitimate side. The science of climate change is such an issue. What to do about it…well, there we have plenty of room for controversy.

  13. 13
    J. Althauser says:

    The paperback of Dr. Weart’s book is inexpensive, easy to read and flip back and forth. For someone with little science or technical background, the book might be a challenge. I encourage people to read a bit, put it down and stop to think what they just learned. The issues are complex and unfamiliar, readers need time and effort to assimilate the information. The link (and associated search engine) Andy gives in #1 is great to use later, searching back for particular ideas. ( & It has additionall material)

    Also, see Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert.
    http://www.amazon.com/Field-Notes-Catastrophe-Nature-Climate/dp/1596911255

  14. 14
    Rod B says:

    An aside: Just out of curiosity, what was the comparison of climate scientists and mosquitoes? It’s a head scratcher. (If so stupid you wish not to repeat it, O.K…)

  15. 15

    RE “It seems that communication skills are more important for convincing the general public than scientific skills”

    Not me. I’d take the word of bonafide not-so-articulate scientists over well-spoken others, with the caveat that the scientists if at all they are wrong or off-target would most likely be underestimating (not overestimating) the problem, due to scientific conservatism (avoiding false positives).

    It’s ridiculous that some people trust Rush Limbaugh’s science over scientists’ science.

    I respect the lengthy education, intelligence, and hard work that goes into science. That counts a lot more than armchair opinions. It carries weight.

  16. 16
    Dietmar Temme says:

    > although the AGW-skeptic compared climate scientists to mosquitoes…

    Great, those failing metaphors. As AGW continues, these and other mosquitoes will multipy…

  17. 17
    Lou Grinzo says:

    I second J Althauser’s recommendation of Field Noted from a Catastrophe. It’s an excellent introduction to the general topic for newcomers.

  18. 18
    Leonard Evens says:

    I hope Andrew Revkin has tried to convince his own newspaper, the NY Times, to stop playing up contrarian arguments. I haven’t seen much along those lines from William Broad lately, but John Tierney is still at it. A while back John Tierney admitted that he was wrong about the reality of global warming, but apparently old habits die hard. To paraphrase the contrarian argument about “global cooling”, why should we pay attention to his critiques today, when he was—admittedly—wrong in the past? The thing that annoys me the most is that he is given prominence in of all places the weekly Science section. He writes well and is sometimes thought provoking, but he is by no means a scientist and not particularly skilled at separating the wheat from the chaff.

  19. 19
    Chris S says:

    How can there be global warming, it’s freezing out! ;)

    I have to contribute while I don’t post often, I do read often. Almost every entry here at RC. I trust the variety of Atmospheric Scientists very well on this issue as time and time again they have allready proved themselves correct. The ones who differed in opinion simply got it wrong. There are even those on this very website that have made, short term predictions and been right about them based on blog discussions. For instance, one that keeps rattling my brain is a short-term prediction of the climate this winter by a participant here who related the artic sea ice loss and a extremely cold winter, which by all accounts has been seen compared to other years. This is most evident in the Eastern Hemisphere where deserts are getting snow fall.

    A picture of a palm tree bending under the weight of snow. Well if that isn’t iery.

    But hey, You have to get a laugh out of expressions such as mine above and the ever so dumbfounding “Oh, I’m loving these warm temperatures” when it’s 70 degrees in January in upstate New York. Love that. Keep up the great work everyone!

  20. 20
    Jim Eager says:

    Re dbeck @ 9: “The American Denial of Global Warming, 12/12/07, free on-line, 58 min.
    http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=13459

    Thanks so much for this link. Much of the material in the video is already widely known, at least among those who frequent RealClmate, but Naomi adds quite a bit of new (at least to me) information on the key personalities, strategies and their cross links and pulls it all together in a cohesive and coherent presentation.

    I especially liked the fact that it was GOP strategist Frank Lunz who advised framing the discussion by changing “global warming” to “climate change” because it sounded less threatening and urgent. I’ll have to remember that the next time a “skeptic” asks why the term was changed.

    Actually, many so-called skeptics, even here, freely admit that the “debate” about climate change is really an anti-regulation political debate, and as Naomi concludes at the end, that’s exactly what it is.

  21. 21
    Rod B says:

    Lynn (15), but you’re an exception one in a hundred thousand. For convincing the public, communication skills don’t even get a sniffle and win every time when up against scientists, or any other pure fact/logic-based entity. Look at the Presidential candidate debates. The analysis and “winner-declaring” is 97% on presentation and 3% on substance — and the latter usually only if it’s presented with a real cutsey sound bite.

  22. 22
    Mitch Golden says:

    What is amazing is that even at a conference at which coverage of climate change is discussed, the journalists can’t bring themselves to stop “balancing” the panels.

    The panel in which I participated consisted of a social/political scientist who had investigated how media deals with the issue of climate change and the public perception thereof, a science journalist, an AGW-skeptic, and myself.

    Thus, a panel consisting of: one person who isn’t a scientist, one person who is just wrong, and a scientist. The best case scenario is that what they learn is 66% right. What a great place to learn how to cover science!

    Who is Onar Åm anyway?

  23. 23
    S. Molnar says:

    rasmus, I promise not to consult the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons for my climate information, but you might consider consulting it or related journals about your chill theory of the common cold.

    :-)

  24. 24
    catman306 says:

    “I especially liked the fact that it was GOP strategist Frank Lunz who advised framing the discussion by changing “global warming” to “climate change” because it sounded less threatening and urgent. I’ll have to remember that the next time a “skeptic” asks why the term was changed.”

    “Actually, many so-called skeptics, even here, freely admit that the “debate” about climate change is really an anti-regulation political debate, and as Naomi concludes at the end, that’s exactly what it is.
    Comment by Jim Eager

    “Climate change” is exactly how the average citizen of planet earth will experience and become aware of the reality of “Global warming”. Their average weather will change, the exact kind of change will depend on their local geography. Exact predictions will be exceedingly difficult and will always have a time scale associated with them. Changes will always have down sides for something or somebody.

    The big money interests have the ability to side step the political debate and lend money to green energy projects and refuse to lend money to industries that insist on having large carbon footprints. It’s beginning to happen now and we can be optimistic that the people who make decisions for big money are starting to show some concern for their grandchildren’s planet.

  25. 25
    tamino says:

    I’d also like to express thanks for the link to the Oreskes video. Amazing! If you haven’t already seen it, it’s well worth the time.

  26. 26
    Craig Allen says:

    May I suggest a solution to the problem of journalists and the public not being able to asses the relative weight and merit of professional opinion behind the various aspects of climate science …

    We need a website that does the following :

    * Lets the site administrators create a list of all scientific and pseudo-scientific journals, and allows them to give each a credibility ranking.

    * Lets the administrators enter a list of all the major global warming assertions/theories/predictions.

    * Lets climatologists log in and create an account.

    * Lets them enter a bio on themselves and enter a list of all the peer reviewed climate science publications that they have published (or at least enter the number that they have published).

    * Allows each member to enter credibility/likelihood/threat rankings against each assertion/theory/prediction.

    * The site would then present reports that use this data to summarize the support within the climate science community for the various assertions/theories/predictions.

    * It could be taken further by letting each member enter credibility rankings against the other members and/or for each publication.

    With such a system, you would be able to see (to give a pretend example) that of the 900 members that ranked the plausibility of cosmic rays as an explanation of observed global warming – the average peer assigned credibility ranking of the 800 who considered it very implausible was 7.5/10, whereas the credibility ranking of the 10 who thought it very plausible was 2/10. You would also be able to see that of the 50 scientists with 10 or more highly ranked publications, none thought it was plausible, whereas of the 50 members with the lowest ranked publications 20 thought it was plausible.

    Such a system would provide a very accessible and transparent means of assessing the true extent of support within the climatological science community for the assertions, theories and predictions that are on offer.

    Now, I agree that it’s all very well for me to think up such a brilliant concept, but who is going to do it?! I’m busily teaching myself how to create PHP/mySQL websites, and if someone else doesn’t get to it first, I think I’ll be able to have it up and running within six months, depending on my other commitments. However, do the climatologists here think it’s a worthwhile idea, and do they think the climate science community would participate? If someone else wants to do it then, please, go ahead. It would have more credibility coming from with in the climate science community anyway.

  27. 27
    John Mashey says:

    Naomi did an earlier version of this talk a year ago at Stanford; it was good then, and the Scripps version seems even better. Highly recommended.

  28. 28

    Andy Revkin has discussed media responses and responsibilities at length in several places, and see the ongoing discussions in his excellent new blog at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/ (hey, one good plug deserves another!)

    There is by now a great deal of polling, and the bottom line is that 70% or more of the public now accept that global warming is a serious problem, which is about as many as you’ll ever get to agree about anything — BUT few Americans and not very many more Europeans rank it high among the things they think they need to pay attention to. Asked to name the world’s problems, they seldom bring it up, and even among environmental problems they will list water pollution, chemicals, etc. first. It has what pollsters call low saliency.

    The only good in-depth study I’ve seen, a focus group study by American Environics (pdf),
    recommends not bothering to argue about the reality or danger of global warming, but include it as an additional argument for reducing dependence on oil, promoting innovation in energy supplies, etc.

  29. 29
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Doing science by debate-What a concept! How would that work? Would each side, say the Centrigades vs the Fahrenheits, take a thermometer into the lab and when one side says “Close the window,it’s only 20 degrees in here!” The other would say “Are you kidding it’s 68 degrees leave it open!”?

    I think we should stick to doing science the old fashioned way.Collect data,analyze it, build models, digital or analog,graph and formulate the results and make recommendations based on the conclusions.

  30. 30
    Danny Bloom says:

    Speaking of journalists in Norway, there’s a very good reporter working for Reuters there, named Alister Doyle, and his recent reports from Antarctica’s TROLL STATION were very good. He is also has a blog up at blogs.reuters.com/environment

    THE CLIMATE CLOCK is ticking: (but text only for now)
    http://climateclock350.blogspot.com

  31. 31
    Danny Bloom says:

    Ray Ladbury,

    Good post. But I think it’s important to note that editors are not interested in selling papers. They are editors, they edit the news, they choose the stories for page one, they write the headlines, they do many things in the newsroom but selling papers is not their charge. That’s for the circulation department, and of course, the PR people and the top CEO brass. Don’t load on the editors: they are former reporters who now edit the news, rather than write the news, and they also assign reporters to cover certain stories. So no, editors are not interested in selling papers. Please reconsider that comment. I think the public in general does not understand how a newspaper really works. Ask your journo pals.

    – Danny B.

    RE:
    “I agree that the problem is more at the editorial level than with reporters who actually cover science, and I think the reason is as mundane as it is insidious. Editors are interested in selling papers, and conflict is more interesting than consensus.”

  32. 32
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah I just had this stuffed in my face as the ultimate appeal to authority. It’s like being caught in an echo chamber of falsehoods.

    http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~dbunny/research/global/214.pdf

  33. 33
    Jim Eager says:

    Re catman306 @ 23: “Climate change” is exactly how the average citizen of planet earth will experience and become aware of the reality of “Global warming”.

    Oh, for sure, catman, and “climate change” is definitely the more accurate term, but time and again I see “skeptics” bring it up and insinuate that the change was some kind of deliberate ruse to explain away perceived inconsistencies in AGW (severe winter storms and temperatures, lulls in hurricane activity and the warming trend, and such).

    The best part is that they are right, it was a deliberate ruse, but it was THEIR deliberate ruse.

  34. 34
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 7 Sam Gralla “another book for skeptics”

    I stumbled across a nice little book published by Oxford University Press, “Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction,” by Mark Maslin (ISBN 13: 978-0-19-284097-4; ISBN 10: 0-190284097-5). It is one of a series of “Very Short Introduction” books. It relies heavily on data and figures from the IPCC reports, but presents some interesting perspectives, such as a chapter titled, “Your viewpoint determines the future,” in which he draws on the work of Professor John Adams of Universitiy College, London, describing different mindsets for viewing the stability of natural systems (the “four myths of nature” and the “four myths of human nature”). I think it cost me about $10.00 U.S. It is a nice compact, readable, review of the evidence for AGW and its implications for society.

  35. 35
    Adria says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog, it always has great insight. But I am very frustrated with the fact that so few people are talking about presidential candidates and their thoughts on global warming. Now that it is down to just a few candidates I would think that this would be a bigger issue.

    Live Earth just picked up this topic and put out an article ( http://www.liveearth.org/news.php ) live earth is also asking why the presidential candidates are not being solicited for their stance on the issue of the climate change. I just saw a poll on http://www.EarthLab.com that says people care a lot about what their next leader thinks of global warming. Does anyone know of another poll or other results about this subject?

    Here is the page where I saw the EarthLab poll: http://www.earthlab.com/life.aspx. This is a pretty legit website; they are endorsed by Al Gore and the alliance for climate protection and they have a carbon footprint calculator. Does anyone have a strong opinion about this like I do? No matter what your political affiliation is or who you vote for this is an important issue for our environment, our economy and for homeland security.

  36. 36
    jacopo says:

    Thanks Rasmus, for the practical advices for journalists.
    When you come to journalists there are few aspects to consider.
    “… journalists to do some extensive search on the publication record of the individuals, and consider their affiliations – are they from a reputable place?”.
    Not all journalists have the tools nor time to do this research. They may be under pressure from editors to have report ready within the next few hours.And it’s now or never. And how to judge the reputation of a place? Can you give us some advice on this (ok, if it comes from MIT, that’s quite a reputable place, but there are hundreds other +/- reputable institutions)?
    “…people without scientific training often find it hard to judge who’s right and who’s wrong.”
    So true! And people without a background in sociology (as many scientists) have hard times to make judgments in controversial research into parenting. As soon as we move out from our experitise field we all become “people without training”. And you may be also relying on the media when they report in controversial epidemics threatening global security. Many journalists have to report about scientific themes building up a knowledge on the spot, in few hours or at best in few days.
    That’s why scientists may greatly contribute to improve quality of reporting by speaking out, telling their personal view (but making clear what’s personal view and what’s scientific consensus), being aware of the short time span journalist have, trying to assess the background of the journalist and …reframing their views as it is suggested in this short but enlightening analysis by Mooney and Nisbet (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/316/5821/56) .

    [Response: I think I'd recommend that journalists over time get acquainted with the subject and the community. A bit like a political journalist who actually know who's the president and who's not or a foreign corresponent who knows which countries are in Europe and which are in Africa. I think it's important that journalists are not blank on the matters on which they report. There are many reputable places, yes. That's why I recommend journalists attending conferences and talk to people in the community so that they are more prepared when they get their assignments. It's all about investing time and effort for the future. -rasmus]

  37. 37
    jacopo says:

    Read the paragraph “The Tyranny of Balance” in Revkin’s book chapter (http://www.onthemedia.org/episodes/2006/12/08/chapter.html) . I experience this tyranny on my skin. When reporting to english speaking media, I have to provide this balance between those saying one thing and the others. When reporting to italian media, I am not asked to be as balanced. This aspect of balance in reporting should be carefully addressed by journalists and editors – it fuels controversy even where consensus is there…

  38. 38
    mg says:

    Re 25. The site could also allow individual climate scientists to post their individual guestimate of what they think the SLR by 2100 could be. There could be voting options, for example, in the range 0 to 20 metres in 0.1 metres intervals. The output of the voting could be in real time and the world would have a clearer message about the potential upper bound of SLR this century: a simple graph with x-axis ranging from 0 to 20 metres and the y-axis giving counts. The voting could be reset every, say, 3 months, as more evidence comes to light as to the nonlinear processes building up in the ice sheets, and experts revaluate the degree of lack of knowledge about the cryosphere and its interactions with everything else.

    Having a voting system like this with clear display for the world would circumvent the problem of having to wait another 6 years for the IPCC to do another SLR report in which they avoid putting an upper bound on the SLR.

    The voting system, which does not need to display the identity of the professional climate scientists against each vote would get around the rot of reticence that is prevalent amongst climate scientists.

    The distribution of estimates of SLR from the climate scientists (hardly different to what is commonly done for technology futures, for example, where one doesn’t know the future) could then be linked directly to a measure, for example, of the number of nuclear reactors and other critical industrial plant at current coastline that could be submerged in the next few decades if we don’t mitigate.

    Just because conventional studies do not give precise figures for something in the future, it does not mean that an accumulation of insights and expert knowledges should not be gathered into a simple and straightforward representation of a community’s estimates.

    At present, the world does not know what the community of climate scientists think the 2100 SLR upper bound might be. It is pathetic given the global communication capability currently available and climate scientists should address the SLR communication gap as quickly as possible.

    When will the first distribution of climate scientists’ estimates of 2100 SLR upper bound be available?

  39. 39
    Jacqueline says:

    #30. Danny B – you’re joking right? Editors not interested in selling papers!? They choose the way articles appear in the paper, write the headline and the editorial – the whole editorial direction (= opinion) is their responsibility and you don’t think any of this influences who buys the paper or how many they sell???. The stance, the philosophy behind a paper heavily determines who buys a paper and how many it sells.

    #5 The BBC may think they are winningly impartial, but many, many people in the UK consider the opposite – that they are biased towards ‘liberal’ points of view. Just check out a site called http://www.biased-bbc.blogspot.com/ for an example.

    Which brings me to my third point – #11 – most of the stories you mention I have seen or heard of in the media (BBC most often).

    Some examples:
    May 07 – polar oceans soaking up less C02
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4596651.stm
    Fire threat to forests May 2005
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6665147.stm
    Rapid sea level rise Aug. 2006
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5303574.stm
    Artic tundra thawing 2000 + 2004/2005
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1024585.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3975805.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4141348.stm
    BBC horizon program dedicated to gulf stream current reduction evidence
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2003/11_november/13/big_chill.shtml

    and so on and on. From where I’m standing (member of the general public on this issue) there is no shortage of information out there in the media about what is happening.

  40. 40
    Alan says:

    Speaking of book recomendations and editors. If you can get them to read Sagan’s ‘Demon haunted world’ they would stand a better chance of distingushing the difference between an informed skeptic and a mischevious incalcitrant.

    I have a BSc and I simply accept that people turn off to science and speed read over the details, accounting has the same effect on me. However almost everyone is interested in improving their in-built BS detector and Sagan’s book does an excellent job.

    Another accessible skeptic is ‘The Great Randi’, I can’t recall the name of his book on magic and skepticism but it rescued me from Uri Geller’s BS as a young man. Whoda thunk that a paperback written by a magician could teach one more about what science is/isn’t than 11yrs of schooling.

  41. 41
    bennyben says:

    The real problem is this.

    The increased concentration of CO2 in the air, is strongly affecting the cognition of people–a problem not yet recognised by the scientific community; the symptoms of CO2 poisoning are: the denial of certain phenomena of nature, persistent illusory beliefs, escapist behaviour, and a strong tendency to lobby more vehemently for one’s cause. Many of these symptoms have been diagnosed by many reknowned doctors; but, unfortunately, this medical wisdom has not yet reached the rest of the world, who are still happily wallowing in their cognitive mists.

    O! ’tis a great tragedy, but we must try to bear our lonely endeavour to enlighten the remainer of the world.

  42. 42
    Alan K says:

    #27 Spencer Weart
    got it 93% on the button.

    People like me – no scientific training, centre-right leaning, well-educated (“voters” or “consumers” as we are sometimes known) are inclined to be sceptical about climate change because we are generally sceptical about prescriptive actions by governments or any interest or ideological group and yes, that’s including scientists who hold or who maintain they hold a particular belief and benefit from that in some kind (fame, notoriety, money, kudos, influence). We also know that movements, be it scientific (eg. eugenics, string theory, cigarettes providing a health benefit) or economic (eg. south sea bubble, dot-coms) can be subject to self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating confirmation, while outsiders, or here “sceptics” or “denialists”, are ostracised. Neither do we understand, when reading the impressive-sounding list of signatories on letters disagreeing with the phenomenon or even premise of AGW (eg. Bali dissenters, the Canadians not so long ago), why one scientist’s theory should be preferred over another, or rather, when one scientist’s theory should be dismissed out of hand by another, when both are professors in atmospheric sciences or somesuch.

    Nor do we quite get the model thing. We understand models, and we also know that they are useful predictive tools but we are convinced that they do not supply “evidence” (a term creeping in on RC to describe model output) of future states or anything like it and we note that inherent and freely admitted possible significant errors are ignored conveniently or wilfully when that output is being discussed and nor are we convinced, or even that much surprised that models tend towards agreeing with each other.

    We are sceptical also of weight-loss pills, hair-growth tonics, betting systems and carbon trading schemes. We understand that there is an element of social and political ideology behind many pronouncements of those who urge eg. immediate 80% reductions in our carbon emissions and probably none of us send goats to Africa. And we look out of our windows and believe neither that because it’s hotter than usual in June or colder than usual in February that this means anything other than we have a chaotic weather system.

    So as Spencer Weart says, to appeal to the homus economicus in us makes the most perfect amount of sense. We really do believe that adaptation, if required, from a wealthier planet, will be be our best bet.

    If we incidentally save the planet, well that’s fine by us also.

  43. 43
    Rod B says:

    bennyben (42), interesting thought, but a pretty large stretch. Your reference wasn’t clear: Are you implying the symptoms show up in just the skeptics, just AGW protagonists, or both (and everybody else??)?

  44. 44
    Mark A. York says:

    I recently applied for a reporting job in Alaska for a paper and was turned down for my politics. I asked, via email what personal politics had to do with reporting? I didn’t get an answer. I searched for past articles on climate and found none. Even though I was told I’d be called about the job it didn’t happen. Instead after boiling down all the candidates to me, (I found out through an internal cc mistake that came to me!) they readvertised the job. I have a journalism and environmental biology degree from Cal State and a long history of working for government agencies. I used Andy revkin as an example of the reporting I would like to do on the subject.

  45. 45
    Neil B. says:

    Speaking of Hell freezing over, you folks will need to look at and make responses to the following editorial about the proposal that from roughly now on, the sun’s output will reduce and lead to a climatic cooling effect. (The claim is ironic in light of prior claims that GW resulted from recent increases in the sun’s radiation.)

    Here is the IBD Editorial,and the opening excerpt:


    The Sun Also Sets
    By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, February 07, 2008 4:20 PM PT
    Climate Change: Not every scientist is part of Al Gore’s mythical “consensus.” Scientists worried about a new ice age seek funding to better observe something bigger than your SUV — the sun.

    Back in 1991, before Al Gore first shouted that the Earth was in the balance, the Danish Meteorological Institute released a study using data that went back centuries that showed that global temperatures closely tracked solar cycles.
    To many, those data were convincing. Now, Canadian scientists are seeking additional funding for more and better “eyes” with which to observe our sun, which has a bigger impact on Earth’s climate than all the tailpipes and smokestacks on our planet combined.
    And they’re worried about global cooling, not warming.
    Kenneth Tapping, a solar researcher and project director for Canada’s National Research Council, is among those looking at the sun for evidence of an increase in sunspot activity.
    Solar activity fluctuates in an 11-year cycle. But so far in this cycle, the sun has been disturbingly quiet. The lack of increased activity could signal the beginning of what is known as a Maunder Minimum, an event which occurs every couple of centuries and can last as long as a century.
    Such an event occurred in the 17th century. The observation of sunspots showed extraordinarily low levels of magnetism on the sun, with little or no 11-year cycle.
    This solar hibernation corresponded with a period of bitter cold that began around 1650 and lasted, with intermittent spikes of warming, until 1715. Frigid winters and cold summers during that period led to massive crop failures, famine and death in Northern Europe.
    Tapping reports no change in the sun’s magnetic field so far this cycle and warns that if the sun remains quiet for another year or two, it may indicate a repeat of that period of drastic cooling of the Earth, bringing massive snowfall and severe weather to the Northern Hemisphere.

  46. 46
    marko says:

    Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who has long been in the pocket of big oil had this op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning Newspaper.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/viewpoints/stories/DN-barton_08edi.ART.State.Edition1.44fe35f.html

    It irked me enough to reply with a letter to the editor but I figure there maybe some here more eloquent then I.

    Here is some highlites to get you riled:

    “Keep in mind that CO2 is not a pollutant. It performs the desirable work of making life possible by regulating planetary surface temperatures. And it is everywhere.

    I hope that if Congress’ global warmists are going to have their anti-carbon dioxide legislation, they will accommodate some discussion first. Here’s my modest opener:

    Electricity must be available and affordable; keep the lights on, please

  47. 47
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Alan K., Now hold on just a wee bit. Do you think you become famous and powerful in science by going along with the crowd? Do you think for one minute that if someone could disprove anthropogenic causation that he would not be lionized in the scientific community? Do you really think that all scientists are leftist ideologues? Sir, you have a profound misunderstanding of what science is and how it works!
    In science, evidence and explanatory power reign supreme. Yes it is political, but if you don’t have the evidence behind you, you will not succeed for long. All the evidence points to anthropogenic causation It is only partly a scientist’s insight that makes him or her influential. There is also the willingness of individual scientists to put aside their own preferences and agendas when the evidence runs against them that makes one scientist or group of scientists more trusted or influential. How many papers in refereed climate journals have the so-called Bali dissenters published? I believe the number is somewhere between zero and bupkis. Moreover, I think you will find most denialists are not atmospheric scientists, but in some tangentially related field–oceanography, geography, geology, etc. Now compare that to the hundreds of climate scientists who are generating more evidence that supports anthropogenic causation every day and the thousands of physicists, chemists, meteorologists, science academies, etc. that have looked at the science and found it to be credible. See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_consensus

    But the thing I find most astounding about your post is that you seem to be making your acceptance of the science contingent upon whether it supports your political or economic philosophy. I would contend, rather that by rejecting sound science, you abdicate your position at the negotiating table where solutions are adopted, thereby ensuring that your views will be ignored.

    As Thomas Huxley said: “My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations.”

  48. 48

    Alan K writes:

    [[Neither do we understand, when reading the impressive-sounding list of signatories on letters disagreeing with the phenomenon or even premise of AGW (eg. Bali dissenters, the Canadians not so long ago), why one scientist’s theory should be preferred over another, or rather, when one scientist’s theory should be dismissed out of hand by another, when both are professors in atmospheric sciences or somesuch.]]

    That’s true, you don’t understand. If you were to look carefully, you would see that the vast majority of people who sign those statements are NOT climate scientists. And you might want to think about the fact that science is not done by press release, nor by petition, but by research and publication in peer-reviewed journals. The letters you’re referring to are meant to influence public opinion; they are an act of politics, not an act of science.

    [[Nor do we quite get the model thing. We understand models, and we also know that they are useful predictive tools but we are convinced that they do not supply “evidence” (a term creeping in on RC to describe model output) of future states or anything like it]]

    True, you don’t get the model thing. The models are not predictions of the future, they are predictions of what the future will be like given a certain profile for future emissions. We don’t know how much carbon dioxide will increase; we do know that if it doubles you can expect about a 3 K rise in mean global annual surface temperature.

    [[ and we note that inherent and freely admitted possible significant errors are ignored conveniently or wilfully when that output is being discussed]]

    I don’t believe that’s correct. Name a case where a “significant error” was “willfully ignored.”

  49. 49
    Nick Barnes says:

    mg@39: When will the first distribution of climate scientists’ estimates of 2100 SLR upper bound be available?
    I don’t know. When will you have coded it up?

  50. 50
    SecularAnimist says:

    Alan K wrote: “People like me [...] are inclined to be sceptical about climate change because we are generally sceptical about prescriptive actions by governments”

    With all due respect, that makes no sense whatsoever. You have an aversion to or dislike of “prescriptive actions by governments”. Fine. That has absolutely nothing to do with whether climate change is real.

    The facts are: anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide are causing global warming, and that anthropogenic global warming is causing climate change; the present excessive levels of CO2 and consequent climate change are already dangerous, and if the process continues unabated, the results will be disastrous and catastrophic for human civilization.

    If you don’t like government interventions you are certainly free to propose “free market” solutions or other solutions that you prefer. But denying the reality of the problem because you dislike some of the solutions that some people have suggested is insane.


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