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Wired Magazine’s Incoherent Truths

Filed under: — raypierre @ 15 June 2008

Many of our tech-savvy friends — the kind of folks who nurse along the beowulf clusters our climate models run on — are scratching their heads over some cheeky shrieking that recently appeared in a WIRED magazine article on Rethinking What it Means to be Green . Crank up the A/C! Kill the Spotted Owl! Keep the SUV! What’s all that supposed to be about?

Let’s take air conditioning for starters. Basically WIRED took a look at the carbon footprint of New England heating vs. Arizona cooling and jumped to the conclusion that air conditioning was intrinsically more efficient than heating. To see where they were led astray let’s consider a house sitting where you need to cool it by 20 degrees to be comfortable. The heat leaks into the house at a rate that is approximately proportional to this temperature difference, and the heat leaking in needs to be removed. Now, in order to move that heat from inside to outside, energy has to be expended. Given a fixed electric power usage (in watts), a better air conditioner can remove more heat per day than a worse one, but every air conditioner needs to expend some energy to move the heat. That’s just thermodynamics.

Efficiency of air conditioners is measured by a SEER rating, which is the ratio of heat moved to the outside (in BTU/hr) to the electric power consumption (in Watts). A typical modern air conditioner has a SEER rating of 10, We can convert this into nicer units by converting BTU/hr into Watts, which means dividing the SEER rating by 3.413, which then gives us a Coefficient of Performance, in units of Watts of heat moved per Watt of electricity used. For the aforementioned efficiency, we move heat at a rate of 2.92 Watts if we expend 1 Watt of electric energy. An air conditioner is just a heat engine run in reverse: instead of making use of a temperature differential to use heat flow from hot to cold to do work, we expend mechanical work in order to move heat from a colder place to a hotter place. Thus, an efficient heat engine is an inefficient air conditioner. That’s basically why the Coefficient of Performance gets smaller when the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors is greater — with bigger temperature difference heat engine cycles tend to get more efficient, which means that air conditioner cycles tend to get less efficient. That’s also where the “S” in SEER comes from. It stands for “Seasonal,” and reflects the fact that efficiency must be averaged over the range of actual temperature differentials experienced in a “typical” climate. Your mileage may vary.

This situation can be contrasted with heating. If that same house were in an environment that were too cold instead of too warm, so that it had to be kept 20 degrees warmer than the environment, then the amount of heat leaking out of the house each day would be about the same as the amount leaking into the house in the previous case. That heat loss needs to be replaced by burning fuel. Now, generating heat is the only thing that can be done with 100% efficiency. Old furnaces lose a lot of heat up the chimney, but modern sealed-combustion burners– the kind that can use PVC pipes instead of a chimney — lose virtually nothing. With a heat exchanger between the air intake and the exhaust, they could closely approach the ideal. But still, in this case we are generating heat rather than just moving it, so it takes 1 watt of heat power from fuel burning to make up 1 watt of heat loss. That would seem to make heating a factor of 2.92 less efficient than air conditioning.

But wait, the story doesn’t stop there. First, there’s the fact that air conditioning almost invariably runs off of electricity, and the increased electricity demand is a big source of the pressure to build more coal-fired power plants. A house can be heated by burning natural gas, and right there air conditioning becomes 1.8 times worse than heating, because natural gas emits only 55% of the carbon of coal, per unit of heat energy produced. And it gets even worse: Coal fired power plants are only 30% efficient at converting heat into electricity, on average, so there you get another factor of 3.3 in carbon emissions per unit of energy transferred between the house and its environment. Finally, figure in a typical electric line transmission loss of 7% and you get another factor 1.075. Put it all together with the energy efficiency of the air conditioner itself and air conditioning comes in at a whopping 2.19 times less efficient than heating. for a given amount of temperature difference between house and environment. That means that so far as carbon emissions go, heating a house to 70 degrees when the outside temperature is 40 degrees is like cooling the same house to 70 degrees when the outside temperature is 83.7 degrees.

And that’s still not the end of the story. A house in need of air conditioning has other heat inputs besides the heat leaking in from outside, and all that extra heat needs to be gotten rid of as well. For example, heat is a waste-product of all energy use going on in the house. Four people produce 400W that needs to be gotten rid of, and then there’s the heat from hot water, lighting, the TV, cooking and what have you — all the energy usage within the house, plus 100W of biological heat per person needs to be gotten rid of. On top of that, you’ve got direct radiative heating from the sun, both from the sunllight getting through windows and solar heating of the exterior surfaces of the house, some of which will leak in through the insulation. Energy must be expended to remove all this heat. In contrast, in the heating season waste heat is subtracted from the energy needed for home heating.

So, WIRED got the story egregiously wrong, and not just because they did the arithmetic wrong. In their rush to be cute, they didn’t even make a half-baked attempt to do the arithmetic. But what if they had been right and air conditioning really were intrinsically more efficient than heating. Would that justify their conclusion that you can just "crank up the A/C?" without worry? No, of course not, because cranking up the A/C would still use additional energy and still lead to the emission of additional carbon. For the conclusion to be justified, it wouldn’t be enough for A/C to be more efficient than heating; it would have to be so much more efficient that the incremental energy usage from cranking it up were trivial. WIRED didn’t even try to make that case. If they had, they might have spotted their errors.

Is there any real conclusion that could have been drawn from more clear thinking about the heating vs. air conditioning issues danced around in the article? Yes, in fact. The conclusion is that it makes a lot of sense to build houses in places where the environment requires neither much heating nor much cooling. This is in fact why Los Angeles scores pretty well in carbon footprint per capita, despite all the driving (as noted recently in The Economist.). Another conclusion to be drawn from the carbon footprint of New England heating is that there are probably a lot of leaky homes up there heated by inefficient oil-fired furnaces. Fixing that situation represents a huge untapped virtual energy source.

What’s more, for a magazine that purports to be written by and for tech geeks, WIRED missed the biggest and most interesting part of the story: the same intrinsic efficiences of heat pumps can be run in reverse to give you the same economies for home heating as you get for air conditioning. To do this effectively, you’d have to run the heat pump off of natural gas rather than electricity (or perhaps run it off of locally generated solar power or wind). You’d also have to deal with the fact that heat pumps become less efficient when working across large temperature gradients, but that’s where geothermal heat storage systems come in, making use of the fact that the deep subsurface temperature remains near a nice 55F all year around. Now that would have been a nice story for a tech magazine to cover. And by the way, the decrease in efficiency of heat pumps as the temperature differential increases has another implication that WIRED missed: not only does global warming increase the basic demand for air conditioning, with all the attendant pressures on electricity demand, but it exacerbates the situation by decreasing the efficiency of the entire installed base of air conditioners.

Now about that spotted owl. This refers to a claim that industrial tree plantations take up carbon faster than old growth forests; Since spotted owls require the large trees found only in old-growth, the supposed implication is that if we want to soak up carbon we ought to damn the spotted owl and cut down all the old growth. WIRED really committed serial stupidities on this one. First of all, the article they cited in support of their claim was about carbon emissions from Canada’s managed forests, not from old growth. Now, it’s true that a rapidly growing young tree takes carbon out of the atmosphere more rapidly than a mature forest which more slowly transfers carbon to long term storage in soil. However, to figure out how much net carbon sequestration you get out of that young tree once it’s chopped down, you need to figure what happens to it. Lots of trees wind up in paper, carboard boxes, shipping palettes and other things that rapidly sit around decomposing or get burned off (or worse, turn into methane in landfills). Even the part that turns into houses has a relatively short residence time before being oxidized. Anybody who has maintained an old Victorian house knows about the constant battle against rot, and the amount of wood that needs to be replaced even if (knock wood) the thing doesn’t burn down or turn into a tear-down. So, WIRED is totally off the mark there, unless, to use the colorful language of my colleague Dave Archer, they can get trees to "drop diamonds instead of leaves."

Worse, they ignore the abundant literature indicating that old growth forests can be a net sink of carbon even in equilibrium, whereas the soil disturbance of clear cutting and industrial forestry can lead to large soil carbon releases. A classic article in the genre is "Effects on carbon storage of conversion of old-growth forests to young forests" (Harmon et al. Science 1990) . They state "Simulations of carbon storage suggest that conversion of old-growth forests to young fast-growing forests will not decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in general, as has been suggested recently.". For more recent work, take a look at what Leighty et al. (ECOSYSTEMS Volume: 9 Issue: 7 Pages: 1051-1065. 2006 ) have to say about the Tongass:.

  • "The Tongass National Forest (Tongass) is the largest national forest and largest area of old-growth forest in the United States. Spatial geographic information system data for the Tongass were combined with forest inventory data to estimate and map total carbon stock in the Tongass; the result was 2.8 +/- 0.5 Pg C, or 8% of the total carbon in the forests of the conterminous USA and 0.25% of the carbon in global forest vegetation and soils. Cumulative net carbon loss from the Tongass due to management of the forest for the period 1900-95 was estimated at 6.4-17.2 Tg C. Using our spatially explicit data for carbon stock and net flux, we modeled the potential effect of five management regimes on future net carbon flux. Estimates of net carbon flux were sensitive to projections of the rate of carbon accumulation in second-growth forests and to the amount of carbon left in standing biomass after harvest. Projections of net carbon flux in the Tongass range from 0.33 Tg C annual sequestration to 2.3 Tg C annual emission for the period 1995-2095. For the period 1995-2195, net flux estimates range from 0.19 Tg C annual sequestration to 1.6 Tg C annual emission. If all timber harvesting in the Tongass were halted from 1995 to 2095, the economic value of the net carbon sequestered during the 100-year hiatus, assuming $20/Mg C, would be $4 to $7 million/y (1995 US dollars). If a prohibition on logging were extended to 2195, the annual economic value of the carbon sequestered would be largely unaffected ($3 to $6 million/y). The potential annual economic value of carbon sequestration with management maximizing carbon storage in the Tongass is comparable to revenue from annual timber sales historically authorized for the forest."

So, it looks like that old Spotted Owl and its kindred old-growth denizens are in fact sitting not just on a nest, but on a treasure trove of carbon credits worth potentially more than the timber harvest.

And should you keep that SUV? This blurb in fact contains some useful advice, buried amidst some fuzzy reasoning and published over a witless tag line stating that "pound for pound" a Prius takes more energy to manufacture than a Hummer. The apparent implication of that tag line is rebutted in the article itself, but why give the reader that as a 32-point type take-home point when the WIRED editors don’t even themselves believe it’s an important statistic? This factoid refers to the energy used in the nickel component of Prius batteries, but it’s irrelevant because "pound for pound" doesn’t count if your point is moving 4 people from point A to point B. What transport value do you get from transporting four people plus the weight of the Hummer? Now, the rest of the fuzziness in the logic is a bit more subtle. The author notes quite rightly that there is a very significant carbon emission from manufacturing a car, which is indeed more for a Prius (at least for the moment) than it is for comparable sized non-hybrids.. Thus, if you are faced with ditching your existing car (whatever it may be) and buying a Prius, you need to consider how much you drive per year and see how long it takes to "pay back" the carbon emission from manufacturing the Prius. So far so good. But this is more a statement about the transition to more efficient cars, and how to deal with mistakes of the past, rather than a statement about what is intrinsically desirable in the fleet. As far as carbon emissions go, we’d still be better off if everybody who needed a car were in a Prius, except maybe for people who drive very little per year — who should then be into shared hybrids via iGO or ZipCars, Maybe if you drive very little and live out in a rural area where there are not going to be any shared cars, getting a compact non-Hybrid might make sense. There must be at least a dozen or two people out there in that category, I guess.

The rest of the advice WIRED gives makes even less sense. They say that if you want to be green, you ought to buy a used Civic or something like that, not a Prius. That’s because the used car already has the manufacturing carbon emissions "written down" (or, I guess at least the carbon guilt accrues to the original owner, not that the atmospheric radiative forcing is going to care much about that). However, this advice, sensible-sounding though it is — ignores the fact that to make that used car available to you, the original owner almost certainly had to buy something else, and probably that was a new car, or at least a newer one. So, for the scheme to work, you’d have to buy your used Civic from somebody who was giving up driving altogether. I no longer own a car myself, but I’m sorry I wasn’t able to participate in a scheme like this; by the time I gave up our remaining car ten years ago, it was suitable only for the crusher, and in fact had to be towed there.

The real implication is that manufacturing costs count, so most people should buy a small, efficient hybrid and keep it until it runs into the ground. The implication is also that durability of cars counts for nearly as much as gas mileage, since an efficient car that needs to be replaced every five years isn’t really all that efficient.

Along with all the nonsense is a certain amount of true (if by now commonplace) advice. Among this is the basic truth that urban living is inherently green, and if more people lived in cities (and if more cities were kept livable so people would want to move there). then per capita carbon emissions would go down. Even there, the Economist managed to be both more informative and more iconoclastic with its surprising analysis of the pattern of urbanism in Los Angeles. The other truism in WIRED is that nuclear power deserves a second look, and probably has an important role to play in a decarbonized energy future. Still, if you compare the cost of making all those chilly New England homes efficient with the total true cost of building more nuclear plants, well, let’s just say I’m buying stock in argon-filled low-e window manufacturers rather than Areva, much as I like their track record on nuclear electricity.


367 Responses to “Wired Magazine’s Incoherent Truths”

  1. 251
    Hubert says:

    If more people lived in cities wouldn’t more petroleum have to be used to ship agricultural products from farming regions to scattered urban areas? Could excessive CO2 create a permanent storm system on the Earth like the great red spot on Jupiter?

    As to building a whole new kind of world American caused global warming is already doing that. Thermodynamically oil is a high quality energy resource and any alternative will cut into American hedonism i.e. “living well”. Whatever profits new-age capitalists make will be miniscule compared to what Mobil and BP and company are making now. That’s like saying a lone internet blogger can compete with Time Warner, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch, and Disney in getting his opinions across.

    Hydro power, for example, will still need power plants, although ocean water is limitless the rare mineral resources needed to build fusion plants are not.

  2. 252
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #247 Jim Galasyn,

    Re Hansen,

    If Hansen is conveyed accurately in the headline.

    He is is not helpful, especially as the problem now seems to be that the denialist fringe has taken off as an internet conspiracy that will continue under it’s own momentum with it’s own set of lore. It is thus hard to challenge and such sentiments will only serve to cohere it.

    In the UK we seem to have quite a proactive stance on AGW, but with 6/10 in the recent UK poll doubting humans are behind GW, statements like that claimed of Hansen will not fall well on public sentiments. This is exactly what the figurehead denialists need to play their victim-bully act.

    I recognise that people are desperately worried. Having been sanguine until recently, I am now very worried over recent research (e.g Shakova/Dahl-Jensen) combined with what’s looking like Peak Oil. I appreciate the feelings that drive Hansen’s statements, but he’s not just some bloke on the street.

  3. 253
    Leighton says:

    #252 CobblyWorlds

    Excellent point. “Not helpful” is an understatement. Hansen’s quoted statements come across as defensive and intolerant. That impression bolsters the sense which many have (probably a large part of the 60% you mention) that CAGW prophets prefer the disparagement of critics over respectful debate on the merits.

    The tone of sardonicism, and even contempt, which pervades blog entries and posts on this site is cut from the same unhelpful cloth. Even your rhetoric (“denialist fringe”) falls prey to the same unfortunate tendency.

    Perhaps ethical norms such as the Golden Rule should be honored more faithfully. If your view were in the minority, but if you nevertheless held to that view sincerely for reasons that you regarded as meritorious, I suspect you would want the majority to engage your viewpoint respectfully.

    Hansen should speak more as a public servant and less as a public scold.

  4. 254
    David B. Benson says:

    Hubert (251) — CO2 is a well-mixed gas in the atmosphere, with a mixing time of about 2+ years.

  5. 255
    Cobblyworlds says:

    #253 Leighton,

    Just to be clear what I see as denialist:
    1) Those who deny that humans are involved in the observed climate change / global warming (CC/AGW).
    2) Those who deny that CO2 increase is due to humans, and will lead to warming of at least around 2degC for a doubling of CO2.
    3) Those who admit that we are causing CC/AGW, but deny that there is a realistic chance of CC/AGW being a significant threat to our civilisation.

    These three denied points I view as established “beyond reasonable doubt” (the best level of proof we can attain). I call those who deny them the denialist fringe because having been an AGW sceptic, and having wasted many many hours over the last 3 years on dealing with AGW denialists, they have no valid point that I can see. And I have suspected for some time that engaging with them merely serves to bolster the delusion that they have a point worth debating.

    Yes. When faced with people seeking honest debate politeness is appropriate. But when faced with the tedious repetition of denialist lore (CO2 lag in glaciations, tropical troposphere lapse rate, Antarctic not behaving like the Arctic, “here’s my website, where I (an electrician/economist/schoolkid) will disprove the work of thousands of scientists” etc etc etc), we are only human, and are liable to get riled.

    Hansen is right to be alarmed, overall I consider his message and work sound and persuasive. But if that reporting is correct, his tactics seem wanting to me.

  6. 256

    Quote from a news story:

    James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature

    I think that’s a terrible, idiotic idea, and it makes Hansen look like a fringe nutcase. As usual, when somebody pontificates outside their field of expertise, they come off looking like fools. Hansen is a great authority on climate science; on politics and law he should keep his mouth shut until he does a little studying.

  7. 257
    pete best says:

    Re #256, Lets hope that the newspapers have quoted him right. I think he and many other scientists have a problem with the fossil fuels industry lobbying and disinformation campaigns on GHG and AGW. Al Gore writes about lobbying in his book “end of reason” as does George Monbiot in his book HEAT.

    He is making a point about 30 years of denialist anti science essentially.

  8. 258
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Leighton, What attitude other than contempt is appropriate for those who deny or distort established scientific fact? Yes, Hansen’s remarks are intemperate and unhelpful. However, are they any more intemperate than those of denialists who accuse the entire scientific community of fraud?
    I will not defend Hansen’s comments, and I hope he will reconsider his militant tone. However, I have to say that I sympathize with the incredible frustration he must feel as he watches human civilization rush toward oblivion with the gas pedal on the floor.

  9. 259
    Phil. Felton says:

    Re #257

    It’s nearly two years since the Royal Society told Exxon to stop funding denialist orgaganisations.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/sep/20/oilandpetrol.business

  10. 260
    Figen Mekik says:

    How different is the attitude of big energy and oil companies really from that of tobacco companies who were saying “smoking cigareettes is a personal responsibility” (read “of course it isn’t addictive and if you think it causes cancer, simply don’t smoke”) then intentionally putting addictive doses of nicotine in their cigarettes knowing full well that nicotine is addictive (so actually believing the science when it suits them and denying it when it doesn’t) and then marketing it to children through cartoons and Hollywood icons. The rebel without a cause look of James Dean doesn’t quite go without a cigarette in his hand.

    Now that I am fast approaching forty, when I see those old Hollywood pictures, Dean looks like a baby with a cigarette in his hand. Revolting no? But it is only revolting because of the mass publicity and lawsuits against the cigarette industry that changed people’s collective attitude toward cigarette smoking.

    So I don’t see what is so intemperate and unhelpful about treating oil companies the same way. If these companies didn’t believe the science and really thought all scientists were conspiratorial frauds, they wouldn’t have to put out such a contemptuous, denialist and widespread anti-AGW campaign. They know the science is true but it is hurting their business so they are advocating “a fair and balanced” debate. And, knowingly inflicting harm to persons and environments where people live for personal or corporate gain is the very definition of crimes against humanity and nature, isn’t it?

  11. 261
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Re Hansen, here’s a thought experiment: should tobacco CEOs be tried for systematically disinforming society, and thereby causing perhaps millions of excess deaths?

    Oil execs are paying the Heartland Institute for its propaganda services, too. And the scale of excess deaths caused by these actions could run into the hundreds of millions.

    Discuss. :)

  12. 262
    Leighton says:

    ## 255 – Cobblyworlds, 258 – Ray Ladbury

    I appreciate the care with which Cobblyworlds states what he regards as proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But is even more care warranted? Point 1 states only that human beings are “involved” in observed climate change, which I take it is a broader concept than “global warming.” Yet, point 3 makes the much stronger claim that “we are causing global warming” which rules out any other (non-human) factor. Is that truly established beyond reasonable doubt?

    Point 3 also refers to a “realistic” chance of a “significant” threat. It is hard to claim that this is a fact established beyond a reasonable doubt when it relies on terms which are inherently subject to probabalistic assessments on which genuine differences of opinion almost certainly can be found.

    And lets contrast “a realistic chance of CC/AGW being a significant threat to our civilisation” (Cobblyworlds) with “watch[ing] human civilization rush toward oblivion with the gas pedal on the floor” (Ladbury). Which is it guys? Does one have only to agree with the careful, hedged judgment or is it also required that everyone sign on to the most metaphorically overblown interpretation possible?

    Based on the recent article, it appears to me that Hansen is more at the “overstated” than the “carefully-hedged” end of that particular spectrum. It troubles me that he does so while drawing from the taxpayers’ account. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be required of hard-working productive people to subsidize such outlandish responses to genuine criticism.

  13. 263
    Rod B says:

    Cobblyworlds, Ray, et al: This is beating my head against the wall (been here many times before), but to keep things honest, the license to call us skeptics dirty names (other than to deny (rationalize) that the names are dirty, or to lump all skeptics in with the few scoundrels out there), banish them from participation, even indict them criminally, comes from the fact that they disagree, in some part, with your well thought out science. And sometimes they continue to disagree even after you have maybe repeatedly shouted your correctness from the highest peak. Your retort to this is essentially, “Yeah! But we’re right!” implying again that you are allowed. Now you may prove to be right — and currently right. That IMO does not give you the license that Leighton fusses about. Sorry. Now excuse me. I have to duck.

    I had the same distasteful response to Hanson’s suggestion. I too think its bad science and might hurt him in science circles, though I don’t think by much. Oddly though, and being objective, I would not fully agree that it is bad tactics. As I said in an earlier post (that didn’t make the cut), as a political advocate (vs. a scientist) he will probably get much more attention and support from politicos and the public, which is required to get anything done outside the lab, model, or blog, with wild irrational accusations against, coincidentally, the current favorite whipping boy.

  14. 264
    Nick Gotts says:

    I doubt Hansen actually expects a court case to get off the ground – yet. However I think he is exactly right to go on the attack in the way he has – to call lies, lies and a criminal conspiracy, a criminal conspiracy. As for tactics – well, what better time will there ever be to attack an oil company than when “gas” prices and company profits have both soared?

  15. 265
    SecularAnimist says:

    I think Hansen’s comments are right on target. For twenty years the fossil fuel corporations have deliberately, knowingly conspired to deceive the public and policy makers about the reality of anthropogenic global warming, which is a direct result of the use of their products. Their campaign of deliberate deceit has been entirely successful in delaying action to phase out fossil fuels and prevent the worst outcomes of anthropogenic warming and consequent climate change. That delay may well result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, the irreversible extinction of the majority of species on this planet, and the long-term (millennia) degradation and impoverishment of the Earth’s biosphere. In a worst-case scenario it might lead to the extinction of most life on Earth from acidification of the oceans and the release of massive quantities of frozen methane. All of this was done intentionally, deliberately and knowingly, by people who probably think of global warming the way that “cold warriors” in the 1980s proclaimed that global thermonuclear war was “winnable”. Their crimes are FAR worse than the crimes of tobacco corporations whose campaigns of deliberate deceit caused thousands of deaths from cancer, and they should be held to account and punished — instead, they are raking in trillions of dollars in profit from a “product” that is poisoning the entire biosphere unto death.

  16. 266
    Pete Wirfs says:

    DURABILITY COUNTS!

    I love that part. I have some energy-star appliances in my kitchen that I’ve been dis-pleased with. They’ve been repaired several times. In every case the service man pointed out that in their opinion, the energy-star stuff in the US actually costs us more energy in the long run because of the lesser durability.

  17. 267
    Henning says:

    I wonder whether Hansen threatens the right people. Those who could actually do something about it are the governments of this world – not the companies providing the stuff that juiced our entire civilization for the better part of a century. He could sue the German government for discontinuing nuclear, for example. Certainly that alone is responsible for a lot more additional CO2 than a misinformation campaign set in motion by an oil company. And by the way – can anybody point me towards a case where an oil company directly or indirectly outright lied to the public and give an educated guess about how much additional CO2 was or will be emitted because of that lie? (and maybe some information about what it was that led decision makes to beliving those lies rather than trusting the scientists in their employment)

  18. 268
    Leighton says:

    # 265 – SecularAnimist

    All that being said, I’m sure you’ll join me in expressing concern for the tendency toward overheated rhetoric. *smile*

    All kidding aside, a reputation for scientific probity is not enhanced by undocumented conspiracy theorizing, whether the theorist is an anonymous blog poster or a senior scientist on the federal payroll.

  19. 269
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #262 Leighton

    Yes I could have taken more care, it was a rushed lunchtime post. Hence I’ve added a bracketed (causing) on point 1.

    You claim:

    Point 1 states only that human beings are “involved” in (causing) observed climate change, which I take it is a broader concept than “global warming.” Yet, point 3 makes the much stronger claim that “we are causing global warming” which rules out any other (non-human) factor.

    Whereas I actually said:

    Just to be clear what I see as denialist:
    1) Those who deny that humans are involved in the observed climate change / global warming (CC/AGW).
    2) Those who deny that CO2 increase is due to humans, and will lead to warming of at least around 2degC for a doubling of CO2.
    3) Those who admit that we are causing CC/AGW, but deny that there is a realistic chance of CC/AGW being a significant threat to our civilisation.

    I quite obviously did not say what you claim. Did I?

    In point 2 I specifically refer to global warming because I am talking about the fact the CO2 blocks Infra-Red radiation so causing global warming. Otherwise AGW/CC is intended to include impacts like land use change, contrails, particulate pollution etc, as well as the enhanced greenhouse effect.

    I feel much the same as Ray expresses in his final sentence. It is my opinion based on my reading that we’ve crossed the Rubicon and Post Peak Oil is likely to weaken us as Climate Change (secondary effects from the Arctic) really hits us. However as point 3, if someone says to me they agree with the IPCC line, but on balance think the challenges to come are surmountable, that would be their opinion (I’d just disagree). Thus my wording in point 3. Those who claim there will only be benefits and dismissing the risks are engaging in a mindless Polly-Anna fantasy.

    And in your final paragraph you reveal the spin that Hansen risks being attributed to all of his work now… hot headed (with a the perjorative implication of irrational that always hangs onto it).

    Perhaps simplification will help:

    1) Humans are involved in (causing) the observed climate change / global warming (CC/AGW).
    2) The CO2 increase is due to humans, and will lead to warming of at least around 2degC for a doubling of CO2.
    3) There is a realistic chance of CC/AGW being a significant threat to our civilisation.

    Is it so unreasonable to suggest that anyone who feels the evidence does not support those statements is out to lunch?

  20. 270

    Re 251:

    If more people lived in cities wouldn’t more petroleum have to be used to ship agricultural products from farming regions to scattered urban areas? Could excessive CO2 create a permanent storm system on the Earth like the great red spot on Jupiter?

    No, there is no requirement that fossil fuels be used for long haul transport. Train is significantly cheaper (and safer) than over the road, long haul transport and can be done with electricity. CSX, one of the rail companies here in the States, advertises that they get 431 ton-miles to the gallon of fuel. This compares well to 180 ton-miles for a high efficiency tractor trailer moving 20 tons of cargo at 9MPG — which I think is well above fleet averages.

    As to building a whole new kind of world American caused global warming is already doing that. Thermodynamically oil is a high quality energy resource and any alternative will cut into American hedonism i.e. “living well”. Whatever profits new-age capitalists make will be miniscule compared to what Mobil and BP and company are making now. That’s like saying a lone internet blogger can compete with Time Warner, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch, and Disney in getting his opinions across.

    There are alternatives — electric cars, for example — that could actually reduce petroleum consumption and create a new American hedonism.

    This past Saturday I went to lunch with a group of fellow Corvette owners. We got to talking about electric cars and I mentioned that I was looking to build an electric Fiero that, if done correctly, could beat every vehicle there — including the high performance C6 ‘vettes that cost more than some houses.

    Part of what is maddening is that many of the beneficial changes — like electric cars — are superior for many of the current applications. It’s undeniable that an electric commuter class vehicle is cheaper and simpler to operate than a subcompact econo-box. Some electric car scenarios result in vehicles which pay for themselves, not just the cost difference, within a reasonable life expectancy of the vehicle.

    People who click the link on my name have watched, for example, my June electric bill go from $257 (’06) to $136 (’07), to $110 (’08), and this most recent bill includes 175KWH (1/4 of the total) that was almost pure waste due to a broken A/C unit.

    Driving fossil fuel usage as close to zero can be done, and it can be done while living a BETTER quality life. And when liquid fuels are required, they can be produced from biomass in a completely renewable manner. My electric consumption was 1MWH less this month than two years ago. That’s not an insignificant change, and my standard of living improved while doing it.

  21. 271
    SecularAnimist says:

    Leighton wrote: “… a reputation for scientific probity is not enhanced by undocumented conspiracy theorizing …”

    The conspiracy by Exxon-Mobil and other fossil fuel corporations, and their allies in the current US administration and Congress, to deliberately deceive the public about the reality of anthropogenic global warming, has been thoroughly documented. Exxon-Mobil alone spent millions of dollars funding fake, phony “think tanks” to churn out pseudoscientific denialist rubbish. And the heavy-handed censorship of government scientists — including Hansen — by the Cheney/Bush administration, to prevent them from communicating scientific realities to the public, has also been thoroughly documented.

    Nothing that Hansen has said damages his scientific credibility in the least. His vision of the likely consequences of unmitigated anthropogenic global warming is well within the mainstream of climate science and does not even approach the plausible worst case scenarios.

    And I think that Hansen has realized that a “reputation for scientific probity” will be of little value to anyone when human civilization is in ruins, hundreds of millions of people are displaced, starving, and lacking fresh water, more than half of all species are extinct, and the Earth’s entire biosphere has been gravely damaged.

  22. 272
    CobblyWorlds says:

    Jim Galasyn,

    It is quite reasonable for a democratic society to take action to limit the operations of lobbyists, and to hold people to account for campaigns of disinformation. Actually making such laws work would be the tricky part.

    However to start such actions based around an issue on which public opinion has already been badly distorted by an active campaign of disinformation (and doing so whilst that campaign is ongoing), will not help countering the current disinformation. Rather it will probably entrench and enliven it. And we’re up against the clock now if anything is to be done. Perhaps those who consider this a serious issue would be best to just argue using the tobacco example.

  23. 273
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Leighton says in 268:

    …a reputation for scientific probity is not enhanced by undocumented conspiracy theorizing, whether the theorist is an anonymous blog poster or a senior scientist on the federal payroll.

    I would say that anybody who was at the receiving end of the Bush mob’s attempts to silence him has a special claim to “conspiracy theorizing.”

  24. 274
    Nick Gotts says:

    Leighton,

    Only someone who has never looked could honestly call Hansen’s accusations “undocumented”. There is copious documentation of the activities of Exxon and other oil companies in funding numerous organisations which spread lies and distortions about the state of scientific opinion on climate change – such as the Global Climate Coalition, American Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation and so on ad nauseam.

  25. 275
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re 256:”James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature”

    Scientists are citizens too and are entitled to their opinions,(but not their facts) just like the rest of us. Sometimes you have to exaggerate to make a point, and obviously Dr. Hansen feels viscerally about this issue which he knows so much about.
    With much of the uninformed public being misinformed by the fossil fuel industry, I, for one, applaud his speaking out. I wish that others with a reputable scientific background,who have a 99% certainty of what’s coming down the road, would speak out with their opinions as well.

  26. 276
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Leighton, There are a score or so of climate models out there making predictions. Not one of them does so without a significant contribution from humans. If we were to assume merely that all models are independent, then by binomial sampling, we could conclude with 90% confidence that fewer than 10% of possible, successful models could have be constructed without a significant anthropogenic contribution. In reality, the incentive (e.g. fame and glory) to come up with such is model is much stronger than the incentive to come up with yet another model that verifies anthropogenic causation. So, I’d say this is a conservative estimate of the level of confidence we have–and it is pretty consistent with the Bayesian estimate given in the IPCC summary.

    As to significant threat… Well, sea level rise wiping out many islands and coastal cities is a certainty–it is happening even now. Loss of fertile farm land for growing wheat, potatoes, etc. is also a virtual certainty. Many other threats–increased disease, pests, large-scale extinctions, worse air quality and corresponding increased mortality, damage and loss of life due to increased extreme weather, etc.–are quite likely. We probably can’t even avoid these. However, the $64 quadrillion question is whether increased temperatures and acidification of the oceans will give rise to conditions where bacteria that give off H2S proliferate over those that give off oxygen. This was one of the causes of the mass extinctions of the PETM–and that was greenhouse-gas induced. James Lovelock is sufficiently convinced of this threat that he advocates huge increases in nuclear power. This is what worries Hansen. So, I would not characterize those who do not recognize these threats as out to lunch as much as I would call them dangerously ignorant.

  27. 277
    Leighton says:

    # 269 CobblyWorlds

    I erroneously quoted you as saying global warming in point 3 when in fact you said “CC/AGW.” I regret the error.

    I’m interested in the differences between the original version of pts. 1-3 and the new, simplified version. In point 1, you’ve added the word “causing” in parenthesis, but the effect of this change is not clear. Does this mean that by “involved in” you always meant to say “causing”? If so, it is accurate that there are other, non-human causes, or are the human causes the sole causes? (If “involved in” isn’t intended to be synonymous with causing, what is the effect of the parenthetical insertion?)

    Since we understand that climate change is a broader concept than anthropogenic global warming, it seems to me that you are NOT claiming that 2degC warming over x years by itself constitutes a significant threat to our civilization, but please confirm that I’m reading that correctly.

    You are also no longer asserting, I think, that the realistic chance of a significant threat to civilization is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If I’m right about that, it is perhaps a concession to my point that such assessments (which involve qualitative judgments) are not really subject to that type of proof.

    Apparently, one may reasonably hold the opinion (even though you’d disagree) that anticipated challenges are surmountable. It is nice to know that the field of opinions with which reasonable people may disagree is at least wide enough for that. Considering literally thousand of years of human experience with surmounting challenges previously regarded as insurmountable, I would humbly suggest that an even greater toleration on that score would not be untoward.

    But what about someone who expresses the view that the challenges to come might possibly be overstated by, um, enthusiasts, and that the likely costs associated with an excessive single-mindedness in prevention could themselves be intolerable? Is such a person necessarily a numbskull at best and a greedily self-serving manipulator of truth at worst?

    [edit – no DDT nonsense]
    To pick another example, it appears that a foolish enthusiasm in favor of “biofuels” is making it harder for many children around the world to eat. One more: A regrettable bias held by many self-proclaimed environmentalists with regard to the use of nuclear power to generate electricity is surely even now leading to at least some of the CO2 increase about which we are now concerned.

    But anyway, you asked me a question. I think that you have shown care in crafting statements that you regard as highly defensible. I’d rather not use phrases like “out to lunch” in this context. If you would want to say that disagreement should be more solidly based than anything you have seen, you’d be welcome to do that; it would put the burden on anyone who disagrees to offer adequate reasons to do so. I think this can all be done without disparaging either the motives or intelligence of anyone, let alone positing silly conspiracy theories or proposing that those who disagree should potentially be jailed.

  28. 278
    Ron Taylor says:

    Leighton and Henning, you would have us stuff our heads in the sand – don’t worry, be happy. Hansen has courageously put his career and reputation on the line to sound a very appropriate alarm. You confuse scientific conservatism with engineering conservatism. This situation calls for engineering conservatism, which means assessing, not worst-case, but realistic probability scenarios.

    Scientific conservatism avoids overstating anything, but risks limiting conclusions in a way that can quietly and innocently lead to disaster. It does have the advantage, I suppose, of keeping everyone calm, at least until the disaster is upon them. Oh well, who knows, maybe it will all work out fine in the end (though I do not think that is likely). And if it doesn’t, then it won’t matter, because it will be too late to do anything anyway. We will just have to muddle through.

    Whether or not you choose to call it a conspiracy, it is clear that powerful interests have worked in concert to confuse the understanding of climate change. Given Hansen’s understanding of what was happening, his response has been very subdued. If you have devoted your career to discovering the truth of a potentially dangerous situation, and you find people working to undermine what you have discovered, only a coward would remain silent.

    What a way to deal with life. If your posts really reflect what you believe, then I suggest you cancel all insurance policies and stop saving for retirement. Just trust. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will die anyway.

  29. 279
    Tim McDermott says:

    For those interested in what James Hansen said, the paper (4 pages) is here.

    It looks like JEH has convinced himself that we have already dithered to the point that we are in extremis. He believes that CO2 concentration of 350 ppm is dangerous, likely resulting (long term) in a (nearly) ice-free world. 50% of species lost. Changing sea levels for a very long time.

    Read the paper; it’s short. Then decide if his (off-handed) call for the executives of carbon companies to be put on trial is the cry of a loon.

    And answer what you would do, if you had been warning the world for 20 years about a coming, but avoidable, great extinction and folks went on with business as usual.

  30. 280
    Rod B says:

    Henning and Leighton, stop already with this rational and thoughtful discourse. You’re taking all the fun and entertainment out of it!

    Jim, Figel, et al: you really want to open the tobacco Pandora box? [edit]

  31. 281
    Timothy Chase says:

    Ray Ladbury (#278) wrote:

    This is what worries Hansen.

    Is he actually on record stating something to this effect?

    I know my mind keeps returning to it. Of course, if we are simply speaking of the six major rivers of Asia drying up, turning even the southeast US into a dust bowl, 50% of the world permanently being in drought, the food shortages, the displacement of hundreds of millions, and in all likelihood chronic war — I suspect that would be more than enough reason for us to change our ways.

  32. 282
    Timothy Chase says:

    Leighton (#268) wrote:

    All kidding aside, a reputation for scientific probity is not enhanced by undocumented conspiracy theorizing, whether the theorist is an anonymous blog poster or a senior scientist on the federal payroll.

    Regarding the disinformation campaign…

    The science was well established back in the 1970s — but there has been a campaign by many of the same people who defended tobacco — hired by the energy industry. The following is a quick synopsis of both:

    The American Denial of Global Warming (1 hr)
    Naomi Oreskes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio

    Well-recommended.

    Oh — and we could get Exxon’s tax returns for you if you would like. Pdf-form, if that would be acceptable…

  33. 283
    CobblyWorlds says:

    Ray,

    I deliberately chose “out to lunch” rather than ill-informed because IMHO it takes some peculiar filtering of the publicly available evidence to support that case.

    Leighton,

    I erroneously quoted you as saying global warming in point 3 when in fact you said “CC/AGW.” I regret the error.

    So you are still unable to read point 3 in my original post and grasp that in that point I do not make ‘the much stronger claim that “we are causing global warming” which rules out any other (non-human) factor’.

    As far as I’m concerned playing games is boring and childish; games like faux-apology for something other than your error. That noted, no need to bother apologising again, I don’t care.

    In point 1, you’ve added the word “causing” in parenthesis, but the effect of this change is not clear.

    It makes clear the difference between merely being a bystander involved in a process that they have not caused, and one that they are at least a causal element in.

    it seems to me that you are NOT claiming that 2degC warming over x years by itself constitutes a significant threat to our civilization, but please confirm that I’m reading that correctly.

    It depends on the value of x, but the figure is more likely to be around 3degC (for 2xCO2), and could be higher. For me it is not the sensitivity to changes in radiative forcing that’s the issue. It the power of carbon cycle feedbacks and changes in weather systems impacting agriculture in the current food/energy situation.

    You are also no longer asserting, I think, that the realistic chance of a significant threat to civilization is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Game playing again: I never asserted that, did I?

    Are we really to accept that the US government (which have not taken steps to reduce emissions) chose biofuels because of AGW? Have you not noticed the oil situation? Is it not more reasonable to suggest that the US persuance of biofuels is driven by energy security concerns? Like I just said to Ray “peculiar filtering” is at work.

  34. 284
    pete best says:

    http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/06/dr-james-hansen.html

    Hansens Testimony to Congress this week. I like the bit where the senator asks Hansen if he has spoken to the president? Hello!! He just laughed. Can’t blame the man for that.

  35. 285
    Henning says:

    @Ron #278
    What about suggesting to target governments rather than oil companies makes you believe I stick my head in the sand? To me, it seems like an obvious thing to do. Exxon doesn’t decide where we’re going with this – politicians do. Its their lookout to inform themselves correctly and to act in their people’s interst and only they can steer this ship around. Isn’t it ineffective to target somebody who tells an obvious lie rather than somebody who claims basing his acts on it although he should (must) know better?

  36. 286

    Leighton writes:

    point 3 makes the much stronger claim that “we are causing global warming” which rules out any other (non-human) factor. Is that truly established beyond reasonable doubt?

    It doesn’t rule out any other factor. It just says that the human-induced portion is the majority of the effect. And yes, that’s established beyond reasonable doubt at this point.

  37. 287

    Leighton writes:

    Apparently more than one researcher has looked at the question of how many deaths from malaria have resulted from Rachel Carson writing an overwrought book

    And the answer is: zero. It’s a big right-wing meme these days that “Rachel Carson killed millions of African babies because of the ban on DDT.” Except that DDT was never banned in Africa. And in areas where it was overused, like Sri Lanka, the mosquitoes are now immune to it (natural selection, anyone?), and they have had to switch to malathion.

    DDT can even be used in the US now if the application is for malaria control. The ban here was on indiscriminate use in agriculture, which Rachel Carson rightly pointed out was a serious threat to local ecosystems.

    [Response: DDT and Carson is off-topic. This is the last word on it. – gavin]

  38. 288
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Leighton, [edit]

    Climate change offers a case in point. It is a reality. It will lead to more extreme weather events, and there are irresponsible elements who will exploit these weather events to breed a sense of crisis. It is far better to confront the threat now (or actually 15 years ago) and take actions that are reasoned and prudent, so that we can blunt public panic and calls for draconian action in the future.
    Ron Taylor’s distinction between Scientific and Engineering conservatism is important. The scientific case that climate change is real is now beyond reasonable doubt. That it will have serious consequences is virtually certain even given the conservative scientific analyses conducted to date. It is now up to engineering analyses to tell us how bad things COULD get and to devise plans to mitigate those adverse effects.

  39. 289
    Ron Taylor says:

    Leighton said to Cobblyworlds: “You are also no longer asserting, I think, that the realistic chance of a significant threat to civilization is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Your perspective in this statement is precisely the problem. The words “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” should be replaced by “demonstrated to be a reasonable possibility.” to make it meaningful for planning purposes.

    By the way (OT) I highly recommend the special report “The Future of Energy” in the June 21-27 issue of The Economist.

    Henning, thanks for your response, but, no, I do not think it is acceptable for companies to engage in behavior that is dangerous to the public simply because such behavior might increase the bottom line. I do agree that political leaders must also be held accountable.

  40. 290
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury: “Climate change … will lead to more extreme weather events, and there are irresponsible elements who will exploit these weather events to breed a sense of crisis.”

    If climate change is expected to lead to more extreme weather events, and in fact we observe that such events are indeed becoming more frequent and more extreme and more destructive just as we should expect from climate change, then why is it “irresponsible” to have a “sense of crisis” regarding these events? It seems entirely appropriate to me.

    And of course, such events — like the massive flooding of the American midwest during the last few weeks — can be crises in and of themselves, not only for those directly affected but for many others, like those whose food costs will rise due to the destruction of crops by the floods.

    At this point, I think it is irresponsible to not say that we are experiencing a climate crisis that is almost certain to become dramatically worse before it gets better — and it may not start to “get better” for decades, and then only if we begin taking serious, far-reaching action to reduce emissions starting now.

  41. 291
    SecularAnimist says:

    By the way, in an article published at Huffington Post on Tuesday, James Hansen gives a very concise, and I think very good, definition of climate change “tipping points”:

    Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes.

    He goes on to illustrate with some examples:

    Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

    More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well under way, it will become unstoppable …

    Animal and plant species are already being stressed by climate change. Species can migrate in response to movement of their climatic zone, but some species in polar and alpine regions will be pushed off the planet. As climate zones move farther and faster, climate change will become the primary cause of species extinction. The tipping point for life on the planet will occur when so many interdependent species are lost that ecosystems collapse.

    There comes a time when careful, dispassionate, scientific consideration of the empirical facts leads to the reasonable conclusion that we are accelerating towards catastrophe, and characterizing our situation as a “crisis” that requires urgent and even radical action is the only “responsible” course of action.

  42. 292
    Rod B says:

    Henning, Leighton, et al (some), you’re still being rational! It would help to understand the essence of mass psychology, religion and witch hunts. Saves time.

    [edit – I mean it]

  43. 293
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Henning @ 285: ” Exxon doesn’t decide where we’re going with this – politicians do.”

    Funny statement.

    Coroporations and private interest groups organize PR campaigns designed to manipulate public opinion. Public opinion, in turn, determines voting preferences. Politicians are elected, or appointed by elected ones; they pay very close attention to public opinion, especially in election times. Corporations and private interest groups (such as coalitions of corporations in a given industry) can spend very large amounts of money on candidates’ campaigns. They are not likely to spend that money on a candidate displaying positions hostile to their interests, or who has already taken action against them. Corporations maintain specialized entities, with generous means and full time staff, whose exclusive function is to influence the legislative process. Politicians routinely recycle themselves in such outfits, making hem highly effective. Since they’re all about the bottom line, corporations will quickly dispose of these entities if they don’t obtain results, i.e. favorable regulations, or better, killing of regulations in the egg.

    The result of all this is that, if politicians do decide “where we’re going,” their “decisions” aren’t really theirs. Your statement does not reflect the reality of the lawmaking process at all. Exxon does not decide, but Exxon can influence the decision to the point where the decision (or lack thereof in this case) is very much equivalent to what it would be if it decided itself. So, really, what’s the difference?

  44. 294
    bonzobarley says:

    The BBC’s just started to do a bit of myth-busting of its own on its new website Bloom. Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/bloom to check it out.

    For example, soya farming’s bad for the climate obviously because of deforestation, and we in the West are responsible (people living in the developed world account for five times as much soybean per person as elsewhere)- but overwhelmingly via our consumption of farmed livestock, rather than Tofu stir-fries…

  45. 295
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Rod B, your entire post #292 should have been dropped. Whatever is left of it is still clearly insulting toward all those arguing against Henning and Leighton’s positions with arguments as rational as the opposing ones. You haven’t shown that you’re better able to accept that you could be wrong than those you’re accusing of religious thinking, witch-hunting and what not.

    In essence, you’re saying that true critical thinking can only lead to the conclusion that you have reached yourself, i.e., the “skeptical” one. What a load of c**p.

  46. 296
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist, I probably was not sufficiently clear in my statement. Your mention of the Midwest flooding provides a case in point. Taken in isolation, this has nothing to do with climate change. It should not be used to assert that we are in a climate crisis, and that immediate, drastic action is necessary. However, the fact that we have had 2 such “500 year floods” in 15 years is suspicious, and if we were to see another one soon, we could then make the argument that we were likely seeing “climate change”. My larger point is that people do stupid things when they perceive a crisis (e.g. like giving up their civil rights out of fear of terrorism). Climate policy is too important to allow such mistakes. It can’t fluctuate with the thermometer. It has to be made dispassionately.

  47. 297
    Henning says:

    @Philippe #293
    Oh I see. So democracy is just a front. Politicians are only reacting to swings in the public mood which are brought about by evil and incredibly rich companies and just to make sure, these companies also buy the candidates in the first place, recycling them at will. And in the end, oil companies effectively rule the world. But there’s still hope if those select few who have uncovered these solid facts go to court (I wonder where you see the sense in Hansen’s lawsuit threat if the reality of the lawmaking process is supposed to be in the hands of evil anyway) and name those who are really responsible for all of that… and you think MY statement was funny? Following your mode of speech, its a miracle that people like Hansen and Gavin still walk free – and even seem to get payed by a state as utterly corrupt as you describe it.

    [Response: Please try and restrain the rhetorical flourishes (this applies to all commentators). It may make you feel good, but it reads badly and derails the conservation. – gavin]

  48. 298
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Your mention of the Midwest flooding provides a case in point. Taken in isolation, this has nothing to do with climate change.”

    I submit that to take the Midwest flooding in isolation is an error. The right way to view it is as part of a pattern.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “It should not be used to assert that we are in a climate crisis, and that immediate, drastic action is necessary.”

    I disagree. I think it is entirely legitimate to point to the Midwest floods, the Southwestern drought, the California fires, and Hurricane Katrina — just to mention a few cases in the USA — as examples of extreme weather events that correspond to the predictions of global warming theory and support the case that we are indeed, already in a climate crisis and that immediate, drastic action is indeed necessary if we are to have any hope of preventing things from getting much, much worse.

    What do I mean by “immediate, drastic action”? Well, the USA gets 80 percent of its primary energy from fossil fuels, and we need to reduce that to near zero within a couple of decades at most. If we are going to get there from here, immediate drastic action is required now, just to get us started on that path.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “My larger point is that people do stupid things when they perceive a crisis …”

    That is an inevitable danger when confronting any crisis, as is the possibility of people exploiting the crisis for financial gain. For example, I would regard squandering precious money and resources on “clean coal” technology and expanding nuclear power as examples of both “doing stupid things” and exploiting the crisis for financial gain. The only antidotes to that are to be vigilant against misguided, fraudulent and/or self-serving proposals that will actually do little to address the problem (like giving up civil liberties to “fight terrorism”), and to offer alternatives that are more effective.

  49. 299
    Rod B says:

    Philippe (295) says “…you’re saying that true critical thinking can only lead to the conclusion that you have reached yourself, i.e., the “skeptical” one. What a load of c**p.”

    What a grossly strange inverted statement! Us skeptics are the ones suggesting other non-exclusive ideas ought to be thought about. If you haven’t noticed, it’s you guys, prima facie, that unload with c**p onto skeptics — demonizing and castigating their thinking, trying to arrest them, denigrating their intelligence, integrity, and, occasionally, heritage — when skeptics suggests anything even remotely different from the conclusions (liturgy?) you have reached. Anyone with a clear head can read any small portion of RC and see the obvious.

    (I’m not saying that we don’t have our scoundrels; they just usually post elsewhere.)

  50. 300
    Rod B says:

    Ray (296), very good!


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