Palin on Global Warming

One can moreover doubt even Palin’s commitment to dealing with the consequences of climate change. Surely, that would include doing something to save the polar bears,yet the State of Alaska (against the advice of its own wildlife biologists) is suing the Interior department over its decision to list the polar bear as “threatened” — and this despite the fact that the Bush administration put so many qualifications on the listing as to make it essentially toothless. What’s even more telling is that the brief submitted to Interior drew heavily on a list of climate skeptics (including the Marshall Institute’s Willie Soon) that could easily have been culled from the infamous Inhofe 400. (see this article). Palin’s role in bringing this case has not been peripheral; she has been very much at the center of the effort, and has consistently questioned the causal link between CO2 and global warming in making the case. As early as Dec. 2006, she wrote to Secretary Kempthorne: “”When a species’ habitat (in this case, sea ice) is declining due to climate change, but there are no discrete human activities that can be regulated or modified to effect change, what do you do?” Further information about Palin’s long fight against the listing, and her view of the scientific issues involved, can be found here.

We will take this occasion to note also that Biden used the debate to reaffirm Obama’s long standing position in favor of “clean coal.” Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the extent to which the candidates understand what should really be meant by this term. From the point of view of global warming, the only “clean” coal would be coal burned with 100% carbon capture and sequestration — certainly worthy of research and pilot implementation, but not by any means a technology that can be counted on at present to solve the problem. (And of course, the term “clean” is even then relative, since what mountain top removal mining does to the West Virginia hills and rivers is anything but “clean”).

So there you are. We report, you decide.

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290 comments on this post.
  1. Mark:

    Lawrence. #248.

    And there doesn’t have to be ANY black balls in the bag.

    But, despite there being NO BLACK BALLS until you have taken all the balls out, you have a confidence level beyond which you say “there could be black balls in there still”. But that confidence doesn’t mean there MUST be a black ball in there.

  2. Mark:

    I’m getting distracted here.

    The ORIGINAL point of the white/black ball bag was to show how dumb mistakes can happen when you take statistics at the gut level.

    Someone was willing to take a bet of 10:1 on there being 10% black balls in the bag remaining. Because the PROBABILITY that the 22 ball sample “just happened” to be all white was 10% (9.8% apparently).

    However, expected loss on that bet was against them.

    And, having been caught out then started to blame Ray of cheating.

    The problem was they took statistics at a “gut instinct” level at what “felt” right.

    Which that black ball free bag proved was wrong.

    If you want make your own analogy up to expand what you want to illustrate Lawrence. Extending the black ball free bag isn’t working.

  3. Bart Verheggen:

    Ray, I know that there is no evidence whatsoever that natural forces could account for the recent warming. That is why the IPCC statement surprised me (I often defend the IPCC position, eg on my blog). Your example of the white balls is very enlightening, but I’m still puzzled as to why the term “confidence” wasn’t used instead of “likely”. I suggested some possible reasons above. If the intended meaning is indeed what you’re saying, then their statement was, at the very least, ambiguous.

  4. Ray Ladbury:

    Bart, the problem is not that the IPCC did not state the matter clearly, but rather that without precise, technical language of statistics, you cannot state the problem precisely. In science, you have a certain set of data. It favors one hypothesis, and there is no data that favors the alternative hypothesis. Now there is no way you can look at that dataset and state that the alternative hypothesis is favored at any level of confidence/probability. However, how do you know that your data are representative of the set of all possible data, when you can only look at a finite subset? Statistics allows you to make statements of a certain strength based on how large your dataset is and how strongly its elements favor one hypothesis or the other. In this case, the strength of the statement is limited by the size of the dataset, not whether it favors anthropogenic causation as important.
    Let’s look at the sack of balls in another way. We have some 20 climate models today. Now they have varying skills, etc., but not one of them favors a climate sensitivity less than 2 degrees per doubling. That right there would suggest to me that with 90% confidence, fewer than 10% of possible models consistent with the data would favor sensitivity of 2 degrees or less. Now that does not mean it is even possible to construct such a model–merely that given the effort to date, it can’t be more at that confidence level.

  5. Walt Bennett:

    Re: #254


    Speaking for myself, the “alternate hypothesis” is that there is something we don’t know which will turn out to be significant.

    You say that the problem is not ” that the IPCC did not state the matter clearly” but “that without precise, technical language of statistics, you cannot state the problem precisely”.

    I would say that the problem is trying to mix science and public policy. And when the stakes are stated to be as high as the stakes of AGW are stated to be, that only places more pressure on the science to coherently inform public policy, to do so in realtime, and to do so with a minimum of error.

    Those requirements are in direct conflict with sound science.

    The only way to be sure we don’t, in my simplistic terms, “miss something” is to wall off, as much as possible, scientific pursuit from the pressure being placed on the science community from public policy makers.

    Since public policy causes human effects, you may have noticed that lots of people believe they have a stake in this issue, and have chimed in from all points on the ideological spectrum. This will never reverse, but will only intensify.

    Soon there will be specific factions with dug-in positions; one example is the McIntyre gang, which has firmly and most likely irrevocably concluded that proxy studies are over-wrought with error and cannot reliably reach accurate conclusions regarding past temperatures.

    I don’t have any particular wisdom to share regarding what to do about this, but I am at least trying to give the subject some air time, in the hope that one day one of you will take a step back and at least look at the concerns I am raising.

    I am fine with public policy proceeding on the basis of the best knowledge we have today. I am simply concerned that more and more of our efforts and resources will be spent “confirming” this case in order to make the public policy changes easier to swallow. The potential recoil from this, is that we slack off of our efforts to understand climate in a more critical way, trying to break things, seeing what that looks like, and so forth.

  6. Hank Roberts:

    Walt, duh. Of course there’s “something we don’t know which will turn out to be significant.” (At the .05 level, eh?) It’s not an unreasonable concern, it’s a shared, common, normal concern.

    Don’t just bleat about it, don’t just accuse everyone else of not understanding the obvious thing you’ve discovered. It’s not news.

    You can help get funding and support for research.

    Doing research requires doing math, and big problems require modeling.
    Not just in this field either. Krugman, on his recent prize:

    “… this may seem obvious, and it is now – but it wasn’t before 1991 or so. … the plain English version was possible only after the mathematical models had been worked out.”

  7. JCH:

    The percentage of GDP thought to be endangered by the most aggressive of CO2 mitigation policies just went poof with backup poofs just in case any shred of it escaped getting poofed, and more poofs are likely to be in the foreseeable future. We could end up in compliance with Kyoto by spring, 2009.

    How ’bout them stakes? The silly thing, aggressive mitigation of CO2 may end up being the only way to get it back. What do you think we are going to do, revive the economy by building 10 million more empty houses complete with empty freeways and empty shopping centers and empty airports?

  8. Ray Ladbury:

    Gee, how do I test for a hypothesis of “something we don’t know”. Kind of vague, huh? I suppose one way would be to look at available data and see to what extent it deviates SIGNIFICANTLY from what we’d expect from a greenhouse mechanism. And since it does not exhibit such deviations, what then? What “something” do we try?
    Galactic cosmic rays? Nope. They don’t have a mechanism, and GCR fluxes aren’t changing significantly.

    Solar variability? Nope. Not enough variation. Ironically, if you try to increase sensitivity to solar variation, you wind up pushing CO2 sensitivity too high.

    Giant aliens with magnifying glasses?

    Fact is, Walt, you just can’t come up with a model that explains current and paleoclimatic trends with a CO2 sensitivity much below 2 degrees per doubling. It is not that they aren’t trying very hard. Such a model would be very interesting and would boost the career of any climate modeler. The problem is that you can’t do it for an earth-like climate.

    I too deplore the political pressure–but the way to keep political pressure from influencing science is to just let the scientists work. No audits. No Congressional subpoenas. Just scientists doing their job. As to the braintrust over at CA, wake me up when and if they ever publish anything in a real peer-reviewed journal.

    You keep alleging a confirmation bias. Where in the scientific literature or at scientific conferences do you see an example of such a bias? That’s where the science happens. The blogs are irrelevant to the science.

  9. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    RE #257, good point.

    And I’m also thinking that the time to have invested in all those energy efficient and alt energy things that have up-front costs, but save money in the long run was before Sept 08. Anyway, I still have my good old Sunfrost frig from 1991, which I had figured saves me more money than a decent stock would have earned for the same price, and much more than bank interest. And now it’s still saving (earning) me money, so at least I have one really good investment, and a lot of little ones — my other efficiency and conservation investments.

    And then there are the free investments (like buying a same-priced home close to work rather than far from work), that are really racking up the savings…not to mention stress-reduction.

    It’s sad that more stock-holders didn’t invest in these GHG reduction investment when they had some extra money, but chose to invest in stocks instead.

  10. Mary C:

    #250 RichardC –

    “Seriously, anyone here think life for humans will degrade in Alaska because of climate change??”

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point, but, well, doesn’t it all depend on which humans we’re talking about? Apparently, many Alaska native communities strongly believe that life for them has already degraded and will continue to do so. As for the non-native population, I think there is also a question of time. In the short-term, warming might bring some favorable changes, but even if that is so, in the long-term, it is equally, if not more, possible, that any changes happening as a consequence of warming will be detrimental. Or should we not consider the humanity of native Alaskans or care about the generations to come?

  11. Lawrence Brown:

    Ode to Sarah Palin:

    Drill,drill,drill that well for oil
    Drill,drill,drill until the Earth comes to a boil.
    Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
    That he’ll just have to wait,
    Cause you have got to drill another well for oil.

    We’re not going to drill our way to energy independence. Not with 3 percent of the world’s reserves and 25 percent of the world’s consumption. No one seems to have reminded her of the old saw that says when you’re in a hole stop digging.

  12. Hank Roberts:

  13. Kevin McKinney:


    “Seriously, anyone here think life for humans will degrade in Alaska because of climate change??”

    So, “warm=good and cold=bad?” Didn’t know it was that simple. . .

  14. Diversity:

    Hold hard. Does it really matter if humanity caused the present degree of global warming? Lets say that what has been going on is due to a hidden volcano or some evil aliens who have been and are feeding greenhouse gases into our atmosphere? Since we can’t find the volcano or the aliens, if we want to stabilise our climate we have to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases to compensate, I.e., it matters for future policy that CO2 and the other gases did it and are doing it. Whether the recent increase in these gases has been due to humanity’s action or not is an academic question. The need to change our future emissions profile is a very practical and pressing prospect. If politicians get it roughly right on that prospect (Governor Palin shows no sign of getting that right), let them waffle any way they like about the origins of the problem.

  15. Ray Ladbury:

    Diversity, Causes matter. If the warming were not due to CO2 or if the increased CO2 were not due to human activity, we would not have to alter that activity, but it is and we are. If you will recall, GWB came out in favor of curtailing ghg emissions during the 2000 election. That didn’t take because he was allowed to get away with being mealy-mouthed. We had best not make that mistake. Acknowledgement that humans are responsible for the current warming is a litmus test for admission to the reality-based community.

  16. Hank Roberts:

    > Does it really matter if humanity caused
    > the present degree of global warming?


    > Lets say

    No. Weart’s book (first link under Science) will help.

  17. Kevin McKinney:

    Re 264,

    If we discovered that aliens had been covertly dumping excess heat into our atmosphere via wormhole, we would naturally have many questions. . . one of which would be, “So why didn’t all that CO2 cause the observed warming?”

    It would be an important question, too, because we would need to know whether decreasing CO2 would in fact help our warming problem, and our understanding of the issue would be thrown completely into question once again.

    So, yes, causes do matter.

  18. Hank Roberts:

    Speaking of causes, methane levels worldwide?

    The blog/press on this reads like spin. It’s not coming from human point sources, so it’s not a problem? Uh ….

  19. Hank Roberts:

    Ah, way WAY down in the comment thread on that, you can find a sensible remark and a cite to the source:

    If you read the original publication from MIT, it says nothing about the conclusions that you can read in this page.
    You are using some phrases out of context to try to give some truth to this article. But in MIT did not said anything about the non responsability of humans in the global warning.

    This article is a lie and tries to create confussion.
    Bad journalists.

    MIT article:


    vote up

  20. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 263

    Kevin, you said,

    [Didn’t know it was that simple.]

    What is simple about your math.

    Warming in Alaska = melting permafrost and that = increased CO2 and CH4 emissions to the atmosphere.

    What could be simpler than my math. Even you can understand that equation?……Yes? No?

    John McCormick

  21. Hank Roberts:

    Uh … The “bad journalists” spin/blog/ article, and comment thread I quoted, is:

  22. Kevin McKinney:

    Speaking of spin, sadly, the Canadian Press story on the Karpechko et al. polar attribution study spent about half of the column inches quoting John Christy’s response, with results that are entirely predictable.

  23. Hank Roberts:

    Roger Pielke Sr. has a sound bite on NPR today, in a program talking about Wyoming, climate change, water supply problems, trout fishing — saying it doesn’t matter if climate is changing or not for this problem, because there have been droughts before, just adapt.

    I’m sure the fish are listening. Wait, do fish have ears?

  24. Mark:

    Hank, maybe Roger needs to be told “adapt” means “change how we do things”. Since “using oil as easy power” is a “thing we do” then not doing it and moving to renweables/carbon neutral power is “adaption to the climate change” too.

    Or does he mean “evolve into reptiles that don’t need anywhere near as much water to survive”?

  25. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    “I’m sure the fish are listening. Wait, do fish have ears?” fish do have ears, but they listen to other radio stations ;)

    RPsr was also on the PBS Newshour about a segment about how global warming will effect Montana generally and trout fishing specifically. His soundbite was about the drought being a problem caused by more things than AGW.

  26. Hank Roberts:

    Same program, I think. Wyoming/Montana, my mistake.

    No question severe droughts have happened before.

    But “don’t make things worse” is good sense beyond its medical context.
    (Primum non nocere — “First do no harm” — Hippocrates.) And we’re making things worse. The adaptation needed is to stop increasing CO2.

    RP Sr. is also getting press in Mother Jones with an interview done six months ago that — published as though it were contemporary — makes the then brief wiggle in the sea ice trend sound like an argument against worrying about it. Watch for it:

  27. Hank Roberts:

  28. Hank Roberts:

    From the Vail, Colorado item — any guess who this “climatologist professor at Colorado University” might be?

    “… I do not believe that climate change is due to manmade carbon emissions,” Starin said. “And it just so happens that the climatologist professor at Colorado University agrees with me.”

    [Response: I expect there will be a swift posting on how his perspective has been misstated. -gavin]

    [Response: Unclear. Presuming that he meant “Colorado State University” (Dept. of Atmospheric Science, to be specific), it is reasonable to imagine that he might have been referring to either of two emeritus faculty generally considered to hold contrarian viewpoints in the climate change debate. If he was referring to Bill Gray, the statement in fact seems to be an accurate characterization of his stated views. If he was referring on the other hand to Roger Pielke Sr., I suspect Roger would feel that this is a misrepresentation of his views. -mike]

  29. Rick Brown:

    Hank #278: From the paragraph prior to the sentence you quote, I’d infer that the climatologist Starin refers to Dr. Richard Keen at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    Roger Pielke Sr. refers (and links) to Keen’s questions at

    [Response: Yes, you are probably correct. As an aside there is a commentary on the ‘quiz’ here. – gavin]

  30. John A. Jauregui:

    This election saw most Global Warming initiatives fail. The principle reason is that most consumers, farmers, ranchers and foresters understand two things. First, global warming is good, not bad. Second, carbon in general and carbon dioxide in particular is good, not bad. Higher average temperatures together with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduce crop failures and improve crop, grazing and forest production. Those two factors are the principal forces greening the planet and feeding all of us today. Liberal and eco-cults want to torpedo that winning combination. Why?

  31. Kevin McKinney:

    re John Jauregui (280)

    The answer depends upon whether or not you have stopped beating your wife–simply answer yes or no and I will respond. . .

    Oh, alright–seriously, maybe it’s because your premises are what is politely called “contrafactual?”

  32. Jim Eaton:

    Re:#280: “This election saw most Global Warming initiatives fail.”

    I don’t know how many initiatives were on the ballot elsewhere, but in California the voters got it right. They approved Proposition 1A, to begin to build a high speed rail system, and they defeated Props. 7 and 10, which were bogus global warming schemes. Prop. 7 was opposed by most environmental groups for being poorly written and making it harder to promote renewable energy. Prop. 10 was T. Boone Pickens’ scheme to get richer by converting trucks and cars to natural gas (still a fossil fuel, at last look).

  33. JCH:

    Off topic, a CO2 sequestering rock:

    And no, it’s not an article about Sarah Palin;s head.

  34. Wittgenstein:

    Re: Palin’s views on global warming; she has ties to the Family Research Council, among other groups, and I found these two scary recent posts on their site that are revealing. You will note the weird leap from climate change to social issues, and the claims about temperatures et al that are entirely unsupported by actual data; yet Palin et al are running with this particular football downfield, hoping for a touchdown. Articles below:

    Family Research Council site article:

    NAE’s Dangerous Emissions on Global Warming
    Apparently a letter that Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Paul Weyrich, I (assumed president Tony Perkins) and others sent to the board of the National Association of Evangelicals last week was leaked to the press. You may have read news reports over the weekend about the letter, which raised concerns regarding NAE’s lobbying in Washington on global warming. For the last few years, NAE’s Vice President for Government Affairs has been adding fuel to the fire of the global warming debate and giving the impression that not only NAE but Evangelicals at large agree with the hysteria of the global warming crowd. While there is growing consensus that the earth is warming slightly, there is no consensus that humans are the main cause. Those pushing global warming are proposing a radical agenda as the solution to a problem that is not yet fully understood. In part, this solution calls for population control, which is code for abortions, condom distribution and mass sterilization. Here is what NAE’s Vice President, Rich Cizik, said at the World Bank last year. “I’d like to take on the population issue,” he said. “Population is a much more dangerous issue to touch… We need to confront population control and we can-we’re not Roman Catholics-but it’s too hot to handle now.” After a press report last month that said NAE was in an unprecedented collaboration with scientists to advance policies to address global warming, NAE released a statement saying that only Mr. Cizik was involved in the effort. The confusion in the press is understandable. We’ve asked NAE to make its positions clear and to ensure their representatives in Washington represent their official position not their own personal priorities.
    Millions in grants go to study climate change
    Pete Chagnon – OneNewsNow – 9/25/2008 11:30:00 AM
    Three major public universities have been given a grant to study climate change, but a pro-family organization is saying that money could be better spent.
    The National Science Foundation has given three Idaho universities $15 million to study climate change. Part of that money will go toward the hiring of ten faculty members. Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance says it is unfortunate that some universities have bought into what he sees as a largely imaginary problem.

    “The best science is telling us that there has been no global warming for the last ten years,” he explains. “In fact, temperatures over the last five years have actually been declining, and scientists are telling us that we may be headed for an extended period of global cooling because of a decline in solar activity.”

    With the addition of the new faculty members, Fischer adds Idaho taxpayers will eventually become responsible for their salaries and lab equipment. “And so eventually, Idaho taxpayers are going to feel the pinch …

    This is why it is imperative that people like Palin do not get the reins of government and plunge us back into the mid-thirteenth century.


  35. Hank Roberts:

  36. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Wittgenstein — hey, don’t knock the 13th century. At least intellectuals back then were supposed to study logic (“dialectic”).

  37. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    Considering that this post was about how climate science in the political world and the use of coal, an update: following the Supreme Court case EPA v Massachusetts the EPA has ruled that new coal plants will not be permitted to open without addressing CO2 pollution.

    Gristmill – Huge, huge victory in the coal fight
    AP – Coal plant permit blocked

  38. Jim Bullis:

    Re #282 Jim Eaton,

    I agree with you on all but the train. I have to say that that is also a bogus solution on several counts. First, a high speed train that is very underused is not a solution. It will not be well used for the same reason that light rail and Cal Train in the San Jose area are underused, which is that they do not fit with real needs of the population as it is distributed both in living and working places. It will not be a high speed train if it stops often enough and spreads over sufficient area to make it useful. There is almost no such modification that does not require secondary modes of transportation at both ends. As has been the case for the last 40 years in the SF South bay area, the time required for these connections and the slow trains etc. themselves results in excessive travel times. I looked at the numbers for getting from Sunnyvale CA to LA on the Bullet train, and any conceivable arrangement was not much of a time advantage over a car. Sure, if we all lived and worked in just a few train stations, it would be great.

    Second, it needed $10 Billion which we do not have just to get started, and another $20 Billion is already acknowledged in the full plan. So this means bonds for future generations to pay off. Since it is unlikely to accomplish much, I think this is a crime.

    In my view of the way things could be done, the crime is horrific, since there are real engineering solutions that could enable high speed individual car travel, much like we have now, except it could be in cars that use very little fuel. The only cost is that we adapt to cars that look very different than the current vehicles we are accustomed to seeing.

    And third, the cost of this futile train will take away from other needs for funding that are almost desperate. The need for better education is well demonstrated by an electorate that passes such a debt burden on to the future, as if there was no consequence.

    It is clear at this point that there is not sufficient concern over global warming or fuel dependency to prod people to serious change. Who is really thinking about the Aptera or the Loremo cars which are near to being available, and which could offer the kind of personal transportation I am talking about. My project (click my name) which was intended to be a technical experiment now seems to be more of a proof of how slowly people will adapt to things that look different even though they might fully perform the important personal transportation needs.

    I expect to see empty bullet trains running along side the Interstate which is swarming with plug-in SUVs, for many years to come.

  39. Hank Roberts:


    November 18, 2008

    Burrowing: Bush-Cheney Political Fixers Given Careers at Interior as Move To Sandbag Obama
    “Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department’s top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies — including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions — into senior civil service posts. The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called “burrowing” by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.”

    Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig report for the Washington Post November 18, 2008.

  40. Kevin McKinney:

    What a shock. The Bush administration works hard to preserve its legacy of obstructionism, delay, and ideological absolutism. Who’d’ve thought?

    (Captcha: “per Institute.”)