RealClimate logo

Why don’t op-eds get fact checked?

Filed under: — gavin @ 30 November 2008

Debra Saunders is a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle who has a history of writing misleading contrarian pieces on climate change. She contacted NASA Public Affairs recently for a comment on the initial glitch on the October GHCN numbers (see this earlier post for discussions of that). They forwarded the query to me and since her questions were straightforward, I answered them as best I could. Indeed in her subsequent column, she quotes me accurately and in context. However, the rest of her column shows none of the same appreciation for basic journalistic standards.

She starts by asking why newspapers are no longer trusted – a good question, and one that may indeed be answerable. However the column quickly goes off the rails. First off, her headline “When the warmest year in history isn’t” doesn’t appear to be related to any actual content. Possibly it refers to the 1934/1998 hoohah from last year (again see posts passim for discussion on its irrelevance to global warming). Journalists don’t generally write their own headlines, but a vague connection to current events is the more usual practice.

Next, she gets the Oreskes’ Science and society paper story completely wrong (it was a sampling of literature and survived numerous challenges to its validity – see here and here). Then she uncritically quotes David Bellamy (a late-developing contrarian who used to present natural history programs on the BBC) who appears to think that an anti-GW article he wrote in 2004 is responsible for him not presenting BBC documentaries since 1994 (an event he had previously blamed on his running against John Major (then UK prime minister) in an election). She then throws in a few completely untrue ‘facts’ (i.e. “in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder” (not) and “in 2002, Arctic ice actually increased” (no it didn’t) or that there ‘has been no statistically significant warming since 1995″ (wrong again: 0.21 +/- 0.13 deg C/dec GISTEMP, OLS, 95% CI)). However, note that she is quoting Bellamy and Lindzen here, so that it can be plausibly claimed that she is just reporting the statements rather than endorsing their nonexistent truth value. Sneaky. She even quotes Marc Morano and the Erika Lovley column in support of a contention that the consensus is collapsing. Oh dear.

In fact, the only bit of original reportage in the piece comes from the email from me; the rest of the article is simply a cut-and-paste of untrue and unverified claims strung together in a facsimile of logical argument. Why is it so hard for newspapers to insist that their columnists at least make an effort to check their facts? If she can email NASA about the GHCN issue, she could have emailed any number of people about the other points she made if she’d wanted to get it right.

The sad thing is that this kind of empty rhetoric is being employed at a time when maximum intellectual effort needs to be put into dealing with the energy and climate situation. As I’ve said elsewhere, the reflexive refusal of some commentators (on the right and, occasionally, the left) to come to terms with the reality of climate change is profoundly disappointing and an abdication of their potentially constructive role in public life.

If Ms. Saunders wants an answer for why “people don’t trust newspapers”, she need only fact-check her own column.

262 Responses to “Why don’t op-eds get fact checked?”

  1. 51
    Paul says:

    New Scientist take on the Politico article:

    Apparently they apologised for their mistake.

  2. 52
    John Mashey says:

    wmanny @42
    Thanks, yes, I’d seen that, but it’s certainly relevant.

    Steve @49

    Newspapers are under terrific, structural financial pressure.

    Since I’m fond of them, I have pointed out to some editors in the past that they need to think very hard about the kind of content they can print that has unique value-add for their audience … because otherwise, they will shrink more, and they have way more competition than they used to.

  3. 53
    Agreed says:

    Please correct title – “Op-Ed’s” is possessive, “Op-Eds” is plural. Especially since this is a critique of accuracy!

    [Response: point taken! – gavin]

  4. 54
    David B. Benson says:

    Amundsen-Scott isn’t at the South Pole, either.

  5. 55
    tamino says:

    Re: #53 (Agreed)

    My mother (an English teacher for 33 years) would be proud of you. Frankly I’d given up on expecting the proper use of the apostrophe do distinguish possessive from plural. Good on ya!

  6. 56
    John Mashey says:

    Although this is OT, it may be of interest to SF Bay Area RC readers. At least this thread has some geographic connection, i.e., PV is a little town just uphill from Stanford.

    Portola Valley Green Speaker Series Event –
    Global Warming: Update from the Frontline of Science

    The Town of Portola Valley invites you to hear Dr. James E. Hansen, the second speaker in our Pioneers of Sustainability Series. Dr. Hansen is considered one of the world’s foremost scientists focused on climate change and is well known for his testimony to Congress starting in the 1980s. Details: Tuesday, December 16th, 7:00 p.m. at the Town Center Community Hall, 765 Portola Road. Carpooling encouraged as parking is limited. For more information or to RSVP, please visit free registration & directions,

    which correctly instructs:

    “please bring a flashlight and be careful of wildlife on the road”

    PV doesn’t like light pollution, hence the flashlight advice.
    We’ll try to keep the mountain lions away that night :-)

    Our recently-opened & very green (LEED gold, at least) Town Center is worth visiting.

    We are keen to see Dr. Hansen!

  7. 57
    James Staples says:

    People like this reporter don’t want to hear, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling’ – not if it interferes with their getting their THINGS; they simply MUST HAVE their THINGS – or they don’t feel ‘complete’!!!
    Therefore, WE have to get sneaky, too; by applying a little Human Psychology, for example.
    May I suggest, in the interest of providing a demonstration of my own prowess in these kinds of issues, that you seek out my posting on Open Salon?
    I Blog as JimRinX; and I think that that’s all you need to get at it.
    Because he’s already got the Money to put the same basic idea into motion, you should also check out Neil Youngs (yes, ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’, Neil Young) Project at
    Even the most avaristic stupid-f**k of a Capitalist Pig OilCo Mouthpiece will want one; they LOOK SOOOO COOOOOL!!!

  8. 58

    I’ve been pretty much down on newspapers (& all other media) since the 1980s, when the Chicago Trib had a newsstory about something (not GW) that read more like an opinion piece.

    I’m thinking that perhaps the stance of postmodern anti-theorists (in the social sciences) that objectivity is illusory and impossible got to Western journalists and they figured, oh well, then let’s just throw out any attempt at all to be objective.

    Luckly such a disease didn’t spread to THE HINDU, one of the few good newpapers in the world. While American news sources gave global warming the silent (or occasionally the pro-con balanced) treatment throughout the 90s up to Katrina, THE HINDU was now and then accurately reporting on global warming.

  9. 59
    Danny Bloom says:

    Please correct title – “Op-Eds” is not what Saunders writes, she writes “columns”. Especially since this is a critique of accuracy!

    Headline is inaccurate. So how can you expect columists to be accurate, if you don’t care to be accurate in the words you use above in the headline itself. Gavin, come on!

    [Response: point taken! – gavin]

    Comment by Agreed — 1 December 2008 @ 6:38 PM

  10. 60
    Glenn Destatte says:

    No one should be surprised to find out that Debra Saunders is married to Wesley J. Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

    Her columns are 90-95% predictable; however, once in a while she says something worth consideration. I can’t imagine how abysmal the pillow talk must be at chez Smith-Saunders.

  11. 61
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ah. _Political_ columnist.

    “Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow – Discovery Institute … Bay area with his wife Debra J. Saunders, who is a syndicated political columnist.”

    No wonder she never made much sense when she tried to write about facts.

  12. 62
    stefan says:

    Here is a positive example. Some months ago I gave an interview to the German magazine “Focus”, in which I stated that already the german scientist Alexander von Humboldt wrote in 1843 that humanity is altering climate by emitting gases at the industrial centers. Now you might think that in an interview as an expert I can say what I like and if its wrong its my problem, not that of the editors. But no: the fact checking department of “Focus” came back to me and wanted to see the original source of the Humboldt quote. That’s how things should work! (But also in Germany, this in my experience is the exception, not the rule.) Maybe this is because it was about a “historic fact”, not a “scientific fact”?

  13. 63
    Ike Solem says:

    The problem isn’t just on the less-regulated op-ed page. Usually, the press refuses to make any links between record-breaking temperatures and global warming. It’s obvious that the recent high rate of wildfires across California is tied to global warming; the models all predict increases in the fire season. The fact that people have expanded developments in to fire-prone regions only makes the resulting damage worse.

    Nevertheless, almost none of the stories printed on the devastating wildfires included the phrase global warming. Many will mention the increased risk factors due to out-of-control development, but almost none will mention the increased risk factors due to global warming.

    This is an across-the-board media phenomenon, as reported by the SF Chronicle, Washington Bureau: Media consign global warming to back burner, 2008

    The League of Conservation Voters has been tracking the number of questions asked of the presidential candidates on the Sunday news shows and the debates televised by the major networks. Of the more than 2,900 questions asked, only four have mentioned the words “global warming.”

    “It’s stunning,” said David Sandretti, the League of Conservation Voters’ chief spokesman.

    But it’s not the candidates’ fault. Many of the top contenders have been promoting their plans to battle climate change on the campaign trail. It’s the leading TV journalists – like NBC’s Tim Russert or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos or CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – who have relegated it to a second-tier issue.

    There are a couple of explanations for this behavior, one being that fossil fuel-based corporations, from electric utilities to automakers, buy a lot of advertising space from the media, and individual papers fear that the response to honest reporting on climate issues would be cancellation of advertising.

    Another one is cross-ownership between media and fossil fuel corporations, i.e. at the shareholder level. If the majority shareholders in Exxon and Chevron are the same as the majority shareholders in Disney (ABC), General Electric (NBC), TimeWarner (CNN), NewsCorp (FOX) Tribune, Gannet, MediaNews Group, etc – well, one can imagine these shareholders telling their media CEOs not to cover any “alarmist” topics.

    Would the SF Chronicle run an opinion piece claiming that HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS? They could then cite the “independence of the opinionators” in self-defense.

  14. 64
    Alan says:

    I have never heard of this woman but we have someone similar here in Melbourne Australia called Andrew Bolt, they are dinosours who’s opinions rarely even line up with the facts reported in the news sections of their own paper. Busting them is as simple as visting the site of people they cite as evidence, sometimes they call on the same institution to act as good/bad guy in the same article! They are there to get attention, stir the crowd, sometimes even honestly playing devil’s advocate, whatever they are doing they are not telling the truth and they never will.

    Since my everyday news fix is via google news I have often read and don’t see them as propogandist anymore than I see the NYT as propogandist. The first 10 hits on their site for the word ‘climate’ (out of 57,500) all look like reasonable articles at first glance. The only one that stands out to me is the one bitching about the pay cheque for the Mayor’s new climate advisor.

    You guys have done enough myth-busting of the old saws this unknown pundit is regurgitating, you dont need to bang every brick in the wall into sand, let them come up with some new myths. Perhaps something on visualization would be a nice change.

  15. 65
    Fernando Magyar says:

    Somewhat OT but I wonder if someone more qualified than myself could take a look at this post:
    IEA WEO 2008 – Fossil Fuel Ultimates and CO2 Emissions Scenarios
    Posted by Luis de Sousa on December 2, 2008 – 1:10am in The Oil Drum: Europe,

    and tell me if there is any merit to the author’s arguments specifically in regards to the assesment that modeling the increase atmospheric CO2 doesn’t currently take into consideration the fact of Peak Fossil fuels and demand destruction of the same due to economic factors.

    [Response: I had a brief look. Their extrapolation of the fuel reserve scenarios to temperatures is rather simplistic – not accounting for the known uncertainties in climate sensitivity and carbon cycle feedbacks, even if you accept their estimates of the reserve limits. Personally, I have a fair amount of scepticism about these for two main reasons – first, there really is a lot of coal around, and while Rutledge may be correct in questioning some of the reserve calculations, much of the coal is staying in the ground for economic reasons, not climatic. Thus increases in price for coal which would be inevitable given these scenarios will undoubtedly pull in more economically recoverable reserves. And that goes to the second point, that there are huge amounts of unconventional fossil fuel reserves – oil shales, tar sands, methane hydrates, etc. which, as we saw last year, are all ready to go should oil prices go up again. Therefore, I doubt very much that reserve limitations will really have much of an impact – at least in the near term. – gavin]

  16. 66
    MangoChutneyUK says:

    I think the big problem with journalists is they don’t investigate any more. I’ve noticed that many journalists seem to take press releases from wherever they can find them and copy/paste the press release into their paper or website.

    It’s time that journalists started once again to check their stories and not rely on press releases, especially with something as important as climate change

    [Response: Don’t tar all journalists with the same brush here. There are some really good ones around who take their responsibilities very seriously. The critique here is limited to a scattered number of columnists who think that a google search and a Marc Morano email count as ‘research’ . – gavin]

  17. 67
    pete best says:

    Re #65, Be careful with this report as the Oildrum believe deeply in peaking fossil fuels based around existing known of limits of existing and easilly extractable reserves. The WEA and IPCC might take a slightly different perspective facing up to ultimately extractable reserves rather than easy ones. There are many articles regarding peak oil taking place by around 2012 – 2015, peak gas 10 years after that and peak coal around 2025 whereas the WEA although reevaluating their work recently in this report might take a higher value for peaking fossil fuels.

    James Hansen reports on these thoughts in his talks and reports but he also has another issue with Charney (quick feedback warming)limit global warming as opposed to Earths limited warming which feature long term feedbacks and hence result in a predetermined doubling of climate sensitivity from 3C for a 550 ppmv of CO2 to 6C. It seems to be unsure of what the oildrum speaks of here in this regard.

    The other issue that Hansen relates to is the demise of the poles and at what limits they have a tendency to melt. The whole thing come from some sea creatures and oxygen ratios in them which relate to the temperature of the oceans and hence measure SST over a long period of time. Antarctica formed around 34 million years ago at between 400-600 ppmv of Co2 levels and the Arctic sea ice and Greenland later (at lower levels of CO2) which means that at present the Arctic sea ice is possibly in trouble and when the summer sea ice disappears frequently Greenland will also melt more quickly. Antarctica is also in trouble come 450 ppmv of WAIS melt, whilst EAIS might be ok until more CO2 is released.

    So come to think of it, the ultimate level of CO2 is important and at present emissions at present levels we are 30 years away from 450 ppmv and possible if methane emissions continue we might excel these levels earlier than expected which might result in greater sea level rise.

    I hope this helps. RC did an excellent article on James Hansens recent earth sensitivity work and gave it a cautious approval. Hence climate sensitivity is possibly double IPCC estimates.

  18. 68


    Fernando, I am probably *not* better qualified than you, however this bit from the post you reference gives me some pause:

    “MAGGIC incorporates a logarithmic temperature response function to CO2 concentrations. With this function, each doubling of CO2 increases temperature by a fixed amount. This amount is by default 2.6 ºC, taken from the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. Because of this relationship, in order to increase temperatures 2.6 ºC above pre-industrial levels atmospheric CO2, concentrations have to reach circa 560 ppm; for an increase of 6 ºC, close to 1500 ppm are needed.”

    This seems a long way from the latest word on CO2 sensitivity.

    The point that the IEA ought to provide its own energy scenarios, given that the IPCC is not about energy policy per se, seems pretty reasonable on the face of it.

    I also note that there is a lively discussion going on on the OilDrum site as we write, with lots of comment and information.

  19. 69

    RE #63, “the press refuses to make any links between record-breaking temperatures and global warming. It’s obvious that the recent high rate of wildfires across California is tied to global warming; the models all predict increases in the fire season.”

    I’ve noticed the same thing over the past 18 years. It violates journalistic rules, and the need to present all the facts re “who, what, when, how, and WHY.”

    RE wildfires, at least the FRESNO BEE got it right:

    Global warming fueling hotter Western fires

    …Among other things, researchers have found the frequency of wildfire increased fourfold — and the terrain burned expanded sixfold — as summers grew longer and hotter over the past two decades…

  20. 70
    Thomas says:

    It’s quite easy to answer. I’ve studied climatology and meteorology at the university of Berne. (You probably know the Profs. Wanner, H. and Stocker, T.). Now I am working as a meteorologist at swiss television. Basically, a scientist in a news area with a lot of editors, writers, journalists etc.
    So, here are the reasons:
    a) money: checkin’ the facts is time consuming and therefore expensive
    b) brain: to check the facts and to ask the right questions, you must understand at least something of the whole thing you’re writing about. So, if you do understand something of the whole climate change thing the chance is high, that you have actually a PhD and that you are working at a university.

    After working more than 4 years with journalists I still get struck down by their competence.
    I say:”There’ll be 10 cm of snow in the lowlands, but like 50 cm up to 1 m of snow on the mountains”
    Journalist writes:”Traffic will break down tomorrow: Meteorologists predict 1m of snow”

    That’s what I like about my job.

  21. 71
    Anne says:

    “She then throws in a few completely untrue ‘facts’ (i.e. “in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder” (not) ”

    maybe she checked Wikipedia

    which confirms her statement

    [Response: Not really. There are two issues – first, that there is uncertainty in what the actual anomaly is in any one year (different products with different assumptions give different anomalies) – in the NCDC or GISTEMP analyses your interpretation of the statement (that she meant that 1998 was the record warmest year) is not true. However, that is not the interpretation I took from her statement (actually David Bellamy’s) at all – “In every year… world temperatures have been getting colder” implies to me that specifically each year since 1998 has been colder than the last, and this is not true no matter what product you look at. And finally, and this is probably the most important point – these individual year rankings at the level of less than 0.1 deg C are pretty much meaningless and anyone drawing conclusions from them is just fooling themselves. They are simply not a robust measure of global warming – long term trends are much more relevant. – gavin]

  22. 72
    Cardin Drake says:

    I think the Fresno Bee story is a good example of very sloppy reporting. They make the assumption of longer and hotter summers without backing it up with data. Any temperature increase in California over the last 2 decades is likely less than .2 degree.
    I think you would have to look elsewhere for causes, like poor forest management and rainfall patterns.

  23. 73
    William says:

    RE #69
    Last I remember from science class it was the province of scientists to prove causality between a cause (warming) and an effect such as a high rate of wildfires. I did not believe that it was up to journalists to draw anecdotal information together to come up with “obvious conclusions”. Might it be conceivable that wildfires have been occuring naturally for tens of millions of years? Is it also possible that California should normally be experiencing numerous wildfires every year? It’s terrible that man just happened to build a few million homes in what was previously pretty much a desert. So the solution of carbon sequestration and solar panels will make the wildfires go away?

    [Response: Consider the possibility that science may have progressed since your days in science class. For example, there is serious peer-reviewed research behind the proposition that climate change, including warming (largely through its influence on the timing and duration of the snow melt season) is leading to a measurable increase in the severity of wild fire in the western U.S., among other places (see also the discussion in the Working Group II Chapter of the AR4 report). This is not to say that other human actions such as development and alteration of the landscape, is not having an influence too. As is usually the case with such things, it’s not either/or. – mike]

  24. 74
    William says:

    re Wild Fires
    Gavin, I looked up the study you referenced and found the following in the Discussion Points: “Whether the changes observed in western hydroclimate and wildfire are the result of greenhouse gas–induced global warming or only an unusual natural fluctuation is beyond the scope of this work.” From “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity
    A. L. Westerling,1,2* H. G. Hidalgo,1 D. R. Cayan,1,3 T. W. Swetnam4 Science Express July 2006
    If the authors cannot conclude CO2 causation is it fair for journalists to do so?

    [Response: First of all, its ‘mike’ not ‘gavin’. The study in question was not a formal climate change attribution analysis. It was only pointing out that the increase in measures of western wild fire severity are related to warming atmospheric temperatures (through their influence on seasonal snowmelt), something you seemed to be casting doubt on. Other papers, however, such as Barnett et al, Science (08) show that this regional warming and its influence on western North American hydrology can indeed be attributed to anthropogenic climate change, from their abstract: “Observations have shown that the hydrological cycle of the western United States changed significantly over the last half of the 20th century. We present a regional, multivariable climate change detection and attribution study, using a high-resolution hydrologic model forced by global climate models, focusing on the changes that have already affected this primarily arid region with a large and growing population. The results show that up to 60% of the climate-related trends of river flow, winter air temperature, and snow pack between 1950 and 1999 are human-induced. These results are robust to perturbation of study variates and methods. They portend, in conjunction with previous work, a coming crisis in water supply for the western United States.” Lets move on. -mike]

  25. 75
    Cardin Drake says:

    I doubt if the snow melt season in Southern California had much to do with their wildfires, which is the primary thrust of the research. This is a good example of the kind of sloppy reporting we frequently see, where one fact is taken and generalized, whether it applies or not.
    Certainly they are going to go to the trouble to check and see if it has even been warmer in California over the past 2 decades, which may or may not be true.

  26. 76
    PaulM says:

    The most glaring factual error in the article seems to be
    “The incorrect analysis was online for less than 24 hours.”
    In fact the ‘corrected’ data posted two days later was still incorrect
    and had to be changed again.

    [Response: Now that is micro-parsing. The statement is however true, the initial analysis was pulled in under 24 hours. There were 4 specific stations that weren’t correct in the first update a couple of days later, but which were corrected in the second. The final ‘October’ numbers will not however be known for a couple of months since not all data has yet been processed. I am still waiting for anyone to show any actual consequence from the initial posting. – gavin]

  27. 77
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, does Saunders’s column appear “opposite the Editorial page” (the traditional definition of “Op-Ed” though some newspapers have their political opinion columnists elsewhere.) She’s a political columnist; Op-Ed seems the right tag for it.
    ReCaptcha: restless Poison

  28. 78
    Hank Roberts says:

    > maybe she checked Wikipedia
    > which confirms her statement

    Anne, that’s a picture, and without error bars.
    Imagine the same lines and dots charting public opinion support for her candidate.
    Do you think she’d reach the same conclusion, that support was falling steadily?
    Would you?

  29. 79
    Rick Brown says:

    Re Mike’s inline responses to #s 73 & 74, with which I generally concur, one quibble regarding terminology. Fire severity refers to effects on vegetation or soils. The data and analysis in Westerling et al. show a relationship between climate change and fire number and size. In a less quantified way they also discuss how changes in forest fuels as a result of fire exclusion and logging (of larger, more fire-resistant trees) have contributed to increases in wildfire severity in some forest types.

    [Response: Quibble accepted, thanks for the clarification. – mike]

  30. 80
    Russell Seitz says:

    Re: 5 and 60-61

    Much obliged for the revelation as to Mrs. Saunders Smith- Wesley J. Smith has lately overtaken Discovery Institute doyen Tom Bethell as the Science Guy at The Weekly Standard and The American Spectator

  31. 81

    RE #72 & “Any temperature increase in California”

    Maybe they’re only referring to certain places, and not whole states, places like where super wildfires hit. If you can prove that there are more wildfires of greater intensity and spread in place where there is less drought/dryness, less wind, and shorter summers (at 95% confidence — which is what we environmentalist & responsible policy-makers like to see), then you might have a good argument against attributing increasing wildfires to global warming.

    But that still says nothing about all the other negative effects of global warming.

  32. 82
    John Mashey says:

    Regarding California, I recommend:

    a) Department of Water Resources, including its own Climate Change pages.

    b) California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Needless to say, if these folks made all the rules, there are a lot of buildings that wouldn’t get built where they are.

    c) California Climate Change Portal, among which one can find Climate Monitoring, Analysis, and Modeling, and under that, one can find 2-page PDF on changes in min/max temperatures, 1920-2003, for each of 16 zones in CA.

    [Q: has CA been warming? A: yes.]

  33. 83
    Anne says:

    Re.: 78: Hank Roberts Says:

    “Anne, that’s a picture, and without error bars.”

    and what was the graph that Gavin showed, not a picture?,

    BTW I’m indifferent to politics, which you seem not to be. This is a science blog, isn’t it?


  34. 84
    jcbmack says:

    My wife and I moved form NY to Ca a year ago, the wildfires are on the rise as I both see them, speak to neighboors and family members living out her in Northern California for 20-50 years, and read the data for this region.

  35. 85
    jcbmack says:

    We are also in for a huge earthquake as well, I am glad we chose a rural town as opposed to a city!

  36. 86
    Hank Roberts says:

    Anne, try the Start Here link at the top of the page, and the first link under Science at the right side.
    The Search box at the top is also helpful.

  37. 87
    Mark says:

    Anne, 83, you never answered Hank’s question.Would you have accepted that as proof of a recession, or the loss of ratings of your favourite show (and thereby having it cancelled)?

    I suspect not.

    PS Which graph Gavin showed that didn’t have errors? E.g. all the trends from IPCC reports have error bars on them. If you’re going to ask that the spinning globe be displayed with error bars on them, please tell us how we can show such a 4-6 dimensional plot on a 2-dimensional medium.

  38. 88

    Regarding the Gavin’s response to #65:

    ‘And that goes to the second point, that there are huge amounts of unconventional fossil fuel reserves – oil shales, tar sands, methane hydrates, etc. which, as we saw last year, are all ready to go should oil prices go up again. Therefore, I doubt very much that reserve limitations will really have much of an impact – at least in the near term.’

    Let’s ask *why* did the price of oil shoot up in recent years from cca $30 to record $147 per barrel of oil and *why* did it fell again to $50 per barrel now?

    The price rose to 147 dollars partly due to decreasing dollar value, partly due to speculations, but mainly due to tight supply/demand. Demand rose faster than the supply, so price went up, magnified by speculations and weakening dollar. At the same time, ineffective and ecologically damaging ways (low EROEI) of getting energy were suddenly economic, such as corn-to-ethanol (1st generation biofuels) or tar sands.

    However, as it has been shown, high oil price and not quite ready and ineffective alternatives (ecologically (biofuels) and climatically (tar-sands and oil-shales)) contributed to global financial and subsequently economic down-turn.

    There is also scale problem with biofuels and tar-sands – how much of them can one have? Even production of 2 mil. of barrels of oil per day from tar sand in Canada is significantly increasing their per capita CO2 emissions – and damaging surrounding environment a lot, due to low EROEI – how can they scale them any further?

    The same for biofuels – 1st or 2nd generation – again, how can one scale them appropriately, without economic recession? Problem is, they have low EROEI. See Charlie Hall baloon graph.

    I think the biggest problem is that people have to learn, that energy prices *have to* go up, whatever happens, and then maybe our economy can run without recession. Put it simply, era of *cheap oil is over*. Those who know it, should be better prepared. In the meantime, we should switch to better ‘alternatives’ than biofuels and tar-sands – namely wind, solar, and nuclear energies…

    Finally, I think there is no sensible solution to climate and energy problems in a world, where there is every day +180 000 or so people… and more than 1 000 000 000 has no access to electricity at all…

  39. 89
    Donald Oats says:

    Today’s “The Australian” newspaper has more letters to editor from well known anti-AGW campaigners. As did pretty much every recent paper. If they aren’t in as named articles, they are anonymous editorials.

    The frequency and consistency with which the same people are popping up throughout the Australian media (with “The Australian” as the masthead) points to an orchestrated campaign. The really aggravating part is that they can spread scientific inaccuracies with impunity, under the banner of hearing both sides of the debate.

    It is creeping into the government broadcaster (the ABC) too – a while back the previous government stacked the board with like-minded people, and since then we’ve had to put up with La Rouche rubbish….and geologists’ observations that the fossil record shows the climate is always changing. Oh boy, smell that red herring :-)

    Being sceptical about scientific claims is one thing, but for well known scientists to spread mis-information about the claims is quite another thing.

    Is this sort of campaign happening in the European countries too?

  40. 90
    RichardC says:

    36 J says, ” I don’t know why you single out FoxNews”

    Perhaps because Faux “news” is the standard-bearer of false news.


    “On August 18, a Florida jury unanimously determined that Fox TV intentionally distorted a news story on bovine growth hormone, and awarded fired Fox TV reporter Jane Akre $425,000 in damages. The verdict is the first ever in which journalists have been found to be protected by a whistleblower law when they refuse to bow to pressure from their bosses to distort the news…Fox is appealing the case on the grounds that there is no law, rule, or regulation against lying or distorting the news on television.”

    Yep, Fox has no qualms admitting in public that their reporters must either lie or be fired.
    Captcha says: disputed trusted

  41. 91
    Hank Roberts says:

    Fox won that appeal, by the way.

    found with:

    … Florida’s whistle blower law states that an employer must violate an adopted “law, rule, or regulation.” In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation,” it was simply a “policy.” Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.

    “During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so….”


    Yes, that DID say what you thought it did.
    Read it again.

    ReCaptcha: sidewalk mouth

    Hmmmm — suggesting the Orwell Award?

    The Award

    The award is presented as a golden statue of a boot stamping on a human head, in reference to George Orwell’s vision for the future as described in his novel 1984. It is presented to individuals, organizations, policies, and ideas that embody the characteristics conjured by the term “Orwellian”.

  42. 92
    Chris Vernon says:

    Gavin, in response to your response to #65

    Thank-you you reading the Oil Drum article, I agree with you that the extrapolation from carbon emission to temperature and the sensitivity used is simplistic. I expanded on this area in the comments as it wasn’t my article.

    I am interested in your opinion on available fossil fuels and as important, their production rates. You say “there really is a lot of coal around” however last year we highlighted five reports by four independent groups all saying there is less coal than traditionally thought. These include two prepared for the European Commission Joint Research Centre and one for US National Academy of Sciences:

    Have you reviewed this recent thinking on coal? The school-boy idea we have 200+ years of coal bears no scrutiny today.

    On unconventional oils, there is no evidence that these can deliver the flow rates we are accustom to from conventional oil. The best and almost only game in town are the Canadian tar sands which may, if finance, clean water, natural gas etc. are all made available (which today is highly questionable) deliver 3mbpd by 2020. By 2020 conventional oil will certainly be in decline at a rate of ~1-4% per year, nullifying the unconventional contribution within a few years at most.

    It seems clear to us that within the next few decades (which I presume you consider near term) supply constraints will impact carbon emissions. It remains a concern that many working with climate change continue to assume fossil fuel production profiles that are not justified by available data and analysis.

    Chris Vernon
    Editor, The Oil Drum Europe

    [Response: The National Academies report is a good place to start:

    Further into the future, there is probably sufficient coal to meet the nation’s needs for more than 100 years at current rates of consumption. However, it is not possible to confirm the often-quoted suggestion that there is a sufficient supply of coal for the next 250 years.

    And they call for an updated and more extensive assessment of coal reserves. All very sensible, but it doesn’t support a contention that we know that there is much less coal than was thought – it rather makes it clear that there is significant uncertainty – is there 100 years, 200 years or something else? Running out of coal in 2100, it should be noted makes very little difference to the CO2 concentration by then. However, I’m perfectly happy to have people run different scenarios (see for instance Kharecha and Hansen, 2008). – gavin]

  43. 93
    Jim Eager says:

    Chris Vernon (92), you are not taking into account natural carbon sinks turning into natural carbon emission sources as a feedback to current and future warming. We’re already measuring increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost and melting methane clathrates, and the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 is diminishing as it warms.

  44. 94
    Jim Eaton says:

    Re #72: Cardin Drake Says: “I think the Fresno Bee story is a good example of very sloppy reporting.”

    I doubt that Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for “sloppy reporting.” Tom Knudson has two of them. Try reading his article.

    Re #75: Cardin Drake Says: “I doubt if the snow melt season in Southern California had much to do with their wildfires, which is the primary thrust of the research.”

    You are aware, of course, that depending upon how you define “southern California,” there are more than half a dozen mountain ranges with peaks over 10,000 feet [3,000 meters]. Snow and snowmelt are a definite factor in parts of the southland.

    There was a most interesting quote during last month’s devastating fires in southern California:

    “Capt. Leonard Grill, a 20-year veteran of the Riverside County Fire Department, watched for flaring embers in a Yorba Linda neighborhood late Saturday.

    “‘It’s gotten worse and worse every year. I can’t keep track of them any more,” Grill said of recent destructive wildfires. “These used to be the out-of-the-ordinary fires, once-in-a-career kind of fires. Now they’re every year.'”

    Capcha: election hunch

  45. 95
    Richard Steckis says:



    I am talking about the recovery of the biodiversity of the region. It has been unexpectedly rapid.

    For your illumination See:

  46. 96
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sure, much was learned about recovery watching St. Helens.
    If nothing unexpected had been observed from this one of a kind, incomparable opportunity, you couldn’t say much for the ability of the scientists. The unexpected was the whole point of tracking the outcomes over time!

    Nobody predicted, before watching the course of events, that
    “For Mount St. Helens, the season and time of day strongly influenced survival and recovery. The 1980 eruption occurred on a spring morning; …” — check it out.

    Surtsey is another textbook case.

    Steckis, you criticize a working scientist above by name speculating that he might be the author of something you maybe recall.
    Don’t you have access to a library?

  47. 97

    On coal reserves, the thing that troubles me most is that in a “business before environment” world view, the obvious thing to do as oil gets more expensive is to invest heavily in coal gasification and liquefaction technologies, which dramatically increase the CO2 footprint of coal per unit energy.

    There could well be 200-300 years’ worth of coal for current usage but that doesn’t take into account rapid growth of demand in India and China (don’t forget Africa lurking in the background: sooner or later that continent will get its act together too). Add to that replacing oil by coal and the extra emissions from that, and not only will coal not last nearly as long as these projects, but will emit a lot more CO2 in the process.

    I’ve recently been reviewing a coal gasification proposal that includes pumping the waste stream of CO2 underground. In a plant that would produce 2.8Mtonnes of dimethyl ether to sell as a diesel substitute as well as 650MW of electricity, the CO2 they would be pumping underground would add up to 8Mt per year, which, if I did my sums right, even compressed to a liquid would be 4.7km3. That’s only the CO2 produced as a side stream from the chemical process, not that from combustion. The proposal doesn’t actually include the calculations (conveniently) so I may have dropped a decimal or some other error, but these amounts look super-crazy to me.

    As always I would love to be told I am wrong. If anyone would like to check the arithmetic feel free to mail me at philip.machanick[no spam AT]

    captcha: man drill (who says machines aren’t intelligent?)

  48. 98
    dhogaza says:

    I tried responding to Steckis in detail but it got eaten by the spam filter.

    I’ll try posting one photo of his “recovered” forest, taken in 2007:

  49. 99
    dhogaza says:

    OK, that appears to have gotten through. Now follow Steckis’ links, the second one of which mentions elk were seen meandering in the area not long after the explosion. This is not evidence of recovery of biodiversity. The article discusses gophers, which like some other species which were still hibernating underground on May 18, 1980, survived the explosion. Survival is not recovery of biodiversity. The article talks about an increase in fireweed – which rapidly increases after largescale disturbance like fire and clearcutting and volcanic eruptions (apparently). No big surprise to botanists here. And the article talks about an increase in mountain bluebirds, which like other cavity-nesting insect-eating birds have thrived in the dead-tree landscape left by the explosion (see photo in previous post).

    Nowhere is there evidence of the “recovery of the forests around St. Helens”, which was Steckis’ first claim, after all. Now he speaks of the remarkable recovery of biodiversity, but I rather think his reference to biologists referring to the recovery of the *forests* perhaps taking 200 years is the accurate quote …

  50. 100
    Michel says:

    not sure if it is the right place but there is this page from the “Oil drum” that is somewhat contrarian (basic argument : not enough recoverable oil or coal left to sustain IPCC CO2 emission scenario).

    comments ?