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What George Will should have written

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 February 2009

We’ve avoided piling on to the George Will kerfuffle, partly because this was not a new story for us (we’d commented on very similar distortions in previous columns in 2004 and 2007), but mostly because everyone else seems to be doing a great job in pointing out the problems in his recent columns.

We are actually quite gratified that a much wider group of people than normal have been involved in calling out this latest nonsense, taking the discussion well outside the sometimes-rarefied atmosphere of the scientific blogosphere (summary of links). Maybe RealClimate has succeeded in its original aim of increasing the wider awareness of the scientific context? However, like many, we are profoundly disappointed in the reaction of the Washington Post editors and George Will himself (though the ombudsman’s column today is a step in the right direction). It would have been pleasant to see an example of the conservative punditocracy actually learning something from the real world instead of resorting to ever-more unconvincing pseudo-legalistic justifications and attacks on the messenger to avoid taking their head out of the sand. Nonetheless, in a moment of naive optimism, we have allowed ourselves to indulge in a fantasy for how a more serious columnist might have dealt with the issue:

The scientific method in journalism
Feb 29th, 2009, Washington post

This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done.

It is no secret that I am a critic of sensationalism in the coverage of environmental issues and that I have a philosophical preference for reality-based policies over those based on the ideologically-based fantasies of those I critique.

In my last column, I reported on a statistic concerning sea ice extent – that global sea ice extent is unchanged since 1979 – that was trivially shown to be untrue, and for that I apologize. Rather than throw the fact checkers in my office or at the Washington Post under the bus, I take full responsibility for the mistake. However, as with good scientific practice, this provides an example of how journalism too can learn from its mistakes.

The source of the original quote was a Daily Tech blog post published in early January. While that post itself was heavily criticized as being misleading, it did use data from a reliable scientific source which was technically accurate at the time. My error was in assuming that scientific ‘facts’ don’t change over a month or two and thus it was not necessary to revisit the source of the original data before writing my column. What was true in January would still be true in February, right? Wrong.

What I didn’t consider was that in complex and noisy data there are always going to be outliers, and in heavily politicised subjects there will always be people who will want to exploit a chance occurrence for a sound-bite. I should of course have known better since I decry this practice on a regular basis in discussions of economic issues. Through a combination of wishful thinking and time constraints, my failure to recognize a piece of classic cherry-picking lay at the heart of this problem.

However, sometimes old dogs do learn new tricks. The surprising fact (to me at least) that the difference in global sea ice between two single dates 30 years apart can change so radically in such a short space of time, implies that it is not a particularly good measure of long term climate change. It is a bit like looking at a single stock to gauge the health of the economy. Unfortunately (for me at least), it also validates the scientific consensus about the original article. It was indeed a misleading statistic, and I was indeed misled. Next time I will try and be more careful.

There continues to be a pressing need for an informed conservative discussion of the issues of climate change. Voices such as Senator John McCain, and businessman Jim Manzi (writing in the Nation last year National Review in 2007) can perhaps show the way. The distraction of the last week over exact parsings and interpretations of technical data are just a sideshow while real decisions are already being made every day in Washington. In order for conservatives to have a voice at those tables, we need to be seen as serious contributors. Every time we are mislead by amateur bloggers, we lose another chance to influence policy. This may have been useful as a delaying tactic in the past, but now that there is clear leadership in the White House, this serves only to marginalize conservatives even further. Unlikely as it may seem for me to quote President Obama approvingly, it may be time for us to put aside childish things.

If only…..


497 Responses to “What George Will should have written”

  1. 51
    caerbannog says:

    Let’s see…

    It is now Feb 29, 2009.

    George Will has published a “mea-culpa” retraction.

    And I’m shoveling through 6-foot-deep snowdrifts in front of my condo here in San Diego.

  2. 52
    Mark says:

    Skerob, why that tone?

    As a star goes through its main sequence, it generally (there are variations, such as the recent end of an exciting period of high sunspot activity that meant we had NO VISIBLE SUNSPOTS for some time, which is unusual) gets warmer.

    Patrick Moore believes this is enough.

    I don’t.

    But Patrick isn’t lying, he’s just going “Well, I don’t think it IS us” and then knowing that the Sun’s output gets higher (and HAS gone higher, else how could your statistic of 0.1C increase be the result of a cooling sun???) he’s found his reason.

    “Of course that isn’t enough, but there’s probably some feedback that increases it…” And the problem is solved.

    As far as Patrick is concerned.

    And, since he thinks it is covered, he doesn’t LOOK for any papers that say otherwise: there’s no need. Any pointed out can be countered by pointing to a Blog. Etc.

    Although why YOU seem so steamed up about it escapes me.

  3. 53
    Mark says:

    mitch, #45 why? Why do you think human actions result in LESS change? You can do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to show that the CO2 produced over the last 100 years by human activity is more than sufficient for the increase of CO2 from 280 to 380ppm.

    There is no model in looking at how hot the world got when CO2 was at 380ppm, you can look at the record.

    And the change is sufficient to explain the vast majority of the change seen so far.

    So why do you think that it is less of an impact? You’ll need at least two things:

    1) A theory of why the effect of “whatever else” is higher than expected
    2) A theory of why the human actions are having less of an effect than simple correlation to past changes would suggest

    and, really, a third one:

    A theory of why #1 and #2 both match up to pretty much make it look like human causes are as big an effect as measurement would suggest.

    Mind you, it’s rather like those New Earthers who say that finding bones that far down doesn’t prove anything because it just *happens* to *look* like it’s millions of years old, when it’s really only a few thousand years old.

  4. 54
    Mark says:

    Tenney, #44. No worries. If that was his aim, he missed.

    I’m NOT a good person.

    Bwahahahahaha!

  5. 55
    ccpo says:

    Re: Mitch

    ***I have read a tremendous amount of opinions on all of these type of sites, and I have yet to have one person explain the changes in the earths climate… all I ever hear or read is some lame avoidance of a real answer. Please enlighten me. No ridicule please just good answer.***

    This is much to close to a script seen from various denialists who enter a site pretending to be open to investigation, but are just anti-ACC plants. One guy on a site I frequent about energy used this ploy and soon transmogrified into the full blown anti-ACC monster. Actually, more than one. It’s the same technique used by conservative plants to sway “liberals” in the past… and probably present.

    The fellow mentioned above keeps harping on how there is going to be a massive change in perception about ACC toward the anti- side, coming this summer. Then, Lo and Behold, we get this report on climate lobbyists showing it is 8:1 for anti-ACC! And that these numbers have swelled recently.

    http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/climate_change/articles/entry/1180/

    Anyone actually think these things are not coordinated? The same talking points? The same methods? The same phrasings? We are up against it, ladies and gents, and need to take much stronger action against lies and disinformation.

    Cheers

    recaptcha: trinos crossed
    me: better watchya back

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mike G encourages ‘truth’ by asking for exposition of more details about those beliefs. This only gets more affirmations of the same beliefs. You want more of the same stuff? Think about what you want.

  7. 57
    duBois says:

    Will’s use of mid-winter ice extent as some kind of bellwether is at the core of the problem. Why, of course, the extent of ice in the middle of winter would be almost the same year to year. Global temps have only risen .9C and it obviously still gets cold enough in the Arctic in winter to freeze water. Will’s point is an idiot’s point.

    Will repeatedly pointed out that he took the gist of his point from a headline. He avoided the gist of the issue — one has to assume — purposefully since the substance of the issue was covered in the text of the article and, though he’s been called to account for it, he hasn’t budged. He made the point he wanted to make. A clearer case of cherry-picking and quote-mining would be hard to find.

  8. 58
    James says:

    truth Says (1 March 2009 at 2:54 AM):

    “With the Left wing politicians , Left wing media and Left wing scientists in unholy alliance…”

    “Left wing scientists”? I’ve worked with a good many scientists over the last couple of decades, count a number among my friends, and indeed (if computer science is allowed) could be considered to be one myself. I’ve never found scientists to be particularly left-wing: most in fact seem inclined towards a moderate libertarianism. (I like to think this is an inevitable hallmark of intelligence :-)) If nothing else, here I am, as firmly anti-leftist as a rational person can be, yet just as firmly in the “AGW is real science, and we need to do something serious about it” camp.

    So where did the denialists find their “unholy alliance” meme? I’ll avoid a long digression into off-topic politics, and just ask you to consider the term “unholy alliance” in conjunction with the Republican Party’s embrace of the religious right.

  9. 59
    David B. Benson says:

    Tenney Naumer (45) — On the contrary, I found many of the replies to be of interest.

    mitch (46) — I recommend you read W.F. Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum” to discover just how long and thoroughly humans have been affecting the climate.

  10. 60
    Chris Colose says:

    Gavin–

    When you write “Maybe RealClimate has succeeded in its original aim of increasing the wider awareness of the scientific context?” I think you’re underestimating some of the readership, especially as many of the errors in this particular writing could be seen by someone with scientific training but not necessarily any background in climate. Many people are much less receptive to nonsense than you might think, and most people don’t like being lied to. The only audience stuff like this convinces are those who are already convinced.

    That said though, RC has done a terrific job over the years of taking scientific understanding in climate and making it accessible to the general reader. Certainly, it has enforced the basic principles of climate change topics, as well as discussing the fallacies behind standard objections to the mainstream science.

    If anyone were to read just RealClimate they would already be far more informed than most non-experts out there, and be in a good position to give authoritative-quality responses to general questions and criticisms.

    I’m sure comments like this exist somewhere that I’m not aware of but RC should be thanked for this effort (or thanked again), and please keep up the good work.

  11. 61

    G. Will falls prey to weak analysis, relying on popular anti-AGW lobbyist mantra, not looking at the real meat, doing a play by play of a slow hockey game blindfolded. At issue, is ice volume, in the Arctic its the disappearance of multi-year ice, ably seen everywhere, by the very nature of the ice-scape, now flattened with first year ice on occasions ridged by open water periods. Also making spring ice break-up earlier, freeze up later. Up in the sky, the sun disk expands, sunsets tend
    to come earlier at a different location than before. If Will does not retract, he should not be considered as a serious news analyst, just as the appearance of one.

  12. 62
    Pat N says:

    Many people around here won’t read RealClimate because they think RC is politically biased.

    The Chanhassen Villager in MN is advertising an upcoming book forum by Patrick Michaels and Robert Balling and NOAA NWS offices continue their silence on happening trends in hydrology and climate, and severe weather.

    http://www.chanvillager.com/news/schools/climate-change-open-discussion-minnetonka-101#comment-1778

  13. 63
    sod says:

    very good article. i hope Will read it. multiple times…

  14. 64
    David says:

    Ray (3) – you say that many on the right have given up on the idea of objective reality. Unfortunately, people on the right think the same thing about people on the left. The problem is that the face of the left is not the scientific community (who in my experience hold a wide range of religous and political views) but university arts faculties. I recently had the misfortune to have some contact with the education department at a major Sydney (Aus) university. The majority of the readings in the courses they teach explicity or implicitly deny the existence of objective reality. The dominant philosophical viewpoint is that everything is in the eye of the beholder and everything is relative. Notions of “truth” are openly scoffed at. They are believers in global warming, and general human induced environmental catastrophe, but only because it is fashionable – they are utterly ignorant of pretty much every advance in science, philosophy and economics in the past 200 years. Miranda Devine (right wing columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald who regularly writes nonsense about climate science) has a background in education, which probably explains why she thinks anyone on the left is a lunatic.
    From what I have read of US universities, it seems the same incoherent (absolutely everything is relative, there is no such thing as truth, moral truth is a childish fantasy, and yet somehow people who disagree with me are evil and wrong…) philosophical position is widely held by arts departments there. This is what many people on the right think they are fighting against, so it is hardly surprising that they do not feel any need to look beyond surface (or blog headline) when it comes to writing a critique of the environmental catastrophe message they see coming from the left.

  15. 65
    RichardC says:

    4 RickA says, “Given that some scientists were predicting an ice free North pole in 2008″

    What was predicted was that it was possible for the single point 90N to be ice-free. “possible” does NOT mean “will”, nor was the speculation linked to the entire basin. You also fall into the trap of using ancient technology. It used to be nearly impossible to determine ice volume, but now it is reasonably estimated. The volume of ice in all seasons is plummeting. You can take solace in the fact that a thin sheen of ice will form each winter for many more decades, but it is a rather pointless point. Put some nice thick ice cubes in a glass of water, then wait. Once 95% of the ice has melted, you will still be able to claim that the ice extent in the glass is nearly identical. So what? You’re arguing for the sake of attempting to win an argument, but nature doesn’t care about twisting words and using irrelevant factoids. The amount (volume) of ice in the Arctic Ocean is plummeting. Period.

  16. 66

    I see that Wills has now dragged up the fact “that from early January until the middle of this month, a defective performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice”.

    I thought he was an expert on Murphy’s Law. Of course the satellite fails just when good data is needed to counter a stupid Op-ed comment!

    It’s just a pity that something didn’t interfere to prevent the New York Yimes apologising after they had reported a hole in the sea ice at the North Pole. But then that’s Sod’s Law.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  17. 67
    Nick Gotts says:

    “The problem is that the face of the left is not the scientific community (who in my experience hold a wide range of religous and political views) but university arts faculties.” – David

    Says who? Why not left political parties, publications and pressure groups, trades unions, and the millions who vote left? None of these are dominated by the absurd postmodernist relativism you rightly deplore. Moreover the evidence for AGW does not come from any segment of the left, but from climate scientists; pretending otherwise is a deeply dishonest strategy on the part of denialists.

    It is a plain fact that AGW-denialism is predominantly, although not exclusively (see e.g. Alexander Cockburn), the preserve of the right, and the reason is quite clear: effective action to mitigate AGW will have to be collective and international; and will involve imposing curbs on business (even if market mechanisms like carbon trading are used, they can only work if backed by penalties for unlicensed emissions).

  18. 68
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Ditto on Chris’ excellent comments above (60), especially regarding the importance of RC. And many thanks to Pat Neuman for fighting the fight at the local level in Minnetonka, where a “cpa by day and concerned citizen by night” is teaching “global cooling theory” at the local community college. Great example of what all of us can do to combat the disinformation being spread by the misinformed.

  19. 69
    robert davies says:

    To my mind, the single most important point in the Will kerfuffle is this: Climate science is complex and George has no idea how to interpret any given piece of information. His latching on ot this particular datum and decrying “see, no problem!” is akin to his trying to interpret an electrocardiogram. If you’re the patient, I’m pretty sure you don’t care what George will thinks about it.

    But what’s more, George Will would never dream of trying to interpret an electrocardiogram. Yet he will, without hesitation, weigh in on a piece of science substantially more complex. He did the same thing a couple of weeks ago, trying to contradict Paul Krugman of all people — a nobelaureate, no less — about the root causes of the Great Depression.

    It’s not just that George Will doesn’t have anywhere close to the knowledge base or training to understand this data — he seems to have no clear understanding of how much he doesn’t know.

  20. 70
    Ray Ladbury says:

    David #64, I’m afraid I don’t put a lot of stock in campus politics–which, as has been pointed out many times, are so nasty precisely because the stakes are so small. I am equally critical of anti-science, whether the source of George Will or Paul Feyerabend. I just wish there were rational elements on the right willing to accept the science and meet us in the center.

  21. 71
    David says:

    Nick, I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. I was just trying to say that it seems to me that many on the right see absurd postmodern relativism as the face and intellectual grounding of the left. Thus they respond not by trying to engage in argument by e.g. actually learning something about sea ice (postmodern relativism pretty much denies the possibility of argument in any case) but by portraying the left as merely jumping on an environmental disaster bandwagon.

    Assuming of course that they are honest in their criticism and not merely seeking to misinform, as some undoubtedly are.

    Also, perhaps you underestimate the influence of university education departments – For instance, the science curriculum in NSW (Australia) has been rewritten in recent years with significant influence from such people. Since they believe that science is boring and only sociology is interesting (yes, I have seen this opinion explicitly expressed in “academic” writing) they have managed to remove much of the science and replace it with “students will explore the impact of — on human society”. The consequence is that students coming to university science courses lacking basic scientific knowledge. So they can give an airy-fairy description of “cool” things like super conductivity and MRI machines but cannot calculate the current in a circuit with two resistors.

  22. 72
    David B. Benson says:

    “Lower Increases In Global Temperatures Could Lead To Greater Impacts Than Previously Thought, Study Finds”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221425.htm

    About the study recently appearing in PNAS.

  23. 73
    The Wonderer says:

    George Will’s Column
    Feb 29th, 2048, Washington Post

    Although global warming alarmists were lamenting recreational sailing in the Arctic this summer (they’re such pessimists), sea ice extent has now increased in astronomical proportions from its October low of 1 square meter by a factor of 100 billion. I checked with my Omnibudsman this morning and we agree that the growth of sea ice during this period is unprecedented on a percentage basis and that these alarmists are utterly discredited!

  24. 74

    David wrote in 64:

    From what I have read of US universities, it seems the same incoherent (absolutely everything is relative, there is no such thing as truth, moral truth is a childish fantasy, and yet somehow people who disagree with me are evil and wrong…) philosophical position is widely held by arts departments there. This is what many people on the right think they are fighting against, so it is hardly surprising that they do not feel any need to look beyond surface (or blog headline) when it comes to writing a critique of the environmental catastrophe message they see coming from the left.

    Basically what you are describing is deconstructionism, and it was a real force in many art and especially english departments in the United States. I even made its way into architecture, and I even remember running into some bizarre theory portraying Newtonian physics as phallocentric due to it speaking in terms of “force” instead of “persuasion” and that sort of thing. But mostly it was in the English and sociology departments.

    It has been waning for quite some time now, since the 1980s I believe, but there are still a few pockets. My wife ran into a strong pocket of it at a university in the south west back in the 1990s. They didn’t want to read the primary texts but instead only read the secondary ones — which made sense I suppose if you thought that texts have no meaning that exists independently of the act of interpretation — where the act of interpretation that they were generally interested in was to be found in various oppressed minority “readings.”

    As my wife is actually interested in the literature of earlier decades and centuries it drove her a somewhat buggy. But as I have said, it has been waning for quite some time. Yet one shouldn’t be at all surprised though if it is still prominant in some places.

  25. 75
    Alan of Oz says:

    Quote #43 – “Why don’t you hop on the Ghan, go to Alice Springs, and ask all the old folks (i.e., white settlers and elders of the native tribes who are >60 years of age) if they have experienced any climate cnange in their lifetimes. That is to say, have they experienced a pronounced change in the pattern of weather that has persisted for 30 or more years. Alice Springs is in the middle of the continent as is still classified as rural so it an ideal site to collect such info.”

    Thank you Harold for your kind offer of a free trip on the Ghan, I would be delighted to speak to the edlders around Alice Springs and hear all about the falling fertility of the celestial waterbag first hand. As for settlers (of all colours) many of them have special equipment on their property for accurately measuring these things, the two main pieces of equipment they use are called thermometers and rain gauges. When collated together and mapped as in the links they do indeed show a remarkable trend centered around the Alice.

    PS: Would it be cheeky of me to ask for an extra ticket for my younger brother who lives in Darwin, as a zoologist he has a lot of experience with gaining access to tribal lands and is well respected by many elders right across the top end.

  26. 76
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dang, have we all been chasing a red herring?

    Coincidental that the news is all about Will, at exactly the same time there was big science news about polar research?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090225073215.htm
    Ice Declining Faster Than Expected In Both Arctic And Antarctic Glaciers
    ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2009) — Multidisciplinary research from the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 provides new evidence of the widespread effects of global warming in the polar regions. Snow and ice are declining in both polar regions….

    http://www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/detail/state_of_polar_research_doc_pr/

    http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_839_en.html

    —–excerpt——
    IPY has provided a critical boost to polar research during a time in which the global environment is changing faster than ever in human history. It now appears clear that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass contributing to sea level rise. Warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to the IPY, and it now appears that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is increasing.

    Researchers also found that in the Arctic, during the summers of 2007 and 2008, the minimum extent of year-round sea ice decreased to its lowest level since satellite records began 30 years ago. IPY expeditions recorded an unprecedented rate of sea-ice drift in the Arctic as well. Due to global warming, the types and extent of vegetation in the Arctic shifted, affecting grazing animals and hunting.

    Other evidence for global warming comes from IPY research vessels that have confirmed above-global-average warming in the Southern Ocean. A freshening of the bottom water near Antarctica is consistent with increased ice melt from Antarctica and could affect ocean circulation. Global warming is thus affecting Antarctica in ways not previously identified.

    IPY research has also identified large pools of carbon stored as methane in permafrost. Thawing permafrost threatens to destabilize the stored methane -a greenhouse gas- and send it into the atmosphere. Indeed, IPY researchers along the Siberian coast observed substantial emissions of methane from ocean sediments.

    In the area of biodiversity, surveys of the Southern Ocean have uncovered a remarkably rich, colourful and complex range of life. Some species appear to be migrating poleward in response to global warming. Other IPY studies reveal interesting evolutionary trends such as many present-day deep-sea octopuses having originated from common ancestor species that still survive in the Southern Ocean.
    ——end excerpt——–

  27. 77
    jcbmack says:

    Ray Ladbury, I agree the Economist is fair and balanced. It is one of my favorite news sources as well.I think it is a shame that a sense of objectivity is being lost to the sometimes abstract, often unfounded political and economic theories. Logical positivism gives way to an Ayn Rand Objectivism that is anything but, while congress argues over trivial matters and goes to war with itself over serious matters while the actual facts of such matters like AGW go largely unchecked. Rational self interest has gone too far. Perhaps Adam Smith and the Obama mission for change do indeed apply more to affecting policy change in order to help the environment as a whole and slow down the warming trend in particular.

    Gavin well said and yes wishful thinking it may be, perhaps some people on both sides of the aisle can admit to their mistakes and help the greater people at large while still satisfying certain constituent and supporter obligations.

  28. 78
    Stuart says:

    My inference is that only a big payoff could make someone so oblivious to reality. (My neighbor works in the auto industry.)

    Wouldn’t biodiesel or hydrogen powered cars be a massive boost for the auto industry? Maybe you should remind your neighbor that his financial interests are on the opposite side to what he thinks.

  29. 79

    Mark writes:

    astronomy shows that the sun is getting hotter.

    No, it doesn’t.

    http://www.geocities.com/bpl1960/LeanTSI.html

  30. 80
    pete best says:

    Re #71. the Aussiues are only interested in sport mainly and probably sports science too so long as it involved drinking or roaring around beauty spots in 4×4 vehicles. When I go to Australia it just reminds me of some parts of the USA in many regards.

    The right have a tendency to lie a lot, whoi knows about the left buyt mainly in the main right and left are moderate but the media likes the extreme views on everything as it stimulates opinions. Ask most moderate rights and lefts about a certain subject matter and they will mainly agree but when it comes on what to do about it and perhaps the causes of it they might disagree but lets face it you can’t argue with the science scientifically that is but you can argue about the consequences and what to about it.

    The consequences of climate change are not seen as a big deal, as it is going to take human lifetimes before things are bad. People die every day and how else do you earn a living in our modern world unless you are using fossil fuels and taking a well earned vacation to as that uses a lot more fossil fuels (statistically and not individually). The left it could be said is a little too militant about what to do about it and the right a little too dismissive about the changes required simply becauase the left knows the significance of our of fossil fuels uage and the right the significance of doing something about it, the costs and disruption and loss of competetive advantage etc.

    Some people who have studied climate change and energy infrastructure and sources find the entire thing somewhat perplexing and intractable to some degree and this probably best explains why since 1988 and James Hansen congressional testimony the world has actually increased its fossil fuels usage. This is easy to understand. The technology is well understood, resources are available to develop it and it is cheap energy in economic terms, which is how capatalism works (simple works best). It is only recently (2000) that the peak estimations of fossil fuel reserves have been seen to be overstated. This is where our problems lie in the mid term (2030) because the official doctrine is that oil for example is discoverd in amounts to what is being used each year which smacks of convenicence due to the fact that economically these companies and the car industry etc need to state this. If Governments knew a different reality they would potenitally attempt to develop technologies that move away from this conclusion. The same goes for coal and gas.

    The EIA/IEA, and other world bodies are projecting vast reserves of coal but several recent reports and David Rutledge of Priceton University call this into question stating that by looking into the records of countries that have good records for coal mining and usage state that there is probably only 60% of estimated reserves available. The good coal is used and the more carbon and less energy producing other stuff is left too. Gas reserves are being used at a similar rate and oil reserves are worringly low. Where the truth lies, who knows but the IEA have recently changed its tone a little on this matter and seems to be cautioning on the peaksists side to some degree which is a little troubling for if they are right we will be seeing a 21st century problems rear their head that will eliminate AGW as a major problem limiting atmosphereic CO2 levels by humans to around 450 ppmv rather than the 500-600 ppmv of doom. However time is not available for us to combat peak fossil fuels for it is with cheap fuel that we construct an alternative energy edifice and if peak is real, fuel is not cheap and it can only get more expensive and rarer as countries who are exporters of fossil fuel will not export any more.

    So for all concerned regardless of the AGW science, it is for the peaking of fossil fuels that demands our alternative energy attention. The far right probably see peak fossil fuels as a a joke too, alarmist and not the orthodox position, funny that as climate change is the orthodox scientific position but alarmist too. What does that ay about it all, well it says keep the far right and far left from power for ever and lets take a rational line to everything. Do not let lobbying and politics to become as influenced by money as it appears to be both here in Europe and in the USA for humans seem easily swayed by it and its influence on political policy.

  31. 81
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Assuming of course that they [right-wing AGW denialists] are honest in their criticism and not merely seeking to misinform, as some undoubtedly are.” – David

    I don’t think that’s a defensible assumption. Anyone who bothers to enquire will discover that the vast majority of relevant scientific experts consider AGW a real and urgent problem; and that – for example – the national scientific associations of the G8 plus China, India and Brazil, effectively all the relevant scientific bodies of the US itself (I believe the Association of Petroleum Geologists is still fence-sitting), and the editors of Science and Nature agree. In other words, AGW denialists are either outright liars, wilfully ignorant, or believe, without evidence, that the scientific community consists almost entirely of liars and fools. I would not describe any of these possibilities as compatible with being “honest in their criticism”. The assertion that it’s all a left-wing plot is simply a political strategy, intended to distract attention from the reality of scientific consensus.

  32. 82
    Mark says:

    David, when you say:

    “The dominant philosophical viewpoint is that everything is in the eye of the beholder and everything is relative. Notions of “truth” are openly scoffed at. They are believers in global warming, and general human induced environmental catastrophe, but only because it is fashionable”

    This doesn’t make it wrong.

    People can believe that the earth is round because it is a perfect shape: finite yet unbounded.

    That this is not the reason why the earth is round is irrelevant to the fact that the earth is round.

    And please, tell us how AGW is fashionable. Any blog that talks about it gets lots of accusations of idiocy, corruption or bias. This happens to anti-AGW too, but you didn’t say that was fashionable, did you.

    I think this “fashshionable” meme is just a way for some people to explain why some are accepting the AGW evidence without knowing the science. The reason for that is that the meme of “AGW is a hoax” already has several very obvious reasons (which I’ve posted above some of the major ones) for people to accept the “proofs” that AGW doesn’t exist without knowing the science.

    The anti-AGW right get their ideals from self interest and can’t see that anyone else would do it except for self interest or spite.

    They’ve tried the “you’ll make us live in caves!!!!” “spite” reason and this is so patently ridiculous that this hasn’t gotten much traction. Still does the rounds, mind. So now it may be that they are trying “well, it’s fashionable, the sheep”. I mean, there can’t be any BAD self interest reason for AGW proposition that isn’t going to be considered GOOD (“I want my children to live in the same climate I did” or “I want a cleaner world” or “Why have deaths on my concience when we can avoid it” etc).

    So “it’s fashionable” is the only self interest left.

  33. 83
    John Lang says:

    Here are the actual sea ice numbers from the NSIDC.

    The global sea ice Area has increased by 1.17 million km^2 or 7.1% from December 1979 to December 2008 (16.58M to 17.75M).

    And the global sea ice Extent has increased by 0.78 million km^2 or 3.3% from 1979 to 2008 (23.95M to 24.73M).

    ftp://sidads.colorado.edu/pub/DATASETS/NOAA/G02135/Dec/N_12_area.txt

    ftp://sidads.colorado.edu/pub/DATASETS/NOAA/G02135/Dec/S_12_area.txt

    I think we should all agree the facts are more important than preconceptions.

    This is year-end December figures, the summer melt season numbers would be different but nobody seems to have access to those figures either.

    The Northern Hemisphere is up for area but down for extent.

    [Response: What is it about this figure that is unclear to you? (or this one?) - gavin]

  34. 84
    jhm says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Will’s original piece used the phrase “sea ice levels,” which confused me at the time, because while I thought he meant area of coverage (which is better described by “extent,” the word you chose), “level” seemed to suggest that the thickness of the ice was at issue (or maybe the total volume).

    To what degree are these data (thickness, area, volume) different in what they tell us, and how are they similar? Is this a pointless question?

    [Response: Not pointless, but not completely straightforward either. As sea ice extent has decreased in the summer, this has led to a relative increase in first year ice during the winter (i.e. ice that formed since the last summer). Historically, there was a great deal of ice that was 'multi-year' - i.e. that had survived one or more summers and was consequently thicker. Much of this multi-year ice has now disappeared, and the ice thickness (as far as we can tell) has decreased significantly across the basin. The problem is that thickness is not easy to measure basin-wide and so such pronouncements rely on a lot of in situ observations. - gavin]

  35. 85
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gavin’s “naive optimism” is charming, but I think he has spent too much time around scientists and not enough around propagandists if he expects George Will or The Washington Post to issue anything resembling a substantive correction of Will’s so-called “errors”.

    George Will was not “mislead” and did not make any “errors” in his recent column. On the contrary, George Will is a deliberate liar who is knowingly seeking to deceive his readers.

    As Gavin notes, The Washington Post has published two previous columns by George Will on anthropogenic global warming — in which Will made some of the same false claims (e.g. the nonexistent 1970s “scientific consensus” for “global cooling” and an imminent ice age) that he recycled nearly verbatim in this column. Those claims were thoroughly and widely debunked at the time, so both George Will and Fred Hiatt, head of the Post’s editorial page, were aware that they were false. They reprinted them anyway.

    Fred Hiatt’s response to criticisms of George Will’s deliberately deceptive column, in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, is to assert that it is “healthy” for one of the Post’s columnists to “challenge” the “consensus”.

    My question for Mr. Hiatt is, why does he think it is “healthy” for a second-rate sports writer and partisan Republican propagandist with absolutely no scientific credentials whatsoever to “challenge” the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community with deliberate lies and distortions?

    The answer is that it is “healthy” for the Post’s bottom line at a time when newspapers everywhere are struggling to stay in business.

    Now that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are no longer around to run the Executive Branch as a wholly-owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil, and now that the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress are moving to take action — however inadequate — to reduce CO2 emissions, the fossil fuel corporations will kick their campaign of disinformation into overdrive, in order to undermine public support for any such action.

    As the effects of AGW become ever more extreme, frightening and undeniable, and as momentum towards action builds, climate change denialist propaganda will become more aggressive and pervasive, not less so. This can already be seen everywhere the issue is discussed online, with innumerable commenters posting their scripted, programmed, “Climate Science According To Rush Limbaugh” talking points. And as is well documented, the fossil fuel corporations do not balk at spending tens of millions of dollars (small change from their tens of billions of dollars in annual profits) to fund such efforts.

    Clearly, Mr. Hiatt has determined that it is in the best business interests of The Washington Post for its editorial page to join the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as an aggressive purveyor of the fossil fuel corporations’ campaign of deliberate deceit on the subject of anthropogenic global warming.

    Neither Fred Hiatt nor George Will are going to acknowledge or correct Will’s “errors” because they were not “errors”, they were deliberate malicious lies, and they both know it.

  36. 86
    Sekerob says:

    Harping on about John Langs’ month end December figures, extent only tells so to speak the outer circle of ice and the square km within. It says nothing at all how much actual ice is enclosed in that circle.

    Well, tell you what here is the NCDC August 1979-2008 data based ratio of Area-Extent. 2008 showed just under 62% was actually covered in Ice. So if you here Extent Greater than last year or the year before, true ice surface and thickness are not represented in any meaningful way.

    Year August
    1979 75,46%
    1980 75,00%
    1981 70,87%
    1982 73,97%
    1983 72,61%
    1984 73,44%
    1985 76,41%
    1986 76,28%
    1987 73,60%
    1988 71,52%
    1989 73,11%
    1990 76,69%
    1991 73,65%
    1992 72,01%
    1993 68,04%
    1994 71,09%
    1995 73,65%
    1996 72,95%
    1997 73,15%
    1998 65,69%
    1999 67,48%
    2000 69,63%
    2001 69,34%
    2002 69,53%
    2003 69,34%
    2004 71,45%
    2005 70,63%
    2006 69,79%
    2007 63,81%
    2008 61,86%

  37. 87
    Sekerob says:

    To go with my previous post (used erroneously a smaller than sign)

    A Record poor state for 2008

    Tells me something about the quality of the ice. Does it you? Ice volume was in 2008 still thought to have been record low. Somewhere a report said the mean loss of thickness was 16-26 centimeters, of top of head and in places 45 centimeters. Equating that back to volume to area, finger in the air 4,000 cubic km lost… just like that. Quite a bit more than off the surface of Greenland in a short time.

  38. 88
    Mark says:

    BPL, 79, depends on your timescale.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/17/Solar_Forcing_GISS_model.gif

    And on long periods:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_sequence

    (check Evolutionary tracks and stellar evolution links)

    Unfortunately the links I used to give to people about how the sun is evolving are all now hidden behind 20+pages of “Global warming …. ” pieces. Finding the astronomy primers from the 80′s is damn near impossible now.

    So you’ll have to make do with the wiki link to an old (pre-anti-AGW) report on astrophysical measurements.

  39. 89
    Mark says:

    BPL #79.

    Just read the bit you linked to.

    Look at the graph.

    Even over that, you see it increasing.

    A big change most recently is the end of a very energetic solar cycle 23 and this solar cycle (24) will not be as energetic. So this recent change in sunspot activity would indicate that there would be a reduction in the heating over what would have happened without the removal of cycle23.

    Which is what we’ve seen. It’s still getting warmer, but not quite as fast as before.

    When I get home, I’ll pick up my astronomy books and give you chapter and verse.

  40. 90
    Marcus says:

    “The global sea ice Area has increased by 1.17 million km^2 or 7.1% from December 1979 to December 2008 (16.58M to 17.75M).”

    John Lang: you might want to actually read the disclaimer at the bottom of the dataset you are using: there is a 0.9 million km^2 discontinuity in 1987.

  41. 91
    Coakely says:

    Gavin, What John Lang ment in his statement is that the 2008 numbers are not availible. The first graph you try and throw in his face does not include those numbers either. I have no idea where you got the second graph or what it is suppose to prove as to his statement.

    [Response: It is to show context. Anyone who thinks nothing is going on in the Arctic is delusional. - gavin]

    Sekerob, How did they come up with these persents? I would assume it is another math matical model that is only as good as the numbers entered. Who entered the numbers and what was their specialty? Did anyone actually measure the ice mass/density in 1979? in 2008? NO!!
    Once again we are not using scientific data to argue a question. We are using mathmatical models.

    [edit - OT]

  42. 92
    Hank Roberts says:

    Some adventurers with core drills are currently trekking toward the North Pole measuring actual ice thickness. Actual ‘ground truth’ measurement transect in detail.

    This ought to provide confirmation, for the Navies that operate under the ice, so they will be able to talk about what they know but can’t tell the public from submarine operations.

    On thin ice: Mar 2, 2009 … A team of British explorers has begun an arduous three-month trek to the North Pole to measure the thickness of floating sea ice.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article…/On-ice-Arctic-explorers-trek-North-Pole-measure-effect-global-warming.html
    and

    http://www.canada.com/Technology/British+explorers+measure+Arctic+North+Pole/1282904/story.html
    “… They will haul sleds loaded such equipment as an ice drill and a new, briefcase-sized radar designed to measure the thickness of sea ice, as well as communications equipment that will allow them to transmit information and images directly from the ice. The sleds will also act as boats that will allow the team to swim between ice floes while still carrying their equipment, Hadow added.

    The radar will take measurements of the ice every 10 centimetres along the survey route and store them in an onboard computer. At the end of each day, the data will be transmitted by satellite uplink to the survey’s headquarters in London.”

  43. 93
    Will Denayer says:

    “Will, perhaps Ray is referring to the fact that some conservatives like to claim that climate scientists are motivated by a desired to promote social-ism. In so doing, they seem to assume that the only possible solutions to AGW are social-ist ones.”

    I am sure that some conservatives play this game – everything which can confuse and frighten people is fine with them – but on the other hand, and this is something I really believe, we are not going to be able to deal with climate change while leaving the power structures out of the picture and without making changes to political institutions. I’m not talking about social-ism, but about regulation in many domains – which would be good for almost all of us, except for the very rich. I know that many of you think that this has nothing to do with finding solutions to the problems we face, but in my opinion this is an essential point. Thanks for the input, Will Denayer

  44. 94
    Alexandre says:

    Market-oriented ideologies could add precious alternatives to the environmental debate. There are some very interesting success stories down this path, like rearrangement of property rights in a way that conserves the resource in a much more efficient way than direct regulation. Unfortunately, many of them just can´t seem to leave the denial phase.

    That´s a pity. Like Gavin´s text says, this just keeps them out of the policy-making process.

  45. 95
    Coakely says:

    response to Gavin response. John Lang never staed there was nothing going on in the arctic. I believe he was making the point that in the last several years the climate is getting colder and that using sea ice as a barometer as to how the climate is going make not be a good measure. If you use a measure to prove something scientifically and that measure changes to no longer prove your point of view you can’t just throw it out if it then starts disproving your point.

    [Response: perhaps you would care to find anyone who had used a single months global ice extent compared to a single month's extent 30 years ago to 'prove something scientifically' prior to the cherry-picking on the Daily Tech site? This isn't a case of a well known index or measure suddenly turning around. It is simply not a good index - precisely because it turns around so often. This week it shows 1 million sq km less than 30 years ago. Does that change your mind? why not? If your answer is that it is unreliable and noisy, then you prove my point. - gavin]

  46. 96
    Coakely says:

    Question. If the south poll ice cap is growing at a faster rate than the north pole is shrinking, (not saying it is still shrinking and it may be growing again) then does that mean that the over all temperature of the world is getting colder.
    It seems a lot of of folks only look at the northern hemisphere.
    If you look at satalite photos of both poles this past January (summer in the south and winter in the north) THere is obviously much more ice sheet world wide than in 1979 which I think was John Lang’s point.

    [Response: None of these statements are true. - gavin]

  47. 97
    kevin says:

    I think the “left-wing insane postmodernist/deconstructionst” is mostly a straw man. If people in the right wing believe in that caricature, that’s the fault of the right wing pundits and their followers who continue to rant about this being, who in my experience A)existed mostly in English departments, as someone mentioned above, dealing largely in literary criticism, and B) were usually a lot less crazy than people make them out to be. I’m sure there have been exceptions–there are whackos to be found in just about every domain of life. But in general, postmodernism, relativism, deconstructionist thought, these have all been useful in questioning some dubious assumptions of the past, and have rarely made anyone quite as much of a useless ass as David seems to think it has done to entire university faculties.

  48. 98
    SecularAnimist says:

    Will Denayer wrote: “… we are not going to be able to deal with climate change while leaving the power structures out of the picture and without making changes to political institutions …”

    If true, that is very discouraging, because we have perhaps five years within which to stop the growth of CO2 emissions and then begin a rapid reduction in emissions, if we are to have any hope of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic global warming.

    And if a prerequisite of accomplishing that is “leaving the power structures out of the picture” and making major “changes to political institutions” then I don’t think we’re going to make it.

    Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a prerequisite. Among our “major power structures”, both corporate and political, there are those who both (1) recognize the urgency of the problem and (2) recognize that the problem is also an opportunity. Huge amounts of private investment capital, for example, are pouring in to wind and solar technology; and there are politicians within our existing institutions who see that the urgent need to deal with global warming is also an opportunity to strengthen our economy and improve our national security.

    Certainly, dealing with climate change will lead to shifts in both economic and political power: not least, a huge transfer of wealth from the fossil fuel sector to other energy technologies. I don’t know who the economic “winners” in green energy will be, but they will most likely be corporations not unlike other corporations (though they will probably resemble Intel or General Electric more than ExxonMobil, since they will be in the business of selling technology for harvesting free energy, rather than the business of selling fuel).

    My own view is that the source of our problems is even deeper than our economic and political institutions: it is in our delusion that the human species is somehow separate from, somehow above, the rest of the Earth’s biosphere; the dualistic notion that the living world consists of human beings and “resources” for our consumption. Until we realize that the Earth’s web of life is an indivisible, organic whole within which we are one thread interwoven with all the others, we will continue to struggle with all manner of “environmental” problems of our own making — problems that arise from our delusion that “humans” and our “environment” are separate things.

    Fortunately, I don’t think that attaining that realization at a species-wide level is a prerequisite for dealing with the global warming problem.

  49. 99
    RickA says:

    #65 – RichardC
    Sure the trend in the Artic for ice extent is down over the last 30 years. Lets even agree that ice volume in the artic is trending down over the last 30 years (although I haven’t seen any volume data).

    So what? From what I can see, this has happened many times before – even in the last couple hundred years, probably even in the 1920′s or 1930′s.

    [Response: What data are you looking at here? I know of no such sea ice data set that would demonstrate this. - gavin]

    The ice extent in the Atic goes up for a period of time, then the ice extent goes down for a period of time – over and over.

    Why should I assume – right now – that the long term trend line will keep going down for the next couple hundred years?

    I think I would like to see it going down for a lot longer than 30 years before I start to panic.

    If CO2 was at 1000 ppm in the past (and it was) – how did it ever get down to 280 ppm in the 1880′s? How did we ever get back on the south side of the tipping point? Because the Earth did – and it did it with some natural feedback mechanism that we apparently don’t understand very well yet.

    I would feel a lot better about taking immeadiate extremely expensive action if I had a couple hundred years worth of climate data (artic ice data for example) – rather than the paltry amount of data we are currently looking at.

    Is man affecting the climate – of course we are.

    How much – that I don’t know and I don’t think anybody else does either.

    I don’t think we have enough data to base policy on yet. I say we check back in 2050 and see if the concensus has changed yet – or 2100.

    [Response: Ostrich. Head. Sand. - gavin]

  50. 100

    Mark, I think I’m intuiting the same thing you express well here; lately in interactions with skeptics/deniers, I’ve been stressing the self-interest angles–maintenance of our civilization, well-being of descendants. I also find the word “responsibility” coming out a lot, which goes to other values perhaps held by those respondents. Additionally, I’m hearing a lot of folks say, “I don’t care if GW is true, because we need to get off oil/coal anyway for other good reasons.”


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