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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. 251
    dhogaza says:

    550 ppmv – 386 ppmv = 64 ppmv

    Llewelly might want to reconsider this equality … :)

  2. 252
    David B. Benson says:

    Here, also, is what GW ought to have written about.

    “China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Threaten to Double”:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,611818,00.html

  3. 253
    SecularAnimist says:

    Commenter Rockman exemplifies the AGW denialist who reasons as follows:

    1. Some of the solutions proposed to address anthropogenic global warming offend my political ideology.

    2. Therefore, anthropogenic global warming cannot be real.

    If there is any other content to his comment (currently #239), I don’t see it.

    Gavin’s inline response reminds me of a Jefferson Airplane song:

    Say it plainly, the human name
    Doesn’t mean sh*t to a tree.

  4. 254
    SecularAnimist says:

    George Will might also have written about this:

    Arctic Summer Ice Could Vanish by 2013: Expert
    by David Ljunggren
    Reuters
    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Excerpt:

    The Arctic is warming up so quickly that the region’s sea ice cover in summer could vanish as early as 2013, decades earlier than some had predicted, a leading polar expert said on Thursday.

    Warwick Vincent, director of the Center for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec, said recent data on the ice cover “appear to be tracking the most pessimistic of the models”, which call for an ice free summer in 2013.

    The year “2013 is starting to look as though it is a lot more reasonable as a prediction. But each year we’ve been wrong — each year we’re finding that it’s a little bit faster than expected,” he told Reuters.

    […]

    Vincent told Reuters last September that it was clear some of the damage would be permanent and that the warming in the Arctic was a sign of what the rest of the world could expect. He struck a similarly gloomy note in his presentation.

    “Some of this is unstoppable. We’re in a train of events at the moment where there are changes taking place that we are unable to reverse, the loss of these ice shelves, for example,” he said.

    “But what we can do is slow down this process and we have to slow down this process because we need to buy more time. We simply don’t have the technologies as a civilization to deal with this level of instability that is ahead of us.”

  5. 255
    David B. Benson says:

    “How much warming in the pipeline? Part II – it’s as tricky as ABC”:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/03/06/how-much-warming-in-the-pipeline-part-ii-abcs/

    offers seriously high estimates recently published in PNAS.

  6. 256
    Steve Reynolds says:

    SecularAnimist: Arctic Summer Ice Could Vanish by 2013…

    I’ll bet $500 that it does not, proceeds to go to the winner’s choice of charity.

  7. 257
    llewelly says:

    dhogaza Says:

    550 ppmv – 386 ppmv = 64 ppmv

    Llewelly might want to reconsider this equality … :)

    Oops. Thank you dhogaza. That invalidates my post. Thank you.

  8. 258
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rockman #232 and #239 provides an excellent opportunity to distinguish between homo scientificus and homo trollus, which sometimes tries to impersonate homo scientificus to lure its prey, homo gullibilus. Note that Rockman alludes to “studies” but provides no actual references. Note he refers to himself as a “scientist”, but never specifies his expertise.
    Despite the attempts of homo trollus to mimic homo scientificus, it is easy to distinguish between the two. A quick perusal of the various professional societies for homo scientificus reveals that not one has a call that dissents from the consensus position: that humans are behind the current warming epoch.

  9. 259
    James says:

    Rockman Says (6 March 2009 at 2:51 PM):

    “However, the “attribution” you are advocating is for us to surrender our freedom to the government, in the form of either taxes or regulation.”

    Err… Which freedom is it that we’re surrendering, exactly? I spent a couple of hours today collecting the paperwork for my US income tax, pay sales tax every time I buy something, get a sizeable property tax bill every year. So if instead of a certain percentage of my income going to the IRS every year, there’s a buck or so on every gallon of gas, and a few cents on each KWh of electricity I use, how does that further restrict my freedom?

    With a carbon tax, I wouldn’t have waste hours keeping records & filling out forms, and if I was so inclined, I could join my off-the-grid friends, and not pay the carbon tax at all, which would arguably increase my freedom – and decrease my cost of living.

  10. 260

    Mark writes:

    BPL #203 then why did you not mention sunspot cycles, if you know about them, I mentioned them and you mentioned other things I had said?

    Which part of “sunspot cycles have no discernible effect” did you not understand?

  11. 261

    Rockman writes:

    There are NO empirical studies that indicate that humans have caused these changes.

    Just because you’re not familiar with the evidence doesn’t mean there’s no evidence. CO2 has increased by over 100 ppm in 150 years and we know it’s coming primarily from fossil fuels because of its radioisotope signature, and because we know how much fossil fuels have been burned since the Industrial Revolution and roughly how much has gone into sinks and how much has stayed in the atmosphere. BTW, the radioisotope signature of fossil-fuel CO2 was first detected in ambi-ent air by Hans Suess in 1955.

  12. 262

    Rockman writes:

    I, and a significant number of other scientists,

    Oh, you’re a scientist? What field? What degree, from where, when? Where do you work?

    It’s well documented that once a bureaucracy is implemented, it is never rescinded, even if its goal is not being achieved.

    So we’re still dealing with the World War II-era Office of Price Administration? Oh, wait… the OPA doesn’t exist any more. How about the Freedmen’s Bureaus? Oh, wait, those don’t exist any more either…

  13. 263

    Richard C writes:

    Then explain the temperature rise in the first half of the 20th century.

    Rising carbon dioxide.

    Explain why solar output tracks sunspot cycles quite well.

    Because the sun is brighter when there are more sunspots. You’d think the darker sunspots would darken the sun, but apparently the faculae surrounding the sunspots are brighter than the sunspots themselves are dim.

    Though it isn’t as large as CO2, solar output is quite significant.

    Yes, especially over the very long run.

    Explain why changes in solar output don’t change things on Earth.

    They do, if they’re large enough.

    Like changes in CO2, we’re talking awfully basic physics. Remember, all of the feedbacks that make CO2 more significant ALSO make solar output more significant.

    No kidding.

    Changes in solar output (aka sunspot cycles) helped temps go up in 1900-1957, and it helped temps go down recently.

    Not according to the statistical analysis I’ve done myself. Want the numbers?

  14. 264

    #254 Secular, Well how about that? I met both the journalist and Professor… Solid people.
    I don’t think that all the ice will disappear, not all of it, but very large chunks gone by a certain September 20, progressively larger each year, with variances imposed by La-nina (more ice) and El-Nino much less. The only way all the ice pack will completely may go is by synergistic combination of several factors
    all timed correctly. 1- Severe ice dumping in Fram Strait during winter, 2- A warm winter, 3- a Near permanent Cyclone centered over Spitzbergen, 4- A cloudy long night 5- A cloud free summer season 6- a near permanent high pressure North of Alaska 7- El-Nino from October to March.. If all 7 (I am missing a few??) happen, sure no ice at end of summer. So unless the temperatures warm up substantially more, its a question of odds. Currently we have #1-2-4, no
    extinction of ice for summer of 09. I rather see very little ice North of The Canadian Archipelago on a yearly basis, for several Septembers to come, unless something offsets the current warming trend caused by Greenhouse gases. It is a tragic picture, even if its not as dramatic as no ice at all.

  15. 265
    pete best says:

    Re #255 Oh well we are not committed to 2.4C of warming but this must mean that the uncertainty of climate sensitivity if getting more certain and its going the wrong way (higher that is). So in effect I thought we were due around 1.4C of warming (0.8C already and 0.6C in the pipeline) for our 385 Ppmv of CO2 but now it is 1C more than that due to renewed refining of the cooling agents or pollution laws removing more of them from the atmosphere.

    Is this inline with James Hansens recent doubling of climate sensitivity from 3C to 6C for a pre industrial doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. I am presuming that a lot of these cooling effects come from burning coal and dung now referred to the atmospheric brown cloud and not the asian brown cloud. It almost sounds like clean coal technology would increase warming in the short term but decrease it in the long.

    Has the IPCC been too conservative in its estimation or is it realistic to play the sensitivity down as it gives humanity hope?

  16. 266
    Mark says:

    re #231.

    That’s what doctors do all the time. They do their best, but with any life-threatening problem, there’s a risk that something goes wrong.

    Even the patients know it.

    They hope for the best and go ahead, because although an appendix operation has a chance of killing the patient, not having the operation WILL kill the patient.

    And do you have ANY theory as to why cutting back CO2 won’t reduce the problem compared to if we didn’t?

  17. 267
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds said, “Most businesses don’t operate efficiently with unpredictable and radical changes in their costs. Also, since the environmental effects of CO2 are largely independent of economic conditions, it seems a constant carbon cost would be preferred.”

    Businesses deal with fluctuations and uncertainties all the time. Hell, there are even businesses devoted to helping other businesses deal with these uncertainties. What is more, my experience with taxation is that businesses are more likely to acoid the cost via creative accounting than true invention. We need much more of the latter than the former.

  18. 268
    Adam Gallon says:

    Re #255 “How much warming in the pipeline? Part II – it’s as tricky as ABC”:
    http://www.geosc.psu.edu/~kkeller/Urban_Keller_grl_08_submitted.pdf
    http://www.climatesci.org/publications/pdf/R-334.pdf

  19. 269
    markr says:

    The George Will column was a shock to me, but I am no longer shocked by the flat-out rejection of AGW by Will because I’ve now read the same thing in the columns of several other conservative commentators. Obviously the attitude-of-the-day has been sent out to simply stonewall global warming in the conservative hack-mill-ocracy. The current Republican political stance is to stonewall change of any sort, in the hope that the public will react against “big government” in two years. Probably a futile enterprise, but if it keeps carbon cap-and-trade at bay for four or eight more years, then it’s a “victory.”

  20. 270

    Re #268, yeah I remember reading that Pielke “opinion” piece and thinking, how can a reputable scentist (Sr. was at some point, and his publication record speaks for him) could lend his name to this. Considered for half a second writing a rebuttal myself — even an amateur like me could see how wrong it was. But there’s just too much nonsense in the world to fight it all. I see also Gavin getting worn down.

    Physics Today have been playing this game lately, allowing bad science to masquerade as “opinion”. Sad.

  21. 271

    Re: #239

    Rockman,

    You and Mitch are two sides of the same coin — wait, that would be one of the infamous pieces of silver, wouldn’t it?

    Recaptcha: $3,500 Warfield

  22. 272
    Chris says:

    Rockman #239: “It’s well documented that once a bureaucracy is implemented, it is never rescinded”

    Very true, with the exception of: Administrative Conference of the United States, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Atomic Energy Commission’s Historical Advisory Committee, Board of Economic Warfare, Bureau of Entomology, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Bureau of Prohibition, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Civil Service Retirement System, Committee on Public Information, Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Defense Homes Corporation, Defense Production Administration, Economic Cooperation Administration, Federal Alcohol Administration, Federal Bureau of Narcotics (United States), Federal Civil Defense Administration, Federal Civil Defense Authority, Federal Housing Finance Board, Federal Power Commission, Federal Radio Commission, Federal Security Agency, Foreign Economic Administration, Four-Minute Men, General Land Office, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Industrial Commission, Interagency GPS Executive Board, Interstate Commerce Commission, List of lifesaving stations in Michigan, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, National Bureau of Education, National Production Authority, National Recovery Administration, National Security Resources Board, National Teachers Corps, Office of Censorship, Office of Civil Defense, Office of Civilian Defense, Office of Defense Mobilization, Office of Economic Opportunity, Office of Economic Stabilization, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Office of Price Administration, Office of Strategic Influence, Office of Technology Assessment, Office of Territorial Affairs, Office of the United States Nuclear Waste Negotiator, Office of War Mobilization, Public Land Commission, Public Works Administration, Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Register of the Treasury, Resettlement Administration, Statistical Reporting Service, Steamboat Inspection Service, Training Within Industry, United States Atomic Energy Commission, United States Bureau of Mines, United States Civil Service Commission, United States Customs Service, United States Federal Maritime Board, United States Grazing Service, United States Information Agency, United States Life-Saving Service, United States Maritime Commission, United States Metric Board, United States Office of War Information, United States Revenue Cutter Service, United States Sanitary Commmission, United States Shipping Board, United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation, Vermilion Point, War Bureau of Consultants, War Division, War Finance Corporation, War Industries Board, War Manpower Commission, War Production Board, War Research Service, War Shipping Administration, Works Progress Administration

  23. 273
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yeah, Rockman must trust someone who tells him what’s true.

    He doesn’t look things up, and his source doesn’t show him sources.

    Someone like George Will, not someone like a reference librarian.

  24. 274
    David B. Benson says:

    Chris (272) — LOL!

  25. 275
    Nick says:

    #268: have you read the caveats? Ultimately,a plea for more and better quality observations.Who wouldn’t agree?

  26. 276
    Mark says:

    re: 263. BPL, you’re currently arguing a point that isn’t being made.

    RC isn’t saying “The rising temperatures at the beginning of the 20thC are due SOLELY to Solar changes”.

    When you say

    ” Explain why changes in solar output don’t change things on Earth.

    They do, if they’re large enough.”

    You’re somewhat wrong. Even if they are small changes, they will change things on Earth. Just to a very small amount.

    WE do not need to say “Solar forcing isn’t happening”. WE do not need people saying “Solar forcing isn’t significant”. WE do not need people saying “There is no change in solar output”.

    What WE need are people who will say something like “Yes, the sun does have an effect, but it isn’t enough by FAR to explain the changes. I mean, getting up too early has an effect on your long term health. Just not enough to worry about it if it happens on occasion”.

    What you’re in danger of doing BPL is proving that AGW pundits have IGNORED the sun and say that ONLY CO2 is important.

    Which is WRONG. But each of your words can be left in their places and read as-is and if your temperament is such that you want to believe that AGW is populated by people with religious fervor for CO2 being bad, then can see it there in the black-and-white.

    We went over how denialists seem to have a problem with multiple causes. They complain of the AGW side of ignoring multiple causes but they themselves say “The sun is doing it” and ignoring that the sun is only doing some of it.

    And now you come along and go “Nope, the Sun has NOTHING to do with it!!!”. Which may be correct when you consider the correct realm you’re thinking about (e.g. recently the sun hasn’t gotten warmer and the changes in the Sun are so small they are washed out by the inherent variability) but you ARE NOT SAYING IT. So those who think the Pro-AGW are all frothing maniacs will read your words and see a frothing maniac on the Pro-AGW side. They won’t look for any non-frothing maniac and will not see a frothing Anti-AGW maniac and so you’re helping them entrench their ideals rather than helping them get educated.

    Stop doing that.

  27. 277
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mark, I think you are missing something in your criticism of Barton’s efforts. Barton is not claiming solar forcing isn’t significant–just that it isn’t the cause of recent warming. This is important, because the denialists posit a number of unfounded solar causes–from the naive “it’s the sun” crowd to the sophisticated numerology of Scafetta and West. It is important to point out that there simply is no physics there–and Barton’s effort along with the recent Physics Today rebuttal do just that. We haven’t won this war yet. We still need to counter the anti-science tripe being dished out by the denialists.

  28. 278
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “Businesses deal with fluctuations and uncertainties all the time. Hell, there are even businesses devoted to helping other businesses deal with these uncertainties.”

    That is true, but my point is these uncertainties cause a loss of efficiency. Otherwise, why would a business pay to have ‘professionals’ help them deal with it?

    Carbon trading would be a boon to those uncertainty professionals, which is why they are pushing so hard for it.

  29. 279

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 278:

    Carbon trading would be a boon to those uncertainty professionals, which is why they are pushing so hard for it.

    “Uncertainty professionals”? Are you speaking of insurance companies?

    Globally, the number of weather-related events, the variability of total losses, and the economic impacts and demographic drivers are all on the rise. Insured and total property losses ($45 billion and $107 billion in 2004, respectively) are rising faster than premiums, population, or economic growth both globally and in the U.S. (Figure 1). Globally, inflation adjusted economic losses from catastrophic events rose by 8-fold between the 1960s and 1990s and insured losses by 17-fold. The insured share of total economic losses from weather related catastrophes is also rising, from a negligible fraction in 1950s to 25 percent in the past decade. The ratio has climbed more quickly in the US, with more than 40 percent of total disaster losses insured in the 1990s.

    Inflation-corrected weather-related losses in the U.S. property-casualty sector have risen from a few billion dollars per year in the 1970s to $15 billion per year in past decade, punctuated by three peaks of over $25 billion/year and a record high in 2004 that included $30 billion in hurricane losses alone. Important for insurance, unpredictability has increased as well. Weather-related economic (insured plus uninsured) losses from the subset of events with over $1 billion in insured losses totaled $486 billion, of which $172 billion were insured (inflation-corrected to 2004 dollars) (Figure 2). The annual average rate of loss rose from $3 billion per year in the decade 1950-1959 to $30 billion per year in the most recent decade (Figure 3). Averaged over the past 55 years, weather-related events have been responsible for 93 percent of all catastrophe events, 83 percent of the economic damages of natural disasters, and 87 percent of the insured losses.

    Availability and Affordability of Insurance Under Climate Change
    A Growing Challenge for the U.S. (2005)
    Evan Mills, Ph.D. • Richard J. Roth, Jr. • Eugene Lecomte
    http://www.pewclimate.org/docUploads/Ceres%20–%20Insurance%20&%20Climate%20Change%202005.pdf

  30. 280
    RichardC says:

    263 Barton writes, “RichardC said,
    ‘Changes in solar output (aka sunspot cycles) helped temps go up in 1900-1957, and it helped temps go down recently.’

    Not according to the statistical analysis I’ve done myself.”

    http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:-UDFKnQYGEQJ:www.climatechange.gov.au/science/hottopics/pubs/topic6.pdf+first+half+of+20th+century+warming+solar&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us
    “Changes in solar radiation during the early 1900s explain much of the global warming that occurred at that time.”

    http://www.solarstorms.org/GlobalWarming.html

    Note that solar forcing was the single most important factor in pre-1900-1950 warming. Your analysis is simply wrong.

  31. 281
    Ike Solem says:

    The solar question has been pretty well settled – see:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/solar.htm#eddy

    “However, rough limits could now be set on the extent of the Sun’s influence. Average sunspot activity did not increase after 1980, and on the whole, solar activity during the half-century since 1950 looked little different from the half-century before. The continuing satellite measurements of the solar constant found it cycling within narrow limits, scarcely one part in a thousand. As for cosmic rays, they had been measured since the 1950s and likewise showed no long-term trend. Yet the global temperature rise that had resumed in the 1970s was accelerating at a record-breaking pace.”

    As far as George Will’s piece, it was probably just an effort to move the discussion away from “what to do about global warming” and back to “is global warming really happening.” That corresponds with the Heartland Institute’s lastest climate denialist conference, aimed at getting their message out, for example:

    Don Easterbrook, professor of geology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, who will present new data showing “the most recent global warming that began in 1977 is over, and the Earth has entered a new phase of global cooling.”

    The Heartland Institute says that “all of the event’s expenses will be covered by admission fees and individual and foundation donors to Heartland. No corporate dollars or sponsorships earmarked for the event were solicited or accepted.”

    However, the board of directors of the Heartland Institue are simply running an industry lobbying organization – one that targets the public and the press, rather than Congress. Their CEO and chairman have interesting views:

    Herbert J. Walberg, Chairman (and distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Tower – quote: “Instead of yet one more effort to fix federal education programs, the best course would be to terminate them altogether. They clearly have cost huge amounts of money, accomplished little, and undoubtedly reduced American educational productivity.”)

    Joseph L. Bast, President and CEO The Heartland Institute (co-author of “Eco-Sanity–A Common Sense Guide to Environmentalism” which argues that global warming is not a problem.)

    Note that this is an organization which buys up children’s addresses and sends them fossil fuel lobby PR on global warming:

    Calgary Herald, 2008

    “The mailout, sent in February, included results from international surveys of climate scientists conducted in 1996 and 2003 along with a 10-minute DVD called Unstoppable Solar Cycles, The Real Story of Greenland…

    …The brochure and DVD said that scientists were “deeply divided” about “the notion that climate change is mostly the result of human activities.” It also suggested that the sun was the main factor behind recent warming recorded on the planet.

    Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? The heartland directors also include past directors of oil companies and auto companies like GM. That is the same GM whose director was recently quoted on global warming:

    DETROIT, Feb 2008 (Reuters) – General Motors Corp Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has defended remarks he made dismissing global warming as a “total crock of s—,” saying his views had no bearing on GM’s commitment to build environmentally friendly vehicles.

    This is the side of the George Will story that goes largely unreported, in that George Will is just the spokesperson for ideologically blinded free-market fundamentalists at places like the Heartland Institute – people who can’t even acknowledge the obvious, that there is no “free market” in energy, oil, nuclear reactors and the like. Given the reality of recent economic events brought on largely by regulatory failures under the fundamentalist model, why would anyone still bother to listen to their talking points? They’ve grown ever more ridiculous – George Will said this (as interpreted by the Heartland Institute) in 2008, for example:

    George Will, in an October Newsweek column commenting on Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, wrote that if nations impose the reductions in energy use that Al Gore and the folks at RealClimate call for, they will cause “more preventable death and suffering than was caused in the last century by Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot combined.”

  32. 282
    RichardC says:

    277 Ray said, ” Barton is not claiming solar forcing isn’t significant–just that it isn’t the cause of recent warming.”

    I disagree. I’M the one saying that. Barton is saying, per 260, “Which part of “sunspot cycles have no discernible effect” did you not understand?”

  33. 283
    David B. Benson says:

    RichardC (282) — As I understand it, one calculates that from trough to peak of an average sunspot cycle the surface temperature goes up by about 0.05–0.07 K.

    Which is not discernible because of internal climate variablity.

  34. 284
    Sekerob says:

    #282, RichardC, whatever you inferred from what Barton said, sunspots as visible part of change in the solar cycle have a discernible effect… one of insignificance within the 0.1% fluctuation between solar minimum and maximum. That’s what I’ve derived from all I’ve read.

  35. 285
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem wrote: “… George Will is just the spokesperson for ideologically blinded free-market fundamentalists at places like the Heartland Institute …”

    Such people are not actually ideological. I call them pseudo-ideological. They use the rhetoric of ideological, so-called “free market” fundamentalism, but their use of such rhetoric is just as dishonest as their denial of anthropogenic global warming. In fact, they are bought-and-paid-for shills for particular corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil) and particular industries (e.g. fossil fuels). They are paid to propagandize on behalf of their clients.

    Note how their pseudo-ideological rhetoric sneakily equates “fossil fuel corporations” with “capitalism”, as though the private enterprise, for-profit manufacturers of wind turbines, photovoltaics, concentrating solar thermal power plants, smart grid components, and electric cars — and the venture capitalists who are pouring money into such companies — are all Red Commies.

  36. 286
    David B. Benson says:

    On second thought, it might just be possible to design a special filter tuned to the presumed pseudoperiodic characteristics of sunspot cycles over the last 128 years. Then applying that to GISSTEMP ought to pick up something.

    The problem is that whatever is found cannot be attributed to just the solar cycle, as various ocean oscillations would surely also contribute some power. Don’t know how to remove that effect.

  37. 287

    RichardC wrote in 280:

    http://www.climatechange.gov.au/science/hottopics/pubs/topic6.pdf

    “Changes in solar radiation during the early 1900s explain much of the global warming that occurred at that time.”

    http://www.solarstorms.org/GlobalWarming.html

    Note that solar forcing was the single most important factor in pre-1900-1950 warming.

    “pre-1900-1950 warming”? Do you mean Warming in the first half of the 20th Century?

    Not according to either of the two links that you provided. Solar forcing could be “the single most important factor,” but isn’t necessarily.

    The closest two points at which the first link comes to saying this is the bit you quote that “solar radiation during the early 1900s explains much of the global warming that occurred at that time” and another where it states, “During the 20th century, overall natural forcing (solar and volcanic) probably increased (a warming effect) up to about 1950 due to a period of low volcanism and a small rise in solar radiation (IPCC, 2001, p 706).” But “much” doesn’t imply “most” and there is the period of low volcanism as well as a small rise in solar radiation.

    Looking at the second link, it states:

    * Global climate of the 20th century has warmed by 0.7-0.8°C.
    * Natural (unforced) climate variability cannot explain the magnitude of the observed warming over the 20th century.
    * Solar irradiance variations are large enough to shape, but not dominate, the observed warming.
    * The extended warming period between 1910-1940 can be explained by natural variability plus added greenhouse gases. It can also be explained by added greenhouse gases plus increased solar irradiance.
    * Added greenhouse gases provide, by far, the most plausible hypothesis for explaining the warming of the 20th century.

    According to that link, early warming could be explained by natural variability or solar irradiance plus additional greenhouse gases.

    Actually, best estimates given by the Nasa GISS, it would appear that forcing due to well-mixed greenhouse gases have had a larger positive forcing than solar radiation virtually every year since 1880 — with the one exception being that of 1881. However, forcing due to solar radiation was significant during the first half of the twentieth century. Just not as significant as forcing due to well mixed greenhouse gases — predominantly anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane.

    Please see the graphs at:

    Forcings in GISS Climate Model
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce

    … as well as the data at:

    Global Mean Effective Forcing (W/m2)
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/RadF.txt

    … and of course the technical papers which are linked to at the bottom of the first.

  38. 288
    Mark says:

    Ray, 277, however, “recent” means generally, on the subject of AGW, the changes over the last ~150 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    However, BPL seems to be considering merely the last averaging period of 30-50 years.

    BPL is also complaining that RC is going on about Sun being the cause and the Sun changing. Well, the Sun HAS changed. maybe as much as 1/3 of the warming seen is due to the sun according to the IPCC. It could be as little as 1/10th too, but that is still not insignificant.

    And you (OK, he has brought it up too, but only NOW) have complained that it was insignificant for sunspots to be the problem. But when you complained about it, he hadn’t at that time said that. It’s still a strawman if you make up what the other person said, if they LATER state what you said earlier they had said incorrectly. And I said it was the end of a vibrant sunspot activity cycle, which isn’t the same thing.

    PS the 0.05K change would be approximately doubled by feedback. It’s not discernable on the timescale of sunpsot cycle (11 years) but then again, the activity cycle just ended was centuries long. And over that scale, you can tell.

  39. 289
    RichardC says:

    http://i39.tinypic.com/2s0o2uo.jpg

    Starting over… This graph shows an estimate of relative forcings, with solar activity being #1 and CO2 and volcanic a close second and third for the 1900-1950 period. It then shows little or no solar forcing change through 1990. We know that solar output has declined since 1990, so solar can’t explain much, if any of the increase in temperature since 1960. In contrast, CO2 has dwarfed all other forcings and is steadily growing larger to this day. Thus, solar cycles are significant but becoming less and less so as compared to CO2.

    Anyone disagree?

  40. 290

    Richard C writes, with typical humility:

    Note that solar forcing was the single most important factor in pre-1900-1950 warming. Your analysis is simply wrong.

    Let me know if you want the time series data and then you can point out where I made the error in my calculations.

  41. 291

    Another note on solar forcing: I regressed temperature anomalies 1880-2007 (N = 128) on ln CO2, DVI, and four different measures of solar influence, one or two at a time: TSI, Sunspot number, years since maximum, years since minimum. None of the solar measures were statistically significant. Sunspot number came closest at t = 1.5 (p

  42. 292
    Mark says:

    re: #287

    See, now THIS is what was needed:

    +++++++++++++

    “pre-1900-1950 warming”? Do you mean Warming in the first half of the 20th Century?

    Not according to either of the two links that you provided. Solar forcing could be “the single most important factor,” but isn’t necessarily.

    +++++++++++++

    Pick up what was said, ask for clarification and rebut the statement made if it is wrong. Or fill out the missing pieces if only part of the story.

  43. 293
    David B. Benson says:

    Mark (288) — The estimate of 0.05–0.07 K as the temperature change over a solar sunspot half cyce includes the feedbacks, I believe.

    According to at least one paper, there are no longer period solar activity cycles. All changes in cycle length, sunspot number and Be10 are best treated as random events.

    See what Sidney Weart wrote about this matter.

  44. 294
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Timothy Chase:” “Uncertainty professionals”? Are you speaking of insurance companies?”

    No, I am not. I was in this carbon permits trading case speaking of financial instrument traders.

    By the way, the misleading insurance loss info you quote is ironic in this George Will discussion. In Revkin’s article comparing Will’s and Gore’s misleading info, increases in weather disaster losses were what Gore was claiming without justification.

    [Response: Wrong. There is no question that weather disaster losses are occurring. And see here for what Gore actually said. – gavin]

    [Update: As realised below, I meant to say that there is no question that weather disaster losses are increasing. Sorry for the confusion. I did not address the issue of attribution, but denying there is no increase to attribute is not a good start. – gavin]

  45. 295
    Steve Reynolds says:

    SecularAnimist: “Such people [George Will] are not actually ideological. I call them pseudo-ideological. They use the rhetoric of ideological, so-called “free market” fundamentalism, but their use of such rhetoric is just as dishonest as their denial of anthropogenic global warming. In fact, they are bought-and-paid-for shills for particular corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil) and particular industries (e.g. fossil fuels). They are paid to propagandize on behalf of their clients.”

    Message to moderator: Is this kind of personal attack only allowed when it supports the AGW side? I’ve had many comments censored that were orders of magnitude milder.

  46. 296
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard C., Mark et al., I think we need to be cautious when discussing “solar activity”. Are you talking about insolation–where the mechanism for warming/cooling is well defined or magnetic activity, where the mechanism is putative at best or some even more ill defined mechanism. If you are discussing anything but insolation, you’ve pretty much left the realm of physics.

  47. 297
    Steve Reynolds says:

    gavin: “There is no question that weather disaster losses are occurring.”

    There are plenty of questions that they have much to do with GW. Even RC contributer Connelly agrees claiming so is a problem:

    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/03/weird_stuff_from_romm.php#comment-1440767

  48. 298

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 294:

    By the way, the misleading insurance loss info you quote is ironic in this George Will discussion. In Revkin’s article comparing Will’s and Gore’s misleading info, increases in weather disaster losses were what Gore was claiming without justification.

    Al Gore wasn’t one of the authors of the study I was citing. These are people working in or closely with insurance companies, and each has an extensive background for claiming expertise when it comes to the costs and incentives faced by insurance companies due to climate change.

    Regarding the authors, the Forward states:

    This white paper was prepared by a three-person collaboration that included a scientist, an insurance actuary (who also served as a regulator), and an insurance veteran of 50 years. The paper explores the insurability of risks from climate change, and ways in which insurance affordability and availability could be adversely impacted in the U.S. in the coming years. It includes examples where affordability and availability of insurance are already at risk from rising weather-related losses and how future financial exposure for insurers, governments, businesses and consumers could worsen if current climate and business trends continue.

    Availability and Affordability of Insurance Under Climate Change
    A Growing Challenge for the U.S. (2005)
    Evan Mills, Ph.D. • Richard J. Roth, Jr. • Eugene Lecomte
    http://www.pewclimate.org…pdf

    The authors state:

    Globally, inflation adjusted economic losses from catastrophic events rose by 8-fold between the 1960s and 1990s and insured losses by 17-fold. The insured share of total economic losses from weather related catastrophes is also rising, from a negligible fraction in 1950s to 25 percent in the past decade. The ratio has climbed more quickly in the US, with more than 40 percent of total disaster losses insured in the 1990s.

    ibid.

    Likewise, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website itself recently stated:

    It has become evident that climate change will continue to challenge insurers and state insurance regulators. Inevitably, this will pose a threat to the availability of essential insurance coverages for consumers.

    ibid.

    Not professional enough for you? Prefer something more glossy?

    Try Lloyd’s of London:

    Lloyd’s urges insurers to take climate change seriously or risk being swept away
    5 June 2006
    http://www.lloyds.com/News_Centre/Features_from_Lloyds/Climate_change_adapt_or_bust.htm

    … and the pdf they are making available:

    Lloyd’s 360 climate change report (2006)
    http://www.lloyds.com/NR/rdonlyres/38782611-5ED3-4FDC-85A4-5DEAA88A2DA0/0/FINAL360climatechangereport.pdf

    Try Allianz:

    And Europe’s largest insurer, Allianz, stated that climate change stands to increase insured losses from extreme events in an average year by 37 per cent within just a decade.

    (2006) Responding to climate change –
    The Insurance Industry Perspective
    Dr Evan Mills, Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    http://eetd.lbl.gov/emills/PUBS/PDF/Climate-Action-Insurance.pdf

    Prefer something more local? Try:

    The response of many [insurers], particularly in the United States, has been to focus on financial means for limiting their exposure to high-risk areas along the coastlines and areas prone to wildfires. Allstate, for instance, has said that climate change has prompted it to cancel or not renew policies in many Gulf Coast states, with recent hurricanes wiping out all of the profits it had garnered in 75 years of selling homeowners insurance. The company has cut the number of homeowners’ policies in Florida from 1.2 million to 400,000 with an ultimate target of no more than 100,000. The company has curtailed activity in nearly a dozen other states.

    ibid.

    (emphasis added)

    This webpage:

    From Risk to Opportunity: A Periodic Review of Insurer Responses to Cliamte Change
    http://eetd.lbl.gov/insurance/opportunities.html

    … includes links to eight different insurer climate change sites and five different trade associations.

    More reports on climate change by a different members of variety of industries (e.g., insurance, banking) can be found here:

    Business and Climate Reports
    http://www.pewclimate.org/business/external-reports

  49. 299
    Mark says:

    On my behalf, Ray (296), the former.

    But at least you’re asking rather than assuming.

  50. 300
    Mark says:

    Steve, 295, are personal attacks ONLY ever personal when they state you personally and not personal when they state the group and they state you are in that group?

    “Climate scientists are all on the gravy train. That’s why they say this is happening”.

    But you never complain about it, do you.