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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. 301
    Mark says:

    BPL, #291, I’ll have a vowel for $10, please…

  2. 302

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 294

    In Revkin’s article comparing Will’s and Gore’s misleading info, increases in weather disaster losses were what Gore was claiming without justification.

    Gavin inlined:

    Wrong. There is no question that weather disaster losses are occurring. And see here for what Gore actually said.

    Steve Reynolds responded in 297:

    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

    More like there are questions as to how much weather-related damages have to do with climate change at present (as opposed to population growth and development, for example), and how much such weather-related damages will grow in the future as the result of climate change.

    What William Connolley states which is most relevant as this relates to Gore is perhaps best found here:

    I imagine that the Gore folk just naturally assumed that the two trends (T and Disasters) must be linked; after all, how could it be otherwise, and what need can there be for any proof? Here’s what I found:…

    “Will” I be able to think of a witty title for this post?
    Category: climate communication
    Posted on: February 26, 2009 4:47 PM, by William M. Connolley
    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/02/will_i_be_able_to_think_of_a_w.php

    … then he quotes CRED:

    Although if the above mentioned trends are consistent with the conclusions of the IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) fourth assessment report- stating that climate change is likely to affect the severity, frequency, and spatial distribution of extreme climatic events such as hurricanes, storm surges, floods and droughts- the linking of past trends in the EM-DAT figures and to climate change needs to remain guarded. Indeed, justifying the upward trend in hydro-meteorological disaster occurrence and impacts essentially through climate change would be misleading. Climate change is probably an actor in this increase but not the major one- even if it impact on the figures will likely become more evident in the future. The task of identifying the possible impact of the climate change on the EM-DAT figures is complicated by the existence of several concomitant factors. For instance, one major contributor to the increase in disasters occurrence over the last decades is the constantly improving diffusion and accuracy of disaster related information. Furthermore, disaster occurrence and impacts do not only depend on exposure to extreme natural phenomena but also depend on anthropogenic factors such as government policy, population growth, urbanisation, community-level resilience to natural disaster, etc. All of these contribute to the degree of vulnerability people experience. Beside past major efforts to reduce disaster risk, the vulnerability of those populations most at risk continued to increase over the last decades. Climate change comes as an additional pressure on this rising vulnerability. Developing countries, many of which are already the most vulnerable to natural disasters, will be particularly affected by climate change. This will occur not only through the experience of more frequent and/or or severe disaster phenomena, but also through the slow onset impacts of climate change.

    CRED Annual Disaster Statistical Review
    The Numbers and Trends 2007
    http://www.emdat.be…pdf

    (emphasis added)

    Or in other words, CRED believes that climate change is one of several factors in current upward trends towards weather-related disasters.

    Judging from the sources I cited above, however, insurance companies seem convinced that it is already playing a very significant role, and both CRED and insurance companies are of the view that climate change will play an increasing role in the future.

    Connolley, Revkin, Will and Gore

    Now Gavin was responding to Steve Reynolds statement in 294:

    In Revkin’s article comparing Will’s and Gore’s misleading info, increases in weather disaster losses were what Gore was claiming without justification.

    … at which point Steve Reynolds stated in 297:

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

    … so I think it might be interesting to see what Connolley had to say about Revkin’s comparing Will and Gore:

    Andy Revkin (a page, incidentally, that the vaunted Chrome displays very badly) f*cks this up badly, effectively painting Gore and Will as equivalents. This had the usual cause: not because he thought they were, but because for that piece at least he really wasn’t interested in what they were saying: he just had a journalistic point to make, and they were convenient fodder. Revkin, of course, isn’t about to apologise for his error, and in this he is just like Will, or whatever paper printed Will’s twaddle. See, I can do false equivalence too.

    “Will” I be able to think of a witty title for this post?
    Category: climate communication
    Posted on: February 26, 2009 4:47 PM, by William M. Connolley
    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/02/will_i_be_able_to_think_of_a_w.php

    But however fascinating they may be, personalities are only so important. We will all be dead in less than a century. That applies to me, Steve Reynolds, and yes, even Al Gore.

    Yet climate change will continue to affect our world, and it will do so for the next 100,000 years. Currently weather-related disaster losses are clearly increasing. Climate change appears to be playing an important role, although there are other factors. Moreover, one would be hard pressed to find an expert that would deny that climate change will be playing an increasing role in the near and even the very remote future.

    *

    Captcha fortune cookie:
    should LAYMAN

  3. 303
    Antiquated Tory says:

    Hello folks,
    I post in climate blogs mostly due to the fact that I live in the Czech Republic. Some of you may have heard of the President here, Vaclav Klaus, a denier of the first water, and current President of the EU.
    Klaus said at the Santa Barbara conference:
    “Klaus told Czech journalists that ‘the fact that global temperature has been decreasing, not increasing since 1998 should start someone thinking.’

    He said Gore’s struggle for decreasing carbon dioxides emissions is erroneous. A radical, unnatural and forced reduction of carbon dioxides will cause a massive slowing down or even braking down economic growth, Klaus said.”
    What I would like to know is where he is getting the “global temperature has been decreasing” bit from. I’ve heard it from other people here, too, but I think they’ve been getting it from Klaus, or from Klaus’ source. I know from Open Mind that temperature anomalies or even a simple comparison of number of record highs vs lows show a clear temp increase in the N Hemisphere. Where is this “global temperature has been decreasing” meme coming from?

  4. 304
    pete best says:

    Unfortunately if climate science has to be an argument to win the public over we cannot win it. Oh yes in scientific terms it can be won but maybe not as a popular mass media one. The deniers have the common touch, they can spread the easy word of denial. The 1970’s climate cooling argument was not a consensus but because it made the papers and the media then it was one of course. I believe that Gavin has spoken on a platform along with some deniers (Philip Stott for example).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DKtPDuZzfzhw?gl=GB&hl=en-GB

    and Gavin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGa6_k00Cus&feature=related

    The comments section says it all. They seemingly slate Gavin but think stott is right.

    The arguments against are popularlist and spoken by people such as Michael Crichton who spellbinds people and comes up trunps. Its easy to do (obviosuly) for those who are not well meaning by all accounts and the USA republican movement is so good at it and all of the most venemous deniers are of that ilk. Philip Stott procliams himself an environmentalist and as such makes some good arguments but on the argument of climate change being a crisis well how can it be for now. For the next 20/30/40/50 years it is not an crisis as it has no obvious cause and effect that can be nailed down and scientists have no the mettle to attribute any single event (hurrican, tornadoes, forest fires for example) that they will stick their neck out on.

    James Hansen is an alarmist, an accusation that is outrageous and reflects the total lack of understanding of the scientic method and the scientific work is requires to get to such a position. He stuck his neck out twenty one years ago scientifically and stil does but he is still attacked and hence the argument appears to be lost to some degree even though many sensible people are convinced.

  5. 305
    Chris says:

    Steve (297): I wondered when I read that if what Gavin actually intended to say was, “There is no question that weather disaster losses are increasing.” The original statement, that weather disaster losses are occurring, although difficult to dispute, would have been equally true in 1776 or 1066 or 2500BC but probably not attributable to AGW.

    [Response: yes. My bad. – gavin]

    (I don’t know abut anyone else, but I get awfully tired of Al Gore being dragged into every climate discussion. What difference does it make if Gore has made mistakes or what the extent of his carbon footprint is? I have a rule of thumb: If a post contains the word “Gore”, the rest of it is probably not worth the time it takes to read it and is almost certainly not worth the time it takes to respond. If someone thinks that proving Gore wrong on some trivial point is prima facie evidence against AGW, nothing you say is going to make any difference.)

  6. 306

    I forgot the darn HTML problem again. I meant to say that sunspot number came closest with t = 1.5 and p < about 0.2. In other words, no measure of solar activity correlated significantly with temperature anomaly over the period 1880-2007.

  7. 307

    Tory, basically people are making this “cooling since 1998” thing up out of whole cloth. Some base it on the fact that in some datasets, 1998 is still the warmest year on the record, and do a simple comparison even though this has no statistical validity whatsoever. One fellow I interacted with was basing it on Roy Spencer’s graph of the UAH monthly means (even though Spencer’s trend line peaks in 2005.)

    One quote that I saw seemed to be invoking the idea of a *relative* cooling. That is, that since 1998 we “should” have seen more warming, and thus it has “cooled” relative to some hypothesized CO2-forced trend line. Of course, this essentially disregards other sources of variability.

    So my take is, don’t worry; you are right.

  8. 308
    duBois says:

    “Crisis” is a terrible word for AGW since the rate of change is so slow, and the consequences of AGW are undefined. It’s hard to get people to change when the outcome of an act is so far away and, for many, not only beyond their own lifetimes, but possibly that of their children as well. There’s been around .9C of increase in temps and there’s possibly as little as .6C more — that’s a tough sell in the “crisis” market. An increase less than the difference between 9AM and 10AM on a summer’s day. So, I should do what? Give up driving? Give up my gas water heater and furnace? Getting nearly 7 billion people with vastly different energy agendas to line up to sacrifice so that something ill-defined won’t happen? Were you to go selling door-to-door in the summer with a box of doodads you couldn’t open so that you could craft a sales pitch, you’d have a better chance of making a sale. I’m sure that for scientists with an eye on the possible consequences and a firm grasp of the evidence that they must wake every morning feeling like they are in a Twilight Zone episode or one of Thomas Pynchon’s novels of paranoia.

    reCaptcha: point $2.5-billion

  9. 309
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another recent figure for solar, less than or equal to 14 percent:
    http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/4/1/014006/erl9_1_014006.html

  10. 310

    Doug Bostrom, wrote: “#112: Your geophysicist friend has done private analysis that seriously leads him to believe he’s got the jump on everybody else? And he has not published this? Not to fall back on name-calling, but that smacks of alchemy. If it ain’t published, it ain’t science”

    My geophysicist friend has a full time (and very successful) job in the oil exploration business, so much of what he has done is in his spare time and is preliminary. I have seen some of it — it poses questions (on the temperature data collection process) that beg for an answer. I have encouraged him to at least post it here, and, perhaps, one day he will do so.

    If he gives me permission, I will post some of his findings/analyses here in the form of questions.

    I think “alchemy” is perhaps an inappropriate term.

  11. 311

    pete, I can’t agree. (Glad to be able to write that, too.) The denialist echo-chamber is ed noisy, but I don’t think that sensible people are persuaded, by and large.

    It is incumbent on us, though, to keep putting the truth out there. The big lie technique they use can’t succeed if the truth is repeatedly stated as well.

  12. 312
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Mark(300): ” “Climate scientists are all on the gravy train. That’s why they say this is happening”.

    But you never complain about it, do you.”

    For the record, I disagree with that statement, and I don’t think arguments about motives belong in a scientific discussion. If I were running a science blog, I would censor that statement.

  13. 313

    One reason I am not an AGW skeptic is illustrated by this Heartland
    news release today. When the science arguments fail, they attack the
    messengers, ascribing malice to their motivation.

    Burgy
    —–
    NEW YORK–Environmentalists–even mainstream environmentalists such as
    Al Gore–are less concerned about any crisis posed by global warming
    than they are eager to command human behavior and restrict economic
    activity, the president of the Czech Republic told the second
    International Conference on Climate Change here Sunday.

    Vaclav Klaus, who also is serving a rotating term as president of the
    European Union, triggered the approving applause of about 600
    attendees as he said, “Their true plans and ambitions: to stop
    economic development, and return mankind centuries back.”

    Klaus was one of three presenters Sunday evening as the largest-ever
    gathering of global warming skeptics kicked off a 2 1/2 day conference
    confronting the issue, “Global warming: Was it ever really a crisis?’
    Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, which produced the
    conference, and Richard Lindzen, a leading meteorologic physicist at
    the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned prolonged applause
    with their presentations as well.

    But Klaus was the hit of the evening as he declared that the global
    warming alarmists he has encountered “are interested neither in
    temperature, carbon dioxide, competing scientific hypotheses and their
    testing, nor in freedom or markets. They are interested in their
    businesses and their profits–made with the help of politicians.”

  14. 314
    dhogaza says:

    My geophysicist friend has a full time (and very successful) job in the oil exploration business, so much of what he has done is in his spare time and is preliminary.

    I see. So not only has he debunked the work of a large number of professional scientists, he’s done so in his spare time.

    I’m impressed!

    He should take up physics and evolutionary biology, who knows what kind of scientific discoveries lay in store if he chooses to do so?

  15. 315
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Timothy Chase: “Judging from the sources I cited above, however, insurance companies seem convinced that it is already playing a very significant role, and both CRED and insurance companies are of the view that climate change will play an increasing role in the future.”

    Timothy, you have a lot of detail from insurance companies, but why do you think their statements (given their financial interest in justifying their rates) are any more accurate than what you think about fossil fuel company statements?

  16. 316
    SecularAnimist says:

    Some rather gloomy news:

    Carbon Cuts ‘Only Give 50/50 Chance of Saving Planet’
    by Michael McCarthy
    Monday, March 9, 2009
    The Independent/UK

    Excerpt:

    The world’s best efforts at combating climate change are likely to offer no more than a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rises below the threshold of disaster, according to research from the UK Met Office.

    The key aim of holding the expected increase to 2C, beyond which damage to the natural world and to human society is likely to be catastrophic, is far from assured, the research suggests, even if all countries engage forthwith in a radical and enormous crash programme to slash greenhouse gas emissions – something which itself is by no means guaranteed …

    Today, world average temperatures stand at about 0.75C above the pre-industrial, and many scientists and politicians agree that further increases have to be stopped at 2C if catastrophic impacts from the warming are to be avoided, ranging from widespread agricultural failure and worldwide sea level rise, to countless species extinctions and irreversible melting of the world’s great ice sheets.

    But the Hadley Centre’s simulation indicates that even if global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing the warming, were to be slashed at a very high rate the chances of holding the rise at the 2C threshold are no better than even. The scenario, prepared for Britain’s Climate Change Committee, the body recommending the UK’s future carbon “budgets”, visualises world CO2 emissions peaking in 2015, and then falling at a top rate of 3 per cent a year, to reach emissions of 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

    At the moment, global emissions are thought to be rising at nearly 3 per cent a year – so turning that into a 3 per cent annual cut would be a gigantic slashing of what the earth’s factories and motor vehicles are pumping into the atmosphere …

    Yet even with that, the Hadley Centre research suggests, the chances of keeping the rise down to about 2C by 2100 would be only 50-50. Furthermore, the simulations suggest that there is a worst-case scenario – about a 10 per cent chance – of the rise by the end of the current century reaching, even with these drastic cuts, a level of 2.8C above the pre-industrial, which is well into disaster territory.

    With any action that is slower than the scenario above, the likeliest outcome is a much higher eventual temperature – and in fact, the model indicates that each 10 years of delay in halting the rise in global emissions adds another 0.5C to the likeliest end-of-the-century figure. So if emissions do not peak and start to decline until 2025, we can expect a 2.6C rise by 2100, and if the decline only begins in 2035, the figure is likely to be 3.1C – even with 3 per cent annual cuts.

    These new figures suggest quite unambiguously that the world is on course for calamity unless rapid action can be taken which is far more drastic than any politicians are so far contemplating – never mind the general public.

    If action is sluggish or non-existent, the model suggests that climate change is likely to cause almost unthinkable damage to the world; under a “business-as-usual” scenario, with no action taken at all and emissions increasing by more than 100 per cent by 2050, the end-of-the-century rise in global average temperatures is likely to be 5.5C, with a worst-case outcome of 7.1C – which would make much of life on earth impossible.

    We have only a few years within which time anthropogenic CO2 emissions must stop rising, and then begin a rapid decline, if we are to have even half a chance of averting catastrophe.

    Be alarmed. Be very alarmed.

    [Response: There is a big problem with this kind of discussion. The 2 deg limit is not the boundary of disaster – nothing different will be happening at 1.99 deg C above pre-industrial than 2.01 deg C. It isn’t as if there are no consequences below 2, and huge consequences above. Instead there is a continuum of increasing likelihood of bad impacts. Think of 2 deg like a speed limit, not a cliff. This piece gets this idea completely wrong. – gavin]

  17. 317
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist, I have to agree with Gavin. This sort of piece plays right into the hands of the it’s-hopeless-so-let’s-party crowd. The probability of catastrophic impacts scales nonlinearly with deltaT. Moreover, the longer we take to reach 2 degrees, the more time we will have had to develop mitigation strategies. It’s all about buying back whatever time we can of the 2 decades we’ve lost to the efforts of the denialists.

  18. 318
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gavin and Ray, let me ask you this. What do you think are the chances that the current rate of increase in anthropogenic CO2 emissions of about 3 percent per year will turn into a 3 percent per year decrease in emissions by 2015 — in only six years?

    That’s the scenario that the Hadley simulation suggests is needed to give us a 50-50 chance of holding temperature increases by 2100 below 2C above preindustrial levels.

    The message I get from this is not “eat, drink and be merry, for by 2100 we’ll die”.

    The message is that we have essentially already irreversibly committed ourselves to some truly hideous outcomes, and only by urgent, concerted, far-reaching action can we avert much worse outcomes.

    Captcha says “dangers All”

  19. 319
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sec, it’s always good to look beyond the news story before assuming it’s actually reporting news.

    So the story you link says:

    “… The chilling forecast from the supercomputer climate model of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research…”

    Ooh, that’s bad wording: “chilling forecast” — right. Any source or link? Nope. Where’s this from? It quote “Dr Vicky Pope, the Met Office’s Head of Climate Change Advice.”

    Let’s look at their press releases. Can you find it?

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2009/index.html

    Hadley Centre website: “latest news” link is _about_ the press coverage and almost a month old:

    “Early action on climate change needed
    15 February 2009
    Claims by Professor Chris Field that climate change ‘will be beyond anything’ predicted has generated widespread interest across the media….”

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2009/pr20090215.html

    So who’s Chris Field, and when did he say something?

    “Chris Field is director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and was speaking ahead of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)”

    The science behind this is not news!
    Links to this:
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/policymakers/action/evidence.html
    (previously published in the Guardian)

    So — what’s new here?

  20. 320
    MarkB says:

    Re: 313

    Ironic claims from The Heartland Institute and politician Vaclav Klaus:

    “They are interested in their
    businesses and their profits–made with the help of politicians.”

    “Their true plans and ambitions: to stop
    economic development, and return mankind centuries back.”

    Scary! Good thing we have Klaus to expose the conspiracy. In the same speech, he describes scientists concerned about global warming (which would be nearly everyone) as “alarmists”. How thick is that irony?

  21. 321

    Re 316-317

    I don’t find this piece playing into the hands of the hopeless at all. More to the contrary, based eg on the following statement:

    “the model indicates that each 10 years of delay in halting the rise in global emissions adds another 0.5 C to the likeliest end-of-the-century figure.”

    That information could actually help engaging people into action, but only because it’s a continuum of climate effects of course. If it were all or nothing, then 2.6 or 3.1 degrees wouldn’t make a difference.

  22. 322
    Mark says:

    re: 318.

    Pretty good.

    The US uses 20% of the fuel. They use 5x the average power per head. But no need to go that far, reduce by 1/6th so that they are using ~4x the average (still well above the UK, for example) and you have your 3% by one country alone. And because the US did so, other countries can be shamed into reducing their output. After all, the US is “the leader of the free world”.

    And one reason for the 50-50 chance is all the guff about “we have to have PROOOF!!!!”.

  23. 323
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (309) — Thank you for the link to that short, informative paper!

  24. 324
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist, I have no doubt that we have likely locked in some very negative consequences. I do, however draw a distinction between the magnitude of the consequences at 2 degrees and those at 4 degrees, or, God forbid, at 6 degrees.
    I am also painfully aware of the uncertainty as to what may be politically feasible, and that if we overshoot that, we will accomplish less than nothing.

  25. 325
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, Sec, from the press office index link above, I did find a recent piece from Dr. Vicky Pope:
    __________________________
    Stop misleading climate claims
    11 February 2009
    Dr Vicky Pope

    Dr Vicky Pope, Met Office Head of Climate Change, calls on scientists and the media to ‘rein in’ some of their assertions about climate change. …”
    —————————-

    Could you dig a little further on that story?

  26. 326

    in #314: “dhogaza Says:
    9 March 2009 at 12:11 PM

    I see. So not only has he debunked the work of a large number of professional scientists, he’s done so in his spare time.

    I’m impressed! He should take up physics and evolutionary biology, who knows what kind of scientific discoveries lay in store if he chooses to do so?

    That’s the kind of post that turns people off, my friend. You don’t know anything about him — me you can look up on http://www.burgy.50megs.com if you have an interest.

    He, and I, and two others, all members of the American Scientific Affiliation, http://www.asa3.org, (a 55 year old organization of scientists who are also Christians — NOT a creationist group, BTW) are following this site (because I recommended it) more or less closely. I personally accept the IPCC position; two of us are agnostic on the subject, one does not accept the IPCC position. All of us are anxious to determine the best answers.

    All of us have had list experiences with “trolls.” We are not trolls.

    I write for a paper up in Colorado and sometimes talk about AGW. My last two articles can be accessed through links on:

    http://www.burgy.50megs.com/recent.htm

    Cheers

    Burgy

  27. 327
    Marcus says:

    SecularAnimist: I would also disagree with the following statement from that news article: “with a worst-case outcome of 7.1C – which would make much of life on earth impossible.”

    7.1C would in fact be disastrous and catastrophic to both humans and many existing ecosystems. However, it would not come even close to making “much of life on earth impossible”. I imagine many opportunistic species (think insects, weeds, etc) will thrive under those conditions.

  28. 328
    SecularAnimist says:

    Hank Roberts wrote: “The science behind this is not news! … So — what’s new here?”

    Well, I would suggest that the term “news” is not rigorously defined. What’s “news” to me may be “olds” to you.

    However, I’ll be glad to restate the first line of my comment from “Some rather gloomy news” to “Some rather gloomy simulation results that may not be news to those who follow climate science” if that’s more appropriate.

    As far as I can tell, though, other than objecting to the characterization of the simulation results as “news”, you are not saying that the report is otherwise inaccurate, is that correct?

  29. 329

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 315:

    Timothy, you have a lot of detail from insurance companies, but why do you think their statements (given their financial interest in justifying their rates) are any more accurate than what you think about fossil fuel company statements?

    Financial interest in justifying their rates?

    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.

    (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

    According to this, Allstate is refusing to insure 800,000 homeowners in Florida at any rate, two thirds of the people they insured in the past, and they plan on reducing the number that they insure even further.

    *

    A fundamental principle of objectivity is that identification precedes evaluation, and a corollary to this as it applies to communication is that one begins with the assumption that the primary motive behind argumentation is the identification of reality, not some other motive. This is afterall the basis for the identification of ad hominem attacks as a form of fallacious reasoning. And incidentally, this is a principle that you violated when you referred in 294 to the first paper I cited as “the misleading insurance loss info” without any attempt to state what about it was “misleading.”

    However, the fact that identification precedes evaluation does not imply that we never get to the process of evaluation or that we always assume that any and every “mistake” is wholly innocent. If errors are systematic enough, they may suggest a different form of causation is involved than an honest attempt at identification, and that form of causation is oftentimes itself worthy of identification.

    Years ago, the courts reasonably concluded that tobacco companies were engaged in systematic deception as to the hazards of smoking. Today the fossil fuel industry is engaged in similar practices.

    See for example:

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

    … and,

    According to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.

    Scientists’ Report Documents ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science
    Oil Company Spent Nearly $16 Million to Fund Skeptic Groups, Create Confusion January 3, 2007
    http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ExxonMobil-GlobalWarming-tobacco.html

    They even use some of the same advocacy organizations, e.g., the Heartland Institute:

    Although Heartland calls itself “a genuinely independent source of research and commentary,” its has been a frequent ally of the tobacco industry can be documented by searching the industry’s internal document archives.

    Roy E. Marden, a member of Heartland’s board of directors, was until May 2003 the manager of industry affairs for the Philip Morris (PM) tobacco company, where his responsibilities included lobbying and “managing company responses to key public policy issues,” which he accomplishes by “directing corporate involvement with industry, business, trade, and public policy organizations and determining philanthropic support thereto.” In a May 1991 document prepared for PM, Marden listed Heartland’s “rapid response network” as a “potential spokesperson” among the “portfolio of organizations” that the company had cultivated to support its interests. [6] ….

    Heartland Institute
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Heartland_Institute

    Exxon’s network and funding of disinformation has been extensively documented. You can map the organizations and individuals involved here:

    Exxon Secrets
    http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/exxon-secrets

    *

    But rather than denying the science, the insurance industry papers that I referred to are citing it. For example, if you read the original paper that I suggested, they go into the issues of attribution and the necessity of taking climate change into account in various actuarial calculations.

    The paper is written primarily for insurers. Rather than denying the science, they are highlighting it. And the same is true of the Lloyd’s paper. In these respects, both of those papers (and others) are similar to the CRED paper. CRED itself is largely insurance-focused, being the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

  30. 330
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Steve Reynolds #315:

    […] why do you think their statements (given their financial interest in justifying their rates) are any more accurate than what you think about fossil fuel company statements?

    But they don’t have to justify their rates… just find customers for them, in a competitive marketplace ;-)

  31. 331
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sec, here’s a place to start looking if you have the time. I don’t, right now. I suspect this is the Committee referred to in the article you posted:

    http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climatechange/uk/legislation/committee/index.htm

    which points to: http://www.theccc.org.uk/

  32. 332
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, good grief. The CCC site has a link that sounds like it might be informative — but they just link to the same newspaper article!

    Someone else dig. Pony still possible.

  33. 333
    Tom P says:

    Is one of you alarmists “Steven Goddard”?

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/03/06/basic-geology-part-3-sea-level-rises-during-interglacial-periods/#comment-96468

    Brilliantly done and I apologise in advance for blowing your cover.

  34. 334

    #318 SecularAnimist

    Beyond the poignant and relevant comments of Gavin, Ray and Hank, serious concern is warranted. I think it wise to consider the speed limit and the thermal inertia and all that that entails. I really like that Gavin put it as a ‘speed limit’ and might add that if we hit the speed limit there will be a cost to that ticket, but that it is also costly to hit any of the speeds along the way… it’s just that the fines keep going up on a exponential scale. So passing the limit has a higher cost.

    Just some thoughts on the subject of catastrophic change. This is a relative term and by no means and I diminishing the potentials contained in the brad scope of the term.

    I would break it down this way:

    – Resource scarcity is an issue that will harm a great number of people.
    – Human migration will strain political boundaries and capacities.
    – Global resource economy and monetary economies will be further strained.

    So catastrophic will be measured sooner rather than later, most likely… especially when we get to solar maximum again in about 5-7 years. By then the arguments will likely be long over and we will know how much time we wasted and the relative costs.

    We can see that the feedbacks will become increasingly problematic and I understand that you are not in the we can’t do anything about it so let’s party’ crowd. You are clearly and justifiably concerned.

    To summarize, we need to get ‘people’ to clearly understand the science of ‘this global warming event’ as it is different than past events.

    We need to get people to understand the manner in which it will impact our lives. It already is affecting earth systems, but most people don’t understand the attribution yet.

    There are, what I see as, viable mitigation strategies in the works that will lessen future impact, but that will not stop all the future impacts based on current inertia and other system wide parameters of human resource needs.

    If there is a lesson in this conversation, i would say it is that we absolutely need to get the public well informed on the science as that will directly impact the politicians and therefore policy.

    We can get on the better road, but time is a factor. We are all in the same boat so we need to just keep working on getting the contextually relevant understanding to the people.

    In the short term, emissions should slow down due to the economic downturn, but don’t think that is in any way a panacea. Co2 is a long lived gas in the atmosphere. Let’s just say we have our work cut out for us.

    Let’s all keep doing the hard work of educating. I remain confident we can achieve some degree of success, but not with out some causalities along the way. Faster is better.

  35. 335
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I’m getting sick of the term “alarmist.” While no one would want to cause a stampede in a theater screaming “fire” and have people trampled to death, we wouldn’t want people to just sit there and burn to death either.

    Even when we suggest all life on earth my end thru runaway warming, people just aren’t paying attention, and they aren’t even doing sensible things to reduce their GHG emissions by 30 to 60% cost-effectively that would save them money without lowering their living standards.

    There is absolutely no way of being alarmist on the global warming issue, bec no matter what the scientists and environmentalists say, people just aren’t acting with alarm, and they aren’t even acting sensibly. It’s like everyone has just decided to sit in the theater, despite many warnings that it’s on fire, while it burns down and kills the whole audience.

    If anyone knows of anyone going on a fear-driven rampage that endangers society bec they are afraid of what they hear about global warming, let us know, and we’ll go out to calm them down and get them to mitigate sensibly.

    So, keep ringing the alarm bells louder and louder, and hope someone out there finally listens!!

  36. 336
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sec, I’m saying I can’t find anything that could be the basis for the Independent article you linked to. Usually a little searching turns up a press release, or some other news story. I’d assume there’s something behind it — but can’t find anything. Can you?

    Tom P, tracking that guy down seems to have been a multiuser game for a while last year; he’s done guest columns for WTFU, Google for the name plus “gmail”

  37. 337
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Martin: “But they don’t have to justify their rates… just find customers for them, in a competitive marketplace”

    Martin and Timothy,

    It only took a 10 second Google search to find out why insurance companies are cancelling policies in Florida (It is not ‘a competitive marketplace’):

    “Last month State Farm pulled the plug on its 1.2 million homeowner policies in Florida, citing the state’s punishing price controls. The state’s largest insurer joins a raft of competitors that have already reduced or dumped their property and casualty business in the Sunshine State, including Prudential, Allstate, Nationwide and USAA. This is the inevitable result of Governor Charlie Crist’s drive to control property-insurance premiums.”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123371173559046209.html

  38. 338
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s an excerpt from an environmental law professor’s blog:

    http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2009/03/times-they-are.html

    “… What has become apparent is the potentially devastating inadequacy of global emission reduction goals currently being discussed in Congress and in international treaty discussions. We don’t just need to reduce our 1990 emissions by 80% (the most radical goal that has been part of the political discussion), we don’t just need to go carbon neutral (the most radical goal that individuals and institutions have set), we need to become carbon negative — we need to reverse the impact of human activity on the global climate….and fast.

    Let’s be clear….we need to act immediately, we need to make dramatic changes, and we can ill afford to allow the smoke and mirrors of commentators in the pocket of the energy business to sidetrack the discussion. What the industry claims is an adequate response, or the most we can afford, or the most supported by the current science, or the most that the technology can achieve now should be viewed with well-founded skepticism.

    Since 1970, industry has repeatedly claimed with respect to a wide variety of environmental problems that we didn’t yet have the technology, that the costs outweighed the benefits, that we couldn’t afford the price tag, that jobs were being lost, and other hogwash about environmental protection. They did so with knowledge of technologies in their pocket, awareness they were inflating costs and minimizing benefits, attributing job losses caused by changing technology to the environment, and placing more emphasis on profits and maintaining the size of their bonuses than on creating a sustainable society.

    I make this claim as one who has always been reluctant to classify myself as an environmentalist because my experience with industry and government was broader and deeper than my involvement with any environmental group. That remains the case even today. But enough is enough! We have a true crisis. We need great courage to deal with that crisis, particularly with the shape of the global economy left to us by our neoliberal friends. …”

  39. 339

    #335 Lynn Vincentnathan

    I’m with you on the alarms. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating:

    “We don’t need to be alarmist just because the alarms are ringing. Instead, while the alarms are ringing, we need to be calm and think this through in order to conceive an effective plan to mitigate the amount of disruption to economic, geographic, agricultural, social, environmental, biologic and even military systems.”

    http://www.uscentrist.com/news/2007/hot-air-in-media

    and of course RC

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/11/six-degrees/#comment-70952

    But I think the best way to ring the alarm is to explain the science. It has to sink in and unfortunately that takes some work and finesse. For some, the louder the alarm, the more they tune it out.

    So please do ring the alarms, but consider the audience in each case.

    We are all here doing our utmost I’m confident.

    I am building a resource section to help answer questions in as short a page as possible with links to, of course, RC and other relevant sources.

    Some of you might find this collection helpful in helping others. Criticisms and comments always welcome. I am still working on some sections and not all the info is sourced yet.

    Recent additions include the The Revelle-Gore Story re. the S. Fred Singer article in Cosmos

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/cosmos-myth

    by Justin Lancaster, an old acquaintance of mine from UCSD (he worked with Revelle) and I just did a nice item on the Loehle Temperature Reconstruction

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/loehle-temperature-reconstruction

    Once people begin to assimilate the science, the alarms will ring in their own heads. Keep spreading the contextually relevant information :)

  40. 340
    David B. Benson says:

    Not exactly a GW topic, but this carbon storage in forest soils as charcoal study is interesting, may be important:

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/wildernessforestcarbon

  41. 341
    Tom P says:

    Hank,

    Thanks for the info. Certainly Steven Goddard is an interesting guy. His reviews of the basic science are often fairly written, but his own data analyses seem almost deliberately flawed, and his response to criticism a parody of self contradiction and low-level abuse which further undermine his own position.

    I playfully conjectured that he might be a ringer (the moderator on WUWT obviously doesn’t share my sense of humour and removed this post) and thought I would just check over here – there was just a faint glimmer of a possibility in mind that someone might actually own up! But it looks like Steven was just having a bad-blog day.

    Anyway, thanks to Steven WUWT now has a nice dataset, with additional supporting supplementary material, and a background discussion concluding unequivocally that we currently have sea-level rises above background rates.

  42. 342
    Marcus says:

    Lynn (#355) I don’t think that “all life on earth may end thru runaway warming” is an appropriate alarm bell to be ringing. There are plenty of real alarm bells out there with actual probability of happening that you don’t need to make up new ones. And I think the real bells are more effective, too…

  43. 343

    We are not trolls

    Of course you aren’t Burgy, you are just an elderly emeritus Christian with a lot of free time on your hands, who also happens to be almost entirely disconnected from any current reality or current science and its methods.

    Keep up the good work! We need more people like you to point out the glaring failures of the edifice of science.

  44. 344

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 315:

    Timothy, you have a lot of detail from insurance companies, but why do you think their statements (given their financial interest in justifying their rates) are any more accurate than what you think about fossil fuel company statements?

    In 329 I responded in small part with:

    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.

    (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

    Steve Reynolds has now just written in 337:

    It only took a 10 second Google search to find out why insurance companies are cancelling policies in Florida (It is not ‘a competitive marketplace’):

    “Last month State Farm pulled the plug on its 1.2 million homeowner policies in Florida, citing the state’s punishing price controls. The state’s largest insurer joins a raft of competitors that have already reduced or dumped their property and casualty business in the Sunshine State, including Prudential, Allstate, Nationwide and USAA. This is the inevitable result of Governor Charlie Crist’s drive to control property-insurance premiums.”

    Florida’s Unnatural Disaster
    Charlie Crist, taxpayers and the next hurricane.
    FEBRUARY 4, 2009
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123371173559046209.html

    State Farm isn’t Allstate, Steve.

    And it would help if you payed attention to chronology.

    *

    Charlie Crist wasn’t elected governor until November of 2006.

    Please see:

    The 2006 Florida gubernatorial election took place on November 7, 2006. Governor Jeb Bush was term-limited, and could not run for re-election. Republican Charlie Crist, the state’s Attorney General, won the election for Governor of Florida.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_gubernatorial_election,_2006

    He didn’t sign into law a bill to limit premiums until January of 2007.

    Please see:

    Jan. 26–TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a bill aiming to trim homeowners insurance premiums, promising weary Floridians that “help is on the way.” The legislation sprang from a weeklong special session that ended Monday. Facing an uproar from residents experiencing soaring premiums…

    Crist Signs Bill Set To Trim Insurance Premiums.
    Publication: Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL)
    Publication Date: 26-JAN-07
    http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-30444457_ITM

    But Allstate Floridian requested reducing its risk in 2005:

    Allstate Floridian, the state’s third-largest provider of homeowners insurance has applied to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in Tallahassee to scale back its insurance risk in Florida by dropping 95,000 homeowner’s policies across the state and totally eliminating its commercial coverage.

    Allstate also said it intends to raise homeowners premiums, but company spokesmen did not indicate how much the rate increase would be or when it would go into effect. The Florida Legislature passed a bill this year requiring public hearings for rate increases of more than 15 percent.

    Allstate Floridian Applies to Scale Back, Drop 95,000 Homeowners
    June 6, 2005
    http://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/southeast/2005/06/06/features/56495.htm

    As such, this was almost a year and a half before Crist was elected governor, and well before Crist signed the legislation.

    Now it is true that there existed legislation at the time that limited Allstate’s ability to raise premiums:

    The Florida Legislature passed a bill this year requiring public hearings for rate increases of more than 15 percent.

    ibid.

    But this does not change the fact that they had withdrawn from a market where:

    … 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.

    (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

    It does not change the fact that they turned over their customers to another insurer with no hope of getting them back.

    Nor does it change the fact that the funding of a disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry is extensively documented. (See for example the links provided in the comment 329 you were responding to.) Do you wish to claim that there is a similar disinformation campaign on the part of the insurance companies? Show where they are attacking the science rather than citing it or where they are otherwise making demonstrably false statements. Provide evidence of something more than your own personal smear campaign.

  45. 345

    Kevin McKinney #307: most of the stuff I’ve found that actually gives a rationale for the “no warming in the last decade” nonsense has simply compared 1998 to 2008. Many (e.g., our friend George Will) don’t bother with a justification, but that seems to be the most common one for those who do. I have seen the others you mention, but not as often.

    I took a whack at explaining why just comparing ’98 to ’08 is worthless in my own little blog (I even included some cute little graphs), but I imagine it’s a waste of time.

  46. 346

    Mark,

    DVI refers to Lamb’s Dust Veil Index, a measure of volcanic output of aerosols. TSI is Total Solar Irradiance, otherwise known as the Solar Constant. The t-statistic is how you measure the significance of a coefficient in a regression. Generally you want the absolute value of t to be 2 or more for significance at the 95% confidence level or better.

  47. 347

    Elifritz writes:

    Of course you aren’t Burgy, you are just an elderly emeritus Christian with a lot of free time on your hands, who also happens to be almost entirely disconnected from any current reality or current science and its methods.

    You should have his scientific qualifications, Thomas. I think he probably knows a great deal more about current reality and current science than you do.

    [edit]

  48. 348
    truth says:

    Response to [294]:
    The consensus side on this blog are always ready to whale in with snide criticism and condescending corrections at a whiff of a mistake , or what they believe to be that , from the non-AGW side, but on the other hand, almost ridiculously indulgent of the many Al Gore exaggerations and downright misrepresentations.
    In the transcript that your link refers to, Gore says ‘This month the highest temperatures ever measured in Australia——-ignited debate…’.
    The truth is that the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia was not this month or last, or even recently, but was 53degrees C at Cloncurry in 1889—and just in case he was talking about Victoria, site of the recent bushfires that he referred to—the highest ever recorded temperature in Victoria was 50.7 degrees C in Mildura in January 1906.
    In your correction to your statement on losses, Gavin, you say ‘ weather disaster losses are increasing’, and you say you don’t attribute, but it needs to be said that the increase has much more to do with the fact that many more people are now living in disaster-prone areas, [as in the Victorian bushfires ], than with any increase in the magnitude and frequency of the events themselves—and records show that.
    In the always cyclone-prone Australian tropics, where I grew up, no one built homes near or at the beaches in the past—but in recent years , coastlines have become high-development areas—of all types—and so the risk escalates.
    There are many on the AGW side who use these numbers of people actually affected, to paint a false picture of escalating climate catastrophe—and then use the fear they’ve generated to justify damaging policy.
    [edit]

    [Response: Calm down. Attribution of disaster losses is a difficult subject as our post on the bushfires I think made clear. We have often criticised ‘pop attributions’ and will continue to do so, but don’t confuse that with the impossibility of making attributions to climate change in a statistical sense for certain kinds of extremes. Language in such cases needs to be subtle, and quite often isn’t, and that can lead to confusion. – gavin]

  49. 349
    Mark says:

    BPL: I think he probably knows a great deal more about current reality and current science than you do.

    And how do you get that?

    [edit]

    If it were true, so what? Intelligent people can be just as wrong as dumb ones.

    And you only say “probably” so you admit you could be wrong. And if you are, then your point is reversed, making it ridiculous to point out.

    I mean, it’s even a two-layer ad-hom, fercrhissakes!

    [Response: This is a pointless conversation. Please stop. – gavin]

  50. 350

    You should have his scientific qualifications, Thomas.

    I wasn’t aware that one needed to be ‘qualified’ to do science.

    Perhaps you can point me to a properly accredited institution where I can receive the required licenses in order to participate in the scientific process. I certainly don’t want to be operating outside of the law.