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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. 401

    tom wrote in 396:

    391 is a great example. Who ever said there was going to be NO snowpack and NO precipitation. Patent nonsense.

    Sure, according to their calculations there is supposed to be some snowpack left (between 27% and 10%) by the end of the century, but riverbeds will tend to dry up more quickly. For example, we know that the rate of evaporation roughly doubles for every 10°C. Projections are that the temperatures will be up to 8°C above that.

    What about the growing season? And if the rate of evaporation nearly doubles, how quickly will the riverbeds dry up? Rain during the summer? In many places we are talking about more precipitation during the winter (which won’t do much good if it evaporates before growing season), but decreases during the spring and summer. California’s precipitation is expected to decrease somewhat during the winter.

    Globally, average precipitation over land is expected to decrease somewhat, but extreme precipitation events are expected to increase and be more severe, and likewise droughts are expected to be more severe — such that the mild decrease is the result of an averaging of extremes. Droughts will be more severe for the Southwest and California. How well do you you think farmers will do year after year under these conditions?

    How much water will get close enough that irrigation becomes an economically viable option? How well will plants do with increased evaporation of what water they take in? What about increased demand for water by the cities? Given enough resources you can grow your veggies underground, but that doesn’t make it economically viable to do so.

  2. 402
    Aaron Lewis says:

    The real problem with Chu’s statement about the end of California’s agriculture is that it was an understatement. California agriculture depends on an irrigation infrastructure that was designed and built based on assumptions of a wetter, cooler, and more stable climate than we have had for the last few years.

    Farming is a capital intensive enterprise. In years with bad weather, farmers may lose money and deplete their capital, leading to a failure of the farm enterprise. Until recently, one thing that California farmers could depend on was irrigation water. Now, there are competing demands for that water. Any water that the farmers do not use goes to cities, industry, and wild life. Thus, there is less carryover from the occasional wet year, and it is more difficult to “bank” water from a wet year for a dry year. This would be an issue even in the absence of global warming. In the presence of AGW, the issue of non-agricultural water rights becomes a crisis for farmers.

    Any year that is dryer or warmer then was estimated in the 1957 Water Bulletin, means there is not enough water. Temperatures warmer than anticipated in 1957 result in much larger evapo-transpiration rates meaning that farmers need much larger amounts of irrigation water to keep their crops alive. AGW leads us to expect temperatures greater than anticipated in 1957.

    California is currently in a drought emergency. Unless our climate rapidly reverts to something that is as cool and wet as that climate summarized in the 1957 Water Bulletin, our farmers are not going to have enough irrigation water. The drought emergency is currently having an impact as farmers plant (or do not plant) their fields. (Farmers are not going to spend money for seed and fuel to plant if they do not expect to have irrigation water.) That is; lettuce that would have gone to the East Coast, did not get planted. Successive crops are not going to get planted unless we have a lot of precipitation in the next couple of weeks, and the current forecast is for dry. California farmers are losing money. Such losses will require large infusions of capital to maintain the farming industry.

    Unless there is a dramatic and rapid change in the climate trend in California, then we are already starting to see the decline of California Agriculture. Since effects of temperature on evapo-transpiration are very non-linear, the decline could be rapid, or even abrupt.

    Consider the current price of hay in California. (That is very hard on California’s dairy industry that has other problems.) Look at the vegetable processing plants that have closed. Avocado trees have been topped to reduce their need for water – but that is something that can only be done on an exceptional basis, and most growers did it last year. Rice and cotton plantings are down for this year. The bright spots are almonds, grapes, and olives. Over all, hardly the picture of a robust, diversified agricultural industry demonstrating resilience in the face of climate change.

    Moreover, the physical security of the source water for California’s water system is sensitive to sea level, and projections of changes in sea level have just been revised upward. Chu is hardly an alarmist; he is barely a realist.

    There are solutions, but they are capital intensive, and the window to implement them is closing.

  3. 403

    tom wrote in 399:

    I don’t have any emotional attachement to the issue, one way or another.

    Given the way you argue I strongly doubt that this is true, and I suspect the cause is ideological rather than financial. Given the level of emotion.

  4. 404

    CORRECTION

    At the end of the first paragraph of 401:

    … above that.

    Should have been “… nearly that.”

  5. 405
    dhogaza says:

    I understand your POV here. Looking back, I can find no post of mine which implied I would share those opinions.

    I don’t.

    Burgy, just to be clear, my comments have been in regard to your denialist friend, not yourself.

    Perhaps he’ll prove to exceed expectations, i.e. after you post his arguments and they’re shown to be flawed, he’ll accept the work of those who work on this stuff full-time, rather in their spare time.

    If so, I’ll apologize. If not, well, I won’t.

  6. 406
    David B. Benson says:

    Yawn.

  7. 407
    SecularAnimist says:

    Some “weather” news that may be relevant to the discussion of Califonria agriculture:

    Record dry start to 2009 worries farmers, firefighters
    By Oren Dorell
    USA TODAY
    03/11/2009

    Excerpts:

    The first two months of 2009 are the driest start of any year since the USA began keeping records over a century ago, leading to severe drought in Texas, dipping reservoir levels in Florida and a surge in wildfires across the nation.

    Farmers, cattlemen, firefighters and others worry that the dry start may be a harbinger of a bleak summer that could lead to increasing risk of fire and poor crop conditions […]

    Richard Heim, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, said the 2.69-inch average rainfall across the U.S. in January and February is the least amount of moisture in those months since NOAA began keeping records in 1895 […]

    The dry spell extends a drought that has hammered Central Texas since 2007 and California and the Southeast since 2006 […]

    In California, NOAA reports the snowpack is at 80% of normal and much of the state is under severe drought […]

  8. 408
    Jim Cross says:

    Are you planning a detailed comment on this?

    Scafetta N., R. C. Willson (2009), ACRIM-gap and TSI trend issue resolved using a surface magnetic flux TSI proxy model, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L05701, doi:10.1029/2008GL036307.

    I know you have dealt with previous Scafetta papers before but this is new. It appears to challenge the oft-stated belief that solar irradiance has remained unchanged in the last few decades.

    A quote from it appearing on Pielke’s site says this:

    “This finding has evident repercussions for climate change and solar physics. Increasing TSI between 1980 and 2000 could have contributed significantly to global warming during the last three decades [Scafetta and West, 2007, 2008]. Current climate models [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007] have assumed that the TSI did not vary significantly during the last 30 years and have therefore underestimated the solar contribution and overestimated the anthropogenic contribution to global warming.”

  9. 409

    Jim Cross wrote in 408:

    Are you planning a detailed comment on this?

    Scafetta N., R. C. Willson (2009), ACRIM-gap and TSI trend issue resolved using a surface magnetic flux TSI proxy model, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L05701, doi:10.1029/2008GL036307.

    If any readers with the appropriate technical background would like a crack at it:

    http://www.leif.org/research/2008GL036307-pip.pdf

    WARNING: The tab in a tabbed browser may show a smiley face if you load it in your browser rather than download it to your machine.

  10. 410

    #408 Jim Cross

    On the AGU link in the abstract:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2008GL036307.shtml

    Both ‘mixed’ composites demonstrate a significant TSI increase of 0.033 %/decade between the solar activity minima of 1986 and 1996, comparable to the 0.037 % found in the ACRIM composite.

    So even if true, how statistically insignificant is the difference? This may end up like the hockey stick argument where there is a difference, but it is statistically insignificant.

    With a total forcing of 3.8 W/m2 – albedo (-2) and solar (-.2 or -.3), we are still left with significant warming. What is the actual difference in W/m2 between 0.033% and 0.037% when placed in context? 0.04 W/m2? How does it translate?

    Maybe someone here can correct me?

  11. 411
    tom says:

    “California is currently in a drought emergency. Unless our climate rapidly reverts to something that is as cool and wet as that climate summarized in the 1957 Water Bulletin”.

    I don’t think that’s possible , do you?

  12. 412

    Dr. Burgeson, I just want to apologized for the knee-jerk hostility of some here, especially the gratuitous anti-Christian comments of T.L.E. I find that if some posters find out you’re a Christian, it will inevitably turn up as a negative remark when they disagree with you. Have to expect it. Meanwhile, there are people here who try to be civil, and I hope you won’t allow yourself to be run off by the others.

    Grace and peace to you through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Jim

    Scafetta has been saying this kind of thing for a long time, but no one but his co-authors seem to agree with him. I’ve seen, I think, about seven different TSI reconstructions, and none of them show as much variation as Scafetta et al. seem to want. Of course, they might turn out to be right. No TSI reconstruction is rock-solid yet. But I wouldn’t hold my breath that Scafetta et al. will turn out to have the right one.

  13. 413
    Hank Roberts says:

    Scafetta and Wilson:

    > a significant TSI increase of 0.033 %/decade between
    > the solar activity minima of 1986 and 1996

    That’s ten years. What’s Pielke …. oh, ne’er mind: Pielke omits the words “If there were” before “Increasing” when stating as a hypothetical that if it were more than the 10 years then it “could have ….”

  14. 414
    Rod B says:

    Gavin (354), if you are referring to the moderators of RC in defending against “truth’s” accusation, you are correct. If you include all of the posters here as a group, you are not correct.

    [Response: I speak only for myself and occassionally RC as a whole – other commenters have to look out for themselves. -Gavin]

  15. 415
    Rod B says:

    dhogaza (394), Geeezzz!

    Oh, never mind…..

  16. 416
    Jim Cross says:

    #412 Hank

    In the interest of clarity, the quote is from the Scafetta article itself not Pielke. I just saw it on Pielke’s site.

    #410

    I think Scafetta’s argument is that the same feedback mechanisms that augment CO2 also apply to solar irradiation. So a small increase could have a much larger than might be expected impact.

    [Response: No. Scaffeta is arguing for a hypersensitivity to solar- based only on single factor statistical fits. – Gavin]

  17. 417
    Ryan O says:

    John P. Reisman:
    .
    A 0.033% increase in TSI equates to an increase in solar forcing of approximately 0.08 W/m^2. You can calculate this by taking the solar forcing constant of 1366 W/m^2, multiplying by (0.7/4) to account for spherical geometry and reflected sunlight, and then multiplying by the fractional change (in this case, 0.00033).
    .
    The bigger claim in the paper, though, is that Lean’s proxy reconstruction is wrong.
    .
    I do not know enough about the subject to comment one way or the other.

  18. 418
    Chris Colose says:

    I won’t comment on whether PMOD or ACRIM is preferred, but I will say that it doesn’t make a meaningful difference in terms of the relative solar impact on the late 20th century warming trend. Scafetta has a recent string of very odd papers on solar influence, and I just don’t understand what point he’s trying to make with them.

  19. 419
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks for the correction, Jim.

  20. 420
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Cross #416,
    No, that most explicitly is NOT what S & Wilson (given his selection of collaborators, one wonder’s about Scafetta’s seeming obsession with the letter ‘W’). The same feedbacks already apply to all forcings, whether CO2, solar, whatever. Most of the feedbacks depend on temperature and for all of them, a watt is a watt is a watt.
    Scafetta is arguing for a magical forcing that can tell if a photon comes from Mr. Sun or not.

  21. 421
    Marcus says:

    Barton (#379): “RichardC, just for you, I just regressed NASA GISS global land-surface temperature anomalies on ln CO2, DVI, and TSI for 1900-1950 (N = 51). Ln CO2 was significant and TSI was not. So your oft-repeated claim that insolation changes represent 10-35% of the variance of temperature changes in this period does not stand up to statistical analysis.”

    I am not sure that straightforward regression is really a robust method of attribution. I mean, it works well if you are regressing outputs of a Monte Carlo simulation with various input choices, but not necessarily if you are examining time trend data.

    A similar issue gets all those contrarians into trouble when they show that CO2 concentration is correlated much better with ocean temperature than with anthropogenic emissions – what they are getting is that the _variability_ in CO2 concentration is almost entirely due to natural factors, plus, of course, that ocean temperatures trend in the same direction as CO2 changes because AGW works, but they miss the fairly incontrovertible fact that by simple mass balance analysis human emissions _have_ to be responsible for the vast majority of the increase since preindustrial.

    So I would posit that showing correlation between two variables is a reason to go look further into the mechanisms, but correlation, or lack thereof, is not a good proof of attribution (or lack thereof). Now, if you can show that TSI and temperature go in different directions, then _that_ would be good evidence that TSI hasn’t contributed much. Or if you can build a good climate model and show that taking TSI changes out doesn’t change your trend – that’s evidence. But simple regressions, not so much (in my opinion, anyway).

  22. 422
    Mark says:

    Further to Marcus in #421, it looks like we are all agreed that if there is something going on with the sun and temperatures, it’s not much compared to the change observed.

    RichardC has said that himself. BPL seems to have excised that out of his recall, and Richard may recant in future or change his meaning. But as of this moment, solar change isn’t a major factor in GW.

  23. 423
    tom says:

    399:

    Gavin, you seem to be trivializing Chu’s misstatement, on the grounds that, while supported by scince, it is somewhat in line with a ‘ general thesis’ that warming could have serious negative impacts on Californian agriculture.

    I think we call that ‘ the ends justify the means’. Not a good strategy for the Sec. of Energy.

    Meanwhile, George Will is castigated on this thread for a statement that is much more accurate than Chu’s. If you move the date a single year, to 1980, then George Will’s statement about sea is accurate.
    And George Will is not a government official, responsible for public policy

    Will is being held to a much higher standard than Chu, though the opposite should be occuring.

    [Response: This conversation has I think run its course, but you are still completely incorrect. On one hand we have (Will) statements that are not only untrue, but also misleading in their overall message. On the other, we have someone (Chu) who actually seems to be aware of the literature and thinks that the impacts would be extremely serious and is clearly correct in his overall message. There is no ‘end’ here, there are just two individuals – one who is dishonestly twisting out-of-context quotes and another who is honestly calling it as he sees it. If you think that is somehow equivalent, you are further gone than I thought. If you want reams of apocalyptic nonsense based on nothing but a desire to scare people, tune in to the Heartland conference every time someone describes what the impact of any action to combat emissions will do. Condemn that with the same vehemence you’ve attacked Chu, and you might win a few points for consistency. – gavin]

  24. 424
    Sekerob says:

    Today I did a little exercise on Snow Off during the Jun/Jul/Aug 2008 period which had a mean of 6 million km square less compared to what was normal in 1966 when Rutgers started recording. The albedo effect and the energy uptake from that alone is more than the difference of solar flux impact on a global scale, depending on the differential which is fair to assume by snow (>90%? reflection) over land (40%?). Any takers to properly equate the net energetic effect of this?

  25. 425

    #417 Ryan O

    Thank you.

    This is an area where I have little knowledge.

    Where did you find the paper, is it public? I only read the abstract.

  26. 426
    Aaron Lewis says:

    re 411

    No. We will have to farm with less water than traditionally allocated.

    While places like Israel have built agricultural systems with low flow irrigation, results from such efforts in California have not been sustainable. Selenium in the Kesterton Wildlife Refuge is an example, but I am not finding good summaries of it online. (Farmers tried to recycle irrigation runoff and made a mess. The problem took years to appear, and years to fix.)

    Water rights are part of the capital of a California farmer. Take those rights away, and you decrease the profitability and stability of the industry. Do you really want to destabilize the industry that produces your food? On the other hand, home owners on strict water rationing drive by irrigated fields, see “wasted” water, and write their congressmen. Even I have felt a surge of anger when I saw pools of water in lettuce fields. (Most of the energy cost of lettuce is the cost of irrigation. They use more fuel to pump water to the lettuce, than to truck the lettuce across country.)

    Whiskey is for drinking; Water is for fighting over.

  27. 427
    Ryan O says:

    John #425: Timothy Chase in #409 linked to a pre-print of the article.

  28. 428
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tom, Your argument would seem to indicate that you would rather have a broken watch than one that runs 3 minutes fast because for former is right twice a day. It is quite possible that CA agriculture will be wiped out by climate change. That is well within the range of physical consequences.
    Will’s statement, on the other hand is at best misguided and at worst deliberately misleading, as it represents cherry picking to hide the trend.

    Do you seriously contend that climate change is not a threat to CA agriculture?

  29. 429

    #427 Ryan O

    Thanks again, I’m a little buried this week, so I’m not paying as much attention as I would like. Either that, or my peripheral vision compensation is not functioning ;)

  30. 430
    Ken Feldman says:

    On the Chu article, I don’t think it was hyperbole. If you read the interview in the LA Times, he clearly indicated that when they have droughts in California now, they ration water. He then goes on to imply that in the scenario where the snowpacks shrink by 70% to 90% that the remaining water would be used in the cities instead of for irrigation. That would essentially end most agricultural production in California, which relies on irrigation for the most part.

    In addition, the coastal cities get the vast majority of their water from dams and reservoirs in the mountains, fed by the glaciers in the Sierras. Without that water, those cities would have to shrink in size dramatically.

    Here’s the relevant part of the interview:

    “In the pessimistic scenario, the snow pack will decrease by 70 to 90 percent. Well, let me tell you what California does when there’s a two-year in a row 20 percent decrease in snow pack: They water-ration.

    Q: So you’re looking at a scenario of permanent water rationing?

    CHU: No, you’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California. When you lose 70 percent of your water in the mountains, I don’t see how agriculture can continue. California produces 20 percent of the agriculture in the United States. I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

    Full interview here: http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2009/02/chu_economic_disaster_from_war.html

  31. 431
    SecularAnimist says:

    My problem with Secretary Chu is this: given his well-founded concern about the impact of AGW on water supply and agriculture, how can he possibly justify his support for building more coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and sequestration technology (which of course does not exist and is unlikely to exist for decades, if ever), which he clearly stated during his Senate confirmation hearing: “We will be building some coal plants, and one doesn’t have a hard moratorium on something like that while we search for a way to capture carbon safely.”

  32. 432
    Mark says:

    Thinking that isn’t joined up? Coming from a Politician? Unpossible!!!

  33. 433

    #131 Ryan O

    Our discussion illustrates a problem in the debate that I have noticed in others. You seem to be comfortable making statements that are vague, contradictory, incorrect, without context, or even hypocritical and then saying well, if your going to do a critical deconstruction of what I am saying, then I don’t want to engage.

    So it’s okay for you to make statements and deconstruct what I said, but it’s not okay the other way around. If you don’t like your words being deconstructed, don’t write them in a blog well known for debate and discussion, and don’t ascribe motives to others, while stating that it irritates you when people do that.

    The fact is you mistranslated my words.

    Your direct and vague statements do not make sense as applied (imo), which I believe I clearly pointed out. Now you have no further interest in discussion.

    If you will not admit your own mistakes, or your clearly illustrated hypocrisy, then there is no good reason for further discussion.

    I will not ascribe a motive to your stance, but I will say that it seems you prefer things to be left in the air, generally speaking, rather than resolved, based on what I have read in your statements; just as you remain “skeptical of the IPCC’s predictions”, “the accuracy of model impacts”, “the accuracy of the temperature record” without giving relevant context of why, and on what basis.

    Proper context will get you relevance, I’m sure your understanding will increase in time, as will mine.

    Best,
    John

  34. 434
    Chuck Booth says:

    New from The Nicene Council:

    Global Warming: A Scientific & Biblical Expose’ (DVD)
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    This bold new documentary is an exciting and important tool for all who face the rampant misinformation propagated by ecological alarmists. Global Warming addresses subjects that most others won’t touch, including misinformation which is contained in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

    Global warming is real, but it is not primarily man-made. This biblically-based and thoroughly balanced view of climate change reveals that global warming is not a black & white issue. Viewers will see why well-meaning Christians need to be extremely careful when advocating environmental policies. The message of this richly illustrated DVD is urgently needed in America, and the world…
    http://tiny.cc/IpIqy

    Have to give them some credit – at least they acknowledge that global warming is real.

  35. 435
    truth says:

    Secular Animist [ 431]:
    You obviously want an end to coal-fired power now—forthwith—-so you must be very certain that the warming is due to burning of fossil fuels and nothing else—and you must either be certain that renewables are ready right now to step into the breach and provide base load power—or you want to just continue with the old coal-fired power stations, and maintain them until CCS technology is in fact ready, meanwhile developing renewables—-or you must want coal-fired power replaced now by nuclear power, to provide the base load power while developing renewables.
    I can’t think what else might be your expectation, unless it’s that conservation alone on an individual basis will do it—but nothing we’ve seen or heard so far gives any confidence in that.
    Industries will probably stagnate, if maintenance only and no new power stations were to be mandated, as new coal-fired power stations were planned for many countries including the US—and even Germany, the supposed world leader in emission reduction had 12 new coal-fired power stations planned—and they must have planned because they were needed.
    If you ration energy, surely it must have a negative effect on development—or even on maintenance of the status quo.
    If it’s nuclear power you would like to see fill the breach, then there’s a big lag time there as well, is there not—especially if they were to be the new generation fast reactors or thorium reactors—and I suspect many countries would opt for older style reactors anyway, with their attendant hazards for all of us.
    Which renewables could take up the slack after closure of coal-fired power stations in the next few years without the nuclear option as the base load power provider—and not in the process bring industry to its knees, and standards of living crashing down?

  36. 436

    Chuck,

    As someone who started looking into Christianity at the suggestion of his girlfriend in the early 1980s, was converted in 1984, and who is now an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, I would like to point out that I have never even heard of “The Nicene Council.” I assume this is not the same body that put out the Nicene Creed in the 4th century…

  37. 437

    Chuck #434:

    A “biblically-based and thoroughly balanced view….”? You’re also going to have to give them credit for inventing a brand new oxymoron.

    “[W]ell-meaning Christians need to be extremely careful when advocating environmental policies”

    I infer that well-meaning Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Rastafarians (or Pastafarians, for that matter) have no such need.

    [captcha: “Waterford violin”. Quite rare, I believe.]

  38. 438
    Mark says:

    addendum to BPL in #436.

    It’s another case of “God Wouldn’t Do That”. Didn’t they read Genesis? The whole garden-of-eden thing?

    If God *is* fiddling about with things, why is this not another test to see if we’re worthy of this world? If we muff this up, there’ll be something else along in a million years that may be smarter and more worthy.

  39. 439
    Mark says:

    The negatively named truth opines:

    “Industries will probably stagnate, if maintenance only and no new power stations were to be mandated,”

    Nope. A BIG (and I mean HUGE) change in the Rhondda Valley Steelworks was to move the smelting and rolling and shaping plants close together and cover the move between them. This meant that they didn’t use energy to re-heat the steel between processes.

    Power requirements DROPPED drastically.

    Or is efficiency only for the workforce not the company?

  40. 440
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The ironically named “truth” says “…unless it’s that conservation alone on an individual basis will do it—but nothing we’ve seen or heard so far gives any confidence in that.”

    Wrong! First, we can certainly consume less. How much less was illustrated last year when avalanches cut off Juneau, AK from its normal cheap hydroelectric power. Suddenly, electricity became quite expensive, and the population responded by reducing consumption by 30-40%–on a dime, no preparation, no mitigation. Was it a hardship, certainly. However, it illustrates what can be accomplished during a crisis, and THIS IS A CRISIS. This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue unless conservatives choose to ignore physical reality and make it one.

  41. 441
    truth says:

    Re [414] Response to RodB:
    Gavin, what you allow to be posted and what you edit out speaks for you too—not just your direct remarks.
    Allowing some who are passionate AGW proponents to make statements of absolute certainty, along with their venom and vitriol and smearing of dissenters, without comment from you or other moderators, while on the other hand censoring out from dissenters’ posts the mildest of remarks [ or often censoring out their posts [made in reply to their critics]in their entirety]—is a tacit endorsement by the moderators of the certainty expressed by the AGW commenters.
    Eg: a commenter on one of your other topics said, ‘Scientists who fail to communicate the alarming reality of Anthropogenic Global Warming are doing the public a great disservice’, implying that it’s the duty of all scientists to go forth and preach and promote the certainty.
    There was no reply or comment from the moderators.
    And , even more directly, in one of your other posts, Mike made it clear in his reply to a commenter.
    The commenter was describing a previous Lou Dobbs show, saying that Dobbs said ‘On my show, global warming is happening and we are causing it. That’s not for debate. I want to hear what we should do about it.’
    The commenter said he believed some scientists from RC were there, and said, ‘No sceptics or deniers were included.’, and expressed a hope for a return to that happy and much more acceptable state by Dobbs.
    Mike replied ‘Yes, this was myself, Gavin and Alan Robock’—and agreed that it was a shame that Dobbs had changed.
    That would seem to me to be an expression of the moderators’ expectations that the media should stifle the debate for them—nip it in the bud, as Dobbs did on that occasion—a situation that prevails in Australia, as journalists almost never interview any person who can’t be relied upon to express certainty on AGW——it just doesn’t happen.

    [Response: This is really getting tiresome. ‘Debate’ is not just contradiction. There are plenty of interesting things to discuss and very varied points of view among the mainstream without having some idiot come on and assert that the world is flat. The people who aren’t worth including in any discussion are the people who can’t go a single sentence without throwing in some tired old cliche about the Vikings or how water vapor is really the most important greenhouse gas or that they grew wine in medieval England don’t you know… This isn’t debate, this is noise. And I have no problem with saying that this discussion needs less noise, not more. You appear to be persuaded otherwise, and indeed your actions demonstrate a commitment to that. Find a serious ‘contrarian’ – one that doesn’t lace their statements with nonsense, and you’ll find someone perhaps worth interviewing. But these are pretty thin on the ground – if they exist at all. – gavin]

  42. 442
    SecularAnimist says:

    truth wrote: “You obviously want an end to coal-fired power now—forthwith”

    I want two specific government policies in the USA: first, an immediate permanent ban on the construction of any new coal-fired power plants, and on the opening of any new coal mines; second, a firm date in no more than ten years by which time all coal-fired power plants will be permanently shut down and all coal mines permanently closed.

    truth wrote: “so you must be very certain that the warming is due to burning of fossil fuels and nothing else”

    I am 100 percent certain that other human activities, including deforestation and animal agriculture, are also contributing significantly to the ongoing, rapid anthropogenic increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and methane, which is causing the observed rapid and extreme warming of the Earth system. I am 100 percent certain that emissions from fossil fuels is by far the largest contributor to AGW. It is not logically necessary that fossil fuel emissions be the ONLY cause, to recognize that they are the MAJOR cause and therefore must be phased out as quickly as possible. We also need to address our other behaviors that contribute to AGW — in addition to phasing out fossil fuels, not instead of phasing out fossil fuels.

    truth wrote: “and you must either be certain that renewables are ready right now to step into the breach and provide base load power”

    They are. Multiple studies have demonstrated that a diversified regional portfolio of renewable energy generation can provide 24×7 baseload power that is at least as reliable as coal-fired electricity generation. Meanwhile, solar and wind are the fastest growing sources of new energy in the world, growing at double-digit, record-breaking rates every year. Wind power is already economically competitive with coal and natural gas (and much cheaper than nuclear) and will soon account for the majority of newly-installed electricity generation in the USA. The USA has vast, commercially-exploitable wind and solar energy resources that are sufficient to provide several times as much electricity as the entire country uses, with today’s mainstream technology that is already being widely deployed.

    truth wrote: “or you want to just continue with the old coal-fired power stations, and maintain them until CCS technology is in fact ready”

    As explained above I want to shut down all coal-fired power plants as soon as possible, in no more than ten years and preferably less. CCS technology will not be “ready” for decades if ever — and by the time CCS can be “ready” it will be unneeded because we will have more electricity from wind and solar than we need, at far lower cost than coal with CCS.

    truth wrote: “or you must want coal-fired power replaced now by nuclear power, to provide the base load power while developing renewables.”

    I am opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power plants. I also favor shutting down the existing nuclear power plants, although I don’t think that is as urgent as shutting down the coal-fired power plants.

    Renewables are ready, and can be deployed on a large scale, very quickly, at reasonably low cost, right now. That is not true of nuclear. So it would be more a matter of using renewables while developing nuclear. However, there is no need to develop nuclear power, and no need to deal with its enormous cost and its very real, very grave risks and toxic pollution. We can get more electricity than we need by harvesting clean, ubiquitous, endless, FREE wind and solar energy.

    Renewable energy — wind, solar, hydro, geothermal & biomass — and efficiency technologies represent the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st century. They are a huge economic opportunity, and the foundation of a new economy based on harvesting abundant clean energy rather than mining and burning scarce, toxic, costly fuels. Fossil fuels and nuclear are dead-end technologies whose continued use will lead to both environmental and economic disaster.

  43. 443
    Phil. Felton says:

    Re #436
    Barton Paul Levenson Says:
    13 March 2009 at 3:1 AM
    Chuck,

    As someone who started looking into Christianity at the suggestion of his girlfriend in the early 1980s, was converted in 1984, and who is now an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, I would like to point out that I have never even heard of “The Nicene Council.” I assume this is not the same body that put out the Nicene Creed in the 4th century…

    Actually it is, and more.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea

    [Response: OK enough. This is all OT. – gavin]

  44. 444
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There are nutjobs of all religious and political persuasions, but as it is rather unlikely that their position on climate is science based, it doesn’t have much releevance to this site. The nutjobs will not be persuaded by science or evidence, but if we are to keep to our strengths, it is all we can offer.

  45. 445
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “nothing we’ve seen or heard so far” — “truth”
    There’s your problem. Start looking and listening. That will help.

  46. 446
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “First, we can certainly consume less. How much less was illustrated last year when avalanches cut off Juneau, AK from its normal cheap hydroelectric power. Suddenly, electricity became quite expensive, and the population responded by reducing consumption by 30-40%–on a dime, no preparation, no mitigation. Was it a hardship, certainly. However, it illustrates what can be accomplished during a crisis”

    Here’s another encouraging example, that didn’t even require a “crisis”. Unfortunately I don’t have the specifics on this, but here’s the story as I heard it reported on NPR a while back. A municipal utility in Canada decided to experiment with a new way of billing for electricity. Customers were given the choice of purchasing electricity in the normal way, i.e. receiving a bill for their prior month’s usage, or pre-paying for a given amount of electricity. The second option worked something like buying a prepaid telephone calling card. The consumers bought a “block” of electricity in advance, and had special meters installed which showed them how much of the prepaid electricity they had used and how much they had left. When they ran low, they would prepay for another “block” of electricity. The result was that the consumers who chose the prepayment method drastically reduced their electricity consumption. All it took was a change in the payment method, and the ability to see how much electricity they had left, and they voluntarily and spontaneously took the necessary steps to conserve — to make that electricity last as long as possible before they had to buy more.

  47. 447
    Michael says:

    Mark (439)

    When assessing whether to take on of two paths it does no good to base your decision on a few benefits one path gives you. You learn early on in life to list the goods and the bads of both choices and disregard hype. I’m assuming I’m telling you something you already know, which makes me wonder why you champion a few emission reduction success stories in this argument. Surely you are aware of the horror stories as well?

  48. 448

    There are nutjobs of all religious and political persuasions

    I take a stronger stance – when compared to science, all religions and politics are nutty. I accept no exceptions.

  49. 449

    #435 truth

    You have raised important issues but the key to understanding best action is to understand the cost/benefit ratios.

    The problem is that every needed solution has cost. One needs to understand the exponentially increasing cost of economic strain from over-consumption in multiple areas. One also needs to understand the exponential problem of accelerating warming that will cause land use viability problems with crop production and human migration… as well as a myriad of other problems.

    The way forward will have many challenges. Mot all industries will fair well and some will diminish. But that is the way of markets based on need throughout history. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    If we do nothing to save short term economy we sacrifice the economy in the future. If we tighten our belts and be responsible and accept responsibility for the future, we may harm some current industries but have a future economy that is viable.

    To do nothing is to sacrifice the future in a disastrous manner by all reasonable accounts.

    The real question is, will mankind be wise enough to make the sacrifices needed to increase economic survivability in the future?

    It is certainly reasonable to promote a better future rather than a more disastrous future. To say we don’t want economic inconvenience now, but accept economic disaster in the future is not only unreasonable, it is untenable. Said another way, it would be insane.

    So we should quickly initiate reduction and work quickly on new energy development in order to enable greater economic sustainability and survivability as able. So while painful for some industries, reduction certainly seems the best bridge between now and then.

    Priorities for an achievable, more stable future:

    1. Stop burning coal as rapidly as possible
    2. Reduce energy use so that stopping the coal burn will not be as painful.
    3. Rapidly develop new energy economy

    If we reduce our energy use, less coal will be burned. It is critical to reduce and stop burning coal as fast as possible.

    To give this the context of time. The future of which i speak is now. The problems mentioned are creeping upon us with associated greater cost. With or without attribution to climate this years expected loss of 850,000 growing acres in California will have an affect on food prices across the country and may resonate beyond our borders. This will be a measurable impact.

    It is critical to understand one key point. Exponential increase. These effects will trend upward in cost and impact in an accelerating fashion. Global warming has inertia and positive feedbacks that if we go by the paleo record will not have sufficient negative feedbacks to counter the positive. We need to act quickly if we are to ensure a healthier or more viable future.

  50. 450

    #439 Mark

    I add this to my response to truth #435

    Excellent point!

    Not all reductions of power use are productive losses. If we can gear our mindset more in that direction, There will be positive benefits in some industrial areas.


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