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Why we bother

Filed under: — group @ 12 March 2010

A letter from a reader (reproduced with permission):

Dear RealClimate team:

I have a background in biology and studied at post-grad level in the area of philosophy of science. For the last few years, I have been working on a book about the logic of argument used in debates between creationists and evolutionists.

About a year ago I decided it was time to properly educate myself about climate science. Being perhaps a little too influenced by Harry M Collins’ “The Golem” (and probably too much modern French philosophy!), I was definitely predisposed to see group-think, political and cultural bias in the work of climatologists.

On the whole, though, I tried hard to follow the principles of genuine skepticism, as I understood them.

Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.

What convinced me, though, is that the arguments made by a few sites like yours are explicit and testable. In particular, it is useful that RealClimate sticks to the science as much as possible. It has been a lot of hard work to get here, but I am now at a point where I understand the fundamentals of climate science well enough to articulate them to others.

For my part, I am grateful to you guys. I hope it gives you some small amount of satisfaction to know that your work can convert readers who really were skeptics in the beginning. I use the word ‘skeptic’ carefully – the one thing most commonly absent from the so-called ‘skeptics’ is authentic skepticism.

By the way, my book is an attempt to categorise the various logical errors people fall into when they search for arguments to support a conclusion to which they have arrived at a priori. It will now have a few chapters on global warming.

All the best,

549 Responses to “Why we bother”

  1. 51

    Knowing as I do the pressures in the scientific world to deliver research outputs towards which managing a blog does not count, let me add my vote of thanks to RC.

    At my own much more modest blog, I decided to try the experiment of allowing one of the more aggressive contrarians some space, and gave him free reign to comment – totally willing for him to win the argument, since I am primarily a scientist and only do politics as a sideline. And I could happily stop doing politics if convinced the science is wrong.

    Judge for yourself.

    It is my opinion from studying over a couple of decades this phenomenon that has resurfaced from the tobacco wars and other similar industry vs. science wars that what we are in fact seeing is a failure of journalism. We know the tobacco industry did this, we know the same basic tactic was applied to CFCs and asbestos. Even though there isn’t a clear industry angle, the HIV doesn’t cause AID campaign was much the same. We even know the same people are behind many of these campaigns.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me five times, I’m a journalist.

  2. 52
    Rich Collins says:

    You forgot to leave Als signature on the bottom of the letter

  3. 53
    andreas says:


    As a teacher of physics I never was “a sceptic”.
    But RealClimate teaches me to get a profound view on the science. I know, the “political issue” is still important, but I love more the articles about science.

    Thanks to all, especially to Gavin!!

  4. 54
    oakwood says:

    I am a scientist, and supporter of environmental sustainability and social equality. I have followed both sides of the debate for many years (ncluding RC), and read most of the IPCC report. RC is an important contributor to the debate.

    However, I disagree with the letter and fail to find the case for AGW convincing. I remain a sceptic. I believe there are many much more important issues in the world to worry about and address.

    I accept there are often irrational statements and arguments from the sceptic side – but this is equally true for the pro-AGW side. Climate science is currently losing credibility because it has degenerated to shouting and name-calling. The majority of this is from the blog comments. While RC reguarly censors extreme comments from sceptics, I suggest it apply the same rules to its supporters – because a lot of the nonsense and vitriol simply damages its own case and credibility.

  5. 55
    pete best says:

    Its been and still is a beautiful journey of understanding here. Some of us in our naivity might have once thought that truth is truth and science is the daddy of truth but not that many seem to believe that, even other people of a scientific background. People seem to read the papers first and listen to the radio and TV too and it is here that battles of ideology and hearts and minds are thought. The Internet is now a new battleground but people go where their thinking is and some like WUWT and CA etc whilst other like climate progress and here.

    The message delivered here smacks all alarmists and dissenters alike (although the dissenters get more posts due to their deliberate attempts to deny it is ever more outrageous ways). Its not 6 or 9C for a pre industrial doubling of CO2 – ITS 3C!!! so beware the alarmists but it is real and it is happenning.

    If RC closed down I would feel like I had lost a limb. Its work should win Oscars and Nobel Prizes for science alike ;)

  6. 56
    Paul A says:

    @Garrett #50

    Assuming that you aren’t doing parody, thanks for once again demonstrating the “the terrible intellectual gulf” referred to in the post.

  7. 57
    Gilles says:

    “The evidence for an unusually high rate of global warming over the last century, compared with the last 1000 years, appears to me to be compelling. Do you agree that it is real? If not why not?”
    I don’t agree, just because there is no reliable measurements of the 30 years warming rate that shows that it is unusual (or please show me one !!! ). For a very simple reason, that there is not precise measurement of global warming rate before the last century !!. What is claimed to be unusual is the LEVEL of anomaly (not the rate). Unfortunately, there is no homogeneous measurement (with the same experimental method I mean) showing this either, since what is compared is instrumental measurements with inaccurate proxies (and there is a wealth of data showing they are inaccurate, beginning by the large discrepancies between reconstructions, and ending by the fact that most of the “proxy” warming comes from before 1970, and do not confirm its anthropogenic origin). So your statement is wrong.

    “and its very likely (being scientifically conservative) catastrophic impact if we continue burning fossil fuels.”
    May be, but it is also very likely (being scientifically conservative) that there will be a catastrophic impact if we STOP burning fossil fuels, and it is in no way obvious that it is interesting to burn less than the Nature will let us burn.

  8. 58
    Paul A says:

    Speaking as a non-scientist, I was largely disinterested and mildly sceptical about climate science until, a few years ago, I saw The Great Global Warming Swindle. Even to a layperson like me it seemed an obvious piece of politically motivated propaganda. Having checked some of the claims made in that documentary, and having read around the subject further, it became clear to me that the ‘debate’ was largely Science versus a politically motivated dis-information campaign, and I am more convinced of that with each passing week. There is not question that science will eventually win this battle, but will it win in time to avert a potential catastrophe?
    I regularly check this web-site as well as John Cook’s Skeptical Science and Deltoid (for a more robust discussion) and would like to thank all involved. In a funny way I suppose I should also thank Martin Dirkin (maker of the Great Global Warming Swindle) for provoking my interest in the topic.

  9. 59
    Kevin Folta says:

    Science always wins. Unfortunately opponents of science can just make stuff up that seems pretty compelling and is easily digested by a lay audience.

    Science’s job is much harder, more rigorous. Keep up the good work, and try to communicate it more clearly.

  10. 60

    I am very glad to find a sincere compliment from people like you who has taken philosophy of science (and a background in science) as the startign point. I am also grateful for all the information out there that is grounded in “thorough” and “intellectually honest” research and investigation. I am aware that both expressions might be slippery, yes.
    I am sure that a basis of philosophy of science and ability to investigate and sort through the overwhelming amount of information that is out there is necessary for sustainability practitionners, environmental activists, and society at large. I thank all those who spread high-quality information on science in simple terms, keeping in mind the readers’ language and promoting an education to critical thinking. Cheers. Marco

  11. 61
    Hunt Janin says:

    Assuming for the purpose of discussion that the sea level rises 2 m by the end of this century. what will the results for human societies be?

  12. 62
    John Mason says:

    What a great post! I’ve no formal climatological background, being a geologist, but through my interest in meteorology and photography I stumbled on this site some years back and my curiosity as to what’s going on with the evolving climate has kept me coming back time and again.

    As said above by several commentators, you don’t need to be a qualified climatologist to recognise pseudoscience when you run into it, although perhaps you do need a science background and be curiosity-driven at all times rather than driven by an idealogical stance (and there are offenders on both sides of the debate with regard to that, but particularly on the rejectionist side). I have come to respect RC as it focusses firmly on the nuts-and-bolts of the science itself. Thanks :)

  13. 63
    Yvan Dutil says:

    I am an astrophysicist by training, but I have also been incolved in atmospheric remote sensing and energy.I am mounting an astrobiology course for the Fall session. I know in advance that it is likely that I will have to confront creationists (Even in Quebec they exist) hence I must prepare argument against their view in cosmology, geology and biology. Also, I will cover climate change and sustainability (ex: peak oil).

    To be the debate works in two ways. First, we have some people who do not have clue about how science works. This explains parts of the problem. On the other side, you have people trained in science who think they understand the issue but are politically motivated. I have a friend trained in physics who dismiss climate change because this will means more taxes for corrupt governments. His only source of information denialist web site. I have seen very often people only get the information they support their belief. In this situation, their is absolution nothing you can do to convince them. Monbiot wrote about that problem a few days ago. On a blog the best I could achieved is to destabilised on guy a couple of time. Since, he used only quote I could often show him he was wrong simply putting a link to the original paper. Thankfully, some denialist argument are so stupid than they are very easy to debunk even for someone who is not trained in science.

  14. 64

    39 Emanuele Lombardi

    There is plenty of data that fials [sic] to support AGW, the difficulty is finding it in all the pro AGW rhetoric, but there are many good books if you loook for them.

    Be careful with using books for your information vs. peer-reviewed journals (many of which are discussed here at RC).

    In their publication, The Organization of Denial: Conservative Think Tanks and Environmental Scepticism, Jacques, Dunlap & Freeman (2008) analyzed 141 English-language environmentally skeptical books published between 1972 and 2005. They found that that over 92% of these books, most published in the US, are linked to conservative think tanks (CTTs) and that 90% of CTTs espouse environmental skepticism.

    The authors conclude:

    “Skepticism is a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism, and that the successful use of this tactic has contributed to the weakening of US commitment to environmental protection.”

    They further state:

    “Thus, the notion that environmental skeptics are unbiased analysts exposing the myths and scare tactics employed by those they label as practitioners of ‘junk science’ lacks credibility. Similarly, the self-portrayal of skeptics as marginalized ‘Davids’ battling the powerful ‘Goliath’ of environmentalists and environmental scientists is a charade, as skeptics are supported by politically powerful CTTs funded by wealthy foundations and corporations.”

  15. 65

    #50 Garrett states very tongue-in-cheek that scientists are getting rich from taking the party line. I have a post about just that topic:

    Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I

    I also asked in the previous thread for some of you to relate your grant experience and I have heard back from a few US scientists. Guess what? They are not getting rich.

    It would be nice to hear from a few non-US scientists about how you are funded. It is quite clear that here in the US, it is essentially impossible to get rich from public grant money. I will post this all in Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part II in the near future.

  16. 66
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    What I learned early on from RealClimate was that the amount of CO2 can be measured and the heat it produces can be calculated. It’s a touchstone to gauge other points of view on the issue. That heat has to be accounted for. From Al Gore’s electric bills to stolen emails, if the theory doesn’t deal with that heat, it’s useless.

  17. 67


    My email address is mandias – at –

    You can give me as much or as little detail as you think it necessary to dispel claim #1. Before I post Part II, I will send a draft copy to any person whose information is being used and you will have carte blanche to edit what I had planned to post. Nothing will appear in my post that you do not confirm.

    I appreciate all the help you can offer!

  18. 68
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Emanuele Lombardi,
    Typical denialist. Lots of assertions. No evidence.

    Yes, there is plenty of evidence that does not support anthropogenic warming–the mass of the neutron, for instance. Unfortunately, said evidence doesn’t say much either way.

    The fact of the matter is that there simply is no coherent scientific argument against the current theory of climate. And there are mountains of supporting evidence. Your denial of that is what makes you a “denialist”

  19. 69
    Ron Taylor says:

    I will join the many others here in expressing deep appreciation for RC, and, in particular, for the great effort put in by Gavin and his colleagues. This has to take a huge chunk of your discretionary time.

    My first brush with AGW was in 1980, when I refused to join friends who were demonstrating against the completion of a nuclear power plant. I explained that, “If you think management of nuclear waste is a problem, wait until you see the effects of all the CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere. The nuclear waste is contained, but once the CO2 is in the atmosphere, it is beyond our control.”

    I did not make much headway with them, and then other issues took my attention away. It was not until after retirement and discovering RC in 2005, that I was drawn back to the AGW problem. Thanks to RC, and the many good links posted by commentators here, I now have a pretty good understanding of climate science. As others have noted, it is hard to discuss the issue with people who have predetermined beliefs and no understanding of how science works.

    Thanks again, RC.

  20. 70
    Thomas says:

    JRC @49: I always like to hear from freethinking members of political groups I don’t agree with. I think the problem with Libertarians, or just about any other group of likewise politicl opinion, is that the overwhelming majority of people think politically, and not as you do scientifically. For the political thinker the first thought is always “does this help or hurt our cause?”. Since AGW or any other tragedy of the commons issue implies that some sort of collective social control is both needed and beneficial, the natural inclination is to take anyone supporting such claims as a political enemy. There is also a form of political momentum, “our side has staked part of its reputation on XXX, and anything that refutes XXX will detract from our credibility and hurt our cause”. Unfortunately it is a rare individual who ise determined to find the truth first, and worry about the political ramifications second.

  21. 71
    Pepe Larios says:

    Gracias por estar ahí, Tank you for being here

  22. 72
    Lars Karlsson says:

    #65 You don’t get rich from grant money in Sweden either (nor in rest of Europe). The grants goes first to cover your own salary (unless you have faculty funding) but doesn’t give you any larger salary. It only means that you can do research instead of e.g. teaching. Second, it goes to paying for salaries of graduate students, postdocs, equipment etc. One has to be really stupid if one goes into science to become rich.

  23. 73

    #39 Emanuele Lombardi

    Can you share with us the data that fails to support AGW?

    – Where did this data come from?
    – Is this data being represented in relevant context?
    – Did the data to which you refer make into peer review and survive peer response?

    Looking forward to your response.

    The Climate Lobby
    Understand the Issue
    Sign the Petition!

  24. 74
    flxible says:

    Like Jean-Philippe@34, I also particularly value the clear and informative responses to comments inserted by the group, one thing I always watch for, especially from Gavin and Raypierre. Thanks for your perseverance. Keep up the effort.

  25. 75
    Rob says:

    I am not a climate scientist but I talk to the public a lot about this issue through my work with the Sierra Club. This is one site which can be relied upon to provide the best information in the easiest to understand terms for those of us who need to know enough to convince our audience about this issue. I especially appreciate the timely responses to stuff in the news. Keep it up — it’s a uniquely valuable public service.

  26. 76
    Steve P says:

    RE 57 – Gilles, Hugh Laue said “The evidence for an unusually high rate of global warming over the last century, compared with the last 1000 years, appears to me to be compelling.” You can falsify that statement only by making the writer agree that the evidence is not compelling TO HIM. And then you went ahead and failed to provide one single compelling piece of evidence for your position, only unsubstantiated buzz phrases. At the end of your piece… you then said that there will be a catastrophic impact if we stop burning fossil fuels, itself a profound sounding stance statement which, without context doesn’t argue for anything. If we stop using fossil fuels and do not replace them with alternates many humans will quite likely starve, freeze, roast, etc. Is anyone doubting that? But aren’t the dreaded “warmers” also arguing for the replacement of fuels and changes in behavior? For instance, I am a “warmer” who thinks it would be great if half the US population were not listening to distorted faux journalism coming from media sources in which Saudi Arabia is heavily invested. It would also be great if Saudis were not investing money obtained from the sale of gasoline to people like frantically speeding Soccer moms fueling their SUVs, or to the muscle car drivers and others engaging in compelling but mindless fuel wasting activities. It would also be great if more conservatives really thought about how strongly they were damaging their country and supporting foreign interests with their denialism. Special interests fuel denialism. They figuratively muddy the waters, throw mud to obscure sign posts, and generally kick up dust to obscure our vision of what is actually going on. They do it to benefit their short sighted self interests. Isn’t that clear?

  27. 77
    Andy Gunther says:

    RC is a fantastic resource, and I must join the chorus in thanking Gavin and all of the others who donate their time to run this site.

    However, I would like to suggest that all to all of the readers who come here and have learned so much…you have more work to do. I implore to take your knowledge into your communities and share it through articles, letters, and talks. The Anthony Watts of the world will not be convinced by your argument, because these people are in the business of not being convinced. There are many other people out there who are presently being deluged by misinformation from Fox News, WUWT, etc…they need to hear from YOU!!

    It is essential to realize that you do not need to be a climate scientist to talk and write about this issue. Indeed, what we need is more people from different professions and perspectives explaining why they have become convinced that GHG emissions are changing the planet. While scientists can write from their perspective (recent examples include and, other perspectives are just as important (

    In doing so, you will not only be providing an important educational service to your community (and to future generations), but you will also be serving as a role model for others to speak about this issue in their own voices. If we are going to move our civilization to a low-carbon future, it will be because a diverse array of voices spoke up during the next few years.

  28. 78
    ccpo says:

    oakwood says:
    13 March 2010 at 4:49 AM

    “I am a scientist, and supporter of environmental sustainability and social equality. I have followed both sides of the debate for many years (ncluding RC), and read most of the IPCC report. RC is an important contributor to the debate. However, I disagree with the letter and fail to find the case for AGW convincing. I remain a sceptic.”

    Unfortunately, there is no support for doubting AGW. By definition, it is impossible to be a skeptic about it. If, for example, you were skeptical about the Earth orbiting the Sun, we’d just call you a nut, if from an educated background.

    It is possible to be skeptical, in the proper sense of the word (meaning they doubt their own results until they are shown to be replicable and supported by other liens of evidence), as the scientists here are, about given bits of information and research results, but not about the basis of AGW.

    While RC reguarly censors extreme comments from sceptics, I suggest it apply the same rules to its supporters

    Fallacy: Because there are more comments here supporting AGW than against, they must preferentially delete “legitimate” skepticism.

    Fact: I’ve had my comments here go unpublished more than once.

    Fact: There isn’t any legitimate skepticism regarding AGW. There is uncertainty about details and some important processes, but those are not about whether AGW is a fact of our lives, but are about the details of “how.”

    Thank you for demonstrating so perfectly the tactics, lack of intellectual rigor, and misapplication of “skepticism” that is so common with denialists.


  29. 79
    James Allan says:

    Just like to echo the sentiments in the post. The bloggosphere has changed forever the way that debates are conducted in public and the RealClimate contributors can’t be praised enough for stepping up to the plate and representing the science. Moreover, they also deserve serious credit keeping at it in the face of the inevitable tide of retaliatory vitriol coming from the other direction. When presented with the facts, most scientifically-literate people should be able to see the pseudoscientific arguments of the deniers for what they are and RealClimate has consistently provided that.

    The biggest problem as I see it is how all of this gets translated to the general public. It doesn’t matter how lucidly it all gets put, when someone doesn’t have the capacity or time to get an appreciation for the details, there’s always a tendency to go for the honey-coated version that you get from false prophets like Singer, Spencer and Watts, or at least, be left not knowing what to think. Not that I’m criticising anyone here; this has been the same problem that has faced science for centuries. It’s just highly frustrating to see it happen.

  30. 80
    Ken W says:

    As an actual Skeptic (i.e. one who withholds judgment in the absence of evidence) and Computer Scientist (with both modeling and data analysis experience) I too was slow to accept AGW. I had no political or religious ideology, nor any professional basis biasing me toward accepting or rejecting it. I studied it voraciously for over 3 years before taking the position (now 3 or 4 years ago) that it was a valid theory and posed a significant long-term threat to human society.
    In addition to the numerous journal articles I attempted to understand (some more successfully than others), the 2 web-sites that provided the most helpful to my own education were RC and Spencer Wearts:

    The Discovery of Global Warming

    So thank-you for your dedication to making actual science or AGW accessible to so many.

  31. 81

    RealClimate and like minded websites by scientists are doing an noble and extremely difficult task as they seek to inform the public while threading the needle between scientific observations, models and predicting the future outcome of present circumstances.

    What makes the job especially difficult is that those on the other side demand perfection while they are allowed to engage in sloppy reasoning, logical fallacies, misrepresentation of science, egregious errors, propagandizing, and making their own predictions about the future (especially the economic future) without fear of anyone calling their projections into question.

    A similar circumstance occurs in the evolution – creation controversy but fortunately there aren’t any large corporations which make a profit by promoting creationism, hence the lack of creation advocacy in thew news media and even among the talk radio blowhards.

    When there are corporations making billions of dollars in profit every year because they can treat the Earth like a sewer and Nature as a worthless entity worthy of absolute destruction and when the government is populated by politicians who really do imagine that population and economic growth can continue eternally and produce a perpetually prosperous utopia (at least for “us” even if at the expense of “them”), and we have a general public which isn’t scientifically literate nor particular interested in becoming informed about difficult matters … well, the cause seems very much like a lost cause.

    For that reason I’m inclined to allow Nature to solve the human problem in whatever manner she wishes. Extinction happens for a reason. The Earth is going to survive the human catastrophe and Nature will recover and flourish again.

    Humankind is a tragedy with a tragic ending. So much for humankind.

  32. 82

    50Garrett says:
    13 March 2010 at 3:32 AM
    “Climate scientists have to parrot the pro-AGW party line; it’s so they can get rich off the grant money,”

    Yeah, I bet Gavin has a gated mansion, summer house in the Bahamas, a five car garage and a corporate jet! Sorry, after having been at a National Center for climate research for eleven years, the most I ever saw any senior scientist have was an old two seat British sports car.

    I never once saw even a senior scientist have a Porche or other super car (but one might of course, I just never saw it in 11 years).

    The “evil” Jim Hansen has/had a 10 year old Saab…until it caught fire. Where do these pseudoskeptics get off? They are so scared of big government, they are willing to sell their souls, their country, their civilization and their people for their warped beliefs.

  33. 83
    Hugh Laue says:

    63 Yvan Dutil

    These guys might help you with your course. Theirs is titled “Aliens are us. An innovative course in astrobiology”


    I know nothing about it other than the abstract, the first lines of which read: “We live in a scientific world; paradoxically, the scientific literacy of the population is minimal at best. Science is an ongoing process, a human endeavour; paradoxically, students tend to believe that science is a finished enterprise. Many non-science major students are not motivated in science classes; paradoxically, there is a public fascination with the possibility of life in the Universe, which is nowadays a scientific endeavour.”
    In the sense that fundamental to our climate change problem is our alienation from our environment, perhaps we need “Aliens are us. An innovative course in climate change.” for all those deniers out there.

  34. 84
    Andy S says:

    My epiphany on climate change came when I first saw the Keeling curve in John Houghton’s book (Global Warming, the Complete Briefing) in the mid 1990’s. Nevertheless, I remained a luke-warmer for many years and I credit the “skeptics” for spurring me to research the problem for myself. Gradually, it became clear to me, especially from reading RealClimate, that the skeptics were bluffers and that the only reliable knowledge on the subject was being produced by mainstream climate scientists.

    Like many here, I have been sickened by the anti-science noise generated by the CRU emails and the other non-scandals. The result of this is that I have now become motivated to become an activist rather than just be an observer. It’s an ill wind…

  35. 85
    oakwood says:

    ‘ccpo’ illustrates my point very well. Thank you!

  36. 86

    #54 oakwood

    It’s not about sides, it’s about science. You disagree with the letter, but how is that relevant to the science?

    Forget about what sides are saying.

    – Where do you disagree with the science?
    – On what basis?
    – Can you substantiate your disagreement?

    Looking forward to your response.

    The Climate Lobby
    Understand the Issue
    Sign the Petition!

  37. 87
    Hugh Laue says:

    57 Gilles
    You have completely missed the point of my post. Your comment is not appropriate to the overall point of this thread – in my opinion.

    But in answer:
    Have you read studied the AR4 report in detail? Did you not hear Gavin say a while back the problem is NOT any particular temperature level as optimum, the problem IS the rate of climate change. CO2 entering the oceans and the atmosphere from fossil fuels combustion is the cause of the problem. It wasn’t obvious 150 years ago – it is now. That’s the basic scientific fact that we deny at our peril.

  38. 88
    Hugh Laue says:

    85 Oakwood What point were you making?
    That because you are a scientist your opinion on AGW is credible?

    “Supporter of sustainability and social equality, and sceptical of AGW” is an oxymoron.

    What sort of scientist are you? M Oakwood the Zoologist in Australia?

    Have you perhaps misunderstood the point of the post?

  39. 89
    Gilles says:

    87 Hugh :” the problem IS the rate of climate change.”.
    So, the most critical thing is the rate … ok. Then I repeat : the current rate of climate change cannot be proved to be unusual by any objective study. Show me a curve of the warming rate if you wan’t to disprove that. The most interesting thing would be a curve comparing the observed rates with the models. I try a bet : you won’t find any (rather curiously since it is supposed to be the most critical parameter).

  40. 90
    Ken Peterson says:

    When I came back from Viet Nam, I moved into the forest and spent 5 years thinking. One of the things I thought about was Climate Change. I decided you only need two facts and then, apply the rules of logic.

    Fact one: 150 years ago, during the study of gases, CO2 was found to restrict the passage of thermal wavelengths.

    Fact two: In 200 years, we have returned 100 million years of carbon storage to the atmosphere.

    Having just now written that, I’m sitting here looking at it. Nothing else to say.


  41. 91
    Lamont says:

    Gavin and RC:

    Latest paper getting abused:

    See discussion in the denialosphere e.g.:

    Be useful to see how this fits in with the background of actual science on paleoclimate reconstructions…

    [Response: Very odd what they get excited about. People have been looking at alternative calcite sources for ages to get higher resolution isotope data than you can with standard ocean sediments – corals are the main source, but any calcite-producing organism that has annual growth cycles is useful. People have looked at a positive cornucopia of ‘fruits de mer’ (whelks, cockles, clams etc.). The problem you have is that any individual shell only covers a few years, and can’t be dated exactly. So it gives you a somewhat different look at the issues than ocean or lake sediment records or terrestrial speleothems (stalagmites). But like all proxies there are always issues – the 18O signal they are measuring is dominated by temperature, but is also influenced by the 18O in the water itself – which varies as a function local rainfall, river input or ocean currents, and since many of these shells have not been cultured under control conditions, there is certainly the possibility of ‘vital effects’ (which is paleo-speak for anything that we can’t really explain that is due to the specific biological processes the clams use to make their shell). So, a good exploration of a potential new source of paleo info, but hardly the rewriting of the record Watts thinks. They don’t even publish any modern samples so this can have no impact on discussions of modern/medieval differences for instance. – gavin]

  42. 92
    werecow says:

    This letter sounds very similar to my own back story; although I don’t have a formal education in biology, evolution theory has long been one of my favorite science topics. I’ve been debating creationists on and off for a number of years, and I consider myself a general skeptic, with a love for science in general. I spend most of my free time reading up on the natural sciences. In other words, I’m kind of a nerd. }|:op

    Similar to the person who sent the letter, I decided to educate myself on climate science basics about a year ago. The first book I read on the topic a few years back was written by a skeptical geologist (Salomon Kroonenberg) who argues that an ice age is coming in about 10000 years, and therefore global warming might not be so bad. Although I always found that argument a little peculiar, I didn’t really think much of it at the time, and I didn’t really look at the issue because I had other things going on at the time.

    More recently, I decided to finally dive into the subject matter. I’ve tried to refrain from reading too many blog posts on the issue, but I’ve found realclimate to be a very valuable resource for references and summaries of the current state of affairs within the community. As I read up on the subject, I found an increasing number of discrepancies between climate skeptics arguments and the literature (as far as I could understand the arguments in question).

    When I then started engaging in discussions with (non-expert) climate skeptics on a number of forums, I also noticed increasing parallels between the climate skepticism movement and the kinds of tactics used by the ID crowd (the Oregon petition was one of those things that was a real eye-opener). Then, after watching a lecture a few months back by Naomi Oreskes on the history of the George C. Marshall Institute, and checking on some of the things she pointed to in that talk, it became abundantly clear that a large majority of climate skeptics is not practicing skepticism at all.

    This was shortly before the CRU hack and the spree of attacks on the IPCC report. It’s been frustrating to watch the slow response to the various claims and accusations by the community, but I’m very grateful for realclimate’s valuable comments on these and other issues. Please know that a lot of us greatly appreciate it when scientists take on the difficult and time consuming task of communicating their findings to the public. Keep up the great work guys.

  43. 93

    at 44, John P. Reissman,

    I am concerned as well about CO2 in the climate, but the proposal from Hansen seems not well considered. The magnitude of his proposed tax was not even specified. However, I am assuming it would be something like reported in the Economist magazine, attributed there to “supporters.”

    Referencing the Economist article, March 13, p72, “Put a price of only $30 a tonne on carbon, say supporters, and natural gas will quickly displace coal – – -“, I respond:

    Due to garbled terminology, hardly anyone knows what this means. First, they really are not talking about carbon; it is carbon dioxide (CO2) that we would tax. (When talking seriously, the difference between carbon and CO2 takes on some importance.) In turning coal into CO2 a ton of carbon becomes 44/12 tons of CO2.

    Carbon percentage in coal varies a lot, but for Powder River Basin coal, which is the backbone of USA electricity production, about half a ton of carbon comes from a ton of coal. That becomes 22/12 tons of CO2. That would carry a tax of $55 at the stated $30 per ton of CO2 proposal. Pricing of that coal has varied from $10 to $20 per ton (I am ignoring the 10% difference between tonnes and tons.) over the last year or two. The effective cost of that $10 to $20 Powder River Basin coal with the tax would be $65 to $75. Roughly, we are talking about fuel for coal based electricity production costing 4 times to 6 times what it is now.

    Then the fuel cost of natural gas will about double due to that $30 tax. For the USA, accounting for the fact that hydro and nuclear would stay unchanged, this would amount to approximately tripling the cost of fuel to produce all of the currently used electricity.

    We might also be thinking about the likelihood that the natural gas base price will rise under this situation, since coal has always underpinned the price of natural gas. I suspect Boone Pickens is thinking along these lines.

    Desirable that this would for reducing CO2, the cost to the USA economy has to be taken seriously. If we were to see the average electric bill in the USA triple, that might push our already teetering economy back to third world level. We need to be a little more clever in solving this problem.

  44. 94
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Philip Machanick says: 13 March 2010 at 4:29 AM

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me five times, I’m a journalist.

    Honestly, it’s as though the collective mind of journalists has suffered some sort of injury to the hippocampus and cannot retain freshly learned facts for more than a few hours or at most days. Each new day is greeted with wide-eyed credulity, seemingly uninformed by all that has gone before.

    On the other hand, watching this topic unfold on the intertubes reminds me of open source software development. No practicing journalist is going to be able to dig out and retain the sort of arcana that aficionados of this topic daily employ in discussion, just as few commercial firms are going to be able to maintain an employee for the sole purpose of maintaining 500 lines of kernel code in support of a long-discontinued peripheral.

  45. 95

    90 Ken Peterson,

    Right you are. And you might notice, there is a lot of talking about it and not much doing about.

    So it is time to come out of the woods and get working.

    But be careful. There is a lot of wild talk going on, and it is hard to tell the green from the greenwashed.

    I suggest you look twice at any project that requires a subsidy from the government. Some of these have merit, but for them to be meaningful on a scale that will matter, they have to be economically viable on their own merits. Sometimes a case can be made for future improvement in cost, but these should be carefully evaluated.

  46. 96
    Owen B says:

    Frankly I’m not qualified to comment on this website beyond adding my thanks for its continued existence. I’m not sufficiently expert to add any meaningful insight, and what questions I have are by and large answered by the copious and comprehensive information available here. So I check in every day, read the latest articles, a few of the comments and check out any particularly interesting looking new references.

    I was interested in weather and climate as a youngster and while a geography undergraduate in the late 1980s took an introductory level climatology module. (As it happens it turns out I overlapped with Gavin at Jesus College in Oxford). I sat in the Radcliffe Science Library and read a few papers, and I particularly remember Jim Hansen’s 1984 paper which suggested “that substantial climate change due to the greenhouse warming will become apparent during the next 1-2 decades”. It seemed plausible to me based on my very limited understanding. I went off into the world and kept that prediction at the back of my mind. And here we are over two decades later and it’s quite evident to me as a layman that that prediction has been demonstrated to be right.

    Recently I have entered into “debate” (dialogue of the deaf, more like) with a “sceptic” on another web site (not a climate or science related site). Also, wanting to get some proper scientific context to the whole Climategate media storm, this has caused me to want to update and deepen my understanding on AGW and climate change. RealClimate has been an excellent resource. Thanks again.

    Please keep going. It is not only about being right, it is about always having a reasonable answer to those who get it wrong, so that those who aren’t sure or aren’t very knowledgeable can become better educated and those who know a little can argue with “sceptics” who seem to know even less.

  47. 97
    GSW says:


    I recognize that name! good to see over at realclimate – nice post by the way.

  48. 98
    Edward Greisch says:

    81 David Mathews: “fortunately there aren’t any large corporations which make a profit by promoting creationism”
    What do you call the Discovery Institute

  49. 99
    GSW says:

    Does everybody else not think …
    [moderators if I keep making the message shorter, knocking words of the end will I ever be able to say anything other than hello ;-) ]

  50. 100
    Michael says:

    No.78 CCPO wrote – “Unfortunately, there is no support for doubting AGW. By definition, it is impossible to be a skeptic about it.”

    Could someone tell me how the definition of AGW makes it is impossible to be a skeptic? Does that mean it is impossible to falsify as it is as certain as the earth is in motion around the sun? Who else here agrees with this statement? For the record I think it is an extreme position to hold on the subject of anthropogenic causation.

    Kind Regards