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Science, narrative and heresy

Filed under: — gavin @ 3 November 2010

Recent blog discussions have starkly highlighted the different values and priorities for scientists, bloggers and (some parts) of the mainstream media.

For working scientists, the priority in any discussion about science should be accuracy. Methods, results, and interpretations must be clear, logically connected and replicable by others. For people who haven’t experienced a joint editing effort on a scientific paper, it might surprise them to see the strength with which seemingly minor word choices are argued over. This process is particularly stark in short format papers written for Science and Nature, (and increasingly for press releases), where every word is at a premium. For many scientists then, the first thing they look for in a colleagues more ‘popular’ offerings is whether the science is described clearly and correctly. Of course, this is often not the same as judging whether it succeeds in improving popular understanding.

Indeed, the quality of the science is almost always how a popular piece is judged by scientists, regardless of the final conclusion the author comes to. For instance, my review of Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers was very critical, because his conception of how the science worked was poor, regardless of the fact that his conclusions are aligned to my own in many respects. The furor over the Soon and Balinuas paper in 2003, was much less about their conclusions, than about the nonsensical manner in which they had arrived at them (combined with disgust at the way it was publicised and promoted). Our multiple criticisms of Henrik Svensmark have focused far more on the spin and illogic of his claims concerning the impact of cosmic rays on climate than it is on the viability of the basic mechanism (which remains to tested).

The underlying principle is that proposed by Daniel Moynihan, that people might be entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

The media on the other hand is mostly fascinated by the strength of the narrative. The enduring ‘heretic’ meme – the plucky iconoclastic individual whose ideas are being repressed by the establishment – is never very far below the surface in almost all high-impact scientific profiles, for instance, Freeman Dyson’s NY Times magazine piece last year. To be sure this is a powerful archetype even in how scientists see themselves (shades of Galilean hero-worship), and so it is no surprise that scientists play up to this image on a regular basis. Craig Venter is someone who very successfully does this, possibly with some justification (though YMMV). However, this image is portrayed far more widely than it is valid. Svensmark, for instance, has gone out of his way to mention that he works in a basement on a shoestring budget, having to work weekends and holidays (the horror!) to pursue his ideas. For such people any criticism is seen as the establishment reaction to the (supposedly revolutionary) consequences of their ideas. This of course would be the case for true revolutionaries, but it is a very common attitude among the merely mistaken.

It is not difficult to see the attraction in being seen as the iconoclast outside the mainstream in a scientific field that has been so polticized. There is a ready audience of misfits and partisans happy to cheer any supposed defection from the ‘consensus’, and there are journalists and editors who, in their desire to have ‘balance’, relish voices that they can juxtapose against the mainstream without dealing with crackpots. Witness the short-lived excitement a couple of years ago of the so-called ‘non-skeptic heretics‘, such as Roger Pielke Jr., championed in the New York Times. In truth, there is very little that is ‘heretical’ in any of these voices. Only someone with no experience with the way science is actually done — try going to an AGU meeting for example — would think that scientists being upfront about uncertainty and following the data where it leads is any kind of radical notion. The self-declared heretics do get criticised a lot, but not generally because of the revolutionary nature of their ideas, but rather because they often indulge in sloppy thinking or are far too quick to allege misconduct against scientists (or the IPCC) without justification, perhaps in order to bolster their outsider status. That does not go down well, but to conflate ‘mainstream’ expressions of distaste with this sort of behavior with the belief that the actual ideas of ‘heretics’ (about policy or uncertainty) are in some way special or threatening, is to confuse the box with the cereal.

There are a couple of tell-tale signs of this ‘Potemkin heresy’ that mark it out as not quite kosher. First, for the heretic who has a coherent alternative to the orthodoxy, it is very unlikely that this alternative will be in line with the thoughts of all the other outsiders. True heresy is actually very lonely. If alternatively, the ‘heresy’ consists of thinking that every idea that pops up is worthy of serious consideration, they are simply throwing away the concept of science as a filter that can actually take us closer to reality. If every idea must now and forever, be considered anew whenever someone brings it up, no progress is possible at all. Science works because it can use observations from the real world to move on from unsupported or disproven ideas. All ideas are in principle challengeable, but in practice, unless there is new information, old issues get resolved and put aside. The seriousness of a new ‘heresy’ then, can be measured in how much shrift is given to the crackpots. As Sagan said, one should always keep an open mind, but not one that is so open that your brains drop out.

The second sign that all is not well is in how well the supposed heretic understands why they are being criticised. Usually this is stated up-front by the critics – for instance, I have criticised Judy Curry for not knowing enough about what she has chosen to talk about, for not thinking clearly about the claims she has made with respect to the IPCC, and for flinging serious accusations at other scientists without just cause. Similarly, we have criticised Roger Pielke Jr. for frequently misrepresenting scientists (including me) and falsely accusing them of plagiarism, theft and totalitarianism. That both interpret these critiques as a disguised attack on their values, policies or scientific ideas would be funny if they were not so earnest. (For reference, we are just not that subtle).

Unfortunately, the narrative of the heretic is self-reinforcing. Once a scientist starts to perceive criticism as an attack on their values/ideas rather than embracing it in order to improve (or abandon) an approach, it is far more likely that they will in fact escalate the personalisation of the debate, leading to still further criticism of their conduct, which will be interpreted as a further attack on their values etc. This generally leads to increasing frustration and marginalisation, combined quite often with increasing media attention, at least temporarily. It very rarely leads to any improvement in public understanding.

The fact remains that science is hugely open to new thinking and new approaches. Indeed, it thrives on novelty. New data from new platforms, new calculations enabled by the increases in computing power and new analyses of the ever-increasing amount of observed data, each have the continual potential to challenge previously held ideas – if that can be demonstrated logically and with evidence to back it up. A recent example of a potentially dramatic new finding was the Haigh et al paper on solar forcing. If true, it would turn almost all work on solar effects on climate on its head, and they had no obvious problem publishing in Nature. This idea of knowledge sitting on a knife edge ready to flip whenever some new observation or insight arrives, is the reason why science is so exciting and fascinating. That is the reason why science deserves to be the story, and why journalists should be continuously searching for the ‘front page’ thought that will allow this story to be told to a wide audience. But all too often the real story is neglected in favour of a familiar well-worn, but inappropriate, trope.

It is clear that scientists’ obsession with clear thinking over narrative handicaps our attempts to communicate the seriousness of the climate change challenge. But since the media will continue to favor compelling narratives over substance, that is the method by which this debate will be fought.

542 Responses to “Science, narrative and heresy”

  1. 451
    Rod B says:

    Ray (431), I know it is a hypothetical and can’t really happen, but I have a theoretical question. If ALL the excess heat went into the ocean wouldn’t you still get global warming just slower and years/decades/centuries or maybe even longer delayed? You say the oceans sucking up a significant amount of energy would likely require a higher climate sensitivity: Require?? Can you explain the thought process of that?

  2. 452
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Bullis,
    No one is disputing that the result is interesting. The problem is that you are drawing absurd conclusions from the result–namely that heat transport to the deep oceans prevents serious warming.

    First, as I’ve pointed out, warming would at most be slowed, not prevented.

    Second, we know that the planet can and does warm on much shorter timescales than would be implied by a significant global mixing below 1000 meters. Your contention would require a very high climate sensitivity–one that would really put us in the soup.

  3. 453
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. The requirement of a high sensitivity arises from the fact that we still see warming on annual and decadal timescales despite the putative mixing deep into the ocean. This would mean that the energy imbalance is in fact huge, and once the ocean heat reservoir begins to saturate, we’d have rapid heat rise and very slow recovery even once CO2 levels begin to diminish. This is not what we see in the paleoclimate.

  4. 454

    Skeptical Science today has a piece on what I consider to the most important narrative in which we should engage… what is the real cost of mitigating climate change.

    I’m often quite annoyed at the skeptics who like to use the “alarmist” label against those that understand the implications of climate change, when in fact the label is far more appropriate to their absurd presentations of the economic impacts of reducing our fossil fuel dependence. Phrases like “destroy the economy” are quite common, or things like Septic Matthew’s “rapid elimination of the American coal industry and the businesses that depend on their electricity.”

    But while we all spend time arguing the science, the real argument, the question of “but why not just mitigate?” is rarely mentioned. Of course, the science is far more interesting than economics, certainly, but is not really the important point at this point in time, and hasn’t been for at least three years. Or rather, the deniers make it the focus, to avoid the painful reality that there’s just no reason in the world to avoid mitigation (except for the fact that it will “steal” outrageous, planned on profits from an entitled minority in the fossil fuel industry, such as the Koch family).

    Anyway, the Skeptical Science piece is an example of something that should be discussed more often, and brought to the public’s attention, more and more. I think the debate should be shifted from “why?” (it is/isn’t happening) to “why not?” (it is/isn’t expensive to mitigate).

  5. 455
    Rod B says:

    Brian Dodge (443), I didn’t read your reference, so maybe they just misspoke, but salinity and total dissolved solids (TDS) are not the same thing. TDS is not or a minimal negative effect on agriculture; often it’s a positive effect.

  6. 456

    #444 Jim Eaton

    Just for fun a little trivia:

    I was driving up to San Francisco with a friend of mine who happened to be an old timer engineer that helped build a lot of San Joaquin infrastructure.

    As we’re driving past Coalinga, he asks, do you know why it’s named Coalinga?

    No says I.

    He said that used to be Coaling Station A. The sign at the station was ‘Coaling A’

    The railroad no longer stops for coal, but the sign remains and eventually the locals just called the place Coalinga.

    I thought that was interesting, but then again, I’m easily entertained ;)

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  7. 457

    451 (Rod B),
    453 (Ray),

    I actually see the idea of the oceans acting as a damper to be a huge problem. That is, if the oceans absorb far more heat than expected, this does not change the earth’s equilibrium temperature, but does greatly change the amount of time required to reach that temperature.

    What this does in the real world is to provide the “look, there’s barely any warming” argument to deniers, along with “look, it’s happening so slowly, why should I care?” argument. The end result could, of course, be to continue burning fossil fuels until the equilibrium temperature is dangerously high, but not actually experienced until it is far, far too late to do anything about it.

    My favorite analogy is one of cranking the thermostat in your house way, way up, then breaking it. Five or even thirty minutes later you’re saying “see, that’s not so bad,” because no heating system will take effect that quickly. But many hours later you’re sweltering in unbearable temperatures, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because you broke the thermostat after turning it up (i.e. you dumped the CO2 into the atmosphere with no way to remove it).

  8. 458
    Didactylos says:

    Jim Bullis, I can find answers to these questions with Google. Why can’t you?

    You keep wondering why you don’t get answers that please you. How could you? There is a vast array of information about ocean models used in coupled models. Gavin isn’t your personal tutor. Go and read about it if you want to learn. If you don’t want to learn, then stop asking irritating questions and implying silly things.

  9. 459

    449 Ray Ladbury,

    To the extent that heat is flowing into the ocean, the planet does not return to radiative equilibrium.

    The surface temperature does not rise due to an equilibrium of the three heat flow processes, incoming radiation, outgoing radiation, and ocean heat intake rate.

    The ‘overturning’ rate of the oceans (studied more with the capability to take up CO2 than heat) has been determined to be slow enough that the ocean heat intake rate is negligible compared to the rate of warming that would come from radiative imbalance. I raise the question if that is true, in light of the referenced Argo data.

    And I mean by ‘ocean’ to refer to deep oceans.

    I also question if the mechanisms that drive the ‘overturning rate’ will change as atmospheric temperature increases, thereby causing a greater rate of heat flow into the oceans.

    And again, the referenced Argo data shows a surprising change in temperature over 7 years time. Yes, it is a single site in the Labrador Sea. So the current question is whether there is processed data like this for a wider set of samples.

  10. 460

    452 Ray Ladbury

    If I ever said that warming would be prevented, that was a mistake for sure.

    Why I would have said that I can not imagine, since my general premise is that as global warming happens, some, mechanisms to increase flow of heat into the ocean are strengthened. Thus, there would be a moderating effect.

  11. 461

    454 Bob (Sphaerica)

    I agree with you about mitigation, but get thoroughly trounced, often moderated off, for proposing such things.

    The “Skeptical Science” that you linked is a little behind for not including the EPA discussions on ‘carbon’ capture, transport, and sequestration. They mostly studied the capture part and made statement that the cost per ton of CO2 would be up to $95.

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/downloads/CCS-Task-Force-Report-2010.pdf

    Specifically on page 9 we find:

    Exact paste follows————————

    Though CCS technologies exist, “scaling up” these existing processes and integrating them with coal-based power generation poses technical, economic, and regulatory challenges. In the electricity sector, estimates of the incremental costs of new coal-fired plants with CCS relative to new conventional coal-fired plants typically range from $60 to $95 per tonne of CO2 avoided (DOE, 2010a). Approximately 70–90 percent of that cost is associated with capture and compression. Some of this cost could be offset by the use of CO2 for EOR for which there is an existing market, but EOR options may not be available for many projects.

    End paste —————–

    In reaction to this I opened the subject of creating new standing forests using re-distributed water on a continental basis. While the new forest could cost nothing in the long run, this could go far to balance use of coal in making electrical power.

    This encountered violent objection from established, pre global warming type, environmentalists, who seemed to care not a whit about global warming where there was a threat to the old environmental order, where the main course of affairs is to harangue the old industrial order.

    I had been hoping for rational discourse on how to give due consideration for the old environmental situations, but instead got heavy rocks rained down.

  12. 462
    MartinJB says:

    I’ve got to say, as a former student of marine biology and fisheries, that the idea of a lot of heat entering the ocean worries me, especially if accompanied by flatter thermoclines. If you look at some of the most productive areas of the ocean from a fisheries perspective, they take place where upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water intersects with surface layers. Can you imagine losing the Clupeid fisheries off the west coast of South America? I shudder at the prospect.

  13. 463
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Can you imagine losing the Clupeid fisheries
    > off the west coast of South America?

    Funny you should ask:

    swfsc.noaa.gov/publications/CR/1992/92104.PDF
    The rise and fall of the California sardine empire

    “Global climate change is likely to cause diverse alterations and changes in fisheries around the world….. The historical collapse of a major fishery like the California sardine fishery provides a number of lessons on how the local society and the national and international fishing industry may be expected to respond to these changes.

    Some of those lessons were postulated by Radovich (1981). ….

    Lessons drawn by Radovich regarding within-fishery dynamics include the following: ….
    — Research can be used to delay solutions as well as to provide solutions.

    We would offer a fifth lesson on the internal dynamics of fishery collapse:
    — Overfishing is a natural consequence of institutional (government as well as industry) momentum ….

    These lessons clearly indicate the path that a new industrial clupeid fishery may be expected to take. More importantly, they indicate that strong management is necessary to counter these destructive tendencies.”

  14. 464
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob (Sphaerica),
    I agree that a climate system with a significant amount of deep mixing would be more treacherous. However, we do know that the planet is warming at near the expected amount (~0.2 deg C/decade), so for this to be true AND for there to be a significant amount of deep mixing would imply a sensitivity far higher than currently envisioned. It would require a huge energy imbalance.

    Jim Bullis, It is likely a mistake to extrapolate a local measurement globally. It is an even bigger mistake to make such an extrapolation and draw conclusions based on it when you don’t fully understand it. The planet IS warming. Ice IS melting. And the models are getting things mostly right. The biggest mistake of all is assuming the errors will all go your way. Think “inside straight”.

  15. 465
    Brian Dodge says:

    “…but salinity and total dissolved solids (TDS) are not the same thing. TDS is not or a minimal negative effect on agriculture; often it’s a positive effect.” Rod B — 15 November 2010 @ 10:34 AM

    http://www.salinitymanagement.org/Salinity%20Management%20Guide/ls/ls_3d.html

    “Measures of salinity
    For water at Earth’s surface — rainwater, snow, lakes, streams, and shallow groundwater — the solute load typically consists mostly of inorganic ions and compounds.” In other words, salt.
    “If a sample of such water is filtered to remove suspended solids, then stored in a low-humidity environment long enough to evaporate completely, a residue of solid material will remain in the sample container. Dividing the mass of that residue by the volume of solution originally present yields a parameter known as total dissolved solids (TDS). TDS is expressed in milligrams per liter (mg/L).”
    “The electrical conductivity of water, or ECw, is the principal parameter used nowadays to measure a solution’s salt content. ”
    “EC works well as a proxy for total dissolved solids because a water’s ability to conduct an electrical current is directly related to the concentration of salts in solution.”
    “An ECw of 3 dS/m (equivalent to a TDS of about 2000 mg/L) is the upper limit for nearly all landscape plants. (Most plants cannot tolerate salinity higher than that.) Therefore, avoid using for irrigation any water that approaches or exceeds that level of salinity.”

    “Estimating TDS from EC
    A mathematical relationship between ECw and TDS has been devised, making it easy to correlate one type of measurement with the other. For most water, TDS, in milligrams per liter, is equivalent to approximately 640 times EC, in deciSiemens per centimeter.

    TDS (in mg/L) = ECw (in dS/m) × 640

    The coefficient of 640 in the equation above is appropriate for a fairly wide range of conditions. For waters of mixed composition, consider using a factor of 735 instead, and for concentrated solutions with EC exceeding 5 dS/m, consider using a factor of 800.”

    If you start with low TDS/salinity water, and increase its TDS by adding appropriate amounts of ammonium nitrate and potassium phosphate, it can be good for plants, but naturally occurring solutes in high levels don’t have ” a minimal effect on agriculture”.

    In areas with high evapotranspiration, like the arid regions of the southwest, salts accumulate in the soil as the irrigation water evaporates. see Figure III.A.1. “Typical salt accumulation patterns in soils irrigated by sprinklers or surface flooding, border check irrigation, furrow irrigation, and drip irrigation (Ayers and Westcot, 1985).” from Salt Management Guide for Landscape Irrigation with Recycled Water in Coastal Southern California – http://www.salinitymanagement.org/Literature_Review.pdf

  16. 466
    Brian Dodge says:

    “I also question if the mechanisms that drive the ‘overturning rate’ will change as atmospheric temperature increases, thereby causing a greater rate of heat flow into the oceans.” Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. — 15 November 2010 @ 1:56 PM
    IMHO, The delay in fall freeze of the Arctic ocean, plus the addition of ever increasing amounts of fresh water from Greenland melt may slow the AMOC. On the other hand, the decrease in Northern Hemisphere snow cover and consequent spring melt would tend to offset Greenland melt. Arrhenius figured out that the poles would warm more than the equator, and their difference in temperature is one of the drivers of AMOC as well as the large scale atmospheric circulation. Slower moving weather systems (and more extreme rainfall events) may be correlated with slower AMOC. Maybe I should do a little googling.

  17. 467
    Rod B says:

    Brian Dodge (465), TDS equals “salts” only in the chemical purist context. In the common and scientific field of water analysis, “salinity” refers only to ionic compounds of sodium and potassium (and a couple trivial ions) of which sodium (salt to everyone else) is the only one detrimental to agriculture and horticulture (depending on the concentration). In addition to the salinity of Na and K, TDS consists of predominately calcium and magnesium ionic compounds along with sometimes noticeable ions of selenium, silicone, and iron, and some (many) others in tiny amounts. TDS means one concentration thing; salinity means a different concentration thing. Your reference would equate salinity and TDS for only four reasons that I can think of: 1) they misspoke; 2) they’re being excessively pedantic; 3) they don’t know the difference (hard to believe); 4) they’re deliberately misleading.

    Sometimes “salinity” is used for everything in ocean studies; but in those cases “TDS” is not used.

  18. 468
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod B., where do you get your information? Got a source you can cite?

    The irrigation site Brian points to is consistent with other sources.

    Here’s another: “Total dissolved solids (effectively dissolved salts) is a measure of salinity. Dissolved salts conduct electricity in relation to their concentration, so electrical conductivity is another measure of salinity. Water salinity is derived primarily from the ions of calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and bicarbonates.” http://soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/waterirrigation.aspx

    More chemical purists around than you can shake a stick at, seems.

    Rather than a prolonged digression about opinions on this, a simple pointer to sources would suffice.

  19. 469
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jim, you knew the answer to that question months ago.
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/05/ocean-heat-content-increases-update/
    The “scientists don’t know” sites have been all excited about it off and on for several years, e.g.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=ocean+temperature+change+%2B700+%2Bmeters
    You’ve been repeating yourself, e.g.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Arealclimate.org+%2BBullis+%2Bocean+%2Btemperature
    Nobody’s trying to shut you up; people are trying to encourage you to get it together and make it coherent.

    Apparently you know a great deal about a huge database of ocean acoustic work that you think isn’t appreciated.
    If you got a blog, made a list of the sources after actually looking them up for yourself so you could point to available copies, whether in print or online, and summed up your ideas with reference to both what you know and what’s else published in the field, people would be able to give you useful feedback to get it together and publish it or encourage others to do so.

    Scattering the same material through many topics, and asking very simple questions easily answered by looking, isn’t helping.

    Nor is going from one broad area to another — cars on chicken legs, new forests, ocean temperature — over and over.

    Best of luck, I’d encourage you if you put it somewhere in coherent form, but, egad, I’m done with it here.

  20. 470
    Septic Matthew says:

    Here is another story about the relationship of climate science to big money, this one involving Munich Re:

    http://www.munichre.com/en/media_relations/company_news/2010/2010-06-24_company_news.aspx

  21. 471
    ccpo says:

    adelady says:
    14 November 2010 at 2:03 AM

    Evaporation rates on the Australian mainland are so high that the only feasible way to change the hydrology would be to restore the scrub and woodland that used to cover vast swathes of SA, WA and inland areas of Queensland and NSW. The land is so poor and so salty /alkaline/ horrible in many places that carbon sequestration would be a very slow business. And the effort involved is unbelievable.

    And yet, were it to be determined to be useful and necessary, likely could be done… including dealing with the salts.

    Greening the Desert – Masanobu Fukuoka
    http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC14/Fukuoka.htm

    Greening the Desert – Geoff Lawton video of Jordan project:

    Short
    http://www.youtube.com/watch%3fv=sohI6vnWZmk

    Long
    http://www.permacultureusa.org/2009/12/11/greening-the-desert-ii-final/

    Maybe you should give Geoff a call. (Tell him I sent you, and I’m still waiting for my 40 students.)

  22. 472

    #470 Septic Matthew

    I would not worry about Munich Re trying to distort the science. From what I’ve seen, their ‘big money’ is trying to get companies to understand the risk ratios, which by the way, they are very well aware of (my perspective).

    There are few companies in the world that take risks as seriously as insurance companies.

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  23. 473
    Septic Matthew says:

    472, John P. Reisman: I would not worry about Munich Re trying to distort the science.

    I don’t think your worries are exactly the topic, but do you worry about other insurance companies? Other companies?

  24. 474
    adelady says:

    ccpo Fukuoka is my hero.

    I’m also pretty keen on Peter Andrews “Back From the Brink” approach. Using environmental weeds, proscribed in practically every jurisdiction, to revive and regenerate water flows and retention gets him into trouble, but he’s been very successful. I’m sure that a modified approach using more “suitable” indigenous plants could be put together for various locations. He’s cantankerous, he’s not a scientist and he loathes permaculture, but he’s worth his seat at the table.

  25. 475

    469 Hank Roberts

    Here I am in my glass of wine condition and I see your #469.

    Uh, no I am honest, I hope beyond anything else, 1.6 glasses.

    Not in coherent form. Yup. I am afraid you got me there.

    What I want to show is that there are real answers to global warming. And I have to admit that I have not done that as well as I would like.

    Slowly and not surely, I plan to show that a car can be built that will use 80% less energy, trucks can be built that use 70% less energy, maybe more, coal fired electric power can be defeated gradually by distributed cogeneration – and yes – we might even do this using hybrid systems in the self-same cars of the first part as the equipment that would partially serve to reduce need for coal power. That being not quite enough, I thought hard about other ways to reduce CO2 from coal, but then the move to force power producers to carry out ‘carbon capture’ has offended sensibility so extremely I worked to find analternative, that being a water-forest plan which seems actually to have possibilities.

    That last paragraph can’t possibly be clear.

    [Response: To the contrary, it is Jim, and I for one appreciate your efforts to explain where you’re coming from. Most of us here are on the same page in terms of our desire to see GHGs limited, though we may well differ in how that’s best accomplished. If you can come up with a vehicle that is far more efficient, then the world is the better place for it. I couldn’t begin to address an issue like that–because I don’t know jack about the technicalities involved–I only know it’s a good idea overall. Conversely, I know things about forest ecosystems (as do some other folks around here) that you don’t. Doesn’t mean your broader goal isn’t a good one–it is–it just means that you may not be aware of some of the many less-than-obvious problems that can arise in trying to implement some of your ideas. We would be remiss if we didn’t bring these things up, as you would be if we said we had a good plan to build a car that gets 100 mpg and has no drawbacks or difficulties attached with accomplishing this.–Jim]

    Anyway. I find the business of climate science generally valid, but still it is confusing, perplexing and not at all satisfactory in the way it is handled.

    Cars on chicken legs? Now that is the unkindest cut of all. But still, it is fair. But going from one broad area to another? Nope. This is not something off the top of my head. Based on several years of detailed study, it seem it would actually solve a significant fraction of the energy use problem. Does anybody care? Not yet.

    And one thing leads to another. I bet you have not expected that the same principles involved in the chicken legged car apply to trucks. Wow, would that ever be silly.

    Look for more at http://www.miastrada.com as I try to get it together. Coherenet form? Maybe.

  26. 476
    Jim Eaton says:

    #471 ccpo:

    Your link to Masanobu Fukuoka has him suggesting:

    “One thing the people of the United States can do instead of going to outer space is to sow seeds from the space shuttle into the deserts.”

    Forgive me for being skeptical without any reason, but I don’t think there is a lot of science behind his proposal.

  27. 477
    Jim Eaton says:

    Re: 461, Jim Bullis”

    This encountered violent objection from established, pre global warming type, environmentalists, who seemed to care not a whit about global warming where there was a threat to the old environmental order, where the main course of affairs is to harangue the old industrial order.

    Jim, I think there are a lot of environmentalists who fully understand that all they have worked for to protect the native flora and fauna of our planet may be in jeopardy if we do not deal with global warming.

    But some of your suggestions are questioned because you seem to have no understanding how ecosystems of the world work. There is a reason redwoods aren’t found in the Mojave Desert, just like why Joshua Trees aren’t found in Oregon. You don’t simply add water to a desert and convert it to a temperate forest. You are ignoring the millions of years of evolution that has shaped where and how various plants and animals live, and also that evolutionary changes do not occur overnight.

    It makes far more sense to reestablish forests where they once flourished and were extirpated. And you are getting some objections from those of us who do not think Earth is a place where humans can wipe out plants and animals at will for whatever objectives the humans have. This is a wonderfully biodiverse Earth, and we should do everything we can to work towards a future where our species can thrive along with our fellow travelers on this planet rather than at their expense.

  28. 478

    #473 Septic Matthew

    Would not worry does not = worry. I’m not sure why you translated my saying “I would not worry” in “worries”? Please don’t misunderstand what I said about Munich Re. I am ‘not’ worried about them.

    I don’t know about other insurance companies, or other companies, as I have no direct experience with all the companies, but my general feeling is that we still have a long way to go on educating the public about the nature and risk of human caused global warming.

    I still strongly believe that it is not about believing global warming is happening. If we leave it at that we have a high risk of ending up with less meaningful policy.

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  29. 479
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Bullis, I understand your motivations, and I applaud them. However, I would urge that you. I would give you the counsel of H. L. Mencken, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

    You are talking about very complicated systems, that themselves will be changing due to warming. We’re not going to be able to turn the Sahara into a tree farm even as Subsaharan Africa dries out. Planting trees is a part of the answer. I’ve planted about 1500 in the past decade. But it’s a palliative, not a solution. First we have to fully understand the problem, and that will take time–time we’ve wasted and now must borrow back by slowing the burning of carbon.

  30. 480
    Didactylos says:

    Jim Bullis linked again to his website, so I had another look.

    I was curious to see whether he had addressed any of the problems with his “big idea”.

    He hasn’t.

    He hasn’t even acknowledged that any problems exist.

    Instead, I found the same wild claims as before, seemingly unchanged.

    Jim, if you have no time for the flaws in your own plans, don’t expect anyone else to waste time on them, either.

  31. 481
    SecularAnimist says:

    I may have said this before, but the real irony of Jim Bullis’s proposal for creating a mammoth continent-wide irrigation system to redistribute vast amounts of water so as to grow new “standing forests” in what are now arid regions, is that existing natural forests are being cut down and/or dying all over the world.

    It seems bizarre to talk about massive geoengineering projects to create huge monoculture tree plantations, when real forests — whole complex ecosystems — are being rapidly destroyed, taking a great many species along with them when they go, forever.

    Wouldn’t it be better to focus the effort that Jim envisions on stopping and reversing deforestation?

  32. 482
    Septic Matthew says:

    478, John P. Reisman: I still strongly believe that it is not about believing global warming is happening.

    There are actions that we should take whether we do or do not believe in global warming, such as replacing oil and cleaning or replacing coal.

    I think you are quibbling meaninglessly over the use of “worry” as a verb vs “worries” as a plural noun. The potential for an insurance company to hype threats so as to drive up premiums and profits is no less real than the potential for an energy company to promote its ideas (petroleum is good, from an oil company; wind is good, from a manufacturer of turbines) in order to sell its goods and increase its profits. Insurance companies have also been known to keep their premiums low in order to attract customers, and then to go bankrupt when nature proves their folly. The people in the insurance companies have the same fallibilities as the people in all other companies. It is a clear conflict of interest to have insurance company employees be lead authors on an IPCC report, as clear a conflict of interest as if they were employees of a carbon trading company or an energy company (Peabody Coal or GE.) The conflict is clear whether you do “worry” or have “worries”, or not.

  33. 483
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Septic Matthew says, “The potential for an insurance company to hype threats so as to drive up premiums and profits is no less real than the potential for an energy company to promote its ideas…”

    Well, except in one case the insurance company is basing its claims on science, while the oil company is just flat lying. See the difference?

  34. 484
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/g87327815xg2u1h2/
    A meteorologist and two engineers check in with a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge climatology, vindicating McKittrick’s overthrow of the dominant paradigm. Or something.

    Found using:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=McKitrick%2C+McIntyre+and+Herman

    It’s worth turning Google Ads back on if you’re ignoring them, to see how effectively the advertising medium is being used to hype the hype.
    Or something.

  35. 485

    480 Didactylos
    479 Ray Ladbury
    477 Jim Eaton
    adelady
    Hank Roberts

    Fair enough on the shortcomings of the Miastrada website. Maybe I should have added the recent developments on that subject rather than getting on a campaign to support our energy infrastructure.

    My chicken legged car concept is a right answer, with significant changes (patent progress has been made), to a large sector of CO2 emissions. There is no rush about that since the perception has been put out that by simply changing to electric cars we will get CO2 from cars eliminated; you know, ‘zero emission vehicles and MPGE?” So why worry mate? Markets forces do not change without some compelling reason.

    Strangely enough, the compelling reason might come to bear if the economy goes into deeper failure. But I would rather have the car be delayed than see that happen. Thus my priorities shifted to finding an alternative to ‘carbon’ capture, as it is now being planned by the EPA.

    I believe that government policy must be more supportive of the industrial system that makes our world the ‘developed world’, if we are to avoid sinking to a third world status. Thus, I argue for the new big thinking that could lead us in that direction, that being new standing forests.

    It seems that new standing forests could balance the CO2 from coal fired power plants, or much of it at least. Putting a serious plan in place to do this would give a new confidence to industry that could reverse our ever decreasing industrial productivity rate.

    It is necessary to discuss the broad general picture and the absolutely insurmountable flaws that may be therein. Then the real work begins, of designing the project and solving the vast problems that would obviously be encountered.

    Nobody has come up with insurmountable flaws. Big problems, yes, but not insurmountable in light of the fact that there is such a big problem.

    By the way, the most important feature of the tree project is that it might actually be politically possible in the real political world we live in. Not much else fits that requirement.

  36. 486

    481 Secular Animist

    Whatever effort we can muster to stop deforestation, that needs to continue. Much of this is beyond our reach, and I do not believe in global bossing.

    I have vague thoughts about how water might be used to provide agricultural alternatives to the agricultural reasons for deforestation. If water distribution could help in the countries that control rainforests, there might be some opportunities of that sort.

    In this vague way, I think we could see complementary efforts, not exclusionary.

  37. 487

    #482 Septic Matthew

    I’m afraid I’m still not following you? In my post #473 I did not say ‘worry’ or ‘worries’ regarding your post? So how am I quibbling between the two? You introduced the word worries in #473 saying I had ‘worries’.

    Then in #478 I tried to make a point that our decisions should be based on understanding, not beliefs.

    In #482 you say there are actions we should take whether or not we believe in global warming? Sure. But that is an idealistic view. We wont get the actions we need until people really understand the nature of the problem. That’s just the way the world works. I’m not disagreeing with your ideal, I’m just saying that’s not the way the world works.

    We don’t get what we need because of hope, or should, or any other ideal. We get what we need when people and politicians understand.

    Your concerns about Munich Re are unfounded. They are a reinsurance company. The only people they can be alarmist to would be other insurance companies, so it’s not about hyping to jack up rates.

    I can make guesses about what I think too, but I don’t make claims based on my guesses. It is not a “clear conflict of interest” to have insurance companies working on IPCC reports. In fact they are the companies that you want in the middle of the data analysis. They have, in some ways, the greatest potential to inform the business world.

    #483 Ray Ladbury – Thanks for your exceptional common sense, as usual.

  38. 488

    #484 Hank Roberts

    Wow! I gave that paper a scan. They sure did dress that pig with a lot of layers.

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  39. 489
    Septic Matthew says:

    483, Ray Ladbury: Well, except in one case the insurance company is basing its claims on science, while the oil company is just flat lying. See the difference?

    That comment is just plain naive.

  40. 490
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Septic Matthew, here is a news flash for you: It is possible to represent one’s own interests without lying. One way to do this is by basing one’s position on the best science available.

    I realize that this may come as a bit of a shock to you. However, it is not particularly revelatory to the adults among the readers.

  41. 491

    @485:

    “By the way, the most important feature of the tree project is that it might actually be politically possible in the real political world we live in. Not much else fits that requirement.”

    Jim, you’re dreaming. There is no conceivable way that your proposal will ever, ever be politically salable. Not funding-wise, not national sovereignty-wise, not water allocation-wise, not environmental-impact-wise.
    Folks have been trying to explain this to you.

    Now I’ll shut up on this topic again.

  42. 492
    JCH says:

    Jim – ditch the water park; stop jumping to conclusions about climate models. Consider things that grow in the SW, like cactus and ironwood, maybe mesquite. Ironwood sinks in water, and probably doesn’t need much water to stay alive. I don’t know, maybe it contains more carbon.

  43. 493

    489 Septic Mathew

    You say sensible things and they should be carefully considered.

  44. 494

    491 Kevin McKinney

    I gather you are not in favor of the forest and water concept.

    492 JCH

    I haven’t come to any conclusion about much of anything. Well, except maybe that there is a National reading problem, not to mention that sometimes there is even a writing problem…..

    That would be dishonest. I have come to believe that there is a National understanding gap in basic physics. It even seems that this problem pervades the developed world.

  45. 495
    Didactylos says:

    I had 5 minutes free, so I gave Jim Bullis some help.

    I estimated the drag area for his vehicle, using a few estimations from his drawing. I assumed a drag coefficient of 0.05 for the “aerodynamic” section.

    The total drag area is 1.02 sq m.

    That’s about the same as a Ford Escape or Jeep Grand Cherokee. (A Prius has a drag area of 0.58 sq m.)

    And this simply highlights the importance of doing the maths before making absurd claims. Due to the shape, the cross section is surprisingly large, making the contribution from the supposedly aerodynamic body a full quarter of the drag area. Using Jim’s “logic”, this means his vehicle will be half as fuel efficient as a normal car.

    I suspect that the actual drag may be worse, because I neglected parasitic drag and modelled the wheels as an ideal object. At the speeds needed to get any benefit from reduced form drag, parasitic drag will be a factor – and Jim’s wheels make no attempt to be remotely aerodynamic. So, Jim: view this as a lower bound.

  46. 496

    #494–“Not in favor?”

    I would be, if I thought it were workable. I’m deeply unenthusiastic about some of the alternatives–aerosol injection, etc.

    But my judgment–based on what I’ve seen you write–is that the difficulties and downsides are much larger than you’re accounting for. And let me assure you (leaving anything else aside), any proposal for massive diversions of Canadian water would be cause for a political firestorm–itself of massive proportions.

  47. 497
    Sou says:

    Just noticed there are a few people who have plans to plant forests all over Australia. Australia is the second driest continent after Antarctica. Where do these people propose to get the water from? Desalination plants all around the coast plus carting, or cart it from another continent, or maybe cloud seeding plus a giant wind machine to blow the clouds over the desert?

    There is already a ‘canal’ running down from the tropical north to the temperate south, down the eastern side of the country. It’s known as the Murray-Darling. Sometimes the rains from the north even make it as far as the sea in the south. Often, the water evaporates along the way. Now most of that runs through more temperate climates.

    Lake Eyre is sometimes converted from a giant salt pan into a salt lake, when the north gets enough water.

    I realise most people don’t know much about Australia – even those of us who live here! However, it might pay to stick to more realistic ventures than clog up realclimate.org with bizarre fantasies. (And the desert plants and animals will thank you – they deserve a life as much as anyone.)

  48. 498
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK, Jim and SM, put up or shut up. Produce the scientific evidence on which the energy interests are basing their contention that
    1)there’s no warming
    2)Ok, there’s warming, but it’s not significang
    3)Well, all right, it’s significant, but it’s all natural
    4)OK, it’s not natural, but it’s anything but CO2 (despibe nearly 200 years of evidence to the contrary)
    5)OK, it’s CO2, but it’s all good. It will turn the planet into a cornucopis.
    6)Ahhh! Too late to do anything about it. Oh well, it was a nice planet.

    Sorry, but I don’t see much of a coherent scientific position there.

    OTOH, if I were an insurance company, I think I could find plenty of evidence that would make me want to raise my rates.

  49. 499

    The Judith Curry Testimony Highlight Reel

    In a rational discussion of climate change, the question needs to be asked as to whether the framing of the problem and the early articulation of a preferred policy option by the UNFCCC has marginalized research on broader issues surrounding climate change, and resulted is an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in future climate change, and stifled the development of a broader range of policy options.

    The IPCC/UNFCCC have provided an important service to global society by alerting us to a global threat that is potentially catastrophic. The UNFCCC/IPCC has made an ambitious attempt to put a simplified frame around the problem of climate change and its solution in terms of anthropogenic forcing and CO2 stabilization polices. However, the result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate change and societal vulnerability.

    I figured Curry would raise the uncertainty flag and wave it around the room. This I’m sure pleased the Republicans. She also spent some energy on defending herself and her position as well as saying that

    “My own experience in publicly discussing concerns about how uncertainty is characterized by the IPCC has resulted in my being labeled as a “climate heretic”6 that has turned against my colleagues.”

    Nice narrative for/from her.

    The she goes into the benefits of climate change!!!! And shows off how much she has no clue about:

    “A view of the climate change problem as irreducibly global fails to recognize that some regions may actually benefit from a warmer and/or wetter climate. Areas of the world that currently cannot adequately support populations and agricultural efforts may become more desirable in future climate regimes.”

    Then she talks about water resources. hmmm. . . maybe she should get together with Lomborg, they might make a good obfuscation team as they dance between the pluses and minuses as ‘they’ interpret them to be true. . . still of course lacking expertise in the subjects to which they claim to be advantageous.

    On page 3 she focuses on the Himalaya IPCC mistake and the states:

    “The lack of veracity of the statement about the melting Himalayan glaciers has been widely discussed, and the mistake has been acknowledged by the IPCC. However, both of these statements seem inconsistent with the information in Table 10.2 of the IPCC AR4 WG II and the statement: . . .”

    So not she has found an inconsistency between AR4 and AR2.

    Page 5:

    “Climate scientists have made a forceful argument for a looming future threat from anthropogenic climate change. Based upon the background knowledge that we have, the threat does not seem to be an existential one on the time scale of the 21st century, even in its most alarming incarnation.”

    Page 6:

    “At this point, it seems more important to explore the uncertainties associated with future climate change rather than to attempt to reduce the uncertainties in a consensus-based approach.”

    And finally:

    And finally, climate scientists and the institutions that support them need to acknowledge and engage with ever-growing groups of citizen scientists, auditors, and extended peer communities that have become increasingly well organized by the blogosphere. The more sophisticated of these groups are challenging our conventional notions of expertise and are bringing much needed scrutiny particularly into issues surrounding historical and paleoclimate data records. These groups reflect a growing public interest in climate science and a growing concern about possible impacts of climate change and climate change policies. The acrimony that has developed between some climate scientists and blogospheric skeptics was amply evident in the sorry mess that is known as Climategate. Climategate illuminated the fundamental need for improved and transparent historical and paleoclimate data sets and improved information systems so that these data are easily accessed and interpreted.

    Blogospheric communities can potentially be important in identifying and securing the common interest at these disparate scales in the solution space of the energy, climate and ocean acidification problems. A diversity of views on interpreting the scientific evidence and a broad range of ideas on how to address these challenges doesn’t hinder the implementation of diverse megaton and kiloton solutions at local and regional scales. Securing the common interest on local and regional scales provides a basis for the successful implementation of climate adaptation strategies. Successes on the local and regional scale and then national scales make it much more likely that global issues can be confronted in an effective way.

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  50. 500
    Anonymous Coward says:

    I see Jim Bullis has been polluting yet another thread with the same material he already posted on many other threads.
    For the people who haven’t read the other threads, the way Jim Bullis gets his “new forests” in currently arid areas of the United States to have a meaningful impact on atmospheric CO2 concentrations is to assume that they will be as productive as some of the best equatorial eucalyptus plantations. I think the problems associated with operating 60’000 square kilometers of eucalyptus plantation in arid aeras of the US are obvious enough but Jim Bullis’ plan is more ambitous that that: these “new forests” are actually supposed to keep accumulating carbon at this rate for decades without the wood being harvested! These forests are obviously “new” in the sense that they would require some as yet unforeseen genetically engineered super-tree species.