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Handbook in Denialism

Filed under: — rasmus @ 4 May 2011

It would not surprise me if the denialists would deny the existence of the new book by Haydn Washington and John Cook ( ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand‘. Somehow, I don’t think they will read it – but they are not target group of this book either. Anyway, denialism is, according to the book, a common human trait – we should all know somebody who deny one thing thing or another.

Furthermore, denial is not the same as being skeptical, either, and Washington and Cook argue it is quite the opposite. Hence, the term “skeptics” for these deniers can be described as Orwellian “doublespeak”“newspeak”.

Denial is apparently caused by our lizard brainstem. What coincidence then, when talking about fossil fuels from plants from the era of huge long dead lizards (the fossil fuels are not made of the dinosaurs), that denying evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is linked to that lizard part of the brain. So, what about using the labels ‘reptiles’ or ‘dinos’? Washington and Cook opt for ‘deniers’, and so will I hereafter.

‘Climate Change Denial’ is a useful book and resource for those with an open mind – for instance journalists. It reads easy and provides a fairly concise picture of the situation many of climate scientists have to live with.

The book makes many good points, but I’d like to add some of my own thoughts. Many of the deniers dress up in a scientific cloak, but if the criteria of science is Replicability (‘R’), Objectivity (‘O’), and Transparency (‘T’) (remember ‘ROT’), then any rotten argument should easily be discarded. If there is any substance to the counter claims, then there should be no problem replicating these with objective methods, and similar data (science is only interesting if the results are universal). I have tried to get some denialists to show me their method and data, but end up being told that I’m stupid.

One problem is that there is no good public stage for evaluating claims by applying ROT – Internet is just too vast and disorganized, in addition to being limited to people active on the Internet. But books as this are one contribution to examining the claims.

”Climate Change Denial’ discusses the most common set of denial arguments. When Washington and Cook address the precautionary principle, they provide some examples. They could equally have mentioned that the precautionary principle is used very selectively and inconsistently – such as WMD in Iraq.

I think the discussion about the scientific method, consensus, and basic climate science may be useful for many readers. The book explains that consensus arises when there is a most convincing explanation for the conditions we see – this is often twisted and put on its head, and denialists think that the explanation follows the consensus, exposing ignorance about fundamental aspects of science.

One of my own favorite criticisms of the deniers is their use of dogmatic reference to various texts (described as “cherry picked” in the book) and repeat this claim over and over again. Although repeating it doesn’t make it more true, it’s a cunning way to drive in their message in people’s mind – just like cramming or training. This behavior also shows that there is no dialogue, as any counter argument is almost with out exception neglected. This in addition to making completely illogical connections.

The discussion about the climate science is fairly brief, but I think that the book would have been even more convincing by citing more broadly, rather than keeping referring to a handful of central people. It would be good to show the vast volume of work done in climate science supporting the concept of AGW, as some names (and the IPCC) are getting a bit worn over time through having their work (only) seemingly tarnished by the denialist camp.

The discussion about feedbacks provides a useful list of amplifying or dampening mechanisms playing a role for an AGW, but I missed three dampening feedbacks. Furthermore, ‘negative’ feedbacks in various systems work may be either through reducing the effect of an initial forcing (the black body feedback, lapse rate feedback), or by keeping the state near an optimal state (oscillator, ‘Gaia’-hypothesis, thermostat-type).

For either case of negative feedback, I think it would be a challenge to explain how a planet could sustain a GHE if you consider one with no atmosphere and gradually add a greenhouse gas. This way of analysing the situation is a bit similar to some approaches for solving physics problems, such as estimating the velocity of satellites around the earth by assuming that it’s initially very (infinitely) far away and assuming that loss in potential energy equals gain in kinetic energy. Similarly, if the earth starts with as little atmosphere as the moon, and that it gradually gets thicker and more extensive, how sensitive would the surface temperature be to the gas concentrations if the sensitivity was very low? Or does the fact that earth’s surface is about 30C warmer than if it had no atmosphere mean a more substantial sensitivity – even when the forcing is proportional to the logarithm of the CO2 concentrations? And what about Venus’ hot surface?

Some feedbacks are non-linear, and some act with a time delay (in many systems, that often gives rise to spontaneous fluctuations). I found it surprising that the book discussed a runaway greenhouse effect, but this concept is hardly being discussed – as far as I know – in the research community. Again, I think the book draws on a small number of scientists.

Washington and Cook refer to two studies demonstrating the different view of AGW in the climate research community and the general public. Whereas 97.5% of the (active) climate research community thinks AGW is a real problem (Doran and Zimmerman, 2009), only 58% (Gallup, 2009) of the general society shares this view. This is a really serious situation of great concern. They also list a number of reasons why this may be so. I think they do have a point, but I also think that there are other reasons too. In fact, I wonder if this is not what one would expect, given the circumstances? This question is relevant for their discussion of the ‘deficit model‘. The question is whether the society’s knowledge about AGW is really the major hirdle – which Washington and Cook argue that may not be so, but rather due to our denial.

On the other hand, the amount of effort and work dedicated into communicating our knowledge about our climate has been really tiny! Most scientists are mainly doing other things. Communication has perhaps not been sufficiently valued and not been regarded as an important job. Such activities have in the past not been well coordinated and may have suffered from lack of collaboration, as many scientists often compete with one another for the same funding. In other words, too little resources, too little collaboration, and lack of training (The IPCC report do not reach the masses, but seem to be written by scientist for scientists).

The present situation also suggests that the denial campaign have been hugely successful – due to a well-funded propaganda campaign according to Oreskes and Conway. Communication is probably more important than we think – just consider the fuzz around “Climategate”, Wikileaks, Al Jazeera, and the effect of social media in recent days in North Africa.

Although not said explicitly in the book, science must become more ‘domesticated’ in order to make progress. ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand‘ is a step in this direction. Science should be something that everybody feel an ownership to and that is relevant for everybody, not just the elite (this is discussed in more detail by Chris Mooney). The deniers campaign may have been successful at increasing the gap between science and the society even further.

There is also the fact that way too little has been done regarding mitigation and adaptation, and too few people work with these issues. So when top politicians travel around to international climate summits, but provide little funding for work on mitigation and adaptation – that really is double communication. Washington and Cook call it ‘governmental denial’. I see some irony in this – at a recent conference (Carbononiums), the Norwegian minister of environment denied that the AGW-deniers matter, as well as that any influential politician denies AGW.

The last part of the book discusses economy, philosophy, politics, and solutions to the climate problem. I think that this part compliments a similar discussion in Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber’s recent book ‘Changing Planet, Changing Health‘, as I don’t think their list is completely exhaustive. Their message about philosophy seems to be that post-modernism has been widely misunderstood, and I gather that too many journalists have got too strong a dose of post-modernism in their journalism education (balance aspect).

What is really needed, I guess, is that they keep in mind ROT and try to examine the evidence for the different views. Basically, do some work rather than just reporting the disagreement in a superficial fashion. I’d urge journalists to act more like detectives and examine the logic of the claims- what is really behind the argument? I can’t imagine post-modern detectives and lawyers.

The book also discusses overpopulation and geo-engineering – for more detailed discussion on the latter, I’d recommend Flemmings recent book ‘Fixing the sky’. Regarding overpopulation, Washington and Cook refer to Paul Ehrlich’s book form 1968 ‘The Population Bomb’, and states that the impact from overpopulation is the product of population × affluence × technology. The validity and usefulness of this equation is debatable.

The last chapters in Washington and Cook book provide a more subjective and compassionate discussion about climate change – which I think also is important. They argue about the urgency in fixing the world’s climate and environmental problem, and suggest a number of solutions, and touch upon the materialistic values (a bit like TheStoryofStuff), and discuss the need to reset our values (perhaps a bit like “Yes Men fix the world“). Their views are sure to cause provocation in some quarters. Nevertheless, I think that these chapters provide a nice complementation to some of the discussion provided in Epstein and Ferber’s book, who also discuss things like wedges, smart power nets, etc.

None of these books discuss possible ‘multiplicative effects’, where several factors proportionally increase the effect. For instance, if more effective cars only use 70% of fuel, the portion of fossil sources for energy use is adjusted down to 80%, smart planning and collaboration results in 4 people in each car (say 30%), and a ‘smart’ organization of the working week means less commuting (80%; TGIT), then combined effect of this can in theory give a reduction by 0.7 x 0.8 x 0.3 x 0.8 = 0.13. Likewise, a combination of increased efficiency at both ends of energy production and consumption can in principle result in an enhanced mitigating effect. Washington and Cook argue that we really need to get on with this work, as the AGW problem is an urgent problem: The longer we wait – the worse the situation.

190 Responses to “Handbook in Denialism”

  1. 101
    CM says:

    Vincent #84, I don’t mean to dwell on this — at least until I’ve read the book!, but just for the record, I don’t think that the triune brain model as such was “pseudoscience”. As for using it to explain ideological positions, though, we agree.

  2. 102

    89 Susan Anderson,

    You mention a book by Michael Tobis and learning physics from it.

    I continue to puzzle over the apparent lack of understanding of physics among the authorities making critical energy decisions. I explain this to myself as something that could only be happening if basic physics had been generally forgotten.

    When the old folk such as myself were taught physics there was emphasis placed on the relationship between the Laws of Thermodynamics and the basis of the Industrial Revolution. I think we would not have been allowed a passing grade without understanding the severe burden on the process of converting from heat to mechanical energy that the Second Law imposed. Also part of the program would be a clear teaching of the function of an electric motor/generator as a translator of energy from electrical energy to mechanical energy. Nobody would have graduated thinking that efficiency of an electric motor could be compared with efficiency of a heat engine.

    So my perplexed condition continues to worsen, having been able to roust out hardly anyone who understands the above paragraph. We old folks have a handy excuse, being old and such, but the explanation for malfeasance by the young folk has to be that physics is not really taught the same way these days. I have surveyed more recent texts, and the material is still there, though the emphasis might be lessened.

    Another explanation is that this topic became so unimportant through the days of cheap fuel and shift of interest to electronics that it was regarded as a topic to enable catching up on sleep, instead of giving it rapt attention.

    So perhaps you will report to us what Michael Tobis says on this subject. You might note from the string of comments here that it is once again a topic of importance.

  3. 103
    Susan Anderson says:

    Jim Bullis, thanks for your good intentions. Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and I understand how physics works fairly well for a layperson. I get that that’s your opinion and you’re sticking with it, but I have excellent physicist sources and they don’t agree with you.

    I like what Michael Tobis said (well, taking a look, a small part of the many things mt said, most of which are useful and relevant):

    “0.7 C is neither a nudge nor not a nudge. This is the problem; a lot of people are just assuming that roughly speaking we increase everything everywhere by 0.7C and consider how the climate responds. Anything not explainable by that nudge is attributed to ordinary run of the mill bad luck.

    “No, it is better to look in terms of energy rather than temperature. The current net anthropogenic forcing is about equivalent to a bit less than 1% increase in solar energy hitting the surface, or about 2 watts per square meter; eventually going up to perhaps 8.”

    “He is arguing that severe events not be used in hypothesis testing. I agree.

    “I am arguing that even though statistical attribution of extreme events is not possible, that does not mean that the causality is absent. These points are compatible but not identical.”

    “I am really exasperated by people who, when they don’t find unambiguous trends, conclude that nothing is happening.”

    Please forgive me for using my current reading to try to say better what I would like to be able to say. BTW, mt is *not* of the sources I mentioned in par. 1.

  4. 104
    John E. Pearson says:

    Jim regarding the article that Joe7pak was misquoting.

    I almost found the article which was by David Lobell and Justin Costa-Roberts and it was published in science. I haven’t actually found it and have to run. But here is an interview that should get you started.

    [Response: Thanks John. It’s Lobell et al 2011 Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980 DOI:10.1126/science.1204531.–Jim]

  5. 105
    Susan Anderson says:

    JB: oops, crossed in the mail. I am closely studying mt’s recent blog posts and comments, did I mention a book? A few direct quotes have already been submitted. Your claims don’t outweigh other information I’ve been trying to understand. My approach more closely ties in with Masters at Wunderground (you could also check out climatesignals, climatecentral, or a number of other places that keep track over weather events). I’m an artist with considerable experience of how science works. Your pose (rousting out somebody who can explain, come on!) strikes me as disingenuous. I’m not sure why you decided to set me straight, but you may have the last word as I don’t plan to pursue this any further with you.

    There is no possible way I can contribute to physics but I’d like the general population to have a better understanding of uncertainly, and how uncertainty about something is not an indication that it is wrong or incorrect. That’s why I like the mt work.

  6. 106
    Girma says:

    Global mean temperature pattern is cyclic as shown in the following graph!

    CO2 emission has nothing to do with global mean temperature as its patterns before and after mid 20th century, before and after wide spread use of fossil fuel, are nearly identical.

    [Response: Brilliant in all regards.–Jim]

  7. 107
    Dan H. says:

    Excellent graph Girma,
    Overlaying the oscillating nature of the temperature graph atop the linear increase of 0.6C/century really puts everything in perspective. I have been arguing this for a while, but have not seen as good a graph as you just referenced. Continuing on our current trend will result in temperatures 0.2C higher than today by the year 2100. Hardly much to get excited about, and part of the reason that many people are rejecting some of the higher predictions of 2C or more. This does not negate the possibility of mankind being the cause of the linear portion of the increase, but does show just how much out of range the IPCC predictions are, and I am truly amazing that some people think those predictions are too low.

    [Response: It’s not often that I pull out the John McEnroe reference, but you earned it. You have very serious holes in your understanding Dan.–Jim]

  8. 108
    Susan Anderson says:

    j6p: hardly worth the trouble, but the “taken to the cleaners” was your statement that I turned backatcha. I suggested you read up and referred you to some real information, and you came back with typical evasion. Your pretence that these are some other people is belied by your acceptance of the idea represented by your words. Others more able than I have also responded, but it appears you are not interested in doing your homework.

    However, here are the references once again. Please get cracking. This is boring and does not belong here unless you are willing to give it some thought and time.

    A good place to start:

    As I understand it, the owners of this blog are willing to tolerate genuine questions but you are beginning to demonstrate that you have a closed mind, and most here have real work to do and would like to get back to it.

  9. 109
    Susan Anderson says:

    hey girma [Orssengo],

    Thought you said you’d been banned here and wanted me to represent you. [guys, he offered me money but perhaps that’s so I’d look bad and/or give up my personal email.] Suggest your responders take a look at your website and see if it’s real. hides as well as shortens.

    Thankfully, here I don’t need to do my inadequate best as many others are up to the task. They only tolerate me because I mostly mind my p’s and q’s, admit what I don’t know, and am willing to admit I’m wrong, which I’ve not yet seen from any fake skeptics.


  10. 110

    103 Susan Anderson

    I have made several points in this series, so I am confused by your #105 and #103.

    Point 1: You would never find me saying that uncertainty about something proved that something to be wrong. Apparently we agree on that. Neither would I say that an uncertainty proved that something to be right. I am not sure where you are on this, but it sounds like you would be ok with incorrect thinking if it led to a conclusion you already endorse.

    Point 2: Also, I also was attempting to point out the logical impossibility of using a recent climate event to demonstrate global warming when a similar event was worse 80 years ago.

    Point 3: You say you understand how science works and have excellent physicist sources. When you say that my ‘claims’ disagree with your sources, I suggest that science would lead you to note what claims you are referring to and to explain why they are disagreeable.

    Point 4: The ‘efficiency of an electric motor compared to efficiency’ of an internal combustion engine’ is often asserted as proof that an electric vehicle is an important climate solution. As I discussed, this is gibberish and simply because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is not logically possible for an ‘excellent physicist’ to think otherwise. How your understanding of physics relates to this I have no knowledge, and addressing you on this happened because you mentioned a book that would seem to be about this subject.

  11. 111

    88 Hank Roberts,

    Right you are, though it is hard to know what physical processes are represented by these numbers.

    It is still ok to count a big gain for carpools, though this is about the last change in human behavior that I would count on.

    Extrapolation of reported carpooling results should not begin until it is noted that most of the carpoolers are people that would be riding together anyway. In California it was necessary to make the carpool rule apply if two or more ride together. Thus, there is not a lot of reason to extrapolate very far. My observations are that carpool lanes are used by, first, cars with husband and wife, second, cars with a mother and a child, and, occassionally, two construction workers riding to a work site. Exclude these that already ride together and the California carpool lanes could be safely used for shuffleboard games.

  12. 112
    JCH says:

    For example, I just heard that the terrible tornado season is due to global warming and also that it is the worst tornado season since 1935. What is wrong with this statement? – Jim Bullis

    Not saying I don’t trust your hearing, but I would prefer to read what they actually said before pondering what is wrong with their statement.

  13. 113
    flxible says:

    re95 from joe6pak and Jim’s response:
    here’s the story joe references, which oddly enough ignores the fact that much of the Canadian praries had a poor crop last year due to unusually wet conditions, and that right at the moment something over a million acres of that same land is under water at spring planting time, and is projected to be so for as much as another month. Of course we can’t blame the record flooding on AGW. The study abstract is here.

    [Response: Thanks for the links here and earlier. Complete distortion by the Vancouver paper–most prominently in the headline of course– of what the Science article actually addresses and concludes. Classic negligence (giving them the benefit of the doubt).–Jim]

  14. 114

    112 JCH

    I mentioned something I had heard, which of course has to depend on my hearing. Not too surprising, what I heard is not available to read. Surely you have heard such things. But forget the hearing stuff. Let’s go to something you can read, which I paste here for your reading pleasure:

    “If I live in the deep south and I see the worst tornado outbreak in 85 years, or near Memphis and see the Mississippi crest at it’s highest measured level, or in western Oklahoma and see the longest streak of low-precipitation days in over 100 years, then yes, that’s going to affect my judgement.”

    Now I ask similarly as before, what is wrong with the quoted statement as an analysis of evidence of global warming?

    [Response: You’re taking what I said out of context and thereby missing the point. I was countering the idea that if you just “look out your window” in North America, you will not observe any obvious changes or events that will indicate that climate change is occurring. This idea originated from a completely bogus newspaper headline/article that Joe6pack linked to, out of Vancouver BC which completely and utterly got wrong the main points of an article which appeared in Science (online only) this week, which flixible, John Pearson, and my response to John, have all pointed to. You then quote here ,what I said earlier, out of context, to prove that people are claiming that these extreme events are demonstrations of global warming. I’m not claiming any such thing, and if you would have read and understood my response to Pete D, you would understand that. You have a habit of twisting and misinterpreting what people say to fit your viewpoint, and I’m tired of it. If you continue to do it, I’ll just delete your comments, because I don’t have time to lead you by the hand through things that you should have figured out on your own. Got it?–Jim]

  15. 115
    Joesixpack says:

    #108 Susan

    My “taken to the cleaners” statement was not referring to the CRU Hack event.
    I was referring to the 08-09 financial crisis where big Banks took people to the cleaners.

  16. 116

    “Why don’t the two of you go take each other for a ride?”

    Dear CM, and respected moderator. I have been a reader of this blog from almost when it started, and wish to do so in the future too. I am not professional in climate sensitivity, but I am a professional futurist, and I try to be responsible in how I estimate what socioeconomic and political solutions are possible/efficient and how society responds overall to these issues. It is my sincere hope to try and do what I can to spread the understanding that we need to mitigate and adapt in all the ways that are possible and efficient.

    I find it slightly troubling that my posting that showed reference to inside opinions on how the greens hinder efficient mitigation and adaptation efforts is considered off topic, but how clearly off topic this ad hominem attacks against me and Jim Bullis are considered appropriate instead. If CM intended to cast doubt on my motives, he referred to 11 years old very high risk investment of a futurist. Clearly to my mind, that should be irrelevant to whatever is discussed here. And currently the engine the referred personally major but globally insignificant investment was used on is adapted to run on renewables.

  17. 117
    Chris O'Neill says:

    Dan H:

    I am truly amazing

    At least he got that right.

  18. 118
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Dan H., Girma,

    Poor Baby Jesus must have been shivering at 12 degrees below present… ah, the joys of extrapolation ;-)

  19. 119
    John E. Pearson says:

    Dan H. 107: Please disregard earlier comments I made to you. When I spoke to you previously it was the first comment of yours that I had read and assumed you only had misunderstood that there is no consensus on the effect of global heating on ENSO, etc. Now I see that I am treading perilously close to a Pearson’s first law violation.

    [Response: …And from another forum which we have both since departed, I know exactly what that law is John…and yes you are.–Jim]

  20. 120
    Brian Dodge says:

    “So when you say that the impact of global warming on climate is obvious, I say, ‘Huh?’ Yes, it seems so in some cases but many times, not so much.For example, I just heard that the terrible tornado season is due to global warming and also that it is the worst tornado season since 1935.” Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company — 7 May 2011 @ 2:23 PM

    Jim, I have a pair of dice that I rolled 3600 times, and I got 203 snake eyes. I just rolled them one more time, and got snake eyes; was that a random event, or are the dice loaded?

    “Point 2: Also, I also was attempting to point out the logical impossibility of using a recent climate event to demonstrate global warming when a similar event was worse 80 years ago.” Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company — 7 May 2011 @ 7:46 PM

    We don’t have just one roll of the dice, or just one recent climate event, but a string of observations –
    “…you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” I don’t.

  21. 121
    CM says:


    I’m sorry, that was immature of me (I just thought the coincidence was too precious to pass up), and rude to a relative stranger (Jim Bullis took it in good humor, but he and I have had amicable differences in the past on the merits of his arguments). To the extent there was an implied ad hom, I’m sure folks here will know to disregard it. Regarding criticism of the moderation here, I offer this golden rule: for what little gets suppressed, thank the moderators; for what gets through, blame the posters.

  22. 122
    Titus says:

    In days gone by we had “Natual Philosophers”. Scientists types and all manner of folks would collect the data and build the knowledge bank. Natural Philosophers would add understanding, perspective and communicate.

    I’m thinking this might be something we could re-establish. It would certainly take the heat off scientists and they could focus unhindered with their research.

  23. 123
    Peter Kirkos says:

    “Denial is apparently caused by our lizard brainstem”. I wonder which part of the brain causes gullibility.

  24. 124
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    The paper on crop yields does not include the word “protein”.

    [Response: ?]

  25. 125
    dhogaza says:


    “Point 2: Also, I also was attempting to point out the logical impossibility of using a recent climate event to demonstrate global warming when a similar event was worse 80 years ago.” Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company — 7 May 2011 @ 7:46 PM

    Mortality’s a poor proxy for the extent of tornado outbreaks – particularly when you go back decades -, which themselves are an imperfect proxy for the size of the supercells which lead to them (in combination with cool air descending from the north).

  26. 126

    121 CM

    I found that Risto is interested in some very interesting things, some more futuristic than others.

    It is interesting how futuristic thinking can lead to more immediate technology, in his case, his interest in VTOL aircraft seems to have tied in to a new generation of small Wankel engines, which could be interesting in a high efficiency car of the sort that I advocate.

  27. 127

    CM, lol, ok. Just sounded so much like “take a hike”, or “go fly a kite”. I was not sure it was not hostile, and I was still recovering from my surprise of the removal of my message, which I still think was relevant to the discussion but not apparently so. But back to the point. It is very difficult to talk about denial in its various forms without understanding the human trait – not to think rationally – but to follow packages of thought and opinion leaders who own those packages. In US i.e. it seems Republicans are against anything that comes from Democrats. In Finland the packaging is different. Our conservatives do believe in global warming and support actions.

    Another issue is, when you see someone claim one thing but then act differently, it is quite difficult to believe they are sincere. This is what Brand basically claims the green movement is doing, paying lip service to global warming, but not really giving up on any other targets to show that global warming would be first priority. My basic claim is that it would be so much easier for most people to believe in global warming if the suggested action would show higher priority to mitigation efforts than the traditional agenda (if i.e. nukes, GE and cities would be at least considered as a solution instead of dogmatic negation Brand shows to be true too often). Currently it seems that many groups use global warming as an excuse to drive their old agenda, but the old agenda seems more important than fighting climate change with the available tools. This is not as apparent denial as what is usually being considered in these pages, but it does undermine the importance of the needed action and I would consider it more efficient hindrance than denial at least in Europe where the green movement is a real political force.

  28. 128
    John E. Pearson says:

    120 Brian Dodge:

    Yes your dice are loaded. If they weren’t loaded you’d have gotten snake eyes about 100 times.

  29. 129
    Dan H. says:

    Yes John,
    His dice are definitely loaded to arrive at his results. Also, I cannot find a reference to a deadly 1935 tornado season. Perhaps he was referring to the infamous “tri-state tornado” of 1925. Data from NOAA since 1950 shows that 1974 was the worst for strong tornadoes (F3+), which is a better indicator as many smaller funnel clouds went unreported prior to the latest detection methods.

    All in all, tornadic activity is a poor measure of a changing climate.

    [Response: Might be, might not be. You’re welcome to provide definitive evidence, instead of assertions, in the open thread–Jim]

  30. 130
    Susan Anderson says:

    I’ve been hiding after letting my feelings get the better of my common sense and knowledge in the attack on girma (109) for which I apologize. The facts about his offer are true, and I find his clever misdirection annoying, but that is no excuse for arguing outside what I know and am able to understand, and getting personal with it, not to mention making it way too much about me.

    I will leave it to others to take a look at that cute graphic and see what it says. I don’t get that it says anything worthwhile or new about heat trapping gases and their causality, though.

    I’ve been expecting a classic Ray Ladbury WTF for my excess, but am glad the discussion has moved on without me.

    Nonetheless, I stand corrected, and will try to avoid getting too big for my boots here again.

    Jim Bullis, I thought I said you could have the last word. If I didn’t, I meant to … go ahead, have another … and another … I still like the way Michael Tobis’s mind works and it is helping me get my pointy little head redirected into the zone of reality and difficult/easy ideas.

    At the risk of cluttering up his blog with nonsense (he’s a worker) here it is:

  31. 131

    The following post seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Without it the discussion flow is hard to follow.

    9 May 2011 at 2:36 AM
    120 Brian Dodge,

    If you read carefully you should realize that I am criticizing the manner of presenting a case, where illogical statements serve to weaken the case. A first chicken little, a second chicken little, and a third chicken little might result in orders to shoot chickens. I am suggesting that a ‘chicken little event’ is an event with an accompanying ‘worst since 1930 etc. descriptor’.

    However, from your probability illustration, I do see your point, and were there to be many extreme events each year to work with, and twice as many extreme events in present years than in the past, that would carry weight.
    Perhaps there are some analyses of weather events that make the case as I would hope to see it made.

    Obviously you see obviousness in your observations. I am not there yet, though I do recognize a serious underlying problem due to excess of CO2. So much so that I am working to build motor vehicles that would dramatically change things; also I have been pursuing ways to capture CO2 from the air and ways to generate electric power without the excessive waste of heat that we now are doing.

  32. 132

    129 Dan H

    The tornado history was based on a hypothetical premise by moderator under #95. I would not waste time trying to look it up.

    [Response: Wrong again. It was in fact *you* who first mentioned 1935 as some sort of significant date. Strike two.–Jim]

    The discussion was about how people’s perception can be influenced.

  33. 133
    JCH says:

    Jim Bullis – what was more severe in ~1935? The number of tornadoes? The strength? The death count? people may inform me otherwise if I am wrong about this, but in most news accounts it appears they are saying in the past in Alabama, around 1932, more people died during a tornado event. Since 1932, considerable work has been done to make it less likely people will die in a tornado event. So how should the two episodes be compared?

    So, what is wrong with the statement? More importantly, what may be wrong with what you think is wrong with the statement?

  34. 134
    flxible says:

    JimBullis – When thinking “about how people’s perception can be influenced”, you might consider when someone says the current flooding along the Mississippi is the worst since xxxx, that literally billions of dollars have been spent since xxxx on mitigation to prevent that flooding from reoccuring …. and it didn’t, which likely means the current situation is way beyond that historic event, not that “it was last matched” then.

  35. 135
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    @ Response # 124 : Eat more beans

    The yield of food crops, especially beans and grains, is protein, not just mass. The paper uses the expression “CO2 fertilization”, and 558 ppm CO2 but plants can not turn carbon into nitrogen. Soybeans (Fabaceae, Glycine max) with their nitrogen fixing bacteria can keep up protein content, but other plants won’t without nitrogen fertilizer, which will contribute nitric oxide to the atmosphere.

    It has also been found that excess CO2 can make certain agricultural plants less nutritious for human and animal consumption. Zhu 2005, a three-year FACE study, concluded that a 10% decrease in the protein content of rice is expected at 550 ppm, with decreases in iron and zinc contents also found. Similarly, Högy et al. 2009, also a FACE study at 550 ppm, found a 7% drop in protein content for wheat, along with decreased amino acid and iron content. Somewhat ironically, this reduction in nutrient content is partially caused by the very increase in growth rates that CO2 encourages in C3 plants, since rapid growth leaves less time for nutrient accumulation.


    I don’t think great yields will come fields at continuous heat wave temperatures, plagued by drought or flood. And the worlds great forests may already have burned before CO2 gets that high. CO2 – great fertilizer.

    But you knew that.

    [Response: Very nice article there by Dawei. Generally speaking, CO2 is indeed beneficial, but plants are complex critters and there will likely be some negatives and some surprises. Another point is that increased CO2, which acts by reducing photorespiration, which is a C fixation efficiency issue, is not necessarily helpful if your cropping system can’t take advantage of it. I.e., if you can’t get a a second crop in, or if it messes up the timing of weather-dependent criticalities in the plant’s ontogeny, especially pollination and grain formation. Keep in mind that a 1:1 grain:legume crop rotation partially fertilizes the grain crop (a big reason why it’s done).–Jim]

  36. 136

    129 Dan H and Moderator Jim

    ” – – I see the worst tornado outbreak in 85 years- -,” is the source comment in question, and since the only issue was how things were stated in the pursuit of evidence of global warming, I was careless in subtracting. Humble apologies for that carelessness.

  37. 137

    132, 133 JCH and flxible?

    You would argue that since things have been made more robust to withstand disasters, it makes sense to say ‘it is the worst since – – ‘?

    What you should really be getting to is a statement, “It is the worst ever.” But you are stuck with having to say, well, it is not the worst ever except it would be if things had not been built to reduce damage. But since that raise more questions, you are happy to just say something that logically fails to make your point, and leads some to doubt the general message.

    This is the stuff of failure.

  38. 138
    flxible says:

    You would argue that since things have been made more robust to withstand disasters, it makes sense to say ‘it is the worst since – – ‘?

    No, I’m saying you need to add in the fact [to your narration] that in spite of the fact that protections have been “upgraded” to withstand previous record breaking events, we are still breaking records. Flood control measures taken in Manitoba, Canada that were judged amply sufficient to deal with the conditions that prompted them [1950 flood] are not sufficient to deal with this years runoff. Now they’re wanting to dump more money into increasing protection to withstand “all time high” 1826 levels, when there was no protection at all and a much smaller population and smaller urban areas to be affected! Governments are the ones who need to quit doubting, the population is starting to understand, especially those outside of the limited area of that “protection”.

  39. 139
    JCH says:

    Jim Bullis @137

    No, I would argue that somebody has to figure it out. You know, like gather the data and do some analysis. The simplistic “more dead bodies in 1932 means global warming could have nothing to do with the 2011 tornadoes” is stupid on more than one level.

    Pointing that out does not make a conclusion about the final result of a robust analysis.

    And any analysis that does not include the mitigation effect is flawed and probably worthless. Like the rush to find AGW uninvolved in the Queensland flooding. They stood on a graph that included no mitigation effect, so they were standing on garbage.

  40. 140

    138 and 139 flxible and JCH,

    We seem not to speak the same language.

  41. 141
    OK Skeptic says:

    I think there are good reasons to be skeptical. These are as follows.
    a) The cost to do anything about it is enormous, hence a high degree of certainty is required.
    b) The US can’t do much about it anyway. China has taken the lead as the largest C02 producer, and as the next 1,000,000,000 Chinese get their fair share of energy, they will push that number higher.
    c) Climate is complex, and I don’t think humans have a great understanding of it (recall the human gnome project promised all kinds of solutions, but it turns out it is much more complex)
    d) There seems to be a huge emotional component to some AGW scientists, so I don’t trust their work (looking forward to BEST getting out their data/algorithms/code and letting others munch on it for a few years only to get the earth’s temperature right!)

    [Response: I think you are unfair. Please tell us which scientific disciplines practise more openness. and try getting data/algorithms/code from those who argue that AGW is not a problem – see my attempt reported in the NewScientist. -rasmus]

    e) If this is such a big deal, why aren’t the global warming people more willing to share their data/algorithms/code in a meaningful way.

    [Response: Please see this commment.]

    f) IPCC, greens, and others have made preposterous claims, which in the end has probably alienated people from the global warming cause.

    [Response: The contents of the IPCC reports should reflect the scientific literature, and the drafting of this report should be transparent. Hence, any claim should be based on the assessment of results published in the scientific literature. This is probably different from whatever is meant by “greens”. Please provide a logical connection. You argue for transparency, but I see none behind the claims that you present. -rasmus]

    With a spokesman like Al Gore “the Seas will Rise, the Pestilence, Plague, Drought, and Famine will rule the earth,” and other such old testament claptrap, you are going to find a lot of people associating that catastrophe with AGW, and thinking to themselves “Not likely.” The point is, with opportunists like that out there, leading credence to AGW could enable even more parasites to add no value (as an example of this, I live in a tiny town in California, and it took Federal money, which was 40 – 100 times the annual electric cost of its street lights, to replace them with LEDs. Please agree that is insane!)

    g) As I don’t think there is much that can be done about it, I don’t see much need to get off the fence. Study the problem, observe, and let’s see how the models match up to the reality. (As Richard Muller pointed out, buying Priuses in the US isn’t going to solve the C02 problem.)

    Changing to an all nuclear source of fuel might, and I wish the stimulus money had been spent on that. My skepticism goes only so far. I do agree there is some non-zero, real chance that AGW will occur if it hasn’t, though I also suspect all this doom and gloom is grossly overstated as a way for unscrupulous people to take money away from others. And I would like to take the obvious, meaningful steps, like encouraging Nuclear, perhaps making it cheaper than Coal at some point. Oh well, that’s probably not in the cards for the average warmista.

  42. 142
    Fred Magyar says:

    It’s bad enough when the average person on the street engaqes in denialism, unfortunately even scientists are not immune. The reality is that humanity is at a major turning point, the paradigm that our entire global civilization is based on is no longer valid in a resource constrained world. Humans are in population overshoot and are severly impacting every major ecosystem on the planet. There is little doubt that climate change is occuring and that human activity is a large part of the problem. However it is time for all the little wise men stuck in their narrow views and perspectives to stand back and take in the whole elephant and realize that it is not a snake or a rope or a tree or a brick wall. We are at the end of age of fossil fuels and the implications for our way of life is profound. Climate science does not exist in a vacuum it is woven into the fabric of all the complex non linear feedback loops that are shaking our world views to the core. Our current civilization is FUBAR! We need a new more holistic approach to solving our problems. We all need to find a way to power down.

    Closing the first morning was another name of weight: Jean-Pascal van Ypersèle, Vice-President of the IPCC. He reviewed the usual hallmarks of the subject and went on to the CO2 emissions scenarios. He presented the SRES scenarios from the last IPCC assessment report, though somewhat acknowledging the surreality of most of them. But according to the latest knowledge gathered by the IPCC, even with the lowering of the SRES scenario (B1) anthropogenic CO2 emissions must turn negative by 2060 to avoid global temperatures rising above 2ºC of where they are today. During the debate session, Kyell Aleklett emphasized that not even the B1 scenario is possible with the knowledge his research group has gathered on fossil fuel reserves. Tension built up between the two men in a “my problem is worse than yours” mood that was anything but scientific. In the afternoon sessions climate change was again on the menu and so was the side taking; Aviel Verbruggen for instance had a very strong “I do not believe in Peak Oil” attitude amid his address. Certainly, the two camps have still some way to go before reaching common ground.

    But what’s really behind these apparently non-reconcilable views? In the scientific plane, ASPO has tried to particularly influence the disciplines of economics and systems engineering in a way that they could incorporate the concepts of fossil fuels finitude and net energy into their anticipation tools. The conference had several presentations by modellers, or on models such as the address by the IPCC’s Vice-President and a few more in the parallel sessions on afternoons of the first two days. Whilst to some extent these models are starting to acknowledge the finitude of oil, the same can’t be said about natural gas or coal. But above all, modellers and models alike seem to be ages away from realizing what net energy is and its implications on the resource substitution process and usage scalability.

  43. 143
    Dan H. says:

    Good point JCH,
    Advanced warning reduces tornado fatalities compared to earlier years, and flood control at the dam influences the flow of water downstream.
    When you include parameters that have a greater impact than the event which you are monitoring, the results can be quite erratic. Akin to the Literary Digest poll which predicted a big win for Alf Landon.

  44. 144
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Yes your dice are loaded. If they weren’t loaded you’d have gotten snake eyes about 100 times.” John E. Pearson 9 May 2011 at 7:48 AM

    But did I get snake eyes on my last roll because the dice were loaded, or was that a random event? What about the folloing – random events or AGW loaded dice?

    sea ice melt”” and accelerating glacier loss” Wettest March on record in Australia Record wet January brings unprecedented flooding to northwest Victoria Exceptional winter heat over large parts of Australia Six years of widespread drought in southern and eastern Australia, November 2001 to October 2007 Climate conditions preceding the December 2006 southeast Australian bushfires Issued 19th December 2006
    Just a string of bad luck? “The 2003 European heat wave is one of the hottest summers on record in Europe, especially in France. The heat wave led to health crises in several countries and combined with drought to create a crop shortfall in Southern Europe. More than 40,000 Europeans died as a result of the heat wave.” “Jul 11, 2005 … France is facing its worst water shortage since 1976”
    Snake eyes? “It was not even officially summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but Pakistan was in the midst of a deadly heat wave when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the top image on June 10, 2007. ” “‘Hellish heatwave’ in Pakistan sets hottest temperature in Asia’s history, 53.5°C (128.3°F); in India, hundreds die, death toll expected to rise as record temperatures soar up to 122°F – June 1, 2010”
    More snake eyes? “Russia’s record heat wave may already have taken 15,000 lives and cost the economy $15 billion as fires and drought ravage the country.”
    How much are you willing to lose? Is just random chance, and our luck will change? I’d rather ask some experts, than just relying on what I see out my window. “Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting.”
    Hmmm. How bout the opinion of somebody who’s responsible for putting billions of dollars (of insurance money) where his mouth is – Dr. Peter Hoeppe, Head of the Geo Risks Research Department at Munich Re –
    ” I never said that 2010 is the year with the highest number of weather related loss events, it is the second highest after 2007. Currently (December 23) we have reached the number of 931 nat cat loss events, 849 of them being caused by weather related events. The still record year is 2007 with a total of 1043 events, 943 weather related. For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming. If the whole trend we find in weather related disaster should be caused by reporting bias, or socio-demographic or economic developments we would expect to find it similarly for the geophysical events.”

  45. 145
    Dan H. says:

    Regarding OK’s comments about preposterous claims alienating people, he has a point. One false claim does not negate the whole, but if it compounded by others, people tend to question the entire cause. Toyota is going through this currently.
    The IPCC had its one major snafu; the Himalayan claim based on non-scientific literature, which itself was in error, but several others have added to the fire. The UNEP claim of 50 million climate refugees by 2010 is currently making the rounds. The MET has taken heat lately for the “Barbecue summers” prediction. Then there was the UCS telling New England ski resorts to consider another profession as snows would be hard to come by. Arcticnet did no favors by predicting an ice-free Arctic as soon as 2010.
    I have read many people state that misinformation is being spread by “big oil” or some other anti-environment organization. However, much of the fuel for the anti-AGW movement has been presented by climatologists who have overstated the effects of a warmer climate. That is not to say that these events will not happen sometime in the future, but people look at these failed climate predictions as a failure of the whole. I feel that there are many who have allowed these types of predictions to propagate in order to bring attention to the issue. Unfortunately, the attention is not necessarily that which was hoped for.

  46. 146
    Martin Vermeer says:

    OK Skeptic rambles:

    I live in a tiny town in California, and it took Federal money, which was 40 – 100 times the annual electric cost of its street lights, to replace them with LEDs. Please agree that is insane!

    Eh, there are other costs besides electricity. How often were those incandescent or sodium or whatever lamps replaced? How much did that cost in lamps? How much in labor?

    …and how long will those LEDs last? Have you ever seen a LED burn out? I suppose they do sometimes, but have yet to see it.

  47. 147

    OK Skeptic (141) often heard claim a) should really be changed to: The cost to do anything about it is enormous, hence a high degree of RISK is required.

    With uncertainties going in both directions but skewed towards the worse rather than the better outcomes, uncertainty makes the risk higher. I wish we knew more: I’d probably (though not certainly, just to make it complicated) feel a lot safer if we did.

  48. 148
    SecularAnimist says:

    Dan H wrote: “However, much of the fuel for the anti-AGW movement has been presented by climatologists who have overstated the effects of a warmer climate.”

    And of course there are people like you who systematically misrepresent what the climatologists have said, for example by falsely describing scenarios as “predictions”, and who systematically ignore the overwhelming empirical evidence that the ongoing “effects of a warmer climate” are already exceeding the worst-case scenarios contemplated by the IPCC.

    Moderators, while granting that Dan H. writes politely, he has nonetheless demonstrated that he is a dishonest purveyor of bogus denialist talking points. I respectfully request that consider consigning him to the Bore Hole.

  49. 149
    SecularAnimist says:

    OK Skeptic wrote: “With a spokesman like Al Gore ‘the Seas will Rise, the Pestilence, Plague, Drought, and Famine will rule the earth,’ and other such old testament claptrap …”

    When you blatantly and maliciously lie, to people who know better, about what Al Gore has said, why should you expect anything in response but derision and contempt?

    Rasmus demonstrates heroic patience in his responses to your copied-and-pasted litany of dishonest Ditto-Head denialist talking points. It is far better than you deserve.

    Are the moderators relaxing their standards for this thread, so as to allow such offensively ignorant and stupid bunkum to be posted as examples of the “denialism” that is the subject of the book review?

  50. 150
    Stephen Baines says:

    Dan H.

    So you would reather scientists always underplay the risks just to preserve appearances? That’s sounds like the kind of thing that leads to real disasters (think Challenger for instance).

    Look, some predictions will always be wrong. There were certainly incorrect predictions on the low side as well (sea level rise, Arctic Ice) – it’s just those haven’t been amplified by the echo chamber out there that tries to paint the scientific body as self interested in the outcome of this debate – which it really is not.

    I think it is a horrible idea to force scientists to be conservative just for the purposes of “appearance.” You want open discussion of the data, unconstrained by fears of being perceived as biased. Bias should be assessed by those with enough background to understand the usefulness and limits of the data, models etc. Introducing a criterion that renders some predictions less sound simply because they are inconvenient to society at large is incredibly dangerous to society.

    I think the challenge is how to preserve rigorous scientific debate in the face of the obvious and real pressure being exerted from outside science.