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Free speech and academic freedom

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 February 2012

Update: Some related concerns from, if these claims can be verified.

In a recent interview for a Norwegian magazine (Teknisk Ukeblad, 0412), the IPCC chair Rajendra Kumar Pachauri told the journalist that he had received death threats in connection with his role as a head for the IPCC. There have also been recent reports of threats and harassment of climate scientists for their stance on climate change (Kerry Emanuel. Katharine Hayhoe, Australian climate scientists, Phil Jones, Barton campaign, and Inhofe’s black list).

These incidents appear as an unpleasant deja vu from my past, smacking of attempts to suppress the freedom of speech. They remind me of the days when I did my national service as a border patrol at the Soviet-Norwegian border in 1988-1989 (Norway and Russia – then Soviet – share a 196 km long common border in the high north), where we stood up for our freedom and democracy. Freedom of speech was tacitly implied as one of the ingredients of an open democracy, which in our minds was the West. There was an understanding that the other side of the iron curtain represented an oppressive regime.

If the people who threat and harass climate scientists were to have their way, I fear we would be heading for a world resembling the other side of the iron curtain of 1989. The absence of oppression and harassment is a prerequisite for sound and functioning science. Oppressive regimes are not known for producing good science, and blind ideology have often been unsustainable. Therefore, threats and such dishonorable campaigns represent a concern.

Me at the Soviet-Norwegian border in the spring of 1989, where I served as a border patrol. The border was halfway between the yellow Norwegian and green/red Soviet borderposts seen in the photo, and the iron curtain involved a militarised zone on the Soviet side guarded by the KGB.

Another unpleasant aspect of the direction taken by the public discource is the character of the rhetoric, which too exhibit similarities to that of the cold war. I still remember some of the propaganda that could be heard on the radio – translated to Norwegian. Too often these days, the debate is far from being informative but has turned into something like a beauty contest and he-said-she-said affair.

So it is important to keep in mind: Don’t shoot the messenger who is only doing her/his job. It would really be a disservice to the society. Any open and free democracy has to be based on true information and knowledge. When big and powerful media corporations start to look like past state-run propaganda machines, where slogans have replaced common sense and expert knowledge, then we’re heading in the wrong direction.

In Norway, the there were calls for enhanced openness and respect (by our prime minister) after the terrible July 22 (2011) terrorist attacks (the terrorist also disrespected climate science). In this sense, the openness also means exposing all levels and all aspects of matters being disputed. As in sciences, it is important to elucidate the situation, and see if the arguments stand up to being critically scrutinized. This also means that all relevant information must be included – not just those which support one stand.

Flower response, more democracy, and more openness in Oslo after July 22, 2011.

I think that the science community needs a louder voice in the society, and there is a need for bringing some of the science-related debates closer to true science. We need to explain the virtues of the scientific method, such as transparency, replication of past results, testing and evaluating the methods and conclusions. These virtues lead to the most credible answers.

For example, we need to focus on question like the following: Is the strategy adopted objective? Does it give robust results? Or do the result depend on the context in which the analysis was carried out? In other words, we need to question whether the conclusions are generally valid.

Focusing on the real questions and doing science means being free, critical and sceptical – and not a climate of fear.

739 Responses to “Free speech and academic freedom”

  1. 501

    #489–“Ray, Kevin, Walter, and yourself have added nothing to the conversation, and keep repeating the same information, totally missing the concept.”

    Ooh, cut to the quick. Still, one can but try to add to the conversation.

    I’m trying, Michael–are you? As I recall, you asked for specific information about where one would look for evaluations of ‘positives versus negatives.’ I pointed you to the SPM (AR4 iteration) where there was a discussion of precisely this issue that I found helpful. I even offered hints that I know some would find useful in pursuing that lead. I don’t see any acknowledgment of this comment, beyond a dismissal of the SPM in #447 because it “seems so one-sided.”

    Just as a lesson in human dynamics, Michael, when people respond specifically to your requests for information, taking some time and trouble to do so, it’s a bit ungracious to accuse them of ‘adding nothing to the conversation.’ And it is ironically so when you choose to simply dismiss those answers, based on nothing more than how they ‘seem’ to you.

    You want an ‘objective opinion’ on the SPM. Well, my opinion is that it is a serious and credible assessment of positives and negatives. But you seem to have made up your mind that my opinion can’t possibly be ‘objective.’

    Guess that means I would be wasting my time by responding further to your comments.

    Too bad. But I imagine I’ll find other ways to add to the conversation.

  2. 502
    Craig Nazor says:

    Dan H,

    I also showed you the Anderegg paper – you apparently forgot.

    You did not provide me with the information I asked – you just provided me with your opinion.

    Well, then tell me this – what do you think of this article, and the studies to which it links?–_and_reality?page=1

    The article is in a partisan context, but if you can look past that, the research is pretty interesting.

  3. 503
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the 2010 statement … supports the
    > original 2007 statement they objected to

    “Hoist with his own petard” — over and over again.

    For Dr. Marler — did you coauthor the hours-of-sleep study a while back?
    I found that one rather reassuring.

  4. 504

    489 “confirmation bias.” Not at all. We’ve weighed the available evidence presented here and elsewhere and concluded that on balance the trajectory is highly negative.

    You, meanwhile, haven’t done your homework, want others to do it for you, but get upset that we won’t put a big smiley face on the situation.

    “A warmer planet is a greener planet.” Catchy but empty.

  5. 505

    You may be interested in the changes that have occurred as a result of the uproar at APS.
    Of course, even these changes were not enough to keep some esteemed physicists from resigning in protest.”

    Thanks, Dan, but I was well-aware of this ‘uproar’–which might be better characterized as a tempest in a teapot. And wasn’t the ‘some esteemed physicists’, actually all of one APS member? (True, he was a Nobel winner back in 1973, which makes him ‘esteemed’ by more or less by definition. Still, it’s perhaps worth noting that his salad days as a researcher were 50 years ago now.)

    As to the upshot of the affair, previous comments have dealt effectively with that.

    But, tell me, Dan–does the lack of response to the other papers I cited say anything in particular? Do you plan to ignore them, or are you just taking time to read and digest them thoroughly?

    And you still don’t explain your dismissal of Doran et al. You made a positive statement; surely it had some substantive basis?

  6. 506
    Michael W says:

    #479 Gavin, I am going to cast my ballot in November for someone with global warming action at the bottom of their priority list. I will be mislabeled anti-science and anti-environment not because I am, but because of peoples intolerance of differing viewpoints. It matters what gets on that list and what sits at the top. You move things up on the list at the cost of others.

    (ps I assure you my reasoning is the opposite of ad-hoc; full of nuance and deep meaning – like a portrait of Pamela Anderson at the Louvre titled ‘re: 1886’)

  7. 507

    #494–“Soils in Canada are thin over rock, not suitable to grow wheat.”

    Sorry, Hank, a rare mis-statement on your part. You must have meant “soils in Northern Canada.” (Ie., over the Canadian Shield.)

    Of course, your larger point stands, as the Canadian soils suitable for growing wheat are already doing so; further North, where the limiting factor is the growing season, the soils are as you suggest, by and large.

  8. 508
    SecularAnimist says:

    Balazs wrote: “I never understood, why [Peter Gleick] was so obsessed with climate change, when water related problems seemed to be much more imminent …

    For one thing, because climate change is already aggravating “water related problems” and will cause much worse “water related problems” that make today’s quite serious “water related problems” look trivial by comparison.

    Balazs wrote: “… humans are regarded as cancer on this planet threatening ‘mother nature’ …”

    That’s offensive nonsense worthy of Rush Limbaugh. Anthropogenic global warming is threatening the lives, livelihoods and well-being of billions of human beings.

    Balazs wrote: “The AGW fallacy is that we have the technology to start that shift now.”

    More nonsense. Of course we have the technology now to “start” the shift away from fossil fuels — as demonstrated by the fact that such a “shift” has already started. In 2011 the USA installed more new wind-powered electrical generating capacity than coal and nuclear combined. Wind and solar are already the fastest growing sources of new electricity generation in the world and their growth is skyrocketing, setting new records every year. We can easily phase out virtually all fossil fuel use within a few decades if we choose to do so.

    Balazs wrote: “James Hansen knows this well and he realizes that without nuclear energy there is no way to solve climate change …”

    James Hansen is a brilliant climate scientist who is ill-informed about energy technologies, and he is simply wrong about the need for nuclear power.

    But so what? If Hansen were right — that WITH nuclear power there IS a “way to solve climate change” — then you have just contradicted your own subsequent assertion that “we don’t have the technology to replace fossil fuels”.

    With all due respect, your comments read like you are not even giving them much thought. You are just lazily stringing together bogus — and deliberately offensive — talking points like the ones that the fossil fuel corporations pay the Heartland Institute to cook up and spoon-feed to deniers.

  9. 509
    SecularAnimist says:

    Susan Anderson wrote: “… stirring the pot with assertions of superiority while demonstrating ignorance should make the poster want to crawl with shame …”

    I think you are mistaking deliberate dishonesty for “ignorance”.

    Someone who is shown to be ignorant might well be “ashamed” of having asserted “superiority”.

    Someone who is deliberately lying probably won’t be ashamed.

  10. 510
    MARodger says:

    It’s a curious thing, but I was thinking that Michael W bloke was trying to tell me somthing @489.
    But he wasn’t. He was on to some fella who was “listing only studies that support a narrow view.” and as I’ve never cited any reference at Michael W, it must be somebody else. The fella appears to be called Roger so if anyone bumps into Roger, do tell him.

    There is a certain irony @489. Beneath a quote he pastes up complaining about his unability to stick to the point, Michael W manages to lose the thread of what he’s mouthing off at more than once and all within the space of a hundred words or so.

    Steady on, thought. Am I “totally missing the concept?” Perhaps Michael W is a real genious and only appears as a total dim-wit to those who cannot understand him.

  11. 511
    dbostrom says:

    There are those who think there are greater challenges [than C02 mitigation] and our focus is best placed elsewhere.

    But we actually don’t focus on other things with effort of the grand scale we all agree is necessary for C02 mitigation, do we? We -could-, but we don’t. Where’s the demonstrated dilemma of zero-sum choice? Where’s the conundrum, in reality?

    I can’t help but wonder about the sincerity of people who passionately argue against the improving instincts of others while not themselves exerting equal or greater passion in doing rather than opposing. Why is it more important to infectiously promote paralysis and less compelling to act in the other ways described as at risk because of C02 mitigation?

  12. 512
    dbostrom says:

    … to me you read like religious zealots.

    But with an important difference. With regard to scientifically derived beliefs, outside of our particular provinces of knowledge we can disbelieve what we don’t personally know or experience or we can place faith in the discoveries of others. Unlike religious faith, if we so desire we can then test our faith’s reliability or the worthiness of our skepticism by devoting effort to specialized learning.

    Because of factors unrelated to scientific research it’s difficult to recall a province of thought where many of us place our faith that has been more sorely tested yet still found deserving than climate science. This is not so surprising, really, as climate science is largely built on other indisputably reliable arenas of learning and knowledge; to find our faith in climate science shattered would be to find our entire state of knowing turned upside down.

  13. 513
    Dudenbostal says:

    I would like to point out for the RC audience that Anthony Watts has a nice post up showing how he practiced ethics when he was presented with a direct link to private information via the ClimateGate 2.0 emails. I think it sets a good example. Thanks.

  14. 514
    Michael W says:

    #502 Walter, believe it or not I am here to learn and put my ideas to the test. When you say you have weighed the evidence, tell me how that works. I posted 2 links on #489, and you have the question before you “Is a warmer planet with more co2 preferable?”, how do you assimilate these two studies into your thinking?

  15. 515
    Michael W says:

    #499 Kevin, I apologize for dismissing your comments, maybe I’m the one who’s not clear. My query has more to do with how you weigh information and less to do with what information you have. Ray posted a study on drought, and the comment I felt was helpful was actually over on Tamino’s blog

    MMM says:
    “…Having said that, I’m not sure that the PDSI plot is the last word on increasing drought, I feel like recently the confidence in past drought trends has decreased – for example, the SREX report seems to indicate only medium confidence for some regions – eg, “There is medium confidence that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia. [3.5.1]”

    (Compare to the AR4 statement: “More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas, particularly in the tropics and subtropics since the 1970s”, based presumably in part on the Dai et al. 2004 PDSI analysis)”

    Back to you, you say the SPM is a serious and credible assessment. Do you have any criticisms at all? Do you think it will hold up over time? Why?

  16. 516
    dbostrom says:

    Nevertheless, it would be hard to deny that climate change diverted attention from problems that I would consider more imminent and and certainly more easy to solve in the near future than climate change.

    If we were really concerned about the human condition, we might start with hair gel, mascara, pointless chrome on cars, “the fashion cycle,” professional sports, tooth whitener, window treatments, drive-through-coffee, Facebook, funeral corteges, luxury yachts, rarely used vacation homes, bathroom televisions, unused stationary bicycles, USB coffee warmers, aerosol cheese in cans and the almost numberless plethora of other expenditures we habitually and mindlessly dissipate on entropy-intensive wastrel behaviors before we choose to slice away more important ambitions that actually do have a hope of delivering an improved future.

    The problem here is not the available amount of money– of which we have plenty, obviously, or we would not enjoy having aerosol cheese in a can ready for our purchase– but rather its distribution, or more specifically the diversion of money from pockets accustomed to its presence to other, new pockets. The currently bulging yet still insatiable pockets don’t want things to change and are putting up quite a struggle to make sure they stay fed.

  17. 517
    Michael W says:

    #509 MARoger, not only do I appear to be a dim-wit, I am one. But educate me anyway. Do you have any thoughts on confirmation bias? Quoting Rasmus “This also means that all relevant information must be included – not just those which support one stand.”

    Or maybe a comment you made earlier “There are those who conflate our abilities to predict things like our economic futures with our abilities to predict climatic futures.” Lets say you nail down climate sensitivity exactly, future natural variation exactly, future human co2 emissions exactly, you still have a pandora’s box of wild cards like nuclear war, volcanoes, asteroids, etc. While climate projections are interesting, they are only a small part of the ‘future picture’.

  18. 518
    dhogaza says:

    Michael W:

    I posted 2 links on #489, and you have the question before you “Is a warmer planet with more co2 preferable?”, how do you assimilate these two studies into your thinking?

    Well, quoting from your favorite:

    LAI has prominently increased in Europe, Siberia, Indian Peninsula, America and south Canada, South region of Sahara, southwest corner of Australia and Kgalagadi Basin; while noticeably decreased in Southeast Asia, southeastern China, central Africa, central and southern South America and arctic areas in North America.

    It looks as though if the pattern seen through the relatively modest warming we’ve seen thus far were to continue, the historical hungry developing and third world countries will get screwed, while we industrial countries will see a modest increase in food production *if* changes in LAI correspond to changes in food production.

    If that fits your description of a better world, well …

    Of course, there’s no particular reason to expect that pattern to continue, and there are plenty of studies out there that make such a sanguine outlook – if that fits your a sanguine outlook – to continue.

    Tell us, though, do you think that a world with lower ag output in the bolded areas would be a better world?

  19. 519
    Susan Anderson says:

    SA, I was just being polite – I thought the rest of my screed made that clear.

    In general, I have little to contribute here apart from being a fan but relish the real science to and fro and pick up a titbit from time to time, and appreciate the tolerance. It is amazing how much expertise many of the self-identified “laypeople” who post here demonstrate.

  20. 520
    Hank Roberts says:

    >“Is a warmer planet with more co2 preferable?”
    Rate of change is the problem.

    Two thousand mostly science journal results on the question:“rate+of+change”+co2

    Don’t rely on some stranger on a blog to read them for you and tell you what they say.

  21. 521
    Susan Anderson says:

    dbostrom @~515

    Thanks for that little list (it would be fun to do a Gilbert and Sullivan patter). Also, the biggest fireworks and sports events ever, biggest salaries for entertainers (which nobody ever mentions except in admiration), ever more elaborate entertainment, and the scream track (real or feigned). I call it the Roman Circus – with much the same effect, to pacify and dull awareness of an exploitative polity. (Though I admit I rather like Lin.)

    Recaptcha in Hebrew script, oomsap huh! (ferludsake)

  22. 522
    Hank Roberts says:

    > SPM … AR4 …
    > Do you have any criticisms at all?
    > Do you think it will hold up over time? Why?

    No chance it’ll survive much longer.
    There’s an AR5 coming out fairly soon.
    They actively solicit criticism,
    and write a new repor that will replace the old one.

    That’s how it works.

    In between, you have to read the journals to see what’s new and what’s better understood. The big review articles come along years apart.

  23. 523

    Michael W. @513. I evaluate new information within the context of what I’ve already assimilated. There’s a wealth of resources appropriate to the layman in the right sidebar as well as “start here” link at the top left which is meant for you and me. I’m sure moderators and commenters alike will be happy to suggest additional material relevant to your interests and expertise.

    There’s no substitute for doing the reading yourself, but fortunately there are many popular books on the topic. One of my favorites, first recommended here, is Thin Ice by Mark Bowen. It brings together the wonder and adventure of science, how true scientific disputes arise and are worked through, and one of the best histories I’ve ever read of how the concept of climate change first began to be seriously investigated. And don’t miss the passages on the Tiwanaku and the Moche.

    To your article links…I’ve learned from earlier discussions to look for the number of citations for a given scholarly article — a measure of whether the article is helping to move the science forward. According to Google, your Liu article has been cited by 1, while Dai has been cited by 473. That’s important context in assessing contradictory claims.

  24. 524
    Balazs says:

    507: “For one thing, because climate change is already aggravating “water related problems” and will cause much worse “water related problems” that make today’s quite serious “water related problems” look trivial by comparison.”

    Since, I happened to be hydrologist, who studied global water resources for almost twenty years and published a number of peer-reviewed paper on the matter (including water resources under future scenarios), I would like to believe that I know a few things about water. Water resources are under numerous anthropogenic threats that are far more prevalent than climate change will ever be. The major driver is population everywhere and we need to face the dilemma of promoting people to live in dense cities that requires investment in energy intensive infrastructure or spread out to live village life and rely on ecosystem services. While the later may seem to be less damaging, but by the time one would spread 7-10 billion people not much will be left for biodiversity. The primary reason for lost biodiversity has little to do with climate change and the dominant cause is land use change, pollutions, engineering works and other direct human impacts. Anybody, who is concerned about water resources, must look at these direct impacts first.

    507: “More nonsense. Of course we have the technology now to “start” the shift away from fossil fuels — as demonstrated by the fact that such a “shift” has already started. In 2011 the USA installed more new wind-powered electrical generating capacity than coal and nuclear combined. Wind and solar are already the fastest growing sources of new electricity generation in the world and their growth is skyrocketing, setting new records every year. We can easily phase out virtually all fossil fuel use within a few decades if we choose to do so.”

    As far as, investment in renewable energy exceeding conventional energy sources in the US as a proof that any sort of transition is already happening is highly misleading. Both the United States and Europe had stagnant energy use in the last couple of years, partly due to the weak economy and partly, due to exporting energy intensive manufacturing to developing countries (primarily to China). I doubt, if China’s new coal reactors on the weekly basis would be match by their wind or solar installations. If the world was on the path of any sort of transition, why did carbon emission soared last year?

    While nuclear energy seems to be the ultimate solution, current generation nuclear power plants apparently have too many problems. James Hansen talks at length in his book (Storm of my Grandchildren) about fast breeding reactors (whatever that means, but it sounds like nuclear explosion at first glance) and there are also plenty of discussions elsewhere about thorium reactors. I don’t fully understand the details, but these new type of reactors are not ready and clearly cannot compete yet with fossil fuels.

    If we wanted to start to make a shift away from fossil fuels, the imperfect nuclear reactors would have been a better first step, but nuclear was a tabu in the last three decades and still is. There is just as much rejection of science in the environmental movement when it comes to nuclear power as conservatives rejecting climate change.

  25. 525
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Michael W., One of the many things you seem not to comprehend is that all the infrastructure of civilization dates from the current period of remarkable climatic stability. This was when all of our major food crops were domesticated, when all of our domestic animals were domesticated, when we ceased to be wandering hunter-gatherers and started an enterprise we refer to as human civilization. Do you think that this was some magic coincidence–that it happened independently in the Middle East, India, China, the Americas and Africa all at about the same time by accident?

    Now we have reached a point where we will have 10 billion people to support by midcentury–1.5 times the current number, many of whom are already plagued by food insecurity. We do this in a time of depleted resources–especially petroleum, which is critical to modern, high-yield agriculture-and damaged environmental health. Oceans are degraded. Soil is degraded. Aquifers are depleted–never to flow again. Now add to that a warmer climate. That means pests don’t die as readily and may live throughout the year as in tropical agricultural. Likewise weeds. Yield for nearly all of our critical food crops falls with increasing temperatures. Some will cease to grow at all in their current ranges. Toward the poles from those ranges, glaciers have pretty much scraped away most of the topsoil–e.g. the Canadian Shield.

    The articles you have cited do not equate to increased agricultural productivity. They say plants grow. They don’t say what plants. Did you think of this? Evidently not. Maybe that is why it is a good idea to look at what the experts in a field say–and Michael, they aren’t optimistic.

    Look, Michael, risk mitigation is what I do for a living. When you are presented with a credible risk, the scientists have done their job. Then folks like me take over. Our job is to figure out how bad it could be–to bound the risk. I cannot go to a satellite maker and say, “Well, your satellite is in flames over the Pacific somewhere, but your batteries are still holding a charge.” I have to assess the threats or the threats come true. So far, I have not yet found a realistic way to bound the risk wrt climate change. I cannot with high confidence rule out the possibility that it could contribute significantly to serious degradation in human civiliztion and possible to a large-scale collapse of human population. Other risks, I can mostly bound. Disease will kill thousands, perhaps millions. Lack of clean water, likewise. Climate change in combination with overpopulation, diminished resources, etc…. I cannot establish a limit. As a risk professional, that worries me.

  26. 526
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Balazs: “Water resources are under numerous anthropogenic threats that are far more prevalent than climate change will ever be.”

    This from a man who is utterly ignorant of the theory of Earth’s climate. Absolute uncertainty combined with profound ignorance… a dangerous combination

  27. 527

    #513 Dudenbostal

    Keep in mind, while there is a clear ethical issue, the moral issue is one that line that, in my opinion, from a conscientious objection point of view has not been crossed. And I still don’t know if there was a crime as a court has to determine that.

  28. 528
    adelady says:

    michael@ 497 “during the time the earth has warmed in the last half century, crop yields have increased. Why do you assume the reasons we overcome these negative factors won’t continue into the future?”

    The last half century’s results were achieved by the application of technology combined with reorganisation of cropping practices. The technology in question was converting oil into fertiliser for crops and pastures for food.

    This can’t continue into the future because the quantities of oil required just won’t be available – either at a reasonable cost for this purpose, or at all. We expect a population of 10 billion+ by mid-century. In 50 years time do you really expect there to be enough oil products for anything but the most expensive, high tech applications?

    If we can maintain (or attain) adequate food production it will only be because of new technology and imaginative, large-scale reorganisation of agriculture. It certainly won’t be by continuing with the technology that got us to where we are now.

  29. 529
    MARodger says:

    Michael D-less W @517
    You are a dim-wit? Well I am a small-brained mammal, so I know very well that education does have it’s limits.
    Concering your first point:-
    I was never taught about “confirmation bias” because I was simply taught to study the literature. A single piece of peer-reviewed literature does not suddenly become irrefutible fact. (Ha.Remember Lords Monkton & Blaby are peers and I wouldn’t trust them with the time of day!!) Such literature simply enters into a process. Thus citing a peer-revied paper, say Smart & Clever 2010, does not entirely trump say Gobby & Git 2001 which may not be peer-reviewed & which pre-dates S&C 2010. To cite G&G 2001 in such circumstances would take some explaining but it is not entirely wrong. Yet imagine that another paper Git & Gobby 2012 is peer-reviewed and directly disputes (without contradiction) S&C 2010. In that circumstance, to cite S&C 2010 without mention of G&G 2012, that would be entirely wrong.
    It is only with un-knowledgable scholarship (& other dim-witted activity) that “confirmation bias” or cherry-picking becomes a real issue. In the exteme, that could mean reliance on the veracity of say a single comment posted anoymously on an open blog site. That is what you did Michael W @ 514.
    If that lesson has been learnt, you will be able to say what else is badly wrong @514. So what is it?

  30. 530
    Balazs says:

    Ray (526): This from a man who is utterly ignorant of the theory of Earth’s climate. Absolute uncertainty combined with profound ignorance… a dangerous combination

    With all due respect, I don’t’ think I am more ignorant than your lacking appreciation of the degree to which humans already have altered directly all other elements of the Earth system. The Earth’s climate might be under severe stress, but polluted rivers, paved cities already have much more profound impacts.

  31. 531
    Phil Mattheis says:

    Michael W yaps about much like a small dog, bothering ankles until someone stumbles.

    He asks someone named Roger, (who is not MA Rodger) “for your own curiosity, aren’t you the least bit interested in what the temperature would be optimal for the planet?”

    Where to begin in guessing the meaning of this one? …”optimal for the planet” requires more definition of terms and intent.
    “the planet” as Gaia has some capacity to buffer and respond in maintenance of equilibrium, if you accept the premise of an equilibrium-seeking meta-entity. But that buffering capacity is pretty limited, as we are starting to notice with ocean absorption of CO2 and heat.

    “the planet” as its current mix of species and ecosystems, has by definition evolved within a relatively narrow range of temperatures – move very many degrees above or below that range, and “optimal” is not likely to apply, since species migration and extinctions will multiply, to reduce total numbers and diversity by orders of magnitude.

    If “the planet” means “human residence”, the “optimal” temperature may require going back down a few and reducing the variance, since carrying capacity is overwhelmed as we are…while we may be traveling on a short term diversion to reach a more reasonable load, it is hardly a controlled experiment. The wealthy few may assume they will survive on their Paraguayan mountain estates, but I think the brakes may not be too dependable, and no one seems to be steering.

    Earth will continue to spin regardless of what we do, but the number of human passengers depends upon how we clean up after ourselves.

  32. 532
    p says:

    Phil Mattheis @ 530, Earth will continue to spin regardless of what we do, but the number of human passengers depends upon how we clean up after ourselves.

    Congratulations, you made the quote file.

  33. 533
    Susan Anderson says:

    re: confirmation bias

    They only imitate. That’s why as soon as you find a creative way to describe what’s going on, you will find it twisted and manipulated as soon as they figure out what it means and a way to use it.

    It is easier to destroy than to build.

    Speaking of creativity, I believe most of you know about Kate and ClimateSight. This is superb, geared to a younger audience:

    “today I’m gonna give it to you straight about climate change … perhaps you’ve heard of it … coming to blow up your house and eat your dog …”

  34. 534

    #515–“. . .you say the SPM is a serious and credible assessment. Do you have any criticisms at all? Do you think it will hold up over time? Why?”

    Do I have ‘criticisms?’ Not really. No doubt I could find something to complain about, were there much of a point to doing so. But that’s a counterfactual; no-one previously has given a tinker’s curse what I think about the SPM–and no offense, but I doubt you give one, either.

    My impression of the SP as a reader is that it synthesizes a great deal of information in a very careful and conscientious manner. It seeks to concentrate information greatly, while still attempting to be clear about the uncertainties. Doing that is a tough row to hoe, as any report writer could probably tell you; but all in all I think they did a pretty good job. There’s a certain ‘wooliness,’ but I think that’s mostly a function of the amount of detail, combined with all the caveating.

    Do I think the SPM will ‘hold up over time?’ I find that a curious question. Do you mean, ‘do I think it’s entirely correct and no errors or further developments will show up?’ Of course not. It’s a summary of the state of the art as of 2006, when the cutoff for inclusion was. As such, some things will of course be wrong (mostly probably in detail); others will prove incomplete. But if you mean, ‘do I think it will still look like a good effort a decade or more hence?’ then yes, I think it will ‘hold up’ in that sense.

    And actually, the fact that I cited it shows that, in my mind at least, it has already held up well for 5 years.

  35. 535

    I should add that, the purpose of citing the SPM was not just to put it forward; it can also serve as entree into the Report itself, and particularly into the question you asked about.

    For example, see page 11 of the SPM. Many of the consequences are indeed negative–after all, nobody’s so far come up with advantages to more flooding, more drought, ocean acidification, or decreased biodiversity. Call it ‘one-sided,’ but there it is.

    But under “Food, fibre and forest products” we read that:

    “Crop productivity is projected to increase slightly at mid- to high
    latitudes for local mean temperature increases of up to 1-3°C
    depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that in some
    regions. * D [5.4]”

    Not satisfied with this bald summary of a (part) positive, I refer to Chapter 5, Section 4 of the AR. It’s here:

    Proceeding forward, one finds three paragraphs detailing the basis for enhanced productivity due to increased CO2–even the IPCC recognizes that CO2 can act as ‘plant food’; two paragraphs on the interaction of higher CO2 with higher temps and changes in precipitation; and so forth. In each case, the summary cites studies showing what is claimed.

    Again, uncertainties are clearly acknowledged–for example:

    Finally, the TAR concluded that the economic, trade and technological assumptions used in many of the integrated assessment models to project food security under climate change were poorly tested against observed data. This remains the situation today…

    In short, you can drill down and see what the scholarship says.

  36. 536
    Jim Eager says:

    Michael W asks “aren’t you the least bit interested in what the temperature would be optimal for the planet?”

    Which is an astoundingly stupid question.

    One that I’ve repeatedly heard asked by those who have already asserted that climate is too complex for us to know nearly enough about earth’s climate system to be able to predict how much warming we can expect–if any, let alone predict what the consequences of that warming might be, or that those consequences will be harmful.

    Yet the question assumes that we can know enough to not only decide what temperature would be optimal–never mind for whom, but to actually aim for that temperature, i.e. to actually control climate.

    It’s a monumentally stupid question.

    Now, a smart question would be to ask what temperature would be optimal to maintain the immense and incredibly rich and diverse range of life that currently exists on the planet, here, now, today, and how to go about preserving the climate regime that produces that temperature.

    Now that’s a question I’ve never heard asked by the likes of Michael W.

  37. 537
    dhogaza says:


    Do I think the SPM will ‘hold up over time?’ I find that a curious question.

    Yes, indeed, because it presumes that knowledge is static, rather than growing.

    Obviously, things might be a bit worrse, or a bit less worse, than is outlined in the SPM.

    The SPM would only be “overthrown”, if that’s the point, if the underlying physics behind climate science is overthrown.

    I’m even less doubtful than before reading today that the CERN results showing faster than light travel by neutrinos might be scuttled by a loose fiber optics connection.

    Overturning mainstream science is difficult.

  38. 538
    RichardC says:

    508 SA said, “I think you are mistaking deliberate dishonesty for “ignorance”.

    Someone who is shown to be ignorant might well be “ashamed” of having asserted “superiority”.

    Someone who is deliberately lying probably won’t be ashamed.”

    That is almost as ridiculous as your claim that we could replace 25-45% of fossil fuels with renewables in 5 years. I’m sure you think we could design new systems, build the factories, work out all the kinks, build all the windmills and solar collectors, find and purchase land and right of way, and install everything, including massive amounts of transmission lines and storage. Of course, you’re just plain wrong. Even at 2.3%, we’re having problems absorbing wind power peaks. Many components are built overseas and their availability won’t increase fast enough no matter how much you want it to. Multiplying our capacity by ten times in 5 years is just plain loony tunes, what with transmission lines alone taking 6 years or so to approve and build (ie, your plan must do without new transmission lines!), and smart grid appliances needing at least another decade to incorporate in significant quantities. Remember, the first 2.3% of sites selected were the best sites. Every 2.3% additional will be on worse sites with longer and more tenuous transmission routes. I saw one quote that 40TWh of wind power was curtailed (destroyed/not-generated) in 2011, while a mere 95 TWh was produced. Yes, over 40% additional wind production was just dumped because 2.3% of total production was just too big to incorporate in the current system. (I welcome better data – the numbers seem too high, but it’s the only data I found)

    The above doesn’t make you dishonest. In the same fashion, skeptics believe what they say. Like you, skeptics aren’t dishonest, just wrong. You do the debate much harm by calling 50% of the population of the USA dishonest enough to deliberately bring about great harm to humanity and the planet. No, skeptics aren’t some evil mutation bent on the destruction of “your” planet, just as you aren’t trying to destroy the economy of the USA, even though your plan would surely result in just that. Skeptics just believe that negative feedbacks likely equal or exceed positive feedbacks, which is certainly more reasonable than your 5-years-to-renewable-nirvana theory.

  39. 539

    Balasz–After stating your expertise in hydrology, you write: “Water resources are under numerous anthropogenic threats that are far more prevalent than climate change will ever be.”

    I fully accept that human impacts are severe–that, for example, some rivers now may fail to reach their natural outlets due to human withdrawals and other interferences. (Off the top of my head, I believe that the Rio Grande comes close to this at times, and I know I’ve read of other cases, some more severe.) Many, many other waterways are fouled with various toxic substances, or eutrophied to the point of anoxia. And then there’s the issue of groundwater; in many places unsustainable agricultural practices see water tables dropping steadily. In others, ground water may become contaminated with salt or industrial chemicals.

    I know this; you know this (and, I’m sure, could add much more detail.)

    Yet–as a hydrologist, tell me–how much water is transported annually by the Hadley cells? They’ve shifted poleward by up to 5 degrees so far since 1979:

    That’s something on the order of 350 miles.

    How much water stress has this already created for people?

    I note that the subtropical arid zone tends to be located equatorward of about 30 degrees, subject to various modifications due to circulation and hemispheric assymetry and whatnot. In the USA, that’s middle Georgia in the east, or, a bit further west, Austin, Texas; in Egypt, it’s Cairo, more or less; and in China, it’s Shanghai. Clearly, a lot of people are going to be affected by another 560 km poleward migration of the arid belt, which we may reasonably expect to see over the next 30 years.

    And what are the effects like on the ground? Well, we can’t be sure that the current Tex-Mex drought is attributable to climate change. It may be, or not–but it looks like what we can expect to see, so even if it’s ‘really’ due to natural variability, it nevertheless offers us a preview of what climate models tell us we can expect to see. This report–an official one from the Texas comptroller, which carefully avoids mentioning any link to climate change, citing AMO, PDO, and ENSO cycles–gives the drought cost for 2011 as $8.7 billion. It says that the costs by 2060 could reach $116 billion, and could result in net population loss for the state. This, from a report that ignores the points I raised above, and which is made in the context of one of a fairly wealthy state in the Union. (#24 in GDP per capita, to be precise.)

    Further south and west in Mexico, where the drought is also described as ‘the worst on record,’ the government is spending a planned $2.6 billion in assistance:

    There doesn’t seem to be a readily-accessible accounting of the cost so far to the Mexican economy, but this story tallies a minimum of 60,000 head of livestock dead, with many more to follow, states that some small towns have been deserted, and adds helpfully that no-one is known to have died yet:

    So–if this is a preview (on a relatively small scale) of what we can reasonably expect from climate change, why are you so convinced that it’s nothing to worry about? Can you point to some study that constrains the effects I’m talking about? So far, you’ve only made unsupported assertions. Is there more? I wouldn’t mind some reassurance.

  40. 540

    “This report. . .”

    Didn’t link it. It’s here:

    And I notice that I misspelled “asymmetry.” Oh, well, out of today’s spelling bee.

    (Captcha opines “irksome.”)
    (And apparently I got the Captcha wrong, too!)

  41. 541
    Ray Ladbury says:

    What I object to is your insistence that a decision to mitigate climate change necessarily precludes tackling other critical issues. This is utterly false. Indeed, climate mitigation should be part and parcel of a strategy for developing a sustainable global economy–and there is no inherent obstacle tosuch a strategy. A warming climate will certainly worsen many other problems, and the pursuit of fossil fuels in ever more remote, hostile environments will also lead to severe environmental degradation.

    Want to address water quality issues? Great, let’s start by keeping the coal in the ground, as I have seen firsthand what mountain-top removal does to streams. Let’s start by decreasing impermeable surface–an action that mitigates the increased impulsive rainfall events while at the same time decreasing erosion, saving topsoil, recharging aquifers and decreasing polluted runoff into streams and estuaries. Let’s develop alternative energy resources and an energy infrastructure to accommodate them so that we don’t have to drill in the deep oceans and in the pristine waters of the Arctic.

    But when you simply assert that climate chante poses no threat–in contravention of the overwhelming majority of the evidence–you are speaking from ignorance. That I take issue with.

  42. 542
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think that one of the problems Michael W. has is a lack of understanding of the IPCC process. The IPCC does not define the consensus. Rather it cites relevant research defining the current state of science and thereby reflects the consensus that exists already in the scientific literature. I will hope that this distinction is not too subtle to make an impression on him.

  43. 543
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard C.,
    So you do not think that refusal to consider the evidence is dishonest–especially when that refusal is motivated by ideology? As nearly as I can tell, the denialist’s argument reduces to the fallacy of argument from consequences. Were they honest, they would consider the evidence and then propose solutions consistent with their ideology. Instead they refuse to consider the evidence. Is their political philosophy so bankrupt that they must reject reality to maintain its validity?

  44. 544
    SecularAnimist says:

    Michael W wrote: “I am here to learn and put my ideas to the test.”

    As far as I can tell, you are here to repeat bogus denialist talking points (which you call “ideas”), aggressively ignore information that shows them to be wrong, and insult and denigrate other commenters who have patiently and politely tried to help you “learn”.

  45. 545
    t_p_hamilton says:

    RichardC says:”That is almost as ridiculous as your claim that we could replace 25-45% of fossil fuels with renewables in 5 years.” [further statements of dubious accuracy deleted]

    A look at Germany says what is definitely possible: (source wikipedia)

    Electricity generation from renewable sources has gone from 6.3% to 20% in 11 years (2000 – 2011)

    This leaves transportation out of course.

    Germany is planning for 35% renewable for electricity and 18% total
    energy by 2020.

    Your point is well taken, logically this means that since conversion to renewable sources can’t be done quickly we must start ASAP. :)

  46. 546
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Clearly, the water problem wouldn’t be nearly so bad were it not for all those humans mining aquifers, polluting surface waters and so forth. We don’t need a long debate over this.

  47. 547
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Not all the changes are bad however, says Högy: “The heavy metal cadmium also decreased by 14 per cent, which might be positive,” she says.

  48. 548
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Heat’s not good for wheat. What a surprise. heat effects on wheat.pdf

    Extreme heat effects on wheat senescence in India

    An important source of uncertainty in anticipating the effects
    of climate change on agriculture is limited understanding
    of crop responses to extremely high temperatures1,2. This
    uncertainty partly reflects the relative lack of observations
    of crop behaviour in farmers’ fields under extreme heat. We
    used nine years of satellite measurements of wheat growth
    in northern India to monitor rates of wheat senescence
    following exposure to temperatures greater than 34 C. We
    detect a statistically significant acceleration of senescence
    from extreme heat, above and beyond the effects of increased
    average temperatures. Simulations with two commonly used
    process-based crop models indicate that existing models
    underestimate the effects of heat on senescence. As the
    onset of senescence is an important limit to grain filling, and
    therefore grain yields, crop models probably underestimate
    yield losses for +2 C by as much as 50% for some sowing
    dates. These results imply that warming presents an even
    greater challenge to wheat than implied by previous modelling
    studies, and that the effectiveness of adaptations will depend
    on how well they reduce crop sensitivity to very hot days.

  49. 549
    Edward Greisch says:

    507 Kevin McKinney: Yes, the question is how will GW affect food production? Part of that is: can farming just move poleward, and up to how much GW? I would like to read a RealClimate article from some Department of Agriculture types on that. I expect the problem to be difficult. You can’t assume that you can chop down boreal forest, plant corn and get a good crop.

  50. 550
    SecularAnimist says:

    RichardC wrote: “That is almost as ridiculous as your claim that we could replace 25-45% of fossil fuels with renewables in 5 years.”

    You are referring to a comment I posted January 31 on the discussion of “An online model of methane in the atmosphere”.

    First of all, it was not “my claim”. I was citing the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    Second, you misrepresent my comment — and the NREL study that I cited. Neither the NREL study, nor my comment, asserted that we could “replace 25-45% of fossil fuels with renewables in 5 years”.

    As I accurately reported in that comment, the NREL study found that “it is ‘technically feasible’ for wind and solar to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation by 25% to 45% in five years — without ‘extensive additional infrastructure’.”

    So, what we have here is not me making a “ridiculous claim”. What we have here is YOU presenting a ridiculous distortion of my accurate report on a NREL study.

    Third, you then proceed with a litany of incorrect and inaccurate assertions about the wind and solar industries, for which you cite NO sources whatsoever — except for “one quote” that you “saw”, but which you are apparently unable to cite — which appear to be based on nothing more than ill-informed assumptions.

    For example, you assert — without evidence — that “multiplying our capacity by ten times in 5 years is just plain loony tunes”.

    In reality, as I also reported on that same thread, in the first three quarters of 2011 the USA installed over 1 Gigawatt of grid-connected PV, for a cumulative total of 3.1 GW — ten times the cumulative PV capacity installed as of 2005. So what you all “looney tunes” is, in fact, already happening.

    Please, try to more accurately inform yourself about the reality of today’s renewable energy industries — and if you are going to argue with me, please argue with what I am actually saying, and not ridiculous distortions of it.