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If You See Something, Say Something

Filed under: — mike @ 17 January 2014

Gavin provided a thoughtful commentary about the role of scientists as advocates in his RealClimate piece a few weeks ago.

I have weighed in with my own views on the matter in my op-ed today in this Sunday’s New York Times. And, as with Gavin, my own views have been greatly influenced and shaped by our sadly departed friend and colleague, Stephen Schneider. Those who were familiar with Steve will recognize his spirit and legacy in my commentary. A few excerpts are provided below:

THE overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.


My colleague Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, who died in 2010, used to say that being a scientist-advocate is not an oxymoron. Just because we are scientists does not mean that we should check our citizenship at the door of a public meeting, he would explain. The New Republic once called him a “scientific pugilist” for advocating a forceful approach to global warming. But fighting for scientific truth and an informed debate is nothing to apologize for.


Our Department of Homeland Security has urged citizens to report anything dangerous they witness: “If you see something, say something.” We scientists are citizens, too, and, in climate change, we see a clear and present danger. The public is beginning to see the danger, too — Midwestern farmers struggling with drought, more damaging wildfires out West, and withering, record, summer heat across the country, while wondering about possible linkages between rapid Arctic warming and strange weather patterns, like the recent outbreak of Arctic air across much of the United States.


The piece ends on this note:

How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?

Those are the stakes.

I would encourage interested readers to read the commentary in full at the New York Times website.

Constructive contributions are welcome in the comment section below :-)

606 Responses to “If You See Something, Say Something”

  1. 101
    Ray Ladbury says:

    JR, [edit] How dare you denigrate and diminish the role scientists have been and continue to play. Have you ever even read any posts on this site?!

    Scientists have been calling attention to this danger for decades. Where the hell have you been?

    Scientists are getting death threats. What the hell are you doing about it?

    And did it occur to you that maybe we want to keep a few scientists working on this problem to figure out exactly how bad things are likely to get?

    Congratulations. Your post is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet. And THAT is an impressive feat.

  2. 102

    Hank, in my blog and comment responses I have described my intention to publish and why I haven’t yet. I know it takes some stamina to get through all the details, but since you find it useful to comment, I ask you to try to read more carefully (both that and the myriad other papers you have cited).

    In any case, in that blog I also point out that the feel2899.pdf paper was never published in any peer reviewed journal and yet the time series plot in that report is the very foundation of contemporary assertions of historical proof of ocean acidification, particularly in representations made to the U.S. Congress in 2011 (Markey Hearings). I don’t see why the feel2899.pdf authors get a pass from peer-review for their misrepresentations and fabricated time series. Must I first write a peer reviewed paper to counter a non-peer reviewed paper?

    For that matter, their own report fails to provide citations for the missing 80 years of ocean pH data that I was looking for. Even the guest author of this RealClimate post, Dr. Mann, typically provides citations and and data tables so that other readers can work to verify his time series. Again I don’t see why the feel2899.pdf authors get a pass from provided data sourcing for time series, when virtually all other researchers, including Dr. Michael Mann, don’t enjoy that privilege.

    Accordingly I see nothing wrong with my blog bringing the facts the overall epic omission of real ocean pH time series data to the attention of anyone who will read it.

  3. 103
    Mal Adapted says:


    This has always been a part of “your job” by the way. No expert in his or her field is expected to stay silent or demurely say “but you don’t understand the significance of what this means…” or some such polite nonsense, especially when you consider the true significance of what you’ve uncovered.

    Sigh. Once again (my italics):

    An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. -Aldo Leopold

    How can scientists speak to the mass of consumers who do not want to hear that they are unwell and need strong medicine (seriously, why can’t we sell this stuff)? Science lacks the cathedra, not to mention the following, of the Pope. Scientists have only their epistemic authority, already seriously undervalued in America, to support their demands to be heard. Speaking “stridently” can only undermine that authority further.

    Then there are the opposition forces. Are you truly unaware of the pervasive and sophisticated disinformation campaign being prosecuted by those who stand to lose the most if fossil fuel use is curtailed? If only scientists weren’t ethically and financially prohibited from adopting the tactics available to the deniers!

    And how will their message reach the 20-30% of Americans who are solely “informed” by Fox News, which is fully enlisted in the denialist campaign? How will they get decarbonization legislation past the denier-funded, Fox-News-watcher-elected politicians who are publicly declaring AGW to be a hoax?

    You ask too much of scientists, for they are over-matched in this fight. If it is to be won, then it is up to non-scientists like yourself to win it.

  4. 104
    Christopher Winter says:

    It might be helpful to keep reminding the public of three things.

    1) Pointing out policy options is not the same as advocating a particular policy. When their work has revealed a future problem, scientists have a duty to inform the public about options that can reduce or eliminate that problem.

    2) Advocating a particular policy (as James Hansen has done while director of GISS) is not the same thing as prescribing that policy, because few scientists have the authority to set policy.

    3) If advocating reductions in carbon emissions, as Dr. Hansen and other scientists do, is unethical, the same thing can be said about advocating increased use of fossil fuels, as industry spokesmen do.

  5. 105
    SecularAnimist says:

    simon abingdon wrote: “Since the turn of the century it has been observed that the global temperature has consistently been flatlining while month by month CO2 emissions have continued to escalate. There are two explanations which might account for such observations: …”

    You left out the correct explanation, which is that in fact, no such thing “has been observed”.

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’m just guessing here, that Michael Wallace is working up to a “Sea Surface Stations” kind of thing like WTF did for surface stations, and that perhaps there is a comparable situation: a vast quantity of raw data collected over the years has been assessed and either used, or adjusted and used, or dismissed as not sufficiently reliable to combine into the sort of large scale trend done with temperatures.

    The point about surface stations was that the large scale weather changes — a front, say, with temperature and pressure change — moving across many miles — shows up in all the different weather stations, so the data from all those separate instruments could be looked at and used for climatology even though the weather stations were not set out to do climate studies and weren’t ideal instruments. Nevertheless, with enough of them, and each looked at carefully for needed adjustments, the result was a combined data set that has been useful. And eventually it’s being replaced with a more modern network.

    Guessing, I say, only guessing — that something similar has been happening with ocean pH data.

    I recall the people handling the weather station records took a while to get up to speed in explaining to the reading public what they were doing with the raw data and why (step changes when an instrument was changed or moved, for example — could put that individual record off by half a degree or a full degree all of a sudden — but once that change was understood, the data from it could again be useful)

    So, last plea for citations to sources other than blogs and for explanations other than suspicions. Pointers welcome. Enough.

  7. 107
    Hank Roberts says:
    Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 2732
    24 September 2013

    Isotopic evidence for continental ice sheet in mid-latitude region in the supergreenhouse Early Cretaceous

    … indicating much larger temperature fluctuations than previously thought during the supergreenhouse Cretaceous.

    Is this any help improving resolution of short term variability?

  8. 108

    it’s time to put down the pens and pencils and the spreadsheets and databases and instrumentation and go grab our stupid politicians and corporate destroyers by the throat

    There are criminal laws and municipal ordinances that discourage and punish that kind of behavior. Most of my collaborators have decided to leave Earth. Good luck, so long and thanks for all the fish.

  9. 109
    Edward Greisch says:

    103 Christopher Winter:
    1. Scientists DO NOT have a duty to inform the public of anything. It isn’t in my job description. In fact, my job description specifically forbids telling anybody who might report to an enemy. Half of all physicists work for the US Department of Defense at some time in their careers.

    2. NO scientist has authority outside of his own lab, if at all.

    3. Corporation and ethics do not belong in the same sentence.

  10. 110
    Edward Greisch says:

    99 Steve Fish: I am referring to your comment at 57: “OK, so how much economic cutback is required and, realistically, how do you propose to convince the people of the developed and developing world to do it? Please provide a budget and a funding source.”

    So don’t tell me “I have no idea what you are referring to.”

    97 Slioch: 1. Scientists need to keep their jobs, but scientists are also humans who have children and grandchildren.
    2. Scientists are not billionaires or even millionaires. Scientists cannot buy the media. Scientists are speaking out as well as can be expected.
    3. We are looking for better ways to communicate to the public, but the coal industry is $100 Billion ahead of us on cash flow.

  11. 111
    Hank Roberts says:

    Humans may be an intelligent species. We’ll soon find out. … – See more at:

    And if we blow it, the cyanobacteria will handle it, in their own way, in their own good time:
    The Rise of Cyanobacteria in Freshwater Resources

    Many produce toxins that are poisonous to people and animals, causing illness and death to those who breathe, drink, or even touch too much toxin at once…. water utilities require extra filtration …. Swimming areas can close to protect public health. Livestock and pets that are exposed to blooms may die.

    Researchers funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science are trying to better understand cyanobacteria and what makes them so successful ….

    … conditions must be just right for cyanobacteria to undergo a population explosion: the right nutrients, the right temperatures, specific salinity, as well as a lack of predators, and competition all play a role.

    Humans … are improving the conditions that cyanobacteria readily thrive in.

    And they say “Thank you, failed primates!”

  12. 112
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Edward Greisch — 21 Jan 2014 @ 4:45 PM

    Ed, notice the little “Re” in front of your name in the first line of this post. “Re” means regarding or in reference to (It’s in the dictionary), and in this case refers to your comment on 21 Jan 2014 @ 4:45 PM. My #57 comment was Re- DIOGENES on 19 Jan 2014 @ 11:45 AM and others, not you. He has been strongly advocating a very fast switch to renewables and a major economic cutback in order to keep warming within safe limits. Because he has been doing a lot of accounting regarding warming in the near future, but not providing anything about the amount of needed economic cutback, I was asking him to provide this with some kind of plan to convince the whole world to do this, and how to fund such a campaign. You should go back and read his post. In the next post after my #57, Richard Pauli also did not check what I was responding to and commented on it and I responded to him two posts below this. I think you are getting over sensitive about reducing power consumption because of your unnatural association with your air conditioner. Because PV panel prices have dropped drastically, some folks in my area just add a few panels and get an air conditioner. I prefer to depend on good house insulation.

    As an aside, I have been referring to posts by their author and time stamp because you can highlight the time and Ctrl + F it into the search window, and search up to the referred comment to read it, and then search down to get back to the starting point (this is for windows, there must be a similar function for the Mac). The search function will not find comment numbers because they are not text and often change when delayed comments are inserted above, an annoying function.


  13. 113
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Thomas: “Most of my collaborators have decided to leave Earth. – See more at:

    And go where?

  14. 114
    Not my regular handle too much background says:


    In perusing the literature I looked at the data from AR5 and I also found this:

    Andrew G. Dickson, The measurement of sea water pH, Marine Chemistry, Volume 44, Issues 2–4, December 1993, Pages 131-142, ISSN 0304-4203,

    This paper reviews the thermodynamic basis of two approaches that are used to measure the total hydrogen ion concentration of sea water, potentiometry using a glass electrode and spectroscopy using an indicator dye. Both of these methods depend ultimately on measurements made using the classical hydrogen/silver-silver chloride cell for their calibration and thus provide equivalent pH scales. As a result of recent advances in measurement techniques and calibration, we should expect to see a revival in the popularity of pH measurements and a renewed understanding of the importance of this parameter in interpreting acid-base processes in sea water; particularly those involving the geochemically important carbon dioxide system.

    I draw few things from these:

    1. from AR5 regardless of the detailed data the pH measurements are backed up by carbonate measurements. pH is after all only a surrogate for carbonate when we’re discussing the global carbon balance.
    2. From AR5 looking at the trends of 0.002 per year…that’s some mighty precise pH measurement podner. Meaning that marine instruments for those years were doing way better than your conventional bench top instrument out of the cole parmer catalogue.

    I’m not familiar with this brand…but +/- 0.005 pH

    I’m more familiar with Orion, had here the accuracy is 0.002 pH…now we’re in the range of recording a years difference.

    (now also comes the question at this level- do you keep samples and measure at the same time, what are the protocols for the atmosphere over the sample…remember the sample will be attempting to equilibrate its CO2 content with the gas above.)

    3. Given Dickinson’s remark about a “revival of popularity” of pH measurement, I’ll go out a bit on a limb here, since the primary document is paywalled for me and I haven’t able to find a free copy… His position in reviewing pH measurement was that the prior measurements weren’t fit to use, and that the field had given up on them because of a broad recognition that the measurements weren’t accurate.

    Now since Michael is accumulating data…I wonder about what instruments and electrodes were used, what the base accuracy and precision were AND how many significant figures were reported in those measurements. If we’re getting pH of 8.35-=/- 0.01 that’s not much good for tracking a 0.002 per year change…and given that glass pH electrodes don’t last 10 years, and the uncertainty in calibration at that level, even logging anomalies per electrode/potentiometer won’t help.

  15. 115
    Hank Roberts says:

    > don’t last 10 years …. even logging anomalies per
    > electrode/potentiometer won’t help

    So we’re well into something changing,
    and need some kind of baseline observations of what the planet used to be like.

    Call in the paleobiologists? Got proxies?

    So this isn’t about the Canadian government recently disposing of a research library collection via dumpster — or is it?

  16. 116
    Kevin O'Neill says:

    #115 Not my regular handle too much background says:
    “I’m not familiar with this brand…but +/- 0.005 pH” &
    “I’m more familiar with Orion, had here the accuracy is 0.002 pH…now we’re in the range of recording a years difference.”

    No, actually you’re not.

    Most people don’t understand calibration of a pH meter. There are actually four separate parameters that need to be tested and all four will impact the uncertainty. What you’ve quoted above is the meter accuracy — this does NOT include ISE electrode calibration, buffer solution accuracy, or thermometer errors.

    The meter is typically calibrated using a mV calibrator; i.e., it’s an electronic calibration. The electrode is usually tested only for repeatability over a period of a few seconds to a few minutes. The temperature sensors usually have accuracies of anywhere from 0.5 to 2 C. Buffer solutions are typically +/- 0.02 or 0.01 pH (It’s possible to find solutions that *claim* tighter accuracies, but I stress *claim*).

    Taking all of this into account it is highly unlikely that any measurement made with a handheld or inexpensive portable ISE electrode pH meter is going to have an expanded measurement uncertainty of better than 0.03 or 0.04 pH — and that’s probably overly optimistic :)

  17. 117
    Christopher Winter says:

    RE: Edward Greisch (#109):

    OK, I will stipulate that no scientist has “informing the public” written into his or her job description, and that those engaged in weapons work — which I infer to be your line of work — are specifically forbidden to do so. (I did some weapons work too, back in the day — but as electrical engineer, not as physicist.)

    It nevertheless remains the moral duty of a scientist, or anyone with superior knowledge about a subject, to inform those in authority of potential problems affecting the commonweal. The Montreal Protocol is an example of how this is supposed to work: scientists reveal that CFCs are depleting the ozone layer; government and industry work together to develop substitute refrigerants that don’t cause this problem. Result: the ozone layer is recovering.

    Climate change is a counterexample. Scientists have been warning about its effects since the 1960s, but nothing substantial has been done. The responsible authorities have been derelict in their duty to set effective policies in place. American government still depends on the will of the public. Thus, the public must be informed of the facts relevant to this future problem. If elected politicians won’t inform the public about the effects of climate change, scientists must.

  18. 118
    Hank Roberts says:

    Most people don’t understand calibration of a pH meter.
    See more at:

    I love this place.

  19. 119
    Not my regular handle too much background says:


    Thanks for continuing the point. The meters I was citing aren’t cheap handhelds but rather expensive benchtop units.

    Another little foible is when you’re dealing with samples in a cup, not only do you need to worry about drift from picking up from or degassing to the atmosphere, but the rate of stirring matters. Another thing most people don’t know about pH electrodes is that the reference electrode has a chemical junction with the solution, and the reference electrode solution can and does migrate through that junction into the sample. That’s why some people use refillable reference electrodes-

    If you stop stirring a solution you can change the local concentrations around the reference electrode, AND if you’re using a combined pH-reference electrode that simply adds to the issue.

    Of course, if you have a really small sample volume, you’re automatically contaminating the sample.

    All said and done then, it comes down to a matter of statistics.

    If glass electrodes can only do +/-0.02 or so with a good meter and good calibration standards….then how many measurements do you need to take to get a handle on real pH change of 0.002…if you can. My stats are too rusty to answer this, and I’ve got other, unfortunately worse things, that must be done with my time right now than sit down with my book are reinstruct myself.

    captch- cell acterrl – cell, act, err- don’t know what the l is going on.

  20. 120
    SecularAnimist says:

    Joe Romm writes about Michael Mann’s op-ed, and says in part:

    … for an individual, attempts to avoid the severe health consequences of cigarette smoking by smoking less may turn out to be futile — and yet it is the smart thing to do. And it is the moral responsibility of their doctor to tell them so — particularly since we know that, overall, the population benefits from a large-scale reduction in smoking. And so it is with carbon pollution.

    I agree that climate scientists have a “moral responsibility” to inform the public about the danger of “severe consequences” from GHG emissions, and to inform the public that the “smart thing to do” to avoid those consequences is to quit emitting fossil fuels.

    That “moral responsibility” arises from the fact that climate scientists know what they know, and therefore are an authoritative voice on the realities of GHG emissions and consequent global warming, climate change and extreme weather — just as a medical doctor is an authoritative voice on the realities of the negative health impacts of smoking tobacco.

    At the same time, medical doctors may not be particularly knowledgeable about the most effective public policy options available for bringing about a “large-scale reduction in smoking” — e.g. taxes, labeling requirements, advertising and other public education campaigns, prohibiting smoking in more and more public places, the availability and effectiveness of nicotine addiction treatments, etc.

    Doctors are certainly entitled like anyone else to advocate particular smoking-reduction policies, but their advocacy does not necessarily carry the same expert authority as does their insistence that one way or another, smoking must be reduced.

    Likewise, when climate scientists go beyond calling for urgent action to reduce GHG emissions and begin advocating specific policies to do that, they are outside the realm of their expert authority.

    Again, I have no objection to climate scientists doing that — it may at least help to bring attention to the ongoing conversation about how to reduce emissions, simply by virtue of the fact that climate scientists are in a position to get attention on anything related to AGW.

    James Hansen is certainly a shining example of a climate scientist who has embraced the “moral responsibility” of sounding the alarm about the grave danger of AGW, and his expertise makes his voice powerful and effective in calling for the urgent necessity of ending GHG emissions, which necessarily requires ending fossil fuel use.

    But is James Hansen really speaking from expertise and authority when he advocates against cap-and-trade and for a carbon tax as the best way to internalize the cost of carbon pollution? Or when he dismisses renewable energy technologies and insists that the best (or only) way to a zero-emissions energy economy is through decades of research into “next generation” nuclear power?

    Hansen is neither an economist nor an expert on energy technologies. He may be right, or wrong, on either of those questions. But I’d rather be guided by the views of economists and experts in the relevant technologies who have studied those questions for as many decades as Hansen has studied the climate system.

    [Response: The analogy Romm uses is commonplace. But it’s not a good one; there’s a big difference between what we know about the effects of cigarette smoke on a human, and what we know about the effects of future climate change on the world. Completely different systems and levels of scientific knowledge and predictability, the former being much stronger.–Jim]

  21. 121
    Kevin O'Neill says:

    #120 Eli had an intriguing (to me) post on pH meters.

    Eli writes: “In one deployed version, the precision is +/- 0.0007 pH unit and an accuracy of 0.0005 relative to a reference system the principal requirement being holding the temperature in the spectrophotometer cell constant.”

    Precision is often misleading. The extra digits can be meaningless. NIST sells reference solutions. Their uncertainty is +/-0.01 pH and no laboratory traceable to NIST can claim a better uncertainty.

    Perhaps the ‘reference system’ is not a reference solution, but assuming it is and your reference solution has an uncertainty of +/-0.01 pH, and you have several other errors that need to be accounted for, it’s hard to envision any pH measurement – even with the equipment Eli mentions and directly traceable to NIST – with an uncertainty better than +/- 0.015 pH.

  22. 122
    Dean Myerson says:

    While I agree with the great majority here about seeing something and doing something, those in that position should not be naive. In a highly partisan and politicized scenario, one is not necessarily rewarding for doing the right thing. I applaud those who do so, and recognize their courage. And it isn’t always intentional courage. I don’t think Dr. Mann made such an explicit decision – others chose him for the role he now has. And I also understand those who will do their science and try to stay off the public radar screens. There is a role for both under the current and unfortunate circumstances.

  23. 123
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim wrote: “… there’s a big difference between what we know about the effects of cigarette smoke on a human, and what we know about the effects of future climate change on the world. Completely different systems and levels of scientific knowledge and predictability, the former being much stronger.”

    I think the point of the analogy is not that the dangers of tobacco smoke and of global warming are similar, or that the state of scientific knowledge of their effects is similar — but rather, that in both cases, it is the scientists with relevant expertise who are best equipped to tell us what we DO know about those dangers, and thus to tell us what is the “smart thing to do” about avoiding them.

    And I would argue that what scientists DO know about the present and likely future effects of AGW is more than sufficient to support the view that the “smart thing to do” is to phase out anthropogenic GHG emissions as quickly and completely as possible. And simply having that knowledge creates the “moral responsibility” that Romm talks about.

    [Response: Good clarification Animist.–Jim]

  24. 124
    DIOGENES says:

    SA #120,

    “Hansen is neither an economist nor an expert on energy technologies. He may be right, or wrong, on either of those questions. But I’d rather be guided by the views of economists and experts in the relevant technologies who have studied those questions for as many decades as Hansen has studied the climate system.”

    In fact, we need both climate scientists like Hansen working hand-in-hand with the economists and technology experts to arrive at a useful deployment scenario. If we depended solely on the “views of economists and experts in the relevant technologies” as you propose, we would end up with the scenarios we see posted on this blog time and again: proposals for deployment of technologies with little or no consideration of the peak temperature (and other) consequences during the transition.

  25. 125
    DF says:

    I cannot stop thinking that the main problem right now is that mother nature is not a very good team player on this issue.

    It would have been a much stronger argument if you could say:
    THE overwhelming consistence between global average temperature and the predictions from our models demonstrates that we have a very good understanding of climate. The correlation between CO2 and global average temperature is very strong. CO2 is causing the global average temperature to increase significantly. The rate of increase is 0,00X(K/ppmCO2) +/- 0,000Y (K/ppmCO2) the increase in CO2 is currently Z (ppmCO2/year).

    Rather than:
    “THE overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening.”

    Consensus does not sell very well to people educated within science. Students learn that an argument based on consensus is an unsound argument. Very many do have education within science. Unsound arguments may cause loss of confidence.

    If the development of global average temperature had a better fit to the models the fit itself would be a sufficient argument and the sense of urgency would have been so much stronger.

    However if we just have a little patience the global average temperature should show a dramatic increase every minute now.
    Sound arguments and proper timing will make the job effortless.

  26. 126
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    #120 Secular Animist

    I think that some of the tactics used by the tobacco companies and their allies are very similar, if not identical.

    [Response: That’s right. There have been entire books written (e.g. “The Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway, and my own book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” that discuss some of the remarkable parallels, including the very same front groups and individuals involved in the campaigns to deny the science. -mike]

    I think scientist speaking out about what the AGW facts really are is very valuable, but not easy for the scientists.

    I’ll have to chime in and agree with Jim on the science and the comparison with tobacco’s effects on people. There is a more direct and predictable cause and effect with smoking and illness.

    A year or two ago I went to a lecture given by an ornithologist about the effect of climate change on birds in the mountains of California. The standard canard was as temperature rose, birds would increase in the upper mountains and decrease in the lower mountains tracking roughly the change in temperature. The data pointed to different results.

    Many birds followed the predicted pattern. However, some birds actually moved their ranges down the mountains, apparently due to increases in precipitation, even though the temperatures were higher. Another variable was conversion of habitat for human uses. Birds that could adapt to these changes held or increased in numbers, even though temperatures were above their optimum.

    [Response: Yes, evaluating climate change effects on ecosystems is particularly difficult, analytically, for exactly the kind of reason you illustrate there. We are pretty wary of simple explanations, and with good reason.–Jim]

  27. 127
    Edward Greisch says:

    This ClimateMeme2 group is doing the marketing “research” on GW.

    “Last year our Climate Meme Project revealed the cultural drivers of the conversation about global warming.  What we discovered was that the idea of global warming is psychologically damaging and creates trauma in the minds of those who come together to advocate for it – and drives many to strive to discredit it.  We found ourselves realizing that our goal is not to spread the concern about climate change.  That would only make more people scared, anxious, and filled with despair.

    What we really need is hope and healing.  We need loving compassion toward ourselves, each other and towards our planet Earth.  And we need positive visions of the future that cross ideological lines and cultivate unity among people who have come to feel divided.  

    ClimateMeme2 is a project of culture design.  Our research target is Middle America’s middle income housewives. We will map out the idea landscapes for people who are immune to the psychological threat of global warming.  

    Along the way, we will discover the stories that make people strong in the face of crisis. These will be the stories we will go out and spread to help humanity tackle the global challenge of climate change. We need these stories to share that make us strong in the face of crisis.

    The focus of this project is to interview those people who did not catch the “global warming thought virus” and learn how they are able to cope — and even thrive — in our rapidly changing world.  (This will tell us a lot about what it takes for others to be hopeful about the future.)  We will then compare what we find with the insights from ClimateMeme1 to create and spread memes that are symbiotic to humans: those who will be infected will care about the climate and the planet and still maintain a hopeful view on our common future.
    The slides are good.

    It is a good idea to study the social science before trying to talk a lot. As ClimateMeme said, just telling them has exactly the wrong result. “Humans” are mal-adapted/crazy. “Human” “thinking” is wrong. It is necessary to carefully research what to say before saying anything. The right meme should be infectious enough to spread with little effort on our part.

  28. 128
    SecularAnimist says:

    Diogenes wrote: “If we depended solely on the ‘views of economists and experts in the relevant technologies’ as you propose …”

    I said NOTHING about depending “solely” on the views of anyone. You repeatedly attribute to me views that I have never expressed and do not hold. It is becoming tiresome.

  29. 129
    Alastair McDonald says:

    Re Jim’s response to the SecularAnimist (#120)

    What is the difference between a doctor telling his patient that if he continues smoking he is likely to suffer from lung cancer, and an Earth System scientist telling the public that if we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere we may cause an abrupt climate change? [See Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change:Anticipating Surprises (2013) Is it that the odds of smoker getting lung cancer is higher than CO2 causing abrupt climate change? But how to you know?

    Or is it that you think that there may be no connection between abrupt climate change and increasing carbon dioxide? That may be true, but we do know that increasing CO2 will make global temperature rise, whereas the doctor does not know whether his patient will suffer form cancer. We do know that rising temperatures cause melting glaciers and wild fires. The glaciers provide the water to extinguish those fires, and without the rivers flowing from them large parts of the USA and the Earth will inevitably become deserts. Surely it is our duty as scientist to warn the public of the catastrophes which will inevitably follow if no action is taken to curb CO2 emissions?

    [Response: Yes, it is always the duty of anyone having exclusive knowledge to alert others of potentially harmful situations. The difference in the two examples is the degree of certainty, and more importantly the likely final impact (i.e. death), of the effect, and the degree to which the causal chain can be definitely traced. This results from the ability to do extensive and powerful controlled experimentation in cell biology. As for fire regime changes, that’s something I have some knowledge of, and it is far from just a climate change issue-Jim]

    The funding of the sceptic campaign is provided by right wing think tanks whose paradigm is based on the belief that American exceptionalism is a result of individual freedom. They believe that every US citizen should be free to smoke cigarettes, and corporations should be free to peddle them. Knowing that they could not disprove smoking causes cancer they tried to shake the public’s faith in scientists by highlighting the uncertainties in the science.

    [Response: I also believe that individuals have the right to smoke and potentially kill themselves if they so choose, as long as they are fully aware of that possibility and its ramifications on others, even though I myself am very much against tobacco and wish that nobody smoked and the damned substance didn’t even exist (just one of many very strong health- and nutrition-related views I hold). The problem with tobacco is that many people did not have this essential information, because of the lies of the tobacco companies and their other criminal (IMO) activities, such as trying to get teenagers hooked.–Jim]

    They are now campaigning for the coal and oil and (fracking) gas companies (which they own) to have the freedom to continue exploiting fossil fuels. Their technique has not changed. Their campaign is still based on emphasising the doubts scientists have in order to persuade the public that there is no urgency. We are playing into their hands if we too emphasise our doubts. As Schneider proposed, we must put those doubts aside and recognise that it is our duty to warn the public of the scary consequences of increasing CO2, just as the doctor has a duty to warn a patient of the consequences of smoking.

  30. 130
    Say something says:

    How can we solve the problem of public talks which regularly touch on climate in a way that diminishes audience understanding of its urgency? How many of us are feeling “climate silenced” and wishing others who haven’t yet been silenced would speak up? How can we know whether what we’re facing is an opportunity to stand up and do the right thing, or carefully crafted mudslinging bait? Does stepping into the realm of unfathomably powerful fossil fuel interests mean we’ll never be able to tell the difference until it’s too late?

  31. 131
  32. 132
    Pete Best says: (Kevin Anderson/Alice Bows – Royal Society of philosophical transaction)

    Yes definitely speak out

    IPCC AR4 – filtered through lawyers and economists.

  33. 133
    Russell says:

    Mike ought to examine the methods and materials of the polemic book he cites with the same critical vigor he applies to the articles he is called upon to review.

  34. 134
    Dwight Mac Kerron says:

    Sorry id this is a double post, but the first one appeared to go…poof:

    Not having a fraction of the climate knowledge of most of the posters on this site, (although I have spent hundreds of hours reading what I can on climate change, and a fair per cent of that on this site,) I offer myself as a guinea pig to your powers of persuasion.
    I smoke three cigarets a day and burn five cords of wood each year. I have a huge garden with compost pile, don’t use much home heating oil but do use petro-based fertilizers and obviously gasoline to run my chain saws, rototiller, lawn mower, vehicles etc. I am guessing that my household/homestead produces more CO2 than it consumes, but that my overall deficit is less than it is for the average person, but who knows?
    I burn the wood because it is cold in the winter and I run the a/c because it is hot in the summer in New England.
    Each cigaret now costs about 40 cents and each gallon of gas around 3.40. I am not hurting for money and, I suppose COULD pay 80 cents a cigaret and $10 a gallon for gasoline if I had to, but, not being a missionary or an activist, I am not volunteering for said duty.
    One of the major reasons I don’t completely trust your nostrums is that scientists, although they always progress over time, are often wrong. Vitamin E and nuclear winter come to mind. I have also been permanently affected, at least until now, by the purloined emails, which, although they did not reveal fraud, did reveal how badly these supposedly objective scientists needed/wanted to prove, not just their hypothesis, but their belief. Then there is this “smoothing”that has to be done, analysis of ancient tree rings and ice cores, global temperature reading at all those stations over who knows how many years, done by people who (in my mind) have a strong agenda. Then we are hot with predictions about extreme weather, as if we have not ALWAYS had extreme weather, droughts, blizzards, hurricanes. But wait, what do I know, just the history of many of these past events, but I don’t have data on a graph about the events that supposedly happened and how often they happened, blah, blah.
    The news would have us believe that there are unbelievable disasters happening every day, and AGW gets thrown in there a lot, but when you don’t that excited about the latest snow storm, blizzard, or heat wave that is being hyped on the day’s news, you/I tend to dismiss much the AGW stuff as more of the same. I will grant you that a serious drought would get my attention, but I have transcribed an old diary talking about a frightful drought in Massachesetts in 1762. Droughts happen, apparently.
    There is no question that I can be asked, “who are you to question the experts?” but there is also no question that until people like me in the mushy middle are convinced, that we will not push for all the inconvenient, if not crippling, proscriptions flying about.

    I have always supported the reduction of emissions, clean water standards, tree planting, conservation of green open space etc., but this CO2 stuff seems so close to questioning/challenging the very EXISTENCE of who we are and how we live, that one needs a religious experience to embrace the new order. Not there yet.

  35. 135
    J.R. says:

    Apparently none of you experts get it. You think your role is limited to polite discourse, while we’re talking about near-term collapse and human extinction, caused by our near-total failure to address the human contribution to climate change.

    Some of you are choosing to hide behind your credentials and presumed “roles” as if this cloak will protect you. What will you do then when the climate goes absolutely ape and then policy makers and the public decry your reticence? Continue to claim that you were “just doing your job”? Do you really and truly believe you have done all that you can, especially considering the extreme threat this now poses to humanity?

    I “dare” call you out on this point because there are in fact a great many of us in the public that do not think you have done enough. Ladbury’s high and mighty assumption is that science is “unassailable” to the unwashed public whom is deemed “unworthy” to question. Bullshit. My child is qualified to question ALL of you – and clearly should. His LIFE is at stake here.

    What do you think the public is going to do to all of you scientists if you don’t get off the pot and force this issue to the forefront with our policy makers? Got a good place to hide?

    And why do ANY of you actually think you need to convince the public of anything? The public does not set policy. The public doesn’t do a damned thing except complain and ask for more crumbs. It isn’t the public that is going to change the outcome now. This is not your target audience and never has been. You’re quite ignorant of this fact.

    Ladbury, you’re an arrogant d**k and you need to be b* slapped into sensibility. You understood nothing in my post. I will simply ignore you from here on out because you are simply not bright enough to pick up on the specific points I brought forward. I have no use for fools.

    For ten years I have been publishing the documents and the research and the news regarding climate collapse and environmental collapse. I’ve done everything I can to inform the public – but I realize that this is in error as I’ve mentioned above. It is pointless to expect the public to “lead” – they’ve got no idea where they’re going. You’re not handing them anything when a new scientific report or assessment on the current state of affairs comes out. It’s meaningless to them because they do not and never have had the tools to do anything about it.

    But science? Science should be taking the lead. A planetary emergency exists and I keep reading about how “you can’t” do this or “you can’t” do that or what your “role” supposedly is. Unbelievable. What a pathetic excuse this is. You scientist ALONE have the credentials and the respect of your peers and institutions regarding your own finding. It’s nearly pointless for the non-credentialed to “raise the alarm”. You don’t even recognize your own roles or responsibilities after you’ve made your discoveries and investigations that now affect ALL of humanity and the future of this planet. Unbelievable.

    Why don’t you band together and demand a global forum? It’s time to put your job and your careers on the line. You apparently lack the imagination – or the courage – to do what needs to be done. Passing the “buck” to the public to “demand change” is absurd beyond belief. It’s up to YOU scientists to do this – you’re the ones that the policy-makers must listen to because you are the experts – not us.

    I think none of you really understand what is going on here. We’re talking about the future of the biosphere and the habitability of the planet, but you’re still arguing amongst yourselves, or like Ladbury, getting his panties in a bunch because someone finally dared point out the obvious.

    If this is the best you can do – then the rest of us are well and truly screwed, because it means NOBODY has the courage to step up to the plate. Science and the public HAVE tried – I am quite aware of this. But it has utterly failed and you all know it. Therefore, you must raise your game considerably higher, because the stakes are far to high to continue to fail. You NEED to band together – and FORCE the attention of Congress and this Administrator and EVERY government of the world by SOME means.

    If what you’ve done hasn’t worked – why keep doing it?

    Don’t fall for the illusion that you need another assessment or another report or another study to present to your stake-holders, you’ve done that already, in spades (and I did NOT advocate you stop science research at all). We need YOU to lay it on the line now in a unified stance against the ongoing denial, disinformation and lack of action.

    Or not. You can continue to do what you’ve done and watch what we’ve already seen – denial, obfuscation, disbelief, disinterest and the ongoing disintegration of the planet. You apparently believe we’ve plenty of time left. You apparently believe that you’ve done your best. You apparently believe that it’s not serious enough to start breaking all the “rules” you think control you.

    It no longer matters what “laws” need to be broken or whether or not “scientist should be advocating policy”. Those of you still stuck in this mold are fools and cowards. You’re not bright enough to realize that when survival is at stake, the “rules” are useless and were only useful when we could expect them to apply. We are FAST approaching the point when ALL the rules and laws will go out the window. Do you have ANY idea what it’s going to be like when civil disorder breaks down? Do you really think “the rules” will be meaningful – or that you will belatedly realize that you should have done all that you could to prevent this from happening? And if you really have no idea what policy should be established – FIND SOMEBODY THAT DOES and advoate THAT. There has got to be some qualified people among you.

    And if you think our policy makers are the best we “have” for setting policy – then you have NO IDEA how policy is actually created. American politicians are complete idiots compared to most of you. They are beholden to corporate interests and the policies adopted by this country are not going to do anything that threatens this relationship. They simply do what they are told by their handlers. It is quite obvious however that this must be changed, and as soon as possible. Forget voting as I already pointed out – the public does not and never has controlled the direction of this country. We are NOT going to “vote” ourselves into a habitable climate. Many of you still believe this utter nonsense (wake up). If this is going to happen, it’s going to be rammed down our throats because that is exactly what it is going to take to break the strangle-hold the corporate world holds over Congress.

    You guys need to step outside the box, grow some big balls and get deadly serious about forcing Congress to demand fundamental changes on how we’re ruining this planet, ASAP. You should have been bright enough to have figured this out – a decade ago. We need our scientists – and we do respect you – but you MUST step up to the plate and make this happen.

    [Response: Knock it off with the inflammatory, accusatory language. Thanks.–Jim]

  36. 136
    Hank Roberts says:

    > J.R. … For ten years I have been publishing …

    Anonymously? Anyone we might recognize?

  37. 137
    flxible says:

    JR, your rant is so riddled with contradictions it’s bizarre you claim to be doing ‘everything you can to inform’. If science can’t influence politicians because the politicians are controlled by ‘corporate interests’, and the public can’t influence the politicians OR corporate interests, how are scientists expected to “force” political change? Don’t blame the messenger.

  38. 138
    DIOGENES says:

    J.R. #135,

    Your post over-generalizes in parts, but I like the overall message. It reflects the urgency of taking the RIGHT corrective action.

    “You apparently believe we’ve plenty of time left.”

    This is one of the over-generalizations I find problematical. Who is the ‘YOU’ to whom you refer? I can only speak for myself, but if you read my posts on this thread and Unforced Variations for Dec and Jan, I said nothing of the sort. I concluded, based on 1) Hansen’s concern that any temperature increases above prior-Holocene experience would take us into uncharted waters, and could be dangerous, and 2) cessation of CO2 emissions studies in the published literature, that WE HAVE RUN OUT OF CARBON BUDGET. That’s far beyond even where you have gone!

    Now, we understand quite well what we would do if we ran out of personal budget, and the types of cutbacks we would have to make until we got back on our feet. As you can see from the responses to my posts calling for an inclusion of sharp demand cutbacks in parallel with rapid introduction of renewables and implementation of off-the-shelf energy efficiency improvements, even on this climate advocacy blog few are willing to support such measures (Wili and Tony Weddle being notable exceptions).

    So, the first step needed as a foundation for the type of action you recommend is that the climate advocacy community come up with a clear, simple, and unified message, which contains the credible components to lead to a real solution. As should be obvious from the posts on this blog, and the other major climate advocacy blogs as well, there is no clear or simple or unified message, and most of the messages you see here will not lead to a real solution of the problem. Implementation of many of the proposals you see on this blog, and I have pointed out a few, would lead to interim temperatures well into the danger zone, with potentially unthinkable consequences.

    So, your call for action, while certainly laudable, is putting the cart before the horse. We need to get some agreement among ourselves what to propose, or there’s no way we will convince the general public to support these efforts in any way.

  39. 139
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Dwight Mac Kerron — 23 Jan 2014 @ 10:47 AM

    You have offered your opinions about how you are informed by science and provided a few factual examples that you apparently think are especially telling. I suggest that you are confusing science with the popular press and other non-scientific sources of information. Could you explain how you know about the scientific falsehood of, for example, nuclear winter and why data “smoothing” is bad (vitamin E is another good one, but not as appropriate for this site). I think you may have been misled.


  40. 140
    Matt says:

    It’s unbelievable that this is still an issue. I don’t understand how people can ignore scientific fact which has been proven. It has to be chosen ignorance right?

  41. 141
    Ray Ladbury says:

    J. R.: “Ladbury, you’re an arrogant d**k and you need to be b* slapped into sensibility.”

    Ooh, jump down, get back. J. R.’s an internet toughguy. Congrat’s JR, you’ve topped even the stupidity of your last post. Kudos, assclown. The saddest thing in your post is that you’ve managed to reproduce.

  42. 142
    Ray Ladbury says:

    While JR doesn’t raise any points worthy of anything beyond derision, his screed is an indication of a concern I’ve long had. Those of us who’ve been in this fight for decades now know that fossil fuel interests and libertarian political organizations have been quite effective in “teaching the controversy” even where none exists. However, this can’t go on forever. Mother Nature bats last, and she’s a bitch. So, the denialati need to plan an exit strategy so they don’t get the blame for the caca that is heading our way.

    Watch them blame it on the scientists–the very people who have to date been most active in drawing attention to the threats of climate change. And anti-science clowns like JR will be there to link arms. JR and his ilk will hide safely behind their Intertube anonymity while climate scientist continue to get death threats.

  43. 143
    Dave123 says:


    I’m a scientist (not in the climate game) who has been persuaded by the evidence that the understanding of our climate, developed in part by the people who put together this site is correct, within the normal standards of the progression of science. But the kinds of things that persuade me won’t persuade you because you don’t have the same tool kit to work with. First, of course is the basic science…CO2 being a greenhouse gas, the need to balance incoming and outgoing energy for the earth to stay at a roughly constant temperature. Then there’s the consilience, a fancy word for how it all hangs together. And third is the elimination of alternatives. Now maybe, maybe you grok that and say, that’s not where you’re hung up… it’s the business of predicting the future, the consequences and the need to take action. That’s where the tools come in again for me. I’ve done modeling and rhetoric about things being too complex, or having to explain everything, or have an infinite degree of accuracy don’t impress me. “Close enough” means something.

    The question is for folks like you-whether you can take some time and acquire some of the tools, or whether you will always have to base your opinion on surrogates such as other people’s actions and opinions.

    One conclusion you seem to have drawn is that there is a strong agenda. I’m not sure what your exposure to scientists is, but going along with the flow isn’t why people become scientists. You can talk about curiosity driven research, but the competitive urge to one up the last guy and plant your flag on top of the hill is far stronger than running with the herd. That’s why we still have Lindzen, Curry, Spencer and Christy fighting a rear-guard action. If you look more closely at the literature you’ll see disputes all over the place- one of my current interests is the Francis/Trenberth/Hansen difference on Polar Amplification and the effect of Arctic Ice loss. There are many others, including what I regard as a tedious and pointless niggling about the exact warming provided by doubling the CO2 levels, when I think we are far less certain of the effects of a given degree of warming and the rate at which we force it to happen.

    So the question is what a prudent path is. I’m sure we’ve all heard about the philosophy on “homeland security” that action should be taken even if there’s a 1% chance of a terrorist attack. Those actions have costs, consequences and unforeseen consequences. I suspect that the unforeseen consequences of geopolitical actions from the aftermath of the 1st world war are still playing out today.

    Now I think, based on paleoclimate data that even if we waved a magic wand, and stopped right here at 400 ppm of CO2 in the air we’re committed to a very different world over the course of several centuries. No north polar ice, trees up to the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Displacement of agricultural zones, devastation and reorganization of many tropical and temperate ecosystems are among the likely possibilities that reside along the long slow path.

    But we’re not going to stick at 400 ppm and we’ll be lucky to stop at 600 ppm given politics and organized disinformation campaigns. So we’re facing more likely quick change over the span of decades and not centuries. Flood and drought cause civilizations to collapse. I don’t care that regional extremes have happened before I’m concerned about what to expect in the severity and duration of the ones to come.

    Prudence. How much do you spend now to avoid problems later? How much insurance do you buy? How much of the path do we need to walk eventually anyhow? (nearly all of it because fossil fuels aren’t infinite).

    You raise an interesting point about scientist having been wrong in the past. It’s true. But you missed the other side of things: Every other approach to the world has been wronger…more often with worse consequences. Law, Politics, Religion, Philosophy, have terrible records when it comes to what the nature of the world is. Which of those areas of human endeavor would you look to instead of science for the truth about Vitamin E and nuclear winter? Never mind whether the stories you know are the popular press versions of things, or the real McCoy- what other discipline can you look to but science?

  44. 144
    Hank Roberts says:

    > reproduce
    What was he thinking, to do that at a time like this?

  45. 145
    wili says:

    “forcing Congress”

    And how in bldy hell does anyone ‘force’ congress to do anything, especially if you are going to ignore the public and voting and trying to do anything with individual congresspeople??

    Look, I, and as far as I can tell pretty much all posters here, agree that the situation is beyond urgent. But you haven’t presented anything very helpful here–just a lot of ‘don’t’s: Don’t bother educating the public; Don’t vote; Don’t try to influence congress…but somehow DO FORCE congress to do something. Are you proposing that the scientists stage a coup?? Otherwise, what substantive contribution do you think you are making here?94522323

    (By the way, JR, very few of the regular posters here are climate scientists. So are you primarily addressing your screed to the moderators?)

  46. 146
    sidd says:

    reading this thread reminds me of the progression

    1) it’s not happening
    2) it’s not us
    3) it’s not bad
    4) it’s too hard
    5) it’s too late

    different individuals are, of course, at different stages


  47. 147
    Steve Fish says:

    To avoid being successfully trolled keep responses to provocative posts to a minimum. I try for two sentences, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. This is especially true for initial posts where you can ask a specific question in a friendly manner in case the poster is just naive.

    The climate denial trolls will expose their nasty hobby very quickly when frustrated and I check the Bore Hole frequently when I suspect a troll. Frustrating a troll is very satisfying but if you write an essay they are laughing.


  48. 148
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    A lot of the commenting on this post is about what scientist should or can do about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The most valuable thing scientists can do is the science itself.

    After that we are talking about different full-time jobs with a different skill set. I have worked at a big-green environmentalist group and saw this. Environmentalist may not be the most popular people with everyone, but they are the ones in the trenches fighting the good fight. There are scientists, full blown Phd researchers, who struggle with juggling the competing roles they have to take working as employees for these groups.

    If I had to pick one thing scientist can do is start a group that just focused on disseminating to the general public what the AGW science facts are. I’m not sure if there are groups doing only that, other than blogs like RealClimate. It would be a simpler thing to do, having scientist testify for things they know best. They would not stray into laws, lobbying, economics etc. They could be like expert witnesses for the scientific truth.

  49. 149
    Dave123 says:


    The essay is useful for my own purposes. The real troll came by in the first 50 or so posts when he talked about climate corresponding to models any minute now. Ignored that one, as there are far better parties here to talk about models than me.

    But I love counter-trolling the model issue elsewhere by asking people who say the models aren’t right to specify exactly how wrong they are, and to say how close is good enough. I’ve never gotten a reply to those questions. Me? I think Christy’s little game evades his published statements about the error coming from measurement, and then reminding people how he personally was responsible for measurement errors in the 1990s. I’d love to see him confronted with that at a Senate Hearing.

    Professor Christy- Did you or did you not author in 2006 a consensus paper that identified the difference between models and tropopsheric tempearture measurements as most likely coming from measurement errors? Yes or no please.

    Professor Christy- Is it not true that in the 1990s you and Professor Spenser were responsible for a gross error in the tropospheric temperature measurements, favoring your bias towards no global warming? Yes or no, please.

    Thank you. No further questions.

    And for the ordinary model sets, I note that for 2013 the central estimate of CMIP 5 is only 0.0125 C higher than actual, while in 1998 it was 0.02 lower and ask: why isn’t this close enough.

    and the captcha is good for this: calamity Deekar

  50. 150
    Jim Eager says:

    Dwight, “this CO2 stuff,” as you put it, doesn’t question or challenge the very existence of who we are and how we live, it just doesn’t give a rat’s ass who we are and how we live. Nor does it care if you’re convinced or not. It just does what it does and always has done: absorb some of the energy that the planet sheds, thereby making the planet warmer than it otherwise would be. Adding more will make it warmer still, as it always has. The how is obviously more complex than that, but the end result is just that simple.