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The missing repertoire

Filed under: — gavin @ 10 August 2006

There was a small flurry of activity last week when the report “Warm words: How are we telling the climate story and how can we tell it better?” was released by the IPPR (a UK based left-leaning think tank). Most of the attention was focussed on their attention-seeking description of the more breathless media depictions of climate change as ‘climate porn’. However, the report was actually more interesting than just that, but possibly in ways that the authors didn’t intend.

The basic point of the report was to present a textual analysis of the kinds of language (‘repertoires’) used in the media when discussing climate and to associate the different repertoire with the advocacy position of the users and the likely effectiveness of that language in swaying opinion. The report only examined the UK print media, but the classification system could certainly be used for the US, Canadian and Australian press as well, and potentially, more widely still.

The classifications will be familiar (in concept, if not in name) to anyone who has been following the climate story in the media. I paraphrase a little, but the basic outlines are split between the repertoires that accept the basic science:

  • Alarmism (‘It’s the end of the world’): Recent examples concern the apparently imminent death of the Amazon, the imminent 20ft rise in sea level, the impending collapse of the North Atlantic circulation etc.
  • Techno-optimism (‘we’ll work it out when we need to’): This can range from Patrick Michaels’ position (‘technology will make the whole issue moot’) to oil companies demonstrating their green bona-fides to hopeful calls for the innovative capacity of the population to come forward to deal with the issue.
  • Small actions (‘save the world by recycling and buying a hybrid’): This comes up repeatedly in the ‘what can you do’ sections at the end of special issues and documentaries.

and the various forms of denialism:

  • “It’ll be alright”-ism (strangely described as ‘Settlerdom’ in the report): Nothing to worry about, just the same old stuff ‘they’ are always pushing. The ‘common-sense’ man on the street attitude. Op-eds in the more tabloid papers mainly.
  • Comic nihilism: This is a predominantly British trait, but there are connections with, for instance, Jon Stewart. The examples seen in the report were fundamentally dismissive of the case for climate change, but I think this can go both ways. Satire can be quite a potent weapon whether directed at over-excited advocates, industry shills or self-important novelists.
  • Rhetorical scepticism (‘It’s a vast conspiracy’): Almost anything written by Sen. Inhofe or Melanie Phillips for instance.
  • Free market-ism (‘The economy must come first’): Slightly more respectable than the other denialists and is used by frequently in the US in relation to the Kyoto Protocol and lies at the heart of the Lomborg’s ‘Copenhagen Consensus‘.
  • Expert denialism (‘It’s the sun! or the urban heat island!’): This is the kind of stuff peddled by the think tanks (CEI, Marshall Institute etc.) and which occasionally makes it into the main stream press as second or third hand quotes in op-ed pieces. Mostly a web based phenonemon though.
  • Warming is good (‘Hooray for Global Warming‘): Some overlap with the expert denialists (as a back up strategy mainly), but heartily pushed by the (now defunct) Greening Earth Society and particularly by the Idso’s

In reading this list, I can find many examples of pieces that fall neatly into the boxes. But it strikes me that there is a huge missing category – and indeed one in which I think RealClimate might fall (along with some of the best reporting on the issue – Andy Revkin’s pieces for instance). That category is the straight ‘It’s serious (and interesting) but don’t panic’ repertoire. This is the language most often heard at scientific conferences and it surprises me that the IPPR authors didn’t find enough examples to give it a description all it’s own.

One reason why that is missing is probably because the focus of the authors was mainly on how discussions about climate change are used for advocacy purposes rather than simply informational ones. Thus straight science not used to advocate for any particular course of action gets ignored or mis-classified. For instance, a letter (third one down) from Tom Crowley complaining about some alarmist points in a piece by Lovelock is taken to be from a ‘warming is good’ advocate – certainly a classification Crowley (or most people reading his letter) would not agree with. This is, unfortunately, to be expected in a ‘scientized’ debate. Any criticism of a scientific argument used to support any particular action is taken to imply advocacy of the opposite action.

The conclusions of the report are directed towards the advocates rather than the scientists (the IPPR is a political institution after all). They suggest (I think correctly) that the denialist repertoires are having a decreasing influence and aren’t worth addressing head on – especially the wilder rhetorical stuff. We occasionally do tackle these issues here, because the points sometimes provide a useful lead-in to an interesting piece of science and can help prevent confusion among lay readers. But if we were political advocates we probably wouldn’t bother!

However, the IPPR’s more serious conclusions are that the ‘alarmist’ repertoire mostly breeds hopelessness or backlashes and that the range of ‘small actions’ being pushed as potential solutions are not matching the seriousness of the issue and hence lead to trivialisation of the problem among readers.

I think that we would concur that the more excited style of journalism (which is not universal by any means) doesn’t help foster understanding – but it can raise interest. And like the denialist pieces, it can serve as an entry point to a serious discussion (for instance on climate sensitivity in the wake of the ’11 C’ warming headlines a while back, or the Amazon drought recently). The increase of cynicism though probably outweighs the provocation to find out more.

When it comes to advocating solutions that match the degree of the problem, all of the repertoires are found lacking. That’s because reducing emissions is a difficult problem with myriad causes and there won’t be a simple straightforward fix. This is the hardest kind of problem to deal with in the media because it is inherently complicated and involves almost all sectors of society. At this point as well, the scientists (like us) who have lead the debate up to that point, generally step aside – since macro economic policy, international diplomacy and energy infrastructures are not their forte. (As an aside, the role for scientists doesn’t end once a problem has been identified – their contributions are required in order to assess the effectiveness of proposed policies – such as geo-engineering ideas, or balances between air pollution control and climate).

This lack of serious discussion about solutions may however be changing if these recent MIT Technology Review or Energy Journal (subscription) special issues are anything to go by, and as more people and institutions start to think about the problem. This was always going to be the hard part though.

120 Responses to “The missing repertoire”

  1. 51
    pat neuman says:

    re 49


    I think your comments deal with daily short term river forecasting not the AHPS probabilistic products which are issued for the next 90 day period in the Midwest. The problems in forecasting the big floods in the NCRFC area (Red R. 1997, Mississippi R. 1993, Central Michigan 1986, Red R. 1979, Souris R. 1976) were in determining the runoff and routing factors with subsequent rainfall a small source of the errors. River forecast problems in quality and timeliness for the NCRFC area as a result of climate change have already been encountered in witnessing the changes in the timing and rates of snowmelt and evaporation/transpiration throughout the year. Ignoring the climate/hydrologic changes is not a good approach to take in serving the public well in hydrologic prediction. Leaving that for someone else to do, is a poor excuse for NWS managers, directors and NOAA administers to take, in my view.

  2. 52
    Doug Percival says:

    Chris Rijk wrote in #46:

    A bit of news:

    Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year.

    The most recent estimate I could find for ice rate loss was 220 cubic km per year.

    The San Francisco Chronicle also has an article about this new report, which says:

    According to the scientists’ data, Greenland’s ice is melting at a rate three times faster than it was only five years ago […] the global sea level, due to melting of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica combined, is already rising 10 times faster than the IPPC’s tentative estimates, the two analyses indicate.

    Perhaps another category or “repertoire” of global warming reportage would be stories about how global warming driven changes are proceeding X times faster than previous estimates. Unfortunately, most of the ongoing empirical observations seem to fall into that category.

  3. 53

    How to rank risks in a world full of problems�
    It’s more than just the news of a foiled terrorist plot that’s got me wondering where to rank global warming as a global threat. Media coverage of global warming seems to shift from one extreme to another. A recent BBC…

  4. 54

    Re: #10. When I got up this morning and saw the news about the airlines (and Cheney’s remarks from earlier in the week) I figured that this revelation was carefully timed by the powers that be. After all, the general threat has been known about for over 10 years and this particular threat has been known about for weeks, so why didn’t TSA act sooner? A number of progressive issues – including AGW – have been coming to the fore of late and they needed a nuclear option to take control of the debate again. And here we are.

  5. 55
    Ike Solem says:

    RE #42, that was the Aug 03 2006 issue, vol442 #7102 p485.

    The discussion on modelling weather vs. climate is just plain silly – a weather model can’t predict rainfall two weeks from now, but we can be sure that average N. Hemisphere temperatures will be higher in July then in January. I think there are quite a few posts on this site covering that topic.

    Journalists could use a little more science education when it comes to all sides of an issue, but that means being familiar with the notion of ‘multiple working hypothesis’ – and the idea that climate is insensitive to atmospheric composition just isn’t a viable hypothesis; that’s a conclusion based on basic physical principles that have been developed over the past 200+ years. Why not ask journalists to always include in stories on genetics, “There are some people who say that DNA has nothing to do with heredity”? Clearly, journalists who want to write stories about scientific issues need some basic level of scientific training.

    On a more hopeful note, using modern technology you can build a ‘breeder’ solar factory – a factory that first manufactures enough solar panels to provide energy for all of its operations, and then only needs raw materials to continue production. You’d want to site such a factory in lower or tropical lattitudes. The cost might be $100-$200 million in initial invertment; for $100 billion you’d have a thousand such factories, all producing solar panels with a life expectancy of ~30 years. This is just one example, but the point is that we already have the technological know-how to build a renewable energy-based society.

  6. 56
    Mark Shapiro says:

    One storyline that I haven’t heard in way too long is the “No regrets” strategy. In other words, at least take all the actions to reduce fossil fuel consumption that make economic and security sense. And the very first step would be ending subsidies for fossil fuels. In fact, every free-mark advocate, and every hawk, should be demanding (and in some cases are demanding) an end to subsidies. Good energy policy requires many allies.

    The subsidy issue alone is the immediate response to anyone who suggests that slowing fossil consumption would be expensive. But remember, libertarian economists like Milton Friedman have long warned that ending subsidies is extremely difficult. For good energy policy, we’ll need all the help we can get.

  7. 57
    liam says:

    I have to say I am a fan of Kyoto. I see it a few ways.
    Like the earths climate systems, the economic systems we have developed have a lot of inertia built in. Growth follows a trend, driven by either more energy consumption or less, resulting by more or less CO2 emissions.

    Much criticism is directed towards kyoto as it only requires a reduction of 5% below 1990 levels, when what we need is much more drastic, however if you take inertia into account, like turning an oil tanker, or getting through the latent heat of water, that 5% is critical. First it disrupts the trend, decoupling CO2 from growth, and then it turns it negative.

    How Kyoto aims to do that is through a couple of mechanisms. First establish carbon as a constrained commodity which will become more and more constrained with time. Give those limits to business, and let them work with it. Weight cost competitiveness for companies according to their carbon emissions. As the concept and the markets mature, they expand to cover a wider range of economic activity. Countries, regions, society in general accept ultimate responsibility. In other words someone pays.

    Then there’s the CDM. Some countries that have made capital investments locking in pollution in the short to medium term can opt towards investing in clean technology projects in the developing world. Critics claim that this is a licence to continue polluting, but is it? If a company chooses to follow the CDM path, and its direct competitor chooses to invest in more efficient facilities for production, who comes out better. In short, CDM is a stop gap measure, a vital one for the developing world, but one that doesn’t prevent a loss of competitiveness from occuring.
    Besides the redistributive and clean growth potential of CDM, there is then the added advantage of creating a developmental market on a large scale for clean technologies.

    Ultimately what it serves to do is provide that burst to get over the latent inertia of the economy, and direct it on a trend where economic growth is not just decoupled from C emissions, but is actually dependent on reducing C emissions. Personally I think its ingenious.

  8. 58
    shargash says:

    Re: 25, 48

    After he lost the 2000 presidential election, Gore spent a year as a visiting journalism professor at Columbia. He specifically tried to teach his students NOT to mindlessly insert faux “he said, she said” balance in their stories. He failed. By the time he got them, the students had been so indoctrinated in that idea that they refused to take Gore seriously, openly arguing with him that he was wrong.

    It is disappointing to hear that Australian journalism is taught the same way

  9. 59

    #46 and 52…. I must say its not quite surprising to hear these reports, Dr Chen is right about the last couple of years, indirectly confirming a warming in the upper atmosphere, as measured by other means. A warmer ice sheet after abnormaly warm winter temperatures is susceptible to melt so much faster.
    Now, how to report this correctly? I think you can’t do much better than the BBC and SF Chronicle cited articles, its not alarmism to report a massive melt, the problem is to translate this in lay terms, which is where the audience is.

  10. 60
    pat neuman says:

    Re 54.

    The discussion on modelling weather vs. climate seems just plain silly to me too, but how do we factor climate change into the development of our hydrologic models for flood and low water predictions (day-to-day and 1-3 month probabilistic)?

  11. 61
    PeakEngineer says:

    I agree with many of the posters that we need to start focusing on solutions, even if it is on only a small local level. It’s a hell of lot better than doing nothing and bemoaning the inaction of world governements. Take action! I recently started a blog to form a methodology for closed-loop sustainable design of communities at
    We could really use the help from all of you scientists on when it comes to planning for local effects on rainfall, temperatures, farming, etc. Most people with technical experience in the Peak Oil community are either engineers or geologists, and we lack much of the climate science domain expertise that you possess. We’re all coming at this from different angles, but our goals are the same: reduce consumption and protect the environment. Please stop by if you think you can lend a hand.

  12. 62
    Dan says:

    re: 57. Definitely agree. I find it disturbing that so many skeptics apparently have such little background in the fundamentals differences between climate and meteorology yet feel more than qualified on the subjects. What a strange way of analytical thinking.

  13. 63
    Gar Lipow says:

    >On a more hopeful note, using modern technology you can build a ‘breeder’ solar factory – a factory that first manufactures enough solar panels to provide energy for all of its operations, and then only needs raw materials to continue production. You’d want to site such a factory in lower or tropical lattitudes. The cost might be $100-$200 million in initial invertment; for $100 billion you’d have a thousand such factories, all producing solar panels with a life expectancy of ~30 years. This is just one example, but the point is that we already have the technological know-how to build a renewable energy-based society.

    For under a billion you could build a really big solar cell factory and a second factory to provide it a dedicated source of silicon – both initially using conventional energy sources. This would take advantage of economies of scale in a way solar cell manufacturers serving the current market cannot – and provide solar cells that could be installed for around one dollar per peak watt. This would get around the classic chicken egg problem you have with solar cells; because the market is small manufacturers can’t take advantage of full economies of scale. Because manufacturers can’t take advantage of full economies of scale prices are high and thus the market remains small. Suprisingly this help thin film manufacturers as well. It is likely that $1 per watt installed cells would create a market larger than a single factory could fill. So they could take advantage of the additional demand.

    KPMG Bureau voor Economische Argumentatie; Steins Bisschop Meijburg & Co Advocaten, Solar Energy: From Perennial Promise to Competitive Alternative – Final Report, Project Number: 2562. Aug 1999. Greenpeace – Nederlands, 24/Sep/2004

  14. 64

    Re: #30- “So somehow we have to get a popular movement that pressures governments instituting serious programs – massive public works, strong regulations, and in the long run some form of green taxes with rebates.”

    It’s the ‘somehow’ that’s the stumbling block. We have specialists for everything in this debate except specialists in how to work massive social change. In this, one ignoramus is as good as the next.

    The inertia of a socio-economic system as massive as that of the US is literally beyond calculation, because you have to take psychological and anthropological factors into account as well as social and economic interests. I recall anthropologist Marvin Campbell’s quip: If you want to see a sacred cow, walk out to the curb and look at your car.

    The most you can hope for is to shove the mass into what you expect is the right direction and stand back. And who’s going to do it?

    I’ve also observed the awesome consequences of massive structural breakdown – in Moscow during 1991. The stoic patience of the average Russian is spectacular, or there would have been much worse than the events of August of that year.

    Lucky geniuses wanted.

  15. 65
    Mark A. York says:

    Have you guys commented on this piece about the next interglacial?

    It was brought up on the national wildlife foundation blog.

  16. 66
    Mark A. York says:

    Sahgash who says that? Gore? The grad students? I have a Journo degree and “he said she said” is the supposed neutral view, but it isn’t taught per se. Non point of view is. Known at Wikipedia as NPOV and boy what a fight it can be with those who don’t know the difference. Revkin’s NYT pieces are examples of what J-schools including mine, CSUN, teach.

  17. 67
    Mark A. York says:

    In Journalism two sides is a staple, but so is saying that one is a pack of nuts if that happens to be the case. Of course the method is always is “show don’t tell.”

  18. 68
    David Huck says:

    What ever happened to the Yale F&ES report “Americans and Climate Change: Closing the gap between science and action.” It was even more comprehensive than this one (it seems, though it explicitly focused on America) and was seemingly backed up by a committment to follow through by the educational institution that sponsored the forum, not to mention all the participants who came up with the conclusions (it wasn’t done in an attempt to create consensus, more of a brainstorming session–naturally the business , science, and environmental communities had somewhat different ideas of what needed to be done). And specific, realistic ones they were too. Yet I still recieve mail from the sierra club and other groups trying to get me to give them money for their special initiative! Carl Pope and whoever runs NRDC were both there, presumably, calling for a more unified environmentalist front.

    So I’m somewhat mystified, but not too much, and hoping that maybe someone more connected than I has some insights.

  19. 69
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Ike, Pat and Dan, it’s not silly at all. The weather models do quite well predicting warmer weather in June because the input it from climate records. They can also input it from a climate model. OTOH, climate models can start start with inputs such as an albedo map accurately derived from satellite measurements. But those measurements are a result of current weather conditions which must ultimately be modeled to get future measurements. The weather model data can be treated as an input or integrated in which is preferred and inevitable with increased computing power.

    The resolution of the climate model can be adjusted higher over land and even higher over complex terrain in an attempt to model their consistent weather anomalies that affect climate. Ultimately though, as the papers point out, the entire globe including oceans will have to be modeled at fine enough resolution to accurately model convection. Granted, the weather does not have to be temporily accurate. It absolutely doesn’t matter what the weather is two weeks from now to get an accurate picture of the climate.

    But the model must have climate fidelity, so the changes in low level and soil moisture, snow pack, ground temperature, etc can adequately be reflected in the climate results. These measurements are also reflected somewhat in the weather results although current weather models don’t include them (they are often added as temperature, cloud and precipitation deltas after the model run). Most importantly however, is the modeling of the distribution of water vapor, the primary climate feedback, as it is affected by weather.

    The true test of an integrated model is the ability to predict the effect of simple (and relatively cheap) forcings like adding vegetation or putting particles in the atmosphere. The integrated model will show both the global benefit and the local effects (which may be temporarily negative).

  20. 70
    Leonard Evens says:

    Re 69:

    Go back and read what Ike originally said. He was making a distinction between weather and climate, and his point was that while a weather model may not be reliable more than a few days in the future, a climate model can reliably replicate seasonal behavior. That is because weather models start with current conditions and ‘integrate’ forward in time. There are known theoretical limitations to have far in the future such a method will work. Climate models, although they share some features with weather models, work very differently. They concern themselves with average weather, which is not subject in the same way to such limitations.

  21. 71
    Hank Roberts says:

    Eric, I think you’re asking the impossible of modeling — that’s one of the ways of postponing making choices. ‘Delay is the deadliest form of denial’ — the time/cost goes up vastly for each increment in resolution — first, for data collection! and later for doing computation on it — in space and time.

  22. 72
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    A difficulty with media treatment of global warming is what exactly to do about it. Gavin’s initiating piece noted this. Gavin, however, contributes to this sense that an immediate plan of action to abate climate change emissions is hard to arrive at. He wrote: “reducing emissions is a difficult problem with myriad causes and there won’t be a simple straighforward fix.”

    Obviously carbon emitting energy sources are deeply embedded throughout the global economy. Nevertheless, it would be a grave mistake to suggest that there are not immediate and decisive solutions to global warming emissions. The most patent one is to roll back urban sprawl. This is especially key for the U.S., since its cities are by far the most sprawled on the planet. As a result, the U.S. is the highest absolute and per capita emitter of CO2. Tackling the environmentally irrational layout of U.S. cities would place the planet on an environmentally sustainable path. Moreover, redesigning U.S. urban zones is technologically feasible. Urban sprawl is an issue that can serve to focus the global warming debate — on its causes and reliable solutions.

  23. 73
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Re Gar #63 and others –

    Solar for $1 per watt installed? That’s terrific! I have always considered $1 per watt the big turning point. It’s where solar takes over. Installation costs of all new power plants are in that $1 per watt range (or mega-dollar per megawatt, giga-dollar per gigawatt) and that is before considering operating cost, transmission cost, or pollution.

    Now let’s integrate solar in three dimensions:

    1) Architecturally – build PV directly into roofs and windows instead of adding it on;
    2) Electrically – create a DC standard so all electronic devices can use PV (and fuel cell) power directly rather than converting wastefully to AC and back to DC;
    3) Economically – real time pricing for electricity, which matches peak PV supply to peak electrical demand, namely sunny summer daytimes.

    Add some efficiency and slow down climate change.

  24. 74

    Re #72 Removing urban sprawl is not a solution, it is a problem. Urban sprawl, which is not unique the USA, is caused by cheap personal transport. To cure the sprawl you need to increase the price of fuel. But that will means that people will not be able to afford to travel to work or the shops.

    The alternative is to build homes inside industrial estates, (on the parking lots.) But you will still have to move the shops there as well, and that means an end to the hypermarkets, since no-one will be able to afford to drive to them.

    Getting rid of the urban sprawl caused by cheap fossil fuels will almost certainly be unacceptable in any democratic society – hence we are all doomed!

  25. 75
    pat neuman says:

    re 50.

    Eric (skeptic),

    From my experience in river forecasting there are already big problems in river flow modeling and prediction due to climate change. The hydrologic model parameters, which are tweaked in calibration by hydrologists to get a best-fit relationship between modeled flow and observed historical flow, become obsolete for operational forecasting as the climate changes. The relationship between model input (precipitation, temperature, evaporation) from the calibration period (historical) and the current/future model input is changing (trends are apparent). NWS models do not allow the forecasters to account for climate change in their operational flood and low water predictions. I think the reason that your hydrologic model seemed to be quite good at river level prediction in your area (Shenandoah in VA) may have been due to adjustments of model states (MODS) by hydrologists. In the NWS North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC) area, the river basins respond more slowly to precipitation, which increases the importance of having a sound hydrologic model for flood prediction. With the slower responding streams, NCRFC staff need to keep their hydrologic model states properly tuned for longer periods of time during the long duration flood episodes, but doing so is not possible using model parameters which have been fitted to the obsolete calibration period (obsolete due to climate change).

  26. 76
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #74

    Your last point is contradicted by the fact that in Western and Central Europe, as well as in Japan, transport fuel taxes are very high (when compared to the U.S.), and these countries’ urban zones are much more compact than those of the U.S. Urban sprawl in the U.S. is not borne of public demand, per se, but from political and economic elite desires to gain profit and political stability from increasing utility for lands on the urban periphery and for automobiles and other consumer durables (used to fill large suburban homes).

  27. 77

    32: “The worst case scenario is that we wipe mankind from the surface of the planet along with most of the other life. We know that we can do this using nuclear weapons, and that has prevented it from happening. But, we all “know” that this is not going to happen through from global warming. “Hey, it is only Chicken Littles who think that.”

    That is the reason that it is not just possible, it is inevitable. By the time people accept that we are destroying mankind it will be too late to stop.”

    Oh please. That is catastophist nonsense, and that will certainly not win you any respect, especially not in the more skeptic circles. AGW may do more damage to our civilization if we do not prepare ourselves for changes, but to say that out doom is inevitable… forget it.

  28. 78
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Hank, I understand your point about delay, but I think the models will improve far faster than the climate will deteriorate. The simpler a model the I see, the more skeptical I am, although I realize that a lot of complexity such as shown here is not going to cause any significant short term climate changes (e.g. land vegetation). My problem with oversimplification is when I see statements like Greenland’s ice is getting dirty with little real world measurement to back it up and almost no modeling to predict the consequences. Same with methane deposits, forests, and numerous other items. OTOH, there are some great experts on those things here and elsewhere. What they need is a comprehensive model to tie their knowledge into. As far as the cost, I believe Moore’s law is still in effect.

    Leonard, when I see “average” weather I think of a partly cloudy day with normal temperatures. That’s obviously not sufficient for climate modeling. When I see people using a single parameter for cloud or ice albedo or for radiation reflected from clouds, I am very skeptical. The only way to get an accurate answer is to simulate weather in adequate resolution. I’m not sure what is adequate and I would be interested if someone proposed specific goalposts.

  29. 79
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #77
    Sadly, as it stands right now, we more likely to destroy humankind with global warming, than save us from it.

  30. 80
    Dan says:

    re: 78. Eric, your obsession with resolution is not reflected in reality and seems to be tunnelvision. Worse yet is that it appears to strengthen your skepticsm without foundation. Look at the model results. They speak for themselves. Models of all types (not just climate) do not inevitably improve with continually greater resolution. In fact, it has been shown that there are limits to the benefits of higher resolution. Weather and air quality models clearly show that there is a benefit limit. Air quality model’s performance does not necessarily improve and can degrade significantly when finer resolution is applied. Futhermore, it has been shown in certain applications that a single parameter can more than adequately represent long term trends or patterns depending on the significance. Climate is long term; weather is short term. It is pretty basic.

  31. 81
    John L. McCormick says:

    Lets take a deep breath, park the urban sprawl SUV for a moment and refer back to Gavin’s initial post:

    [When it comes to advocating solutions that match the degree of the problem, all of the repertoires are found lacking. That’s because reducing emissions is a difficult problem with myriad causes and there won’t be a simple straightforward fix.]

    Now, imagine a Republican governor of the most populated US state that boasts the 7th largest GDP in the world, is the 12th largest CO2 contributor, has one-tenth of the nationâ??s registered autos that burn 18 billion gallons of gasoline per year and relies upon hydro for 12 percent of its electricity. Then, imagine California’s governor committing his voters to a GHG reduction plan to bring emissions in 2050 down to 80 percent below the 1990 level.

    By far the most dramatic initiative, at any national or state level, was the signing June 1, 2005 by Governor Schwarzenegger of an executive order setting forth a three phase plan to reduce greenhouse emissions.

    It commits California by 2010 to reduce its greenhouse emissions to levels that existed in 2000.

    By 2020 greenhouse emissions are slated to fall to 1990 levels.

    By 2050 Schwarzenegger has established a target of an 80% reduction below 1990 levels. . That will cap Californiaâ??s GHG emissions at about 80,000 tons by 2050!

    This is more ambitious even than the target Tony Blair has set for the UK by 2050, particularly as California’s population will likely have grown greatly from 1990 to 2050. Under his plan per capita greenhouse emissions in California would need to shrink by more than 90% from 1990 to 2050.

    If that sounds unrealistic to you, the California legislature is wrapping up debate and enactment of AB 32 which establishes an interagency task force to coordinate investments of state money and state programs that reduce GHG emissions equivalent to the emission levels of 1990 and that will be achieved by 2020.

    Folks, this is real world and may actually be achieved if the legislature and voters commit to the massive changes the public and private sectors will have to accept.

    Instead of our flailing about with talk of end times and seeking solutions, we might invite the Governorâ??s office to step into our discussion and describe the content of his plan and enlist our support to sort out a workable means to achieve his worthy goals.

    I am not a republican but the Governor deserves our respect and support for his contribution to solving this colossal problem of global warming.

    Governor, you have the stage.

  32. 82

    Re #81 Tony Blair did have more ambitious plans than he is now implementing, but the truck drivers blockaded the oil terminals and he was forced to climb down. He has not forgotten that. He lost control of the country he had been elected to rule.

    Arnie will probably be hit by the same fate, if truckers from ouside California pay less for their gas and take Californian jobs. It does not just need national laws to fix this problem, it needs international agreements, just as Tony found when Dutch, Belgian, French and Spanish truckers wrecked his good intentions.

    Will the US ever agree to that? Can we really save the world?

  33. 83
    John L. McCormick says:

    Alastair, I once found your contributions informative and enlightening. What has happened to you?

    Or, are you sinking into a state of complaining and ignoring what others are trying to accomplish. The Governor is not alone in his prouncements and the State legislature enacts bills that become State law if the Governor signs them.

    The State enacted a clean air law in the late 1960s that caused hardship and cleaner air. It led the US Congress to enact a federal law.

    I am not saying the battle is won. Rather, I would appreciate your using some of your obvious intelligence to look (on the web)objectively at the efforts of the Governor and the Democrat-controlled State legislatlure and stiffle your emotional dismissal.

    Remember, China and India are waiting for the US to make the first move. California appears to be making a move in that direction.

    Also, any chance you can update us on your reading of the late summer Arctic ice extent?

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    >78, 80
    Eric, Dan says it clearer than I can. I’d add the obvious — the change has already happened. The consequences are just starting.

    Half the anthropogenic CO2 was produced by fuel burned up til the 1970s; the second half since then. Big fast run-up. Yes, we can make it worse, or — Hansen’s Alternative — we can, this decade, change so as to delay the hottest years, and make them somewhat less hot. Got grandchildren?

    ===What we do this decade makes almost no difference in our lifetimes.===
    ===What we do this decade makes a huge difference in the next two centuries.===

    Read Hansen.
    Read Sterman & Sweeney

    The consequences accrue over several centuries, and we won’t live to see them. We will, however, be remembered (if at all) as those alive when the great change in the world was made, that they’re living with.

  35. 85

    Hank #71,

    What is required of climate modeling is technologically impossible today, partially because of computing power, and partially because we don’t know how to model it yet. We need models accurate to at least a globally averaged 0.1W/m^2. How else are we to attrubute to forcings the energy imbalances on the order of 0.85W/m^2? Not only must we achieve the energy balance to this level of accuracy, we must do it in a climatologically realistic way, and we have must have the observations available to validate the models to this level of accuracy.

    The model Hansen et al, used in their 2005 work, the GISS-ER was shown by Roesch (2006) to have globally averages surface albedo errors that are the equivilent of 1.2 to 1.7 W/m^2. Systematic positive albedo biases against solar forcing were shown to be present in all (yes, ALL) the AR4 models in this IPCC diagnostic subproject. The Hansen et al, work takes the albedo bias “hit” twice, because it uses “effective forcings”, which reduces solar forcing by the 0.92 “efficacy” amount also derived from the models. Note: taking the hit “twice” is different from doubling the error, the total error may be less than that. The Hansen, et al, work shows you can apparently “balance” the energy budget and “match” the 20th century surface temperature record, with energetically inaccurate models. Of course, quantitative projections of future climate, are even more suspect than attribution of past climate from such models. See:

    Roesch (2006)

    Hansen, et al, (2005-2)

    Hansen, et al, (2005-1)

  36. 86
    pat neuman says:

    The basic point of ‘climate p___’, according to gavin, was to present a textual analysis of the kinds of language (‘repertoires’) used in the media when discussing climate and to associate the different repertoire with the advocacy position of the users and the likely effectiveness of that language in swaying opinion.

    ‘The missing repertoire’ is ‘It’s serious (and interesting) but don’t panic’.

    In a reply to a federal science officer’s email on climate change which was sent to a Duluth TV meteorologist in March 2006, I said that the jury is not still out, the verdict is here:
    Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis
    Much more at:

    From what I remember in my first reading the IPCC 2001 The Scientific Basis it said – ‘It’s serious (and interesting) but don’t panic’.

    There was important material in the IPPC 2001 report which the public needed to know about then. I thought to myself in 2001, too bad for the world that 9-11 and US alarmism/patriotism were used to dampen out the thunder on climate change and global warming in 2001.

  37. 87
    Gar Lipow says:

    >Solar for $1 per watt installed? That’s terrific! I have always considered $1 per watt the big turning point. It’s where solar takes over. Installation costs of all new power plants are in that $1 per watt range (or mega-dollar per megawatt, giga-dollar per gigawatt) and that is before considering operating cost, transmission cost, or pollution

    Well – unlike the list of solutions here now, It is not here yet. But solar advocates have been saying since 1976 that it is a chicken egg problem. No factories large enough to take advantage of full economies of scale because the market is too small. The market is too small because the price is too high. The prices is too high because no factories that can take advantage of full economies of scale. Many, Many people who know what they are doing think some intervention to break this could solve the problem – whether government financing of a real large scale factory, or a really large (multi-billion) dollar order, conditional on the price per watt being low enough.

    But it is not something you can be absolutely sure of – which is why I have compiled a long list of other technologies that we have now. But you are absolutely right. PV, if we can bring the price down (and we probably can) would be optimal.

  38. 88
    Stephen Berg says:

    An excellent expose of the Canadian “denialist” industry which was published in the Globe & Mail today (Aug 12):

  39. 89
    Eric (skeptic) says:

    Dan, I can appreciate that finer resolution is not the end-all. I am interested in a goalpost for resolution, is it already passed? I see some discussion (in my link in #2 and here: ) that tropical convection modeling needs more resolution. Initiation of convection is a weak point even for higher resolution weather models. Besides the resolution I am wondering what other physical processes make a significant difference positively or negatively. Would also like to see the same analysis for space weather such as ionizing radiation.

    Yes, time scale is generally different, but weather is the shortest time scale climate feedback and the most important feedback and so must be modeled, and it is although generally parameterized. But it appears to need more resolution, especially for the tropics. Time resolution has to be increased too, perhaps into the minutes, but maybe only for some times of the day and locations.

  40. 90
    Mark A. York says:

    I think Eric who is from North Carolina, a sceptic paradise of sorts from way back, is prone to counting the angels on the head of a pin. This strategy is obvious and Suess-like in its ad infinitum possibilities. Nero, fire, and Rome and all that.

  41. 91
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #81

    The California government’s seeming commitment to reducing climate change gasses can be interpreted as a symbolic response to the public’s environmental concerns. There is a precedence for this. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), for example, promulgated a plan in 1990 that mandated that 2 percent of automobiles offered for sale in 1998 be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs), 5 percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003. Currently, only electrically powered vehicles have zero emissions. Similarly, California in 1989 adopted the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP). The state’s AQMP also relied heavily on the long-term development of technology to achieve improvements in air quality. Significantly, neither of these plans put forward subsidies to facilitate the development of hoped-for technologies, nor did they mandate sanctions for industrial sectors that failed to develop the necessary technologies. Commenting on the state’s AQMP shortly after it was promulgated, Sheldon Kamieniecki and Michael Farrell astutely observe that “for mainly political reasons, the more difficult decisions [of the AQMP] have been postponed for a number of years, with the hope that new technologies will allow policymakers to meet federal clean-air standards with minimum disruption to . . . economic growth” (1991, 154). Notably, the targets for the manufacture and sale of ZEVs have been postponed and reduced significantly by CARB. On the issue of climate change, a 2002 California law mandating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles does not go into effect until 2009.

  42. 92
    Edward Greisch says:

    You have done a lot better than the nuclear power industry did. We all have a big job ahead of us re-educating the public on nuclear power so that we can take the next easy step in stopping global warming. I call it easy because we already have the technology, it is just that the public doesn’t understand it. The easy step in stopping global warming is to convert all coal-fired power plants to nuclear. Nuclear power is the safest kind. Wind power towers are a hazard to aviation and to birds. You could fall off of your roof while installing solar collectors.
    See the December 2005 issue of Scientific American article on a new type of nuclear reactor that consumes the nuclear “waste” as fuel. See:
    for the other bad things burning coal does.
    “Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium.” Burning COAL puts more uranium into the air than nuclear power plants keep in their cores. Coal burning also puts ARSENIC, lead, mercury, Thorium and other elements into the air.
    Most people have never heard of Background Radiation. It is important that people understand that Background Radiation is 1000 times what they get from nuclear power plants.
    A good easy article on Background Radiation is in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia at:
    “Background radiation is the ionizing radiation from several natural radiation sources: sources in the Earth and from those sources that are incorporated in our food and water, which are incorporated in our body, and in building materials and other products that incorporate those radioactive sources; radiation sources from space (in the form of cosmic rays); and sources in the atmosphere which primarily come from both the radon gas that is released from the earth’s surface and subsequently decays to radioactive atoms that become attached to airborne dust and particulates, and the production of radioactive atoms from the bombardment of atoms in the upper atmosphere by high-energy cosmic rays.”
    All rocks are naturally radioactive. Cosmic rays make the radioactive carbon that we use to date ancient mummies, etc.

  43. 93

    Re #76 Although gas is cheaper in the US and Australia, petrol in the UK, Europe is still cheap from a economic point of view. This means transport costs are low and so it pays to have a large central hypermarket to which everyone can drive, rather than a lot of small local shops to which the customers walk. If we are going to abandon an oil based economy, then these hypermarkets will die, and the small shops supplied by local producers will have to be rebuilt. This will have a large cost – the complete retail system will have to be reconstructed. Moreover, the giant international corporations such as WaMart are unlikely to allow it to happen without a fight. Their economic power along side that of the oil industry is likely to prevent any action being taken in the near future, especially in the US where it is most needed.

  44. 94

    Re #83 I am not saying that I don’t welcome the moves being made in California to combat global warming, but we should not allow them to lull us nto a false sense of security. One swallow does not make a summer, and one US state seeing the light does not mean that the end is in sight.

    Arnie has promised to reduce oil consumption, but can he deliver? He won all his battles on the screen, but now we are talking about real life. From my experience with Tony Blair’s failed attempts, I fear Arnie’s will suffer the same fate.

    IMHO, there is something strange happening in the Arctic at present. If you look at these maps from the US Navy, then there are some black patches on the concentration map which appear grey on the ice age map. (In other words ignore the central black patch which is due to lack of data.) I beleve that they are caused by huge melt ponds, which are not draining as they usually do because the ice is so thin. It seems possible that both the North West and North East Passages will be clear by September, which will be a first ever. In other words the Arctic ice is continuing to melt, and at an accelerating rate.

    The Artcic ice is still on schedule to disappear completly long before Arnie’s CO2 reductions are implemented.

  45. 95
    John L. McCormick says:

    George, I get your point.

    Perhaps the efforts of the Governor and the State legislature are merely symbolic. And, in the LA climate with its nearly grid locked road network baking in a heat-inversion, an electric powered vehicle would need a utility trailer loaded with backup batteries to keep the AC running full blast. No chance there.

    I was trying to throw in something more than fretting about sprawl and misery. At the end of the day we all have to realize some problems are beyond us and we are, after all, ancestors of monkeys.

  46. 96
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re 82 and 92:
    I do not believe that the UK government’s failure to reduce emissions has anything to do with popular opposition to such a programme.

    True, the fuel protest had popular support at the time, but government never defended the fuel tax escalator in terms of climate change, and surveys at the time showed that a lot of people did not realise that there was any significant link between car emissions and climate change. Also, there is evidence that the fuel protests were very much industry-led, not a popular campaign (with certain oil companies reportedly supporting the truckers who blockaded them). This just shows that people need to be informed why policies are pursued if they are to back them. Media coverage of climate change has been far better in the UK since then, and an attempt to repeat the fuel protests more recently failed to gather any popular support at all.

    During the past year the political debate in the UK has moved on a lot (away from ‘should we do anything about climate change’ to ‘how to get those emissions down’), and I think it is largely due to NGOs representing large sectors (not just environmental groups, but church groups, women’s groups, development organisations) now working together as a Stop Climate Chaos coalition. I am sure future emissions will depend on popular debate and political will rather than technology.

    I can’t understand the ‘it’s just impossible to do anything’ argument: There are a lot of significant emission cuts which could be implemented very quickly, with existing technologies and without adverse economic effects: ban inefficient light bulbs, get high mandatory fuel efficiency standards, both for cars and electricity-consuming items, making highly efficient condensing boilers mandatory, promote combined heat and power and microrenewables, ban illegal timber imports, etc. And once all those obvious things have been done, emissions would be down and society could plan for what needs to be done next. The only obstacles seem to be lobby-groups, ideology, and political priorities – and the kind of defeatism expressed by a few commentators here.

  47. 97
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE #81

    This is not ‘California Dreamin’. It might be the real deal.

    Sacramento Bee offers this analysis of the political effort to get the Golden State going green:

    August 13, 2006

    [Bill would put limit on businesses’ emissions

    Democratic leader Nunez says he expects greenhouse-gas measure to pass before Aug. 31 close of legislative session.

    Negotiations are intensifying between the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in California.

    Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said he expects to introduce amendments this week on Assembly Bill 32 — which would make California the first state to impose pollution caps on industries to combat global warming.

    The Democratic leader said in an interview that he intends to address the governance and enforcement concerns of environmentalists, business groups and the Schwarzenegger administration to pass the bill by the Aug. 31 close of the legislative session.

    “This bill is going to be on the governor’s desk,” Nunez said.

    Assembly Bill 32 aims to reduce California’s global-warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a 25 percent reduction on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Last year, California was the world’s 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gases.

    The bill has been opposed by an industry coalition. But other business groups, environmentalists and political leaders have rallied behind the bill, raising the likelihood the Republican governor will sign it.

    “I’m optimistic, and I think it’s a great sign that all the leadership is engaged,” said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    The bill, which is part of a package of green legislation moving through the Legislature, would phase in reductions to meet goals set by the governor last year.

    Schwarzenegger, who is running for re-election, recently signed a state-nation global warming agreement with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to share information on solutions for reducing pollutants blamed for climate change.

    “AB 32 could be an important tool in meeting Gov. Schwarzenegger’s aggressive greenhouse-gas targets,” EPA Secretary Linda Adams said. “I’m confident we can develop legislation that will support California’s progressive approach to address climate change, economic growth and technological innovation.”

    Legislative staff members said they are close to working out a governance structure that’s acceptable to all parties. Some of the changes likely will include emergency provisions that allow industries to lift caps only in case of extreme circumstances, such as a major supply disruption or natural disaster.

    Right now, the bill directs the state Air Resources Board, which has a strong reputation for enforcement, to promulgate regulations for the mandatory reporting of greenhouse-gas emissions from several major industries, such as cement, landfills and utilities.

    It requires state agencies to coordinate programs and encourage emissions-reduction technologies.

    But the state EPA, acting on behalf of the governor, would rather see an umbrella board made up of agency heads.

    Catherine Witherspoon, executive director of the Air Resources Board, said it doesn’t make sense for her board to duplicate the job of other existing state agencies.

    Witherspoon said the air board, for example, isn’t the best agency to identify energy-saving and pollution-reducing remedies for the utility industry. She said that would be better left to the Public Utilities Commission.

    Negotiators said the bill likely will be amended to include a mix of agency heads appointed by the governor as well as experts appointed by the Legislature.]

    And, it would be refreshing to hear from RC contributors about this hopeful sign that the world’s 12th largest GHG emitter is laying it on the line.

  48. 98
    Dan says:

    Eric, you are making resolution to be so critical when it simply is not in the spatial and time scales of climate. End of story. The fact that it makes you a skeptic is troubling because you are looking at a very narrow view. Any difficulties in weather (not climate for once and for all!) modeling due to convection issues is a separate issue compared to climate modeling. You are obsessed with linking the two. That is incorrect. I am beginning to beleive what Mark said in post 90 is true re: counting angels on a pinhead. Now there’s a real resolution issue. ;-)

  49. 99

    Re: #92 -“At the end of the day we all have to realize some problems are beyond us and we are, after all, ancestors of monkeys.”

    Descendants, actually. To predict that we will be the ancestors of monkeys is perhaps too pessimistic even for this forum.

  50. 100
    liam says:

    Re John Mc Cormick.

    I’m with you on this one. I think what is critical is that there is legislation that puts a cost on carbon. As I’ve noted before, and has been further noted by other posters in both this and subsequent threads, there is an inertia in the economy that requires considerable energy, (in industrial terms investment) to be overcome.

    Its like boiling water, the greatest energy requirement is get past the point of latent heat. Once it does it quickly evaporates away into steam. Or a more appropriate analogy considering this website is the tipping points in the climate system. The system seems more or less to be working within a range until the tipping point is reached and then the change rapidly ensues.

    I think that many of these figures for change quoting 30 or 50 years are even conservative. Ever since the industrial revolution there has been radical shifting change that was unforeseen as the mindset of the average person was focused on the inertia of the current system. Amazing as it seems, the mechanical loom radically altered the structure of society at the start of the industrial revolution. At the start of the last century there was the rubber boom that drove the rapid proliferation of bicycles, and then when synthetic rubber was created, the rapid deployment of vehicles. And what all these moments in history demonstrate is that once the technology hits a point of critical mass, any business/household to not own/use it falls so far behind that they fall out of existence.

    Imagine if you will, you reach a point where in california 20% of all households/businesses are gaining their electricity from solar panels. The state seeing the viability of this setup says, ok, this technology has been demonstrated well and is reliable, so in 3 years we are going to turn off the switch at this power plant and that power plant. All those affected would have to go green or have no electricity. But at that stage you would have a hell of a market, cheap panels, and so on. It might just require reaching that point.

    If you think that that would not happen, look what happened with the introduction of the car, planners simply built roads to suburbs, anyone without a car could not live in them.

    Maybe all that’s required is that one invention. The car could not take off without synthetic rubber. I read in the newscientist sometime back that a Danish/Dutch company has come up with a plastic sheet that photosynthesises at 2% of a photovoltaic. You could stick it on your shoulder bag and charge your mobile phone as you walk. I haven’t heard anything more about that, but that would be a revolutionary technology. We know how to make photovoltaic windows. There has been experiments funded since the last oil crisis towards using photosynthesising bacteria to produce energy. There is a whole raft of technologies that exist already, and a whole raft in the development phase. The critical thing is getting to the economic tipping point. Once that is reached everything rapidly changes. And I believe we are getting close.

    California, applause to Schwarzeneeger, along with all other pioneering initiatives, deserve credit for they bring us closer to that tipping point.

    I guess i would fit into Techno-optimism at the moment, but you know i think that it’s our only way forward. What’s done is done, now we need to learn how to change, and fast, and i think we can. What’s required is political will and direction for business. Europe, Japan, Canada et al have all opted for that, and now Schwareneeger is leading the charge in the US. Anyone for Arnie in 2008?