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Sachs’ WSJ Challenge

Filed under: — gavin @ 19 September 2006

Jeffery Sachs of the Columbia Earth Institute has an excellent commentary in Scientific American this month on the disconnect between the Wall Street Journal editorial board and their own reporters (and the rest of the world) when it comes to climate change. He challenges them to truly follow their interest in an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” by meeting with the “world’s leading climate scientists and to include in that meeting any climate-skeptic scientists that that the Journal editorial board would like to invite”.

RealClimate heartily endorses such an approach and, while we leave it to others to judge who the ‘world leading’ authorities are, we’d certaintly be willing to chip in if asked. To those who would decry this as a waste of time, we would point to The Economist who recently produced a very sensible special on global warming and proposed a number of economically viable ways to tackle it, despite having been reflexively denialist not that many years ago. If the Economist can rise to the challenge, maybe there is hope for the Wall Street Journal….

286 Responses to “Sachs’ WSJ Challenge”

  1. 1
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Good luck. Their editorial board, by the accounts I’ve read (I don’t read the WSJ editorial page) is exquisitely starkers. Just 180 degrees from their news organization. It’s one of the most fascinating, disturbing, depressing phenomenon in the modern world.

  2. 2
    S Molnar says:

    I admire your optimism, but I can’t share it. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal routinely denies what is reported on its news pages, and not just in the realm of science. I don’t think they are so foolish as to believe what they say, which leaves only one other possibility.

  3. 3
    Coby says:

    It is a good initiative, and definately worth doing. But I think it is pretty hard to be as deep in denial as they are unless you *really* do NOT want to know. So I would be surprised if the offer were accepted.

    There is an interesting movie on Global Warming coming to the US soon (in time for the elections) called The Great Warming
    (brief description and links to film websites in above link)

    RC, they claim consultations with top climatologists, any names from this establishment?

  4. 4
    Phillip Shaw says:

    I applaud your willingness to participate in the discussions if they ever take place. (Though I think you’re being too modest about your own standing in the climate debate.) There is no guarantee that a discussion will open any minds (some of the minds on WSJ editorial board seem to be rusted soundly shut), but without dialog there is little hope of progress.
    Thank you, and all of the contributors, for your work with this site. It’s on my daily ‘must-read’ list.

  5. 5
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Excellent news! All along at the WSJ, a factual problem has been the editorial board’s ignorance of what the paper’s own reporters report, but an even bigger problem has been the editorial board’s journalistic practice, their unwillingness to invite and conduct an open, honest discussion.

    Science’s obviously needed response to that practice is simply to offer continually, wherever and whenever possible, to have science’s best climate minds participate, if the WSJ will only open up what it has closed off.

    (That response is obviously needed despite the “pristine” — remember that word from earlier RC discussions on this? — reality-blind scientists who, as Gavin accurately predicts, will “decry this as a waste of time.”)

    The WSJ editorial board can dodge facts, but it can’t forever dodge its journalistic obligation to conduct open and honest discussion of facts.

    So I hope RC readers will contact the WSJ editorial board with requests not just to get the climate science right, but to get the journalistic practice right.

    The WSJ editorial board — especially James Taranto (, who writes “Best of the Web” online — ought at least to answer what’s being charged against them. It’s one thing to disagree with the climate consensus, but it’s quite another to deny the WSJ editorial board’s readers access to a decent discussion of it.

  6. 6
    John Cross says:

    I will join with others and say this sounds like a great idea. I especially like the idea of including skeptics. However I am afraid that I am reminded of the old saying “you can lead a horse to water …”.

    Its probably worth doing since you can at least continue to point to the offer. Kind of like the “bet on global warming” test that few skeptics are willing to take.

  7. 7
    Pat Neuman says:

    I’m curious what WSJ people would have to say about a Sept 17 article in The Post. I didn’t like the last couple paragraphs – about the text of an e-mail sent out last week to other state climatologists … (which) came as state climatologists and their staff debated whether to issue a “letter of support” for Michaels. “Regardless of your views on climate change, Pat Michaels is one of us,” …

    State Climatologists and their staffs have had close working relationships with National Weather Service people, which explains the downplaying on global warming science by both groups of public servants.

  8. 8
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Sorry to post twice so quickly, but another blog (The Washington Monthly) is reporting the rumor that The Big Cheese himself is preparing an about face on Global Warming. The speculated date and speculated venue of this speculated change is next January’s State of the Union address. A Bush reversal would definitely give those whose skepticism is grounded in political considerations a graceful, public way out of their intransigence.

  9. 9
    Dano says:

    I’m with John Cross on this one – 99.5% of the time (.01 confidence, >80% probability, data available at my FTP) you aren’t going to change someone’s mind. But the upside will be the “big tent” offer, the fact that you will be keeping your enemies friends close by to see where they are getting their latest information, and lastly it will be harder for the editorial board to prevaricate with someone looking over their shoulder (making them work for their money, IOW).



  10. 10
    Don Baccus says:

    It’s naive to believe that the WSJ editorial staff is ignorant about the state of the science regarding AGW.

    The Economist has a level of integrity not shared by the WSJ’s editorial staff.

    A debate such as that being proposed would be like a creationist vs. biologist debate. The biologist displays his or her knowledge and makes the creationist look foolish. The creationist declares victory, and the fundy press touts the result to the world.

    Replace “creationist” with “AGW denialist”, “biologist” with “climate scientist”, and “fundy press” with “WSJ editorial board” and there you go …

  11. 11
    Coby says:

    Re #7,

    came as state climatologists and their staff debated whether to issue a “letter of support” for Michaels. “Regardless of your views on climate change, Pat Michaels is one of us,”

    But is he?

  12. 12
    Sally says:

    “I will join with others and say this sounds like a great idea. I especially like the idea of including skeptics. However I am afraid that I am reminded of the old saying “you can lead a horse to water …”.

    Or how about the Dorothy Parker quote …
    “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
    I think this one is more apt, frankly.

  13. 13
    Wacki says:

    Excuse me for the hijack gavin but this a must read:

    A climate satellite is built and paid for. ………The Ukrainian government offered to lau­nch DSCOVR free of charge, France made a similar offer. But NASA’s response so far has been “no thanks.”….. The mission was quietly killed this year, so the satellite is sitting in a box at Goddard Space Flight Center.

    I could not imagine a stronger smoking gun of the political suppression of science.

    [Response: I’m not personally familiar with this controversy, however, you should bear in mind that the biggest cost in all of these missions are not the launches, but the ongoing retrieval and processing of data once the satellite is launched. It is these costs that are most likely the sticking point. Remember there is no such thing as a free launch…. – gavin]

  14. 14

    I think it is a good idea and worth trying. However they may choose not to address the science. I do not closely follow the WSJ editorial board but I did see a recent editorial where they criticized the new climate change law in California. In it they expressed skepticism about global warming but focussed their energy decrying the new law by minimizing the impact California could have acting alone and warned of the costs to California consumers and businesses. And of course they dragged out the boogeyman of rising emissions from China.

    RealClimate would know more about this than me but I get the impression that the community of deniers have moved on from directly confronting the science because it is clear they have lost that battle. If the WSJ editorial board approach to the California law is any guide (I have seen other examples of this), the new strategy seems to be to compare any incremental solution such as the California law to an idealized immediate global solution. The deniers then find the incremental solution inadequate and therefore not worth doing. In case their first argument hasn’t convinced you they follow that up with a horror story about what it would cost but of course fail to even acknowledge the cost of not addressing climate change.

    I would not trust the WSJ editorial board to stick to the agenda you would like to talk about.

  15. 15
    George Landis says:

    Not very significant or surprising, most editorial boards differ from their reporters in most newspapers, except most editorial boards are even more radical left wing enviro-kooks that the reporters, as hard as that is to believe.

  16. 16
    Wacki says:

    Actually, it seems as if that satellite was controversial since it’s inception. There seems to be conflicting reports on the Internet. Some call it a “Gore-camera” and a waste because of his feel-good “look at the earth from the Internet” scheme. Is this satellite critical for climate science or not? Just how well will this measure the energy budget? And won’t you need these measurements over a long period of time to make any use of the data?

  17. 17
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 13, Triana — previously discussed here.
    has a search result for link to earlier and longer RC discussion.

  18. 18
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gavin wrote:

    He challenges them to truly follow their interest in an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” …

    The problem is that the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal has no “interest” in an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge”. They have an interest in rapacious greed. They are bought-and-paid-for propagandists. They don’t write the things they do because they believe them to be true, and there is zero chance that they will be persuaded to “change their minds” or change what they write as a result of reviewing the scientific evidence. They are already well aware of the scientific evidence that anthropogenic global warming is real. That’s precisely the reason that they go to such elaborately dishonest lengths to convince their readers otherwise. They write the things they do in a deliberate, carefully scripted effort to deceive the public, in the interest of maintaining and increasing the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful fossil fuel corporations.

    [Response: The point of such challenges is partly to test whether a self -professed desire for an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” is genuine or not. I doubt very much that the WSJ will take up Sachs’ offer, but it’s important to make it obvious that they won’t, and who knows, maybe they’ll surprise us. I’m thinking about writing about the Economist’s transformation to see if there might be some lessons – I advise comparing the 1997 link from them (above) to any recent WSJ editorial. They’re really not so different. – gavin]

  19. 19
    Pat Neuman says:

    Re #11, … “Pat Michaels is one of us,”

    Coby … But is he?

    If “state climatologists and their staff debated whether to issue a “letter of support” for Michaels” … knowing how their debate went might explain if he is or is not one of them.

  20. 20
    Crocodile Hunter says:

    The point of such challenges is partly to test whether a self -professed desire for an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” is genuine or not.

    Indeed. So how about you demonstrate your openminded credentials, Gavin, and take up a more relevant challenge: give us a cost benefit analysis of *not* implementing Kyoto.

  21. 21
    John Hansen says:

    True, The Economist has done an excellent job of prioritizing where alledged AGW fits in the grand scheme of things, I definitely recommend the latest 2006 Copenhagen Consensus documents to you all, that is the kind of thing the WSJ does well, and of course this blog and scientists do poorly. Take a look if you dare, to see how puny and low priority possible AGW really is among real problems, it might reduce some of the excessive hubris I read here.

    [Response: I’m not sure how often we need to state this, but prioritising tasks and allocating resources is a political function, not a scientific one. However, political decisions should be made in the full light of all available information – if potential costs are being ignored (‘externalised’) then no sensible C/B analysis can be done. However, economic parlour games like the Copenhagen Consensus do not come close to offering a useful analysis of the situation – too short a horizon and too limited an imagination. -gavin]

  22. 22
    Mark A. York says:

    While James Taranto and John Fund don’t have college degrees, both “attended” Cal State, even in journalism they still feel qualified to call top scientists “jokers on the take” on global warming. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. They won’t change. Their’s is to mock from ignorance. They’re stooges.

  23. 23
    Joel Shore says:

    I am glad that Sachs had made this challenge but count me among those who don’t believe the WSJ editorial page is interested in the pursuit of truth. It is not like AGW is just a singular case for them…They are viciously anti-environment and will use whatever arguments are necessary to push their agenda. I think the WSJ editorial page will come around about the same time the Competitive Enterprise Institute does.

  24. 24
    Russell Seitz says:

    Having written Wall Street Journal op-eds , may I observe that the disparity you note is symptomatic of a problem that extends far beyond it. While the WSJ no longer has a Science Editor, such Beltway must-reads as The Washington Times ,The Weekly Standard and National Review have never had any to begin with. To compound this bipartisan problem neither have The New Republic or The Nation.

    Let me therefore adduce a truly contrarian hypothesis: the problem at hand is the deplorable lack of politicized science in partisan journals –it cannot fairly be said to exist unless both sides have some inkling of what it is they are trying to politicize.

    As long the PR perpetrating classes prefer propagating hype as recieved wisdom to raise ratings , the public will be their lawful prey, whether it’s Al Gore fast-forwarding sea level rise or 20/20 trying to resuscitate nuclear winter.

    Having known Sin at Hiroshima, science was bound to run into advertising sooner or later.

  25. 25
    Yartrebo says:

    Re #21 (and the response to #21):

    Modelling the costs and ‘good’ or ‘proper’ responses to global warming is extremely complex (just like any social policy) and shallow and simplified games like the Copenhagen Consensus just don’t cut it. Not only must ALL costs and ALL benefits be examined, but you must look at every possibility (or at least every plausible solution). Personally, I feel that the best solutions aren’t even brought up to the table as many good and comprehensive solutions are based on sociology and psychology, not economics, and they probably require fundamental changes in how society operates.

    As an example, why isn’t reducing or eliminating marketing (and consumerism) brought up as an idea? Marketing (IE., TV advertising, fancy product boxes, viral marketing, telemarketing, junk mail, marketing-based product design, industry promotion, product placement, free samples, certain aspects of trademarks, etc.) creates desires and ‘needs’ that need not exist. The way I see it, creating a need for new windows by smashing all the windows in the neighborhood (obviously vandalism) is no worse than creating a ‘need’ for golf courses, Pokemon cards, large cars, addictive drugs, or even empires and war – the end effect is more resources spent and a decrease in happiness (the decrease occurs because not everyone can pay the price, and even those that can expend substantial effort meeting the new ‘needs’). That marketing adds to global warming and plenty of other externalities (via extra economic activity and reduced efficiency) only makes the whole equation worse.

    Lastly, just because an idea isn’t the best idea around doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Every proposal that has a total benefit higher than the total cost is a worthy proposal that will make humans better off than the status quo, and that should not be forgotten. There’s also no reason that programs cannot be done in parallel and it would be stupid not to do so. In the case of global warming, any social engineering based approaches (ie., demand reduction) would act synergistically with energy efficiency and renewable energy based approaches.

  26. 26
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 24.

    Russell Seitz,

    It’s more than what you said in 24. Propagating a controversy on global warming science for rating purposes wouldn’t work for the WSJ if we took away the two large groups of public servants who’ve been on the same team with the skeptics (see #7).

  27. 27

    Re: #7

    Michaels views don’t seem out of that out of line with the consensus: “His position is that the climate is becoming warmer, but it will not turn out to be as hot — or its consequences as bad — as some fear.”

    Similarly, Taylor of Oregon seems spot on the current state science: “Taylor acknowledges that the Earth is warming but says it is impossible to calculate how much of that is caused by human activity.”

    Has anyone calculated how much of that is caused by human activity? In which journals? Using which models? I suspect the mixed GHG proportion is somewhere between 20% and 60%, with internal climate modes and solar variation the leading candidates for the rest. I doubt anyone has made a case for high accuracy in attribution in peer reviewed journals that can stand up to scrutiny.

    [Response: You are not even remotely correct in any of the above statements. Natural radiative forcing (solar+volcanic) actually leads to a net cooling over the 20th century, and the remaining (internal) natural variability could not possibly account for the late 20th century warming. Before spouting nonsense, I suggest you at least aquaint yourself with the basics. You might start with the detection and attribution chapter of the IPCC (2001) report. – mike]

    The models and data are not yet up to this task, and may never be, given the accuracy which which we might have to know the climate previous to the recent warming in order to properly represent climate commitment. Even the earlier levels of forcing can never be recovered with sufficient accuracy, it does not mean we won’t be able to validate the models for projective purposes with the aid of a few more years of accurate data, and, of course, with the necessary model improvements.

    [Response: It’s odd, but the desire for a fixed percentage of what the attribution to solar, or GHGs are to current warming (or the greenhouse effect is in general) is much more prevelant on discussion boards than in the literature or at scientific conferences. The reasons why it’s difficult and a little ill-defined are that a) prior to the satellite era some important forcings become more uncertain (particularly aerosols and solar), b) we still have uncertainty in the climate sensitivity (and some variation in the efficacy of various forcings, and most importantly, c) because there is a mix of warming and cooling effects, an ‘attribution’ defined as the expected delta T due to GHGs divided by the actual delta T will give more than 100%! A better definition might be to estimate it as delta T (GHGs)/ (total delta T from all warming forcings) – i.e. of all the forces making the planet warmer, what percent are GHGs. Alternatively, you could lump all anthropogenic forcings together vs natural forcings, but there too, since most estimates of the total ‘natural’ response (from solar + volcanoes) give a late 20th C cooling, you would get an anthropogenic attribution of more than 100% again. This might be worth exploring in a full post… – gavin]

  28. 28

    Congrats to Jeffrey Sachs on the idea of a debate, will be looking forward to see if WSJ is inclined to release itself from its shackles of ignorance.

    On a lighter note, there is nothing more sexy for business than a solar panel, a thing of beauty if well placed, a total renewable energy package, a money saver, a small perpetual oil well, I kind of think that the business world has lost their edge perhaps because business people read the wrong papers.

  29. 29

    Re 25
    Mr. Neuman:
    In my experience neocons are giddy creatures, and it can take some serious carrot dangling to get them to even nibble on scientific evidence – one can but try-

  30. 30

    Re Jeffrey Davis comment 8, one should of course be careful with rumours (in this case, The Washington Monthly picked up the story from a UK journalist I had alerted to an article in Platts that had been forwarded by someone else – see ). That said, I for one would be interested to see more informed comment on the implications of targets such as 450ppm by 2050 and 2106.

  31. 31

    Re: responses to #27

    Mike, I not only have read the 2001 attribution section, but also participated in the lastest draft review. Combining solar and volcanic forcings is a red herring, when the question is what proportion increases in solar activity and forcing is responsible for the 20th century warming and particularly the recent warming vis’a’vis anthropogenic GHGs. Solar forcing has increased over the 20th century and given that the oceans have not yet had time to equilibrate to the new levels of forcing, it must have contributed some to the recent warming, in fact, that equlibration was further delayed by the cooling period, so the unrealized climate commitment would have been greater than ordinarily expected given that most of the increase in solar activity occurred in the first half of the century.

    [Response: Thats enough of this nonsense. We’ve discussed this ad nauseum in past posts. The trend in natural radiative forcing during the 20th century is negative. If you’ve got something new to add to the discussion, fine. Otherwise, don’t bother posting this stuff. – mike]

    Gavin is on the right track with identifying the issues: “delta T (GHGs)/ (total delta T from all warming forcings) – i.e. of all the forces making the planet warmer, what percent are GHGs.” especially, since deltaT is specified, which would presumably incorporate any difference in climate sensitivity to the different forcings.

    Mike’s statement that internal variation could not possibly have caused the recent warming is also a red herring. It doesn’t not have to have caused it to be significant. Even a 10% to 15% contribution is significant, and I would add that term to the denominator that Gavin has proposed. We need models that can reproduce multidecadal climate modes to properly attribute this, and given that we know the current ocean state much better than the past states, any hopes of recovering this figure probably requires running the models in reverse.

    Models that attribute 100% of the recent warming to anthropogenic GHGs are likely to give erroneously high projections based on the projections of higher GHG scenerios.

  32. 32
    acb says:

    The #2 priority of the Copenhagen Consensus–Water Supply and Sanitation–is a climate change issue. 1.8 billion people currently don’t have access to reliable, safe water sources. Most of these people live in arid, lower latitude regions which will likely dry out as the globe warms. I’ve always been perplexed by the decoupling of the climate change issue with world water supply problem.

  33. 33
    Yartrebo says:

    Re #32:

    Water supply is primarily a land use issue and only secondarily a climate change issue. Issues like depleting fossil aquifers, building cities in deserts, and wasteful irrigation practices have nothing to do with climate change. Even desertification is due in large part to deforestation, overgrazing, poor agricultural practices, and other land use issues.

  34. 34
    Phillip Shaw says:

    RE #27 & #31:

    The niggling arguments about exactly what portion of global warming can be attributed to anthropogenic causes are appalling. It’s analogous to dealing with a house fire by arguing about how the fire started and whether it will take two hours or three hours to burn the house down. First priority is to control the fire.

    We are facing a global crisis. Certainly serious, possibly catastrophic. Mankind’s activities, including burning fossil fuels, are exacerbating (and almost certainly causing) the crisis so we need to change our ways. This is not an intellectual exercise. This is survival.

    And Crocodile Hunter, unless YOU can present a convincing analysis that a 4 – 6 meter sea level rise won’t be catastrophic, please go troll elsewhere. Your repetitive posts just make you appear chuckleheaded.

  35. 35
    acb says:

    Have to diagree that climate is only a secondary component of water issues. Sure land use is a huge part of it, but every drought, regardless of the use of bmps, has a climatic component. Even areas without development experience drought. I dig integrated water resource management as much as the next guy, but supply-side issues are going grow as time goes on.

  36. 36
    lars says:

    Colorado State professor disputes global warming is human-caused
    Global warming is happening, but humans are not the cause, one of the nation’s top experts on hurricanes said Monday morning.

    [Response: Ah…. If only every one of my public lectures got as much press as Bill Gray’s….. Unfortunately, Gray’s conviction that he is right is just not supported by any actual evidence (peer reviewed paper anyone?). Sure it’s good for challenges to be made, but for them to have any traction in the real scientific debate (as opposed to the media debate) they need published support – and here he is woefully lacking. – gavin]

    [Response: As soon as a contrarian trots out that favorite of all specious arguments “how can we model climate change when we can’t predict the weather 10 days from now?”, they’ve ceased constructive engagement and are not worth listening to any longer. – mike]

  37. 37
    Milton says:

    I haven’t read all the comments. I started to read Mr. Sach’s article “Fiddling While the Planet Burns” His first line “Another summer of record-breaking temperatures brought power failures, heat waves, droughts and tropical storms throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia.” As always I was immediately turned off by so called scientists who try to make uneducated people like me believe that now every heat wave, drought, flood and hurricane (to name only a few) is caused by a one degree rise in global temperature . You guys say you want to talk about just the science, why not try that, maybe we do have sense enough to understand the facts rather than wonder if we should be scared to death.

  38. 38
    George Landis says:

    True Milton, perhaps this blog could trot out all those scientists from last year for the WSJ experts(many from Ga. Tech. as I remember, and yelling and trying to shout down Bill Gray and Max Mayfield at AMS as they disagreed with them as I recall), you know the ones who claimed Katrina and the larger than average 2005 hurricane season was caused by AGW. So what do they say this year? Oh, I know, one year of odd weather proves nothing, funny, that’s what Bill and Max and the skeptics said last year that got them demonized. Try again AGW “believers”, your faith has holes in it and is sinking.

  39. 39
    Dan says:

    re: 38. No. Please read the peer-reviewed scientific literature. It has shown that there will always be some natural influences that affect hurricane formation but that the baseline numbers have been raised over previous decades. Furthermore, hurricane formation trends is just one of the oh so many indicators of anthropogenic global warming. You can read about many of them on this web site.

    We have a developing El Nino (warming waters of the equatorial Pacific) which enhances upper level wind shear in the Atlantic. That shear is often largely responsible for the relatively fewer hurricanes. Such as this season. One season does not make a trend.

    Narrow focus, cherry-picking, and personal attacks such as accusing scientific data and reproducable results to be “faith” do absolutely nothing to show that the peer-reviewed science behind climate change is not sound.

  40. 40

    Re mike’s response about predicting climate.

    I have been thinking about suitable answers to that question ever since Rasmus started his thread that is now closed. Yesterday I was reading Poincare (in Ian Stewart’s book “Does God Play Dice”) and the answer suddenly came to me:-)

    The excerpt that Stewart includes is from Poincare’s essay “Chance”. He compares weather prediction with roulette since both are deterministic but appear to be random. (This was long before Ed Lorentz!) That gave me the idea :-)

    We cannot predict where the next throw of the roulette ball will land, but we do know that the house will make a profit. We may not know what the weather will be in one week’s time, but we do know that if we increase the greenhouse gases then it will be hotter. That is like the house taking a larger share of our stakes by upping the odds. We know we will lose :-(

    What do you think?

  41. 41
    Eachran says:

    Interesting start to the thread and comments.

    I agree with Gavin on keeping things open and transparent.

    I have been a reader of The Economist for many years now, often frustratingly so but it always keeps me on my toes. One does need to look at the overall internal management structure of the journal to understand how it functions. I do not have the link, but for subscribers to the journal there is always the Barbara Smith retirement article on-line which describes the process of editorial decisions and in particular the fights on difficult issues : in her article there were two, Vietnam and Iraq, both of which The Economist got wrong and to its credit the journal now admits perhaps that their view on Iraq should have been a little more mature.

    On Climate, they were a denier and even supported Mr Lomburg : I don’t see that support currently, indeed the journal should be congratulated for getting the Climate issue right.

    Some posters have already commented on the divergence of the WSJ Editorial from the main body of the newspaper. It is no different in The Economist indeed sometimes I wonder if the Editor has been reading his/her own reporters. But in general, views do cohere.

    I would agree with the poster who talks about the journal’s integrity. A lot of clever people work there : you might be interested to know that the last two specials on Global Warming and Globalisation were both edited by women and in my view represented good and fair reporting.

    So far as cost benefit analysis is concerned I agree with Gavin that it’s a fair start provided both costs and benefits are properly identified. There is a paper by two economists from Norway which does the maths and takes things on a bit further than Mr Lomburg’s mob and I posted on this some time ago. The point I always make about Mr Lomburg is that he is a bad and biased reporter of his own events.

  42. 42
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #40 – I think your analogy is weak. From a standpoint of systems theory, you are comparing apples and oranges.

  43. 43
    llewelly says:

    That shear is often largely responsible for the relatively fewer hurricanes. Such as this season.

    I see everywhere the assumption that this Atlantic hurricane season is below average. But see table 1 on this page, which displays the progression that one would expect from an average of the 1944 – 2005 seasons.
    By this date (September 20), the expected activity is:

    7 named systems (of tropical storm strength)
    3 (nearly 4) hurricanes
    1 (nearly 2) major hurricanes.

    The actual activity:
    8 named systems -> above average
    4 hurricanes -> average
    2 major hurricanes -> average

    I think a bit of caution is in order; While it is possible that the oncoming El Nino will dampen Atlantic hurricane activity enough to result in a below average final season tally (as some have forecast), the present tally is so far close to average.

  44. 44
    Dan says:

    re: 43. Your point is well-taken, thanks. Indeed, it may well be that the developing El Nino has influenced and somewhat lessened the tropical activity this year and yet it is still a season that is close to the average, rather than being below average as one might expect.

  45. 45
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 33.

    For mountain snowmelt runoff, climate is the primary issue for water supply. Recent snow seasons have been dominated by lighter and less reliable water supplies from snowmelt.

    In the Great Plains states snow periods have been shorter. Winter and spring evaporation and transpiration rates have been increasing. Large parts of the are is experiencing severe drought.

    In the Upper Midwest, low water in 2006 is a big problem in northern and central Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, the U.P. of Michigan and Lake Michigan.

    Water supply may have seemed like it was primarily a land use issue in the past.

  46. 46

    Re 42 Steve, I don’t think I explaine my ideas very well let me try again.

    What Poincare is arguing is that if we could measure the speed of the the croupiers hand and the speed and position of the roulette wheel, then we could calculate into which slot the ball would eventually rest. Because the calculations (and measurements) are impractical we say each throw is random.

    Similarly, with the weather. If we could make enough measurements and enough caculations then we could calculate the weather. Poincare was writing in the 19th century before computers were widespread. Of couse now we can predict the weather, but we still think of much of it as random.

    Consider roulette again. We know on average the way that the ball will fall into the pockets. For instance just less than half of throws will end in red pockets and similarly for black pockets. 1/37 of the times the ball will fall in the 0 pocket. So we know the house has an advantage of 2.3% and we can calculate how fast we will lose money. If you go to the USA, there is an additional 00 pocket so the house has an advantage of 5.3%, and we will lose money much faster. See

    Similarly we know that on average the greenhouse effect is 33K degrees. If we double the CO2 concentration then the greenhouse effect and global tempertures will increase just as the odds do when you add another zero pocket to a roulette wheel. We can calculate the odds, even if we can’t predict the next number. And we can calculate the temperture rise even if we can’t predict tomorrow’s temperature.

    NB Temperatures and temperature rises are not the same things, even though they are measured with the same units. Temperature rises can be added. Adding tempertures is meaningless. It does not make sense to add the temperature of New York to that of London. So even though we cannot calculate a temperture, we can calculate a temperature rise.

  47. 47

    “The system could right itself or spin out of human control.”

    The above from the Economist commentary. But perhaps one can question the implied premise, that the ‘system’ is or ever was under human control. Though I have no idea, as a layman, if the impulse which has been imparted to the global climate system can be modified, I suspect that scientists can’t answer that question either. Before nations are willing to apply presumed solutions to the problem of global warming, they will have to be convinced, if only psychologically, that remedies exist which are not simply desperate expedients.

  48. 48
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 29. 7.

    Mr. Seitz,

    One example of the second large groups of public servants on the same team with the skeptics had some discussion published below.

    Excerpts from August 9, 2006 Juneau Empire article:
    … “Tom Ainsworth, a panelist and the meteorologist in charge of the Juneau Weather Forecast Office. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Ainsworth said, adding that the planet continuously goes through climate-change cycles. “It’s a natural thing. But if we can use our information of these cycles to improve our lifestyle, then I think we should.” …

    Some additional background material from an April 9, 2006 Juneau Empire searched article is shown below.

    My questions – What are the Panel’s policy proposals up to this point? How did they arrive at them?

    This winter Mayor Bruce Botelho appointed a panel of local scientists to gather the best data available about the warming trend and its present and possible future consequences for Juneau. The idea is for Juneau to become “more informed about this global phenomenon that is also happening in our backyard,” Botelho said last week. The panel’s work began a few weeks ago. It is expected to last at least six months and result in policy proposals and town meetings.

  49. 49
    Mark Leggett says:

    In response to Gavin (Item 21), prioritising tasks and allocating resources are indeed ultimately political decisions. But such decisions are best if they are what is termed evidence-based decisions. These are based on quantification and, to achieve this, marshal and use the relevant body of scientific knowledge.
    I have attempted this approach for the question of the full mitigation of global warming and other global risks in my recent paper in Futures.
    I can also provide the pdf by email (
    My results come out very differently from those of the Copenhagen Consensus.

  50. 50
    Hank Roberts says:

    From 2003, an attempt to sum up why this is hard to think about: