RealClimate logo

Inhofe’s last stand

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 December 2006

Part of me felt a little nostalgic yesterday watching the last Senate hearing on climate change that will be chaired by Sen. James Inhofe. It all felt very familiar and comforting in some strange way. There was the well-spoken ‘expert’ flown in from Australia (no-one available a little closer to home?), the media ‘expert’ from the think tank (plenty of those about) and a rather out-of-place geologist. There were the same talking points (CO2 leads the warming during the ice ages! the Medieval Warm Period was warm! it’s all a hoax!*) that are always brought up. These easy certainties and predictable responses are so well worn that they feel like a pair of old slippers.

Of course, my bout of nostalgia has nothing to do with whether this was a useful thing for the Senate to be doing (it wasn’t), and whether it just provided distracting political theatre (yup) in lieu of serious discussion about effective policy response, but even we should sometimes admit that it is easier to debunk this kind of schoolyard rhetoric than it is to deal with the complexities that actually matter. The supposed subject of discussion was ‘Climate Change in the Media’ though no-one thought to question why the Senate was so concerned with the media representations (Andy Revkin makes some good points about it though here). Senators have much more effective means of getting relevant information (knowledgable staffers, National Academy of Science reports, the presidential office of Science and Technology etc.) and so this concern was concievably related to their concern with public understanding of science….. or not.

Naomi Oreskes did a good job on the context and provided useful rebuttal to a frankly ridiculous claim that contrarians were not getting any air time on the networks. One point she could have raised was that when Patrick Michaels made the same complaint to CNN – that their climate news stories weren’t ‘balanced’ – a quick scan of their interviewee lists revealed that the scientist most frequently on CNN …. was none other than Michaels himself. A result somewhat at odds with his standing in the community or expertise, but ample evidence for the ‘false balance‘ often decried here.

As for the scientific content, with the sole exception of Dan Schrag’s statements, it was a textbook example of abuse of science. Two exchanges summed it up for me. In the first, Bob Carter insisted that CO2 always follows temperature for the ice age cycles (which are paced by the variations in the Earth’s orbit and for which CO2 is a necessary feedback) and seasonal cycle (related mainly to Northern hemisphere deciduous trees) . Both statements are true as far as they go – but they don’t go very far. Was Carter suggesting that the 30% increase in CO2 decreased after 1940? or that it has stopped increasing in recent years (since he appears to also believe that global warming stopped in 1998?). As an aside by his criteria it also stopped in 1973, 1983 and 1990…. only it didn’t. Of course, if this wasn’t what he meant to imply (because it’s demonstrably false), why did he bring the whole subject up at all? Surely not simply to muddy the waters….

The second great example was Carter making an appeal to authority (using NASA and the Russian Academy of Science) for his contention that world is likely to cool in coming decades. Of course scientists at NASA are at the forefront of studies of anthropogenic climate change so a similar authority would presumably apply to them, and the Russian Academy was one of 11 that called on the G8 to take climate change seriously, but let’s gloss over that inconsistency. The nuggets of science Carter was referring to are predictions for the next couple of solar cycles – a tricky business in fact, and one in which there is a substantial uncertainty. However, regardless of that uncertainty, NASA scientists have definitively not predicted that this will cause an absolute cooling – at best, it might reduce the ongoing global warming slightly (which would be good) (though see here for what they actually said). Two Russians scientists have indeed made such a ‘cooling’ prediction though, but curiously only in a press report rather than in any peer-reviewed paper, and clearly did not speak for the Academy in doing so, but never mind that. Of course, if Carter seriously thought that global cooling was likely, he should be keen to take up some of James Annan’s or Brian Schmidt’s attractive offers – but like the vast majority of ‘global coolers’, his money does not appear to be where his mouth is. It’s all classic contrarian stuff.

With the new Senate coming in January, it seems likely that this kind of disinformational hearing will become less common and more climate policy-related hearings will occur instead. These won’t provide as much fodder for us to debunk, but they might serve the much more useful function of actually helping craft appropriate policy responses.

Ah… truly the end of an age.

* If needed, the easy rebuttals to these talking points are available here, here and here

221 Responses to “Inhofe’s last stand”

  1. 1
    SecularAnimist says:

    The incoming Democratic chairperson of the Senate Environment Committee, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, has said in an interview with the Associated Press that it will no longer function as the Senate Anti-Environment Committee, that global warming policy will be at the top of her agenda, and that she intends to pursue a national policy of mandatory CO2 reductions based on the recently passed California legislation (which was signed into law by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger). This is certainly a step in the right direction, and not a moment too soon.

  2. 2
    Tapasananda says:

    Its like On The Beach,[book] when after the Big Boom some empty radio station in Ca is broadcasting to nobody[left alive] by remote replay recorded programs about the efforts to prevent the war…..

  3. 3
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    From the current issue of Nature’s story about AGW and political action in the US:
    “Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) has been holding forth on his view of climate change as some sort of conspiracy theory”

  4. 4
    Grant says:

    Inhofe is out. Woohoo!

    I hear that CA senator Barbara Boxer is the likely choice to head the environment and public works committee. I happened to hear a webcast with Sen. Boxer and Gen. Wesley Clark, in which they both emphasized the importance of global warming; sen. Boxer referred to it as “climate crisis.”

    I’m curious, has Sen. Boxer contacted any of you fellows in the climate science community? Might it be prudent for you to take the first step, contacting her to open a dialogue?

  5. 5
    Brian S. says:

    I emailed Carter last April to see if he would bet, and he refused. A few details here:

  6. 6
    Coby says:

    I’ve decided that the best response to Carter’s “Warming stopped in 1998” argument is to agree with him, but point out that it started again in the year 2000 (you could use 1999 if you prefer the GISS analysis).

  7. 7
    Geoff says:

    One less denier in the news and yet one more pops up (in the Globe and Mail no less).


  8. 8
    PeakEngineer says:

    The good news is that the GW denial rhetoric seems to be winding down or at least is getting drowned out. Even Bill O’Reilly and some religious groups have taken official stances in support of GW action. There was a video in the blogosphere a few months ago showing the audience at a debate laughing at a local Minnesota politician who stated there was no evidence for global warming. And every person I work with at NASA (including those who are hard-over conservative) recognizes that GW is at least partly anthropogenic. There’s the hope of a chance this issue might be finally moving out of the realm of politics so we can get more substantive debate on solutions.

  9. 9
    D McDaniel says:

    I pop in and out here to get updates and ideas about the best ways to teach climate change and deal with misconceptions that students get from mass media. It is climate change time in the semester now, so you are a great resource, thank you!

    But as a geologist (sedimentary / ocean geochemistry) that teaches a college course that includes a lecture on paleoclimate and climate change I wonder at this small, out-of-place statement…

    >and a rather out-of-place geologist

    can you explain what seems to be a rather snide comment (or do I misinterpret)? I mean, was he out-of-place because he was a geologist?? If snide, then may I add, ‘ill-informed’? My own research in geology has been in paleoclimate, although in an arena rather peripheral to modern problems. I daresay though, that a pretty large segment of the scientific community that is dealing with this (including colleagues) are classically trained geologists. Or did you think geology = rocks?

    A little off-topic, I recognize, but don’t diss a large segment of the scientists on such a vitally important subject. Doesn’t serve anyones best interests – and its snotty.

    [Response: I think you misinterpret my comment. It certainly wasn’t intendend as a slight on geologists in general (some of best friends and all that….). Rather it was a specific comment about David Deming, who throughout the proceedings seemed to be very unsure of why he was there or what he was being asked for. Given that sole claims to relevance on this issue is a single paper and a mysterious email from over a decade ago, I think ‘out-of-place’ is a valid commentary. I would also note that both Dan Schrag and Bob Carter are paleo people (as am I in some small sense). – gavin]

  10. 10
    SecularAnimist says:

    PeakEngineer wrote in #8: “The good news is that the GW denial rhetoric seems to be winding down or at least is getting drowned out.”

    The current “state of the art” in GW denial rhetoric is to acknowledge that some warming may be occurring, but that there is no scientific consenus on how much, if any, of the warming is caused by human activities; that some, most or all of it may be caused by changes in solar output, “natural cycles” or simply unspecified, unknown causes; and that there can be no basis for determining what if anything should be done about it unless or until scientists can specify with certainty exactly how much of the warming is attributable to various causes.

    All of this is propaganda paid for by the fossil fuel industry to delay as long as possible any large-scale moves to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Inhofe is their bought-and-paid-for shill; Barbara Boxer is not. That’s an important improvement.

  11. 11
    D McDaniel says:

    understood! And wasn’t personally offended, just find lots of scientists who still don’t understand the role of geoscientists. I did note that I might have misinterpreted.

    Yeah, I noted to myself with what I felt was irony that Schrag is (in my way of thinking) a geologist.

    Anyway, remember my intro, I really do appreciate your site and your service – it keeps me updated on fast changing issues in the sort of vein that I need to teach a (non-majors) class on the subject (political and public understanding). And you’ve been a resource for quite some time now. Ciao.

  12. 12
    Pat Neuman says:

    At Inhofe’s last stand, one of them claimed that there have been no deaths due to global warming. Not one person replied. However, many people have died in recent years due to excessive heat, severe weather and flooding. Hurricane season extensions and more severe weather periods have, no doubt in my mind, added to the number of deaths in recent years due to weather. I suppose for some, global warming science will never be completely settled. It is as far as I’m concerned. CO2 emissions are driving rapid global warming – as we speak. Our actions and inaction will lead to a collapse of our civilization, in my view. Even with that view, I believe drastic measures are needed to reduce emissions. If we reduce emissions we might delay the worst of the warming consequences until we might reduce our world population. We might be able to reduce the worst for today’s young people – if they are lucky enough to get old.

    Dr. James Hansen’s Global Surface Temperature Anomaly map for 2001-2005 confirms that the warming is global and is greatest in high latitude northern continental regions.

    Annual and seasonal temperature data at U.S. climate stations confirms that the warming is greatest during overnight hours in winter in the Upper Midwest and Alaska.

    Enhanced warming in land regions of higher latitude during winter and in overnight hours is exactly what scientists expect with greenhouse warming.

    Global Surface Temperature Anomaly (2001-2005) at:

    Annual temperature data at 59 U.S. climate stations (1890-2005):

    Seasonal temperature data at 18 U.S. climate stations (1890-2005):

    “Careful measurements have confirmed that CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere and that human activities are the primary cause.”

    What will it take for all who support Inhofe’s last stand to accept that the science on global warming is settled? It’s time for them to fold. The other side has all the trump cards.

  13. 13

    Deming has written an interesting, but quantitatively unpersuasive paper arguing that the atmosphere gains as much as a teragram of gases annually from infalling cometesmals and meteors. However , he is primarily a petroleum geologist specializing in the geotherm of the Anandarko basin. Perhaps more germane to his presence yesterday is the importance of Inhofe’s political patronage in his continuing tenure fight at the University of Oklahoma – a neoconservative cause celebre since Deming complained in _Front Page _ in 1998-9 of his political views leading to his academic demotion.

  14. 14
    Geordie says:

    I am sure many, as they are called here “denialist” or “contrarians” are somewhat like me. They found out that a lot of what they were being told was untrue or just skepticisms. Its not that we don’t believe anymore it is just that we will no longer take information without saying “Am I being lied to?”. The problem is that it really isn’t cut and dry. First Polar Bears are drowning and hurricanes are out of control now they are both fine? was there a MWP? Is Antartica getting colder but smaller as predicted? The cause and effect of the hole situation is misunderstood by most people
    I like facts, like Gavins link to anthropogenic CO2 isotope ratio’s above is very factual and unarguable as well as why CO2 follows temperature and why it is still dangerous and etc. This site is full of facts, mostly, but good science can always step back and look at the situation again from another point of view, if not just to check itself again and again, which is what mostly what happens here.
    I was wondering if maybe one of your upcoming posts or blogs could be a pure unarguable facts summary page or make it so that we could post the facts and you could check them. I get frustrated reading so many different points of view around the net each with there own facts.
    Also if your too busy I understand, this website must already take more time then you already have especially along with your research.

  15. 15

    Re #14, what you are looking for is the upcoming IPCC Fourth Assessment Reports (informally the “FAR”). Some of our esteemed editors have already seen it but us civilians will have to wait a few more months. Meanwhile, you may look at the Third Assessment Reports (“TAR”), notably the “scientific basis” volume, to your heart’s content.


    If you find the whole thing a bit overwhelming, then you may wish to focus on the executive summaries. You may follow whatever points you desire back through the main text and to the primary literature.

    If you examine the TAR for yourself, you will likely conclude that it is a fair summary which takes care to assess and discuss uncertainties and caveats.

    If you read the so-called “skeptics” summaries you will, however, come away with a different impression. Please consider how economically threatened interests (and a scientifically naive, controversy-loving press) would respond to the evidence presented by IPCC if it were true, before deciding how much credence to give those “skeptics”.

  16. 16
    Geordie says:


  17. 17
    Geoff says:

    Semi-off topic —

    Since Gavin, Michael et al are WAY too humble for their own good, I’m going to put in a plug for realclimate for best science blog so vote now and vote often — or there will be hurricanes!

  18. 18
    Jim Baerg says:

    Re: CO2 rises after the warming starts at the end of an ice age.

    I think I understand that *something* can result in CO2 release when temperature rises & then the CO2 causes further warming. However, is it known where the CO2 comes from & why warming causes a release of CO2?

  19. 19
    Geordie says:

    I think it is stored in deep ocean ice and the melting causes its release, but that brings up a whole new slew of questions:
    When the ice is formed does the CO2 store there because of precipitation or ice forming in the ocean?
    I don’t understand why CO2 levels drop at the end of warm period, I know the carbon cycle puts them back in the ocean. But I thought that the carbon cycle acted at a constant level like the drain in a sink always taking out a certain amount of water.
    If that is true then the only way for the CO2 levels to go down is to turn off the tap. So then how much stored CO2 is in the glaciers, does it release it all and then very slowly the drain catches up? That seems unlikely because the CO2 levels in the past would maybe have been higher. So again is it some other forcing? Is there models for that sort of thing?

  20. 20
    Lee Morrison says:

    Michael Tobis,

    For a [sic]science blog, I see a lot of politics here. “So called ‘sceptics'” indeed. I notice that this thread contains the mandatory reference to “fossil fuel industry propaganda” and, of course, “the science of global warming is settled”. Where is the science in stuff like that?

    I’m shocked that you would refer a serious inquirer to the Executive Summary of TARS. The report as a whole is a good read (albeit much less significant than global warming theologians would like us to believe) but the Summary is a political document pure and simple.

    I’m pleased to note that the geoscientific community is becoming involved in the debate. As a geologist, I tend to consort with other geoscientists, and I have been somewhat frustrated by their failure to actively engage in the public debate while privately scoffing at anthropogenic climate change as “moonshine” akin to the medieval practice of imputing unexplained phenomena to witchcraft. Only now, with the social and economic ramnifications of Kyoto becoming obvious to even the most non-political scientist, are they beginning to flex their muscles. Hopefully, it’s not yet too late.

  21. 21
    Steve Bloom says:

    This Christian Science Monitor story on the hearing is pretty good, especially the way they roast Deming by actually following up on one of his claims.

    Re #4: Grant, Boxer is completely firm as incoming chair.

    Speaking of committee roles, Inhofe apparently will not be ranking member next year (per John Warner’s announcement of a couple of weeks ago), which means he won’t have much to say about how the minority party presents its case when the gavel is held by the Dems. I suspect Warner (who has recently disavowed his forner denialism) won’t see it as in the interest of the Republicans to continue putting clowns like Carter and especially Deming up front.

  22. 22
    Doug Watts says:

    If I might add a naive observation which relates to this thread and the Massachusetts Supreme Court case.

    I feel much more comfortable, from a scientific viewpoint, defining the anthropogenic emissions which are causing climate change as pollution, just like we define mercury and lead emissions as pollution. The mechanisms of harm are different, as they must be, but the effect is the same.

    The word pollution is defined by its effect — not by its source. First comes harm, then comes source. Both the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act rely upon this language structure. It is a good one, to me, because it is scientifically sound and is parsimonious (ie. respects Occam’s Razor). If a substance or emission or an activity does not cause any harm, then it cannot be called a “pollutant.” If a substance causes demonstrable harm, then it is irrelevant whether it is or is not someone’s “official” list of pollutants. The substance is a pollutant because of its demonstrated effect. I believe human induced CO2 emissions have now entered in this category and should be called and treated as such.

  23. 23
    pete best says:

    It all just looks like another means of stalling on action on CO2 emissions. Everyone having fun discussing it all but the world still warms albeit only very slightly

  24. 24
    Charles Muller says:

    #18 yes, your comment matches my own questions. I think there are some hypothesis : from change in orbital forcing, you probably get a warmer ocean (less efficient sink) and a higher bacterial activity in soil (more release in organic carbon). But vegetation should act on the opposite way (better sink in a warmer world). I’m very interested by references about this solar-CO2 connexion in interglacials.

  25. 25
    ruckrover says:

    It’s reported that at the senate hearing Inhofe claimed no-one has died from GW. Of course hurricanes and heat waves etc if stronger because of GW have killed thousands. To that hopefully will not be added the current bush fires raging in the Australian state of Victoria. This weekend a “megafire” is predicted as dozens of fires raging for over a week are predicted to coalesce into one monster with a 100km front fanned by strong winds and 40C weather. Already many thousands of native animals have died as some of south-east Australia’s best forests have gone up in smoke.

    The senior fire officer for rural Victoria was interviewed on radio last night and attributed the unprecedented fire (at least for pre-Xmas – these sort of fires come in late summer usually) to “climate change”. He went on to say that “totally new fire behaviour” is being seen. The reason is the current drought and heat has made plant matter dehydrated and drier than ever. Fires used to calm at night due to humidity and lower temperatures and that’s when fire fighters have their best chance of getting on top of them. But no longer he said – there is simply no moisture to create nocturnal humidity and the fires are just as fierce through the night.

    Also the world is more than North America – it may have been a quiet hurricane season for Florida, but the Phillipines and Japan have been battered by some record typhoons and cyclones (both terms for hurricanes) – as were we in Australia at the start of the year with Cyclone Larry wiping out 90% of our banana crop and the price for bananas is still sky high. Tell that to your Supreme Court!

  26. 26
    Alan says:

    What we are witnessing is the “greening of the media”, this year Bush, Murdoch and Howard have all (quitely) endorsed AGW as a “serious threat”. They (Bush/Howard) have also been actively attempting to stich up the economics of the nuclear fuel cycle for a few years now.

    To steal a phrase from Rumsfeld, the rapidly fading voices who give the propogandists credence are “dead enders”.

  27. 27
    Ed Sears says:

    re 20. IPCC reports, existing and upcoming, contain plenty of work on palaeoclimates: the entire Earth System theory revolves around constant fluctuation within limits of coupled systems (hydro, atmo, litho, cryo and biosphere)over time. James Lovelock pointed out that geologists (and biologists) lagged behind climatologists in recognising that the Earth is a self-regulating system where interactions of the biosphere and other systems are critical in maintaining (and now disrupting) a habitable climate (although they have now recognised this e.g. 1000 scientists from the 4 major global Earth Science programmes who put their names to the Amsterdam declaration in 2000). We can see from totally obvious universally accepted landscape history that humans can dramatically affect the landscape (UK forest cover down from 90%+ post-iceage to c.5% now) and inland water systems (remember the US rivers that used to be so polluted they were a fire hazard) and oceans (we can in our wisdom collapse any fishery we choose by overextraction)so how is it ‘moonshine’ that we can affect the climate with emissions of CO2 measured in gigatonnes per year, and projected to increase rapidly in the near future? i’ve gained my understanding of the Earth system by reading all the science I can find (as well as the media debate/global politics/policy responses etc)and taking a BSc degree in Earth Systems Science but absolutely zero time on witchcraft.

  28. 28
    savegaia says:

    Here is more evidence and proof of our situation: “Global warming killing marine life” – “Ocean warming’s effect on phytoplankton NASA satellite data show” – “NASA: Global warming cuts ocean food” …

  29. 29
    Geoff Larsen says:

    #25: Ruckover. Bushfires in Australia have long been a phenomenon of the Australian bush, embedded into the folklore of this country.

    For a brief history of Victorian bushfires see:
    “From December 1938 to January 1939, fires burnt 1.5 to 2 million hectares, including 800,000 hectares of protected forest, 600,000 hectares of reserved forest and 4,000 hectares of plantations. The fire severity peaked on Friday January 13 – “Black Friday”. The fires caused seventy one fatalities and destroyed more than 650 buildings and the township of Narbethong.”

    For an in-depth look at “Black Friday”, including a brief movie, see:

    Today, it seems, everything is put down the “climate change” as if this is somehow a new phenomenon. Australia has, for as long as recorded history, had a history of severe drought. See:

    For some interesting data on the current drought see “a BOM statement on Drought for the 4, 7, and 11-month periods ending 30th November 2006 ISSUED 4th December 2006 by the National Climate Centre”:

  30. 30
    Eric Swanson says:


    Reading the written testimony presented at the hearing, I noticed that Bob Carter referenced a paper by Craig Loehle. Loehle fitted sine curves to two sets of paleo data and concluded that the recent warming is natural and that there will be a cooling trend in the near future. However, as I pointed out in a reply, his technique has several flaws, the least of which is that the two time series do not represent global data. Here’s the reference, if anyone is interested.

    R. E. Swanson, (2006), “Comments on ‘Climate change: detection and attribution of trends from long-term geologic data’ by C. Loehle”, Ecological Modelling 192, 314-316.

    Carter’s reference is just another “Argument from authority”, similar to that which he later complains about. Pot-kettle-black, anyone?

  31. 31
    Pat Neuman says:

    #20 reads: [As a geologist, I tend to consort with other geoscientists, and I have been somewhat frustrated] …

    Similarly, as a hydrologist from 1976-2005, I was frustrated for five years (2000-2005) when I tended to consort with other hydrologists and meteorologists about climate change affecting hydrology in the Upper Midwest. In my 29 year career with the National Weather Service, I made flood predictions for the Red River basin in the U.S., the Middle and Upper Mississippi River basin and the rivers in the U.S. that flow into Lake Superior and Lake Michigan-Huron. I was removed from government service in July (2005) for my activities at work in pointing out what I believed was a need to consider climate change in hydrologic modeling and prediction. I was more than just somewhat frustrated, I was very disappointed.

  32. 32
    Sashka says:

    Re: #19

    I’ll risk to stick my neck out on this one. I guess there too little CO2 in the glaciers to affect anything. The only source that I can think about at the moment are the volcanoes.

    BTW, as the climate is warming for other reasons (Milankovich being the only candidate despite the problems) the growing vegetation should reduce CO2 content thus providing a negative feedback. Nevertheless, CO2 continues to grow lagging the temps. Yeah, good question – why?

    [Response: It’s mostly oceanic carbon, but it isn’t simply the solubility issue (CO2 is less soluble in warmer water). The details have still not been all worked out. – gavin]

  33. 33
    Michael Tobis says:

    re #20:

    As a geologist, I tend to consort with other geoscientists, and I have been somewhat frustrated by their failure to actively engage in the public debate while privately scoffing at anthropogenic climate change as “moonshine” akin to the medieval practice of imputing unexplained phenomena to witchcraft

    As to consorting with geoscientists, that is certainly to be commended, and I have been doing likewise of late. Perhaps I might then refer you to the Americal Geophysical Union’s (AGU’s) position on these matters.

    I (and I think most of us) welcome genuine skepticism, but there has been plenty of forced post hoc pseudo-skepticism funded by economic interests. Members of the relevant scientific communities have a moral obligation to overcome their fears and hesitancies and call the stuff for what it is.

    Finally, regarding whether the executive summaries of the TAR are “political”, that is certainly a vague enough accusation. Certainly some effort at compromise is needed to come up with a summary, which is inevitably in some sense “political” but that is hardly a criticism. The scientific assessment does not take policy positions, despite all the efforts to claim that it does. (As has been pointed out in the past on this site, advocacy of policy shifts is orthogonal or perhaps mildly contrary to the funding self-interest of climate scientists, again quite contrary to the arguments of pseudo-skeptics.)

    Inevitably not everyone will agree that every word of the summary effectively captures the body of the report. Much has been made of this in certain circles, but it doesn’t seem to amount to much in the end. Still, somewhat in the light of the controversy about the summary process, I did encourage the reader to refer to the source material to make an independent judgement. So I’m not sure where the astonishment expressed in #20 originates.

  34. 34
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I have my own complaint about the media, aside from nearly absolute silence on global warming…BK (before Katrina), and the “balanced” format the 2 or 3 times they did mention GW over the past 17 years, plus a prominent newscaster in 2004 after briefly saying the GW words, adding “which ‘some’ scientists think is happening.” And that is the media’s near total lack of mentioning solutions. [Just to make it clear re Oreskesâ??s statement, the technology that could greatly reduce, maybe end global warming, and could be market driven if anyone wanted to save money, has existed for some time, and can mostly be purchased off-the-shelf. Other technology could be much cheaper (& a lot cheaper to run & maintain), like electric cars, if they’d mass produce them.]

    We should have been into solutions 20 years ago, well before science reached 95% confidence on AGW. I mean, why do we need 95%+ confidence on such a serious threat? 50% is more than enough for me…especially when tons of solutions save us money and help us in many other ways.

    In fact we should have kept up with solutions after the 70s energy crunch. At least a quarter of us could now be driving EVs powered by wind and sun (saving $$ on fuel & maintenance); the rest would be driving plug-in hybrids. Our refrigerators would use 1/10th the power, with nearly no veggie spoilage (like mine). Most of our homes would be carbon neutral, or close to it from passive and active solar and great insulation; some would be selling excess energy back to the grid. Weâ??d be in better health, saving millions on medical bills from all that lack of local pollution and from cycling and walking more. Weâ??d have a much better economy and life, not to mention time to spend with family and doing hobbies, like growing organic veggies in the back yard, after moving closer to work or telecommuting. And our oil-war spending would be astronomically lower.

    Instead we’re now close to the runaway tipping point of no return — the irreversible descent into stupidity, the point at which we can no longer afford to invest some upfront money (or help those hapless poor people to do so, of whom Sen. Bond so affectionately speaks) on this wonderful world I just described, where the pay-off in savings would be greater than any stock market investment, most items paying for themselves in 1 to 5 years. But, alas, more Katrinas, wars, floods, storms, diminished land and sea food production, and health costs from our fossil-fuel based economy will soon be taking such a toll, few will be able to afford compact fluorescent bulbs over incandescents, even though they know they pay for themselves in a year and go on to save $$.

    A must see film is: WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? (now available for purchase). They rightly blamed oil, gov, car companies, and consumers, but forgot to blame the well-oiled media.

    And if you’re into solutions, then you can sign a petition to bring plug-in hybrids to market at

    And lest you think this is off-topic re GW science, it’s obvious to me that everything’s connected — the science, the solutions, the vested special interests, etc. Otherwise this problem, this dangerous experiment would have already been ended, and we wouldn’t have gotten up to 95% confidence on it!

  35. 35
    garhane says:

    At the beginning of Real Climate it was all too clear that those scientists who were associated in the project had taken on a huge burden of work. Looking back it is amazing to this lay reader that you have all managed to handle it with every sign of competence and ease.
    Won the war is it? Alas I suspect that was just the first ridge of a mountain range. Off to the right you can see the first groupings of a new and even more outrageous opponents than the deniers. The economists are coming, and they mean to grab the agenda on the question of what is to be done, costed out by themselves and, in effect bringing us by their choices right back to the stooges for the corporations. First up will be the old boys clubs on sub-topics like those now assaulting the Stern report.
    Of course this is not news in the sense environmental economics has been an established area of economist confusion making for quite a while, and you may say all that has nothing to do with the concerns of climate scientists.
    Well, take SO2. Will that involve, first of all, reductions of emissions from energy production,transport, and building heating? How important is it, who will do it, what is to be said about those who display a few degrees and start the old song of: nothing needs to be done ever except marginal bits which can be served up by the “market” and anything large or serious will not work and should not be attempted.

    My guess is that RC cannot avoid being drawn into this next stage, and perhaps you might consider an associated section or part of RC for dealing with what is to be done now, how can it be done, what are the priorities, what is to be said about the enemies of the human race (the economists) who oppose every real step while muttering about consumer choice in the face of international calamity.Haved you not noticed how many are waiting to see what RC has to say about Stern? But that is an economic report is it not? So why are many waiting for RC? And even the comments of a member of RC, one who is a cautious and original thinker (in theStoat blog) has not been considered to have answered that interest?

    Or else may I suggest you give some thought to saying very clearly that you will not be getting into economics, so people will start thinking about setting up an RC in the field of applications to deal with AGW.

  36. 36
    Sashka says:

    Re: #32 (Response)

    Thank you, Gavin. I was almost prepared to be embarrassed for lack of basic knowledge.

    So: we don’t really understand CO2 balance (sources and sinks) in the relatively recent past. Yet the scientists seriously discuss pre-industrial antropogenic CO2 changes on the order of a few ppm and, moreover, attempt to forecast the future.

    Isn’t it too bold? I believe it is universally recognized that predicting the future must be based on good understanding of the past. Why not in this case?

    [Response: You are confusing lack of exact knowledge, with lack of any knowledge. The glacial/interglacial CO2 change is around 100ppm. Current estimates of what can be explained are around 80ppm and with some uncertainty in some of the ocean terms. This indeed plays into uncertainties in the carbon cycle feedback to climate change – which as have been acknolwedged here many times – are large. This is a positive feedback so it just makes the ‘normal’ scenarios worse. We aren’t talking ‘a few ppm’ though, we are talking 100s. – gavin]

  37. 37
    Ian Atlas says:

    To those who think that increased plant growth will help to reduce atmospheric CO2 in a warmer world: there are several problems with this hypothesis. One is that AGW is not just a matter of changing temperature, there are also major changes in distribution of precipitation. Even if the total annual precipitation in a region remains stable, changes in how it is distributed over the year will have a major effect on local plant growth. Another problem is that studies have found that while some plants thrive on increased CO2, others suffer, and beyond a certain concentration ALL plant growth suffers.

  38. 38
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE # 36, good points, which those SC guys should hear….CO2 in sufficient doses is poison to plants. Also to be mentioned is the increased wildfires from all that GW driven heat, drought, and wind. And when it rains it pours situations (e.g., severe flooding in India in recent years, which studies have now linked to GW) are not good for plants either (unless they happen to be underwater plants).

  39. 39
    Hugh says:

    Re #37
    Ian, you say…
    “Another problem is that studies have found that while some plants thrive on increased CO2, others suffer, and beyond a certain concentration ALL plant growth suffers.”

    Is there any chance of you providing some of your favourite recent references…there’s someone who continuously bangs the ‘CO2 = food = good’ drum (SH) elsewhere and I’d love to just check over the state of the art in order that I can, mentally, more effectively deflect his comments without wasting too much effort.


  40. 40
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ed Sears wrote in #27: “how is it ‘moonshine’ that we can affect the climate with emissions of CO2 measured in gigatonnes per year, and projected to increase rapidly in the near future?”

    CO2 emissions have already been increasing rapidly for the last 15-25 years and continue to increase rapidly right now.

    Carbon Emissions up One-Quarter Since 1990: Study
    by Gerard Wynn
    December 8, 2006


    Global carbon emissions rose nearly 3 percent in 2005, up more than a quarter from 1990 levels despite many governments’ pledges of cuts to fight global warming, a scientist who provides data for the U.S. Department of Energy said.

    “The rate of acceleration is quite phenomenal,” said Gregg Marland, senior staff scientist at the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), which supplies emissions data to governments, researchers and NGOs worldwide.

    “Half of all emissions have been since 1980. I think people lose track of the rate of acceleration. You tend to think of (this as) something that’s been going on — it’s not,” he told Reuters late on Thursday.

    Rising emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are contributing to severe climate change, including rises in sea levels and extreme weather, many scientists say.

    They say dramatic cuts in emissions are needed by mid-century to reduce the scale of such changes, and the steep rise in emissions in recent years underscores the size of the task facing governments round the world.

    The CDIAC estimates that global carbon emissions rose some 200 million tonnes to 7.9 billion tonnes in 2005, 28 percent above 1990 levels. This followed a rise of nearly 5 percent in 2004, it said.

    The 2004 and 2005 estimates were based on energy data published by the oil company BP, while its pre-2004 work used U.N. energy data.

    “The last couple of years are always subject to revision but I think they’re pretty sound,” Marland said.

    It is difficult to imagine any realistic scenario in which CO2 emissions will be — not “could be” but “will be” — reduced enough, soon enough, to avert a planetary catastrophe.

  41. 41
    Sashka says:

    Re: #36 (Response)

    Gavin, I didn’t say (and didn’t mean) total lack of knowledge. I only noted that there is an important term missing in the equation. This fact alone IMHO makes the prognosis problematic, especially on very long time scale. I’m curious, too, how biological pump feedback could be calculated to any degree of accuracy. Your last sentence I just didn’t understand, sorry.

  42. 42

    One thing that may be missed is the calming effect of Congressional immunity on the litigious – here is what can happen in its absence , as illustrated by the response of Viscount Moncton’s House of Lords Clerk to the Wikipedia fisking of his newspaper GW screeds:

    – ”’Though attempts have been made to correct the numerous scientific errors and libels against Lord Monckton that appear in this Wikipedia document, the author of the document appears determined to go well beyond fair comment and to persist in the libels. Therefore, readers are advised to regard these pages as unreliable, and to verify the scientific facts independently of any material which may appear here. Lord Monckton’s lawyers are currently attempting to identify the perpetrator of the libels, and may in due course issue proceedings against the perpetrator and against Wikipedia. – James Rowlatt, Clerk to Lord Monckton”’

    In a 1000 word Letter to the Editor draft Fred Singer of SEPP is circulating, he also fumes at his critics refusal to apologize when threatened with libel action.

    [Response: Please send us a copy! The increasing trend towards litigiousness (Ball, Monckton, Singer, the late Theodore Landscheidt etc.) is a good reflection of their lack of substantive argument. But Singer has used the libel laws before, so we’ll see if dares do so again. – gavin]

  43. 43
    Hank Roberts says:

    This link drops you into the middle of a page from a distance learning course — from scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography — addressing your question, Sashka.

    It might help.

  44. 44
    Mike Petrie says:

    If the 110th Congress does craft policy to reduce greenhouse gases, hopefully they will concentrate on research into such things as conservation, renewable fuels, and carbon-sequestering technology. At this point in times, carbon taxes will only make people more miserable in the wintertime, and emissions caps could hinder economic growth (emissions credits might ameliorate that some). Furthermore, the budget is so bloated that we wouldn’t even need to raise taxes; simply trimming all pork would give us something like 25 billion dollars a year to play with.

  45. 45
    Dano says:

    RE 41 (Sashka):

    I think this is a good opportunity to illustrate – briefly – the difficulties in decision-making.

    Implicit in this commenter’s (and others typical of similar) reply is that we cannot act because, well, we don’t know enough.

    That’s one way to look at it. That is: we can wait, Hamlet-like, for a chance to be more certain. Or we can act like everyone else does and make a decision based on limited knowledge.

    Eli recently linked to a blog that sometimes explores decision-making in uncertainty. For those who naively argue that we shouldn’t act until we know everything, aside from noting that these folks aren’t in management, we should point them to this blog, where this person explores the difficulty of leading and making decisions.



  46. 46
    Sashka says:

    Re: #43

    Thanks for the link but it’s just a basic qualitative description. A model will have to allow several free parameters. Therefore the result will be very uncertain.

  47. 47
    Sashka says:

    Re: #45 (Dano)

    Before I address a more technical problem of decision-making under uncertainty, I can offer you a different angle. I believe it is quite certain that in the long term (I don’t know whether it will be 100, 300 or 1000 years – doesn’t matter) the human race will burn all fossil fuels that it can economically reach. By that time, the CO2 will reach some very high level and there is nothing that can be done about it (except see the caveat below). All reductionist efforts will only delay the inevitable outcome which will also mean the end of civilization unless we find other energy sources.

    It follows that the only real solution (that’s the caveat) is to look for alternative energy sources. Massive nuclear or fusion or beaming solar from the orbit – I don’t know which will work out. But the measures like this lawsuit or Kyoto or anything else of this nature is no more than a feeble attempt to delay the inevitable. A comparison with a terminally ill patient is in order here.

  48. 48
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sashka, you seem to think uncertainty is paralysis, but ‘we call it life’ (grin).

    Here are the very words you wrote — turned into a Google search. Uncertainty like this is dealt with, not backed away from. Who’s telling you that this much uncertainty can’t be handled? Researchers deal with this.

  49. 49
    Joel Shore says:

    Sashka (#47): In a market economy, things like alternative energy sources don’t come into being by magic or fiat. They come into being because it is economically profitable to pursue them. And, it is much more difficult for such technologies to be economically competitive if the current energy sources have large externalized costs that are shared by all of us, as is the case of fossil fuels.

    The idea behind Kyoto is essentially to create the market incentives that will lead to the development and commercialization of alternatives (and also conservation and efficiency improvements). The only other alternative is to have massive government investment in alternative energy and, while I think some such investment is good, it seems rather surprising to me that this solution seems to be one sometimes implicitly advocated over more market-oriented solutions by people who claim to dislike government and think markets can do no wrong. As such people generally like to point out, government is not very good at choosing the technological winners…which is why it is better to use government to put the constraints on the market and let the market solve the problem itself (although I think some government investment in basic research on technologies can also be justified).

  50. 50
    Roger Smith says:

    While I hate to add to the inordinate amount of recent posts responding to just one person, I wanted to quickly respond to the above doomsday predictions:

    “1. The human race will burn all fossil fuels that it can economically reach. 2. By that time, the CO2 will reach some very high level and 3. There is nothing that can be done about it.”
    1. Not in the realm of global warming science. It’s certainly possible, but is by no means inevitable, and is the result of our political choices which we can change.
    2. Rests upon the questionable assumptions in #1, in the total failure of any sort of manmade carbon sequestration, and ignores the rate of CO2 emissions vs ability for natural sinks to absorb it.
    3. Even shakier as it rests upon both assumptions 1 and 2

    If politics is the aspect of global warming you are interested in and the root of your interest in the science, RealClimate isn’t where you should be spending your time. I’d humbly suggest that like the climate there are lags and suprisingly swift changes in the political system as well, and precedents for dramatic action to solve serious environmental problems.

    For a short overview of US environmental politics:
    Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 1962-1999
    For climate politics you might try the recent Yale Americans and Climate Change book (free online)
    and also the Ross Gelbspan books “The Heat is On” and “Boiling Point.”
    “An Inconvenient Truth,” which has truly influenced more than the “choir” in the US is also worth watching for a glimpse of popularist anti-global warming politics.