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Adventures on the East Side

Filed under: — gavin @ 15 March 2007 - (Türkçe)

So that was …. interesting.

First off, I’d like to thank the commenters for all of the suggestions and ideas to the previous post. They were certainly useful. In particularly, the connection with the difficulties faced by evolutionists in debates vs. creationists proved to be very a propos. Our side played it it pretty straight – the basic IPCC line (Richard Somerville), commentary on the how ‘scientized’ political debates abuse science (me, though without using the word ‘scientized’!) and the projections and potential solutions (Brenda Ekwurzel). Crichton went with the crowd-pleasing condemnation of private jet-flying liberals – very popular, even among the private jet-flying Eastsiders present) and the apparent hypocrisy of people who think that global warming is a problem using any energy at all. Lindzen used his standard presentation – CO2 will be trivial effect, no one knows anything about aerosols, sensitivity from the 20th Century is tiny, and by the way global warming stopped in 1998. Stott is a bit of a force of nature and essentially accused anyone who thinks global warming is a problem of explicitly rooting for misery and poverty in the third world. He also brought up the whole cosmic ray issue as the next big thing in climate science.
Update: The transcript is now available – though be aware that it has not yet been verified for accuracy. Audio + Podcast.

The podcast should be available next Wednesday (I’ll link it here once it’s available), and so you can judge for yourselves, but I’m afraid the actual audience (who by temperament I’d say were split roughly half/half on the question) were apparently more convinced by the entertaining narratives from Crichton and Stott (not so sure about Lindzen) than they were by our drier fare. Entertainment-wise it’s hard to blame them. Crichton is extremely polished and Stott has a touch of the revivalist preacher about him. Comparatively, we were pretty dull.

I had started off with a thought that Lindzen and Stott, in particular, would avoid the more specious pseudo-scientific claims they’ve used in other fora since there were people who would seriously challenge them at this debate. In the event, they stuck very closely to their standard script. Lindzen used the ‘GW stopped in 1998’ argument which even Crichton acknowledged later was lame. He also used the ‘aerosols are completely uncertain’ but ‘sensitivity to CO2 from the 20th Century is precisely defined’ in adjoining paragraphs without any apparent cognitive dissonance. Stott didn’t use the medieval English vineyards meme (as he did in TGGWS) – but maybe he read the RC article ahead of time.

The Q&A was curious since most questions were very much of the ‘I read the Wall Street Journal editorial page’ style, and I thought we did okay, except possibly when I suggested to the audience that the cosmic ray argument was being used to fool them, which didn’t go over well – no-one likes being told they’re being had (especially when they are). My bad.

The organisers asked us afterwards whether we’d have done much different in hindsight. Looking back, the answer is mostly no. We are scientists, and we talk about science and we’re not going start getting into questions of personal morality and wider political agendas – and obviously that put us at a sharp disadvantage (shades of David Mamet?).

One minor detail that might be interesting is that the organisers put on luxury SUVs for the participants to get to the restaurant – 5 blocks away. None of our side used them (preferring to walk), but all of the other side did.

So are such debates worthwhile? On balance, I’d probably answer no (regardless of the outcome). The time constraints preclude serious examination of any points of controversy and the number of spurious talking points can seriously overwhelm the ability of others to rebut them. Taking a ‘meta’ approach (as I attempted) is certainly not a guaranteed solution. However, this live audience were a rather select bunch, and so maybe this will go over differently on the radio. There it might not matter that Crichton is so tall…

490 Responses to “Adventures on the East Side”

  1. 1
    David Graves says:

    It sounds like you took one for the team. We look forward to the podcast. One of Stott’s angles I find very curious is the notion that concern for AGW means a zero-sum lack of concern for the very poor two billion of our fellow humans. Where has Fred Singer been on say safe drinking water initiatives, or guinea worm eradication, or AIDS prevention, or eliminating agricultural subsidies that impoverish third-world farmers? (I am not picking on Dr. Fred; he’s just a case study). This whole argument seems to be the gotcha-du-jour of the denialist camp.

  2. 2
    BarbieDoll Moment says:

    …”cosmic ray argument was being used to fool them, which didn’t go over well – no-one likes being told they’re being had (especially when they are). “….

    I imagine you and the others would have been better served and heeded by
    a more intellectual crowd who relied on scientific journals for their science information
    rather than a crowd who inferred scientific credibility from such things as a pop media newspaper
    and a popular fictional author.

    Furthermore, in order to even got a point across to anyone at all, the audience has to have the ability to understand the message being given to them. Without that, the “wall” goes up
    and they tune out.

    Latitudinal variations of cloud and aerosol optical thickness trends based on MODIS satellite data
    Geophysical Research Letters 34 (5), 05810 (2007)
    “Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) global monthly data from the Terra satellite (MOD08_M3, Collection 4, from March 2000 to May 2006) indicated, with the exception of the tropics, declining trends in aerosol optical thickness (AOD) over much of the globe, in contrast to slightly increasing trends in cloud optical thickness (COT) at many latitudes. In the tropics, increasing AOD trends coincide with increasing COT trends. In the latitudinal distribution of COT, in the Northern Hemisphere, a transition from increasing to declining tendencies was observed between 40°N and 60°N. There is a pronounced hemispheric asymmetry in latitudinal variations of the averaged total AOD, in contrast to those of the averaged total COT. ”

    Can solar variability explain global warming since 1970?
    Journal of Geophysical Research 108 (a5), 1200 (2003)
    …”This comparison shows without requiring any recourse to modeling that since roughly 1970 the solar influence on climate (through the channels considered here) cannot have been dominant. In particular, the Sun cannot have contributed more than 30% to the steep temperature increase that has taken place since then, irrespective of which of the three considered channels is the dominant one determining Sun-climate interactions: tropospheric heating caused by changes in total solar irradiance, stratospheric chemistry influenced by changes in the solar UV spectrum, or cloud coverage affected by the cosmic ray flux. “”

    Atmospheric electric fields at the Kennedy Space Center, 1997â??2005: No evidence for effects of global warming or modulation by galactic cosmic rays Geophysical Research Letters 33 (10), 10814 (2006)

    Solar activity, cosmic rays, and Earth’s temperature: A millennium-scale comparison
    I G Usoskin et al.
    Journal of Geophysical Research 110 (a10), 10102 (2005)
    …”Comparison of the Sun-related data sets with various reconstructions of terrestrial Northern Hemisphere mean surface temperatures reveals consistently positive correlation coefficients for the sunspot numbers and consistently negative correlation coefficients for the cosmic rays. “…

    Clouds and Be: Perusing connections between cosmic rays and climate
    Clouds and sup7supBe Perusing connections between cosmic rays and climate
    Journal of Geophysical Research 111 (d2), 02208 (2006)
    …”The results indicate a coherent negative correlation between total cloud cover and 7Be on intraseasonal, seasonal, and decadal scales. Although the reasons behind this correlation are unclear, a full-scale implication of this feature is in the possible use of 7Be and 10Be records for proxy paleo-reconstruction of total cloud cover. This is a strongly needed, but generally difficult to quantify parameter in climate models.”

  3. 3
    Al S. says:

    I will listen to the podcast.

    It should be possible to be a scientist and still be a bit of a showman. I remember during an evolution debate decades ago, the “Creation Science” proponent talked about the odds against life forming spontaneously by mixing together a few organic chemicals with some energy. The local biology professor roared back dramatically “Oh ye of little faith!” and got a great audience reception.

    Perhaps some little “lab” experiments, with props, to demonstrate simple principles. It should be possible to be dramatic while being factually correct.

    Stott has a lot of gall. It is the denialists who are “explicitly rooting for misery and poverty in the third world”, not those of us who are advocating for energy efficiency and conservation. Global warming is the ultimate environmental justice issue–the poor of the world will suffer the consequences from climate change, and in many cases already are.

  4. 4
    pete best says:

    It is all a bit sad really that the USA is still debating this subject when action is required to curb their emissions. The USA knows very little of the rest of the world, the denialists are being overtly political in their zest to seemingly help the third world, capatalism usually strips these places of resources leaving them with nothing.

    LEt us hope that congress and the senate etc and maybe the next US Government gets the message. 25% of all world emissions lie with the USA and a whole load more indirectly via Chin and India etc due to dumping of waste and goods with them. The UK is no better really.

    At least you tried but the USA loves celebrity more than it does the truth by the sounds of it.

  5. 5
    Mike Donald says:


    My manners. I’m sure you did a good job.



  6. 6
    Jason says:

    The general public is treated to such delights as:

    * Propaganda films forecasting 20 foot rises in sea level

    * Emotional TV advertisements like “tick tick tick save the planet from global warming… for the kids” and

    * and comparisons between Holocaust deniers and Global Warming skeptics.

    Now you’re surprised that skeptics are using emotional arguments to argue their side?

    If you want to keep emotion out of the debate, the time to start is when global warming advocates go overboard.

    If you only complain when the other side uses emotion, an uninformed observer might think its just sour grapes from somebody who was completely smoked in a debate.

  7. 7

    To pass the time as we await the great debate’s NPR premier, here’s Google’s free link to “The Great Global Warming Swindle ” , I’ve also posted Carl Wunsch’s comments , but confess I am curious to know who is paying for all the terabytes of video bandwidth, as it’s 73 minutes long :

  8. 8
    Stewart Hunter says:

    Jason (comment #3): ‘If you only complain when the other side uses emotion, an uninformed observer might think its just sour grapes from somebody who was completely smoked in a debate.’

    Well, quite. But then the people behind this website, and others such as Carl Wunsch, have made clear their dismay at those who infer too much from the science, have they not?

  9. 9
    PeteB says:

    Well done Gavin,

    like to hear the whole debate

    My take on the right wing objection to Global Warming is ‘Global Warming is wrong because it means big Government and extra taxes’

    Whereas the Stott line of argument ‘Global Warming is wrong because of the consequences our actions to limit it will have on the Third World’ and his style ‘Force of Nature’ (that’s quite polite – I’ve been on the receiving end a long time ago) is very much the Revolutionary Communist Party / Living Marxism line/style of argument.

    Interestingly, Stott also writes for Wired.

  10. 10
    Alexander Ac says:

    I am afraid that GW is *not* about evidence at all (what more scientific evidence people want?), but it is more about experience…
    i.e. people tend to believe to things, which they can observe directly by themselves… for instance Inuits don’t need any evidence of warming, because they can already see it ;-)
    most of the Americans probably have not seen direct effects of GW, so there is no reson to believe it ;-)

  11. 11
    Urs Neu says:

    Hi Gavin
    Over the last few days we were busy with publishing our report on climate change and impacts for Switzerland in 2050, which had a broad echo in the media. So just a short comment:

    Our experience and that of all the scientists we know is that public debates with sceptics or denialists are not useful at all. The fundemental problems of such debates are that 1. there is no time nor an opportunity to explain anything in detail and therefore no opportunity to explain why specific arguments are wrong; 2. the debated points are too complex to settle in a few words, thus you won’t have the chance to get it right; 3. in a field, where uncertainties are everywhere around, it is much easier to confuse people than to convince them 4. the audience has too less knowledge to distinguish between sound scientific arguments and rubbish statements.
    Thus the public will just learn that there are 2 (or more) people with a different opinion and believe the one they liked more or the one that has the same opinion than themselves.
    I know many scientists who refuse to join such debates (due to their experience and that of others). That would also be my advice.

  12. 12
    PeteB says:

    re #9

    Sorry – I’m getting mixed up-

    should say Stott also writes for Spiked

  13. 13
    Fredrik says:

    Urs I agree with your points about debates. What about having a formal written internet debate instead?

  14. 14
    Figen says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the audience being turned off by your suggestion that they are being duped. You are the science authority, it is your responsibility to say the truth even if it is unpopular. I think the radio and podcast audience will be able to see that.

    While I agree that it gives the denialist camp legitimacy when scientists show up at debates like this, “the remedy to bad talk is more talk.” And as scientists we have a job to inform the public of what we know. So thanks for giving from your time and energy to do this last night Gavin.

    Besides, Michael Crichton’s sales pitch for his books was “Michael Crichton rhymes with frighten.” Who’s trying to scare who?

  15. 15

    Re 7
    Sorry the link went missing- you can connect to the full ‘Swindle’ webcast at :

  16. 16
    tamino says:

    I too think Urs is right about debates. But initiating a formal written internet debate at this time would probably seem like “sour grapes.”

    I think it’s fine for scientists to enter into public debate — but the scientists involved have to have charisma and showmanship. Where’s the modern-day Carl Sagan of climate science? It’s a pity that for the moment, people are more swayed by personality than facts — but the issue is indeed a crisis, so it’s important enough for us to find that personality and put it to good use.

    Eventually, of course, nature will “win the debate.” I hope it’s not too severe a smack-down.

  17. 17
    Ed Sears says:

    Of course it’s now after the event but there will be more debates . . .
    Here are some arguments which rest on parallels and examples rather than the basic science.
    1) Pollution is not ‘poison’: pollution is ‘too much of something in the wrong place’ – just because CO2 is invisible and not ‘poisonous’, we can’t dump billions of tonnes of it in the atmosphere.
    2) The last great London smog hit in the 1950s and 1000s died in 2 weeks: when the Clean Air Act was introduced, there will have been huge complaints from the guys who sold dirty fuel, along with arguments from their experts that smog is good for you, and smog controls will destroy the economy.
    3) European cities used to be plagued by cholera and typhoid, until a massive public works problem was introduced to build underground sewers: again the same argument to oppose this ‘it’s too expensive and will damage the economy’.
    4) Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and venture capitalist: ‘There is no question in my mind that we (the United States) can replace 100 percent of our oil in the next 25 years. (Renewable energy) will make our economy better, it will be a cheaper fuel for consumers — notice, I didn’t say greener — I said cheaper. It will … cause a Silicon Valley-like economic boom in rural America, for the first time, which we are starting to see already.’
    This point is worth massive emphasis: GW deniers are blocking AMERICAN entrepreneurship and progress in energy research, they’re blocking energy independence. If they were in charge when the internet was introduced, they would be taking money from the typewriter industry to try and block it in its tracks.
    5) Following the GW debate globally, it is evident that Canada’s response has been disrupted because they are geographically / economically (auto vs oil sands) / politically split down the middle. The USA’s response has been dramatically reduced because (as I think said by Michael Mann) their continent has very variable and unstable weather systems so the warming trend has not been as evident in the daily weather as in Europe, China, Arctic, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and anywhere that relies on glaciers for drinking water.
    6) The decider which will sway the opinions of the masses is the changing weather not the scientific debate: winters with no snow and summer heatwaves and water shortages are the real evidence. This implies we won’t respond properly until and unless serious damage is underway and visible. Can somebody chase up a news report from last year (?) about a meeting on (I think) GW and impact on climate in Washington DC that had to be cancelled because the building was flooded.
    7) The top 3 oil companies made $60 billion last year in profits: did that lead to clean water or low-cost energy in Africa? Of course not.
    8) if your neighbourhood is expanding, do you want a big old-school dirty coal plant, or do you want a mix of solar, wind and clean coal combined with introduction of low-energy appliances (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard)?
    9) Ted Turner, founder of CNN, wants to phase out fossil fuels. Also Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, David Cameron (leader of UK Conservative Party), Swiss Re, Munich Re, GE, Walmart, BP, Shell might not agree that this whole issue was invented by looney leftie greenies. Again, this point deserves EMPHASIS: it’s impossible to find a common political agenda among those who take AGW seriously. The Chinese government takes AGW seriously because it will impact THEM, short and simple. They are presiding over the fastest growing and soon-to-be most powerful economy in the world, and have NO incentive to invent random enviro-problems: they are deeply concerned about the real enviro-problems such as lack of clean drinking water, expanding deserts and climate change.
    10) Any discussion of clean drinking water (a la Stott) will inevitably have to deal with shrinking glaciers.

  18. 18
    Matt McIrvin says:

    It sometimes seems to me as if climate scientists are painfully recapitulating the lessons learned by evolutionary biologists in their political and media battles with creationists. For many years now, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education has been recommending against scientists’ participation in public “debates” organized by “creation science” advocates. You’re guaranteed a hostile audience and a rhetorical ambush of some sort, your mere presence legitimates the proceedings, and they can always count it as a win with some justification afterwards.

    Of course, it’s a bit of a lose-lose situation since not going invites the “what are they afraid of?” response, but you can always explain what you’re afraid of in fora more sympathetic to reasoned discussion.

  19. 19
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gavin, one piece of advice we probably should have given you was to watch the movie, “Thank You For Smoking”. A common tactic for the morally reprehensible is to put their opponents on the defensive, and since nobody seems to want to think of themselves as part of the elite or to confront the hypocrisy in their own lives, lumping ones opponents into the hypocritical elite, latte-swilling… is effective.
    Crichton is beneath contempt. Stott may indeed be truly concerned about the poor billions in the developing world–not so much that he’d set foot in a Calcutta slum, but concerned nonetheless. It might be interesting next time he pulls such a tactic to pass the hat for Oxfam on stage.
    I’ve actually got a little bit of experience with development, having spent time in West Africa in the Peace Corps. I lived well (not extravagantly, but well) among the impoverished. I did not go hungry even as I passed through villages with hungry children. I had my own transport (albeit a dirt bike) in a region where transport is scarce and challenging. Hypocritical? No, because I was using all these things to try to improve things.
    The thing we have to realize is that the course our climate takes over the next century is inextricably linked to development. If we in the west cut our carbon emissions even to zero while ignoring development, our efforts will fail, because the Chinese and Indians will burn their plentiful, but dirty coal. Peasants in Africa, Indonesia and South America will destroy the rain forests as they try to scratch out a bare existence.
    The alternative is to develop ways of meeting the energy needs–from industrial cities to tiny villages–and ensure that they represent an economical solution that empowers greater productivity.

    It is not a choice between mitigation of climate concerns and prosperity and development. They are coupled problems and the solution has to be general.

  20. 20
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 18: I believe perhaps what is needed is someone to play the role of Thomas Huxley (known as Darwin’s bulldog) to popularize the science to the public. Perhaps a bit of hellfire and brimstone–all of it backed by scientific plausibility, of course, may not be misplaced.

  21. 21
    Dano says:

    What Urs and Tamino said.

    And the point made by Matt in 18 is instructive – we can comfortably preach to the choir, or we can try to get a message out somehow.

    We hold up Great Communicators in our societies, as they are so few and far between. We call it ‘cult of personality’ when these few are convincing and can move masses to action.

    The great difficulty for scientists is making their information actionable, which requires it to be understandable and then compelling, which galvanizes to action (provided the outcomes are desirable). Why were the messages from the skeptic group so resonant? That is the question. The status quo is comfortable and making scary changes into the unknown is anything but compelling or desirable.

    We do not train our scientists to be compelling, thus we get things like Gavin’s regrets above in this post (BTW, a PR person would trumpet the walking vs SUV bit to high heaven, with a brass band and svelte models pointing to a graph).



  22. 22
    Mark Chopping says:

    Don’t feel too bad. You’re d***ed if you do, d***ed if you don’t: if you present the science (as you did), people are turned off because they don’t like things that are difficult to understand. If you present the science with charisma and emotion (al la Al Gore), you get panned for being alarmist and overblown (a la Broad). Its a lose-lose scenario. Perhaps litigation, and the real estate and insurance markets are more appropriate fora for conveying climate change impacts to the general public. Lawsuits, prices, and premiums are visceral and comprehensively understood: just keep publishing scientific findings.

  23. 23
    AndrewM says:

    “It sometimes seems to me as if climate scientists are painfully recapitulating the lessons learned by evolutionary biologists in their political and media battles with creationists”.

    I think there’s a big difference though – it’s impossible to ever disprove the creationist case. With AGW you have to believe that the ultimate arbiter of this debate will be the climate, not an opinion poll.

  24. 24
    Bob Arning says:

    Re: 16
    I too think Urs is right about debates. But initiating a formal written internet debate at this time would probably seem like “sour grapes.”

    I agree about debates, but I disagree about the internet debate. In one sense, that debate happens here. Some readers can be counted on to mention contrary facts or beliefs which the RealClimate gurus often answer with clarity and style. What might be useful (and may exist, although I haven’t seen it) would be a more structured summary of the issue. To an extent this simply will be a rearrangement of the content here and in the IPCC reports, but it will likely require new content as well.

    I’m thinking of the major topics: Is the climate warming? How responsible is human activity for that warming? What actions can we take in response? What are the costs of taking or not taking these actions?

    For each topic list the 10 or so major answers with links to published papers on the subject PLUS links to contrary opinions and rebuttal of same. Be generous here so that the uninformed will not feel you are trying to pull a fast one on them. Think of this as the place to send anyone who wants to understand this issue better. I know some will say that RC is that place now, but I think it lacks a good starting point for getting the broad overview. I also think the comprehensive view of global warming demands the same attention to the economic/moral/political issues that the climate science issues receive here.

  25. 25
    Craig Allen says:

    Forget live debates. The internet provides a much better opportunity to get across the complex issues involved. But it is apparent to me that it is not being used to anywhere near its potential by climate scientist. RealClimate is great, but it is too technical for the average punter and the blog style is rather demanding of the user and makes you have to work at getting at the information. The How to talk to a climate skeptic site is very readable, but the title alone will put off an interested but skeptical person. The IPCC website is a dog’s breakfast.

    The climate science community really needs to create a site that lays out the the theories and the facts in a clear and concise manner, that provides links back to the primary literature and research organizations, and which somehow allows all these nameless scientists who represent the ‘consensus’ to emerge from their labs and be clearly visible to the public and to be able to transparently demonstrate their agreement (or not) with the various facets of the science. Right now they’re all but invisible, along with the details of much of what they do, which leaves the public arena wide open to the fringe dwellers on both sides of the debate.

    There is an opportunity here for a brilliant web developer to make a major contribution toward saving the planet. Any volunteers?

  26. 26
    Spencer says:

    It’s increasingly clear that this kind of debate is of little value to anybody. (Gosh, what does that tell us about Presidential elections? Better not go there!)

    I would hope that from now on, any scientist asked to “debate” the likes of Crichton et al. in a public forum should reply to the debate planner: “But the debate has already been held. By thousands of scientists and other experts over dozens of years, including many hundreds of carefully organized week-long intense discussions. Culminating in the IPCC reports. It is irresponsible to pretend that a one hour debate in front of an ignorant audience can add anything to that.”

  27. 27
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Unfortunately the contrarians are much more likely to win these kinds of debates. Unlike scientists they are not people who are looking for the facts and looking to prove things.

    The contrarians are looking to sway people and if that means ignoring the facts or lying they have no problems with that. Once they decide that facts are no longer important it becomes much easier to win these debates.

  28. 28

    Gavin- Interesting, thanks. One comment, you write:

    “We are scientists, and we talk about science and we’re not going start getting into questions of personal morality and wider political agendas”

    Then why participate in a public debate about a political issue?

    And I find the next comment hard to square with your eshewing of issues of personal morality:

    “One minor detail that might be interesting is that the organisers put on luxury SUVs for the participants to get to the restaurant – 5 blocks away. None of our side used them (preferring to walk), but all of the other side did.”

    Political debates become “scientized” when scientists try to have it both ways — They say they want to stick to science, but at the same time want to be involved in political advocacy, typically occupying some position of authority. Similarly, in this case at once you eschew personal morality as an issue but invoke it readily in your defense.

    Lets face it, climate change is a political and moral issue and that simply cannot be avoided, even by scientists!

    [Response: I participated because there are still many people who don’t know what the science is saying and any decrease in the general level of ignorance is a good thing in and of itself. It is one thing to be fully aware of an issue and not act, it is something quite different if you do not act because you don’t know what is happening. If I am an advocate, it is for advocating that people ought to know the facts before they make decisions. My position of authority (what little remains!) is based on the science, and so I mostly talk about science because people mainly ask me to. It’s precisely because I stick to what I know, that it is easy for the much more politicised antis to make such hay. I mention the SUV issue just because it struck me as ironic – I have neither eschewed all fossil energy use nor do I advocate that others do. In what sense is that a defense? What to do about climate change is indeed a political and moral issue – but the fact of its existence is not. You surely cannot be advocating that I must become an expert in all the ramifications and policy options available and come to some decision about my preferred choices before I tell people what I think climate sensitivity is? In any case, wait for the podcast to hear what I said, before you accuse me of falsely parlaying my scientific expertise. – gavin]

  29. 29
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 19 Ray, your thoughtful comment included:

    [The thing we have to realize is that the course our climate takes over the next century is inextricably linked to development.]

    That profound statement is lost in the noise of impacts of AGW on planet ecosystems. As compelling a concern as ecosystem collapse may be, the immediate fact is that the world poor must and will develop by whatever means they can. If environmentalists fail to wake up to the economic development component of the global warming battle, they will never bring third world countries into their camp.

    The South does not trust the North to stand up for their interests in international climate negotiations. Just see how much the North countries are actually contributing to disaster relief around the globeâ??or foreign aid budgets for that matter.

    When nearly 2 billion inhabitants have little or no access to electricity in this Mars-landing century, we truly have our priorities in reverse.

    Yes, Lomborg/Stott-types exploit third world poverty to their denialist advantage. But, our childrens future depends upon our generation reversing two critical trends — rising temperatures and the widening gap between haves and have nots.

  30. 30
    Eli Rabett says:

    Well, we did tell you that Stott, Cricheton and Lindzen would talk past you. It is the nature of such things. It was also thoroughly predictable that they would try the jet thing.

    So, you need a tactic like turning to Lindzen and saying, Dick, I have a bet for you. I’ll put up ($1000 or something) that GISTEMP will be up XC in this many years, you can take the under, AND if you win, you can give the money to Phil for charity. Now I know you’ve turned down the bet when it was offered to you by Brian Schmidt and you had some strange counter. etc.

  31. 31
    Vinny Burgoo says:

    Re #25
    “The climate science community really needs to create a site that lays out the the theories and the facts in a clear and concise manner […] There is an opportunity here for a brilliant web developer to make a major contribution toward saving the planet. Any volunteers?”

    I hope that volunteers who talk about the climate science community “saving the planet” will be gently shown the exit. The last thing the planetWeb needs is another emotional, hyperbolic, unscientific, partisan site about AGW.

  32. 32
    George Ortega says:

    Regarding your comment “We are scientists, and we talk about science and we’re not going start getting into questions of personal morality and wider political agendas – and obviously that put us at a sharp disadvantage,” scientists are also people and have as much right to proffer their personal morality as anyone. To take a “holier than thou” attitudes on this does, unnecessarily, put you at a disadvantage – people tend to not have as much respect for the opinions of those they perceive as not saying all they feel or believe.

  33. 33
    Lou Grinzo says:

    First and foremost, many thanks to RC for fighting the good fight. We desperately need as many experts with a conscience as we can find, and clearly there are some here. If I had an emoticon for a boisterous standing ovation, I’d include it here.

    This whole issue of how you can effective reach out to non-scientists is something I wrestle with every day on my energy awareness site, The Cost of Energy.

    One advantage I have over those talking full-time about AGW is that my readers are experiencing the changing nature of the world energy market and situation firsthand–they’re paying more for gasoline, electricity, and natural gas. So they know for a fact something big is afoot long before they find my site.

    I’ve been talking more lately about AGW on my site (just ask the hate mailers), and it’s a much tougher “sell.” I’m now convinced (as are others here, obviously) that we need a better, more mainstream friendly way to present the situation, while still remaining 100% true to the underlying science. Is it as simple as finding the right spokesperson, plus a grant or other funding to let him or her work on the issue full-time? Perhaps.

    I don’t think Al Gore is the person for the job. I’ve been a supporter of his for nearly 20 years, and while his personality transplant seems to have taken quite nicely, he just barely misses the bull’s eye, in my opinion. If we could get Angelina Jolie to adopt a few wind turbines, however…

  34. 34

    Thanks Gavin- You are correct that my response was to your post, not the debate, which I have not heard.

    You accepted an invitation to debate whether or not global warming is a “crisis” which by definition is a function of values. If you were there to do something other than advocate that side of the debate that you were on, then I’d agree with you that such events are not worth doing.

    You ask, “You surely cannot be advocating that I must become an expert in all the ramifications and policy options available and come to some decision about my preferred choices before I tell people what I think climate sensitivity is?”

    If the debate that you participated in was about “climate sensitivity” then I’d agree with you 100%. But it wasn’t; it was about whether or not climate change is a “crisis” — a question that depends a great deal on a lot more than facts.

    Scientists who say that they eschew considerations of policy and values in political settings when arguing against committed political advocates are either arguing with one hand tied behind their back (as you suggest, and I agree), or worse, opening the door for all of the values debates to ride on the back of the science.

    Thanks for the exchange . . .

    [Response: I disagree. A crisis ‘is a decisive moment or turning point’ and I think my knowledge of climate sensitivity (to use a shorthand) is sufficient to assess whether this is a decisive moment – that is a scientific call, not a value judgement. The crisis comes from the long lead times in infrastructure, concentrations and climate response. Whether GW is a crisis is independent of all other crises, and also independent of anyone’s prioritising of those other crises. -gavin]

  35. 35
    Ron R. says:

    In response to the loads of creationist misinformation evolutionists have created the popular Talk.Origins website wherein relevant information is categorized neatly and updated all the time. And it has more than a few contributers and its own peer review process. You might use that as a model. Make it then advertise it far and wide. But don’t be surprised when the professional denialists create a similar one to try to debunk it as creationists have with their True Origins website

    Fact is, as long as there’s big bucks in preserving the status quo you can expect there to be vocal opposition. They’re not going to go away no matter the evidence. They will use every possible argument (even when they themselves know those arguments suck) at their disposal ad naseum. The best one can do is to appeal to honest, give them all the information and hope it catches on but be prepared for the reality that until the climate really begins to change for them your message may just fall on deaf ears.

  36. 36
    John E. Pearson says:

    Would a “debate” published in a peer-reviewed journal be useful? I’m not quite sure how it would work, but you could have Lindzen write on, say, climate sensitivity, and then have somebody like I dunno, Annan, write on it as well. Then get the cosmic ray guys and their debunkers, then get the sun is getting hotter people and get someone who has debunked that, then get the global warming ended in 1998 people and someone who has debunked that, etc. I don’t think you could hold a back and forth debate in press like this because it would likely never see the light of day, but you could publish a stack of papers by the key players and they’d all have some idea of what each other was going to write.I think that would be more interesting than a snappy patter contest.

  37. 37
    Russell Gaulin says:

    Re: 19 I too was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and struggled with the issue of hypocrisy living well (on $75/month) among the very poor –and I had to reach the same conclusion: it is not possible to live at the lowest level and have the resources to help solve important problems.

    Which leads us to the 800 pound gorilla in the room, (no offense Al): Although not a scientist, and roundly criticised for that, Mr. Gore has done a very good job, in my opinion, of popularizing the science. True, we need a Sagan, but I think that if scientists engage with Mr. Gore to keep him current and refine his statements, there is a widely listened-to popularizer and explainer of the serious issues. Maybe it could even affect the actions of “deciders”, though clearly the hard-core folks will be loathe to change their story at this juncture.

  38. 38
    Thom says:

    This whole Pielke “sciencetized” and blah, blah, blah, is just nonsene run amuck. If I go to a doctor who tells me that I have cancer and then lays out the possible options for therapy, that person is not becoming a “political advocate” (to use Pielke’s favored tag line). And if a contractor hires and engineering firm to examine the foundation of a building, that firm is not a “political advocate” once it recommends actions to strengthen the concrete and fill in cracks.

    Pielke’s whole line of reasoning is simply a tranparent attempt to reduce every scientist to an “advocate” or better yet, a “political advocate.” Because if people ever get the idea that it’s all just politics, then Pielke can wade into the discussion on which he has published few peer-reviewed studies and make a claim for authority.

  39. 39
    LogicallySpeaking says:

    “But it wasn’t; it was about whether or not climate change is a “crisis” — a question that depends a great deal on a lot more than facts.”

    What else does it depend on, other then the definition of crisis (which essentially is a ‘fact’ itself)? Given an objective definition of crisis, the only thing that matters is the facts. For instance, if we define crisis to be an event leading to substantial death (and then quantify substantial), then only the facts matter in determining whether GW is a crisis (i.e. whether GW will or will not cause X number of deaths).

    You’re confusing issues here. Morality and values only come into play when determining whether we should do something about a crisis (or even about a non-crisis). For example, whether we value life or not, or whether we value the present more than the future, etc.

  40. 40
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Climate Skeptics Continue to Bark, Even Though Caravan Has Moved On

    RE: 26. I’m not sure it’s going to be necessary to turn down AGW debates in the future. The recent spate of coverage that spiked with the SPM report may have signalled the end. Just like the end of a bear or a bull market, you can only tell for certain after it’s over.

    Why would it be over? The IPCC summary said its conclusions were more than 90 percent certain. That’s well beyond more likely than not, the standard for a civil judgment and approaching if not already equivalent to beyond a reasonable doubt and the 95% confidence of a statistical test that defines the mean value of a set of data.

    OK, that’s the legal and mathematical argument. But the real reason I believe that the debate has already shifted is that while the media will cover controversial stories and even false stories indefinitely, one thing that editors and producers draw the line at is OLD NEWS.

    The skeptics have had more than ample opportunity to present their case in brief TV and newspaper interviews and in more lengthy magazine and TV documentary formats. And a confused and scientifically ignorant public has still largely bought into the phony argument that there is sufficient uncertainty to question AGW.

    But the “Old News” problem is rapidly catching up with them. Fewer and fewer news outlets are going to be interested in inviting the likes of Pat Michaels, Richard Lindzen, Michael Crichton, etc. to espouse their views, since producers and editors don’t want to look like fools down the road. Plus, these guys are really not qualified to discuss impacts or mitigation options, the next media battlegrounds.

    Lou Dobbs of CNN announced some time ago that his program had already decided AGW was a problem and guests who came on to talk about GW had to be prepared to accept that as a given. Likewise, NPR ran a program in February on what it will cost to fight global warming and said that the discussion would be based on the assumption that AGW was a real and a serious problem.

    This led to some uncomfortable moments for the skeptic guests. William Gray on Lou Dobbs in February managed to get in a few off topic points, that computer modelers don’t understand the weather like the real weathermen and that he thought the IPCC report was a gross exaggeration. Nonetheless, he was asked to discuss mitigation strategies, not his area of expertise. Conclusion. William Gray probably not going to be invited on any more shows to talk about impacts and mitigation.

    On the NPR program, Jonah Goldberg from National Review was forced to accept the AGW premise after quickly getting in his view that it wasn’t as serious a problem as IPCC or Gore had said. His argument then became that it would be a better use of capital to solve poverty, drinking water and health problems in the developing world than to impose carbon limits.

    How much more of the TV4 crapola is in the pipeline is anybody’s guess, but documentaries generally take 6 months to a year to produce before they air and one must wonder how many producers are gearing up to refute AGW in a TV program when the audience may be nonexistent by the time it airs.

    Why nonexistent? Because the next IPCC report is expected to include some very dire forecasts of impacts. And then after that comes the mitigation report. How can the media cover those without accepting the conclusions of the first report?

    In the U.S., it is likely that until the president of the U.S. goes on TV and states flat out that this is a serious problem that has to be addressed, many people will still be influenced by the disinformation campaign of the skeptics and their corporate masters. This president won’t appear on TV and make that statement, although his credibility is so low it might hurt rather than help. The next one probably will have to and the wannabes will all have to state their positions clearly.

    I don’t think it’s time for realclimate to morph into realimpacts or realengineering, but that is where the debate is headed.

    Those websites that track or can track media stories ought to take a look at this and see if I am correct. So hang on to that Google copy of the Swindled “documentary.” It may be a collector’s item. As for who pays for the bandwidth on those huge files, Google does, but I hear they get a good discount, plus they sell ads.

  41. 41
    Daniel C. Goodwin says:

    Very interesting dialog above (28 & 34) with Roger Pielke, Jr. As usual, Dr. Schmidt, you splendidly model a useful scientific philosophy in your responses. The world desperately needs your passion for objectivity, for detachment from the entanglements Pielke rhetorically scatters in your path, because in order to decide how to deal with a problem, it’s usually advantageous to understand the problem as clearly as possible.

    This is not to say that clear moral conclusions may be drawn (usually not by the scientist) from an understanding which results from scientific observations. For instance, a previous posting mentioned the alleged outrage of comparing global warming to the Holocaust. This is automatic hot-button dynamite, guaranteed to get everybody upset and forgetting about objectivity. But detached reasoning has something to say about questions like this. In this case, the question is ultimately: how does ecocide compare with genocide? By definition, the answer is that the former is much larger, more significant and dangerous, than the latter. Extinction, of course, is a component of ecocide and entails genocide.

  42. 42
    Ken says:


    I agree with Roger. If you are going to participate in public forums on global warming you are going to have to participate in the full theater of the event.

    Know your audience. Simply showing the science is not enough and crying foul over “entertainment vs. science” is ultimately a strategy of defeat. It sounds like the “other side” of the debate brought two strong entertaining public personalities and Lindzen for legitimacy. The lack of appreciation (even rejection) amongst climate scientist for the need of a strong, entertaining personality to present what we know keeps the story form being fully appreciated. You can see this playing out in how much more seriously the public took notice of the issue after Gore’s film.

    We scientists are not well trained in this sort of thing it is true but either we have to get better at it, do a tag team with some entertaining yet convincing personality (a la what you just experienced from the other side) or pass on the opportunity (which itself would be a statement in the public arena).

  43. 43
    Mark A. York says:

    I think Roger P. just played his political hand. One can hold two thoughts at the same time. Clmate Change is real and denying it is a fool’s errand. That’s not advocating anything but recognition of reality. What to do about it is another separate matter, so bravo Gavin. That’ what I would have said and have on the job before. Happily, the boss liked it so it is possible to be convoncing on the first issue and the leave the second off the table.

    RE#25 “But it is apparent to me that it is not being used to anywhere near its potential by climate scientist.”

    Well Craig you keep saying this, but can’t you click through the indexed categories that answer all the questions lay persons ask? Are they really this fragile and so “hornswoggled” by propaganda, to borrow Ray’s good word, that they can’t assimilate direct answers? Why?

  44. 44
    Ike Solem says:

    Once again, Roger Pielke Jr. tries to turn a scientific question (one that has important ramifications, sure) into a political one. It’s easy to see that this is nonsense if we look at questions like ‘what controls the climate on Mars or on Jupiter?’ – that’s clearly a scientific question, that can only be answered using scientific methods.

    The reason that the topic has become politicized is also one that Roger is avoiding, as is Stott – the fact is that renewable energy can replace fossil fuels. Pielke and Stott make the unexamined claim that restrictions on fossil fuel use will simply raise the price of fossil fuels and thus the poor of the world will suffer, and there will also be economic havoc in the developed world.

    This ignores the vast potential of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in all applications; if we say ‘the vast potential of renewable energy to capture energy markets from tradition fossil fuel suppliers’ then it becomes clear why the issue has been politicized – what you will have is economic upheaval and large changes in the way the global economy operates. That’s the actual issue behind global warming politics, one with RP Jr. seems to ignore.

    The Third World has everything to gain from renewable energy; much of the developing world lies near the equatorial sun belt; all of Africa could turn to solar and wind, as could Asia, Central/South America, etc. However, the development and spread of renewable technology has been hampered by lack of funding (deliberate) in the US academic system – this is starting to change, but far too slowly. This suppression of renewable energy research has been going on since 1980.

    A previous comment noted that the tobacco industry struggle against science lasted for thirty years, and that we don’t have thirty years to spare – but the fossil fuel industry’s struggle against climate science and renewable energy science has already been going on for almost thirty years. Take a look at “The Carbon Wars: Global Warming and the End of the Oil Era, by Jeremey K. Leggett for a real political analysis and history of the situation.

    Crighton’s comments on ‘personal responsibility’ simply ape those of the tobacco industry; secondhand smoke was the issue that killed that PR tactic off. We all breathe the same air, we all live on the same planet, so dealing with global warming will take a coordinated, cooperative global effort to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

  45. 45
    Ed Dullaghan says:

    Re comment No.4 “It is all a bit sad really that the USA is still debating this subject when action is required to curb their emissions.” So debate is bad? USA is bad and dumb? Despite what you read in the papers and hear on the news, there is no “consensus” on the anthropogenic forcing issue. And since when was science by consensus anyway. There are lots of scientists still skeptical about man’s impact on climate change, the rate of change, and the consequences. And that is OK. But we should all see the strategic, economic and environmental value in re-engineering our energy budget. Imagine not being hostage to middle-east oil and despots. Imagine the poor in Africa having access to unlimited energy. It is the USA that will lead the way. It is the USA that spends by far the most on climate science, earth science, and alternative energy research. And it will be the USA that will, hopefully, remain a bastion for democratic debate. Unless of course, close-minded folks yelling at the top of their lungs manage to have their way. Personally, itâ??s kind of cool to watch people with no idea what their talking about hyperventilate away like a volcano. Now that is what is sad; like watching a train wreck horrified yet fascinated. But as Gavin pointed out, this can be both entertaining and educational. So letâ??s pause and reflect; debate is good, USA is good.

  46. 46
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 37. Good to hear from another RPCV. I am afraid that Mr. Gore may be too polarizing to be an effective messenger for audiences beyond the choir. I agree that for a layman (or maybe because he’s a layman), he’s done a pretty reasonable job with the science and making it accessible. However, he arouses an irrational and very deep antipathy among many further to the right on the political spectrum. By all means, he should continue to give his spiel, but he may need help from others. I wonder if we could recruit some responsible voices from the right to make a case for responsible policy–James Baker, maybe and or Jeff Immelt of GE have been fairly responsible voices who see the opportunity as well as the risk.
    As someone who has to advise program managers about very specialized and technical risks that they usually do not understand, my advice would be:
    1)Be aware that your risk is only one of many
    2)All you can do is provide the manager/policy maker with sufficient information and understanding to assess the relative importance of your risk relative to others
    3)The fact that you cannot quantify your risk with 100% uncertainty does not mean that it is not a concern–rather it means that it is a cause for great concern, and the policy maker needs to be aware of the full range of possible outcomes and whatever you can say about their probabilities of occurrence.
    4)Do not prescribe a “solution” to the problem based on your own limited knowledge of relative risks. You can advise on feasibility of possible solutions based on your understanding of the problem. In particular, it is important for the policy maker to understand how rapidly the solution has to be found and implemented and what the constraints have to be if it is to be effective.
    5)Keep a doomsday file–policy makers have a way of pointing fingers at those who advised them when their decisions have adverse consequences.

    So, yes, scientists do get involved in policy and politics. However, we cannot be expected to understand the economics, political constraints etc. that policy makers operate under. What we can do is ensure that we provide the best advice on the full possible range of consequences that policies will have and ensure that those who implement these policies will be held accountable in the public mind even if the consequences are realized long after they are gone.

  47. 47
    lars says:

    The theory is that more and more CO2 makes us hotter….. seems simple enough to test this, take a closed biosphere apply a constant light/heat source and then increment the CO2 and measure the result at various levels of CO2.

    World may get greener, then wilt, due warming
    OSLO (Reuters) – Global warming is expected to turn the planet a bit greener by spurring plant growth but crops and forests may wilt beyond mid-century if temperatures keep rising, according to a draft U.N. report.

    Scientists have long disputed about how far higher temperatures might help or hamper plants — and farmers — overall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow and release it when they rot.

  48. 48
    lars says:

    Re: #41 Ed Dullaghan ….. exactly……

  49. 49
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Pielke’s choice of topic to chastise is interesting. Doting on the science is troubling, but railing against limousine liberals private jet use isn’t. The imperfect is the enemy of the irrelevant.

  50. 50
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 41: So, Ed, no consensus? Then how about you finding, say, a dozen peer-reviewed papers written by climate scientists that raise serious questions about anthropogenic causation. I agree that the USA COULD be part of the solution. Unfortunately, right now, it is doing very little to resolve the issue. Ethanol is less about energy than it is about subsidies to corn growers–it’s actually an energy-negative program. I’m 100% behind you when you say that the USA is a necessary part of the equation. Let’s work toward putting people in office (regardless of party) who will work for a solution, rather than ignoring the problem.