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Palin on Global Warming

Filed under: — group @ 5 October 2008 - (Italian)

Here at RealClimate we understandably have an intense interest in the positions of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates regarding global warming and carbon emissions. What the stance bodes for future action on climate change is consequential in itself, but beyond that the ability to use sound science in this case serves as a bellweather for the candidates’ whole approach to science. Whatever else you can say about the candidates, it has been encouraging that both John McCain and Barack Obama favor mandatory action to reduce US carbon emissions.

But, enter Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s pick for VP. Palin’s position on global warming has been stated quite clearly in this recent interview with the publication Newsmax , where she says “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” How is this to be reconciled with McCain’s position? Do they just agree to differ? What does this bode for future actions if McCain were to win the election, especially in view of the fact that, in a Cheney-esque way, Palin is likely to be put in charge of energy policy? The recent vice-presidential debate sheds some light on the issue. A full transcript of the debate is here.

Palin seems to be attempting to defuse the whole issue by claiming the cause doesn’t matter. When the moderator asked her ” What is true and what is false about what we have heard, read, discussed, debated about the causes of climate change,” Palin responded as follows:

“PALIN: Yes. Well, as the nation’s only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real.

I’m not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.”

I’m pretty sure that that last statement is a garbled attempt to reiterate what she said in the Newsmax interview, but you be the judge. Unlike the previous quote, this one at least has a nod in the direction of acknowledging (tentatively) the possibility of a human influence. What’s important is what comes next:

“But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?”

Dare we say that it, in fact, very much makes a difference what is causing global warming? If CO2 really weren’t a major part of the cause, what in the world would be the point of John McCain’s (or anybody’s) stated policy of acting to reduce emissions? And even if you were of the school that says adaptation is better than mitigation, knowing the cause is an important part of knowing what kind of climate change you have to adapt to, how long it is likely to last, and how much worse it is likely to get in the future.

Biden’s answer, by comparison, was direct, straightforward, and simple:

“BIDEN: Well, I think it is manmade. I think it’s clearly manmade. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden — Governor Palin and Joe Biden.

If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That’s the cause. That’s why the polar icecap is melting.”

Well, maybe he left out the kind of caveats and qualifications you’d attach to the attribution of the recent loss of (North) polar sea ice if this were an AGU talk instead of a vice-presidential debate. Overall,though, the statement gets to the heart of the matter.

One can moreover doubt even Palin’s commitment to dealing with the consequences of climate change. Surely, that would include doing something to save the polar bears,yet the State of Alaska (against the advice of its own wildlife biologists) is suing the Interior department over its decision to list the polar bear as “threatened” — and this despite the fact that the Bush administration put so many qualifications on the listing as to make it essentially toothless. What’s even more telling is that the brief submitted to Interior drew heavily on a list of climate skeptics (including the Marshall Institute’s Willie Soon) that could easily have been culled from the infamous Inhofe 400. (see this article). Palin’s role in bringing this case has not been peripheral; she has been very much at the center of the effort, and has consistently questioned the causal link between CO2 and global warming in making the case. As early as Dec. 2006, she wrote to Secretary Kempthorne: “”When a species’ habitat (in this case, sea ice) is declining due to climate change, but there are no discrete human activities that can be regulated or modified to effect change, what do you do?” Further information about Palin’s long fight against the listing, and her view of the scientific issues involved, can be found here.

We will take this occasion to note also that Biden used the debate to reaffirm Obama’s long standing position in favor of “clean coal.” Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the extent to which the candidates understand what should really be meant by this term. From the point of view of global warming, the only “clean” coal would be coal burned with 100% carbon capture and sequestration — certainly worthy of research and pilot implementation, but not by any means a technology that can be counted on at present to solve the problem. (And of course, the term “clean” is even then relative, since what mountain top removal mining does to the West Virginia hills and rivers is anything but “clean”).

So there you are. We report, you decide.

290 Responses to “Palin on Global Warming”

  1. 101
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #93

    RichardC wrote: “Your question is phrased badly. Everyone agrees that weather exists. Your question implies that some folks don’t believe in weather.”


    I chose three things that are more than “weather”. Each of these events is evident in multi-year scales on any temperature graph. PDO can last decades, El nino for several years, the same for volcanoes.

    I will point you toward Roger Pielke Jr.’s posts regarding uncertainty in AR4.

  2. 102
    RichardC says:

    P sez: “Climate change refers to typically decades or longer. ”

    Three decades is the standard for consideration to be a potential climate change variable. That scale excludes ENSO, PDO, NAO, AMO, etc; regelating them to weather patterns. They are short-term phenomena that leave residuals. They affect the climate, but are NOT climate change. Feedbacks which arise from these short-term processes can evolve into climate change and climate change can potentially alter these processes, but you certainly haven’t given any evidence, nor even addressed the possibility.

    P says: There is plenty of variability on time scales of decades or longer, and some of that variability manifests itself as periodic oscillations. But really, your time is probably much better spent arguing with a political scientist about policy rather than basics of climate science.

    No, my time is better spent talking to folks who know what they are talking about. Let’s see if you know anything: Does El Nino systemically warm or cool the planet?

    98 Roger is wrong again. (Adding a standard caveat – there are near infinite balls in the urn, so the drawing of balls doesn’t change the percentage of white VS black remaining).
    Odds on percentage black in the urn are about:
    0% 20%
    1% 17%
    note that 50% of the time there are 0-2% black!
    3% 10%
    4% 9%
    5% 7%
    6% 5%
    7% 4%
    8% 3%
    9% 2%
    10% 2%
    It’s a sucker bet and you fell for it. Ray, you needed to make it way simpler for Roger.

  3. 103

    So if you gave me 10:1 odds, that would be just about a fair bet.

    Yes it would, wouldn’t it? But that’s not what Ray was asking (where’s James Annan when you need him?). The question was would you take it?

    You seem to see mental imagery of someone putting white balls into the urn, and then admixing black balls to 10%. I (and presumably Ray) have a mental image where that last step is missing ;-)

  4. 104
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    Oleo writes:

    Consider the various chemical gases emitted daily from the volcanoes

    Volcanoes put about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, according to the US Geological Survey. Human industry puts about 30 billion tons in. So human emissions dwarf volcanic by a factor of 150. You can’t blame the volcanoes for global warming.

  5. 105
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    walt bennett writes:

    Of the two responses, I found Palin’s the more accurate.

    That’s like saying of a debate on solar system history between Immanuel Velikovsky and Carl Sagan, “I found Velikovsky’s the more accurate.”

  6. 106
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    Paul Biggs writes:

    Despite the quite dramatic increase in CO2 emissions, we have ‘global non-warming’ since about 2002.

    No we don’t. Get rid of the spaces and go to these sites:

    http://www.g e o c i t i e

    http://www.g e o c i t i e

  7. 107
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Walt Bennett, #74:

    My 90% was not meant as an exact quantification of the uncertainty, more an expression that the climate science community is very certain about it.


    If I was president, I’d want somebody like Sarah Palin asking certain questions, just to make sure somebody asked them.

    If I was president, I’d want somebody like Sarah Palin asking certain questions, just to make sure somebody asked them, and accept the answers, however painful they may be. That’s why I’ll never be president.

  8. 108
    Nigel Williams says:

    Dave 97. Standard of living is about to be redefined. Our children will be pleased to have food. Period.

  9. 109
    Fred Staples says:

    Be careful with that bet, Roger. The 90% confidence level has nothing to do with statistics. Ray (like the IPCC) does not believe that there are any black balls in that urn; he is certain that at least 50% of the warming observed since 1978 is anthropomorphic.

    From the UAH chart, the temperature increase about which Ray is so confident actually occurred over the two years between December 1999 and December 2001. If that temperature step had fallen back immediately, like so many others, there would be no global warming consensus today.

    But look at current temperatures; they are fluctuating about the 1978 levels, which were the trough after the previous peak in the forties, after the climb out of the Little Ice Age.

    If these temperatures do not climb again over the next decade, the AGW “consensus” will disintegrate.

  10. 110
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Roger Pielke accepts my offer: “If there are 10% black balls in your urn, then the odds of drawing 22 in a row that are white are about 10% (9.85% to be exact, using a binomial distribution).

    So if you gave me 10:1 odds, that would be just about a fair bet.”

    So, Roger, want to play p/o/k/e/r some time? I’ll bring the cards. ;-) The devil is in the details of any question of probability. If you accept the offer of 10:1 odds, then what you have done is limit my losses while still leaving yours unbounded. Based on the evidence we cannot say whether there are ANY black balls in the urn in question. Likewise, we have zero evidence implicating natural factors in the current warming epoch. What is more, the physics favors anthropogenic causation–and that should count for something, should it not?

  11. 111
    raypierre says:

    You know, a lot of the discussion about whether Biden’s expressed certainty is consistent with the IPCC ‘90%’ statement misses the mark.

    The IPCC statement is only a statement of the confidence in the attribution of the warming observed to date. In dealing with the broader question of what to do to deal with the problem, one is mostly thinking about future warming. We have many more reasons to be confident in the CO2-climate connection than just the 20th century attribution study — things like laboratory experiments, basic physics, paleoclimate. So, if you consider “global warming” to refer not just to the warming so far (which is not going to magically stop), virtual certainty about the causal connection is quite justified. The fact that the signal-to-noise ratio only allows 90% certainty of attribution of observations to date doesn’t change that.

    It’s the physics, people.

  12. 112
    Roger Pielke. Jr. says:

    Ray (#11)-

    Sure I’d play p/o/k/e/r with you, but wouldn’t leave the rules ambiguous or subject to change in the middle of the hand;-)

    As far as your statement that:

    “Likewise, we have zero evidence implicating natural factors in the current warming epoch.”

    I am not sure who your “we” is, but it does not include the IPCC, which allows an up to 10% possibility that all of the warming since midcentury is due to natural forcings, and some undefined but nonzero portion could be due to internal processes. If you disagree with these statements, then your argument is with the IPCC, not me.

    While I respect that individuals have their own perspectives, we depart from consensus perspectives at some risk. Given that policy is not sensitive to such uncertainties, but people are sensitive to overstatement and exaggeration, why go there?

    [Response: Roger, you have seriously misunderstood the IPCC position. Ray is correct – there is no evidence that natural forces are causing recent warming. Instead, there is tons of circumstantial evidence that it is due to human-related effects. That the case is not 100% explains the IPCC statement, but that is not the same thing at all as saying there is any evidence for an alternate explanation. The analogy would be a criminal trial in which the defence challenges every piece of the positive evidence indicating their client is guilty, but offers no evidence at all that anyone else committed the crime. The jury might well have some doubts remaining as to the defendent’s guilt, but there is still no evidence for anyone else’s. – gavin]

  13. 113
    Rando says:

    Re: Mark at 82. Of course I’m not a USA citizen, so no need to decide on who to vote for. I just find it interesting that the VP candidates didn’t expand a bit more on their positions considering that they must have known the topic would have been discussed at some point in the debate, and that they must have been fully aware of their opponent’s differing opinion on the root cause of recent climate change. I keep hearing that climate change is a serious and imminent threat to the entire planet, and so was looking forward to bit more substance from both candidates.

  14. 114
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Roger, since you’re defending Palin, how do you defend this statement:

    But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don’t want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?”

    Surely, you’ll agree that mitigating the impacts due to the anthropogenic part of the warming (whatever fraction above 50% that is) means reducing fossil carbon emissions.

    How else can we “positively affect the impacts”?

  15. 115
    RichardC says:

    101 Walt, you’re confusing weather patterns with climate change. If an oscillation reverts to its previous state or an event wanes, and no enduring mark is left, then it ain’t climate change. The (arbitrary) 30 year boundary was set to allow for oscillations and volcanic eruptions to settle and so not significantly affect climate change concepts. You and Pielke are being disingenious in attempting to lump weather patterns with climate change. Mixing noise with the signal is all you’re doing.

    110 Ray, I salute you. Pielke now is burdened with his own attack since it links to this thread. All his readers will now know that he can’t comprehend the concept behind a simple black and white ball probability question! Pick your philosophy – Karma works or God is just or Wicca’s what you sow you’ll reap thrice, it works, eh?

    111 raypierre – excellent point.

  16. 116
    Roger Pielke. Jr. says:

    Jim (#114)-

    Nice try, but no I am not defending Palin. Here is what I wrote on our blog:

    “I claim no ability to discern the meaning behind Sarah Palin’s convoluted and undiagrammable sentences — on global warming or anything else . . . Further, in my view she is unqualified for the position she is running for (an understatement). . . ”

    I’ve published many articles on both mitigation and adaptation that clearly state my policy views. They are readily available on our website.

  17. 117
    Fred Staples says:

    Gavin is surely correct when he says that the ton of anecdotal evidence about global warming supports the AGW theory. They are all white balls out of the urn, Ray.

    But that theory depends on the “higher is colder” argument – the perturbation of the lapse rate. If increasing CO2 moves the effective radiation altitude upwards, all the lapse rate temperatures must increase with altitude.

    Look at the UAH data (Global Warming at a Glance) and see if you think that has happened.

    From 1978 to date, we have the following trend lines:

    Lower Troposphere : 1.3 degrees C per century
    Mid Troposphere : 0.5 degrees C per century

    If those numbers are not wildly inaccurate, the theory must be changed. They represent, in Popper terminology, the first black ball out of the urn.

    [Response: This is nonsense – both from a philosophical point of view and from a practical point of view. First off, MT includes a hefty weighting from a cooling stratosphere and so is pretty much irrelevant for your argument. Secondly, you know that the LT numbers have a large systematic uncertainty – given that RSS has values significantly larger. Not showing that – or including the uncertainty in the radiosonde analyses is just cherry-picking. Not very Popperish! But even more basic is your confusion of the reason why the greenhouse effect exists in the first place (there is a lapse rate) with the impact of increasing GHGs (which is a warming at the surface regardless of the how the moist adiabatic responds to surface warming). It really is quite simple – the change in the lapse rate is NOT a signature of GHG induced warming! It is a signature of any warming. – gavin]

  18. 118
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #115


    So now we have a new term: “weather patterns”. It isn’t climate, it isn’t weather, it’s weather patterns! Fine.

    Did you not grasp my general point that there are other possible influences in the temperature of the last 30 years?

    Take PDO, for example, which has apparently gone negative and is now contributing to a cooling effect. Does this not at least suggest that it was imparting a warming effect prior to that?

    Two strong el ninos, after which temps returned to roughly the level they were before the events. Two important volcanic events in the entire period.

    In other words, wouldn’t the last thirty years have been warmer than the previous thirty years *anyway*?

    By the way, I concur with Ray that there is much more warming to come.

    See, we get easily confused. I have not said that there is doubt that the planet will warm, perhaps more than the estimates. I have said that we are too quick to state with certainty that which we should be merely confident of. “It’s all man” is one such statement.

  19. 119
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Thanks for the reply, Roger. Perhaps you can summarize your policy views here, for convenience. I found your 2007 testimony to be interesting:

    To reiterate, nothing in this testimony should be interpreted as being opposed to or contrary to the mitigation of greenhouse gases. To the contrary, under all scenarios discussed here the benefits of mitigation exceed its costs. Mitigation is good policy, and many decision makers are now coming to understand that it is good politics, as well.

    However, policy discussion about what sort of future we collectively wish to see unfold are myopic if focused only on greenhouse gas emissions.

    I don’t see anything to disagree with here, and it is a welcome word of warning: mitigating carbon emissions surely isn’t enough; issues of habitat destruction, ocean dead zones and overexploitation, freshwater depletion, and soil degradation certainly must be part of humanity’s development planning for the 21st century.

  20. 120
    Roger Pielke. Jr. says:

    Gavin (#112)-

    Please point me to the place in the IPCC where they state that “there is no evidence that natural forces are causing recent warming” — and please not a graph or some general section, but where the IPCC says as much.

    I read their followings statement quite differently than you do:

    “Attribution studies show that it is very likely that these natural forcing factors alone cannot account for the observed warming.”

    In IPCC parlance “very likely” = 90%. If they had a higher degree of confidence they might have expressed it using a stronger term, like “virtually certain”. Presumably the fact that confidence was expressed at a level lower than the highest level suggests that the IPCC had some reason to believe that natural factors play some role in the temperature trend. In fact their statements say exactly this. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, but I think the IPCC is pretty clear.

    [Response: Indeed they are. You however are confused. The subjective strength with which IPCC makes this claim is an expert assessment of confidence – it therefore includes consideration of the fallibility of models, the presumed presence of ‘unknown unknowns’ and the balance of other evidence. ‘Very likely’ seems to me to be the appropriate choice given the methodological and procedural issues involved in the assessment (which is fully described in Chapter 9 – and in particular figure 9.9). The best estimates for the role of natural forcings is for a cooling over this time period. This is not evidence that natural forcings contribute, but given the potential for systematic biases it can’t be completely ruled out. Let me turn this around, if you think that there is any positive evidence that natural forcings or internal variability can have caused recent trends, please point me to the statements in the IPCC that say so. Not being absolutely certain about the most likely cause is not the same as evidence for the least likely! – gavin]

    Richard C- I don’t expect the RC guys to correct either your math or your atmospheric sciences, but they and other informed readers, will know what is correct here ;-)

  21. 121
    RichardC says:

    112 Pielke said, “Sure I’d play p/o/k/e/r with you, but wouldn’t leave the rules ambiguous or subject to change in the middle of the hand”

    Fortunately, we have the rules right here:

    “a betting game in which you drew balls from an urn and bet on whether they’d be white or black. You observe that the first 22 balls drawn are all white. All we can say with 90% confidence is that no more than 10% of the balls are black. Would you then bet on black even if I gave you 10:1 odds?”

    So “All we can say with 90% confidence is that no more than 10% of the balls are black” is either ambiguous OR is equivalent to 10% of the balls MUST be black? Sorry, kid, you’d flunk out of a basic probability course with that answer. The rules were clear, concise, and never changed, yet you essentially called Ray a cheat because you screwed up. Perhaps you’d be better served by growing up and telling the truth, that you misread the scenario and made an honest mistake. Personal Responsibility isn’t your strong suit. You owe Ray an apology and the two possible labels I’d paint you with based on your treatment of Ray’s Game are either intellectually or morally insulting.

    Capcha’s opinion? “to rottenness”

  22. 122
    RichardC says:

    118 Walt, there is a third realm besides whatever the weatherman says will happen tomorrow and climate change. Decadal oscillations, weather patterns, volcanoes et al, whatever. Who cares about the label?

    Walt asks, “Did you not grasp my general point that there are other possible influences in the temperature of the last 30 years?”

    Walt, nobody here has proposed the extreme case you constantly draw out of thin air. 100% +- 50% is a reasonable estimate of the portion of the temperature increase of the last 30 years being climate change. Remember, most or all known current natural forcing known (ENSO, the sun, Milankovitch, etc) are either null or negative at the moment.

    Walt asks, “In other words, wouldn’t the last thirty years have been warmer than the previous thirty years *anyway*?”

    Don’t know. Build a second Earth and run a test. Note that the error bars include that possibility. It would be a very good bet that the amount of warming, if any, would be lower than this Earth has experienced. You’re making noise about noise.

    Walt sez, “I have said that we are too quick to state with certainty that which we should be merely confident of. “It’s all man” is one such statement.”

    Nobody but you has said that. Everyone else agrees that some of the temperature increase might not be man, but 100% of the problem is most likely man. You see, if 50% of the increase is just noise, it goes away, and can be ignored. The 50% to 150% or so that’s caused by mankind is essentially permanent. We’re talking about the problem, not the noise.

    Captcha agrees: “think however”

  23. 123
    Mark says:

    Walt, stop being deliberately obtuse.

    Example of climate: the north of america is colder than the south of america.


    Example of weather pattern: hurricanes turn up in summer in the south of america but mostly only on the east coast. And never in the north of america.

    See now?

  24. 124
    Mark says:

    Rando 113

    That’s a different aim than the result you got from your original posting. You could have said that neither gave you what you wanted from their appearance. This stops the “both were uninformed” which was obviously incorrect and yet still gets the absolute position you have correct.

    As a note: that’s why I put down my suspicion. Unlike what has happened before where someone just left it an amorphous “I have uncertainties about your capabilities” or whatever, a concrete statement allowed you to state what you REALLY meant.

    Which allowed me to point out how you could have achieved your real aim without seeming to say something you’re not.

    Arguing is actually quite difficult. As the Monty Python sketch showed…

    PS I often get things wrong. When I spot them I correct myself.

  25. 125
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #122, #123

    I know weather from climate from oscillations.

    The topic, for me, has been: certainty versus uncertainty.

    I’m not certain that most of you are capable of true analysis anymore. Everything seems to be bent by the prism of your clear bias.

    Either you and the rest of the gang grasps my simple point that you have moved from confidence to certainty, or you don’t.

    It’s enough for me to know that there are some prominent names out there who are asking the right questions. Those questions get short shrift in here, but then, this is not the whole world, is it?

  26. 126

    RE #64, & “The emmissions under American jurisdictions is no comparisons to other jurisdictions and the U.S. is a small contributing fraction compared to other countries.”

    Some may say that per capita Americans do emit the most GHGs. But I say, whatever our emissions, we all have to keep doing our part to reduce. And this can be done sensibly, by first doing the measures that save us money, then by doing the things that don’t cost us, and finally by sacrificing — first the non-essentials, then perhaps the essentials (such as going on a diet — which will actually improve the health). And think of all the other harms that come from our emissions of GHGs, the pollution, military costs/harms, etc, which would be reduced in the process of reducing our GHGs.

    We could take the win-win-win-win tact of reducing our GHGs, or we could stay in the lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose tact of not doing so. Where is rational, economic man when you need him. Where are the truly spiritual, faith-based, moral people when you need them — not to be found in the Religious Right, I guess. So we live in this morally, rationally, emotionally, spiritually bankrupt Dark Ages society.

    And re nature emitting CO2, well, we don’t have much control over that (and I realize it’s going to get really bad when the permafrost and ocean clathrates go into hyper-melt and release gigatons of GHGs), so we have to focus on what we can do and reduce all the more (to compensate for nature’s emissions). Which should be helping our economy and health all the more.

  27. 127
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 98, 99
    Geez, Roger, I warned you — the post immediately after you figured 1:10 odds — that you’d fooled yourself.

  28. 128
    RichardC says:

    120 Pielke claims, “Richard C- I don’t expect the RC guys to correct either your math or your atmospheric sciences, but they and other informed readers, will know what is correct here”


    I have noticed that your posts gather quite a bit of very appropriate green ink. Ray’s Game is the perfect microcosm of your science – you misread something, jump to an erroneous conclusion (10% of the balls must be black), dig in your heels defending the stance long after it has been proven wrong, insult everyone else for cheating and other immoral actions (RC guys unfairly not correcting me), and dig at teensy irrelevant wordings to try to find “technically correct” pegs to hang your incorrect hat on.

    And you’re wrong again. You said, “In IPCC parlance “very likely” = 90%.” Nope, it means 90-94.99%. 5.01 to 10% sure sounds more certain than a flat 10%, eh? As usual, you take the extreme that happens to fit your agenda and express it as the entire range.

  29. 129


    Real Climate is an ideological application of your (singular and plural) opinions concerning the science of climate change—not, what I thought, was the original intension of the site. I find your dispassionate discussions of scientific findings very useful and often rely on them myself and refer others to them as well. However, your passion quickly takes over and allows no explanations other than your own. Certainly many alternative explanations are unreasonable and can be dismissed as out of hand, but other explanations are surely possible and/or plausible. Your continued disallowance of such proposals, and your refusal to grant an inch, is truly remarkable coming from a hard working scientist such as yourself. I, personally, have been involved in little climate change research in which the full explanation is cut and dry. Yet you act as if you all have been appointed king and final arbiter or all things related to climate change.

    This is all fine and good. It is your blog after all. [edit – don’t play games]

    Such an example can be found in the case at hand. Roger can read English as well as you can. Your explanation (and insistence that Roger is wrong) relies on a host of reasons that are not clearly elucidated by the IPCC. Thus, whether or not the IPCC meant them is completely unknown to the casual reader.

    What the IPCC wrote is plain and has a meaning in English that is close to what Roger has described. You however, proclaim that the words mean something different. If they do, then the IPCC should have written them to reflect their true meaning.

    From page 665 Executive Summary Chapter 9:

    It is extremely unlikely (less than 5%) that the global pattern of warming during the past half century can be explained without external forcing, and very unlikely [less than 10%] that it is due to known natural external causes alone. The warming occurred in both the ocean and the atmosphere and took place at a time when natural external forcing factors would likely [greater than 66%] have produced cooling.

    Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely [greater than 90%] caused most of the observed warming over the past 50 years. This conclusion takes into account observational and forcing uncertainty, and the possibility that the response to solar forcing could be underestimated by climate models. It is also robust to the use of different climate models, different methods for estimating the responses to external forcing and variations in the analysis technique.

    If in the judgment of the IPCC’s experts the chance that natural variations could explain the entirety of the temperature change during the past 50 years is as slim as you claim, then they had the terms “extremely unlikely” (less than 5%) or “virtually certain” (greater than 99%) to use at their disposal. But they didn’t.

    I am not saying that you are wrong. Simply that the IPCC did not write the things you are saying.

    If they wrote one thing, but were relying on you to explain to everyone what they “really” meant then they should add a link from the page to and recognize your authority as such. Lacking that, Roger’s interpretation is perfectly reasonable. Your insistence otherwise starts to sound ideological.

    -Chip Knappenberger
    funded, to some degree, by the fossil fuels industry since 1992.

    [Response: Well, I’m sorry, but you are confused as well. I have absolutely no argument with what the IPCC concluded. You have though misinterpreted what I said – though perhaps it was too subtle a point. I stated that their is an absence of positive evidence that natural forcings could explain the recent trends, and that is correct – no model simulation does it, no attribution study that takes into account some model biases does it, no simpler attribution does it either. Since none of these techniques are foolproof, and we are always working with the possibility that there maybe unknown unknowns in the system, the IPCC rightly concluded that there is still a margin of uncertainty. Whether it is 10% or 5% could be debated (and I’m sure it was), but that margin is not based on any positive evidence that anthro forcings are not the cause, but merely on the appreciation that our methods and data are necessarily incomplete. This is not hidden or only viewable by the initiated – it is abundantly clear from chapter 9. None of the quoted attribution studies, nor any of the figures, show that natural alone can do it. Your and Roger’s seeming insistence that some positive evidence exists that provides a match of recent trends to natural forces or internal variability is bizarre. I know of no such evidence and as far as I can tell none is cited in AR4. As to concluding that I am now dismissing all uncertainty, that too is way off. My confidence in these results is very close to what IPCC concluded and I have no reason to question that. – gavin]

  30. 130
    Chris Colose says:

    gavin’s response to 117 on the lapse rate can be taken a step further. If the atmosphere is taken off a moist adiabat and the upper atmosphere warms less than modelled, we should (in theory) expect a more pronounced warming at the surface. Enhancing the surface-upper air temperature gradient is also one way models can get more hurricanes, so the comments by Fred Staples (117), even if they are true, should not reflect the notion of “oh, no more worries about global warming.”

    The warming so far is consistent with the transient response, but given the large range of uncertainties due to climate sensitivity and aerosol forcings (and for the equilibrium response, ocean heat uptake) there is no reason we can’t see more warming in the future than we expect (my take is that would probably be due to cloud feedbacks rather than lapse rate feedbacks though). On the other hand, there are a lot of ways to essentially rule out a negligible response in the future.

  31. 131
    raypierre says:

    Another thing that most of this discussion is missing is that the main point of our post was the complete fallacy of Palin’s claim that one need not know the cause of climate change in order to fix the problem. I’ll reiterate what we wrote: even if you are only talking about adaptation and not mitigation, it matters a great deal that the dominant cause of the climate change so far, and of the expected climate change in the future, is the increase of CO2.

    That is a completely separate issue from the general business of the CO2/climate connection. Causes matter, pure and simple.

  32. 132
    Fred Staples says:

    The Global Warming at a Glance site plots the RSS data on top of the UAH data. They are more or less identical, which is not surprising because they are derived from the same satellite data.
    UAH quote their trend lines, while RSS do not.

    As you have often pointed out, Gavin, without the lapse rate/altitude effect, increased CO2 could not induce surface warming.

    Increased solar flux would raise all the temperatures, leaving the effective radiation altitude unchanged. The mid-troposphere temperature increase is a necessary but not sufficient proof of the CO2 effect.

    The measured mid-troposphere data needs a trend correction of 0.08 degrees centigrade per decade to match the lower troposphere trend and preserve the AGW theory. Surely further work is required on that difference before we take it for granted, and ask the politicians to cut the CO2 emissions. Is it really enough to attribute the correction to “a hefty weighting from a cooling stratosphere”?

    Do Messrs Christy/Spenser and Mears agree that their data is so wrong?

    All the satellite data shows the same sharp rise between December, 1999 and December 2001, followed by a corresponding fall 5 years later. We are back to 1978 temperatures now, at all altitudes. If these temperatures persist, and the CO2 concentration continues to increase, how many years must pass before we invoke Popper.

    [Response: Fred, you have completely misunderstood which lapse rate/altitude effect is being talked about in connection with global warming. The basic physics of the greenhouse effect relies on the existing decline of temperature with heignt, in the sense that there’d be little or no greenhouse effect in an isothermal atmosphere coupled tightly to the surface temperature. That’s just textbook stuff. The small changes of lapse rate on top of the pre-existing lapse rate just modulate the strength of the greenhouse effect. The vertical temperature gradient of the atmosphere is not about to go away anytime soon. Now, the reduction of the lapse rate with warming, predicted by the moist adiabat, actually acts to somewhat reduce the greenhouse warming in GCM’s. If the lapse rate were to stay constant in the tropics as climate warms, that would actually increase climate sensitivity. –raypierre]

  33. 133
    Chris Colose says:

    Nice to see you back raypierre. I’m visiting UC soon (hopefully by october’s end), hope I run into you.

    Palin knows full well that causes matter– politicians just don’t “do things” for the sake of doing them, unless they are advised of a good benefit in doing so. I don’t feel like Palin views climate change as a big problem. But it wouldn’t be nice if she went on there and said that, so she tells people what people want to hear– take the middle ground and make everyone happy. It’s absurd, but that’s politics.

  34. 134
    Chris Colose says:

    This whole issue of quibbling over “certainty” and “uncertainty” and percentage numbers seems rather beside the point. From a practical and political standpoint, the IPCC judgment of “90%” or “95%” or “99.9%” seems trivial. The key questions appear to be a) is there any “natural forcing” whether it be internal or external which are sufficiently strong enough (or have been over the last 50 years) to overwhelm the greenhouse signal, and b) if it is possible to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and not expect global warming.

    Starting with point “b,” for instance Walt Bennett (#74) asks how we can rule out the PDO as a source of warming over the last few decades. To me, this is an ill-phrased question. Another question could be how the PDO cancels out radiative transfer in the atmosphere. As far as I can tell, the PDO has negligible effects on global temperature on decadal timescales; moving heat back and forth is different than externally forcing a top-of-atmosphere radiative imbalance. Adding CO2 to an atmosphere whose temperature drops with height means that sunlight will come in at a greater rate than heat loss to space. But even if the PDO or the sun or martian beams are heating the atmosphere, it’s virtually certain that CO2 physics still works– why wouldn’t it? Perhaps there is a slight possibility that laboratory work on the CO2 absoprtion properties is wrong. Perhaps there is some “threshold” in the climate system which is insensitive to GHG’s but sensitive to some initial condition.

    On to point “a,” we have good observations to estimate the magnitude of the “noise” of natural variability. Earth does not fluctuate like Mars by going up and down about the mean by several degrees celsius over years. In the case that it did, any 0.8 C “signal” by greenhouse gases could be much less significant, both in detection and for practical “do something about it” reasons. But in the real world internally generated fluctuations are superimposed on a rising trend, they aren’t simply creating a trend out of nothing and masking CO2. From the “confidence level” stance thought, there must be a greater than zero percent chance that the noise of natural variation can domninate the greenhouse signal and perhaps some chaotic mechanism has generated greater internal variability (i.e., a larger amplitude about the mean), even if everything we know about GHG physics is correct– it’s just very unlikely, and its timing is a clever trick of nature.

  35. 135


    As always, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not (nor have I ever) trying to argue that natural forcings explain all of the observed global temperature change during the past 50 years. Heck, I don’t even argue that they explain a majority. They do explain why the rate of global temperature rise has slowed during the past 6-7 years. And perhaps some of the “observed” rise may not actually be a real rise. But, nevertheless, I agree that the majority of the real rise (whatever that amount is) during the past 50 (although I prefer 30) years is caused by human enhancement of the earth’s greenhouse effect.

    I am pretty sure Roger agrees with that as well.

    However, this is not the point of contention. The point of contention is how what the IPCC wrote should be interpreted by the reader. If either I or Roger are confused, then clearly, the IPCC’s meaning is not very straightforward. If there is no evidence whatsoever that natural (or internal) variability alone (or together) could have explained all of the warming, then why on earth didn’t the IPCC plainly say so? There would be no argument had the IPCC simply written: “It is extremely unlikely that the global pattern of warming during the past half century can be explained without external forcing and it is virtually certain that it can not be explained by natural external forcing alone.” This would leave no room for (mis)interpretation.


    As it currently is written, such a level of certainty is left unclear. Or, in fact, it can be interpreted as Roger has.


    [Response: Next time you are invited to be a lead author, why not suggest it? – gavin]

  36. 136
    Lawrence Brown says:

    In #131 raypierre says:
    “Another thing that most of this discussion is missing is that the main point of our post was the complete fallacy of Palin’s claim that one need not know the cause of climate change in order to fix the problem.”

    Amen! Can a mechanic fix a car if he doesn’t know what’s wrong with it? If you want to attempt to cure something, anything, you need to know the cause! Would Palin allow a surgeon to operate on her without knowing what’s causing her symptoms!Shouln’t this be obvious to any normal third grade student? (please pardon the rhetoricals).

    Perhaps Palin, at some level, realizes this, and if she does, she’s not telling us the truth. Her dishonesty in this matters. She’s being touted as an energy authority by her supporters. Just because her home state of Alaska sits on relatively large amounts of crude oil doesn’t make her an energy expert anymore than looking across the Bering Strait and being able to see Russia makes her an authority on that country.

  37. 137
    Steve Reynolds says:

    raypierre: “Causes matter, pure and simple.”

    If doing something about the cause (a big if I agree) is worse than adapting, then at least politically, the cause may not matter.

    [Response: You aren’t listening. Even if you have abandoned any hope of doing something about the cause, or even if you have decided that adaptation is preferable to doing something about the cause, knowing the cause is essential to planning your adaptation. There are a very few cases where this might not be so, but climate change is not one of them. –raypierre]

  38. 138
    Rod B says:

    RichardC, you do your argument no favor by making stuff up. You say to Pielke, “You said, “In IPCC parlance “very likely” = 90%.” Nope, it means 90-94.99%.” You should stop shouting and do a bit of reading (p3 of FAR Summary, hidden in plain sight). Greater than 90% is defined by IPCC as “very likely”; greater than 95%, “extremely likely”. etc. As Hank would say, look it up.

  39. 139
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Roger, My goal with that little thought experiment was to illustrate a common fallacy about probability–to have 90% confidence in a proposition does not mean having 10% confidence in the contrary position. If we draw 22 parts from a lot and find all are defective, we would not be justified in saying that the system will be reliable if we have 10:1 redundancy.
    When we look at science, it is often easiest to judge the strength of evidence between two propositions. I do not know of any piece of evidence regarding our changing climate that “natural variability” explains better than “anthropogenic causation”. Do you?
    Now add to this the fact that the physics says we absolutely must warm as a result of increasing CO2, and the fact that the vast majority of the data favor a sensitivity ~ 3 degrees per doubling, and the conclusion that we are having a significant effect on climate becomes hard to escape.

  40. 140
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt Bennett, The proper place for debate about science is between the pages of scientific journals and in the hallways at conferences–and indeed the debate over aspects of the climate still goes on there. The roles of clouds and aerosols, paleoclimatic reconstructions and the like are all on the frontier. The role of CO2 is rather difficult to debate because it is extremely difficult to construct a coherent, comprehensive model with a low sensitivity. However, even wrt climate change, there is still debate–will climate change exacerbate hurricanes? How will it affect agricultural fertility? How much will sea levels rise? And so on. These are all areas of hot debate–both here and in science/engineering/policy circles. However, it’s very hard to find anything particularly controversial behind the science that says humans are largely responsible for the current warming epoch. It’s not the scientists that have reached relative certainty, but rather the science.

  41. 141
    llewelly says:

    #123, Mark:

    Example of weather pattern: hurricanes turn up in summer in the south of america but mostly only on the east coast. And never in the north of america.

    Although hurricanes are much less common outside of the tropics, a few hurricanes have struck the New England states, and eastern Canada .
    Furthermore – a few winter hurricanes have occurred.

  42. 142
    WhiteBeard says:

    # 8 Mark A York:
    I doubt your familiarity with the North Slope, or Alaska in general when you post, “They shoot them from the rigs if they get in the way”. Or, that there is a “typical Alaskan”.

    # 38 Ray Landsbury,
    Succinct and insightful.

    #44 Leonard Evens,
    I’d say more the opportunist than the dedicated ideologue. She campaigned for Lt Governor (4 years ago) and Governor, in part on a fundamentalist Christian platform, but passed on two opportunities to push that agenda as Governor. She had several more parochially Alaskan issues to deal with. As a national candidate, I find it interesting that she hasn’t appeared to advance any of this. It seems the general media attention has done this for her

    #61 James Killen,
    She is a denier as far as I’ve been able to tell. I’d say the sub cabinet group is more a sop. Her focus has been to enable the petroleum industry’s Alaskan production.

    # 69 Anne van der Bom,
    Actually I’ve seen little evidence that she has much depth or breath of education, or is much of a reflective person. Astute and clever, she would be the top earner at a sales agency. Her inability to name a news source is absolutely accurate, as far as I can tell, and I’m likely to be in a better position to judge than anyone here.

    # 81 J.S. McIntyre,
    I think you are quite correct. Add to that her time as Governor has been almost exclusively devoted to the economic and political interface of the petroleum industry and the state of Alaska.

  43. 143
    Ike Solem says:

    I just read Roger Pielke Jr.’s post. [self-edit].

    Basically, the fact is that Palin is a creature of the oil industry. Her two main actions in office have been largely unreported in the press, for whatever reason, but let’s discuss them.

    1) Negotiating the sale of the Chukchi sea offshore oil leases in collaboration with the Minerals Management Service, which is run by ex-Cheney aide Randall Luthi. The sale of those leases is why Palin turned to Soon & Baliunas to prepare a brief justifying the sales. The Minerals Management Service has been making rather sordid headlines lately…

    In any case, the sale of those leases would have been imperiled by findings on global warming and polar bear habitat. From the Telegraph:

    The lawsuit opposes the endangered label partly because it would “deter activities such as… oil and gas exploration and development” while it would also impede the building of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, something Mrs Palin has referred to as the “will of God.” Oil companies recently bid £1.5 billion for rights to explore the Chuckchi sea, an established polar bear habitat.

    2) That brings us to the Alaskan Natural Gas Pipeline, widely promoted as an effort to ship natural gas from Alaska to the United States for domestic consumption.

    This one is really strange – because that claim is simply not true, even though it has been repeated as fact by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every other press outlet in the U.S. Not one is covering the true facts of the matter – except the oil and gas journals and blogs.

    The fact is that the Alaskan Natural Gas Pipeline is intended only to supply natural gas to Alberta’s Athabascan tar sands fields, where the gas will be used to convert tar to synthetic heavy crude oil. From there, the tar oil is intended for heavy crude refineries in the Midwest, Louisiana, Californa and China – that’s the big plan.

    This is probably the single most global warming-inducing project on the face of the planet: all the gas is converted to CO2, just to make oil from tar – which will also be converted to CO2.

    So, what Sarah Palin did is to give $500 million to Transcanda which will link BP, Exxon and Conoco-leased natural gas fields in Alaska to BP, Exxon and Conoco-leased tar sand fields in Alberta. The Republican-controlled Congress delivered $18 billion in credit guarantees for this project in 2005.

    This is all factual. Alaskan natural gas will not be shipped to the lower 48 because of transit costs – gas pipelines must be pressurized, and the pumps use natural gas for energy (and are needed every 100 miles or so, I think) – if the pipeline is too long, the gas gets used up running the pumps.

    Of course, Sarah Palin’s husband Todd Palin has been an employee of British Petroleum for over a decade, right? That’s the business model that U.S. oil majors are currently operating under – replace diminshing oil reserves with Canadian tar sand oil, and who cares about global warming?

    It’s all true. No one can dispute the facts – but for some reason, none of our major press outlets want to cover this story – and it’s not for lack of knowledge.

  44. 144
    Lucas Mills says:

    I figure you all may find interest in one of the small things that individuals and families can do to help bring about a sustainability-oriented economy: switch our bank accounts to institutions that specifically train their lending efforts toward environmentally-screened, green-oriented projects. Green, and socially-responsible, capitalism can be one of the answers here. There are simple savings accounts at institutions like ShoreBank (Chicago), where capital is directed to projects with an environmental/green-sector focus. I work with ShoreBank promoting their High-Yield Savings Account, which offers a 3.5%APY, FDIC-insurance, online/phone tools, etc. The account is just like those of the other banks, but with a focused lending practice. For more:

  45. 145
    Geoff Larsen says:

    Under your header “about” (top left) you say: –

    “RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science”.

    On reading this post I suggest you change this. The post is obviously in contradiction of what you are “about”.

    [Response: Well, it’s our blog and we can post what we like. However, I don’t think you are even correct. The causes of climate change are well within our (self-imposed) mandate and that is the subject of the post. We did not critique the candidates energy plans or their economic effects – See Joe Romm’s site for much better discussions than we would be able to provide. – gavin]

  46. 146
    Mark says:


    I stand corrected. But in order to ensure my manhood, I will point out that they are hardly patterns of weather, are they.

    Neener neener :-)

    Oracle says “straightaway ended”. FTW!

  47. 147
    John Mashey says:

    re: #142

    Prof. Michael Klare’s article Palin’s Petropolitics seems relevant (maybe WhiteBeard can comment on its accuracy?), ending with an interesting quote:

    ‘At a meeting of the National Governors Association in February, Palin argued against providing subsidies for alternative energy sources, claiming that domestic sources of oil and gas–many located in Alaska–can satisfy the nation’s needs for a long time to come. “The conventional resources we have can fill the gap between now and when new technologies become economically competitive and don’t require subsidies,” she asserted. When pressed by a reporter for Oil & Gas Journal she went further, denouncing government support for renewable energy. “I just don’t want things to get out of hand with incentives for renewables, particularly since they imply subsidies, while ignoring fuels we already have on hand.”‘

  48. 148
    Mark says:

    Chip, #135.

    In another thread (I think) we have someone complaining about how scientists are calling things that are not CERTAIN 100% terms that indicate fact. They decry the loss of accuracy by using words that ignore the uncertainties.

    And then we have you complaining about how there should be more certainty in the wording and less “%chance”.

    So it’s true: you can’t please everyone.

  49. 149
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    walt bennett writes:

    When there are two vociferous and dedicated sides to an issue, it’s almost for certain that neither side is completely right or completely wrong.


    And if ever there was an issue where “right” and “wrong” are subjective, this is it.

    Wrong. The empirical evidence is all on one side.

  50. 150
    Lawrence McLean says:

    Re #138, Rod B, it seems to me from what you have posted, that what Richard C has stated is pretty much correct. A pedant may say 90.01 – 94.99 is in the range “very likely”.

    It may be clearer to look at it this way…

    >90% == “Very likely”, >95% == “extremely likely” implies:
    90.01 – 94.99 is in the range “very likely”