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Warm reception to Antarctic warming story

Filed under: — gavin @ 27 January 2009 - (Español)

What determines how much coverage a climate study gets?

It probably goes without saying that it isn’t strongly related to the quality of the actual science, nor to the clarity of the writing. Appearing in one of the top journals does help (Nature, Science, PNAS and occasionally GRL), though that in itself is no guarantee. Instead, it most often depends on the ‘news’ value of the bottom line. Journalists and editors like stories that surprise, that give something ‘new’ to the subject and are therefore likely to be interesting enough to readers to make them read past the headline. It particularly helps if a new study runs counter to some generally perceived notion (whether that is rooted in fact or not). In such cases, the ‘news peg’ is clear.

And so it was for the Steig et al “Antarctic warming” study that appeared last week. Mainstream media coverage was widespread and generally did a good job of covering the essentials. The most prevalent peg was the fact that the study appeared to reverse the “Antarctic cooling” meme that has been a staple of disinformation efforts for a while now.

It’s worth remembering where that idea actually came from. Back in 2001, Peter Doran and colleagues wrote a paper about the Dry Valleys long term ecosystem responses to climate change, in which they had a section discussing temperature trends over the previous couple of decades (not the 50 years time scale being discussed this week). The “Antarctic cooling” was in their title and (unsurprisingly) dominated the media coverage of their paper as a counterpoint to “global warming”. (By the way, this is a great example to indicate that the biggest bias in the media is towards news, not any particular side of a story). Subsequent work indicated that the polar ozone hole (starting in the early 80s) was having an effect on polar winds and temperature patterns (Thompson and Solomon, 2002; Shindell and Schmidt, 2004), showing clearly that regional climate changes can sometimes be decoupled from the global picture. However, even then both the extent of any cooling and the longer term picture were more difficult to discern due to the sparse nature of the observations in the continental interior. In fact we discussed this way back in one of the first posts on RealClimate back in 2004.

This ambiguity was of course a gift to the propagandists. Thus for years the Doran et al study was trotted out whenever global warming was being questioned. It was of course a classic ‘cherry pick’ – find a region or time period when there is a cooling trend and imply that this contradicts warming trends on global scales over longer time periods. Given a complex dynamic system, such periods and regions will always be found, and so as a tactic it can always be relied on. However, judging from the take-no-prisoners response to the Steig et al paper from the contrarians, this important fact seems to have been forgotten (hey guys, don’t worry you’ll come up with something new soon!).

Actually, some of the pushback has been hilarious. It’s been a great example for showing how incoherent and opportunistic the ‘antis’ really are. Exhibit A is an email (and blog post) sent out by Senator Inhofe’s press staff (i.e. Marc Morano). Within this single email there are misrepresentations, untruths, unashamedly contradictory claims and a couple of absolutely classic quotes. Some highlights:

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville slams new Antarctic study for using [the] “best estimate of the continent’s temperature”

Perhaps he’d prefer it if they used the worst estimate? ;)
[Update: It should go without saying that this is simply Morano making up stuff and doesn’t reflect Christy’s actual quotes or thinking. No-one is safe from Morano’s misrepresentations!]
[Further update: They’ve now clarified it. Sigh….]

Morano has his ear to the ground of course, and in his blog piece dramatically highlights the words “estimated” and “deduced” as if that was some sign of nefarious purpose, rather than a fundamental component of scientific investigation.

Internal contradictions are par for the course. Morano has previously been convinced that “… the vast majority of Antarctica has cooled over the past 50 years.”, yet he now approvingly quotes Kevin Trenberth who says “It is hard to make data where none exist.” (It is indeed, which is why you need to combine as much data as you can find in order to produce a synthesis like this study). So which is it? If you think the data are clear enough to demonstrate strong cooling, you can’t also believe there is no data (on this side of the looking glass anyway).

It’s even more humourous, since even the more limited analysis available before this paper showed pretty much the same amount of Antarctic warming. Compare the IPCC report, with the same values from the new analysis (under various assumptions about the methodology).

(The different versions are the full reconstruction, a version that uses detrended satellite data for the co-variance, a version that uses AWS data instead of satelltes and one that use PCA instead of RegEM. All show positive trends over the last 50 years).

Further contradictions abound: Morano, who clearly wants it to have been cooling, hedges his bets with a “Volcano, Not Global Warming Effects, May be Melting an Antarctic Glacier” Hail Mary pass. Good luck with that!

It always helps if you haven’t actually read the study in question. That way you can just make up conclusions:

Scientist adjusts data — presto, Antarctic cooling disappears

Nope. It’s still there (as anyone reading the paper will see) – it’s just put into a larger scale and longer term context (see figure 3b).

Inappropriate personalisation is always good fodder. Many contrarians seemed disappointed that Mike was only the fourth author (the study would have been much easier to demonise if he’d been the lead). Some pretended he was anyway, and just for good measure accused him of being a ‘modeller’ as well (heaven forbid!).

Others also got in on the fun. A chap called Ross Hays posted a letter to Eric on multiple websites and on many comment threads. On Joe D’Aleo’s site, this letter was accompanied with this little bit of snark:

Icecap Note: Ross shown here with Antarctica’s Mount Erebus volcano in the background was a CNN forecast Meteorologist (a student of mine when I was a professor) who has spent numerous years with boots on the ground working for NASA in Antarctica, not sitting at a computer in an ivory tower in Pennsylvania or Washington State

This is meant as a slur against academics of course, but is particularly ironic, since the authors of the paper have collectively spent over 8 seasons on the ice in Antarctica, 6 seasons in Greenland and one on Baffin Island in support of multiple ice coring and climate measurement projects. Hays’ one or two summers there, his personal anecdotes and misreadings of the temperature record, don’t really cut it.

Neither do rather lame attempts to link these results with the evils of “computer modelling”. According to Booker (for it is he!) because a data analysis uses a computer, it must be a computer model – and probably the same one that the “hockey stick” was based on. Bad computer, bad!

The proprietor of the recently named “Best Science Blog”, also had a couple of choice comments:

In my opinion, this press release and subsequent media interviews were done for media attention.

This remarkable conclusion is followed by some conspiratorial gossip implying that a paper that was submitted over a year ago was deliberately timed to coincide with a speech in Congress from Al Gore that was announced last week. Gosh these scientists are good.

All in all, the critical commentary about this paper has been remarkably weak. Time will tell of course – confirming studies from ice cores and independent analyses are already published, with more rumoured to be on their way. In the meantime, floating ice shelves in the region continue to collapse (the Wilkins will be the tenth in the last decade or so) – each of them with their own unique volcano no doubt – and gravity measurements continue to show net ice loss over the Western part of the ice sheet.

Nonetheless, the loss of the Antarctic cooling meme is clearly bothering the contrarians much more than the loss of 10,000 year old ice. The poor level of their response is not surprising, but it does exemplify the tactics of the whole ‘bury ones head in the sand” movement – they’d much rather make noise than actually work out what is happening. It would be nice if this demonstration of intellectual bankruptcy got some media attention itself.

That’s unlikely though. It’s just not news.

231 Responses to “Warm reception to Antarctic warming story”

  1. 51
    dhogaza says:

    My point is, there had to be something causing these sea level changes. Obviously, it wasn’t man, as mans time here on earth is miniscule when compared to our geologic time scale. The real driver to climate change(warming or cooling) is the sun and the cyclic nature of the suns solar activity. How else do you explain it?

    Oh, gosh, it’s the old geologists argument that “we know that if a large boulder falls on your head, it will kill you, without human involvement. Therefore a bullet to the head is harmless”.

    i.e. the fallacy that if event A can cause consequence C, then no other event can possibly have similar consequences.

  2. 52
    Jim Eager says:

    Re rocdoc @44, that Earth’s climate always has and always will change due to natural causes in no way implies that CO2 has not played an amplifying feedback role in those changes. Nor, in the absence of a natural initial forcing, does it in any way refute the ability of direct massive increases in CO2 to itself act as a direct climate forcing. Indeed, the geologic record contains evidence of greenhouse gas forced climate change events.

  3. 53
    Jim Eager says:

    Stuart Harmon (47), Talk about making it up as you go!

    Ice ages do not end due to changes in solar activity, they end due to changes in Earth’s orbit and axial tilt that result in increases in solar insolation.

    Oh, and you might want to take note that the Little Ice Age was not a real ice age.

  4. 54
    Brian says:

    rokdoc #44 says: “My point is, there had to be something causing these sea level changes. Obviously, it wasn’t man, as mans time here on earth is miniscule when compared to our geologic time scale.”

    I am also a geologist and do not understand why other geologists continue to make this statement (although the number is diminishing). Of course climatic fluctuations over the vast majority of geologic time are not from human influence. And? So? Why does that fact lead to a conclusion that we can’t possibly have an effect now? I don’t see the logic.

    Another form of this line of reasoning goes like this: The Earth has experienced much bigger swings in climatic change and came out just fine.

    It’s not whether the Earth can make it through, it’s the impact on habitability. For example, while the Earth made it through the PETM, a significant part of its biosphere did not fare so well.

    [Response: Actually, the PETM really did most of it’s damage to benthic foraminifera – mammals did quite well eventually. But your point is good – though the PT extinction event would have been more apropos. – gavin]

  5. 55
    Brian says:

    re Gavin #55 — Agreed, I only cited PETM since it was a warming event that occurred relatively quickly. Another analog, as has been discussed here before, is the middle Pliocene … although I have not done my homework re impacts on biosphere.

    [Response: Definitely. The PETM has a lot of resonance, as does the mid-Pliocene… – gavin]

  6. 56
    Richard Ordway says:

    New peer-review study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Solomon et. al also discusses sea level rises and possible parameters:

  7. 57
    Al Z says:

    re #52 dhogaza “bullet to the head…the fallacy that if event A can cause consequence C, then no other event can possibly have similar consequences.”

    Ha. How true that equifinality applies to both climate and death.

  8. 58
    Stuart Harmon says:

    Stuart Harmon (47), Talk about making it up as you go!

    Ice ages do not end due to changes in solar activity, they end due to changes in Earth’s orbit and axial tilt that result in increases in solar insolation.

    Oh, and you might want to take note that the Little Ice Age was not a real ice age.

    Sorry Jim maybe I wasn’t precise enough. But at least we are agreed that the sun has some part to play in climate and its not all down to CO2 Emissions.

    [Response: Who ever said it was? – gavin]

    Gavin at least you allowed me to post I was getting worried that what they say in the other place is true?

  9. 59
    Maya says:

    “This kind of talk makes our job much harder. It makes AGW defenders sound like people with a political agenda.”

    I’m sorry, you’re probably right. I have no *political* agenda, however, at least not the way I think of it. What I said was an expression of the frustration and outrage I feel when I see public figures or media stories that try to convince us there’s no scientific consensus on climate change (yes there is some disagreement on particulars, but it’s here and we’re causing at least most of it, and can’t we just move on and figure out what to do next?) or that it isn’t even real, just “natural cycles” or something.

    Global climate change, although slow when compared to the frenetic pace of our lives, is now very rapid in terms of geologic time. There will be consequences – for us, for the other species with whom we share the planet, for our children, and for all the generations that come after us. Unchecked, it amounts to a disaster of epic proportions that dwarfs economic crises, national spats over turf, or any number of other things that are considered newsworthy.

    To downplay it, try and claim that it isn’t real … yeah, I do think that’s irresponsible, reprehensible, morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt, and any other venomous words I can think of. If the FDA released a drug that they knew was going to kill people and didn’t put out a warning about it, that would be criminal. If a food company released a batch of something that they knew was going to poison some of the people who ate it, that would be criminal. Yet when a group of whoever tries to tell us that AGW is a myth, even though the evidence points to the likelihood of it claiming millions, eventually maybe billions of lives and a significant number of other species, if left unchecked, that’s … free speech? Meh.

    If it could somehow be proved – and I know it never will be, just speaking hypothetically – that the AGW-is-a-myth deception was being perpetrated upon us on purpose, by people who KNOW it’s a lie, I could make the case that it’s tantamount to genocide. So yeah, that really IS criminal. It’ll never be proved, of course, and maybe Inhofe and the others are simply deluded. Nevertheless, my outrage remains.

    So, as I said, my “agenda” – if I even have one – isn’t political, per se, except to try to convince our leaders to do what is in their power to do. It looks like we’re going to be ramping up production of power from renewables, that California and other states are going to be allowed to set their own standards for automobile emissions, and hopefully more stuff is in the works. That’s what I want to see – encouraging that is my “agenda”. I don’t write letters to politicians and lend people books and all that because it’s political, though – I do it because I sincerely, down in my bones, think that doing what I can to help slow AGW is the right thing to do. (And yeah, I drive a high MPG car and I turn off lights and replace lightbulbs and recycle and buy local produce and grow my own and a dozen other things, too.)

    And my sincere apologies if I damaged the reputation of AGW defenders in any way.

  10. 60
    Stuart Harmon says:

    The year is 2025 theres been a great deal of wobble tilt and solar activity all at once.
    A man is looking for a bar in antarctica when he comes across a sign outside a pub :-

    “A pint
    A pie
    and a Friendly Word”

    This seems fine so in he goes.

    Gavin This has something to do with

    Customer: “A pint please”

    Customer: “I’ll also have a pie”


    Customer: “Landlord what about the Friendly Word”

    Landlord: “Don’t eat the pie”

  11. 61
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Don @41; Uh, did you have a point or did you turn a bunch of chimps loose at your keyboard? Where on Earth did you get the idea that discoveries are being ignored?

  12. 62
    John Mashey says:

    Theon is quoted, by Morano, saying something that goes beyond the silly claim that he was Hansen’s boss that has propagated through the blogosphere:

    “As Chief of several of NASA Headquarters’ programs (1982-94), an SES position, I was responsible for all weather and climate research in the entire agency, including the research work by James Hansen, Roy Spencer, Joanne Simpson, and several hundred other scientists at NASA field centers, in academia, and in the private sector who worked on climate research,”

    That is a pretty sweeping claim…. responsible for all weather and climate research in NASA? Really? What does “responsible” mean?

    [Response: NASA has two parallel structures. There are the centers (GSFC, JPL, etc.) which have a great deal of autonomy about who they hire, and how they organise themselves and what they should be doing who report directly to the administrator. Then there are the directorates – for space and earth science, aeronomy the manned program etc. These have varied over time as administrators have organised them with different themes. The role of the people at HQ is to see how much money goes to each theme, and apportion research funds based on proposals and/or specific initiatives. That money gets spent at the individual center level. Thus the chief of Earth Science could rightly be described as being in charge of Earth Science research activities, but they don’t employ any of the people who are doing it. Individual decisions on funding are generally made lower down the ladder though. Thus Theon is unlikely to have made specific decisions concerning Hansen’s funding, though he might have been influential on deciding which satellite programs got how much money (and note that satellites are far more expensive than GISS). – gavin]

  13. 63
    Michael says:

    Maya, let me introduce you to another world view that says climate science is in its infancy, and jumping to conclusions is reckless. A point of view where there are many other causes in this world that could be arguably more in need of our money and energy, such as people dying of Aids, hunger, and wars. I don’t have to be “irresponsible, reprehensible, morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt” to take this view.

    [Response: No one is advocating taking money away from Aids, hunger and peace keeping in order to pay for climate change mitigation and adaption. An implication that anyone who thinks something should be done about climate change is advocating that more people should die of Aids is reprehensible. None of these things are large pieces of anyones budget, and I’m sure we could find other items that we would all be happier cutting. – gavin]

  14. 64
    Rod B says:

    Maya (59), I appreciate your ardor and strongly felt beliefs, even though I don’t share all of them. But to pick at a couple of details: you justify criminalizing skeptics because, among other reasons, you assume they “know” otherwise.. When in fact you’re simply projecting your solid belief and concluding if anyone does not have the same insight and belief as you, they must be criminal.

    Second: a minor thought re California etc. If Obama’s initial suggestion takes hold (and it may — assuming it wasn’t just a trial balloon) to require an average 36 MPG over the entire company’s fleet in the 2010 model year in order to sell any, the result will be no — that’s zero — vehicles being sold after about Nov 09. (Except for a possible loophole — they could maybe sell 2009 model year vehicles for a long time.)

  15. 65
    Michael says:

    Gavin, my views that money and energy spent on climate change mitigation would be better spent on other humanitarian causes might be wrong, but they don’t make me “irresponsible, reprehensible, morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt”. I don’t know if you noticed recently, but there aren’t a whole lot of Benjamins to go around.

    [Response: Yet they just found $800 billion of them. Given that $50 billion is the price often quoted for providing everyone on earth with clean water, why are you not criticising that, rather than making it seem that it is the as-yet imaginary money going towards climate mitigation and adaptation that is holding the world back? – gavin]

  16. 66
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Michael says, “I don’t have to be “irresponsible, reprehensible, morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt” to take this view.”

    No, you only have to be ignorant: Ignorant to think that climate science is in its infancy (it’s more than 150 years old). Ignorant to think climate scientists are jumping to conclusions (Climate change has been studied intensely for ~20 years, reviewed and endorsed by the National Academies and every professional organization of scientists that has looked at the issue). Ignorant to think that we must choose between our duty toward the dispossessed and the downfallen and our environment.

    Ignorance is 100% curable. Willful ignorance eventually evolves into a nasty case of stupidity.

  17. 67
    Phil Scadden says:

    Our civilization faces many threats, including climate change. You in fact have to deal with all of them. Climate science uncertainties are no excuse for not dealing with the risks that it represents. If you care about hunger and war, then you had better care deeply about climate change – too rapid a change and you will increase both of those. Just do a risk analysis.

  18. 68
    dhogaza says:

    Maya, let me introduce you to another world view that says climate science is in its infancy, and jumping to conclusions is reckless

    There are many world views held by a wide variety of people which have no basis in reality.

    Climate science has its roots in 19th century physics, and no one is “jumping to conclusions”.

    As far as the rest of your post, along with Gavin’s point there’s also the fact that the third world, with its limited financial resources, will suffer far more from the consequences of global warming than the first world. Spending money now to minimize warming might very well be far more cost-effective than pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

  19. 69
    Mike says:

    Hi there, I was just wanting to know- several contrarians are effectively stating the data for Antarctic warming shows 0.1degrees per decade, with an error of + / – 3 degrees? Having read the paper, I can’t find that data- any pointers? Also, what, if any, is the significance of such a massive confidence interval (if, indeed, it’s accurate)? I must admit, my stats knowledge is somewhat lacking.



    [Response: Several contrarians (indeed, the same ones) are also saying that Antarctic has been “cooling for the last 50 years”, that our data contradict the “well established science”, that “many scientists” are highly critical of our work, and that we “adjusted the data” to get the result we wanted. You can choose to believe them if you like, but that won’t change the fact that they are wrong on all counts. On the statistics: If they were right about +/- 3 degrees, it would obviously mean that there is no detectable change in Antarctic temperature. However, that’s wrong too. 3 degrees of cooling per decade would give you 15 degrees in the last 50 years. Look at the data from IPCC in the post, above. There isn’t even enough room on the graph to fit that large a change in!–eric]

  20. 70
    Fran Barlow says:

    Re: Post 63 29 January 2009 at 4:37 PM

    Excellent response Gavin. This false dichotomy is traceable back to Lomborg. I find it amusing that this meme depends on (ugh!) “modelling” yet at least in the blogosphere, “computer models” are code for “bullshit”.

    As you point out here (and to some extent did in discussions of Copenhagen a while back) there really is no conflict with doing any of the MDG stuff and GHG mitigation — and indeed, it would be far better for these to be done coextensively as part of a general program of development.

    Thanks once again for your answer and the effort you put into this site. It remains a corner of sanity in a blogosphere where discussion of climate change is dominated by loudmouthed, disingenuous or ignorant poseurs.

  21. 71
    P. Lewis says:

    Re Gavin’s response to #46 Stuart Harmon:

    I think Stuart Harmon’s (specious) point relates to possible isostatic rebound (presumably not being accounted for in sea level rise figures!) of on the order of 2 mm/year these last 800 years on the west coast of the UK (though I thought that was principally Scotland at that sort of rate) resulting in the sea now being ~3 km from the castle’s sea gate.

    I think it probably has as much, if not more, to do with siltation and dune development, judging from what I recall from my last visit to the Glaslyn Estuary surrounds about 5 years ago (think Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner at Portmeirion on the other side of the estuary).

    Some people never seem to get away from the idea that the many professionals looking at such sea level/tidal data over many years never take this other information into account. Sheesh!

  22. 72
    rokdoc says:

    Response: Sea level change? Most geologic sea level changes are related to tectonic processes (rates of ocean spreading, continental subduction etc.) or the waxing and waning of ice sheets (particularly over the last 2.5 million years). Those are paced by orbital variations, which have nothing to do with solar activity. – gavin]

    Gavin. Global sea level changes are thought to be caused by geotectonic and glacial phenomena. The melting and cooling of the polar ice caps are considered the main culprit in global sea level changes seen in the geologic record. Subsidence due to sediment loading and tectonic events tend to be more local in extent. Geologists are able to identify sea level changes that occurred world wide in all the open ocean basins and they use these to correlate and identify the ages of the sediments from basin to basin. Sequence stratigraphy is based on these global sea level changes.
    My point in bringing this up is that 99.99%+ of the eustatic sea level changes have occurred prior to mans existance. Over 500 million years back to the Cambrian Period we see global sea level changes. How can you ignore the cause of these previous sea level fluctuations? What are your thoughts on what caused the polar ice caps to melt or grow during the past 500 million years? If its orbital variation, as you say, or variable solar activity, it looks like these changes will occur(as they have over the last 500 million years) whether we like it or not.

    [Response: Of course. Nothing has stopped plate tectonics or the orbital cycles, and eventually they will make their presence felt. However, the issue is timescale. The best calculations to date indicate we are not due another ice age for ~30,000 to 50,000 years – even if we don’t do anything more to CO2. That’s not something I worry about too much. As for tectonic changes, basins growing at about the speed of a fingernail, again, don’t have much potential for short term dramatic impact. Melting ice sheets because of global warming turns out to be a much more rapid and potentially worrisome source of sea level rise. We know that melting ice sheets have contributed to meters of sea level rise per year century (sorry for the error!) – meltwater pulse 1 A for instance, or even the early Holocene final collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. – gavin]

  23. 73
    Mike says:

    Thanks for your response. The +/- 3 they’ve been referring to comes from the Nov. 21 2007 NASA press release, although for the life of me I can’t work out its relevance to your paper.

  24. 74
    Jim Eager says:

    Rokdoc (65), so, since these changes will occur–on a geologic time scale, I must add–as they have over the last 500 million years, then we shouldn’t worry about human actions inducing these same changes on the scale of human lifetimes?

  25. 75
    Jim Eager says:

    Stuart Harmon (58), Science is all about the details. Changes in solar activity are simply not at all the same thing as orbital-induced changes in solar insolation.

    Yes, we can all agree that the sun has some part to play in climate. No one here would contend otherwise. Yet some people all too readily abandon logic and take that to mean that increasing CO2 in the absence of a initial change in insolation will not warm the atmosphere and thereby change climate.

  26. 76
    dhogaza says:

    If its orbital variation, as you say, or variable solar activity, it looks like these changes will occur(as they have over the last 500 million years) whether we like it or not.

    Teach me to live 500 million years and maybe I’ll care about thing I have no control over.

    Until you do, I’m staying focused on the next century or so, when my nephews and neices and their future children will be struggling with the consequences of global warming over the next few decades.

    Meanwhile, since you think that human timescale events of no consequence, I hope you’re logically consistent and don’t wear your seatbelt, see your doctor, and that you smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish. Because in the 500 million year timescale, it doesn’t matter, does it?

  27. 77
    John Mashey says:

    re: #63, #65, #70
    False dichotomy, good things to do, Lomborg…
    Good answers, so far … but I’d claim there’s a stronger one, because this is a lot more sophisticated than the usual false dichotomy, and people need to understand it better.

    People criticize Lomborg for bad science and bad economics, but I think those act as misdirections to obscure the very, very clever political arguments, which conflict progressive/centrists, but make certain conservatives *very* happy (like, CATO, CEI, Fraser, heartland, Hoover, Manhattan, Reason). These entities are not usually known for pushing hard to raise taxes to pay to help third-world countries get better water, for example.

    Consider reading the detailed analysis Lomborg and Playing the Long Game, which ThingsBreak kindly posted for me, which goes through the nature of the Cool It! / Copenhagen Convention stuff, with pointers to comments by economists about the broken process.

    If the CC made any sense at all, one of the items for prioritization would be phase-out tobacco smoking worldwide”. WHO thinks ~1B people will die of smoking-related diseases in the coming century.

    It makes *no* sense to spend money to fix third-world water systems while happily letting children get addicted to something that will kill many of them.

    It’s hard to understand how a fair economic analysis would put smoking-phase-out anywhere but the top (since it actually *saves* money).

    But, of course, *that* doesn’t make the lists beloved of Lomborg, CC, conservative thinktanks … a hint about what those lists are really about.

  28. 78
    Maya says:

    Rod B, disagreeing with me is not criminal in any way. It’s expected, actually. :) But IF someone KNOWINGLY puts millions or billions of lives at risk, then yep, I call that criminal. It has nothing to do with being a skeptic (which I take to mean, “thinking in a critical manner”), but being a denialist for one’s own – dare I say it? – agenda, so don’t twist my words to mean something they don’t. I happen to believe that there is enough evidence for AGW to go forward with the assumption that it’s real, but as has been pointed out many times on this site, my belief or yours or anyone else’s has nothing to do with it – it’s all in the science. The evidence.

    Sorry, I don’t want to get into the whole car MPG thing. It was just an example I thought of off the top of my head, and I’m too tired to go digging for more specifics.

  29. 79
    Phil Scadden says:

    “I don’t know if you noticed recently, but there aren’t a whole lot of Benjamins to go around.”

    We cant afford to NOT do something about climate change and other environmental issues. The consequences are too grim. Okay, I’ll admit it. I dont think there is an alternative to some pretty serious life style changes that I would rather not make, but it sure beats the alternatives. I would rather my children and hopefully grandchildren looked back on me with affection and pride, rather than as someone so willfully ignorant or totally selfish that I contributed to their misery.

  30. 80
    Rod B says:

    John M. (77): If an AGW skeptic came up with an argument that had similar rationale, credibility, support, and tone as your referenced WHO screed on tobacco, you’d stomp him into the ground.

  31. 81
    Rod B says:

    Maya (78), I don’t disagree with you rationale. But the rub is: who is “knowingly” incorrectly refuting AGW — as in the definition of perjury — who should be prosecuted? Exxon-Mobil’s CEO??

  32. 82
    Joel says:

    Hey Phil #79,
    Your comment makes it sound like you haven’t yet made the “serious lifestyle changes”. What’s holding you back?

  33. 83
    ccpo says:

    Re: #59 Anna: “If it could somehow be proved – and I know it never will be, just speaking hypothetically – that the AGW-is-a-myth deception was being perpetrated upon us on purpose, by people who KNOW it’s a lie, I could make the case that it’s tantamount to genocide. So yeah, that really IS criminal.”


    “Re: “Barton Paul Levenson Says:
    29 January 2009 at 11:01 AM

    May writes:

    ““can we march people such as Exxon and Inhofe off to the Hague for crimes against humanity?”

    That would be fine by me! The level of reprehensible irresponsibility seems criminal.”

    This kind of talk makes our job much harder. It makes AGW defenders sound like people with a political agenda.”


    That has already been shown. See: Exxon and the BuCheney administration. There is zero doubt Exxon funded denialists and there is zero doubt the BuCheney administration altered and/or muzzled legitimate climate science. Both are crimes against humanity. The only sticking point would be proving the frame of mind, but there is always a paper trail a good team of forensic computer techs could track down.

    Besides, a little logic goes a long way: If the published science is on the order of 1,000:1 in support of the ACC conclusion and if the natural observations not only confirm, but show they are inadequate in that they are far too conservative, then it is virtually impossible to accept that those hyping an anti-ACC message are doing so on ethical and moral bases.

    That is, they are, by and large, lying and we should not be afraid to say so. This fear of being labeled an extremist, or impolite, or whatever it is that drives virtually everyone to tuck their tail when confronting clear cases of lying and obfuscation, has enabled the potentially fatal delays we have seen.

    As was well-stated in Climate Code Red, when you have an emergency on hand, you don’t bother with platitudes and niceties when or if they prevent taking action. People are too afraid to call liars liars. I’m not. Join me. Our lives, our children’s lives and future generations’ lives appear to depend on it.

    For reference:

    As for whether there is any legitimate doubt about climate science:

    “Two questions were key: have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.

    About 90 percent of the scientists agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second.

    In analyzing responses by sub-groups, Doran found that climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 and 64 percent respectively believing in human involvement. Doran compared their responses to a recent poll showing only 58 percent of the public thinks human activity contributes to global warming.

    “The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, but the meteorologists’ is very interesting,” he said. “Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon.”

    He was not surprised, however, by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists.”

    I point out that 97% of active climate researchers agree ACC is a problem.


  34. 84

    Testimony given at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday may be relevant to some of the issues raised here.

    The following were the opening remarks:

    We’ve Arrived at a Moment of Decision
    Al Gore
    Posted January 28, 2009 | 10:43 AM (EST)

    … and this is the full testimony:

    Fmr. V.P. Gore Testifies on Global Climate Change
    Wednesday, January 28, 2009


    Captcha fortune cookie: Steel matter of

  35. 85
    James says:

    Rod B Says (29 January 2009 at 5:41 PM:

    “…to require an average 36 MPG over the entire company’s fleet in the 2010 model year in order to sell any, the result will be no — that’s zero — vehicles being sold after about Nov 09.”

    I think you need to think about that some more. The requirement is that the average mpg of the vehicles a manufacturer sells in California be 36 mpg or better. So all any manufacturer need do is not sell very many of the models that get less than that.

    So what is so hard about a 36 mpg average? Lotus is pretty close to that now, fer cryin out loud. The 2000 model in my driveway has been averaging over 70 mpg for the 5 years I’ve owned it. It’s not impossible, or even that difficult, if you start thinking of cars as transportation first.

  36. 86

    Historically speaking, has the earth’s climate ever been stable? If your answer is yes; How do you know that?
    I have heard stories about extreme warm climates, and extremely cold climates (IE.the ice ages, including the last one about 10,000 years ago). Are these stories true? If they are, it seems kind of silly to be going back and forth about “+/- 3 degrees celsius” this and “CO2 levels” that.
    I mean, climate change is real. I know that. I watch Discovery channel. According to them, woolly mammoths once lived where my favorite titty bar is now located. They wouldn’t be woolly if it was warm out. But what is the big deal?
    Don’t think I’m just trying to be funny (although I am). I’d really like to hear your answers. Don’t bore me with the “+/- celcius” crap; Just explain why you’re so convinced that a changing climate is bad, and why you think we can stabilize it, where so many species before us have failed.


  37. 87

    “We know that melting ice sheets have contributed to meters of sea level rise per year – meltwater pulse 1 A for instance, or even the early Holocene final collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. – gavin]”

    Seriously? How many meters? Isn’t a meter, like, bigger than a yard? I better go out back and move my toolbox.

    [Response: here and here. – gavin]

    [Update: I meant meters/century sorry for the confusion! – gavin]

  38. 88
    Ricki (Australia) says:

    78 + 79…I agree.

    I’m with Maya. I think there is plenty of scintific evidence for our leaders to say, OK lets reduce emissions.

    In watching the blogs for the last couple of years, the arguments are mostly about the detail — is PART of antarctica warming or did it cool for a few years. This is not realy relevant to the practical problem of our emissions being set to quadruple as China and India get their electricity grids going!

    This IS NOT A POLITICAL QUESTION. It is one of our future survival.

    One simple example. All the local estuarine swamps/mangroves in my home town will be drowned with a SLR of around 0.4 to 0.5 m. My understanding is that this is basically garuanteed to happen already (even if we suddenly stopped emissions overnight). So where will I go to find the fish that need these places to breed!

    And the swamps can’t move up hill, because we have built housing on those areas or blocked them off with sea walls (to protect the doomed houses and roads, etc).

    So it does not matter if you are left wing or right wing, it will impact on you and your children.

    I appeal for the debate to rise above politics and focus on getting momentum for change underway. The scientists have done their job and got the evidence. It has been repeatedly stated and well understood that this is a serious problem.

    It is now up to: 1. the average person to make changes to their lifestyle; 2. the governments to build new renewable electricity generation plants; 3. our leaders to agree on international action (they did this for CFCs, why not for GHGs). We have to face the -do nothing- people and say -It must be done-.

    As Phil (79) said …

    –I would rather my children and hopefully grandchildren looked back on me with affection and pride, rather than as someone so willfully ignorant or totally selfish that I contributed to their misery.–

  39. 89
    Mike M says:

    Phil, ‘misery’ is being too cold and or dry to grow food which brings starvation and war; historically, it tends to do that. All predictions I’ve ever seen indicate that a warmer world will have more food and less disease on average. The current temperature trend over the last 10 years indicates that global warming, (IF it is still lurking under there somewhere), is NOT something happening quickly or suddenly accelerated due to human CO2 emission. If human CO2 does actually have something to due with increasing the rate of global warming, whatever scientific evidence you wish to choose shows that the puny amount we add, (less GHG than what termites emit), not only doesn’t amount to anything worth worrying about at all – it is so small that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have an effect worth worrying about. Forget the models, they leave out so much science that they are nothing more than curve fitting routines tweaked to death in order to predict the past. Are there any models that include the fact that plant life grows faster with more CO2 and therefore energy is TAKEN out of the equation at an ever increasing rate as that plant life grows more quickly and therefore converts energy from solar radiant energy to potential chemical energy at a faster rate? Not that I’ve heard..that’s a negative feedback. Do the models correctly account for the latent heat of evaporation of water being carried up thousands of feet before releasing that heat energy well above the bulk of our atmosphere when it condenses back into liquid? Not that I’m aware of .. that’s another negative feedback.

    The danger is not inaction, the real danger is in climate alarmism itself. My prime example is bio-fuel. It’s the most arrogant, elitist ‘solution’ imaginable; feeding FOOD to our machines. The 10% ethanol mandate used up over 1/4 of the USA corn crop and did virtually NOTHING to reduce CO2 emissions. But it DID increase the price of food. In some poor places they spend 100% of their income just to get enough food for their families and here we are buying it right out of their mouths! If that ain’t arrogant then nothing is and this global warming hystaria is largely responsible for the death destruction coming to those people.

    I’ll rest my case on the fact that CO2 has averaged 5 to 10X HIGHER on this planet for 100’s of millions of years (GEOCarb III), and temperature over that period had zero correlation to its concentration. Geologically speaking, we are at a LOW point in CO2 concentration and the fact that most plants can easily handle 1000 or even 1500PPM CO2 is PROOF that their genetics already experienced it and put it to good use a long time ago. Additionally and regardless of CO2 over 600 million years, temperature never went over about 10C degrees above where we are now – WHY WAS THAT? Nobody really knows yet…

  40. 90
    Uli says:

    Re:#87 Gavin,
    one meter per year seems really too much, at least on average over a century. May be up to 4 to 5 meters per century.

    [Response: Of course – my mistake. Thanks for catching it. – gavin]

  41. 91
    Florifulgurator says:

    @Mike M (89) – If you really can’t believe what difference a tiny amount of stuff can make, here’s an nice self-experiment for you to try:

    Put 50 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide in 500 grams of water. So the lsd concentration is 0.1ppm (in words: on tenth of a part per million). You’re sure not afraid to swallow that. Report back what you’ve seen.

  42. 92
    ike solem says:

    “What determines how much coverage a climate study gets?”

    In the U.S., or elsewhere? In the U.S., the main determination of coverage is the economic impact of the story on fossil fuel and financial interests, which in the U.S. are closely linked. The major news outlets in this country are owned by banks with large holdings in fossil fuels; those banks select the media CEOs, who control promotions to editorial positions, and the editors assign stories to journalists.

    Let’s test this theory: The antarctic story got some coverage, but it only points toward the reality of global warming. To the global economy, the issue of a warming or cooling Antarctica is irrelevant; there are no immediate economic effects, so the story gets some coverage. As a result of the coverage, the public opinion will move towards concern about global warming.

    Now, let’s consider another robust global warming prediction: expansion of the subtropical dry zones around the world due to changes in atmospheric circulation (Hadley cell expansion). Affected areas include the American Southwest, sub-Saharan Africa, and others. The basic notion is described in Lu et. al, GRL, 2007,”Expansion of the Hadley cell under global warming”.

    The data to support this theory includes changing stream flow patterns across the Southwest, diminishing snowpack, increasing winter temperatures and the current drought, estimated to be the worst ever in California’s recorded history.

    Nevertheless, out of the some dozen articles in California newspapers on the looming drought, not one mentions the role that global warming is playing. The one execption was the global news service, Reuters, who included this statement from a political appointee in California’s Water Department:

    “Climate change does indicate the possibility of more frequent droughts,” said Lynn, “but it’s hard to tell over a short time span.”

    This year ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific are cooler than normal in a weather system called La Nina. In northern California, that means less precipitation. Last year was also a La Nina year, but precipitation didn’t slow until March and April.

    Not one mention of the dozens of studies pointing towards the inevitability of a drying Southwestern climate, however – and that was the best of the bunch. The collection of California newspapers owned by the MediaNewsGroup, i.e. Dean Singleton’s media empire, refuses to mention drought and global warming in the same article, as does the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, etc. MSNBC also covers the drought, but not the role of global warming. The same goes for the Modesto Bee, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It’s an across-the-board phenomenon – but the SF Chronicle did publish an article about “decreased public concern over global warming”:

    The other thing is that La Nina has not developed, despite claims made by reporters as well as by state Department of Water officials – take a look at the current forecasts:

    In addition, most current model outlooks, and the eastward propagation of warmer sub-surface water from the western equatorial Pacific, suggest that the cooler surface conditions in the Pacific may not persist much beyond summer 2009. The most likely scenario is for the central and eastern Pacific to warm further over the coming months and to remain neutral.

    Thus, claims by newspaper reporters and government officials about La Nina being responsible for the drought are unsupported. Can we put this down to honest mistakes by government officials and reporters – or is this a deliberate program to distort the science? It surelooks like the latter – and in the case of drought in California, there are clear and immediate economic impacts, especially to agricultural production.

  43. 93
    dhogaza says:

    All predictions I’ve ever seen indicate that a warmer world will have more food and less disease on average.

    Mike M, you need to get out more. Your comment makes it clear that your *only* source of information about climate change is denialist sites.

    Is there any particular reason you get your science from those who deny science, rather than those who practice science?

  44. 94
    Nick Gotts says:

    Mike M.,
    There’s so much garbage in your comment it’s hard to know where to start. global food production may indeed increase with a rise of less than 2 C from pre-industrial levels, after that it will almost certainly fall. Even short of that, melting of Himalayan glaciers will deprive much of eastern Asia of its main source of water for irrigation, so the increase will not last. It is simply ludicrous to pretend that the amounts of CO2 emitted by human activity are insignificant: the rise in atmospheric CO2 has been copiously documented, and is known to be caused by human activity: fossil fuel use, deforestation and land use change. Do you really think modellers are so stupid they would not notice the negative feedbacks you mention, and incorporate those that are significant? Or perhaps they are all in the pay of evil governments/greens/leftists/whatever?

    The corn-to-ethanol subsidy in the USA was not aimed at reducing GHG emissions, or even its ostensible purpose of reducing dependence on foreign oil, but at raising the price of corn to put money into farmers’ pockets. Your claim that “global warming hysteria” is responsible is absolutely false. As for charges of arrogance – those are best applied to the denialists, who dismiss the expertise of the vast majority of climate scientists on utterly spurious grounds such as yours.

  45. 95
    Marcus says:

    #89: Mike M: “Are there any models that include the fact that plant life grows faster with more CO2…?”

    Um, yes? Any model that’s integrated with an ecosystem model. For example, the MIT IGSM which is coupled with the Woods Hole Terrestrial Ecosystem Model, which certainly has a CO2 fertilization effect imbedded. Also, the amount of energy converted from solar to chemical energy will be a small effect compared to the reduction in greenhouse warming resulting from taking CO2 out of the atmosphere (much like burning coal doesn’t release much energy compared to the increase in greenhouse effect warming), so you don’t even have the right negative feedback.

    “Do the models correctly account for the latent heat of evaporation of water being carried up thousands of feet before releasing that heat energy well above the bulk of our atmosphere when it condenses back into liquid?”
    Wait – the answer to this is yes, too. Maybe your problem is that you aren’t actually “aware” of much about climate models.

  46. 96
    Marcus says:

    “Just explain why you’re so convinced that a changing climate is bad, and why you think we can stabilize it, where so many species before us have failed.”

    Ok. So, obviously the earth as a whole has dealt with pretty large climate changes in the past. Some of these large climate changes have either been the cause or a contributing factor to massive extinctions (eg, woolly mammoths). While the earth has survived massive extinction events, I don’t think that living through the extinction event would be a lot of fun for most species except a few opportunistic ones who get to evolve into new niches in the millions of years after the disaster, and probably not even for most organisms _within_ those lucky species. I’ll point out that in addition to extinctions, a large climate change can include: large sea level rise changes (let’s move all our coastal cities!), large precipitation and temperature pattern changes (let’s move all our agriculture – to Canada! and all those people whose water supplies depend on Himalayan snowpack melt to… um, somewhere?), and other changes that will be annoying because all of our infrastructure is built around assuming a relatively stable system today. So, to sum up, large climate changes: no fun to live through.

    On stabilizing climate: In the absence of large human-induced GHG changes and of large disaster events like Yellowstone becoming a massive volcano or a massive meteor strike, I think it seems fairly likely that over the few centuries global mean temperature wouldn’t vary by more than 1, maybe 2 degrees Celsius given the past thousand+ years of temperature history and our understanding of the system (

    If we don’t control our CO2 and other GHG emissions, we’re looking at possibly 5 degrees C or more of global mean temperature change in _this_ century (see IPCC AR4 Summary for Policymakers and the projections graph). That’s comparable to the difference between an ice age and an interglacial. So, by controlling our emissions, we can, in fact, likely reduce temperature changes by a lot.

    Note that other species in the past have massively changed the earth system: the first photosynthetic organisms, for example. We’d just be the first to try to do it intelligently. At least, I hope we’ll do it intelligently, rather than just blindly as we’ve been doing it so far…

  47. 97
    Jack Roesler says:

    I just posted this article in the comments section of a major US newspaper. Unfortunately, my name and email address appeared. I hope the global warming deniers don’t flood my email box with nasty comments.

    Is there a way to erase my name and email address when linking your articles in other blogs?

    [Response: Your email address should never appear on this site. – gavin]

  48. 98
    Jim Eager says:

    Chris Colbert (86) and all those who use the argument that climate has always changed naturally, and that there is no “ideal” stable climate, overlook, deliberately or naively, a very important fact: Earth’s climate has in fact been remarkably stable for the past 10000 years, long enough that every single thing we know as civilization, including agriculture and all technology beyond simple stone and bone tools, has been developed during that period.

    The question is not whether or not climate has changed naturally in the past and will in the future–it has and it will.
    The question is how will current climate change impact our civilization, our built infrastructure, and every single plant and animal species that we depend on?

  49. 99
    Rod B says:

    ccpo, your post 83 (30 January 2009 at 12:41 AM) sounds quite erudite. But, alas, it’s lengthy scholarly nonsense. You’re saying simply that anyone who espouses something different from what you know to be true (in an important matter, I assume…) deserves to be criminally prosecuted. That’s known as a society of man, not of law. Same problem with, as you say, them disagreeing with the majority thought: you claim that is prima facie proof of fraudulent perjury. That borders on the tyranny of the majority. Though it seems majority, minority, nor any number is necessary for your tyranny; only your strongly held beliefs are. That’s pushing fascism. Sorry.

  50. 100
    Jim Eager says:

    Mike M (89), what you don’t know about climate science can and does fill library shelves. There is so much misinformation—and I’m sure more than a little deliberate disinformation that you’ve swallowed–and flat out wrong assertions in your post to take it seriously. I suggest you start reading about the actual science of climate change. A good place to start is Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming. It’s available free on-line at the American Institute of Physics website here: