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What George Will should have written

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 February 2009

We’ve avoided piling on to the George Will kerfuffle, partly because this was not a new story for us (we’d commented on very similar distortions in previous columns in 2004 and 2007), but mostly because everyone else seems to be doing a great job in pointing out the problems in his recent columns.

We are actually quite gratified that a much wider group of people than normal have been involved in calling out this latest nonsense, taking the discussion well outside the sometimes-rarefied atmosphere of the scientific blogosphere (summary of links). Maybe RealClimate has succeeded in its original aim of increasing the wider awareness of the scientific context? However, like many, we are profoundly disappointed in the reaction of the Washington Post editors and George Will himself (though the ombudsman’s column today is a step in the right direction). It would have been pleasant to see an example of the conservative punditocracy actually learning something from the real world instead of resorting to ever-more unconvincing pseudo-legalistic justifications and attacks on the messenger to avoid taking their head out of the sand. Nonetheless, in a moment of naive optimism, we have allowed ourselves to indulge in a fantasy for how a more serious columnist might have dealt with the issue:

The scientific method in journalism
Feb 29th, 2009, Washington post

This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done.

It is no secret that I am a critic of sensationalism in the coverage of environmental issues and that I have a philosophical preference for reality-based policies over those based on the ideologically-based fantasies of those I critique.

In my last column, I reported on a statistic concerning sea ice extent – that global sea ice extent is unchanged since 1979 – that was trivially shown to be untrue, and for that I apologize. Rather than throw the fact checkers in my office or at the Washington Post under the bus, I take full responsibility for the mistake. However, as with good scientific practice, this provides an example of how journalism too can learn from its mistakes.

The source of the original quote was a Daily Tech blog post published in early January. While that post itself was heavily criticized as being misleading, it did use data from a reliable scientific source which was technically accurate at the time. My error was in assuming that scientific ‘facts’ don’t change over a month or two and thus it was not necessary to revisit the source of the original data before writing my column. What was true in January would still be true in February, right? Wrong.

What I didn’t consider was that in complex and noisy data there are always going to be outliers, and in heavily politicised subjects there will always be people who will want to exploit a chance occurrence for a sound-bite. I should of course have known better since I decry this practice on a regular basis in discussions of economic issues. Through a combination of wishful thinking and time constraints, my failure to recognize a piece of classic cherry-picking lay at the heart of this problem.

However, sometimes old dogs do learn new tricks. The surprising fact (to me at least) that the difference in global sea ice between two single dates 30 years apart can change so radically in such a short space of time, implies that it is not a particularly good measure of long term climate change. It is a bit like looking at a single stock to gauge the health of the economy. Unfortunately (for me at least), it also validates the scientific consensus about the original article. It was indeed a misleading statistic, and I was indeed misled. Next time I will try and be more careful.

There continues to be a pressing need for an informed conservative discussion of the issues of climate change. Voices such as Senator John McCain, and businessman Jim Manzi (writing in the Nation last year National Review in 2007) can perhaps show the way. The distraction of the last week over exact parsings and interpretations of technical data are just a sideshow while real decisions are already being made every day in Washington. In order for conservatives to have a voice at those tables, we need to be seen as serious contributors. Every time we are mislead by amateur bloggers, we lose another chance to influence policy. This may have been useful as a delaying tactic in the past, but now that there is clear leadership in the White House, this serves only to marginalize conservatives even further. Unlikely as it may seem for me to quote President Obama approvingly, it may be time for us to put aside childish things.

If only…..

497 Responses to “What George Will should have written”

  1. 1
    Brian Brademeyer says:

    Well done! (but past tense is “misled”.)

    [Response: Actually both versions are acceptable, but I changed it above for clarity. – gavin]

  2. 2
    Jimbo says:

    Well…eh. I take the point, but it’s not as though Manzi is fountain of good ideas on this issue. That is, it’s not really enough to assume that if conservatives stop lying about science that they’ll actually play some form of constructive, oppositional policy role. Sorry to sound dour, but the fact is that this is a culture war issue, and moving reactionaries like Will away from their misstatements on the basic research won’t really alter the dialogue in any meaningful way. Of course, the pushback toward Will is absolutely critical, because it marginalizes his voice (or allows him to marginalize himself). But let’s not pretend that there’s some universe in which he actually reforms himself into an honest broker.

    [Response: I said it was a naively optimistic moment. But there are conservative voices who are calling for more constructive engagement on the issues – though they seem to be noticeable by their absence this week. Of course, it is much easier to be reflexively contrarian. But if the Economist can make the transition, so can others. – gavin]

  3. 3
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I am afraid that there are many on the right (and not a few on the left) that have given up any belief in objective reality. For instance, I rather doubt Dick Cheney and reality have even exchanged holiday greetings in decades. What strikes me is how little faith the captains of Industry seem to have in capitalism to resolve difficult issues like climate change. Gavin, your allusion to The Economist is highly relevant. The Economist is one of my favorite news sources. I don’t always agree with them, but they are firmly in the reality-based community–both scientifically and economically. In that sense, they represent a conservative tradition that rags like the WSJ and the Financial Post seem to have abandoned utterly.

  4. 4
    RickA says:

    Big picture – isn’t it correct that the global ice extent as of 12/31/2008 is near to the global ice extent as of 12/31/1979? Given that some scientists were predicting an ice free North pole in 2008, I think the thrust of the article correctly points out that maybe the global ice level isn’t all that different than it was in 1979.

    [Response: The ‘big picture’ is that Arctic ice is on a very clear downward trend, particularly in summer and no amount of cherry picking of individual days, subtle jumping from Arctic to global as if I wouldn’t notice, and restatements of exactly the same incorrect ‘factoid’ as Will, go any distance towards refuting that. – gavin]

  5. 5
    James Staples says:

    I happy to say that, through the auspices of Media Matters, I was one of many people who lambsted George Will (whose Intelligence I’ve always admired; which I pointed out, as you catch more files with Honey….) and The Washington Post; and that I suggested the Post forward the RealClimate website directly to George Wills Favorites File; while ‘stroking’ the old “I hate to see such a SMART Fellow, make such STUPID Comments, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc. etc.”!!!
    Though you may be too busy to need much more on your plate, Gavin, et al, I suugest that you – and anyone who reads this comment – subscribe to Media Matters; they always have something pertinent to say or to ask US to do; with this matter being a case in point!

  6. 6
    Jim Bouldin says:

    I’m gonna have to re-examine some of George’s many baseball opines in light of this…especially anything involving numbers.

  7. 7
    dhogaza says:

    I’m gonna have to re-examine some of George’s many baseball opines in light of this…especially anything involving numbers.

    Hmmm … wanna bet he was a steroids denialist back in the McGuire/Sosa home run fiesta days?

  8. 8
    dhogaza says:

    Big picture – isn’t it correct that the global ice extent as of 12/31/2008 is near to the global ice extent as of 12/31/1979? Given that some scientists were predicting an ice free North pole in 2008,

    Scientists quibble over estimates of when the Arctic Ocean will be ice free IN SUMMER.

    12/31 might be summer in Antarctica, but not in the Arctic Ocean…

  9. 9
    Alan of Oz says:

    Political hacks are like computers, you have to punch facts into them.

    Despite all these psudeo-skeptical hacks there has been a massive world-wide political shift that has occured over the last decade or so, much of it recently. People like Will, Bolt, Ball, Devine, etc, are losing ground faster than Saddam’s army. The general public may not remeber all the in’s and out’s of the debate but they do remeber when someone has lied to them.

    Politicians who dissmiss AGW out of hand are now an endagered species. So much so that here in Oz the conservative opposition is now in a bidding war with the government to “do something” about AGW. They are pushing biochar as an alternative solution to a (watered down) ETS, they haven’t yet admitted that for biochar to be a commercial success carbon needs to have a price but acknowlement of the problem as a bipartisan issue is the first step on the road to recovery.

    Never has a Nobel peace prize been more unexpected or deserved than in the case of the IPCC. In particular Mr Mann’s cleverly named hockey stick while only a small part of the science has played a signifigant role in the aformentioned political shift. The dogged determination of realclimate to inform and encourage intellectually honest debate serves as a model of what opinion columns might look like in an alternate universe where politicians and the press work with science rather than against it.

    Captcha word for this post, “outrage” :o

  10. 10
    Andy says:

    I don’t know Gavin, I read both of Will’s column and the ombudsman’s. While Will may have made a mistake he did more or less explain how it happened. And considering most journalists wouldn’t know that data like this often get released as preliminary and then a final number that may be different, it’s not surprising he didn’t go back and double check.

  11. 11
    Will Denayer says:

    “What strikes me is how little faith the captains of Industry seem to have in capitalism to resolve difficult issues like climate change.”

    Hi Ray Ladbury,

    I am interested in this statement, could you please give some examples and give a bit more explanation. It’s not an attack or anything of the sort. I am trying to write a book about this at the moment. Thank you. Will (Ireland)

  12. 12
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Will won!

    My neighbor can still take a print-out of Will’s original column out of his pocket and say, “See! The Washington Post says we still have as much ice as we had in 1979. Global warming is a HOAX!” My neighbor has the “facts” that he wants with a Washington Post stamp of approval.

    Did anyone other than the WaPo pay Will to write that column? My inference is that only a big payoff could make someone so oblivious to reality. (My neighbor works in the auto industry.)

  13. 13
    Mitch says:

    I have read a tremendous amount of opinions on all of these type of sites, and I have yet to have one person explain the changes in the earths climate (not Weather) when there was no humans much less industrialized nations as we have now. It seems such a simple question, but all I ever hear or read is some lame avoidance of a real answer. Please enlighten me. No ridicule please just good answer.

  14. 14
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mitch writes:
    > I have read a tremendous amount of opinions ….

    There’s your problem.

    Try the science.

    “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.”

    — attributed to Hippocrates, though nobody’s sure who said it first.

    I’d suggest:

    Start Here link at the top of every RealClimate page

    History, at the first link under Science, right sidebar, every RC page

  15. 15
    David B. Benson says:

    Mitch (13) — The linked article might be what you want.

  16. 16
    SamWeiss says:

    Mitch said: “Please enlighten me. No ridicule please just good answer.”

    While the contributors to RealClimate no doubt can be a source of enlightenment with regards to climate (which I absorb and appreciate), I’m wondering if that will be sufficient?

    In other words, what are you (Mitch) really wanting? Ultimately we all have to accept that scientific endeavors exist because we don’t know the final and complete answers to all questions; that is why more research is conducted and science as a human undertaking is not finished.

    An inference is often used in various denier arguments, that if science doesn’t have an answer to all the questions relating to a particular subject, then any answer that science does have to any specific question is somehow suspect.

    The problem with accepting such inference (and with promoting it) is that the knowledge that is gathered is diminished in value too much.

    There are so many websites on climatology that I could spend all day for the rest of my life reading up on the subject! Mitch – please go read about paleoclimatology and form some specific, pointy questions, then bring those questions to people who can answer them (as on this website.) Then we can all benefit from directed inquiry and enlightened answers.

  17. 17
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mitch, where have you been looking? Much of the variability has to do with changes in Earth’s orbit, precession and orientation, collectively as Milankovitch Cycles. Other periods of change had to do with episodes of volcanism. We actually understand quite a bit about changes in the paleoclimate.

    Do you have questions about a specific epoch?

  18. 18
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Will Denayer, I am referring to the Editorial page of the Wall Street Urinal as well as that of Canada’s Financial Post, where denialism still reign. It seems to me that those crowing most loudly about the superiority of capitalism are the very ones shrinking away from dealing with the reality of climate change.

    In fairness, John Mashey has admonished me that not all capitalists are such shrinking violets–that there are plenty of folks in Silicon Valley committed to facing the problem of climate change head on. Perhaps so. But I do not see them holding editors and politicians to account. The cowardice of the WSJ is all the more glaring when compared to the steadfast realism of The Economist.

  19. 19
    Tom says:

    Mitch (comment #13)

    I don’t know which particular climate changes you are interested in, but I suggest you pick up a copy of a good climate textbook such as The Earth System by Lee R. Kump, James F. Kasting, and Robert G. Crane. When you’ve read the textbook and read the postings on this web page about paleoclimate, ice ages and the like, then let’s have this discussion again.

    Sorry to be a bit sarcastic but you are not offering a serious question. We do have hypothesis and theories of why climate has changed in the past. Suggesting otherwise in the absence of any thoughtful investigation on your part is simply dragging red herrings around

  20. 20
    Chris O\\\\\\\'Neill says:


    12/31 might be summer in Antarctica, but not in the Arctic Ocean…

    Good point. The downward trend in ice area over 30 years is much greater in the Arctic summer than in the Arctic winter. So it’s not surprising that there are occasions when ice area in the Arctic winter is greater than it was exactly 30 years earlier. This is a good opportunity for misleading cherry picking.

  21. 21
    Danny Bloom says:

    Something for George Will to ponder tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow:

    Graduation speech for NTU Class of 2099

    Good morning, NTU Class of 2099, I can’t be here in person to address you, since I passed into oblivion long ago. But as a member of the graduating class of 1971 at my own beloved alma mater in Boston, I wanted to leave you with a brief message — from the past to the future — about global warming and climate change as it impacts Taiwan and the rest of the world as well. As the class of 2099, you are about to enter the 22nd century in a few more months, and you will bring with you not only your university experience here at NTU, but also your career expectations and personal anxieties as citizens living on a planet in the midst of a climate crisis. I’m sure you’ve heard this term a lot in the past four years — “climate crisis” — but you should know that in my days as a student in America, we never used the phrase. Back then, we had not even heard of the term yet!

    Instead, we were focused on terms such as Cold War, nuclear winter, war on poverty, racism, the oil shock, the Middle East situation, and later on, towards of our “three score and ten” on Earth, newer terms such as 9-11, terrorism and global warming.

    I’m not around now, but I hope you can read my message online somewhere or perhaps view it on a digital recording in your college library. May all your dreams come true, and then some! Long live Taiwan!

    Members of the Class of 2099, you are living in a very crucial time in the history of humankind. Your world stands at the threshold of a period of human history when very important decisions will have to be made about the use of fossil fuels and the “consume!-slash!-burn!” lifestyle that you have come to expect here in Taiwan.

    I wonder: Do the names James Lovelock or Al Gore still ring a bell in your generation now, or have new faces and names replaced them? Is the DVD of that documentary from 2006, “An Inconvenient Truth,” still in circulation at NTU? And what about Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary entitled “The 11th Hour”? Have you ever heard of the DVD, or has it been all but forgotten in your day and age?

    Class of 2099, I want to leave you with seven words: “We must tighten the noose around coal.”

    Dr. Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University in the U.S. wrote those words in 1989, more than 100 years ago, and they were prophetic. Has your world tightened the noose around coal and other fossil fuels? Has your world started to tackle the vexing problems of overpopulation, climate change and the creation of a sustainable economy? Is global warming something that will shape your future, or are the denialists out there still complaining that it is a hoax?

    Whatever your own personal views are about global warming, pro or con, you should know this: There is not much time left. I hope your generation here in Taiwan finds a way to stop the burning of fossil fuels and also finds ways to mitigate the impact of climate change on your future world. I just said that “there is not much time left.” Maybe I should have said “time is running out.” Or maybe I should have said: “Time has run out.”

    Class of 2099, go out and help create your world. Good luck and God bless!

  22. 22
    Seve Horstmeyer says:

    It seems to me that a very important word is missing from Mr. Will’s flawed column, from the numerous comments in the various “spheres” on the internet and from this very page.

    That word is thickness.

    We know the the areal extent of sea ice is an important measure of the degree of cold in the Arctic Ocean/sea ice subsystem of Earth’s climate but is it not true that even if areal extent was to increase the amount of ice could still be much decreased?

    In fact it is because the most accurate measure of the warming trend of the Arctic Ocean/sea ice subsystem is the ice volume and (area) x (thickness) = volume.

    Ice extent (i.e. area) may be the most important variable when discussing albedo or other variables but it seems to me that volume (i.e. thickness) is a better measure of the long term trend.

  23. 23
    Joel Shore says:

    Mitch (#13): Changes in the earth’s climate happen for a variety of reasons. For example, the ice age – interglacial cycles that we have been locked in for the past few million years seem to be triggered by subtle changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun and in its axis of rotation (the Milankovitch cycles) that then cause ice sheets to slowly build up (or melt away)…which changes the albedo (reflectance) of the earth amplifying this effect. The changes also cause the release of or absorption of greenhouse gases from the oceans that leads to further amplifications of the change.

    There are of course other causes for other changes that have occurred, including suspected asteroid impacts, changes in volcanism over the eons which can lead to the buildup or reduction of greenhouse gases over long time scales, etc.

    Some people seem to think this provides evidence against humans being the cause of the current climate change, which is a bit like arguing that a particular building where matches and gasoline were found could not have burned down due to arson because we know that fires can start naturally due to lightning strikes and other such things. In fact, these past climate changes allow us to learn how sensitive the earth’s climate system is to the known radiative forcing that we are producing by increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    [It is helps us to understand what natural forces are currently at work that could be causing changes…But note that some natural forces like the ones that I talked about above work over much longer timescales than the century timescale over which we are making significant changes in greenhouse gas levels. For example, the global temperature change when we recovered from the last ice age averaged only about 0.1 C per century (and descent into an ice age tended to be even slower)…whereas we are now looking at changes greater than that happening in one decade. There were some much more rapid temperature changes found in ice core records but these seem to be shifts in climate that were likely not associated with very large global temperature changes, although some dramatic local ones.]

    Hope that provides at least a brief answer to your question.

  24. 24
    RickA says:

    Yes – I see that Artic ice is down from 1979 (however, it seems to me that it is trending above 2005, 2006 and 2007). However, George Will was talking about global ice – not artic ice. The point is that the sky is not falling!

    [Response: Actually it is. – gavin]

  25. 25
    Dean says:

    Mitch, the basic mechanisms governing the earths climate are well established and easily discovered through a basic google or wikipedia search. I’m not a research scientist but I have a B.S. in Geological Engineering. These natural mechanisms include eccentricities in the earths orbit around the sun and about the earths own axis, variation in solar radiation, the earths natural carbon cycle, changes in oceanic currents and the position of the earths continents through geological time, and probably several other factors that I’m unfamiliar with. These natural mechanisms during the most recent Pleistocene and Holocene epochs have conspired to create the “Ice Age” that the earth has been in (and still is) for over a million years (?) now. Samples of gas trapped in ice cores taken from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have enabled scientists to determine that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has fluctuated between approximately 180 ppm (glacial advance and colder climate in the higher latitudes) and 280 ppm (glacial retreat and warmer climate in the higher latitudes), over the past 400,000 or more years. The rise of industrial civilization and the associated burning of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic influence has driven the level of CO2 upwards to 385 ppm today, and climbing by a few ppm each year. This can only result in major changes to the earth’s climate, oceanic circulation patterns, etc. A possible glimpse of our future would be the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (wikipedia the PETM), when a massive release of methane clathrates or other factors caused the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to rise to 1000ppm or more over a relatively brief period of time (in geological terms). This resulted in a significant extinction event that is well documented in the fossil record and took thousands of years for the earth to recover from. That is why scientists are deeply concerned that we are “rolling the dice” with the earth’s climate, food supply, oceanic circulation patterns, etc., as we enter a climate that humanity has never experienced before.

    If that is your honest question, that is my honest answer.

  26. 26
    Mark Cunnington says:

    As an interested layperson myself who has spent over 2 years trying to decipher the science, I think Milankovitch cycles are your answer, though they don’t completely explain past climate changes. The Earth’s rotation and position change in cycles in various ways over long time scales. This changes how much solar radiation the northern hemisphere receives. Since there is more land mass in the north than in the south, the amount of energy absorbed by the Earth changes. This triggers things like ice ages and melts. When you combine all the positive feedbacks of albedo, greenhouse gases and temperatures, you get the wide swings into and out of ice ages. There are also other hypotheses like solar output variations, but apparently the data do not support their contribution to current warming. There is also the hypothesis that as the Earth passes through different arms of the Milky Way it receives different amounts of cosmic rays which affect cloud formation and hence reflectivity, but this seems to be largely hypothetical and mostly discredited here. Is this all correct?

  27. 27
    George Ray says:


    RickA in #4 says that the Global (not Northern or Southern) Ice extent is near that of 1979 … is he correct? I trust he isn’t … what data can we use to disprove him?

    BTW: Great blog…..

    [Response: The data being referenced is that from Cryosphere today. ‘Global ice’ does have a long term decline, but because of the out of phase seasons in each hemisphere, and the large interannual variability – particularly in the south, it isn’t a reliable guide to what is going on with the climate. Today it is 1 million sq km less than normal, but next month, or next season it might be quite different. – gavin]

  28. 28

    #13… Mitch.. I won’t ridicule you, but you have to uncross your arms and read a little.

    I was reading this just before I came across your comment.

    You might like Wikipedia, it has some good linking, and excellent footnoting.

  29. 29
    Tom G says:

    Google…Climate Change…Wiki…read.

  30. 30
    Bob Sell says:

    February 29th 2009, a good vintage date.

  31. 31
    Richard Palm says:

    Re: #11

    Will, perhaps Ray is referring to the fact that some conservatives like to claim that climate scientists are motivated by a desired to promote social-ism. In so doing, they seem to assume that the only possible solutions to AGW are social-ist ones.

  32. 32
    Richard Palm says:

    Re: 13

    Mitch, when there were no humans, all climate changes were due to natural causes. How is your question relevant to the issue of whether humans are causing climate change IN ADDITION to the natural changes?

  33. 33
    Shelama says:

    “The scientific method in journalism
    Feb 29th, 2009, Washington post”


    [Response: Yes. It didn’t happen. – gavin]

  34. 34
    Chris Colose says:

    #13 Mitch,

    You must not do any real studying if you’ve never heard about the evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere through biosphere changes and oxygenation, plate tectonics/silicate weathering, milankovitch cycles, solar activity and volcanic eruptions, among other things. Depends on the time period and the timescale, and it’s rather standard reading material in paleoclimate or atmospheric science texts. If you feel other people are being dismissive, it’s probably because they know you can just pick up a book or do standard google searches.

    #4 RickA

    You’re being misled. The claims that “Arctic sea ice are at 1979 levels” are based on images such as this one. Mark Serreze of NSIDC does a good job of explaining why your interpreation is incorrect in this RC comment (for example). It’s not a tough comment to follow, and it has to do with the fact that you’re not doing any trend analysis whatsoever; rather, you’re cherry-picking a handful of data points to make an erroneous claim. I could make any outlandish claim I wanted to if I picked the right data points in a time series (i.e., the ones that suited whatever argument I was making), and there are many data points on the zero anomaly trend line. This is precisely the tactic used in “global warming stopped in 1998” talking points. I could equally pick other data points and make much more alarming statements, but that’s not how statistical analysis works.

  35. 35
    truth says:

    Alan of Oz: [9]:
    The reason conservative politicians have to come up with their own ETS in Australia, is that freedom of speech for them on this subject is non-existent, and they would have to commit political suicide if they wanted to express even the slightest doubt or query.
    This has happened, because the Australian population has been conditioned and propagandised into believing that there are no alternative scientific views on the subject—and that Al Gore,[ whose lifestyle produces more emissions than that of almost all of the ordinary mortals he preaches and lectures to ], had to be obeyed when he came to warn Australians that they had a duty to vote Labor in order to save the planet. The many Gore mistakes , as detailed by a British court, are indulged and excused by the consensus side [ all attention to truth flying out the window], because his message is theirs—the consensus one, while this George Will’s mistakes are immediately pounced on , ridiculed and demonised.
    Yet it’s Gore , with his AGW-generated wealth, and worldwide adulation, who has a huge personal vested interest in the world continuing to believe , [and being vilified if they question ], the AGW consensus.
    Australia is in science and freedom of speech shutdown on this issue— the kids have been brainwashed—–most voters don’t dare question lest they be seen as backward , destructive planet vandals——and the media regularly dare conservative politicians to question—all of us knowing exactly what the result for them would be if they did.
    With the Left wing politicians , Left wing media and Left wing scientists in unholy alliance , it’s democracy and science that are the endangered species in Oz.

    [Response: It’s the paranoia that’ll destroy ya… – gavin]

  36. 36
    Phillip Bratby says:

    Is it a leap year, or is the Washington Post working in the future?

    [Response: No. It is an imaginary date for an imaginary piece… – gavin]

  37. 37
    Dermot says:

    Re: 21
    The vexing problem of overpopulation. Without wishing to go into this topic as such, I would like to point out that the Ehrlichs and others blew their credibility when they projected mass famines and, for example, called Bangladesh a basket case. Linking projections of the impact of global warming to such projection failures, and that over a much shorted timescale, does not help.

  38. 38
    John Lang says:

    There are two measures of sea ice – ice area and ice extent.

    And there is a question of the timeline that George Will was referring to (was it the year-end December 1979 vs December 2008 or some other time period.)

    This is important because the December versus January versus February 15th amounts could show something different.

    The global sea ice extent numbers are very close for the December 1979 versus December 2008 period.

    Although you really can’t check this assertion since the data is not really available anywhere – the Cryosphere has some charts of sea ice area but where are the numbers – where are the sea ice extent numbers.

  39. 39
    Mark says:

    Further to Mark’s post #26, in the past, the cycle went from warm to cold and back again.

    We are now warm.

    And if it’s part of the old natural cycle, we should, if anything, be getting colder.

    We’re getting warmer.

    This does not fit the cycle.

    Shouldn’t this suggest that the old cycle and its cause isn’t happening this time? Or is there a hidden “warm-warmer” blip everyone including you have missed in the past record???

  40. 40
    Mark says:

    Mitch, #13. Can I ask, is it IMPOSSIBLE that human actions are the cause of this change?

    If not, then why don’t you consider it to be true?

  41. 41
    Mark says:

    James, #5. I suspect that if Will’s actions are genuine they are motivated by two things:

    1) He’s smart. He knows it and people say he is.
    2) He started with “I don’t think it’s possible that we could do this” and then instead of saying “well, am I wrong?” he went (because he’s smart) “there must be proof that this is a hoax”.

    I think Patrick Moore is having the same problem. He started not with “is the scientific community saying this right?” but with personal disbelief. And for Patrick, he has a really good source for an alternative: astronomy shows that the sun is getting hotter.

    And, for Patrick, this explains everything. And, instead of being skeptical about his own assumptions, because he’s smart and knows it, he just accepts what he found because it confirms what he thinks.

    I’m certain he hasn’t done any calculations to find out if the sun alone is good enough for the changes seen. But he doesn’t think he needs to. He’s smart, he doesn’t think it’s us and he has a fact that could explain an alternative. Why check?

    Some of course will just be doing the same for idealogical reasons, such as most of the libertarian think-tanks. For them, government will have to force companies to do something and ANYTHING a government does is wrong. So the best way to stop government doing anything about it you should show how they shouldn’t do anything.

    Others hate “green issues” and don’t want ecology to ruin their lives.

    Others hate businesses being told what to do and don’t want to change because whatever a business does is right and if they didn’t they’d lose customers. “The Invisible Hand” will fix all.

    Others have an unshakable belief in God. And He wouldn’t let this happen to His Chosen People.

    Others have an unshakable belief in God and think that the Rapture is about to start. We’re already practically in hell with kids not showing proper respect, girls dressing up like tarts, godless scientists being listened to…

    And so on.

    These people have one thing in common. They don’t think AGW could *possibly* exist and this is entirely natural. And so they look for a reason why this is so. And find it. And, since they couldn’t confirm or deny, they just accept that fact without any skepticism (and this is why “climate skeptic” isn’t right) and because it tells them what they already “know”, they don’t need to look any further, don’t need to know any more. Don’t WANT to know.

  42. 42
    Mark says:

    truth, #35, so the “truth” you’re looking for is one that shows that this AGW stuff is all wrong and anyone gainsaying it is silenced.

    Probably with black helos overhead…

    That’s not truth you’re looking for. It’s confirmation of what you already KNOW to be true.

  43. 43
    Harold Pierce Jr says:

    ATTN: Alan of Oz at #9
    Why don’t you hop on the Ghan, go to Alice Springs, and ask all the old folks (i.e., white settlers and elders of the native tribes who are >60 years of age) if they have experienced any climate cnange in their lifetimes. That is to say, have they experienced a pronounced change in the pattern of weather that has persisted for 30 or more years. Alice Springs is in the middle of the continent as is still classified as rural so it an ideal site to collect such info.

  44. 44
    Schmert says:

    My concern is the quickly developing irrationality within the Climat Science community and consequent clutching at possible methods of Bio-engineering : In this weeks New Scientist (issue no: 2697,p 29, Gaia Vince?!) ‘Climatologists tend to fall into two camps: there are the cautious ones who say we need to cut emissions and won’t even think about high global temperatures; and there are the ones who tell us to run for the hills because we’re all doomed’ and that sulphur aerosols are being reconsidered by the British Government again as a sun shield. A couple of months ago (quote details are sitting in a box!) Scientific American (which would now appear to be readable under the influence of President Elect Obama!) reported that the World Health Org. estimates an annual death toll of 50,000 due to the inevitable sulphuric precipitation. In military terms shock is far preferable to panic: and it certainly looks like quite a lot of panicking!: (shock tends to shut people up so they don’t make a nuisance of themselves.)

    Is it really in the public interest to cause a civilian state of moral panic, whilst real and effective solutions to the problem are actively sought?

  45. 45

    People, people, people! Please stop with the responses to Mitch — his comment was obviously a ploy to get good people to waste good time, and he has succeeded admirably and made his paycheck for the day.

    recaptcha: HELPLESS

  46. 46
    mitch says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I will do some research using the info given and get back to some of your posts. And no I dont think its impossible for humans to be a part of these changes just not to the degree that some ascribe to.

  47. 47
    Mike G says:

    Truth, what exactly are these “alternative scientific views?” Being a scientist and saying “It ain’t so” is not a scientific view. It’s an opinion expressed by a scientist.

    “Alternative scientific views” must take the evidence into account and be able to explain the observed direction, magnitude, and pattern of trends (or potentially be able to do so as more data becomes available) at least as well as the prevailing hypothesis to be considered true alternative explanations. Blaming things on the sun or volcanoes, or pointing toward natural events in the past doesn’t make the grade.

    Also, could you tell us what percentage of Al Gore’s wealth is “AGW-generated” and give us a timeline of when he started accumulating that wealth vs. when he became an environmental advocate?

  48. 48
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The ironically named “truth” says “Yet it’s Gore , with his AGW-generated wealth, and worldwide adulation, who has a huge personal vested interest in the world continuing to believe , [and being vilified if they question ], the AGW consensus.”

    Uh, Dude, all I can say is: Please. Get help. Now. Once you find a medication that works for you, maybe come back and try to learn some of the science. Then you might understand why there is a consensus–’cause that’s where all the evidence is.

  49. 49
    Sekerob says:

    #41, sadly for you Mark, Patrick knows and the rest of the world knows, who bothered to look, that he sun has been on a cooling trend for well over 50 years. So Patrick never thought so and you little spiel falls over. Solar flux is good for 0.1C. The rest happens on the planet itself. There’s more input than output, energy budget imbalance, so it’s getting warm-er, not on a straight line… as weather is changing with it and continuing to go through it’s fast and slow motions.

  50. 50
    Alan of Oz says:

    RE #35

    What on god’s green earth makes you think that drivel will even be read in full by a rational human? The fact of the matter is that the current leader of the opposition is battling some stiff opposition from his own back benchers who apparently did not hear the message from the Australian people at the last election.