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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. 151

    WRT to Secular Animist’s above post, I think it is fair to say that a lot of “denialist” posters are at least partially motivated by anti-elitism, either economic, intellectual, or both. Denouncing one of these guys for his ignorance (regardless of how egregious) will just harden his position all the more. And though it may satisfy, it won’t actually sting him that badly. Ignorance is an extremely negative value for the scientific community; not so much for other communities, who may rank other virtues–say, industry, or responsibility–much higher in the scheme of things.

    (Which I guess is why I’ve been arguing the irresponsibility of emissions BAU lately.)

  2. 152
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I can’t believe the mainstream media are STILL up to dirty reporting/editorials on global warming. They’ve been worse than rotten for 20 years. The only way the WASHINGTON POST can redeem itself for this outrageous George Will column is to write a front page article on James Hansen’s recent Bjerknes lecture (with the large color picture of Faust and the Devil from page 24).

    People have a right to know and the media have an obligation, a sacred duty, to tell about very serious threats to all life on planet earth. Failure and the ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach are not options. WaPo editors, please read the following.

    See (esp. page 24):

    ReCaptcha: drops 01-11 (I think this has something to do with sea ice extent)

  3. 153
    Jesse says:

    @Kevin McKinney et al

    If you look on Dave Neiwert’s Orcinus blog, he has a whole discussion of why fascism in particular appeals to the anti-elitist crowd.

    This is relevant because many of those same people – god knows, I have spoken to them often enough — are genuinely frightened and disturbed by the idea that there’s a bunch of stuff that could affect their livelihoods that they don’t understand.

    It’s a kind of defense mechanism, I think. It doesn’t mean that experts are always right. but it does stem from a feeling of powerlessness. Even though those same scientists are the ones who provide many of the gadgets and goodies people take for granted.

    Couple all that with demonizing “the other” — you can see where this goes.

    Captcha: Mille Super

  4. 154
    Mark says:

    Geoff 148, the UK one.

  5. 155
    Will Denayer says:

    “If you look on Dave Neiwert’s Orcinus blog, he has a whole discussion of why fascism in particular appeals to the anti-elitist crowd.”
    This in an interesting site (which I did not know)and, unfortunately, it is relevant for what we are dealing with. It’s all very simple – and very stupid too, but that’s how it is – some people feel betrayed by political institutions (in some cases, they have a point); they lose their jobs or get less income – so they blame the immigrants (which is very dumb); there is a war going on which cannot be won, and so on, there are so many problems and then – I’ve heard that many times already – ‘there is this now’ – it all becomes too much and they fell prey to the professional liars. But that is the world we live in: a minority is going to believe in white supremacy, in creationism and it won’t believe anything about climate change and this is very scary.

  6. 156
    David B. Benson says:

    Jeff (130) — Here are two books describing “if this goes on” scenarios:

    “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas,
    “Hell and High Water” by Joseph Romm,

    and a description of a very bad event in the distant past, one which we might cause to be repeated:

    “Under a Green sky” by Peter D. Ward

  7. 157
    Mark says:

    re 145, it may be simpler than that for most:

    A comfortable lie is preferable to a painful truth.

  8. 158

    Gavin :
    Some confusion may arise from there being two ‘Jim Manzi’s’ both computer scientists , both of whom have written on climate policy , and other matters, for National Review as well as one whom you cite, having authored the piece in The Nation to which you refer.

    [Response: Hmm… actually, I was referring to the one that wrote the National Review cover story June 2007 – discussed here. I’ll correct the post. Thanks. – gavin]

  9. 159
    Pat N says:

    Re: 138

    I ran into that same “curious phenomena” nine years ago when NWS supervisors claimed a NOAA press release (February, 2000) on global warming was politically motivated, as was NOAA’s director at that time Dr. James Baker. They figured I was too, so that ordered me not to talk about global warming, not even as a private citizen at the Mall of America!

  10. 160
    Steve Reynolds says:

    gavin (138): “To these people it is inconceivable that everything they do is not with some specific political objective – therefore no-one else’s actions can be for any other motive.”

    So do ‘these people’ only exist on the denial side of the argument, or might they include some on the alarmist side?

  11. 161
    caerbannog says:

    nd a description of a very bad event in the distant past, one which we might cause to be repeated:

    “Under a Green sky” by Peter D. Ward

    Low concentrations of carbon monoxide (a few parts per thousand) can kill you quickly, but you can’t smell it.

    Hydrogen cyanide is quite toxic at low concentrations, but many people can’t smell it.

    Hydrogen sulfide, in contrast, is incredibly evil smelling, even at concentrations far below dangerous levels.

    If you ever wondered why hydrogen sulfide smells so much worse than other toxic gases, Peter Ward has a plausible explanation.

  12. 162
    truth says:

    David [64]:
    I agree with you about the cultural and moral relativism that pervades Australian universities—especially in the faculties of education, arts, sociology and nursing—but also in the war between social and substantive law advocates , that almost closed down the law faculty in one of our major universities.
    This relativism has been a triumph for the Left, and a tragedy for education , and the general well-being of the Western democracies.
    How can any of us be surprised that high school and university students [ in Australia anyway], are turning away in droves from the absolutism of maths as a choice for study?
    The relativism mindset encourages the examination of issues and subjects, not for their substance, but for the image and influence to be gained by taking a certain position on them.
    The preconceived objective for the children of relativism is to come out of any examination of the climate change issue with the great ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of being seen as a ‘saviour of the planet’—-not to get to the truth of the situation.
    The consensus scientists would gain enormous respect from those who criticise them now, [ scientists or non-scientists] if it could be seen that they showed some respect to other scientists from all the many fields that are involved in climate science—– if they changed from ‘attack and smear’ mode to ‘listen and refute or adjust’.
    When AGW consensus scientists bristle at the slightest dissension or correction from other scientists, and when one of their most prominent colleagues, Mike Hulme of the Tyndall Centre first spoke out reasonably against the ‘discourse of catastrophe’ [ from climate scientists and politicians], as a ‘political and rhetorical device’ in 2006, then told the world in 2007 , that climate scientists must ‘trade truth for influence’—that scientists who ‘want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy’, must ‘recognise the social limits of their truth-seeking, and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity’—-then there will be mistrust—how could it be otherwise?
    I disagree very strongly with the extreme condescension of your last paragraph.
    Conservatives know [ not ‘think’ ]what they’re fighting against—-and they’re much more inclined to look ‘beyond surface’ than the consensus side.

  13. 163
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #111 & “One side is populated by liars, kooks or is bought by the energy industry, and the other side is motivated only by the pure desire to share the truth that has been revealed to them by proxy studies and GCM’s.”

    There is a third side, the laypersons concerned about life on planet earth side. We’re motivated by love of our children and other creatures. We’re on the far side of the scientists, whom we respect, while understanding they must strive to avoid false positives (re untrue claims) to maintain their reputations. We care squat about our reputations and strive to avoid false negatives — we don’t need much proof of a problem with the magnitude of climate change & its dangerous effects before rushing out to solve it, even in the face of tremendous ridicule.

    We started reducing our greenhouse gases by 1990 or earlier, well before scientific studies started reaching .05 significance (95% confidence) in 1995. Many of us have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 1/4 to 3/4 cost-effectively, and are saving money without lowering living standards. We believe others (the ones who have made the U.S. emissions increase by 20% since 1990) are very bad actors, or just terribly uninformed, or preoccupied with various types of nonsense.

    So there is this third side quite different from the denialists and the scientists, and we’re just waiting for the media to start telling our story & not stay caught somewhere between scientists needing 90 to 95% confidence before claiming there’s a problem and denialists needing 99 to 101% certainty, as if there are only 2 sides to the story.

    We’re way out in sensible field, far from the right and left fields, wondering where the rest of humanity (if you can call it that) is.

    And there’s a fourth side, but its proponents aren’t born yet — the thoughts and views of the vast majority of climate change victims over the next hundreds to possibly many thousands of years. Someone ought to write a column on their behalf and displace George Will’s columns. It’s quite embarrassing for our generation that they (the future climate change victims) might be reading his columns some day.

  14. 164
    Hank Roberts says:

    > a fourth side …. Someone ought to write a column on their behalf …


    Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Energy Policy and Intergenerational Justice (2.4 MB PDF). Bjerknes Lecture given Dec. 17, 2008, at the American Geophysical Union, San Francisco. Slides also available as PowerPoint (23.3 MB)


  15. 165
    Jeff says:

    Quick notes on responses to my post (#130) – First thanks.

    Second, I am surprised at the response to my post that “F10, Ap are solar proxies – they have no impact on climate.”. Hmmmm. We need to have a beer. You can’t really mean that solar flux has no impact on climate right? I’d suggest that the Sun is pretty much the primary contributor to climate/weather on the planet earth. I’m sure you know better than I that if we decreased or increased solar flux by say 1%/year for the next 10 years we would see huge climate changes unlike anything in human history. I’d suggest that you guys think that since this is highly unlikely we should act like the sun is constant and therefore doesn’t affect climate. I think this is what is meant by solar flux has no impact on climate. I can’t quite agree here and think the Maunder minimum would be exhibit #1.

    [Response: Read my response again. Solar irradiance does change and does affect climate. The specific indices you mentioned F10 and Ap are not irradiance measures, they are simply correlated to it. Thus they have no direct impact on climate. -gavin]

    Third, Ray #137 says “Start with a system in thermal equilibrium and in which energy may only escape via radiation.”. Thermodynamics was always my favorite subject in school (especially statistical thermo which isn’t much applicable here). I don’t think we have a system that is in equilibrium. If we did there wouldn’t be global warming or cooling right? My point is that I would like to see how you guys model the energy input (solar flux, and maybe some energy from radioactive decay in the earth’s core) and the energy output (radiation – which is why I asked about albedo). We have a system in pseudo-equilibrium I suppose.

    Anyway, nuff said. I’ll just say that I’d bet the farm that in 100 years people look back and think “I can’t believe they thought they had it all figured out”. I understand that you have to make the best assumptions you can make and go with the result – it’s the only way to move forward. I just can’t believe folks don’t add a LOT more caveats and that a significant group of scientists believe they KNOW how the climate is going to change going forward. Much of what we think we know isn’t quite right. I’d say our knowledge of climate modelling is on par with our economic modelling. I humbly suggest y’all are locked in your paradigm and would do well to try and get out of the box a bit.

    I do appreciate the forum and enjoy reading it.


  16. 166
    Chris O\'Neill says:


    P.S. I’m an informed skeptic on AGW. I’m very pro-environemtn and have been for decades. I think it is clear that humans are having a huge impact on the planet. Probably all the CO2 is a bad thing. But for anyone to think we understand how this is going to play out strikes me as big time hubris.

    Anyone who thinks that not understanding this means we can keep changing the atmosphere with impunity strikes me as big time hubris too. It is like saying what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

  17. 167
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Mike Hulme

    That’s a reference to this cautionary piece, which is hardly news.

    Woo. Maybe this would explain where he was going when he wrote that?

    Adaptation to Climate Change: Thresholds, Values and Governance
    S Dessai, M Hulme, R Lempert, R Pielke Jr. – 2009 – Cambridge University Press Cambridge

  18. 168
    Mark says:

    re 160, nope, they don’t all exist on the denialist side. Some exist in the pro-war eagles, some exist in the patriotic yes-man, etc. They exist all over.

    But most of the *denialists* are of that ilk.

    “We don’t know if we can affect the climate, so let’s pump out CO2” is not a reasonable skeptical position. If we knew we COULDN’T, then we could consider pumping out CO2 without worrying.

    But for some reason, denialists demand we prove we CAN affect the atmosphere and climate, not prove that we can’t.

  19. 169


    Thank you for the kind offer to teach me astronomy, but I’ve written papers on stellar astrophysics and know all about the fact that stars evolve across the main sequence, thank you very much.

    There has been no significant change in sunlight for 50 years. That is the relevant time scale to talk about global warming. The fact that the sun was 28% less bright 4.5 billion years ago is hardly relevant.

  20. 170


    Lean’s reconstruction is the output from a computer model based on such things as sunspot observations. You don’t have to take the three decimal places seriously. She just put the raw printout data down in the table.

  21. 171

    Will — The spam filter blocks the word “social-ism” because it contains the drug name “cia-lis,” and ads for the latter constitute a fair proportion of spam emailings from drug company web robots.

  22. 172
    Ray Ladbury says:

    So, “ironically named truth,” what color is the sky on your planet. Good lord, man. You’re blaming relativism for students turning away from math? And you keep claiming there are all these “scientists” out there who dissent from the consensus theory of climate. So where have they published? I really can’t find much, and what little there is (Spencer, M&M, S&W) does nothing to illuminate our understanding of climate, and so is rightly ignored by serious researchers. Dude, you don’t have the first idea what science is.

    Oracle of ReCAPTCHA: over-dramatized Hello

  23. 173

    Re: #59

    Dear David,

    Let me just point out that as soon as “Mitch” came in with his “innocent” question, half of the discussion moved away from the original topic of this most excellent post by Gavin.

    I think that was the whole point.

    In future, such obvious scammers could be directed to Naomi Oreskes video (“The American Denial of Global Warming”), wherein she explains the history and science behind CO2 and the greenhouse effect, and then goes into the history of the fossil-fuel, bought-and-paid-for, denialist industry:

    Real students will come back with good questions, but the “Mitches” of this world will disappear.

  24. 174
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds, It would be foolish not to acknowledge the presence of ideologues on both sides. Some in both the consensus and denialist camp are naive. Lefties who rejoice that climate change will be the end of capitalism are ignoring the fact that it ain’t gonna be to great for the “workers paradises” either. I also think that there are many who are concerned about climate change who grossly underestimate the difficulty of developing a sustainable economy and many denialists who are motivated because they perceive that very difficulty. The fallacy of the latter is that nothing trumps physical reality.
    The folks Gavin is referring to are folks for whom physical reality is irrelevant, and who are motivated solely by power, politics and advantage. The alarmed (not alarmist) camp has not attracted these cynical individuals because 1)the evidence is all on their side; 2)the consensus science still has no advocates who truly wield power; 3)entrenched fossil fuel interests (and cigarette makers…) pay cynics much better and so are more attractive to those for whom reality is 100% spinnable.

    It will be interesting to see, once climate change really starts wreaking havoc whether these rats will jump ship and how science will handle that. Personally, I think they’ll be satisfied with buying up all the high ground before the coasts flood.

  25. 175
    pete best says:

    Re #166, Hank, its a good article but it just smacks of relativism to me. We know there are many variables in climate change, from fossil fuel emissions, through land use changes which then influence albedo etc but when we talk science surely we must refer back to the more empirical of them all physics and its language math along with some chemistry. Understood by the few but reported by the many in ways that are simple to understand we are just drowning in articles and opinions that scientists best avoid for they know the observed facts and truths of their subject matter and this site is the best one to visit to inform us.

    The findings of the recent Antartica report from a esteemed member of this site has been called into question due to interpolation of some of the data which some people called made up) but which is statistically and scientifically valid within the confines of method used due to it being peer reviewed and accepted which as RC has told us many time is the first hurdle of becomming accepted scientific orthodoxy. Where does it stand now I wonder ? Is it being accepted by all climate scientists, you would think so from the medias resposne to it but that is of no impact in the scientific world. Is the IPCC that by incorporating it into its reports them that make it scientific truth or does it have to make it into a scientific book.

    This is the one aspect of science that always eludes me, what is the accepted orthodoxy, is it in the halls of academia, in the minds of the proponents or in a book somewhere updated yearly to reflect the sum of all human knowledge on the subject?

    ClimatAudi and WattsUpWithThat argue about everything that seems to be AGW significant but I guess as they rant on the web it is not science unless they produce a peer to peer paper and have it accepted for publication. Until this time Antartica has warmed !?

    As an example of nonsense speak this is an extract from a comment placed at the UK newspaper Guardian website today.
    Headline: Study Shows Antarctic is Warming as Predicted:

    Fact; The study shows that the Eastern Antarctic was warming between 1956 and 2007. There were satellite readings and Automatic Weather Station readings for 1980 to 2007, there was no reliable data before 1980 because of the small number of weather stations and the vastness of the continent, so Steig the lead author “interpolated” the data from 1956 to 1980, that is “made up the data” and came up with a warming trend.

    Kevin Trenberth, an IPCC modeler and supporter of AGW said, “Im sceptical, you cannot get data where none exists.”

    The whole field is riddled with sloppy data handling and storage, the refusal to share data and methodology with others they see might not take the outcome on face value and dodgy mathematics.

    Can anyone actually refute it, probably yes but by him printing it is there damage done.

  26. 176
    kevin says:

    @ 162 by “truth”:
    Please see my #97, jhm’s #138 with inline, etc. I believe your charge of unreasonable levels of moral relativism, especially as a way to characterize “the left” generally, is a straw man. I challenge you to provide evidence supporting your accusation.

  27. 177
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “The folks Gavin is referring to are folks for whom physical reality is irrelevant, and who are motivated solely by power, politics and advantage. The alarmed (not alarmist) camp has not attracted these cynical individuals…”

    That has got to be the most naive statement I’ve seen you make. Belief in that statement is exceeding dangerous to the sincere ‘alarmed camp’.

    I fear the following worst case political scenario that would allow climate change to do the most damage:

    These cynical individuals (whom you don’t believe exist) get sufficient power to completely corrupt the mitigation process (see Hansen’s discussion of cap&trade). Once this is recognized (after trillions of dollars have been looted and almost no effect on emissions), the mitigation process will be so discredited that the public will stop listening to the sincerely alarmed and refuse to do anything about mitigation until it really is too late.

  28. 178
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve, You will note that I did not say that there is no danger to the reality-based community from such individuals–merely that it hasn’t attracted them in large numbers yet because they haven’t been able to figure out how to make it pay for them. I am fully cognizant that these guys could quite happily switch sides when the tide turned and climate change started wreaking havoc. I would contend, however, that the best way to guard against this is to start making intelligent policies (e.g. cap and trade) before the situation becomes dire and to remain vigilant. The scenario you outlined has not occurred in other cap and trade markets. Why do you think this situation is so different?

  29. 179
    kevin says:

    I concur with Ray 178, and would like to remind Steve 177 that a rough parallel of what he’s describing is already happening in the other direction–people staking out a position opposed to reality for political/ideological reasons are being discredited by the unfolding of reality, and thereby losing a place at the table not only for themselves but also for other, more reality-oriented political conservatives. In my opinion, the people who, in good faith and conscience, are worried that politically liberal attempts to address the problem will do harm than good–those are the people who should be most vocal in opposing the denialist propagandists.

  30. 180
    Mark says:

    BPL, #169.

    Annoying, isn’t it? :-P

    “The fact that the sun was 28% less bright 4.5 billion years ago is hardly relevant.”

    However, it is NOT irrelevant to those who start off with the idea “AGW can’t be right” and look for a reason why this could (note: COULD) be false.

    Hence waaay back at the start Sir Patrick Moore (OBE ?) the *astronomer* who doesn’t believe AGW could be correct and is really quite smart looks at what he DOES know “the sun is colder in the past” and marries it to “it is warming up” and rather than say “well, does that actually *explain* the warming” (which would be the correct *skeptic* thing to do and prove that this change is not enough by far), says “well, looks like that will explain it. Climatologists: you’re wrong”.

    NOTE2: There is a difference between *astrophysics* and *astronomy* mostly in what you do with it. One reason why the *astronomer* Sir Patrick Moore didn’t check to see if the solar output increase is enough.

    *I* know it isn’t enough (though I’m still not certain how much of a lag you would see if the sun alone changed: my maths isn’t good enough). *He* doesn’t because he doesn’t see the need to look.

  31. 181
    Mark says:

    Jeff says:

    “Thermodynamics was always my favorite subject in school (especially statistical thermo which isn’t much applicable here). I don’t think we have a system that is in equilibrium. If we did there wouldn’t be global warming or cooling right?”

    But you can use “quasi-equilibrium” where instead of saying “start all over again” you say “well, assume that it isn’t *too* far out of equilibrium and then take away the equilibrium position and see what the difference we have between that and reality makes”.

    Rather like instead of calculating how much pressure is on your ears by a sound wave by going all the way back to “first you have the air pressure of the atmosphere you’re standing in”, you get a useful answer by going “Well, there’s an overpressure of 100pa” and working based on what 100Pa does to your eardrum.

    Likewise, 235W equilibrium. 5W disequilibrium. Instead of going all the way back and doing the full reworking, just see what happens with the 5W change and add that change to the equilibrium state.

    It’s pretty accurate and widely used.

    If you like thermodynamics, you must only have liked it to pick an argument with.

    a) it’s quite boring, really
    b) you have it so very wrong

  32. 182
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Thanks, Hank (#164), I have been promoting the Hansen’s lecture, but didn’t know about . My idea, tho, was that the mainstream media, like the WaPo, should displace George Will’s columns with a column dedicated to this “fourth side,” the future victims of climate change (as least for the motive that it might redeem their terribly damaged image in the eyes of future gens). Who wants to go down thru all of history (as long as it lasts) as the climate denialist Hilter or Hilter aide? (Okay, I used the “Hitler” trope. Shame on me.)

    RE #175, Pete, I assume you’re refering to Hansen’s lecture on the Venus syndrome by your “Is it being accepted by all climate scientists.” Not yet, of course. Hansen has always been on the cutting edge, and not afraid to speak out when new studies point to something that threatens humankind — even at the expense of being ridiculed and job-threated, and vigorous attempts made to silence him. He is one of the great heroes of the world today and for future generations (unlike George Will and the WaPo who will go down in infamy). And his cutting edge science has proven to be pretty accurate decades later. He is not afraid to call wolf when he sees the wolf shadow and hears the crescendoing howls. The IPCC is an exceedingly conservative document, that not only requires studies that are peer-reviewed (which itself is so arduous, the problem would have had to have already done its damage before reviewers accept the manuscript’s prognosis), but also a much higher level of scientific concensus (like requiring 2000 doctors to pronounce a body dead before they accept the body as dead). Excuse my hyperbole.

    As mentioned many times before, we layperson concerned with life on planet earth should be trying to avoid false negatives — of allowing GW to kill us all off, while we stoke the fires of our deaths — and leave the .05 false-positive avoidance to scientists to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what we already knew years and decades ago.

    RE Mark #180 & “‘The fact that the sun was 28% less bright 4.5 billion years ago is hardly relevant.'” However, it is NOT irrelevant to those who start off with the idea ‘AGW can’t be right’ and look for a reason why this could (note: COULD) be false.”

    Well, this tiny fact (that the sun is slowly slowly increasing in irradiance) is relevant to Hansen’s Venus syndrome study (see pg. 24 of ): “There may have been times in the Earth’s history when CO2 was as high as 4000 ppm without causing a runaway greenhouse effect. But the solar irradiance was less at that time.”

    As I’ve been saying many times. We can’t turn down the sun, but we can turn off lights not in use (and 1000s of other measures small and big). We live in a more precarious world now that there is more solar irradiance, but it would be quite foolhardy to push our climate into runaway warming a billion years before its time, when the sun goes supernova.

  33. 183
    RichardC says:

    169 Barton said, “There has been no significant change in sunlight for 50 years. That is the relevant time scale to talk about global warming”

    Not true, twice. The relevant period is at least 100 years, and the sun has brightened (1900s avg ~45 sunspots, 2000s avg ~70 sunspots). Also, the sun has dimmed over the last 50 years (1950s avg ~82) (numbers from Wiki graph so not precise)

    I suppose you could quibble about the definition of “significant,” but solar differences are thought to be substantially responsible for the climate change of the first half of the last century.

    [Response: Not really. There are a multitude of things going on in the early part of the century including both increases in GHGs, solar, changes in aerosols, volcanic, land use etc. – no one of which is dominant in the way GHGs are in more recent decades. Combine that with large amounts of internal weather noise relative to the potentially forced signal and you end up with very uncertain attributions. – gavin]

  34. 184
    Mark says:

    Gavin, your response to Richard is only relevant to the last paragraph where he jumps STRAIGHT from “The sun got warmer” to “This explains global warming”.

    The REALLY DUMB thing about it too, which you don’t mention is that the change in solar flux doesn’t undo what the CO2 being released does. So his denialist “theory” is only half of one at best: he’s left out the undoing of the other known issues causing warming. Such as CO2, methane and so on.

  35. 185
    Mark says:

    Lynne, 182, you’re making an argument that wasn’t made.


    Really, on this site? Unprecedented…

    I’ll just have to assume you wanted to add a coda to the statement you made.

  36. 186
    Michael says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan #182: …we can turn off lights not in use (and 1000s of other measures small and big).

    It seems to me scientifically diagnosing GW is only the first step. The next questions seem to be ‘What should we do”‘, ‘Can we do something?’, ‘Will we do something?’, ‘Should we do something?’.

    I know these questions have been commented on here and elsewhere, but does anyone here have the grasp on the state of economical, ethical, cultural, historical, biological etc sciences that would relate to GW to know if we can answer this next stage of questions? How much attention (scientifically) is given to studies that show if people’s efforts small and big would make a difference?

  37. 187
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “I would contend, however, that the best way to guard against this is to start making intelligent policies (e.g. cap and trade) before the situation becomes dire and to remain vigilant. The scenario you outlined has not occurred in other cap and trade markets.”

    Cap and trade may work reasonably well for pollutants like SO2 with few sources that are relatively easily and drastically reduced (so there is not much long term incentive to corrupt the process). I submit that the CO2 cap and trade system in Europe has been at least a small disaster. Costs are high and emission reductions almost nothing.

    I have to agree with James Hansen: “A ‘cap’ increases the price of energy, as a tax does. It is wrong and disingenuous to try to hide the fact that Cap is a tax.
    Other characteristics of the “cap” approach: (1) unpredictable price volatility, (2) it makes millionaires on Wall Street and other trading floors at public expense, (3) it is an invitation to blackmail by utilities that threaten “blackout coming” to gain increased emission permits, (4) it has overhead costs and complexities, inviting lobbyists and delaying implementation.”

  38. 188
    MarkB says:

    So Will is pointing to one terrible error, characterizing it as minor or trivial, and ignoring the fact that his entire column has many other errors.

    George Will: “Every time we are mislead by amateur bloggers, we lose another chance to influence policy.”

    So why is Will getting his science from amateur bloggers, rather than the scientific community? That seems to be what global warming denial is all about – influencing policy with unreliable sources.

    George Will: “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.”

    I’d like to agree with that, but propaganda from what is supposed to be a respected news oulet, whether true or not, will affect public opinion. Public opinion is what influences policy. Will knows this.

  39. 189
    Paul says:

    I’m waiting for Jeffs response to Gavins answer (in Jeff 165) about solar flux.

    I got the impression that Jeff was trying to catch someone out but failed significantly.

    Jeff could at least say he was mistaken and stood corrected.

  40. 190
    Vinny Burgoo says:

    ‘What George Will should have written, part 186’

    “They said ‘ice age’ or ‘global warming,’” Will remembers. “The difference is just wind.”

    Whoops! Not ‘Will’ but ‘Williams’. Oh dear.

  41. 191
    RichardC says:

    184 Mark said, “Gavin, your response to Richard is only relevant to the last paragraph where he jumps STRAIGHT from “The sun got warmer” to “This explains global warming”.”

    Huh? Sorry if I gave that impression. I was alluding to the study which estimated something like ~”up to 35%” of warming of the first half of the 20th century to solar output. Does anyone here know of a larger single forcing for the period? I didn’t bother looking up the exact percentage nor the citation since it is well-known to the regs on this site. To clarify, a substantial amount of the warming 1900-1950 was solar forced, while subsequent warming was in spite of a cooling sun.

    [Response: You were clear the first time. But my point stands, given the uncertainties in the forcings (particularly the aerosol changes and solar), the multitude of the changes, the uncertainties in temperature changes that increase as you go further back, and the relative size of the small expected changes compared to internal variability, attribution over a period like 1900-1950 is difficult and fraught with uncertainty. Thus strong statements such as you make above are not supportable. I’d go as far as solar being a likely contributor, but that would be about it. – gavin]

  42. 192
    Rod B says:

    BPL (170), fair enough.

  43. 193
    Bill DeMott says:

    Here’s my insight after listening for a while. Many of the skeptics see scientists jumping all over statements that don’t fit with ACW and assume that that’s how scientific publications work—that contrary evidence cannot be published and that scientists are working to support some preconceived view. In fact, a scientist is always looking for weaknesses in an existing consensus and would jump at the chance to publish something contrary to what other scientists believe and even contrary to his or her own expectations. Science is really the opposite of debating, where you win by scoring points. Scientists win by providing new evidence or new types of evidence. We do research that tests hypotheses, not research designed to support hypotheses. I guess that these points are either too subtle or completely misunderstood by most of the public and especially by deniers. They just don’t understand the process by which a “consensus” was reached in the scientific literature. As a scientist, I would be very happy to show how important understandings in my field are wrong. However, modern science has advanced to the point that it becomes very unlikely that what we can show to be wrong or incomplete is a really major “theory.”

  44. 194
    Mark says:

    Richard 191, well, be clearer in your communication.

    “but solar differences are thought to be substantially responsible for the climate change of the first half of the last century.”

    if it had been:

    but solar differences are thought to contribute to at least some of the climate change for the first half of the last century.

    This would not have required Gavin’s response (which I thought was somewhat OTT since you had to read between the lines of your post and take into account your posting history to get to something that really required a response).

    The important thing about solar influence are two things:

    1) It has had an effect on climate
    2) No, it’s not enough to explain the differences

    anti-AGW think that #1 is not considered at all (and this is why I felt I had to chide gavin’s response since that seemed to dismiss solar as a possibility for any result when it really should have emphasised point 2).

    And Sir Patrick Moore hasn’t bothered to check #2, which most anti-AGW people haven’t bothered to check or even read up on the IPCC report if they aren’t PhD’s. The few who have worked out that the sun isn’t enough but deny any A in AGW have come up with “theories” (in the ID/creationist sense of the word, rather than the scientific one) to try and amplify the effect. E.g. solar lensing, cloud particulate enhancement, etc. to make it add up. Yet even these ignore that their theory must pan out in the measurements AND explain why CO2 produced in the gigatons a year range isn’t having an effect.

    So at best a half theory.

    Anti-AGW is focussed on proving AGW wrong. And therefore only concentrates on working out what else could cause it. Explaining away why CO2 isn’t having an effect isn’t considered.

    AGW theory is focussed on finding out what IS happening. So the complaints and possibilities the anti- side make up are investigated. E.g. the Hockey Stick complaint. Worked on and tested and answered by more rigour in the hockey stick proofs. Or Solar activity. It’ IS included. But as a PART of the system that causes the change in the climate. Not (as with the anti AGW side) the ONLY cause, so we can keep burning fossil fuels.

  45. 195
    Mark says:

    BPL 170, you may have the billenial (just made that word up, like it?) scale in your noggin, but do you have what the astronomers notice about the sun in there?

    The sunspot cycles.

    Don’t just assume that because you know a lot you know it all. The fact that you mentioned stellar evolution (which I used in the post) but didn’t mention the sunspot cycle (which I ALSO used in the post) which has just recently ended one of the more energetic cycles and starting up a new one, but a cycle of sunspots that isn’t going to be as prevalent, shows that at least in your response in 170 that your blinkers are hiding some of the situation that is real from you.

    Go read up on the sunspot cycle.

    Now crank back your knowledge, if you only knew that the temperatures went up and are just now going up less quickly in the last decade, would you (if you weren’t interested in finding out you’re wrong) not consider this to be enough “proof” that AGW is wrong, and that the Sun is responsible?

    Now, if you were interested or capable or had to include sunspot activity in your GCM, you’d find out that this wasn’t enough by far to explain, but the anti-AGW don’t have to run their own GCM. They aren’t interested in finding out they are wrong (and this is why I’ve posted as I’ve done: the AGW side shouldn’t be uninterested in finding out they’re wrong. The climatologists aren’t. Don’t you be) and most aren’t capable of working it out.

    And maybe, by understanding WHY someone thinks the sun could cause it all, you can explain what effects the sun IS doing and then explain why they are not thinking far enough.

    Like the “Volcanoes produce each year more CO2 than humans have over the entire industrial revolution”. A meme picked up that annoyed the heck out of me. I mean, you just have to look at independent figures to work out that’s wrong. But where did it come from?

    It came from someone saying that global extinctions in the past (Permian or Triassic for example) was caused by global volcanic activity spewing out CO2. Maybe mentioned as a warning of how CO2 is bad (despite being “plant food”, though I still have to put nitrogen fertiliser on my plants for some reason). But picked up as how insignificant our actions are and used to “prove” that there is no AGW.

    But understanding that this was the mass extinction and NOT today’s volcanoes that quote is on about (which the denialist doesn’t know), you can show them WHY they are right, but not usefully so. And if enough of them hear this, the meme will die off.

  46. 196
    Stuart Harmon says:

    It is better to stir up a question without deciding it, than to decide it without stirring it up. It is better to debate a question without deciding it than to decide it without debating it.

    Paul Joubert

    [Response: Joseph. And he probably only said it once. – gavin]

  47. 197
    Mark says:

    Stuart, #196, problem is when you stir up a question and then use the question to procrastinate.

    What is really weird is when you get someone who’s trying to appear neutral. They then come out with something like:

    Neither side have convinced me and both sides have shown up badly in their biases and poor reasoning (Captain Subtext says: “See how I’m bot partisan? I’m calling BOTH sides down!”). Therefore until BOTH sides get their act together, we shouldn’t do anything.

    But the reason why I doubt Captain Subtext is that “do nothing” is what the anti-AGW side want. They WANT nothing done.

    So “to punish both sides” by doing what one side wants is either wooly (if not positively hairy) thinking or proof that this is someone *pretending* to be non-partisan.

    So question all you like, but don’t use the question to stop you doing something that, currently, looks like the best thing to do.

  48. 198

    Regarding analysis and inaction:

    When one is in a survival-threatening situation, one does not usefully ask, “Will anything work?” One asks, “Which available course of action promises to work best?”

    Then one goes for it, however small the chances for success.

  49. 199
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds, On the other hand, a cap and trade approach is probably the most efficient mechanism for allowing market forces to prevail. Only the cap is imposed, and that can be subjected to independent review by experts. On the other hand, we of course know that taxes are always administered fairly and never subject to any abuse by profiteers. Bwaaahaahahh! Sorry, couldn’t even type that without laughing.
    A cap and trade system can certainly be implemented badly. So can a taxation regime. The weakness of the former is that the commodity is unfamiliar and at least initially, difficult to value. This argues for stronger regulation of the market to begin with. Eventually, however, the cap and trade scheme ought to be more efficient and able to respond to a rapidly changing situation. While taxation offers “stability,” that stability doesn’t exist in the real world. Could it be that I believe in markets more than you do?

  50. 200
    Rod B says:

    Ray, would you expect, whether they could or not, cap and trade to be implemented and administered fairly and reasonably, like taxes are not? If so, what leads you to believe that?