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Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change

10 July 2012

Summary: Another post showing that we’re ignorant because we listen to journalists.  Why do these people get airtime when the US has thousands of articulate experts on every subject? Today we look at the nattering that too often passes for debate about the important topic of climate change. It’s an important subject, deserving not just better coverage by the news media but also greater funding for more and better research. At the end are some simple if overlooked basics, and links for more information.

(1)  Click here to see a video of A Global Warming Debate on “This Week”, ABC News, 7 July 2012.  Here are remarks from it by two journalists (transcript here). We’re ignorant because we get information from people saying such ignorant things.

E. J. Dionne (Wikipedia):

It is a political issue because the question is are you going to do something about it or not? During heat waves, belief in global warming goes up, surprise, surprise, in the polls. But what we’ve really seen is wild weather, not only here, but all over the world.

And what I don’t understand is why people are so resistant — why my conservative friends are so resistant in taking out an insurance policy. There is a lot of evidence that human activity is changing the climate. There’s not a lot of dispute among scientists about this. Why wouldn’t we want to take out an insurance policy to protect ourselves? Because if we go wrong on this, we’re making an awfully big mistake.

George Will (Wikipedia):

You asked us — how do we explain the heat? One word: summer. I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning. What is so unusual about this? Now, come the winter, there will be a cold snap, lots of snow, and the same guys, like EJ, will start lecturing us. There’s a difference between the weather and the climate. I agree with that. We’re having some hot weather. Get over it.

Will gives only mockery, inappropriate for this serious subject. Dionne gives sophisticated propaganda, probably deliberate.  Stopping the increase in CO2 — the only thing that consensus theory says will stop the future warming — would require a massive expenditure of funds and an even larger expansion of government regulation — both slowing growth (bad news for the world’s poor) and possibly diverting funds from important needs. This is nothing like an “insurance policy”; a better metaphor would be a home renovation to meet new building codes.

.

It’s premature to scream!

(2)  Both ignore obvious facts.

(a)  The world has been warming during the past two centuries, following the little ice age. This warming precedes the massive human-caused CO2 emissions (graph here). Hence the debate among scientists about the magnitude of the past and future anthropogenic warming. Hence the stupidity or malice of calling skeptics “deniers of global warming” (there are some, of course; every politicized topic attracts wackos).

(b)  Temperature records for most areas (eg, North America) don’t extend beyond the little ice age. So even the longest temperature records (ie, the Central England temperature record goes back to 1659) will show current temperatures as the warmest.

(c)  Warming has continued at varying rates (due to natural cycles, eg ENSO) since satellite measurements (the only source of full global coverage) began on 16 November 1978.  For a summary see the June 2012 Global Temperature Report from the Earth System Science Center at the University Of Alabama At Huntsville.

  • Average temperature in June 2012 was 0.5F (0.37C) above the 30-year June average.
  • The trend since 1978 is +0.25F (0.14C) per decade.
  • Neither of these provide any cause for panic.

(d)  The propaganda disseminated by our news media typically describe regional warming as “climate change” and regional cold as “weather”.  Both are weather; finding climate signals from the natural warming requires large datasets and sophisticated analysis.

(e)  Large fires are natural and endemic to North America. See Wikipedia’s list of the largest forest fires in North America.

(f)  Large forest fires are even more likely now as a result of the US Forest Service’s policy of fire suppression from 1905  until 1974, which left US forests vulnerable to massive fires that restore natural conditions. Current fires are neither unusually large or the largest on record.  For more about this see this history of the 1910 fire season (over 5 million acres burned), this history of the Forest Service’s prevention programs, and the Wikipedia entry about the history of US fire prevention policy.

(3)  More broadly, it is not yet clear if there are more climate extremes now — and how many of these result from humanity’s emissions of CO2

(a)  There is relatively strong evidence that increased precipitation in some areas is linked to warming, although unknown as yet to what degree this is natural or can be attributed to our activities. Many of those confidently cited in the news media are exaggerations — or even blatant lies.

(b)  For a summary of the current state of research see the IPCC’s Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, approved on 18 November 2011 — Excerpt:

Confidence in projecting changes in the direction and magnitude of climate extremes depends on many factors, including the type of extreme, the region and season, the amount and quality of observational data, the level of understanding of the underlying processes, and the reliability of their simulation in models. Projected changes in climate extremes under different emissions scenarios generally do not strongly diverge in the coming two to three decades, but these signals are relatively small compared to natural climate variability over this time frame. Even the sign of projected changes in some climate extremes over this time frame is uncertain.

For projected changes by the end of the 21st century, either model uncertainty or uncertainties associated with emissions scenarios used becomes dominant, depending on the extreme. Low-probability, high-impact changes associated with the crossing of poorly understood climate thresholds cannot be excluded, given the transient and complex nature of the climate system. Assigning ‘low confidence’ for projections of a specific extreme neither implies nor excludes the possibility of changes in this extreme.

(c)  Update:A report about some current research about extreme climate: “Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective“, American Meteorological Society, July 2012. Some of these articles do not distinguish between the natural warming of the past two centuries and AGW, or even assume that all recent warming is AGW.

(d)  Look at the data and judge for yourself:

(4)  For more information about climate change

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 July 2012 5:15 am

    In reference to 2.a. I should point out that the fact that the climate is more complex than the properties of one gas is not a mystery to climate scientists, they study many different kinds of forcings and feedbacks and are not confused by the rebounding from the little ice age, solar cycles, effects of gasses from human activity and natural activity such as volcanos, effects of glaciers expanding or contracting, etc.

    That there is ongoing debate and refinement and plenty of healthy skepticism (see The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study for example) but in the debates of laymen what is often presented as skepticism is actually denialism with a thesaurus. Deniers bring up all sorts of talking points like the ice age, solar cycles, this years weather, the limited quantity of historical direct measurements, etc. as if climate scientists have never heard of these things, usually it’s just a sign that such people aren’t worth talking to because they aren’t interested in listening or learning about the actual research and debates but instead have a particular (political, not scientific) axe to grind.

    The real debate is in how much warming is going to happen, over what time frame, and what effects this is going to have, not whether AGW is happening at all. Certainly extremism and hyperbole doesn’t illuminate the real issues either, these effects are going to play out over hundreds and thousands of years so anyone talking about immediate, catastrophic effects is well outside the path of science.

    • 10 July 2012 5:40 am

      Thank you for posting a comment, but I don’t understand much of what you’re saying.

      (1) “In reference to 2.a. I should point out that the fact that the climate is more complex than the properties of one gas is not a mystery to climate scientists”

      While correct (and quite obvious), how is this relevant to (2a)?

      (2) “but in the debates of laymen what is often presented as skepticism is actually denialism with a thesaurus.”

      (a) I don’t know what you mean by “often”. Your statement is false with respect to articles on the major skeptic websites (eg, WUWT, Climate Skeptic, The Air Vent). Guessing, I suspect you’re just repeating propaganda you’ve read or heard. Can you cite examples of well-known skeptics who “deny” that the world has been warming since the end of the little ice age in the early 19th century?

      (b) Setting aside the ambiguous “often”, that’s exactly what I said: “there are some, of course; every politicized topic attracts wackos”. That is, they’re on the margins of the debate (as they are in almost every controversial subject).

      (3) “The real debate is in how much warming is going to happen, over what time frame, and what effects this is going to have, not whether AGW is happening at all.”

      I don’t understand your purpose in repeating the content of this post. For emphasis? To show agreement?

      (4) “these {anthropogenic} effects are going to play out over hundreds and thousands of years”

      Almost certainly not thousands of years. There is almost certainly insufficient fossil fuel in accessible form to continue burning at current rates for more than several decades (probably less; see the FM Reference Page Peak oil and energy – Studies and reports for articles about peak coal and peak oil). Depending on many factors, many of which are as yet poorly understood or unpredictable (eg, rate of conversion from fossil fuels to new sources), normal biological and geological processes probably will reduce the human “footprint” in centuries — not millenia.

    • Steve Smith permalink
      10 July 2012 5:27 pm

      A loop of the thermohaline circulation takes 1600 years so it is indeed likely our actions will influence the climate for thousands of years.

    • 10 July 2012 7:10 pm

      That’s correct but very irrelevant.

      From the US DOE’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center FAQ: “16. How long does it take for the oceans and terrestrial biosphere to take up carbon after its burned?

      With over 800 billion metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere and an annual exchange with the biosphere and oceans equal to around 200 billion metric tons, an average atom of carbon spends only about 4 years in the atmosphere before it goes into the oceans or the terrestrial biosphere. We can think of this as the average residence time for a carbon atom in the atmosphere. However, the oceans and terrestrial biosphere not only take up carbon from the atmosphere (e.g., absorption by the oceans and photosynthesis by plants) but they also give it back (e.g., emission from oceans and respiration by animals). That is, most of these carbon atoms are “recycled” so the atmosphere is not entirely rid of them. The time it takes for a carbon atom to make it out of this recycling system and to get into the deep ocean is about 100 years.

      The figure below, provided by Ken Caldiera of the Carnegie Institution for Science, shows how an instantaneous doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide (from 280 parts per million to 560 parts per million) would be removed from the atmosphere-biosphere system. About 50% of the added CO2 would be removed after about 200 years and about 80% of it would be removed after about 1000 years, but complete removal of the remaining 20% to the deep ocean and carbonate rocks would have to rely on geological processes operating over much longer time periods.

      An instantaeous double of CO2 is a theoretical example. CO2 was aprox 280 parts per million (it’s a trace gas) in the mid-19th century; it’s now aprox 390 ppm — up 40%.

      Forecasts vary, but most show that a double (to 560 ppm) will occur roughly 40 years from now — assuming current trends continue. Which I consider unlikley, both from the effect on consumption of rising fossil fuel prices (eg, US c02 emissions are back to 1990 levels, down 17% from 2007 peak) AND development of new technology during the next two generations.

      So a rise in co2 to 580 ppm in 2050 and decline to current levels over the following few centuries — and to level of 1950 in 1,000 years) seems like a reasonable worst-case scenario. What that would mean for world climate is another question, the subject of much current research.

      Note that the increased co2 from industrializatio has as yet not generated a strong temperature signal, as the global temperature increase shows few signs as yet of accellerating to match the rise in co2.

    • 10 July 2012 7:10 pm

      My apologies for any unclear communication.

      Having just spent some time reading the Air Vent and Climate Skeptic I feel dumber for it. The Air Vent seems almost pure politics and content free while Climate Skeptic is better written but still denies the existence of basic research. There is an open letter up there now which admits that the earth has been warming, admits that CO2 gas can cause forcings via the greenhouse effect and then denies the evidence for feedback loops. The article then procedes to claim that climate science is some sort of good old boys club that is not self-critical and produces incorrect and irreproducible results. This is so laughably false as to be an exercise in self-parody. Climate science is well reviewed because of its political sensitivity, research is done in parallel with different data sets, different analysis, by different teams and the results are often cross checked by real skeptics such as the Berkeley Earth, I don’t think there have been major findings that haven’t stood up to independent review.

      Watts Up seems more reasonable and more interested in the actual science rather than politics. That said the site seems to have an unhealthy preoccupation with “climategate”, which as far as I know showed no evidence of incorrect science and analysis, the worst thing being that some FOIA requests were sat on because the researcher thought they weren’t being made in good faith. That’s obviously not his call to make and poor judgement on his part but the results were replicated and confirmed so it doesn’t affect the science.

      I think we largely agree on most of the facts and even on some of the politics, there is a tendency to exaggerate climate science by deniers (to have a convenient straw man), by journalists and greens (because they think hyperbole will get them more attention). Spending too much time with “skeptics” who have abandoned the rigor of science is just going to rot your brain though.

    • 10 July 2012 9:02 pm

      (1) “Climate Skeptic is better written but still denies the existence of basic research”

      That’s quite an accusation. It’s a smear, big-time. Can you give us evidence to support it? I don’t read Warren Meyer’s website, but he’s got a column at Forbes that is often cited.

      (2) The Air Vent seems almost pure politics and content free”

      (a) With a very few exceptions (eg, Climate Audit, Climate Etc), most people in this debate (ie, the general public debate, not the research) have become politicized. Given the stakes, that is inevitable.

      (b) As for “content free”, I invite others to spend 60 seconds looking at The Air Vent then laugh at MT’s silly smear. Let’s just look at the posts on the first page (omiing the politics):

      • Are Climate Models Spatially Consistent?
      • Questioning the Forest et al (2006) sensitivity study in Geophysical Research Letters, linking to a post at the website of a-list climate scientist Judith Curry
      • A long list of links to articles about Penguin populations
      • Climate as a Differential Equations Problem
      • Understnding Gorwth Response Modeling
      • Long post about the dynamics of sea ice modeling (great 3-d graphs)
      • Discussion of recent Nature paper about mass gain of Karakoram glaciers

      Also note that Jeff Condon is a co-author of an article published in the Journal of Climate (April 2011), the publication of the American Meteorological Society — quite difficult to do for articles skeptical of AGW. JoC is one of the top 3 journals in the field of meteorology & atmospheric science, by impact.

      (3) “{climategate emails} as far as I know showed no evidence of incorrect science and analysis, the worst thing being that some FOIA requests were sat on…”

      That’s too false to even bother with, showing that you’re unfamilar with their actual content.

    • Steve Smith permalink
      11 July 2012 1:29 pm

      Nice copy and paste job there. Unfortunately you missed the point.

      Thermo: originating from the Greek therm, meaning heat
      Haline: originating from the Greek hálinos, meaning salty.

      Thermal energy added to this circulation will stay in the system for a very, very long time. Add to that changes in salinity near the poles and you further change the ocean density.

      And about the ‘climategate’ emails: suddenly you’re not so quote happy. Find a reputable source condemning the researchers. They were cleared across the board by their peers as well as government and in independent investigators.

      Good luck with your blog. Perhaps you should stick to the soft sciences.

    • 11 July 2012 2:05 pm

      (1) The heat added to the ocean will stay there for a long time. But that’s 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water; the heat from co2 rising to 560 parts per million and falling is probably not enough to generate a meaningful temperature signal after centuries of mixing.

      Much depends on
      (a) the magntitude of warming from the net effects of water vapor in the atmosphere, which as yet remains poorly understood.
      (b) the peaking of fossil fuel production: most forecasts by experts for oil lie within the next decade (all lie within the next 20 years), peaking for coal remains less certain.

      (2) “Nice copy and paste job there.”

      Yes, its called consulting experts. Why don’t you do so?

      (3) “Find a reputable source condemning the researchers.”

      The emails speak for themselves. They’re a large and consistent body of primary evidence.

      There were subsequent inevestigations, white washes. The one headed by Muir Russell was the largest and most independent, yet ignored its instructions and didn’t even bother to investigate much of the evidence. That’s the most common practice among official investigations, from the Warren Commission to the 9-11 Commission.

    • 11 July 2012 3:40 pm

      “Nice copy and paste job there.”

      Smith brings up a more important point — about credibility. Our practice at the FM website is to reply on cited expert sources (as much as feasible) — rather than the usual internet practice of spouting off one’s own opinions and leaving the reader to assess (as best he can) their reliability.

      So we do a lot of what he disparagingly calls a “cut and paste job”. That’s a good thing. These links to authorative sources also allows readers to easily go there for more information about the topic under discussion.

  2. Sera permalink
    10 July 2012 5:27 am

    It is not just the ‘climate change’ studies that need to be reviewed. This nonsense happens in most fields of research, psychology and medicine are two of the best examples. It used to be that researchers were nerds, without girlfriends, and more interested in the science than receiving accolades (or even attention). People who crave attention (Hanson, Thompson, Trenberth, Serreze et al) present ‘sexy’ and unique findings because publishers and journos are seeking ‘sexy’ and unique findings also. Everyone is trying to make a name for themselves, so they just feed on each other.

    The general trend for the last hundred years is up, no doubt about it. The general trend for the last thousand or so years is down, no doubt about that either. It’s as though the media have run out of good stories (like Hollywood), and climate change is just a gift that keeps on giving.

    Here is a great article back from August 2005- “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False“, John P. A. Ioannidis, PLoS Medicine.

    • 10 July 2012 5:51 am

      Agreed. Science is a messy business, and always has been. For details see any works on the history of Science. Or the works of Karl Popper and especially Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

      There is great potential danger from our changes to Earth’s biosphere, of which adding CO2 is just one. Chemical pollution, aerosols, land use changes, etc. Let’s study it, and hope to avoid unpleasant surprises.

    • 13 July 2012 2:32 am

      Here’s another hot study of dysfunctionality in science. It’s about psychology, but the problem of “cherry picking” data extends across most sciences. It’s a powerful means to distort results, and reviewers seldom ask.

      False-Positive Psychology – Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant“, Joseph P. Simmons, Leif D. Nelson, and Uri Simonsohn, Psychology Science, November 2011 — Abstract:

      In this article, we accomplish two things. First, we show that despite empirical psychologists’ nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (≤ .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not. We present computer simulations and a pair of actual experiments that demonstrate how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis.

      Second, we suggest a simple, low-cost, and straightforwardly effective disclosure-based solution to this problem. The solution involves six concrete requirements for authors and four guidelines for reviewers, all of which impose a minimal burden on the publication process.

  3. Unna permalink
    10 July 2012 5:35 am

    Frankly, I’m distrustful of both sides. My problem is that I feel that I do not have the expert training in computer modeling and stats to clearly think about this. Otherwise I wonder about the money that is to be made or lost on both sides and how much that affects the science being produced.

    We can all understand the stake that petro chemical companies etc have in this debate. But what’s not so often mentioned is the amount of money to be made in carbon credit trading in the financial markets by the usual suspects – which would result is lots more money being skimmed off the real economy to the profit of a few but to the general detriment of the many. It’s said the warming today is at or near the warming that characterized the Viking era circa 800 to 1200 CE. Also that the temp of the sun, earth tilt cycles, and orbit cycles of the earth are the key factors. Again, I can follow the arguments, but I certainly do not have the expertise to judge them. So what’s an ordinary person to do?

    • 10 July 2012 5:53 am

      We have well-developed (if imperfect) mechanisms for dealing with the inevitable conflicts of interest in science, developed for testing medical treatments. Impartial review boards, sophistical statistical tools, etc. For various reasons, we’re being stupid and not applying these tools to the climate science debate.

    • 10 July 2012 7:14 pm

      I don’t think it is accurate to say that impartial review, statistics, etc. are not being applied to climate science. Climate science gets far more scrutiny because of its political implications than most other sciences.

    • 10 July 2012 9:31 pm

      MT,

      Your comments are polite and well-expressed. Guessing, you are smart and well-educated. However, the hundreds of words you’ve posted show no sign of familarity with the climate science debate beyond what can be gained by reading op-eds in the New York Times.

      So rather than post another long rebuttal, I’ll just say that your description of the state of climate science is contradicted by quite a bit of evidence, including the words of major climate scientists in the climategate emails. Plus their own actions, such as repeatedly losing key documentation and refusal to comply with the requirements of journals and institutions to post their data — even to the extent of waging expensive and long legal battles to defy freedom of information laws.

  4. James Catfish permalink
    10 July 2012 3:57 pm

    If the world goes through about 7 billion tons of coal per year, and 80 to 90 million barrels of oil per day, in addition to that used in the past several hundred years, then I would expect that we may be in for some unpleasant times. With our major export to the world, US JOBS, we have unleashed a coal and oil burning monster (China and India).
    If there is or is not dramatic climate change, we will see it in the rear view mirror. We have fallen into a trap of our own making. World population cannot be supported without oil, and coal. I think the answer to our problems is so complex that for many, it is easier to pretend there is no problem, or to oversimplify the fault or solution.

    I am not completely confident of the coal and oil consumption data stated in the first line.

    • 11 July 2012 12:57 am

      (1) Coal consumption is IMO best seen in term of energy (eg, BTUs) rather than volume, since we’re tapping ever-lower grade ore. Global use was aprox 70 quadreillion BTU in 1980 and 140 in 2008. The IEA forecasts that it will increase at 1.5%/year through 2035 (210 in 2050).

      (2) We have ample reserves of all fossil fuels, but production will peak at some point as we find it difficult to tap ever-lower quality reserves. At current production levels: 120 years of oil, 50 of oil.

      (3) “If there is or is not dramatic climate change, we will see it in the rear view mirror.”

      Good but scary point. Lets upgrade our climate research programs to reduce the odds of that happening.

  5. Todd Guthrie permalink
    10 July 2012 5:58 pm

    Mr Maximus, what do you personally think we should do, if anything, as a nation or as the human race, to address climate change?
    It seems to me like you are advocating more research as well as accumulation of larger data sets. Other than that, or while we’re waiting for more future decades of data, would you say it is prudent to attempt reduction of gas emissions, or would that be jumping the gun?

    By the way, I think you underestimate the influence of ‘wackos’ on policymaking in the US. They may not have a big voice in academic circles (of course), but they do seem to dominate every debate among the general population, and therefore also among journalists and our elected representatives.

    • 11 July 2012 12:05 am

      (1) “what do you think we should do, if anything, as a nation or as the human race, to address climate change?”

      See “My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009“.

      (2) “while we’re waiting for more future decades of data, would you say it is prudent to attempt reduction of gas emissions”

      I suspect it would take only a few years for an adequately funded research program to produce useful conclusions, vs. the lone wolf garage science projects we rely on today. And any meaningful reductions in CO2 would require vast funding, which could be better applied to reducing other forms of pollution — of kinds we know have harmful effects.

      (3) “hey may not have a big voice in academic circles (of course), but they do seem to dominate every debate among the general population”

      That’s far too broad a statement on several levels. In many sections of the US belief in AGW is believed with religious-like devotion. They’ve had relatively little effect on most State and national policy decisions because a sufficiently large fraction of the electorate does not believe the case has been sufficiently well proven to warrant large-scale tax or regulatory action. Calling those people “wackos” or “deniers” is IMO not remotely justified, and only serves as an excuse to avoid engaging with skeptics objections.

      Further rebuttal evidence: the AGW elements of the scientific community have successfuly dodged confronting the skeptics questions, even to getting away with “the dog ate my data” — without widespread condemnation and censure.

  6. 10 July 2012 10:54 pm

    It’s not about the science. It’s about the,”And so…”. What has always been behind this relentless techno-babble is:

    And so we need a global taxing authority administered by the U.N. We also need more domestic taxes on energy production and consumption (just as good a way to fund our elites without that nasty austerity gimmick). Forget funding research, it’s already too hard to keep bullshitting. Oh, and so…We need to impose military and economic sanctions on those who refuse to pay the tax or comply with our edicts. Gonna need bases everywhere to do that. Hey, this is fun. And so…

    • 10 July 2012 11:35 pm

      Unfortunately there are quite a few people — some climate scientists and many of their supporters — who think exactly like that.

  7. Burke G Sheppard permalink
    11 July 2012 12:09 am

    FM asked: “Why do these people get airtime when the US has thousands of articulate experts on every subject?”

    I guess someone thought that they could help sell advertising or something. The purpose of TV journalism is not to enlighten. It’s to sell advertising. And re-elect Obama.

    I myself would be more inclined to watch those articulate experts of which you speak, or even the Fabius Maximus Show, should one make it to the airwarves, but I will not hold my breath.

    • 11 July 2012 12:13 am

      You’re right, of course. My guess was that articulate smart experts would be as or more interesting than reporters on these talk shows. But, as you note, the people running those shows probably know their business.

  8. Grunschev permalink
    11 July 2012 5:44 pm

    In the end, it really doesn’t matter to me what happens to the planet, the atmosphere, the oceans, in the next 1000 years. If I’m lucky, I’ll live another 40 or so. But, really, this issue can be broken down to two very simple questions:

    1. Do you accept as scientific fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas?
    2. Do you agree that we humans are pumping billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year?

    If you answer those both with a Yes, then you must accept AGW as true. Very simple deductive reasoning. Anything else is about determining the kind and magnitude of the effects.

    Some of the obvious attempts at misdirection include things like…

    a. “but the atmosphere is a giant thing, a few hundred billion tons can’t possibly hurt it much” – except that we’ve managed to increase atmospheric levels by 40%
    b. “but the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and (eventually) the problem fixes itself” – which is true, resulting in increasing acidity levels in the oceans, with the short term effect of killing a good chunk of humanity’s food supply
    c. “but you’re measuring coal in tons instead of BTU’s, which is inaccurate” – non-sequitur. So what if coal source A is higher grade than coal source B. Burning coal puts CO2 into the atmosphere. Whether it also puts other gunk into the atmosphere is a different issue.
    d. “but volcanoes pump CO2 into the atmosphere too!” – doesn’t change what people are doing
    e. “but those evil scientists are fudging the data so they can continue to get grants” – non sequitur, see questions 1 and 2 above
    f. “but the mathematical models aren’t a fair representation of a complex system of weather” – true, but irrelevent. This is simply about how good the predictions may be, but doesn’t alter the answers to questions 1 and 2 above
    g. “but the sun goes through hot and cool cycles” – again, ignores questions 1 and 2 above.

    …and on and on.

    The misdirection boils down to “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Most Americans don’t understand either science or math, are borderline illiterate and innumerate. If we keep it complicated, their eyes will glaze over and they’ll change channels to the news program about the missing blonde in Aruba.

    • 11 July 2012 6:46 pm

      “If you answer those both with a Yes, then you must accept AGW as true. … Anything else is about determining the kind and magnitude of the effects.”

      The psychology of such comments is fascinating. With whom are they debating? Who disagrees? For example, point #1 in this post says the same thing: “Hence the debate among scientists about the magnitude of the past and future anthropogenic warming.”

      We see this endlessly repeated in comments to the dozens of posts on the FM website about climate, and in comments on the websites focusing on climate science (eg, WUWT, Climate Etc). In the midst of technical discussions about the causes and magnitude of global warming, people like Grunschev burst in to announce AGW EXISTS as if they just heard the gospel. It is like listening to preachers on street corners.

      The debate among experts in the climate sciences — and those interested in the public policy implications of climate change — concerns the magnitude and speed of future warming, which requires understanding of the dynamics of the many factors involved — which are investigated by analysis of past and current climate data.

      It is not a binary debate — AGW or no AGW. The direct costs of reducing the rate of C02 emmissions will be large; the indirect costs (eg, slower economic growth) might be even larger. Making public policy requires balancing these costs against the probability and magnitude of future effects of AGW.

      Grunschev’s list of “misdirections” ignores this simple fact, and is in effect gibberish. Also, most his points are either made-up (he doesn’t cite sources), or valid concerns stripped from their meaningful contexts.

  9. Erik Loomis (Prof U-RI) looks at our large wildfires permalink
    13 July 2012 1:40 am

    Prof Erik Loomis (Prof History, U RI) discusses the politics driving the large fires this year: “Forest Fires and Exurban Housing“, Lawyers, Gun & Money, 12 July 2012 — Opening:

    The Times hosted a “Room for Debate” about forest fires. They address it in a silly way, asking “Does the Government Cause or Prevent Wildfires?” Um, both? Also, wrong question.

    The fundamental problem is that wealthy people have moved to the forest edge, built large homes without proper vegetation clearance to protect those homes from the common fires in dry-land western forests, don’t want to pay taxes or serve in rural western volunteer fire departments, and demand full service from the government for every little problem they have. This latter point is getting to be a bigger deal every year–since it is mostly those past middle age with the money to buy land in the mountains outside of Denver, the need for medical services in remote places grows precipitously. But I’ll leave that aside for now. And then there’s climate change exacerbating the situation.

    The government has played a role in making the problem worse through a century of fire prevention that was unnatural and created an overgrowth of vegetation that has allowed superfires to develop. But that’s not just the government–the timber industry lobbyed around this ideology that all fires must be suppressed. And today, with ecologists and botanists suggesting that foresters manage the forest in a more historically natural way, austerity-loving Republicans, often from the states where these fires take place, have decimated funding for both controlled burns and fire-fighting. For instance, the air fleet we use to fight fires is laughably old and many of the planes are quite dangerous and should not be flying. Of course, there’s no plans to replace them since there’s no money in the budget.

    Briefly going through the contributors to the Times debate …

  10. 13 July 2012 2:46 am

    A report about some current research about extreme climate: “Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective“, American Meteorological Society, July 2012. Some of these articles do not distinguish between the natural warming of the past two centuries and AGW, or even assume that all recent warming is AGW.

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