Lewandowsky et al. Proves Skeptics are Reasonable and Pro-Science

I am not sure it is worth beating this dead horse any further, but I will make one final observation about Lewandowsky.  As a reminder, the study purported to link skeptics with belief in odd conspiracy theories, particularly the theory that the Apollo 11 landings were faked (a conclusion highlighted in the title of the press release).

Apparently the study got this conclusion based on a trivial 10 responses out of hundreds from folks who self-identified as skeptics, but due to the horrible methodology many not actually have been such.

But here is the interesting part.  Even if the data was good, it would mean that less than .2% of the “skeptics” adopted the moon landing conspiracy theory.  Compare this to the general population:

 A 1999 Gallup poll found that a scant 6 percent of Americans doubted the Apollo 11 moon landing happened, and there is anecdotal evidence that the ranks of such conspiracy theorists, fueled by innuendo-filled documentaries and the Internet, are growing.

Twenty-five percent of respondents to a survey in the British magazine Engineering & Technology said they do not believe humans landed on the moon. A handful of Web sites and blogs circulate suspicions about NASA’s “hoax.”

And a Google search this week for “Apollo moon landing hoax” yielded more than 1.5 billion results.  (more here)

By Lewandowsky’s own data, skeptics are 30-100 times less gullible than the average American or Brit.

By the way, I have spent a lot of time debunking silly 9/11 theories.  Here is one example of a science-based response to the Rosie O’Donnell (a famous climate alarmist, by the way) and her claim that burning jet fuel can’t melt steel so therefore the WTC had to have been destroyed by demolition charges set by Dick Cheney, or something like that.

Worst Study Ever?

I have to agree with JoNova, the Lewandowsky study ostensibly linking climate skeptics to moon-landing-deniers is perhaps the worst study I have seen in a really long time.   This is another sign of postmodernism run wild in the sciences, with having the “right” answer being more important than actually being able to prove it.

The whole story is simply delicious, given the atrocious methodology paired is paired with a self-important mission by the authors of supposedly defending science against its detractors.  I can’t do the whole mess justice without just repeating her whole post, so go visit the article.

For the record, I have never seriously doubted that the moon landings really happened or that cigarettes cause cancer.  Also, I will add my name to the list of skeptical bloggers who were not contacted about the study — though I am a small fry, I am pretty easy to find given my URL.

By the way, the article mentions 9/11 truthers only in passing.  This is probably not an accident.  I would bet just about any amount of money that there is a good correlation between 9/11 conspiracy theorists and climate alarmists.

I Was Reading Matt Ridley’s Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts….

… and it was fun to see my charts in it!  The lecture is reprinted here (pdf) or here (html) over at Anthondy Watts’ site.  The charts I did are around pages 6-7 of the pdf, the ones showing the projected curve of global warming for various climate sensitivities, and backing into what that should imply for current warming.  In short, even if you don’t think warming in the surface temperature record is exaggerated, there still has not been anywhere near the amount of warming one would expect for the types of higher sensitivities in the IPCC and other climate models.  Warming to date, even if not exaggerated and all attributed to man-made and not natural causes, is consistent with far less catastrophic, and more incremental, future warming numbers.

These charts come right out of the IPCC formula for the relationship between CO2 concentrations and warming, a formula first proposed by Michael Mann.  I explained these charts in depth around the 10 minute mark of this video, and returned to them to make the point about past warming around the 62 minute mark.   This is a shorter video, just three minutes, that covers the same ground.  Watching it again, I am struck by how relevant it is as a critique five years later, and by how depressing it is that this critique still has not penetrated mainstream discussion of climate.  In fact, I am going to embed it below:

The older slides Ridley uses, which are cleaner (I went back and forth on the best way to portray this stuff) can be found here.

By the way, Ridley wrote an awesome piece for Wired more generally about catastrophism which is very much worth a read.

On Muller

Kevin Drum approvingly posted this chart from Muller:

I applaud the effort to match theory to actual, you know, observations rather than model results.  I don’t have a ton of time to write currently, but gave some quick comments:

1.  This may seem an odd critique, but the fit is too good.  There is no way that in a complex, chaotic system only two variables explain so much of a key output.    You don’t have to doubt the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory to know that there are key variables that have important, measurable effects on world temperatures at these kind of timescales — ocean cycles come to mind immediately — which he has left out.   Industrial-produced cooling aerosols, without which most climate models can’t be made to fit history, are another example.  Muller’s analysis is like claiming that stock prices are driven by just two variables without having considered interest rates or earning in the analysis.

2.  Just to give one example critique of the quality of “science” being held up as an example, any real scientist should laugh at the error ranges in this chart.   The chart shows zero error for modern surface temperature readings.  Zero.  Not even 0.1F.    This is hilariously flawed.  Anyone who went through a good freshman physics or chemistry lab (ie many non-journalists) will have had basic concepts of errors drilled into them.  An individual temperature instrument probably has an error when perfectly calibrated of say 0.2F at best.  In the field, with indifferent maintenance and calibration, that probably raises to 0.5F.  Given bad instrument sitings, that might raise over 1F.  Now, add all those up, with all the uncertainties involved in trying to get a geographic average when, for example, large swaths of the earth are not covered by an official thermometer, and what is the error on the total?  Not zero, I can guarantee you.  Recognize that this press blitz comes because he can’t get this mess through peer review so he is going direct with it.

3. CO2 certainly has an effect on temperatures, but so do a lot of other things. The science that CO2 warms the Earth is solid. The science that CO2 catastrophically warms the Earth, with a high positive feedback climate system driven to climate sensitivities to CO2 of 3C per doubling or higher is not solid. Assuming half of past warming is due to man’s CO2 is not enough to support catastrophic forecasts. If half of past warming, or about .4C is due to man, that means climate sensitivity is around 1C, exactly the no-feedback number that climate skeptics have thought it was near for years. So additional past man-made warming has to be manufactured somehow to support the higher sensitivity, positive feedback cases.

Judith Curry has a number of comments, including links to what she considers best in class for this sort of historic reconstruction.

Update: Several folks have argued that the individual instrument error bars are irrelevant, I suppose because their errors will average. I am not convinced they average down to zero, as this chart seems to imply. But many of the errors are going to be systematic. For example, every single instrument in the surface average have manual adjustments made in multiple steps, from TOBS to corrections for UHI to statistical homogenization. In some cases these can be calculated with fair precision (e.g. TOBS) but in others they are basically a guess. And no one really knows if statistical homogenization approaches even make sense. In many cases, these adjustments can be up to several times larger in magnitude than the basic signal one is trying to measure (ie temperature anomaly and changes to it over time). Errors in these adjustments can be large and could well be systematic, meaning they don’t average out with multiple samples. And even errors in the raw measurements might have a systematic bias (if, for example, drift from calibration over time tended to be in one direction). Anthony Watt recently released a draft of a study I have not read yet, but seems to imply that the very sign of the non-TOBS adjustments is consistently wrong. As a professor of mine once said, if you are unsure of the sign, you don’t really know anything.

Assuming Your Conclusions

I haven’t had a chance to respond to Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article on global warming.  After hearing all the accolades for it, I assumed he had some new argument to offer.  I was amazed to find that there was absolutely nothing there.  Essentially, he assumes his conclusion.  He takes it as a proven given that temperature sensitivity to CO2 will be high, over ten degrees F for the likely CO2 increases we will see in the next century, which puts his “proven” climate sensitivity number higher than the range even in the last IPCC report.

Duh, if climate sensitivity is 11F per doubling of CO2 or whatever, we certainly have a big problem.  Spending a few thousand words saying that is totally worthless.  The only thing that matters is new evidence helping to pin down climate sensitivity, and more specifically feedbacks to initial greenhouse warming.

Ah, but its the risk you say?  Well, first, McKibben never talks of risk, this is all absolutely going to happen.  And second, if one were to discuss risks, one would also have to put value on cheap fossil fuels.   Rich nations like ours might be able to afford a changeover to other sources, but such a mandate as he desires would essentially throw back billions of people into subsistence poverty.  He talks about monetary values of the reserves being written off, as if the only cost will be to Exxon (and who cares about Exxon), but that fuel has real value to billions of people — so much so that every time prices tick up a tad, Exxon gets hauled in front of Congress to prove its not somehow holding back production.

By the way, if you want to know the cost of fossil fuel reduction, consider this.  Over the last four years, three dramatic things have happened:

  • The government has poured billions into alternate fuels, from Solyndra to ethanol
  • There has been a revolution in natural gas, shifting a lot of higher carbon coal to lower carbon natural gas
  • We have had the worst economy since the great depression

And still, we are missing the Kyoto Co2 targets.  And McKibben would argue that these are not aggressive enough.  So if Obama-type green energy spending in the hundreds of billions and a near depression only reduced our CO2 output by 5 or 10%, what will it cost to reduced it by McKibben’s 80%?

If you want to understand how McKibben can sound so sure and throw around scientific-sounding facts while missing the key scientific point, I recommend this article I wrote a while back at Forbes.  I am in the process of working on a longer video based on this article.

In the mean time, I watched a lot of this video, which was recommended to me, and it is pretty good at going deeper into the pseudo-science bait-and-switch folks like McKibben are doing:

Site Lockouts

I have been trying to lock down the site better because of some bad behavior over the last several weeks by some odd attempts to penetrate off-limits parts of the site.  If you feel like you were locked out in error, send me an email to the link on the header of the site with your approximate location (e.g. city) and the approximate time of hitting the site and I will unblock you.  Also, any info on the pages or files you were trying to access in vain when you were locked out would help me too.

In other news, I am still waiting for Disqus to get all our old comments loaded and back online.

Disqus Comments

First, I have not changed my comment policy – no moderation except for spam.   But I have decided to force some kind of log-in on comments.  I am going to try Disqus, and am specifically doing so during a quiet period in my blogging to have time to test it.  Note that for a day or so, comments may disappear.  I have them all archived, but it takes a while, apparently, to sync past comments with Disqus.  We shall see how things go.

Well, There is a First Time for Everything

In preparation for blogging more actively again here, I have been doing some security cleanup.  As part of that, I finally decided to delete my first comments ever.  I pride myself on leaving anything in the comments, on the theory that idiots just hurt their own cause by being idiots.  However, I deleted all the comments from the visitor who was using my name.   He/she is by no means the most obnoxious commenter out there, but the tone adopted does not at all match my tone in discussions.  If you see someone trying to spoof me again that I am missing, drop me an email at the link above.  I think I fixed email as well, which has not been working as well as it should.

Computer Generated Global Warming. Edit – Past Special – Add

Way back, I had a number of posts on surface temperature adjustments that seemed to artificially add warming to the historical record, here for example.  Looking at the adjustments, it seemed odd that they implied improving station location quality and reduced warming bias in the measurements, despite Anthony Watts work calling both assumptions into question.

More recently, Steve Goddard has been on a roll, looking at GISS adjustments in the US.   He’s found that the essentially flat raw temperature data:

Has been adjusted upwards substantially to show a warming trend that is not in the raw data.  The interesting part is that most of this adjustment has been added in the last few years.  As recently as 1999, the GISS’s own numbers looked close to those above.   Goddard backs into the adjustments the GISS has made in the last few years:

So, supposedly, some phenomenon has that shape.  After all, surely the addition of this little hockey stick shaped data curve to the raw data is not arbitrary simply to get the answer they want, the additions have to represent the results of some heretofore unaccounted-for bias in the raw data.  So what is it?  What bias or changing bias has this shape?

Summer of the Shark, Climate Edition

My new column is up, comparing coverage of this summer’s heat wave to “Summer of the Shark”

Before I discuss the 2012 global warming version of this process, let’s take a step back to 2001 and the “Summer of the Shark.”  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

This summer we have been absolutely bombarded with stories about the summer heat wave in the United States.  The constant drumbeat of this coverage is being jumped on by many as evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming….

What the Summer of the Shark needed, and what this summer’s US heatwave needs, is a little context.  Specifically, if we are going to talk about supposed “trends”, then we should look at the data series in question over time.  So let’s do so.

I go on to present a number of data series on temperatures, temperature maximums, droughts, and fires.   Enjoy.

Letter to Tom Clynes at Popular Science

I am simply amazed at the tone and lack of balance in your story called “the Battle” in the recent issue of Popular Science.  More than anything, its incredible to me that a magazine with “science” in the title could dismiss the actual scientific arguments made by skeptics in something like two dozen words, while spending thousands of words on yet another exposition on how much money the Koch Brothers sends to the Heartland institute.

Granted there are skeptics that are full of bluster or who put up tasteless billboards.  I wonder why your coverage of these types of issues in “the battle” is so asymmetric?  Did you see the 10:10 video of teachers exploding kids who questioned global warming into a bloody mess?  How about James Hansen’s arrests?  Or the threats to skeptics by RFK jr and Grist Magazine that were far more extreme than Inhofe’s list you spend about a thousand words discussing?  If there is some reason these are different, why?  And by the way, why is Heartland’s funding to interesting but funding to Tides or WWF not worth mentioning?  And finally, why do you discuss only the scientists on the alarmist side and +none of the crazy advocacy people, but on the skeptic side you discuss none of the scientists and only the crazy advocacy guys.  I understand you have a point of view, fine, but can’t you even take a shot at treating both sides symmetrically?

By the way, I thought your inclusion of the Gleason/Monnett story bordered on journalistic malfeasance.  These guys have their job threatened not by skeptics but by an audit, I believe on financial issues, by the Obama Administration (surely not a friend of the Limbaugh-Inhofe-Milloy cabal).  You were careful not to say that skeptics were involved, but by its very inclusion in an article on skeptics’ bad actions you left the reader, purposefully I fear, with that incorrect conclusion.  This story has nothing to do with “the Battle”, so why is it even here except to dish dirt on skeptics for something they did not even do?  Sure, skeptics criticized their work and had a certain schadenfreude when they got in trouble, but again the trouble comes from Obama Administration financial investigators.

Anyway, over the last two paragraphs I spent more time talking about these behavioral issues than I intended.  My core complaint is still your dismissal of the scientific part of skeptics arguments without even mentioning what they are.  In fact, you dismiss key issues as tangential.

It is the latter that causes me to ask, and seriously this is not rhetorical or smart-*ss, do you actually know the mainstream skeptical scientific arguments?   I have many friends who are people of goodwill who actually don’t, who assume the bluster of a Limbaugh or an Inhofe is all we have to offer.  If your only exposure to skeptic ideas is by reading about them at Realclimate or from Joe Romm, you can be excused, I suppose, for thinking we only have “information mssiles” and no actual science.

Here is the key point, which you dismiss as tangential:  While the world has indeed warmed over the last century, and some of that warming has almost certainly been due to man-made CO2, climate scientists are grossly exaggerating future warming in large part because they are exaggerating positive feedback effects in the climate system.  Most of the warming in climate models is not from CO2 directly but from feedback effects, and the evidence for strong positive climate feedback on temperature is very weak (to the point of non-existence) as compared to the evidence of greenhouse gas warming (yes, individual effects like ice cover melting are undeniably positive feedback effects, the question is as to the net impact of all such effects).  When we look at past warming, and take into account other natural warming effects, the warming from man-made CO2 appears to be more consistent with negative than positive feedback.

The importance, even centrality, of the feedback is not some skeptic invention but comes right from the IPCC.  According to the last IPCC report, greenhouse gasses acting alone warm the Earth about 1.2C per double of CO2 (per Michael Mann, yes that Mann).  It is hypothesized positive feedback effects that increase this to the 3.5-5.5C range for total warming/sensitivity.  This means that 67% to 80% of IPCC forecasted warming is not from greenhouse gas theory but this second theory that the Earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This means that the points you consider “tangential” actually account for the vast majority of the warming.  In fact, according to the IPCC, it is feedback, not greenhouse gas theory, that causes the catastrophe.

The is why harping on the “98% of scientists” meme is so irritating to many skeptics.  The 98% of scientists in this survey said two things:  that the world has warmed over the last century and that CO2 from man was a significant cause of this warming.  But most science-based skeptics agree with this!  We don’t deny warming or greenhouse gas theory, we deny the catastrophe, which we face only if the assumption of the climate being dominated by strong net positive feedback is correct.

The other major issue skeptics have is that the climate community has become incredibly insular and resistant to criticism and replication of their work.  Peer review tends to be by a small group of friends and close associates, and attempts by third parties to replicate their work are impossible, since climate scientists seldom release their key data to outsiders, even when, which is often the case, their work is publicly funded. In particular, climates scientists often get very “creative” with statistical methods, and often create results which don’t stand up to review by qualified statisticians outside the field.

Take this as context for the issue of “harassment” via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits.  Over and over in your piece we must take Michael Mann and other climate scientists at their word that these lawsuits are purely to harass them.  But, in fact, the origins of these lawsuits were to try to obtain data from Mann and others that was needed by third parties to replicate their published works, data that was collected in most cases with taxpayer-funded grants for research that was published in journals that nominally required authors to provide all data needed for replication.

Sure, some recent FOIA suits by political groups, particularly one in Virginia of Mann’s emails when we was a professor there, border on harassment; but I have yet to meet any scientist who, hearing the story of Mann’s resistance to providing replication data, has any sympathy for such a clear breach of the scientific process.

Anyway, I wrote a longer version of this at Forbes.com here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/06/18/a-response-to-popular-ad-hominem-err-science-magazine-on-global-warming-skeptics/

Also, on the off-chance you really don’t know the science-based skeptic position and think that skeptics begin and end with the big-mouths you quote, try these two articles which are discussions of the science, absolutely free of ad hominem attacks, something Popular Science should try:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/02/09/understanding-the-global-warming-debate/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2010/10/15/denying-the-catstrophe-the-science-of-the-climate-skeptics-position/

A Response to Popular Ad Hominem, err Science, Magazine on Global Warming Skeptics

My new column is up at Forbes.com, and addresses the most recent Popular Science hit piece on climate skeptics:

I thought I knew what “science” was about:  the crafting of hypotheses that could be tested and refined through observation via studies that were challenged and replicated by the broader community until the hypothesis is generally accepted or rejected by the broader community.

But apparently “popular science” works differently, if the July 2012 article by Tom Clynes in the periodical of that name is any guide [I will link the article when it is online].  In an article called “the Battle,” Clynes serves up an amazing skewering of skeptics that the most extreme environmental group might have blushed at publishing.  After reading this article, it seems that “popular science” consists mainly of initiating a sufficient number of ad hominem attacks against those with whom one disagrees such that one is no longer required to even answer their scientific criticisms.

The article is a sort of hall-of-fame of every ad hominem attack made on skeptics – tobacco lawyers, Holocaust Deniers, the Flat Earth Society, oil company funding, and the Koch Brothers all make an appearance.

Just one example of the really shoddy journalism in this article:

Clynes mentions the story of Jeffrey Gleason and Charles Monnett, who published an observation of drowned polar bears.   The pair came under review by the Office of Inspector General for “integrity issues.”  The author uses this anecdote as an extreme example of harassment of climate scientists.  He is careful not to mention skeptics in the context of their story, but one is clearly meant to take this as an example of extreme harassment of scientists by skeptics.  Certainly skeptics have criticized their work, but Gleason and Monnett, as Clynes must surely know, came under review by the Obama Administration (certainly not a hotbed for sympathy towards skeptics) mainly for ethical lapses around reporting and use of funds.    This is extreme journalistic malfeasance — Gleason’s and Monnett’s job problems have nothing to do with skeptics but their story is included in a way meant to support the author’s thesis on skeptic harassment

Read it all

Defending the “Consensus” in Other Scientific Fields

Readers will likely find some parallels here to climate science:  A number of studies dispute whether cutting back on salt consumption to government-recommended levels is really healthier.   Gary Taubes wrote a long opinion piece in the NY Times this Sunday highlighting evidence that eating too little salt can actually increase mortality from heart disease.  Now, I don’t really have a dog in this hunt and haven’t studied the evidence either way, but I thought the reaction of the anti-salt crusaders was familiar:

Proponents of the eat-less-salt campaign tend to deal with this contradictory evidence by implying that anyone raising it is a shill for the food industry and doesn’t care about saving lives. An N.I.H. administrator told me back in 1998 that to publicly question the science on salt was to play into the hands of the industry. “As long as there are things in the media that say the salt controversy continues,” he said, “they win.”

When several agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, held a hearing last November to discuss how to go about getting Americans to eat less salt (as opposed to whether or not we should eat less salt), these proponents argued that the latest reports suggesting damage from lower-salt diets should simply be ignored. Lawrence Appel, an epidemiologist and a co-author of the DASH-Sodium trial, said “there is nothing really new.” According to the cardiologist Graham MacGregor, who has been promoting low-salt diets since the 1980s, the studies were no more than “a minor irritation that causes us a bit of aggravation.”

This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed. The British scientist and educator Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin’s bulldog for his advocacy of evolution, may have put it best back in 1860. “My business,” he wrote, “is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.”

Burning Down the House

Steve Zwick walked back his comments about letting skeptics’s houses burn down and tries to clarify the point he was trying to make.  I have further comments in a new Forbes article here.  An excerpt:

Steve Zwick has posted an update to the post I wrote about last week and has decided the house-burning analogy was unproductive.  Fine.  I have written a lot of dumb stuff on a deadline.  In his new post, he has gone so far in the opposite direction of balance and fairness that I am not even sure what his point is any more — the only one I can tease out is that people who intentionally bring bad information to a public debate should be held accountable in some way.  Uh, OK.  If he wants to lock up the entirety of Congress he won’t get any argument out of this libertarian.

Here is the problem with Mr. Zwick’s point in actual application:  Increasingly, many people on both sides of the climate debate have decided that the folks on the other side are not people of goodwill.  They are nefarious.  They lie.  They want to destroy the Earth or the want to promote UN-led world socialism.   If you believe your opponents are well-mentioned but wrong, you say “they are grossly underestimating future climate change which could have catastrophic effects on mankind.”  You don’t talk about punishments, because we don’t punish people who take the wrong scientific position — did we throw those phlogiston proponents in jail?  How about the cold fusion guys?

However, when the debate becomes politicized, we stop believing the other side is well-intentioned.  So you get people like Joe Romm describing the people on the two sides of the debate this way:

But the difference is that those who are trying to preserve a livable climate and hence the health and well-being of our children and billions of people this century quickly denounce the few offensive over-reaches of those who claim to share our goals — but those trying to destroy a livable climate [ie skeptics], well, for them lies and hate speech are the modus operandi, so such behavior is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

This is where the argument goes downhill.   When one group believes the other side is no longer just disagreeing, but “trying to destroy a livable climate” and for whom “lies and hate speech are the modus operandi,” then honest debate is no longer possible.  If I honestly thought a group of people really, truly wanted to destroy a livable climate, I might suggest letting their houses burn down too.

A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won’t repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled — in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive — which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick’s that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people’s toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.

Tilting at Straw Men

In my Forbes article a few weeks ago, I showed how the arguments alarmists most frequently use to “prove” that skeptics are wrong are actually straw men.  Alarmists want to fight the war over whether the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 is true and whether the world has seen warming over the last century, both propositions that skeptics like myself accept.

The issue for us is whether man is causing a catastrophe (mainly due to large positive feedbacks in the climate system), and whether past warming has been consistent with catastrophic rates of man-made warming.  Both of these propositions are far from proven, and are seldom even discussed in the media.

I found a blog I had not read before on energy policy issues that had a very sensible article on just this issue

The most frustrating thing about being a scientist skeptical of catastrophic global warming is that the other side is continually distorting what I am skeptical of.

In his immodestly titled New York Review of Books article “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong,” economist William Nordhaus presents six questions that the legitimacy of global warming skepticism allegedly rests on.

  1. Is the planet in fact warming?
  2. Are human influences an important contributor to warming?
  3. Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?
  4. Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?
  5. Are the views of mainstream climate scientists driven primarily by the desire for financial gain?
  6. Is it true that more carbon dioxide and additional warming will be beneficial?

Since the answers to these questions are allegedly yes, yes, yes and no, no, no, it’s case closed, says Nordhaus.

Except that he is attacking a straw man. Scientists (or non-scientists) who are “skeptics” are skeptical of catastrophic global warming—not warming or human-caused warming as such. So much for 1 and 2. We refuse to label CO2 a “pollutant” because it is essential to life and because we do not believe it has the claimed catastrophic impact. So much for 3. And since 4-6 don’t pertain to the scientific issue of

The Alarmist Bait and Switch

This quote from Michael Mann is a great example of two common rhetorical tactics of climate alarmists:

And so I think we have to get away from this idea that in matters of science, it’s, you know, that we should treat discussions of climate change as if there are two equal sides, like we often do in the political discourse. In matters of science, there is an equal merit to those who are denying the reality of climate change who area few marginal individuals largely affiliated with special interests versus the, you know, thousands of scientists around the world. U.S. National Academy of Sciences founded by Abraham Lincoln back in the 19th century, all the national academies of all of the major industrial nations around the world have all gone on record as stating clearly that humans are warming the planet and changing the climate through our continued burning of fossil fuels.

Here are the two tactics at play here:

  1. He is attempting to marginalize skeptics so that debating their criticisms is not necessary.  He argues that skeptics are not people of goodwill; or that they say what they say because they are paid by nefarious interests to do so; or that they are vastly outnumbered by real scientists (“real” being defined as those who agree with Dr. Mann).  This is an oddly self-defeating argument, though the media never calls folks like Mann on it.  If skeptics’ arguments are indeed so threadbare, then one would imagine that throwing as much sunlight on them as possible would reveal their bankruptcy to everyone, but instead most alarmists are begging the media, as in this quote, to bury and hide skeptics’ arguments.  I LOVE to debate people when I know I am right, and have pre-debate trepidation only when I know my position to be weak.
  2. There is an enormous bait and switch going on in the last sentence.  Note the proposition is stated as “humans are warming the planet and changing the climate through our continued burning of fossil fuels.”  I, and many other skeptics, don’t doubt the first part and would quibble with the second only because so much poor science occurs in attributing specific instances of climate change to human action.  What most skeptics disagree with is an entirely different proposition, that humans are warming the planet to catastrophic levels that justify immensely expensive and coercive government actions to correct.  Skeptics generally accept a degree or so of warming from each doubling of CO2 concentrations but reject the separate theory that the climate is dominated by positive feedback effects that multiple this warming 3x or more.   Mann would never be caught dead in public trying to debate this second theory of positive feedback, despite the fact that most of the warming in IPCC forecasts is from this second theory, because it is FAR from settled.  Again, the media is either uninterested or intellectually unable to call him on this.

I explained the latter points in much more detail at Forbes.com