Taking on Climate Capos

By Keith Kloor | June 24, 2011 2:51 pm

In my critique of the PBS segment on Al Gore’s Rolling Stone essay, I took what, in hindsight, looks to be a cheap shot at AEI’s Ken Green, when I wrote that he was aping Marc Morano’s tactics.

Though Green has been an occasional commenter on this site before, I’m not actually familiar with where he stands on climate science and the whole climate change debate. But I like that he’s not afraid to criticize what I have referred to as the “climate capos” on the right wing side of the debate, as seen here from an essay posted earlier this week:

Over at climatedepot.com, and, apparently in the Rushbo zone, there is a new tone of intolerance when it comes to diversity of climate opinion: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie (hail the redeemer of fat guys from New Jersey!) have all been slammed recently for being taken in by the great climate con, and are basically being written off as viable candidates on the right. The Right has refined their tolerance equation to match that of the Left: “you’re either with us or against us.”

Note to readers: Green is being sarcastic there with his reference to the “great climate con.” I do know that he not a subscriber to the Morano/Inhofe grand hoax worldview.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, climate politics
  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Keith -
    Thanks for the clarification. As I wrote in email, I’ll take the blame for naming the wrong environmental group (Sierra Club vs. Greenpeace) on PBS, a mistake which Andy Revkin pointed out the same evening. It was obviously a slip of the tongue, and I’d say that anyone pretending not to know what I meant either hasn’t been reading about the IPCC’s renewable energy report, or is being insincere for the sake of playing “gotcha” games. Still, mea culpa: I plead “rushed to the studio after seeing the doctor,” on that one.

    As for my position on climate science, I’ve long been whacked on from both sides of the debate on the issue, though more from those who cleave to the more authoritarian and alarming scientific pronouncements from various governmentally-funded, governmentally-convened, governmentally-moderated, and governmentally-published commissions, academies, etc.

    Still, as you point out, I’ve regularly criticized those who reject the more fundamental aspects of climate science: that certain gases (GHGs) trap heat in the atmosphere, that such heat-retention can affect climate, and that human GHG emissions are no different than any other kind in that respect. I’ve also criticized those who want to throw out the instrumental temperature record entirely (though it certainly merits some grains of salt), and those who would make claims that can’t be known, like whether or not ocean acidification will be good, bad, or indifferent on human time scales. I infuriated a bunch of skeptics when I spoke about taking ocean acidification seriously at the first Heartland climate-skeptics conference, and haven’t been invited to speak there since.

    I’m trained in the sciences (including environmental), but my main beefs are policy-related: I tend to criticize:
    a) Overstatement of model utility for policy development (models which claim to simulate current climate, to model past climate conditions, to attribute causality, and particularly predictive models, which I view as having no utility for policy formation at all (they’re BladeRunner set to numbers);

    b) People who presume that diagnosing the problem dictates a particular solution that just happens to fit all of their previously expressed policy wishes, particularly those who would make a religion out of “Science and Reason” as if there is such a monolithic entity that compels us to take certain actions, as Al Gore would like to suggest. (And yes, in his latest manifesto, he capitalizes “Science and Reason” as if they’re monopolistic entities), and

    c) Various policy proposals I find flawed scientifically, economically, evolutionarily, historically, methodologically, etc.
    I’d sum up my beliefs regarding climate science as, “yes, it’s been warming, yes, some of that is probably anthropogenic, and yes, enough warming could certainly cause problems in various places and warrants concern. However, I find various positive-feedback assumptions questionable; I find arguments for lower climate sensitivity more compelling than higher climate sensitivity; and I think extrapolation is completely useless, as I view the climate as non-ergodic. As for making concrete policies based on “climate projections,” I see that as no better than gambling with public money, rights, and lives, which is why I’ve suggested market-based adaption and resilience building approaches to managing climate risk.

    My guess is, that will make me as much a “climate denier” according to most of your readers as if I were James Inhofe himself, but there ya go.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Ken,

    Thanks for stopping by again, and for expanding on your views.

    I think you’ll find that readers of this blog are quite mixed, in a demographic, political, and ideological sense. Quite a spectrum is often represented in the comment threads, which makes for some interesting discussions.

    Maybe this will be one of them.

     

  • EdG

    “Over at climatedepot.com… there is a new tone of intolerance when it comes to diversity of climate opinion”

    Yes there does appear one for potential POTUS candidates. Not just on this topic.

    But it is rather predictable given a) the evidence; and b) the witch-hunting mentality of the former ‘debate is over’ gang. This seems particularly true in Australia where the PM LIED to get elected, and is now attempting to jam the AGW line down their throats.

    Pretty hard to top this:

    “I’m prepared to keep an open mind and propose another stunt for climate sceptics ““ put your strong views to the test by exposing yourselves to high concentrations of either carbon dioxide or some other colourless, odourless gas ““ say, carbon monoxide.

    You wouldn’t see or smell anything. Nor would your anti-science nonsense be heard of again. How very refreshing.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/21/quote-of-the-week-australian-gassing-edition/

    So, I understand that new tone, and agree with it 100%. Why support anyone who falls for this nasty Orwellian political agenda? The introductory kiddy-shock film at Copenhagen explained exactly what kind of campaign this is.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Ken could you enlighten us as to which arguments you find more compelling for low sensitivity and why they are more compelling than evidence for median or high sensitivity?

    oh and
    “People who presume that diagnosing the problem dictates a particular solution that just happens to fit all of their previously expressed policy wishes”

    is pretty rich in irony coming from someone from AEI…

    “As for making concrete policies based on “climate projections,” I see that as no better than gambling with public money, rights, and lives, which is why I’ve suggested market-based adaption and resilience building approaches to managing climate risk.”

    I’m curious on your thoughts of what a market-based adaptation strategy to widespread crop failure would look like.  I’m thinking in particular of Lobell’s work here. Like it or not, what you’re advocating is just as much of a gamble as any of the mitigation strategies that you’ve dismissed in the past.  The difference is that you’re gamble places the risks on future generations to the benefit of people living now, while a mitigation oriented strategy imposes more costs on the present in order to lessen the risks for future generations.

  • Dean

    Ken – Well, I don’t consider you to be the same as Inhofe, but this issue of what the sensitivity is strikes me as the last holdout for people who are grasping at straws. It reminds me of of the scientists who don’t accept that birds have evolved from dinosaurs. A consensus on that issue has arisen in recent years, but there are a few holdouts who grasp at some obscure aspect of bird anatomy to claim that we don’t know.

    We can’t prove conclusively exactly what the sensitivity is to GHGs now, so people can cling to the low or very low end without necessarily directly contradicting proven science. That the Ice Ages become almost impossible if positive feedback is much weaker than the IPCC’s central sensitivity range doesn’t seem bother folks much. Since it is feedback, it shouldn’t matter much what is triggering it. But that is the straw than you can grasp at.

    I call it the Lindzen Syndrome.

  • RickA

    Marlowe #5:

    The difference is that you’re gamble places the risks on future generations to the benefit of people living now, while a mitigation oriented strategy imposes more costs on the present in order to lessen the risks for future generations.


    I think the difference is that we don’t know how great the risks are to future generations, but we certainly do know how much present costs are today.

    There is always risk on future generations – hey the sun could go nova in 10 years; we could have an ice age start in 10 years; it could get really hot (that is what you fear).  The point is nobody knows what the future holds.

    People have theories about how warm it will get, but the only way to test them is to wait until 2100, measure the temperature and then compare it to the theories and predictions.

    It would be really great if any global climate model were statistically verified – but none are.

  • RickA

    Dean #6:

    You are acting as if the higher end of climate sensitivity is a foregone conclusion.

    Nobody knows what climate sensitivity will turn out to be.

    It may be 1.5C or 4.5C or 1.0C or 6C.

    All of the theories and projections (which seem to change every month as new data and overlooked aspects of the climate are incorporated into the analysis) are just that – theories.

    Lets wait until CO2 hits 560 ppm, measure the temperature and then we will know what the climate sensitivity number is to a doubling of CO2.

  • RickA

    Ken #1:
    At c) – you have summed up my beliefs as well.

    I fully expect it to warm around 1C by 2100, but that is the no feedback increase due to projected CO2 emissions.
     

    I am quite suspicious of the feedback temperature amplification calculations, which push that 1C to 1.5 to 3.5C higher.

  • Dean

    @6

    If by higher end, you mean the higher end of IPCC estimates – no. I’m assuming that there is a GOOD CHANCE that it will be within the core area of the range estimated – because that is where it was found to be in past climate change episodes. It doesn’t just depend on models.

    It’s also important to point out that those estimates are based on a doubling of CO2 and equivalent. It seems unlikely that we are going to somehow stop emitting by that point, so even if the sensitivity for CO2 doubling is on the lower end of the IPCC estimate, the actual warming in the next century or so could still be larger.

    Determining what to do about it is something that climate activists argue about intensively. By no means is there a bandwagon for a single policy, nor do I claim to know which is best. I think the point here is that if we could move to that debate (on policy), that woudl be major progress. Saying that we should just wait to get to 560ppm as you suggest is saying that we can likely do ourselves great harm without even trying to respond. If we wait till 560 to do anything, we won’t actually stop emitting till well above that.

  • Sashka

    @ Dean

    We can’t prove conclusively exactly what the sensitivity is to GHGs now

    Nor can you prove it approximately or in any other way that is could be characterized as a proof in any hard science.

    That the Ice Ages become almost impossible if positive feedback is much weaker than the IPCC’s central sensitivity range doesn’t seem bother folks much.

    Proof please? While at that, please enlighten us as to how to glacial/interglacial cycle began.

  • EdG

    Dean Says: 

    ” It reminds me of of the scientists who don’t accept that birds have evolved from dinosaurs. A consensus on that issue has arisen in recent years, but there are a few holdouts who grasp at some obscure aspect of bird anatomy to claim that we don’t know.”

    I don’t get this reluctance either. We have sandhill cranes and great blue herons on our place and they pretty much confirm it for me – all other evidence aside.

    But what is this?

    “That the Ice Ages become almost impossible if positive feedback is much weaker than the IPCC’s central sensitivity range doesn’t seem bother folks much.”

     Please explain. Thanks.

  • Dean

    Take a look at the temperature curve going into and out of the glacial cycles. Not nearly symmetrical. It took over 50,000 years to get to the nadir of the glacial cycles but only takes 10,000 years to warm up. Positive feedback on the warming side is the only explanation for that.

    More to the point, the perturbations in the earth’s orbit that triggers glacial cycles causes only tiny changes in solar insolation. We do know orbital mathematics pretty well, so we know exactly how solar energy changes due to the Milankovitch Cycles. There is clearly no way that such a small change in energy can cause such a large change in climate without feedback. Strong positive feedback (and much slower negative feedback much later).

    This is evidence, proof. Absolutely 100% conclusive? Well, no, but that’s what I was getting at. It is grasping at straws to depend on a  claim that contradicts the only workable explanation for the Ice Ages.

  • EdG

    12. Thanks Dean.

    The question then is which feedbacks, isn’t it?

    Seems somebody decided that CO2 was the only possible one and they have been spending all this time trying to prove that point while ignoring or dismissing all others.

    And, since ‘global climatology’ is just a baby science, and they haven’t really got a clue yet, that attitude always concerned me. In terms to possible feedbacks and interactions, to paraphrase Rummy, I would guess there are not only known unknowns but also unknown unknowns. This is far more complex than the simpleton CO2 story.

  • Ed Forbes

    Keith…lets have a bit more of the quote that Green wrote:
    .
    “..For some time now, the green climatists have had a fairly straightforward litmus test: it was basically “you’re with us, or against us.” Anyone who differed in any way from the green-climate orthodoxy, in which “unequivocal” planetary peril mandates an immediate, hard-left restructuring of the global economy, was tagged as a “climate denier,” a not-at-all veiled implication that one has the moral fiber of those who deny the holocaust.*..”
    .
    He gets this part 100% right

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There is clearly no way that such a small change in energy can cause such a large change in climate without feedback.”
    The climate system isn’t one-dimensional. In the case of ice ages it’s not the total amount of energy that matters, but the way it is distributed. Not how much, but where and when.

    “Positive feedback on the warming side is the only explanation for that.”
    Feedback works symmetrically. If it operates on the warming side, it will operate in the same way at the same temperature on the cooling side. The future of the climate system depends only on its current state. For long-term changes over millenial scales to cause different effects, the current state must contain a “memory” of the past on a millenial scale, leading to the potential for long-term persistence.

    The asymmetry is evidence of the inadequacy of current modelling. That they can only get the models to fit the magnitude by inserting strong positive feedback could mean that feedback is strongly positive, or it could mean the models are incomplete. Since there’s already plenty of evidence from elsewhere that the models are incomplete (even for the present day climate – e.g. the tropical hotspot, precipitation variance, etc.), it’s not a hard decision.

    We have no detailed workable explanation for the ice ages, yet.

  • BBD

    Dean

    You seem to treat ‘feedback’ as a generic and interchangeable term in you discussion of paleoclimate. You become specific when talking about CO2.

    Is there not a danger that by, say, confusing ice albedo with the radiative effects of CO2 that you will make a mistaken attribution for the rapid termination of glacials? I wonder for example why, if the extra insolation at 65N afforded by peak Milankovitch forcing is so trivial, does it suffice to elevate climate into an interglacial such as the Eemian or Holocene?

    Why, if powerful GHG feedback is initiated by an abrupt warming event, do not the rapid warmings within the Bond cycle not ascend to full interglacials?

  • Sashka

    @ Dean (12)

    To summarize: the feedback is thought to be the CO2 absorption/release during the cooling/warming phases but we cannot explain the asymmetry and there is no constraint on sensitivity from these observations.

  • Dean

    @13

    climatology is not a baby science. Science has been studying the greenhouse effect for two centuries and it was over a century ago that a scientist first suggested AGW could happen. Nor do I have any idea who your somebody is who thinks that CO2 is the only issue.

    @17

    I don’t know who you are attempting to summarize. There are constraints from those observations. They don’t come out exactly the same in different efforts to compute them, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.

    @10

    “Nor can you prove it approximately or in any other way that is could be characterized as a proof in any hard science.”

    See the post on it at skepticalscience.com (#18 under Arguments I think). This certainly is “hard” science, even though there are not yet any conclusive numbers. But the ranges are based on hard science.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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