Is Al Gore Responsible for Destroying the Planet?

By Sean Carroll | December 6, 2010 9:28 am

Among the many depressing aspects of our current political discourse is the proudly anti-science stance adopted by one of our major political parties. When it comes to climate change, in particular, Republicans are increasingly united against the scientific consensus. What’s interesting is that this is not simply an example of a conservative/liberal split; elsewhere in the world, conservatives are not so willing to ignore the findings of scientists.

Republicans are alone among major parties in Western democracies in denying the reality of climate change, a phenomenon that even puzzles many American conservatives. Denialism is growing among the rank and file, and the phenomenon is especially strong among those with college degrees. So it doesn’t seem to be a matter of lack of information, so much as active disinformation. Republican politicians are going along willingly, as they increasingly promote anti-scientific views on the environment. After the recent elections, GOP leaders are disbanding the House Select Committee on Global Warming.

What makes American conservatives different from other right-wing parties around the world? Note that it wasn’t always this way — there was a time when Republicans wouldn’t have attacked science so openly. I have a theory: it’s Al Gore’s fault.

Actually it’s not my theory, it comes from Randy Olson. For a while now Randy has been vocally skeptical about An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s critically-acclaimed documentary about global warming. I was initially unconvinced. Surely the positive effects of informing so many people about the dangers of climate change outweigh the political damage of annoying some conservatives? But Randy’s point, which I’m coming around to, was that for all the good the movie did at spreading information about climate change, it did equal or greater harm by politicizing it.

By most measures, Al Gore has had a pretty successful career. Vice-President during an administration characterized by peace and prosperity, winner of the popular vote total during his Presidential run, co-founder of Current TV, winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Nobel Prize. But to Republicans, he’s a punchline. It’s an inevitable outcome of the current system: Al Gore was the Democratic nominee for President; therefore, he must be demonized. It’s not enough that their candidate is preferable; the other candidate must be humiliated, made into a laughingstock. (Ask John Kerry, whose service in Vietnam was somehow used as evidence of his cowardice.) The conclusion is inevitable: if Al Gore becomes attached to some cause, that cause must be fought against.

Here is some evidence. You may think of Jay Leno as a completely vanilla and inoffensive late-night talk-show host. But he’s a savvy guy, and he knows his audience. Which is mostly older, white, suburban middle-class folks. Which political party does that sound like? Between January and September of 2010, Jay Leno made more jokes about Al Gore than about Sarah Palin. You read that right. This is while Palin was promoting books, making TV specials, stumping for candidates, and basically in the news every day, while Gore was — doing what exactly?

Once Al Gore became the unofficial spokesperson for concern about climate change, it was increasingly inevitable that Republicans would deny it on principle. This isn’t the only reason, not by a long shot (there’s something in there about vested interests willing to pour money into resisting energy policies that are unfriendly to fossil fuels), but it’s a big part. Too many Republicans have reached a point where devotion to “the truth” takes a distant back seat to a devotion to “pissing off liberals.” With often nasty implications.

What the United States does about climate change will be very important to the world. And what the U.S. does will be heavily affected by what Republicans permit. And Republicans’ views on climate change are largely colored by its association with Al Gore. As much as I hate to admit it, the net real impact of An Inconvenient Truth could turn out to be very negative.

Gore himself doesn’t deserve blame here. Using one’s celebrity to bring attention to an issue of pressing concern, and running for office in order to implement good policies, are two legitimate ways a person can help try to make the world a better place. In a healthy culture of discussion, they shouldn’t necessarily interfere; if any issue qualifies as “bipartisan,” saving the planet should be it. But in our current climate, no discussion of political import can take place without first passing through the lens of partisan advantage. Too bad for us.

  • http://sarajdavis.net/ Non-Believer

    I was under the impression that republicans had been denying climate change before the movie.

  • http://www.miskeptics.org Chris Lindsay

    The more successful the GOP is at attacking climate change, the more money they can raise from fossil-fuel companies. And the more money they raise, the more extreme and louder their denialistic rhetoric.

    Is it going to take the U.S. being displaced as a world leader to make people realize that the GOP is not promoting good policies? Or will being displaced as a world leader just reinforce their xenophobic “them vs. us” mentality, and further stoke their cognitive dissonance?

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  • A

    Well, Gore is certainly one of the biggest hypocrites behind the AGW movement (it’s “anthropogenic global warming” not “climate change” BTW, no one denies that climate is changing) so he is surely damaging to the cause.

    But scientific consensus means very little if there is no solid evidence to support it’s position. Of course if there was solid evidence no one would have to resort to such appeals to authority.

    IMO the reason so many people are skeptical is simply this lack of solid evidence. Assuming AGW is true to some extent there is currently no reliable way to predict how much of the recent warming is due to man-made emissions and how much is natural. There is also no way to predict how much warming we will see in the future. This will only change once we have reliable climate models, which at the very least means passing the most obvious sanity check one can think of – correctly reconstructing the global temperature record of the past century. No current climate model can accomplish this feat and if they cannot predict past temperatures how can anyone believe they can predict future ones?

    Add to this the fact that the cost of proposed solutions is astronomical while their effectiveness is questionable at best.

    And finally there is China and other countries who won’t limit their emissions.

    There is simply no rational basis for any climate legislation right now.

  • Bigby

    This is more a statement of the current political environment than about the GOP. Liberals/Democrats are every bit as vehement at demonizing leading Republicans — more so, in my opinion. Two years after getting elected Obama still blames Bush for virtually every ill the country faces. No other president has continued such practices for as long.
    Regarding Gore — maybe the fact that the film has a number of glaring inaccuracies might have something to do with this situation as well. Not to mention his obvious hypocrasie. There have been reports that he’s made $100M on promoting global warming. He flies around the world in a private jet and uses as much electricity in his mansion as an entire neighborhood –meanwhile tells us to “change our ways”.
    Hard for me to take him seriously.

  • http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com Curious Wavefunction

    Yes, Gore did everyone a great disservice by politicizing climate change. After that the GOP which has traditionally reveled in politicizing such topics was only too happy to gleefully grab the opportunity to push denial. In my opinion he also did damage by sharply dividing the issue along scientific as well as moral lines, which implied that anyone who disagreed with global warming from then on was both unscientific and immoral. Thus these days you routinely find genuine climate change skeptics being tossed in with the politically motivated right-wing deniers. Climate change extremists like Joe Romm only fan the flames with their complete intolerance and condescension even toward critics with no political axe to grind. It’s a sad state of affairs and has only harmed the cause of climate change.

  • TRL

    Certainly on more than one issue Gore has been ridiculed for his good works. Gore sponsored the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which greatly accelerated the transition of the then obscure internet (outside of academic settings) to the tremendous beast that it is today. All involved in the internet’s early development agree that Gore’s interest and passion was critical. In the 2000 presidential race he was derided and mocked for the claim that he invented the internet, which he never made. Al Gore is not a scientist, but he has paid a heavy price for being our pointman.

  • http://home.uchicago.edu/~sgralla Sam Gralla

    Hi Sean,

    Just as an anecdote, my own tendencies towards “denial” (I’ll use the standard word; whatever) were in fact initiated by Al Gore’s movie. I was watching it with a few other grad students several years ago, and the claims just seemed so outrageous–how could we possibly know as much about the future of such an incredibly complicated nonlinear system? How could the data be so drop-dead convincing, when I had never heard any of it before? Then I started to inform myself about the actual state of the science (pretty good but nowhere near what Gore was claiming), and came to the conclusion that he was basically purposefully misrepresenting the facts in order to make an overwhelming case.

    After his discussion of the ice core data, I remember very vividly pausing and staring at the screen with the other students to try to figure out by how many years the c02 increase preceded the temperature increase, in order to get a handle on the timescale of this apparent observed c02-caused global warming. Gore had said something like “the relationship between the c02 and the temperature is complicated, but one thing is clear: when the c02 goes up, the temperature goes up”. So, we all quite naturally assumed that the c02 goes up first, when anyone with the first acquaintance with the data knows it’s the opposite, as we soon found out from other sources. Of course, there are explanations consistent with the global warming hypothesis, but Gore doesn’t want to let us in on those; instead, he wants to choose his words so that he’s barely not lying and causing everybody watching to come to a false conclusion about the data, which supports his thesis better than the truth does. This is one of many examples in the movie where this type of strategy is employed.

    Al Gore is an extreme example of this sort of “ends justify the means misrepresentation”, but (as I began to observe after watching the movie catalyzed me) it happens in smaller does in many media reports. This is my basic problem with the global warming debate.
    -Sam

  • AL

    I feel like you fell in to the trap: “consensus equals fact”. I bet I could find way more Ph.D’s that will say God exists than I can find Ph’D's that say Global warming is real. Does God actually exist? Does Global Warming actually exist?

  • dirk

    Sad to see that people are labeled “anti-science” when they deny any sort of funding to any type of research for any reason. It’s the same as calling congressmen “anti-american” when voting against security related issues.

  • Tom

    Tell me about poisoned rivers and I’ll listen; tell me about about rising asthma due to polluted air and I’ll lend an ear; tell me about mercury, benzene, and other chemicals leaching into soil and rivers and I’ll support measures for change.

    But tell me that the world is getting warmer and so I have to give up my car and electricity and pay more in taxes, while China and India continue to pollute and you continue to get rich off your scare mongering, and I won’t believe you.

    Gore has a credibility gap.

    The world has grown warmer and colder in the past without humans, and no matter what we do it will go through the same cycles in the future. Perhaps we are accelerating a warming trend – I’m not convinced of it – but the world would get warmer on its own anyway. The net increase in biomass will be an improvement, and AGW proponents are already back-pedaling on the rising ocean hypothesis, so maybe things won’t be all bad.

    Fact is, the cost to implement a worldwide industrial shutdown is too high. It’s far cheaper to abandon desertified areas if need be, or build more desalination plants for reclamation. Is it prudent and responsible to clean up ecological damage and stop pollution? I say yes. But global warming is a booger bear of unknown consequences with an immeasurable price tag (both in civil liberties and economically) that is a thin facade for a power grab.

  • Bobito

    It was so obvious the the movie was a ploy for his own personal and political gain it made many, including me, assume it was all bunk. My favorite bit was most of Florida (the state that cost him the election, and an ongoing battleground state) being underwater. When, in actuality, only the most alarmist of scientist think the oceans will rise enough to even come close to his “prediction”.

    After more research, I’ve found that there is merit to much of what he was talking about, and have changed my stance from denying that there is any problem at all to now believing carbon emission are harmful to some extent. If anyone tells you they know exactly what that extent is, guess what, they are giving a political argument because nobody knows. Scientist only have theories, not proof.

    The politicization now goes beyond Republicans. Most staunch Democrats will believe anything from the pro-AGW side these days. I’m sure this is largely due to backlash towards the Republican stance, but in the end, a “you did it first” attitude won’t help anyone.

    So, yes, it is Al Gore’s fault for politicizing it. However, equal blame must be put on any person that thinks the “other side” of the argument is completely wrong. As with any political argument, you will find that the truth (convenient or not) will be somewhere in between.

    One other thing, the winning of Nobel Prize was obviously due to European anti-Bush sentiment. As with the Emmy and Grammy being due to the entertainment industry’s hatred of Bush and bad taste from the prior presidential election….

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    The politicization of the global warming ‘debate’ was inevitable, with or without Al Gore.

    Gore serves as a convenient target for conservative ire (not exclusively a US phenomenon — look at Australia, for instance). But global warming denialism would be the default ‘conservative’ position, right now, even had Gore never made his movie.

    In the US, global warming denialism is bound-up with a deeper problem of a wholesale rejection of science in evangelical circles. If you believe in a literal interpretation of the bible (evolution is a leftist plot, the earth is 6000 years old, …), you are not going to be much-impressed by the alleged evidence for AGW.

    When the 2008 GOP Presidential Primary debates featured moments like this and this, you know you have a problem …

  • Oldtaku

    It’s always pained me to see scientists give up their credibility as scientists to politicize things. This seems even worse than the Al Gore thing – Gore is political by definition, but scientists have (had) some credibility as impartial information suppliers and analysts.

    Now you’ve (royal You here) got all the evidence you need of climate change, but nobody cares because you squandered all your credibility on stupid catastrophic predictions that turned out to be repeatedly wrong while it was speculative. Or transparently using it to push your other personal agendas. The ends don’t justify any means – if only because your chosen means often come back and bite you in the ass and leave you worse than you started.

    The ‘but… but… Republicans!1′ comments miss the point. Monkeys will do what monkeys will do, so don’t give them matches and dynamite then say they shouldn’t have lit them.

  • Simplicio

    Eh, its not like housing for poor people became hugely contraversial after Jimmy Carter signed up with Habitat for Humanity. Global Warming has become controversial because its beomce obvious that action to mitigate it would entail a lot of things that large rich business groups don’t like. They’ve seized on Gore as a handy target for their base, but if he hadn’t been there, it would’ve been someone else.

  • kirk

    This is the worst “correlation is by default causation” blather I could imagine. BTW Adolf Hitler believed that the universe was expanding from a big bang. And that Jews caused it. So there.

  • X

    Something that perhaps is more relevant to this site is the question of why there is such rampant AGW-denialism in the physics community. A lot of otherwise sensible people seem very badly informed on this topic. If we can’t convince educated people who seem well equipped to understand the primary literature, why do we think we have a chance with the crazies? (My theory is that they remember when global warming was an issue mainly championed by the anti-science left, and their remaining disdain for this group prejudices them against climate science as a whole. That this aligns them with the modern anti-science right does not seem to bother them, but I’m not sure why.)

  • onymous

    I find it hard to blame Al Gore. The Republicans are doing the same thing with this issue that they did with the cigarette smoke–cancer connection, with acid rain, with CFCs affecting the ozone layer, and all sorts of other issues where science provided news that was troubling for business interests. I highly recommend the book Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes & Conway, which chronicles these anti-science campaigns and how the same think tanks (and a few scientists like Frederick Seitz and S. Fred Singer) were behind them all. But it doesn’t stop there, of course; now we’re seeing denial of basic economic truths as well, on both sides of the political aisle. Facts take a back seat to politics in our society.

    It’s also deeply depressing that a lot of good physicists exhibit varying degrees of denialism, ranging from outright rejection of the idea that humans cause climate change to a baffling faith that geoengineering will miraculously solve the problem and thus we need not worry about it. I’ve been running into these attitudes more and more lately, even from some people who I had previously respected as among the smartest and most reasonable people I know.

    (Just look at this thread — on a blog about science, only something like 1 in 3 comments on this topic are reasonable. Granted, blog comment threads are rarely full of well-informed and rational commentary. But still….)

  • Peter

    All becomes moot because the earth will do what it will do and it is obvious it is warming up. I’m personally thrilled there will be as many ignorant denialists who will be drowned by the rising waters or killed by weather changes. I’ve never witnessed such a stupid or more materialistic younger generation in my life! Do what you’re going to do. You’ll age and die like everyone else and hopefully the earth will extinguish you all sooner than later!

  • Max

    One of the reasons I am skeptical of global warming claims is the concern we had in the 1970s about the coming ice age. That claim was supported by science, and by government. Why did we think that claim was true? Where did the science supporting that claim go wrong? Are we sure we’re not making the same mistake again?

    Like today, the dire warnings of a coming ice age concluded that we could be saved only if we conserved energy. Now we are to conserve energy to keep the planet from warming. We have different conclusions charging us with the same solution: conserve energy to avoid an ice age and conserve energy to avoid warming. Why is conserving energy the same solution for different goals?

    Lastly, like the example above, I continue to hear dire warnings from science and government only to find they never (or rarely) produce the dire affects promised. I am thinking of SARS, the recent swine flu, Y2K, and a myriad of claims about food.

    I understand the evolution of science and scientific claims. There is always something more to be learned. There was evidence of some claim that turned out to be unrelated after all. Scientific discovery always comes with uncertainty and contention. So, why do some scientists and most government officials make science sound absolutely certain, lacking any contention?

  • http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com Curious Wavefunction

    -Something that perhaps is more relevant to this site is the question of why there is such rampant AGW-denialism in the physics community.

    Perhaps it’s because physicists are well-aware of the difficulties inherent in predicting the behavior of complex systems. We are trying to predict temperature changes in a multifactorial system as complex as the global climate accurately to 1 or 2 degrees here. How could that possibly be easy if we still have trouble predicting the behavior of much simpler systems?

  • onymous

    Max wrote:

    One of the reasons I am skeptical of global warming claims is the concern we had in the 1970s about the coming ice age. That claim was supported by science, and by government.

    No, it wasn’t. There were a handful of papers on the topic, which was never a widely accepted idea.

  • Katharine

    Oh good FSM, the denialists appear to be non-cognizant of dendrochronological and species data that we’ve got in addition to the other stuff (ever heard of Humboldt squid?). Not to mention the fact that ocean acidity and methane release is happening in ways that have verifiably never happened before – seriously, in terms of the cyclical nature of Earth’s climate and life this is an aberration. How many of you numbnutses are biologists or climatologists?

    I’m gonna go bang my head against a wall.

    The best thing we as humans can do about global warming is go carbon-neutral (I bet even you denialists can get behind that, or are you solidly pro-oil? You should see how miserable Saudi Arabia is these days – it’s tried to insinuate itself into all the climate agreements purely because its economy is completely dependent on oil. It’s not sustainable in the long-term, really, and anyone who actually studies this can tell you that as opposed to the moronic economists and businessmen and others who’ve stepped outside the bounds of their expertise who’ve gotten a megalomaniacal itch to pontificate – especially the businessmen and economists, attached more to money than anything else and ways to make it. I trust nobody who makes their career primarily about money, and neither should you) and adapt (this is more likely to piss off other people who know it happens because most people want to think there’s a way to solve it).

    Most actual climatologists think we’re past the tipping point and we’re going to be screwed for about 100,000 years (well, more accurately, certain species we depend on will be screwed; we’re more likely to survive it, but a whole lot of people are going to starve to death and lose their homes, but goodness knows you libertarian/conservative types are okay with that) before the environment recovers. There is actually a record of this same sort of warming happening as a result of volcanic eruption about 55 million years ago and it took 100,000 years to ameliorate.

    No, the environment’s not going to be destroyed, really. It’ll be changed and a lot of species are going to be extinct and a lot of people will be dead as a result of our actions – things that we can control. But it won’t be destroyed. That’s about the only good thing I can say about it.

  • David

    Well said Peter.

  • Katharine

    Curious Wavefunction, I’m more inclined to think it’s because physicists may be a wee bit more reductionist on average and considerably less aware of the emergent properties more inherent in climatology, ecology, and biology.

    Plus it really does take a good understanding of some basic principles of biology, ecology, and climatology to really comprehend this, and the picture is more illuminating when you look at not only the climatological, but the ecological data.

  • spyder

    we had in the 1970s about the coming ice age

    Who is the we here? Apparently the you, that claims the we, was not willing to read all the science of the 70s, yet advocates that that is what is important to you. There was ample evidence being discussed about the prospects of what was then called thermal pollution and the impact humans were having on the warming of the geographical regions where they were concentrated. That led to the Global 2000 report to the President, that clearly outlines, in 1970s terms the ongoing prospects for global climate change, and a whole host of other issues. I suggest you resist the collective “we” in the future.

  • Katharine

    Really, I say f*ck the Saudis. They can have all the oil they want; we shouldn’t be propping up a theocracy.

    Although then again there are petroleum products that we need.

    The Saudis aren’t the only oil-owning state in the world.

  • Nullius in Verba

    If you read Olson’s piece, you’ll see that it was not so much Al Gore’s politics as his approach to debate that really did it. Normally in national policy, the requirement is to have a debate in which you have to make a convincing and persuasive case. Gore sought to do an end run around that requirement by declaring the debate to already be over, the conclusion certain, the only acceptable policy clear, and to marginalise anyone who disagreed or doubted as anti-science cranks who should under no circumstances be listened to.

    And even if he was completely right about the science, that’s simply not how Americans who are big on democracy and freedom do things.

    Of course, Gore was not the only one to do so. But his film being so influential, it makes a good example. The problem was that the advocates didn’t try to persuade people they were right, they simply stated that they were right, and that gets up people’s noses – particularly if they don’t like what you’re proposing to do about it.

    It also sets the science up for a fall. Modern climatology is a very young science, as sciences go, in a difficult area, and there’s a lot we still don’t know, and there are without doubt many things we think we know that we’re actually wrong about. That’s normal and to be expected in science. But having declared AGW to be as firmly founded as the existence of gravity or the sun rising in the East each morning, it meant that every time some error or counter-evidence was discovered, (or some tiny little exaggeration exposed,) the declarations of certainty started to look deceptive and dishonest. Indeed, as more people started to look, and to ask questions, and dig into data and papers, the more they found. Again, that’s not unexpected in a young science, but it’s distinctly out of character for a firmly established one.

    And then, instead of taking a step back and reconsidering the strategy, the community decided to double down on asserting Scientific Authority. But that can only work for so long. And then finally, Climategate completely blew the lid off things.

    (And they screwed even the response to that up by trying to say there was nothing to see instead of taking it seriously, sitting down, and answering the questions.)

    And thus the community finds itself in desperate need of a persuasive case to make, and finds itself woefully unprepared. The general public do not have the background in the science to understand from such a standing start, and most of the advocates for action don’t have the knowledge or skills to give it to them. They’re starting with the credibility handicap of all the recent scandals, and the sceptics are already in their stride and accelerating, well used to having to persuade. And the general public can only sustain alarm for so long before they become acclimatised to it and get bored.

    Basically, any hope of action on climate (that we haven’t got legislated already) is thoroughly screwed. The only hope for it now is to get another twenty years of rising temperatures.

    The Republicans as a party are not especially inclined towards AGW-scepticism (their former position was more that of the Byrd-Hagel resolution), but like any politicians they are sensitive to which way the wind is blowing, and are hurriedly positioning themselves to take advantage as the public mood swings. The Democrats as a party are stuck with their past platform and can’t move without blowing their credibility, but I suspect they would really like to. The trick is, of course, to do nothing and be able to blame the lack of movement on the Republicans. That would at least limit the damage.

    It’s going to be fascinating to see how all this plays out. There are interesting times ahead.

  • Katharine

    And even if he was completely right about the science, that’s simply not how Americans who are big on democracy and freedom do things.

    Certainly, it’s how Americans who are not big on brains and rationality and realizing someone may know more about some things than they do do it.

    It’s disturbing how you’re putting democracy and freedom in some sort of opposition to listening and learning from those who actually study it and giving them consideration. You’re making a very anti-intellectual sort of juxtaposition. (‘But but but argument from authority!’, you may reply, but here’s the thing: that argument can also be abused mightily when an authority figure is actually doing the right thing and you either do not get it or you do not want to do it.)

  • Ijon Tichy

    I’m sold on the idea of AGW, but I’m not entirely convinced that the effects will be all bad or even mostly bad. Russia, Canada and the northern USA will see huge agricultural productivity gains. The Northwest Passage will open up to shipping. Much fewer winter deaths will occur. And now some scientists think there will be significantly increased moisture over the Sahara leading to a vast greening of that great desert. Of course these effects might be outweighed by the negative consequences of warming. Perhaps greatly outweighed. We’ll see.

    Yes, we’ll see, because the major powers aren’t going to do much about it until it’s too late. And then assuming the effects are mostly bad, we’ll go into crisis mode. I suspect some major geoengineering projects will ensue. My favourite proposal is powdering the equatorial regions with ground-up olivine. Here is a recent paper describing that idea. Sounds like fun.

  • spyder

    If anyone is actually interested in AGW science itself: http://sites.google.com/site/agucop15journalists/

    You do need to ask intelligent, non-political, interesting questions.

  • Bobito

    After post #27, I’m not sure why I’m replying to #23, but here goes (i liked throwing rocks at hornet nests when I was a kid):

    “Most actual climatologists think we’re past the tipping point”

    The data does not support that, the average global temperature has not risen in a few years. It’s right on the CRU home page! http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/

  • http://members.wap.org/kevin.parker/ ToSeek

    “Most actual climatologists think we’re past the tipping point”

    The data does not support that, the average global temperature has not risen in a few years.

    The temperature is irrelevant; what matters is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Even if we stopped adding to it right this very minute, there’s going to be significant warming, and it would take thousands of years for it to return to pre-industrial levels and not affect the climate any more.

  • Mean and Anomalous

    “You may think of Jay Leno as a completely vanilla and inoffensive late-night talk-show host. But he’s a savvy guy, and he knows his audience. Which is mostly older, white, suburban middle-class folks. Which political party does that sound like? Between January and September of 2010, Jay Leno made more jokes about Al Gore than about Sarah Palin. You read that right. This is while Palin was promoting books, making TV specials, stumping for candidates, and basically in the news every day, while Gore was — doing what exactly? ”

    Thank you. One more reason to dislike J Leno.

    “Something that perhaps is more relevant to this site is the question of why there is such rampant AGW-denialism in the physics community”

    In general, I do not find this to be the case (?)

  • Bobito

    @33 – But to say we are “Past the tipping point” means we’ve entered the “feedback loop” thus temperatures would have to continue rising. Unless there were factors like a weak el nino, but in fact, it’s been the opposite. To the point that some state we’ve actually been cooling a bit.

    I wasn’t trying to say that trowing carbon into the atmosphere willy nilly was a good idea, just stating that it’s difficult to assert we are “past the tipping point” given the recent data.

  • Jdhuey

    There really is a need to have a better understanding of the psychology behind AGW denialism. There seems to be many underlying factors involved so coming up with a single explanation (e.g Al Gore) is doomed to failure.

    The religious component, as was pointed out in #13, is certainly one factor and, given that the Republican party was strategically co-opted by the religious right, adequately explains why denialism is a Republican position but not why denialism is as widespread as it is.

    The economic factors are also certainly at play: dealing with AGW would entail significant economic upheaval. There is also the Economic/Game theory factor that underlies all ‘tragedies of the commons’ : individual self-interest vs the well-fare of the group.

    There is also the moral component: accepting the fact of AGW demands that we accept moral responsibility for the harm that will follow. We, collectively, have done a bad selfish thing that other people are going to pay for. Accepting that but not trying to correct it makes us evil and since no one can accept the idea that they are evil and no one wants to commit to correcting the problem, then AGW must not be accepted as true.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #29,

    “Certainly, it’s how Americans who are not big on brains and rationality and realizing someone may know more about some things than they do do it.”

    That’s the problem. It’s not that they’re stupid or irrational – our host points out that “the phenomenon is especially strong among those with college degrees” – it’s that they’re looking at the question from a different point of view.

    “It’s disturbing how you’re putting democracy and freedom in some sort of opposition to listening and learning from those who actually study it and giving them consideration.”

    No, I was saying precisely the opposite. The problem was that people were not being invited to listen and learn, they were being told to believe. There is no debate. There is no discussion. You can’t legitimately ask questions, or argue, or disagree. This is the answer.

    Their attitude to people asking to see how they got the answer they did was along the lines of “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?” Isn’t that how science works? But when the aim is not to help people to learn or to persuade them that you’re right but to make them believe, you don’t want people peeking behind the curtain.

    An authority figure doing the right thing also has to do it in the right way.

  • jlive2003

    Sean,

    Do you think Gore is wrong when he argues that solving climate change will require political action? If you think that climate change cannot be addressed by individual action but only by corporate action, backed by governmental policies, then the issue is *inevitably* going to be political.

  • Bobito

    Bottom line, the issue has been politicized, which is really the point. With that being said, I’ll offer this:

    If you believe every single thing you hear/read/see that supports your side of the AGW argument, no matter if you are a “denier” or an “alarmists”, you need to do the following for the good of all:

    Get a firm grip on the back of your head and pull down sharply. The sound you hear will be your head popping out of your ***

  • Maurice

    This is not the first time in the short history of environmentalism that alarmist prognoses about the future have backfired. Remember the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” (1972)? The projections were shaky and under-scrutinized. For me this marks the start of environmentalists all being sub-consciously branded as alarmist tree-huggers in the collective consciousness.

    As for the association of social causes with political allegiances I have only this to say:
    Environmetalism is a conservative cause, Christianity is a socialist teaching and Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

  • Carl Brannen

    The way that elites manipulate humans is to tell them that they must do something or some awful thing will happen to them. Telling them that they’re going to destroy the earth and all of their children will die is effective for only a short while. Eventually that sort of argument will attract attention. Then you have the inevitable scandal. It started with the climategate email releases now it’s continuing with paper after peer-reviewed paper questioning the alarmist claims.

    The problem is that when you’re trying to scare humans into doing something idiotic over a long term, you need to use threats that are hard to quantify. I suggest telling them that if they misbehave they will roast forever in an imaginary place (not original, somebody else came up with this).

    The whole technique works better when you only need a short term response. For instance, you can tell them that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That got a positive response from the public that was higher than the peak positive response due to the global warming scare. But over the long run, it’s difficult to maintain the necessary fear.

  • Brian Too

    @37. Nullius in Verba,

    Yours is one of the few explanations I’ve heard that makes sense of the right’s position. Beyond, that is, extreme polarization and the false dicotomy that your political opponent is your enemy and everything they say is wrong.

    @4. A,

    Regarding “…no one denies that climate is changing”.

    I gotta say that’s a major fail there. Have you read what is circulating these days? I feel confident that I can find opinion, and lots of it, that says exactly that. And not just me can find it–anyone can, with about 5 minutes work. Probably less.

  • onymous

    It started with the climategate email releases

    None of which showed any wrongdoing, as confirmed by a British parliamentary investigation and multiple university investigative commissions.

    now it’s continuing with paper after peer-reviewed paper questioning the alarmist claims.

    This is simply false.

    It’s amazing how many of you are living in a fantasy world in which thousands of scientists would conspire to agree to publish the same misleading results. If climate change were not happening due to human activity, and any scientist could convincingly show it, they would be famous and extravagantly successful.

  • http://home.uchicago.edu/~sgralla Sam Gralla

    Regarding the issue of climate “skepticism” being “rampant” among physicists: there certainly seems a higher density among physicists than among other scientists, but rampant is a huge overstatement. Of course the skeptics are in evidence here; in fact, some of you may not know that one of the co-bloggers is among them…

  • http://mingus.as.arizona.edu/~bjw Ben

    The response to climate change science was politicized long before An Inconvenient Truth. This has everything to do with economic interests and political philosophy – fossil fuel industries are a powerful lobby, and Republicans are anti-regulation by default. It had nothing to do with Al Gore. If you followed climate science from about 1988 to 200x there was a lot of politics in the response to people like James Hansen, and none of it was about Al Gore.

    Al Gore is now just a convenient lightning rod for criticism. A lot of today’s climate-change and AGW skeptics (on the Internet, I mean, not the minority of scientists who argue against it and knew about it before the movie) invoke him as representative of the field, as if he had invented it or something. One could blame Al Gore for getting it popularized enough to draw the attention of skeptics that weren’t thinking about AGW beforehand, but that is very roundabout.

    Actually the science behind climate forcing (the greenhouse effect of CO2) is relatively well understood. See for example Spencer Weart’s history at http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.htm What is less well understood is what will happen in the future, because that requires modeling the effects. I don’t think there is a *lot* of climate change skepticism in the physics community, but there is a bit, and even that bit is not well founded in my opinion.

  • Katharine

    It especially irritates me how the denialists bang on and on about emails that were already resolved.

    Of course, they think if they repeat it enough it’ll be true.

    That’s the problem. It’s not that they’re stupid or irrational – our host points out that “the phenomenon is especially strong among those with college degrees”

    And more Republicans have college degrees than Democrats, which is because Republicans are on average better off. It might be telling to look at the proportion that has graduate degrees; having a graduate degree and being a Democrat are linked.

    What about which field their degree is in?

    In addition, I wonder what proportions among Democrats think global warming is occurring.

    No, I was saying precisely the opposite. The problem was that people were not being invited to listen and learn, they were being told to believe. There is no debate. There is no discussion. You can’t legitimately ask questions, or argue, or disagree. This is the answer.

    Their attitude to people asking to see how they got the answer they did was along the lines of “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?” Isn’t that how science works? But when the aim is not to help people to learn or to persuade them that you’re right but to make them believe, you don’t want people peeking behind the curtain.

    I don’t think that was the case. All the data has been freely available, as far as I’m aware. If you do a little digging around Science, Nature, etc. you can dig it up.

    The economic factors are also certainly at play: dealing with AGW would entail significant economic upheaval. There is also the Economic/Game theory factor that underlies all ‘tragedies of the commons’ : individual self-interest vs the well-fare of the group.

    Not only that, but there are people who have built their entire livelihoods on the very thing that’s screwing up the environment. Perhaps it would be useful if we offered them a good out.

    There is also the moral component: accepting the fact of AGW demands that we accept moral responsibility for the harm that will follow. We, collectively, have done a bad selfish thing that other people are going to pay for. Accepting that but not trying to correct it makes us evil and since no one can accept the idea that they are evil and no one wants to commit to correcting the problem, then AGW must not be accepted as true.

    Somehow I guess I can’t figure out why this is so hard for a lot of humanity to deal with. You screw up, you fix it, and just wishing something existed or didn’t exist doesn’t make it exist or not exist. Is most of humanity just infantile, emotionally?

  • Pingback: Is Al Gore Responsible for Destroying the Planet? | Cosmic … | Climate Change History Explore and Learn

  • coolstar

    @13 Jacques Distler (and others) have it more correct here than Sean: The Republicans would be just as science denying without Al Gore as with him. Gore, as he has on so many other issues, just makes an easy to ridicule whipping boy. The much LARGER problem is the fact that the American Right thinks it’s ok to disagree with experts on ANY subject, as long as it reinforces their political beliefs. I’ve seen Republican airline pilots disagree with experts on global warming, astrophysics, you name it, they ARE SMARTER than the experts, so why should they bother to listen to them? I pick on airline pilots because you would think they’d see the irony; the Republican ones DO NOT, so I expect to see a person picked at random to fly one their routes some day. It’s just part and parcel of the over-wheening arrogance of American Right Wingers in general. As Sean did correctly point out, you rarely see this PARTICULAR type of arrogance among other conservative parties in industrialized democracies (Russia surely doesn’t count in that list, or the former U.S.S.R with their cosmonauts needing to consult with their astrologers while on orbit).

  • Ryan Scranton

    This is a wildly disappointing post, Sean. You say that Gore’s not to blame for demonization of climate science in the country, but you’re still adopting Olson’s battered wife syndrome framing (exactly the thing that made me switch off his evolution wars doc before I ground my teeth to their nubs).

    Let’s not blame the people who’re distorting the science, ad hom’ing the people trying to educate the public and willfully spreading misinformation (plenty of evidence of that in the comments above). No, instead, let’s pretend that if we’re nice enough and gentle enough and try not to put things in a way that makes people think that any of their current ideas are wrong or that their worldview or habits might have to change, then none of the bad people will say anything bad about us. Heck, I’m sure that if we run our next climatology, evolution and cosmology results by the Koch brothers, Ken Ham and Glenn Beck, then I’m sure they’ll be right on board.

    That’s nonsense and, as a scientist, you should know better.

  • AnonymousSnowboarder

    I’ve just one thing to add…. LOCK BOX

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Perhaps the most astonishing myth the climate change denialists have bought into is this Vast Conspiracy nonsense. If these people had ANY understanding of real world at all, they would know that scientists are constitutionally incapable of the political organization required to perpetuate such a coverup. Successfully herding a warehouse full rabid cats jacked-up on meth into a school bus is more plausible to me than getting hundreds of climatologists to keep such a racket going for more than three hours. Aside from the strongest avarice-driven desire to cling to this lunatic fantasy, even if regions of their brain must literally melt from the heavy beat of cognitive dissonance, I can’t fathom how conservatives can possibly maintain such a unified front of so-called skepticism.

  • Leif

    I believe that the GOP is in the hands of big business, Wall Street, Koch brothers etc. You see this clearly how they fought against health reform and for the tax break for the rich. Since accepting that man may be responsible for climate change could lead one to suggest laws which would alleviate the problem. But this would cut into the profits of Wall St. You can not convince somebody when it is not in his interest. What is suprising how many people accept this stuff when it is not in their best interest.

  • Leif

    Is Anerica in a dance of death:
    . spending too much on the military and the rich too little on education, roads and the poor, increasing debt which it can not afford
    . legislative and judicial branches which are more interested in ideology and the
    interest of the rich than to tackel the urgend problems
    . watching “news” which is propaganda
    . intellectuals preaching only to the choir
    . abandonibg many of their basic princeples after 9/11
    . believing strange things

  • chris

    following the US political debate from outside i find myself wondering more and more. Obama has had 2 years (and he actually still has a few weeks) to do whatever he wants: president (with a huge electoral win), senate and house all firmly democratic. and what was the outcome: a measly half-baked health reform, continuation of war, more troops even, money pumped like crazy into economy and no tax increase for the rich.

    and if i follow democrats like the blogginghead here, who is to blame: the republicans.

    come on, give me a break. democrats had all the power and still have a large share. truth is they don’t want to do a thing either. at least the gop is straight about their (often obscure and stupid) goals.

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    “What’s interesting is that this is not simply an example of a conservative/liberal split; elsewhere in the world, conservatives are not so willing to ignore the findings of scientists.”

    They are in Australia, and we don’t have Al Gore here.

    The only common media-cultural denominator is Rupert Murdoch.

  • Leif

    Where are the people of character on the right in America who will say: “Enough is enough;  we must solve some very important problems instead of only wanting to win the next election”. Why are they always saying: “What is good for Wall St. is good for America”.

  • chris

    whoever thinks the right is in wall streets hands should look at the cv of the current treasury secretary. or at Obamas campaign contribution breakup.

  • Scott B

    @25. Katharine

    “The best thing we as humans can do about global warming is go carbon-neutral (I bet even you denialists can get behind that, or are you solidly pro-oil?”

    I’m no denialist unless economics is now a scientific matter. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere will warm things up some unless the system has a net negative response, which there isn’t support for. I do think many people have overstated the threats (see Al Gore’s movie for many examples) and made conclusions which aren’t greatly supported by the data in an effort to scare people into their preferred policy measures. It’s a typical political ploy and is being countered by some on the right calling it all a lie.

    I can’t get behind us going completely carbon neutral though. Our entire economy. Almost every single thing we use daily to get through life relies on the cheap energy fossil fuels provide. Eventually, we must find alternative energy sources that are competitive. You don’t do that by all of the sudden making all energy expensive. That will simply lead to less productivity, jobs, and eventually innovation while the rest of the world that doesn’t pay your tax will enjoy much cheaper energy from fossil fuels that will last longer because we aren’t consuming so much. And before someone mentions fossil fuel subsidies, please remove them. Fossil fuels will still be much cheaper than any “renewable” energy source out there.

    What we need to do is take some money from other areas (the military would be a great start) and devote them into labs that will work with private industry to find long term solutions. I don’t know enough to know exactly where that should be, but fusion energy seems like the only truly long term answer. This is nothing new. The government is already devoting some, relatively small, amounts of money to research. If we’re not willing to go for the very long term answer then we should devote money, along with other countries, to find a way to change our entire static power grid to some form of fission power.

  • Stephen

    I am not buying it. Republicans, in their current incarnation, demonize people. Big deal.

    Health Care, find me another conservative party among the industrialized world that opposes
    universal health care. There are not any. Blame Hillary — Blame Moore.

    Evolution, find me another conservative party in the industrialized world that opposes teaching
    science in science classes. There are not any. Blame Dawkins — Blame Carrol (Sean).

    Global Warming, find me another conservative party … well you get the idea….

  • Bobito

    It seems whenever a global warming post goes up you get responses from three camps. Alarmists, deniers, and skeptics. So we end up with skeptics and deniers arguing with alarmists. The ideological breakdown of these groups is always the same:

    Deniers and skeptics are conservatives of different flavors (flavours for you in the UK).
    Alarmists are liberals.

    Why do we never seem to find a skeptical liberal? Which party is it that tends to tote the “party line” more than the other?

  • http://wavefunction.fieldofscience.com Curious Wavefunction

    The problem is that genuine skeptics are often drowned out by the din created by the rank deniers. There are plenty of liberal skeptics who are skeptics for the right reasons, but they are usually denounced as belonging to the right-wing denier camp by alarmist liberals. That is one of the big problems with the climate change debate. People are constantly being mislabeled and then ignored and this is causing a lack of consensus even among people in the same camp. Not to mention that it’s destroying any chances for reasonable debate. Moderation is a lost virtue these days.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Makes sense I suppose. After all, Atheist are destroying science literacy by alienating Christians. Greenpeace is discrediting environmentalism. Stupid Rachel Carson, politicizing DDT. And really, if he Jews weren’t such easy targets, the Nazi’s never would have bothered with them.

    Perhaps we should reformulate the old saw. “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to try and resist it.” Stupid bastards politicizing everything. Who do they think they are?

  • Bobito

    #61: That is a good point, I may actually be showing my conservative bias by assuming all skeptics are conservatives.

    On “Moderation is a lost virtue these days” I couldn’t agree more. The blame here is primarily the media in this country. There are no longer any moderate news outlets. All news agencies lean one way or the others (some more than others).

    I again may be showing my conservative bias, but it seems foxnews gets daemonized regularly (rightly so in many cases). But there are MANY liberal leaning news networks (some would say all but foxnews are) and liberals aren’t willing to admit that.

    I always here alarmists saying “you are just spouting out what foxnews tells you”. Whelp, guess what, many alarmists are just spouting out what Rachel Madow, Bill Maher, and Keither Olberman are telling them.

    Global warming is a nebulous subject, much of the science is unsettled, so there is a lot of room for conflicting “facts” when reporting. One must look at both sides of the argument, do their own research, and figure out what is spin and what is not.

  • vel

    right here, you’ve made your title of the article worthless. It’s not Gore’s fault at all. We can see whose it is though…

    “But to Republicans, he’s a punchline. It’s an inevitable outcome of the current system: Al Gore was the Democratic nominee for President; therefore, he must be demonized. It’s not enough that their candidate is preferable; the other candidate must be humiliated, made into a laughingstock”

  • Bobito

    @64: So the Iraq war is not Bush’s fault? He is certainly a “punchline”…

  • jpd

    re #19 by “this generation” do you mean 70 year olds?
    because that what the Koch brothers are and thats
    what Murdoch is

  • Bobito

    @66: and so is George Soros…

    Sorry to keep bombing this post, I’m just sick of people thinking the other party is the problem. Both parties are the problem, we need a powerful centrist party to keep both sides in check. This is supposed to be the media’s job, see #63…

  • Katharine

    I’m no denialist unless economics is now a scientific matter. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere will warm things up some unless the system has a net negative response, which there isn’t support for. I do think many people have overstated the threats (see Al Gore’s movie for many examples) and made conclusions which aren’t greatly supported by the data in an effort to scare people into their preferred policy measures. It’s a typical political ploy and is being countered by some on the right calling it all a lie.

    I can’t get behind us going completely carbon neutral though. Our entire economy. Almost every single thing we use daily to get through life relies on the cheap energy fossil fuels provide. Eventually, we must find alternative energy sources that are competitive. You don’t do that by all of the sudden making all energy expensive. That will simply lead to less productivity, jobs, and eventually innovation while the rest of the world that doesn’t pay your tax will enjoy much cheaper energy from fossil fuels that will last longer because we aren’t consuming so much. And before someone mentions fossil fuel subsidies, please remove them. Fossil fuels will still be much cheaper than any “renewable” energy source out there.

    See, now you’re banging on about money. The profitability of one method versus the other doesn’t change the impact of one or the other on the environment.

    It’s an issue of short-term big profits but environmental hurt versus long-term smaller profits but environmental health which sustains the civilization that, well, produces these profits. If you’re of the sort that cares about, well, profit. (I’m not in a field that cares much about profit, see; science, unless you’re a biotech company, mostly only cares about money insofar as it comes through grants for research. Not that there are some who don’t totally go hyperbolic to get publicity and money; see the current clusterf*ck about the arsenic-users.)

    Fossil fuels, granted, do provide us petroleum products other than what we burn. The chemical industry uses petroleum products to produce important reagents. This doesn’t mean the oil industry can’t make money off oil; it’ll just make substantially less money, and there won’t be oil being burnt for energy – it’ll be used on a smaller scale.

    What we need to do is take some money from other areas (the military would be a great start) and devote them into labs that will work with private industry to find long term solutions. I don’t know enough to know exactly where that should be, but fusion energy seems like the only truly long term answer. This is nothing new. The government is already devoting some, relatively small, amounts of money to research. If we’re not willing to go for the very long term answer then we should devote money, along with other countries, to find a way to change our entire static power grid to some form of fission power.

    Honestly I’m kind of wondering why we all haven’t made solar power economical. There’s this big ball of energy an AU away and we’re not using that stuff? It’s going to belch out energy for the next 50 billion years and after that it’s going to cook Earth into a crisp, so we can use the crud out of it before we bail on this planet and it’s not going to hurt the environment nearly as much as fossil fuels. Put solar panels all over your house, I say.

  • Katharine

    I again may be showing my conservative bias, but it seems foxnews gets daemonized regularly (rightly so in many cases). But there are MANY liberal leaning news networks (some would say all but foxnews are) and liberals aren’t willing to admit that.

    I always here alarmists saying “you are just spouting out what foxnews tells you”. Whelp, guess what, many alarmists are just spouting out what Rachel Madow, Bill Maher, and Keither Olberman are telling them.

    Global warming is a nebulous subject, much of the science is unsettled, so there is a lot of room for conflicting “facts” when reporting. One must look at both sides of the argument, do their own research, and figure out what is spin and what is not.

    Oh yes, you’re showing your conservative bias.

    I’m a liberal. I don’t watch Maddow or Maher (Maher is an unscientific twit the same as you denialists most of the time – he’s an antivaxxer) or Olbermann. I don’t actually hear much from the nonscientists among those of us who know global warming happens and is humanity’s fault. I agree; the nonscientists among us are kind of being stupid about how they’re communicating it and they need to leave it to us who actually know what we’re talking about.

    No, I get my information from folks such as Jeremy Jackson, who actually did work on this stuff. The science is very much settled, it’s just that people who haven’t really delved into all of it – not just the climatological information but the ecological information – think it isn’t. (If you say the East Anglia emails proved that it’s a fraud, I will tear you a new arsehole verbally in my next post. They were proven to be perfectly fine.)

    He’s a little more apocalyptic-sounding, granted – I’m on the side of those who think we’re all well and truly screwed even more than Al Gore thinks, and as I said before, the last time the planet warmed up 55 million years ago due to a volcanic eruption, it didn’t destroy the biosphere the way the Permian or Cretaceous extinctions did, but it sure made a lot of animals go extinct, and the earth didn’t recover for 100000 years. Al Gore actually thinks we can geoengineer or green-energy the earth into being all happy again, and the truth is that we’re past the tipping point.

    As I said, the best thing humans in general can do is push for carbon neutrality – be as carbon-neutral as possible, preferably completely carbon-neutral – and adapt.

  • Blunt Instrument

    Katherine @46 wrote:
    Somehow I guess I can’t figure out why this is so hard for a lot of humanity to deal with. You screw up, you fix it, and just wishing something existed or didn’t exist doesn’t make it exist or not exist. Is most of humanity just infantile, emotionally?

    That is exactly your problem.

    Humans are short-sighted. We have a strong survival instinct which elevates our needs for food, clothing, and shelter beyond those of any single species of fuzzy caterpillars in the amazon rainforest. Therefore, it is perfectly rational for humans to choose current access to cheap energy over a possible environmental catastrophy decades or centuries away. Democtratically elected governments are comprised of similarly short-sighted humans who need the support of masses of other short-sighted humans to remain in power.

    You may, of course, wish for some Benign Omniscient Dictator who will order us to do the right thing in spite of our strong contrary instincts. This BOD does not exist and has never existed. Except when you were seven years old. You called him “Daddy.”

    “Daddy” cannot save ourselves from ourselves. Nature has conspired to give us a wonderfully dense fuel and we have created a grand infrastructure to exploit it at minimum costs. Until we invent or find a similarly cheap and energy dense fuel, we will continue to prefer carbon based fuels. Until carbon based fuels become scarce and/or expensive, we will continue to consume them at obscene levels.

    We all may wish it were not so, but humans will continue to prefer commuting to work, heating their homes, and affording food to starving and freezing to death. While I too, would like to blame that on Al Gore, I’m afraid I just can’t rationalize it.

  • Bobito

    @69 “same as you denialists most of the time”

    I’m not a denialist. I agree that burning fossil fuels is bad for the planet. But thank you for underscoring the point that this issue has become politicized and any attempt at rational conversation about it quickly turns to assumptions and name calling.

    Somebody very wise once said: “If your mouth is open, your ears are closed.” Try to open your ears a bit more, your open mouth is not helping the cause.

  • http://mingus.as.arizona.edu/~bjw Ben

    It becomes impossible to have a meaningful discussion of climate change science on the Internet because it’s impossible to have a meaningful discussion of anything politically controversial on the Internet, especially in a typical comments forum.

    At the point that you frame the discussion by calling people who support a mainstream scientific consensus (that anthropogenic global warming is significant) “alarmists,” you can no longer expect to have a calm, unbiased scientific debate.

  • Blunt Instrument

    Ben@72 wrote:
    … it’s impossible to have a meaningful discussion of anything politically controversial on the Internet, especially in a typical comments forum.

    Bring it on. I’m always game for a good depoliticized discussion. Betcha we can invoke Godwin’s law in less than 10 posts.

    Bobito@60 wrote:

    It seems whenever a global warming post goes up you get responses from three camps. Alarmists, deniers, and skeptics.

    There’s a fourth camp: realists. We acknowledge that AGW might be true, understand that the earth is a very complex non-linear system that will likely resist any of our attempts to do anything, understand that economics is a very complex non-linear system that will likely resist any of our attempts to do anything, understand that politics is a very simple system made up of very simple people who will likely resist any of our attempts to do anything and drink 16 year-old scotch. Not necessarily in that order.

  • Bobito

    @72: Yes, blogs have proven to be a horrible place to have a meaningful conversation, but one can dream. In actuality, blogs are more part of the problem than the solution.

    @73: Your definition of realist is my definition of skeptic. As in, you are a realist if you are skeptical of deniers and alarmists. And you are certainly a realist if you are skeptical of politicians!

  • Nullius in Verba

    #46,

    “It especially irritates me how the denialists bang on and on about emails that were already resolved.”

    That’s because they weren’t resolved. Anybody who has read the things and followed the background to them knows that, but there are plenty of people who haven’t and who will blindly believe what they’re told about them. It doesn’t matter how often it’s repeated, though, because the denialists already know what they say.

    (In case you genuinely haven’t read them, I suggest you start with the Harry_read_me file, which is an entertaining log of a computer programmer’s attempts to replicate one of the major data products CRU has published in the peer-reviewed literature. Ian ‘Harry’ Harris is not a sceptic, but an insider – an employee of CRU. Nobody that I know of has answered the questions that it raises.)

    “I don’t think that was the case. All the data has been freely available, as far as I’m aware. If you do a little digging around Science, Nature, etc. you can dig it up.”

    That’s the trouble. Most people aren’t aware. They just assume. And when they’re told what some scientists have been doing, their minds seem to just reject the information. They find it simply incomprehensible that scientists really would or could do that, or that the rest of the scientific community would let them get away with it. But they did and they have.

    It’s not a straightforward situation though. A lot of data has been published, certainly, and some scientists (including some of the most criticised) have been very good about it. (Often it is not the data but the methods that are missing, or some parts of the data are included but not others.) But there are many important results based on data that has never been published, or which was not published initially but only after a long struggle on the part of critics to get hold of it. And quite often, when it was eventually published, sometimes decades after the original work, shortcomings and errors were discovered that would never have passed peer-review had anyone seen the data at the time.

    But really, I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t recognise the quote. You say “I don’t think that was the case”, which makes it seem like you were unaware that it was an actual quote from an email sent by a climatologist to an enquirer asking for the data backing up an important publication. It is moderately famous, which is why I didn’t think attribution was necessary.

    All of this only goes to show, though, that both sides have their blind spots when it comes to science. The problem with blind spots though is that you can’t see them in yourself. The brain fills in the gap and tells you that everything is normal, and it’s virtually impossible to persuade it otherwise.

  • Gregg LeBlanc

    Al Gore admitted he pushed ethenol for political reasons in part to win over his home state in the 2000 election, which not only he lost, but his home state did not vote for him. Shows a lot about someone when your home state says no. Maybe they remembered the Pigeon River scandal, were Gore was bought by lobbists to allow factory dumping in the River, Gore cared more about money and political power then, and he does now. He does not care for anyone. Al Gore continued to take political profits from tobacco farmers after his sister died from lung cancer related to using tobacco. He didn’t stop until it was reported in the news. Also funny how his wife left him after the Portland, Oregon scandal?

    It truthfully it hurts to pull someones name through the mud, even if it is Al Gore. He’s human, and I feel bad for him, he is just someone who got caught in greed and the bright lights of fame. But it just shows a little more that Gore has been all about himself, money, and power, and cares nothing about anything or anyone else.

  • Katharine

    I mean, for f*ck’s sake, folks, never mind the hockey stick graph and all the foofaraw over it: the CO2 concentration on Earth was 300 ppm for 650000 years until we made it jump above 385 ppm.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #77,

    You are, of course, aware that the Earth has existed for considerably longer than 650,000 years?

  • Brian Too

    @58. Scott B,

    Regarding “You don’t do that by all of the sudden making all energy expensive.”

    I don’t think I agree with you here. The thing is, this is EXACTLY what the right should be proposing as a solution. Adam Smith, the invisible hand, and so on. Simply make carbon-based fuels more expensive and everything else automatically becomes more attractive. Rather than the government picking winners, allow the market to do so.

    What do you do with the tax revenue (I’m assuming you make carbon-based fuels more expensive with taxes)? Do what Europe did. Build an incredible high speed rail system. Don’t like that? Build a long-distance DC electrical transmission system. Don’t like that? Identify some other strategic capital intensive system, something that isn’t getting enough funding/attention. Pour the money into that. Just make sure that it is part of the energy solution of the future.

    Since the right isn’t prepared to do that, it seems to me that they have decided to play “I’m with stupid” and are simply acting as a blocking force. They oppose everything that messes with the status quo. And it isn’t difficult to figure out why; the funding of politicians is an open wound on the body politic. Not that the left is innocent but it seems to me that the right never met a Benjamin they didn’t like.

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Cath the Canberra Cook

    #78,

    You are, of course, aware that Homo sapiens has existed for considerably less than 650,000 years?

  • CloudyBright

    I think the Jay Leno bit says more about Mr. Leno and his current audience than about Al Gore. But there is a real point here. Far too many in the denialist camp seem satisfied that all that’s necessary to disprove something is to laugh at it.

  • Blunt Instrument

    Brian Too@79 wrote:
    Simply make carbon-based fuels more expensive and everything else automatically becomes more attractive

    Whenever someone says Simply do X… I know the result is going to be unanticipated and disastrous.

    They oppose everything that messes with the status quo.

    Yes. That is a wonderfully succinct definition of “Conservative.” Congratulations.

    And it isn’t difficult to figure out why…

    Is it because they might be… “Conservative?” Wow. Who’d have guessed?

    the funding of politicians is an open wound on the body politic. Not that the left is innocent but it seems to me that the right never met a Benjamin they didn’t like.

    It’s always about the Benjamins. Conservatives have Benjamins and don’t want to loose them. Therefore they back policies that maintain the status quo that enabled them to make and keep all of those Benjamins. Liberals want to change the system because they don’t have many Benjamins and want to get their hands on some. Or they have lots of Benjamins but feel guilty because they didn’t really earn them but inherited them from their grandparents and so think that everyone else should just get Benjamins to alleviate their guilt.
    Politicians just want to get elected so they can take Benjamins from everyone and shower them on their friends who will, in turn, give Benjamins to their campaign so that they can stay elected and spend government Benjamins on boondoggles to tropical islands and so forth.
    I blame that on Al Gore.

  • Blunt Instrument

    Brian Too@79 wrote:
    What do you do with the tax revenue (I’m assuming you make carbon-based fuels more expensive with taxes)?

    Why must we always do something with the tax revenue. If stopping AGW is so important, why not propose something that has a chance of convincing conservatives to accept it. Propose to use the carbon tax revenue to offset income tax revenue; i.e make it revenue neutral. The left gets a real method to slow carbon emissions. The right gets something closer to the flat tax that they want (a tax on consumption coupled with a smaller income tax). Not progressive enough for you; add some energy tax credits for the poor and a smaller income tax reduction at the very high end or something similar. Both sides lose. Even better, congress gets less Benjamins to play with. I’d call that a lose-lose-lose = win for everyone.
    Even Al Gore.

  • Pingback: Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog » This morning coffee blames Al Gore

  • Katharine

    You are, of course, aware that Homo sapiens has existed for considerably less than 650,000 years?

    Why yes. Yes, I am.

    My point is that the climate didn’t get screwed up until the Industrial Revolution.

  • Katharine

    You are, of course, aware that the Earth has existed for considerably longer than 650,000 years?

    Why yes. But the cycles regarding CO2 and climate are on the order of maybe 100000-200000 years per cycle.

  • Bobito

    @79 Simply make carbon-based fuels more expensive and everything else automatically becomes more attractive

    The problem is that there are ~3 billion people in India and China alone that will not be affected by our higher energy prices. This causes two issues.

    1. Your solution amounts to throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire.
    2. We are putting another burden on our already disappearing manufacturing industry.

    However, If we keep fossil fuels at the present value, then we will be forced to find green/sustainable energy sources that can compete with fossil fuels in the open market. At that point we’ll have something we can sell to China and India to get them off of fossil fuels.

    Fixing the problem in the US only is merely sticking your head in the sand.

  • psmith

    Sorry, but blaming AGW scepticism on personalities or political groupings misses the mark. It is the intertwining of several broad cultural myths that is at the heart of the scepticism.

    1. Our cognitive powers have made us the master of nature so we are entitled to do as we like. This is reflected in Genesis which says “…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”. This myth profoundly influences all our actions.

    2. A related myth is based on our experience of natural disasters. Nature is awesomely big and powerful, making any damage we do small in the bigger scheme of things.

    3. Nature is irrepressibly fecund. This myth suggests that any damage is short term because nature has such powers of recovery.

    4. Nature is limitless in its extent. This myth is rooted in 50,000 years of experience when we started migrating out of East Africa to colonize the world. We are at heart still frontiersmen and need time to absorb the fact that we have reached the limits of this natural world.

    5. The changes are so small as to be nearly invisible. We experience daily and seasonal temperature variations much larger than than the global shift so it is easy to discount the shift in mean temperature.

    These myths have shaped the general perceptions in society. Then we have the multiplicative effect of lobbying groups employed by the carbon based energy industries which exploits these perceptions. Then add to that political needs for campaign financing, exploited by energy groups, and we have the perfect storm.

    Sadly, I have concluded that effective change will only take place when a real leader emerges to change these perceptions or extensive disasters force our perceptions to change. I am hoping for the former but betting on the latter.

  • chris

    “the last time the planet warmed up 55 million years ago due to a volcanic eruption”

    hm, i think i heard something about ice ages and warm periods in school and i seem to faintly remember that all this was less than a million years ago.

    but as you are such an expert in all matters climate, i’ll just blindly take your word for it.

  • Bobito

    @85 Please define “screwed up”

    In 1991 Mount Pinatubo “screwed up” the environment by dropping global temperatures 1 degree Fahrenheit in a single year.

    This is equal to the amount we’ve “screwed up” global temperatures in 100 years. Yet nature adapted and life continued as normal. Certainly a gradual change can’t have a greater affect than a sudden one.

  • Phil

    Sean, you’re a great scientist, but I have to say your political opinions are, like anyone elses, just opinions.

    You’re dismayed that one comedian doesn’t endlessly mock Sarah Palin? Basically every other pundit is mocking her, perhaps as you point out, Leno wants to tickle his own viewership.

    Do you really think it matters what the U.S. does about “climate change”? Even presuming the phenomenon to be real and anthropogenic, it’s still a tough sell. Many people have the expectation that the U.S. economy, as a percentage of world gross product, will be falling as the 21st century progresses. Many of the “developing” nations such as Brazil, India and China (as opposed to African nations which are mistakenly called “developing” rather than “undeveloping”) will be embarking on massive construction projects all over their world and their own respective investments abroad, and hence contributing even more to the “climate change”. Isn’t it a bit eurocentric (as in “the only pollution that matters is that of white people”) to presume that it will matter what the U.S. does?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #86,

    “Why yes. But the cycles regarding CO2 and climate are on the order of maybe 100000-200000 years per cycle.”

    There are also climate cycles on 60 year time scales (AMO/PDO) and on 1500 year timescales (Dansgaard-Oeschger events and Bond events).

    But that’s a side note. The main observation here is of the way you’re avoiding the point. You used the number 650,000 years because you knew that CO2 had been higher than at present prior to that – up to 20 times higher – and that when considered over longer intervals the current CO2 level is unusually low. Had you used a term like “pre-industrial level” I might have thought that you didn’t know about the geological history of CO2. But the use of the number indicates that you (or whoever you got the factoid from) picked it deliberately, and deliberately chose not to mention the more normal state of affairs over most of the Earth’s history.

    This selectivity with the truth is something both sides do. That’s fair enough in a debate – you are assured of hearing the other parts of the truth because all sides get to have their say, and somebody will point it out. But if you try to avoid having a debate by declaring it to be already over, and that any dissent is unscientific and irrational and not to be broadcast too widely in the public arena, then you have to be especially careful to be impartial, accurate, and comprehensive with the science.

    Otherwise, as I said above, it sets the science up for a fall.

  • Dan L.

    There’s a few problems with the arguments of even the most reasonable so-called “skeptics,” much of which I see above.

    1) The assumption that increasing the price of fossil fuels will do vast damage to the economy. Let’s try to apply a modicum of skepticism to this assertion. Consider any commercial or industrial process in the economy that includes energy as an input (which is just about everything). Obviously, there are a lot of other inputs besides energy, and the limit on output for any process is set by whatever input is the most expensive per unit produced. So when a business tries to become more profitable, it works on getting more out of whatever is the most expensive input per unit of production.

    But energy is almost never the most expensive input per unit of production, so it hasn’t been profitable to businesses to try to improve energy efficiency. And it should be obvious to anyone with even a little bit of scientific education that much of the energy used in the first world is wasted. Just to take a particularly heinous example, we could all be driving around in 800 lb 3-cylinder diesels that get 100 mpg if it weren’t for the marketing and engineering research for American car companies focusing on power instead of efficiency. America wastes a ridiculous amount of energy just because they don’t want to drive “girl cars.”

    The average American uses something like 25 times as much energy as the average Chinese person, largely because they don’t want to drive “girl cars,” because they want their houses to be 80 degrees in the winter and 60 degrees in the summer, and then they whine about how Americans can’t do anything about these problems without the third world signing on. Nothing reveals the confirmation at bias at work in these “skeptics” as much as this particular bit of arrogance.

    Just generally, the assumption seems to be that the first world economy is completely inelastic with respect to the price of fuel — this coming from the most passionate advocate of markets as solutions to problems of scarcity. Bullshit. There’s a lot of slack and until the price of fossil fuels is increased, we’ll never know how much. Not to mention the fact that basic research into energy efficiency and retrofitting the thousands of commercial and industrial processes to be more efficient is itself a huge growth industry that makes money by making other industries more profitable.

    2) The (usually implicit) assertion that because wind and solar don’t constitute total solutions, they can’t even be considered as partial solutions. When you calculate how much solar panel needs to be laid to produce all the energy used on earth, it’s surprisingly small. Even if it was all laid down in one path, you probably couldn’t see it from space. Yes, such a scenario isn’t a realistic picture of any sort of future energy technology; the point is just that all the energy we need is already bouncing off the earth in the form of sunlight. Capturing, storing, and transporting it are engineering problems. Big ones, but pessimists about the capacity of human ingenuity to solve engineering problems are invited to reflect on LCD technology. In the 80s it gave us Casio wrist watches. Now it gives us 65″ high definition displays.

    But even if these “skeptics” didn’t have a huge blind spot regarding the actual amount of potential solar energy available, this would still be an incredibly dishonest argument (probably why it’s usually made implicitly). Yeah, it’s night sometimes. Yeah, it’s not always windy. These technologies might not ever be able to supplant fossil fuels 100% — but what if they can do so by 80%? If we can increase energy efficiency and increase renewable outputs to the point where we only need 20% of our energy produced by fossil fuels? And since this is working under the assumption that we’re improving efficiency, it’s 20% of a smaller share of total energy. Haven’t we essentially solved the problem at that point?

    I’m not offering these numbers as realistic at all, just trying to show that there are hypothetical situations in which wind and solar really are solutions. If your best argument against the possibilities of wind and solar to constitute at least partial solutions is that you’ll never be able to power your Escalade with a wind turbine, then you’re not really being skeptical.

    3) Ignoring other petroleum products. It’s not just energy, buddy. Next time you’re in the hospital, try to count all the petroleum products that you touch or that touch you. Or look around the office. Look at the amount of petroleum fertilizer used in industrial agriculture — those are fuel calories being turned into food calories…much of the food we eat is in some sense a petroleum product.

    There are other sources of energy besides fossil fuels. So far, we haven’t found any other sources of plastics. If you want to see a damaged economy, make manufacturers choose between buying plastic and buying fuel. If we were to increase the price of fossil fuels without corresponding increases on other petroleum products, supply and demand would tend to make those other ubiquitous petroleum products cheaper. Every barrel of oil burned for fuel is a bunch of plastic we won’t be able to use at some point in the future.

    4) Standards of living. First worlders get hostile when I even suggest that AC is only a life-saving device in exceptional conditions, that it’s usually a luxury. These are usually the same people saying either there’s no global warming or that there’s nothing we can do about it. The sense of entitlement is astounding. The people saying carbon neutrality is a pipe dream are the same people who move to AZ for the sunshine and yet spend all day watching TV with the climate control cranked.

    Would you really be less happy reading a book than watching TV, thus consuming about 0% of the fossil fuels? Would you really be less happy if it was 85 degrees in your bedroom instead of 75 degrees? You’d care for maybe about an hour before you got used to it (which you’d already know if you ever bothered to check how easy it is for the human body to adjust to a new temperature). A ridiculous amount of energy is consumed just to allow whiny, spoiled, bratty Americans to maintain the wasteful, vapid, soulless (in a metaphorical sense) lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.

    And they get offended if you suggest that they’re better than that. Go figure. The more I think about it, the better emigration looks. See you in hell, my fellow Merkins.

  • Dan L.

    @92:

    The main observation here is of the way you’re avoiding the point. You used the number 650,000 years because you knew that CO2 had been higher than at present prior to that – up to 20 times higher – and that when considered over longer intervals the current CO2 level is unusually low.

    Citation please?

    Also, the point stands that since our species is less than 650,000 years old, it’s unlikely to be very well adapted to climatic conditions predating that age.

  • Bobito

    @93 I agree with most of what you said. My disagreement is “problems with the arguments of even the most reasonable so-called “skeptics”

    I think most skeptics understand that there is a problem that should to be dealt with, the issue with most skeptics is the pace at which we need to move towards carbon neutral and sustainable energy. (differentiating between skeptics and deniers is key)

    I’ve heard the term “cold turkey” thrown out there when referring to removal of fossil fuels as an energy source (not on this thread, but there is some similar sentiment). I would hope you agree that any “cold turkey” solution is as idiotic as maintaining status quo. The answer is somewhere in between. As you stated with your LCD watch/TV analogy, the technology will improve. We have only been putting significant resources towards green tech for a short period of time. We should not jump at solutions but work towards improving our options.

    This is why we need to get away from the politics, the “my side is the only one with valid points” attitude so we can start down the path towards a realistic solution.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #94,

    First, can you tell me why you didn’t ask for a citation for the original claim? Because that appears to be another excellent example of what I’m talking about: either you already knew one half of the truth and not the other, or only one side of the debate has to produce evidence for everything it says and not the other. Either way, it’s not a good sign.

    I find your remark about the adaptation of humans to differing climates to be quite remarkable. Yes, it’s true that Homo Sapiens split off from other Homo species ~250,000 years ago. But one of the most outstanding features of Homo Sapiens is that it has spread to inhabit every climate, from the Eskimo to the desert nomads. And our adaptability has expanded exponentially with the advent of modern technology (especially, it has to be said, cheap energy). Had you named another more specialised species, I might have understood the reasoning better.

    But it’s probably worth noting that while CO2 has (very probably) not been higher in the last 650,000 years, the same cannot be said of temperature. For example, during the Eemian interglacial about 120,000 years ago, there were forests in Finland and the North Cape in Norway, and hippopotamus swam in the Rhine and the Thames. (And sea level was a lot higher.) That’s certainly well within the ambit of Homo Sapiens. There are even more recent periods too, such as the Holocene Climate Optimum.

    There are many things about our modern world that we never evolved for. But not only are we sufficiently adaptable to survive them, we often seek out such changes, to our great benefit.

  • Dan L.

    @95:

    Agreed. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the reasoned criticisms from the false equivalencies, concern trolling, and gratuitous hippy punching sometimes. The notion of quitting fossil fuels “cold turkey” is so laughable I’m not sure I even realized it had any currency on either side.

    I tried to highlight the classes of “skepticism” in my post above that I think are really forms of denialism — the argument that the problem is just too big (it isn’t), the argument that you can’t change people’s behavior (they’re usually really trying to say “I don’t want/i> to change my behavior”), the argument that the US can’t do it alone (we could probably make a significant dent with an Apollo-size efficiency program — not that I’d recommend such a thing), the notion that we just need to wait until technology saves us (the technology will only get developed when there’s an economic incentive; I’d rather not wait to see if catastrophic failure happens before that).

    These all strike me as things one might say if one wanted to seem reasonable on the subject but still not have to do anything about it.

    On the other hand, greenies often present the arguments for fossil fuel mitigation as if there were no downsides. Of course there are downsides, there are always downsides. There are always unintended consequences. The real argument here is that the unintended consequences of burning fossil fuels are much worse than the unintended consequences of not burning them.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #97,

    Agreed. And that real argument is one that needs to be made and argued out, the same way we make all the other economic policy decisions on which people disagree.

  • OXO

    Well knock me down with a feather.. it seems that NASA have decided that even if CO2 doubles, the temp rise will be 1.64 C. That should spoil the Carbon Cults parties :D

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/08/new_model_doubled_co2_sub_2_degrees_warming/

  • Bobito

    @97 I disagree with “the technology will only get developed when there’s an economic incentive”

    There was no economic incentive in going to the moon. There is no economic incentive to going to Mars (a cause most conservatives are behind as I understand it).

    The only motivation to those efforts were/are doing it first and proving it could/can be done. I think we can find the motivation to move towards sustainable/green energy as well. I would hope the image of oil sheiks having to auction off their gold plated Ferraris would be enough to motivate anyone!

    There is one of-the-shelf solution to the most glaring issue, that being carbon based electricity production, Nuclear power. The fact that this is still being fought against, primarily by the people that say the planet is about to catch fire, is a big reason for denialism. While it’s not sustainable long term, it is certainly a stop gap that can be implement within decades. That can buy us the time to find and phase in a sustainable option…

  • Dan L.

    First, can you tell me why you didn’t ask for a citation for the original claim?

    Because I hadn’t read the original claim and didn’t care to. You asserted something very confidently, and I wasn’t so sure about it. If you know you’re right, what does it matter? Just give the link.

    I find your remark about the adaptation of humans to differing climates to be quite remarkable. Yes, it’s true that Homo Sapiens split off from other Homo species ~250,000 years ago. But one of the most outstanding features of Homo Sapiens is that it has spread to inhabit every climate, from the Eskimo to the desert nomads.

    Right. But:
    a) they didn’t adapt to the climates we’re talking about, which existed 10^6 years ago but not 2.5 * 10^5 years ago (which again, is the whole point),
    b) they did so very slowly and gradually. Desert nomads didn’t just run off to Alaska, desert nomads became plains hunter gatherers, then arboreal hunter gatherers, then tundra hunter gatherers, and then we get inuits from those. Meanwhile, enough time elapsed to allow inuits to be obviously genetically adapted to their climate, not to mention all the technological developments that allowed homo sapiens to generalize so spectacularly.
    c) While this incredibly slow, gradual process happened, homo sapiens existed at much lower population densities. Low population densities put less stress on ecosystems, and thus allow adaptation to marginal terrain. Also, life was probably pretty brutal, which means the sorts of genetic and cultural adaptations mentioned in (b) would have occurred relatively quickly. For us, not so much.

    So by ignoring those complications, you’re essentially claiming that an arbitrary number of humans can adapt to an arbitrary change of climate over an arbitrarily short period of time. That’s absurd.

    For example, during the Eemian interglacial about 120,000 years ago, there were forests in Finland and the North Cape in Norway, and hippopotamus swam in the Rhine and the Thames.

    There are forests in Finland and the North Cape in Norway NOW. And I’m obviously supposed to infer that there’s never been any such thing as a cold-adapted hippopotamus despite the fact that there were cold-adapted elephants and rhinocerouses before the megafauna extinctions a few ten thousands of years ago. These are not good indicators of temperature, but even if they were, they speak only to local conditions. I’m worried about the total energy of the entire atmosphere going up, not about warm winters in the Rhineland.

    There are many things about our modern world that we never evolved for. But not only are we sufficiently adaptable to survive them, we often seek out such changes, to our great benefit.

    I’ve never seen a black swan. Therefore, all swans are white. Can’t fault that logic.

  • Dan L.

    @100:

    The government allocated billions of dollars towards going to the moon. In what possible world is that not an economic incentive? What if the government allocated a proportionally identical amount of money to alternative energy research. You don’t think we’d make more progress than we have?

    Yes, when fossil fuels get scarce enough, that will constitute an economic incentive. Do you think it’s a good idea to wait for that to happen?

  • Dan L.

    @100:

    I don’t think that fission is any kind of solution. It’s no good as a short term solution since it takes on the order of decades to get a nuclear power plant ramped up, and it’s no good long term for some very obvious reasons. And if you rush the plants to make it look better short term, you get serious environmental and worker safety issues. Actually, you get those anyway because those are convenient places for nuclear power plants to cut costs — at least historically — and they’re profit-motivated businesses.

    Please don’t act as if there aren’t any sensible objections to nuclear power.

  • Bobito

    @102: The US govm’t is currently spending $7 billion on research into wind energy production alone (having difficulty finding a valid source for actual “green energy” investments, but I’m sure it’s well in the billions). Even Bush said “We must get off oil”. The, pardon the pun, winds are changing…

    @103: There are certainly sensible objections, just not any good examples to back then up. My recollection is that there has never been a life lost due to a nuclear incident in this country. Any serious incidents have been relegated to developing nations and a failing Russia. Modern reactors also mitigate much of the risk. see here: http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jun/05-the-big-promise-of-micro-nukes/?searchterm=oregon%20nuclear

    This is also to my point, what is worse, a local nuclear indecent or the catastrophic effects of global warming that you are inferring are imminent? To the point that we should risk our already fragile economy to fix?

  • onymous

    Well knock me down with a feather.. it seems that NASA have decided that even if CO2 doubles, the temp rise will be 1.64 C. That should spoil the Carbon Cults parties :D

    See, this kind of thing is why no one who understands anything about science should take the skeptic/denialist camp seriously. You ignore decades of literature estimating climate sensitivity, but as soon as one low estimate is published, you seize on it as the absolute truth. Is the climate sensitivity as low as they say, due to vegetation feedbacks? I don’t know. I hope so! We could all breathe a little easier. But notice they say a -0.6 C change in temperatures over land; this only gives a 1.64 C change for doubled CO2 if you start at the low end of existing sensitivity estimates. One of the first questions you should ask is the range of predicted sensitivities; any particular number (especially when you quote three significant figures!) is suspect. A -0.6 C change in sensitivity from a previously not-well-understood feedback mechanism would be good news, but it wouldn’t end all of our worries. At any rate, celebrating because one particular just-released paper happens to support your preconceptions is not a sign that you take science seriously.

  • Dan L.

    @104:

    There are certainly sensible objections, just not any good examples to back then up. My recollection is that there has never been a life lost due to a nuclear incident in this country. Any serious incidents have been relegated to developing nations and a failing Russia. Modern reactors also mitigate much of the risk.

    I never claimed “nuclear incidents” were the problem. The bigger problem is in situ storage of nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants are not just dangerous during “nuclear incidents” — they are always dangerous. They pump incredibly toxic, very weaponizable waste and there is no way around that.

    There are no examples of deaths due to nuclear power plants the same way there are no examples of people dying due to global warming. The effects are way downstream and very easy to externalize. As long as there’s no meltdowns, the worst that’s going to happen is much higher incidents of cancer in any communities sharing an aquifer with the reactor. To a nuclear power company, that’s not such a big problem (providing it’s not legally actionable). As a human being, I disagree.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #101,

    “Because I hadn’t read the original claim and didn’t care to. You asserted something very confidently, and I wasn’t so sure about it. If you know you’re right, what does it matter?”

    Since I quoted the original claim at the top of the comment you questioned, how is it possible that you didn’t read it?

    It matters because it whether or not CO2 was once 20 times higher is a lot less important than how the debate works. Is it a case of people simply not having heard one half of the story, in which case it may be worth some effort, or is it a case of one side facing a different standard of evidence to the other, and still being ignored even if all the citations are provided?

    But as it happens my comment was based on GEOCARB III.

    a) They adapted to the climates we’re talking about. Which was my point.
    b) How do you know? And are you saying that humans can adapt, or that they can’t?
    c) What makes you think low population densities put less strain on ecosystems? Perhaps the population density is low because that is as much as the ecosystem can bear? I’m a bit surprised that you think cultural adaptation was faster in the stone age than the internet age, too.

    The North Cape areas that were once forested are now frozen tundra.
    The cold-adapted hippopotamus is a most interesting idea. There’s other evidence for warmer climate, but it’s interesting to see how hard people can work to repair a favoured hypothesis.

    And why are you worried about the total energy of the atmosphere going up? You only live in one place at a time.

    I’m not entirely sure what your point was about swans. That wasn’t the logic I was using. I was simply arguing with your claim that there are no white swans.

    But I’m not sure why you would object to such an argument anyway, since when you used it yourself with your statement: “So far, we haven’t found any other sources of plastics”, the logic appears to be exactly the same. Clearly, you haven’t heard of the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    #102,

    “Yes, when fossil fuels get scarce enough, that will constitute an economic incentive. Do you think it’s a good idea to wait for that to happen?”

    Yes.

    #103,

    It takes about 5 years to build a nuclear plant. All the rest is getting planning permission and playing politics.

    #106,

    “Nuclear power plants are not just dangerous during “nuclear incidents” — they are always dangerous. They pump incredibly toxic, very weaponizable waste and there is no way around that.”

    Actually, yes there are ways around that. There are designs for plants that produce no weaponizable waste, and don’t melt down. More black swans?

  • Dan L.

    @104:

    From wikipedia article on Apollo Program:

    In 2009, NASA held a symposium on project costs which presented an estimate of the Apollo program costs in 2005 dollars as roughly $170 billion.

    So we’re spending less than half of one percent of the cost of the Apollo program on subsidies for wind programs (not mentioning that Apollo bootstrapped off the Mercury program, expensive in its own right). I suppose 0.005 is a proportion, but it’s not exactly what I meant by “proportional”.

  • Bobito

    Dan L, It’s interesting that your AGW and nuclear power arguments are both supported soley by hypothetical future results, the extent of which cannot be proven. I will offer, however, that both hypotheses have firm foundations.

    Your’s is a world I do not understand, but I very much appreciate the civilized banter so that I can understand it better…

  • Dan L.

    @Nullius:

    Since I quoted the original claim at the top of the comment you questioned, how is it possible that you didn’t read it?

    Well, why should I ask that person for the citation for a non-fact when I can ask you for the citation for the fact? Are you insulted by the fact that I decided to take you more seriously than your interlocutor? A decision that I am really starting to regret by the way…

    a) They adapted to the climates we’re talking about. Which was my point.

    No, you’re talking about climates from > 1 million years ago, which humans did not adapt to. Clearly.

    b) How do you know? And are you saying that humans can adapt, or that they can’t?

    I’m saying that you’re ignoring the details of HOW humans adapted to arrive at the conclusion that they can adapt under any circumstances. “Adaptable” isn’t a boolean valued property. I’m saying your arguments are not sufficiently sophisticated to deal with the complexity of the problem at hand.

    What makes you think low population densities put less strain on ecosystems?

    Common sense. The average energy consumption of the animal times fewer animals equals a smaller usage of energy. Our ancestors did not need to extract nearly as much energy from their environments as we do. This is just obvious.

    I’m a bit surprised that you think cultural adaptation was faster in the stone age than the internet age, too.

    Do you not know what “relatively” means?

    The North Cape areas that were once forested are now frozen tundra.

    But you’re backing off the Finland claim. I guess we call it a draw?

    The cold-adapted hippopotamus is a most interesting idea. There’s other evidence for warmer climate, but it’s interesting to see how hard people can work to repair a favoured hypothesis.

    I didn’t have to work very hard for that one. Cold adapted elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, tigers, camels — all these things exist or have existed. What makes cold adapted hippopotami so difficult for you?

    And why are you worried about the total energy of the atmosphere going up? You only live in one place at a time.

    I just wanted to make to repeat this to make clear how sophisticated your reasoning is.

    Clearly, you haven’t heard of the Fischer-Tropsch process.

    You mean the process that turns coal or natural gas into plastic? I have heard of it. Unfortunately, coal and natural gas are fossil fuels.

    Your white swan reasoning is advertising itself quite clearly in 107, I don’t think I have to belabor it.

  • onymous

    I just wanted to make to repeat this to make clear how sophisticated your reasoning is.

    For the win.

    I’m glad you’re willing to systematically argue this, Dan L; my “someone is wrong in the Internet!” feelings quickly give way to exhaustion in threads like this.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #110,

    Interesting discussion, but this will have to be my last comment for a bit.

    “Are you insulted by the fact that I decided to take you more seriously than your interlocutor?”

    Good one!

    “No, you’re talking about climates from > 1 million years ago, which humans did not adapt to.”

    Nobody has mentioned climates from more than a million years ago. Can you point to where you got this?

    “I’m saying that you’re ignoring the details of HOW humans adapted to arrive at the conclusion that they can adapt under any circumstances.”

    I haven’t said that humans can adapt under any circumstances. I just said they were very adaptable, and had already adapted to climates ranging from the polar ice to the deserts, and that technology and cheap energy made them even more adaptable than that. Not the same thing.

    “Our ancestors did not need to extract nearly as much energy from their environments as we do.”

    That’s a true statement, but it doesn’t imply that they didn’t put more strain on eco-systems. Your logic doesn’t follow.

    “Do you not know what “relatively” means?”

    Yes, it means in comparison to something else, which since you was comparing their brutal life to us, was clear enough.

    “But you’re backing off the Finland claim. I guess we call it a draw?”

    Yes. I should have said that hardwood forests grew in Finland, but edited it out again because I couldn’t get it to flow well. But you’re right that it’s essential to the point and I should have left it in.

    “What makes cold adapted hippopotami so difficult for you?”

    The thermodynamics. But as it happens there is no need for them, because the climate was warm enough for perfectly normal hippos. It was just an illustration.

    “You mean the process that turns coal or natural gas into plastic?”

    Actually, you can use it to turn carbon dioxide into plastic. It does cost energy to do so, though.

  • Dan L.

    @109:

    I gave you the very short version. To be more specific about that objection, any profit-motivated entity that is responsible for the cost of disposing of its own waste will, over time, do whatever it can to externalize those costs. I don’t TRUST business to do nuclear power safely. I don’t trust government to do it safely either. It’s not that it’s impossible that it can be done safely, it’s that it’s vanishingly unlikely.

    The other big problem is that political solutions have half-lives on the scale of a decade while nuclear waste has a much longer half-life. Just because we want nuclear power to be the short term solution doesn’t mean that’s how it will play out. We need solutions that are idiot-resistant (idiot-proof is probably impossible). Or, more to the point, politician-resistant.

    Thanks likewise for the civilized exchange of views.

  • Dan L.

    Nobody has mentioned climates from more than a million years ago. Can you point to where you got this?

    You:

    “You used the number 650,000 years because you knew that CO2 had been higher than at present prior to that – up to 20 times higher – and that when considered over longer intervals the current CO2 level is unusually low. Had you used a term like “pre-industrial level” I might have thought that you didn’t know about the geological history of CO2. But the use of the number indicates that you (or whoever you got the factoid from) picked it deliberately, and deliberately chose not to mention the more normal state of affairs over most of the Earth’s history.”

    I used “> 1 million” as short hand for “> 650 thousand.” I should have guessed you might have trouble with that.

    That’s a true statement, but it doesn’t imply that they didn’t put more strain on eco-systems. Your logic doesn’t follow.

    Not if you interpret “strain” any which way you want. I thought it was obvious that I meant it in terms of the ecosystem’s energy budget. Again, maybe I should have guessed you’d have trouble with making these sorts of inferences.

    Yes, it means in comparison to something else, which since you was comparing their brutal life to us, was clear enough.

    You also have to take population size and genetic diversity into account.

    The thermodynamics. But as it happens there is no need for them, because the climate was warm enough for perfectly normal hippos. It was just an illustration.

    Once again, I just wanted to make abundantly clear how sophisticated your arguments are.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com Cormac

    Sean: I have been saying this for years now. To European eyes it is very clear that the film politicized the issue. What surprises me is that no-one in the U.S. saw this coming (as far as I know).
    Of course, Al Gore is entitled to speak out – but I wonder if anyone pointed out the possible counterproductive effects to him
    Cormac

  • OXO

    @105

    See, this kind of thing is why no one who understands anything about science should take the skeptic/denialist camp seriously.

    And if you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.

  • chris

    Dan L.,

    just a hint: it is often useful to check wikipedia or google a certain factoid (e.g. the Fischer-Tropsch process) before engaging on an argument about it with someone who obviously knows better.

  • Aaron Sheldon

    Look, the whole argument over how nature will adapt is kind of pointless. Nature has adapted to, and in fact evolution has depended on, extinction events, and nature will do just fine long after this anthropogenic extinction event is over.

    What is of deeper, and greater concern, is how the choices of one group of humans will affect the well being of other humans. This is a very difficult form of extrapolation. For example, do any of us know how eating just one more Big Mac will affect the national health budget? Yet the cumulative effect of those dietary choices is enormous. The same is true for our use of the natural resources, there is a large cumulative effect, but figuring out what that effect will be on other people is a source of divisive scientific and political debate.

    One thing is certain, we cannot afford to put our heads in the sand and claim our choices have a negligible influence on other people.

  • Craig Goodrich

    @17 X, who asks, “Something that perhaps is more relevant to this site is the question of why there is such rampant AGW-denialism in the physics community. A lot of otherwise sensible people seem very badly informed on this topic. If we can’t convince educated people who seem well equipped to understand the primary literature …”

    Perhaps because the physics community has looked for actual evidence for CO2-driven AGW and has found exactly none, which is how much there is in the only relevant chapter of the IPCC’s AR4, WG I, Ch. 9 on detection and attribution? Would that explain it? I mean, after two decades and countless billions in research funding, the climate pscientists have come up with zero. That might indicate that it’s not Gore, it’s not odd psychology, it’s simply the complete failure of climate pscience to come up with any actual, measurable confirmation for their (implausible) hypothesis. After all this time we are left with what Prof. Jones told the BBC — “Well, if it’s not carbon dioxide, I can’t think what else it could be” — which is exactly what Hansen told the US Senate in 1988.

    Such progress.

  • Craig Goodrich

    @104 — “… much higher incidents of cancer in any communities sharing an aquifer with the reactor …”

    Do you have any actual clue about the workings of a nuclear power plant? Why on earth should this be true, either in a BWR or PWR? And nukes are typically built near huge water supplies — Lake Michigan, the Missouri River — but I haven’t heard of any wild outbreaks of cancer in Chicago or St. Louis.

    Where do you get this nonsense? No water from any aquifer gets anywhere near the reactor.

  • Aaron Sheldon

    Warming Denial-ism would be perfectly acceptable if it wasn’t being used to justify the status quo. Unfortunately, it is being used to justify increasing the current rates of exploitation of natural resources, which will have repercussions on human communities, even if we cannot name those repercussions precisely. Similar tactics were used by the tobacco industry, when they tried to cast epidemiological evidence as not credible, by stating that it was statistical and not specifically mechanistic.

    But how do we know there will be consequences if we maintain the status quo? I think we can all agree there is a fixed amount of carbon in the mantle and atmosphere combined; this isn’t a radically proposal, just arguing that there aren’t substantial extraterrestrial sources of carbon. All that carbon is cycled, some fraction in the rapid respiratory-photosynthesis cycle (days to months), another fraction in the longer oceanic-solution cycle (years-centuries), and yet another fraction in geologic cycles (millions of years). I think we can also agree that fossil fuels are part of the geological cycling of carbon (along with volcanoes). So the obvious conclusion is that by releasing a major fraction of fossil fuel reserves we are short cutting a cycle that took millions of years to sequester that carbon through biological sedimentation. So while it is reasonable to argue over what and how much affect humans are having, it is not reasonable to argue that we have a negligible affect.

  • Pingback: Some thoughts on Climate Change and the Right « The Enlightenment Junkie

  • Count Iblis

    I think there are 2 important factors here that sets the US apart from Europe:

    1) Bad secondary education system. Unless you have studied at a university, you don’t have a good background to have some immunity to being misled by propaganda.

    2) Polarized media. People don’t trust news reports unless it comes from those particular sources they trust. Combined with 1), this makes people an easy target for indoctrination.

  • Bobito

    3. Laziness, it’s easier the take someone elses word for it than to do the research and find out was is fact and what is theory being reported as fact.

  • Chris Winter

    Bobito wrote (#104): “My recollection is that there has never been a life lost due to a nuclear incident in this country.”

    I assume you mean “nuclear reactor incident.” Three lives were lost in a reactor at the Idaho Engineering Lab. But that was not a commercial reactor. For commercial reactors, your recollection is accurate.

    And I agree that fission has an important part to play in the future carbon-free energy supply. It still has problems, but I think those will yield to more development — if we ever fund it to completion.

  • Paul Stankus

    Examining evidence and deciding for oneself certainly sounds appealing, but the plain reality is that at least 99.999% of humans on Earth do not have the time or other resources to learn enough of the facts to make a reasoned judgement about AGW. To decide how to act you have to trust someone, and so the big question is how to decide whom you can trust. In some ways, this is and will remain the central question of the 21st century.

    I don’t have any grand answers, but can relate an approach I use when I observe a debate that I’m not qualified to judge myself, which is to ask “Who here is showing better habits?” Two bad habits I often observe, in discussions on many topics, weigh particularly against the AGW deniers/skeptics/what-have-you at the current time:

    1. Over-exaggerating the significance of tiny bits of data. Without even trying, it’s quite easy to find officially “smart” people, eg nationally syndicated columnists, writing things like “But the temperature on the tiny island of Outer Sandusky is actually decreasing! So much for global warming!” The data for any particular year, or any particular location, are vastly over-inflated as “disproving” the general trend if they go the other way. Similarly with the research itself: if a handful of scientists, perhaps 1% of the people working on the problem, are found to be inept, corrupt or mistaken then this somehow “proves” that the entire community cannot be trusted.

    Yes, it is true that in the study of extremely simple phenomena, like particle physics, a beautiful theory can be “slain” by the ugly fact of a single wrong prediction; but even in that field, theories that are known to fall short of ultimate truth can still provide a lot of predictive power, often enough for a “close enough” answer as needed (ie Newtonian gravity is “wrong” but works just fine for the vast majority of applications).

    2. Changing the subject from facts to personalities. I can’t provide videotape here, but it’s nearly universal in my experience that exchanges about AGW will devolve from focussing on the realities of thermodynamics and chemistry into discerning bad motivations in others. A lot of denial/skepticism of AGW that I’ve witnessed is really nothing more than people saying “Al Gore is a sanctimonious blow-hard, therefore anything he says must be wrong!” You don’t need a lot of scientific or logical training to see that the second half of that does not follow from the first half.

    The same goes for people who devote all their energy to perceiving conspiracies: “Dissent is being suppressed! They just want more funding! It’s all part of a socialistic takeover agenda!” Declarations of bad faith on the part of others don’t budge the thermometer one bit either way, you know? Facts are what they are, and atmospheric chemistry doesn’t care whether Al Gore is a blow-hard or not. In short, when I see one side spending 99% of its time talking about data and models and uncertainty ranges, and I see the other side spending 99% of its time screaming about how they’re being disrespected and squelched, well, that’s a strong indicator of who’s practicing science and who’s practicing politics.

  • Chris Winter

    Dan L wrote (#106) regarding nuclear power plants: “They pump incredibly toxic, very weaponizable waste and there is no way around that.”

    Actually there may be. Google “Integral Fast Reactor.” It looks like this could greatly reduce (not eliminate) the problem of long-lived nuclear waste. That’s if development is ever finished. (Clinton stopped it in 1994, three years short of completion.)

  • Chris Winter

    This thread is like many I see lately on the subject of climate change: It starts off with people repeating long-debunked talking points. Then people who know what they’re talking about chime in, and it turns into a pretty good discussion. Let me summarize a few early comments.

    4: No solid evidence for AGW
    5: The “glaring inaccuracies” in Al Gore’s film, and the “reports that he’s made $100M on promoting global warming.”
    6: He “he also did damage by sharply dividing the issue along scientific as well as moral lines…”
    11: “AGW proponents are already back-pedaling on the rising ocean hypothesis…” and “the cost to implement a worldwide industrial shutdown is too high” and global warming “is a thin facade for a power grab.”
    20: The 1970s concern about a coming ice age.
    28: The declarations of certainty started to look deceptive… and then Climategate completely blew the lid off things.
    41: “It started with the climategate email releases now it’s continuing with paper after peer-reviewed paper questioning the alarmist claims.”

    Things go well for a long stretch. Then, Craig Goodrich (#119) steps up to the plate: “I mean, after two decades and countless billions in research funding, the climate pscientists* have come up with zero [evidence].”

    Yup, other than decade after decade of measurements showing the planet’s average temperature rising generally in step with increasing CO2, while sunlight intensity stayed constant or declined slightly. And isotope ratios demonstrating the extra CO2 comes from fossil fuels. But anyone can ignore that “barely discernible” one-degree rise. (The quoted phrase is from Richard Lindzen.)

    The evidence is there, mountains of it. You just aren’t aware of it, or are pretending not to be aware of it. Do I have to make it any plainer or blunter?

    * Damn, that’s clever. But I think you meant to write “psientists.”

  • Chris Winter

    Paul Stankus, Thank you. You’ve redeemed the thread.

  • psmith

    Paul Sankus says “Examining evidence and deciding for oneself certainly sounds appealing, but the plain reality is that at least 99.999% of humans on Earth do not have the time or other resources to learn enough of the facts to make a reasoned judgement about AGW.”

    Exactly, this is the nub of the matter. Every scientist knows perfectly well that he can question issues in his own narrow field, but outside of that, he accepts the scientific consensus developed as the consequence of peer review . Which just happens to be the best way we have of arriving at the truth of a matter. We always have a few outspoken contrarians, which ordinarily is a good thing as it makes us sharpen our arguments but in this case it is poisoning an important public debate.

    The degree of consensus (amongst the experts in the field) helps form the degree of trust we put in the matter. And it so happens that amongst climate scientists there is a high degree of consensus about AGW. It is not enough to snidely dismiss this as an argument from authority as this is an important part of the way science works.

  • chris

    it is funny that the peer reviewed paper argument is brought up so often in support of the view that political actions are needed immediately.

    i do not know why “denialism” is so rampant among the physics community, but i can tell one anecdotal story. some of my colleagues (all theoretical physicists) became extreme sceptics after the un report on climate change. why? because this is not how science works. un reports are not peer reviewed papers. and even more, the influence of politics (i.e. big money, lots of permanent position for friends who might happen to find favourable conclusions etc.) is undeniable at this stage. in short, in their eyes the whole community has lost its scientific neutrality with this report.

  • OXO

    @131

    Exactly. Science does not work the way ‘climate scientists’ operate.

    The accepted way is:-

    Invent theory -> make predictions -> perform experiment -> if results confirm the predictions then maybe the theory is correct. If not, then the theory is Wrong.

    Climate science does it backwards, viz

    Make predictions -> Invent theory -> write computer model -> predict future results -> write press release.

    No science in there at all. How I wish Feynman was still with us.

  • Bobito

    The motivation of client scientist is regularly mis-cast by “deniers”. Client scientists are human, and humans tend to have a bias towards their work. Pardon using myself as an analogy, but it’s certainly a subject I know well, as follows (please bear with me):

    I am an IT Professional specializing in Microsoft products. I get paid based on my prospects purchasing Microsoft Products. As such, I have a bias toward Microsoft Products. With this, I honestly think that Microsoft has the best options. Is it because they do? I really don’t know because I’ve never spent any significant time researching the options of other companies. I don’t need to know anything about Unix, Oracle, etc. because I get all the information I need to argue against using those products by attending conferences and symposiums that tell me why Microsoft products ARE the correct choice. I can also pull out a “war sheet” to counter the arguments of my competitor. The war sheet is created by Microsoft spending significant resources to help me make my case against their competitors.

    Does this make me part of a conspiracy? Does this make me disingenuous? Perhaps… But it’s not an intentional bias toward my competition, it’s based on me having blinders on because I’d like to continue the career in which I’ve spent over a decade.

    I’ll spare the words to connect this analogy back to AGW scientists, I think it easy enough to do on your own. And I would think anyone, in any line of work, can see these same biases in themselves.

  • Bobito

    “client scientist” duh Bob, that’s what I get for blogging at work ;) Obviously was going for “climate scientists”

  • Count Iblis

    Ben #72 is correct about invoking alarmism in discussions. I actually think that there is a deeper issue with alarmism. Typically, the conservative people have decided what the right issues to be alarmist about are, based on their subjective feelings. Typically, these are Iran’s nuclear program (this has replaced Saddam’s WMD threat), Islamic terrorism, Julian Assange etc. etc. Climate change does not appear on this list because that would be in conflict with conservative ideology.

  • XPT

    Conservatives do what they do… meaning conserving the status quo. They’d use any scapegoat possible to deny warming or deny its consequences. If Gore wasn’t involved, they would say climatologists are communists. And I believe they actually do.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #114,
    “I used “> 1 million” as short hand for “> 650 thousand.” I should have guessed you might have trouble with that.”

    Well, yeah! I am a mathematician!

    You also missed the fact that we were talking about CO2 levels, not climate.

  • http://www.populartechnology.net Poptech

    Yes, I thank Al Gore for awakening me to the fraud that is AGW Alarmism. When he declared the “debate over”, I knew it could not be and I was correct. His propaganda science fiction film has been debunked in a UK court,

    Judge attacks nine errors in Al Gore’s ‘alarmist’ climate change film (Daily Mail, UK)
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-486969/Judge-attacks-errors-Al-Gores-alarmist-climate-change-film.html

    The scientific errors in his film overwhelming,

    35 Inconvenient Truths: The errors in Al Gore’s movie (Science & Public Policy Institute)
    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/goreerrors.html

    Gore has discredited himself by pushing propaganda and making silly declarative statements.

    I am college educated, support evolution theory and am religiously agnostic so I fail your usual stereotypes.

    As for the question of ideologies, ask any alarmist scientist,

    Socialism or Free-Market Capitalism?

    I am never surprised by the response.

  • http://www.populartechnology.net Poptech

    @ 18. onymous,

    It is disappointing to see so many pushing Oreskes propaganda book filled with lies,

    Clouding the Truth: A Critique of Merchants of Doubt
    http://www.marshall.org/pdf/materials/894.pdf

    Pages 170-183
    - Early Climate Change Consensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate (PDF) (Nicolas Nierenberg, Walter R. Tschinkel, Victoria J. Tschinkel)
    http://www.nicolasnierenberg.com/uploads/1/1/6/6/1166378/hsns4003_02.pdf

    Pages 190-197
    - The Revelle-Gore Story: Attempted Political Suppression of Science (S. Fred Singer)
    http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817939326_283.pdf

  • Gary M

    “by Sean

    Among the many depressing aspects of our current political discourse is the proudly anti-science stance adopted by one of our major political parties.”

    “Eppur si muove.”

    Capere?

    You are not of a position to demand the kissing of whatever is your ring.

  • Gary M

    Oh, btw,

    I’m an atheist, or something largely like it, who earned my living for more than two decades teaching Astronomy in colleges and planetariums.

    I’m a non-affiliated political Independent, having been both Democrat and Republican in moments of cognitive weakness.

    Yours is the most depressing aspect of our current political discourse: Not so smart as you imagine.

  • Alan D McIntire

    See Trenbeth’s figures here for earth’s radiation budget:

    http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/Climate_Science/EarthsEnergyBalance.html

    Note that a DOUBLING of CO2 would supposedly increase the flux by about 3.7 watts, from a total of about 490, including latent heat, to about 493.7. Temperature is roughly proportional to the 4th root of the radiation flux, so tempearatures, without any feedback, could be predicted to increese by a factor of (493.7/490)^0.25 = 1.00188.. or about 0.5 + C under current temperatures. Since the effect of CO2 is roughly logarithmic, a quadrupling would only result in about a 1.1C or so increase. We’ll run out of cheap oil long before the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere quadruples.

    The scare CAGW figure come from assuming large positive feedbacks, contrary to the
    natural history of our planet. The sun started out with about 70% of its current luminosity, yet earth’s oceans have remained liquid throughout that 40% increase in luminosity. In the real world, there have been NEGATIVE, not positive, feedbacks.

    The sensible solution is to let the natural market decide when we switch from oil to other sources of energy.

    We conservatives are not anti-science, we’re correctly assessing the CAGW arguments as
    pseudoscience.

  • psmith

    “2010 on Pace to Be Warmest on Record, NASA Says”

    “Analyses by the two other repositories of global temperature data, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center and a joint record kept by Britain’s Met Office and the University of East Anglia, also show a warm 2010, and both project that the year will probably either tie or exceed their all-time records for average temperature.”

    http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/2010-on-pace-to-be-warmest-on-record-nasa-says/?ref=science

  • psmith

    This thread in Tim Lambert’s blog, Deltoid, gives a fascinating example of the dishonesty in the denialist camp.
    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/rosegate_rose_does_to_data_wha_1.php

  • Chris Winter

    Alan D McIntire wrote: “The scare CAGW figure come from assuming large positive feedbacks, contrary to the natural history of our planet. The sun started out with about 70% of its current luminosity, yet earth’s oceans have remained liquid throughout that 40% increase in luminosity. In the real world, there have been NEGATIVE, not positive, feedbacks. “

    Congratulations. Have you bought your tickets to Oslo yet? Having disproved 150 years of climate science, you’re a shoo-in for next year’s Nobel.
    —-
    OK, enough snark. You’ve put serious effort into your post, and it deserves to be taken seriously. (Though I’m not sure where you got that figure of 490W/m^2.)

    Climate scientist Chris Colose writes:

    “It can be shown that for every Watt per square meter radiative forcing the climate would warm by about 0.3°C without any other responses. To put this in perspective, it would take about five doublings of CO2 or a 7% increase in the total solar radiation hitting the Earth to produce the magnitude of climate change typical of glacial-to-interglacial transitions. Changes of this sort are well outside the bounds of what is characteristic of proxy records and observations, so this must mean that various feedbacks act to change the temperature much more than 0.3°C for a watt per square meter forcing. In other words, the aggregate effect of feedbacks is to be positive and enhance the so-called climate sensitivity relative to what it would otherwise be.”

    Near the end of this (Part 1 of a 2-part treatment), Colose writes:

    “In the context of anthropogenic global warming, all of these complex feedbacks and interactions end up boiling down to the question of how much warming you get from additional CO2 release into the atmosphere. The most recent IPCC AR4 assessment gives a range of about 2 to 4.5ºC at equilibrium. This is the so-called ‘Charney sensitivity’ which takes into account these fast feedbacks discussed above, as well as clouds which provide the greatest uncertainty in narrowing these estimates.”

    In other words, the mainstream view is that these feedbacks amplify the sensitivity by a factor between 6 and 12, roughly. The problem for you, then, is to demonstrate why these feedbacks do not aggregate to a net positive effect on sensitivity, or if they do, why it is insignificant. Let us know how that works out.

    Ref:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/09/introduction-to-feedbacks/

  • matthew

    I’ve never witnessed such a stupid or more materialistic younger generation in my life! Do what you’re going to do. You’ll age and die like everyone else and hopefully the earth will extinguish you all sooner than later!

    wow what a grumpy old man.

    i’m pretty sure most of the climate-deniers, just like the gay-bashers, racists, xenophobes, etc etc are your age buddy, not youngsters.

    a more materialistic generation huh? what about the one before ours who are responsible for the gluttony of america’s oil use, the rampant consumerism, the addiction to pharmaceuticals and cars, and thirty years of growing economic inequality?

    everyone i know eats all their food from the dumpsters that wastefully gets thrown out by people your age eating at restaurants and by companies run by people of your age.

    your generation is responsible for us having enough nuclear bombs to blow up the earth 2500 times.

    your generation is responsible for perpetual war and empire building.

    your generation is responsible for the building of the infrastructure that contributes to carbon in the air like freeways and suburbs and super markets.

    your generation is responsible for the vile representative politics that is enthroned to big money.

    it’s like you guys saw black peoples fight for civil rights, got pissed about vietnam, and then when that ended, voted for nixon and reagan and thirty years of getting more and more conservative.

    don’t blame us, mister, we just got here. and can you really blame most of that our heads are always stuck to some virtual spectacle? i mean, look at the world you’ve given us …

    22,000 children die because of poverty every day in the world because of your generations acceptance of inequality and clinging to privilege. former farmers starve in slums because your generation gladly supports imf restructuring and investment ‘innovations’.

    however, will ours be much better? probably not. i mean, look at our parents…

  • Alan D McIntire

    In reply to Chris Winter: The figures come from

    http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/Climate_Science/EarthsEnergyBalance.html

    which I referred to earlier. The earth’s surface receives 168 watts directly from the sun, 324 in “back radiation”. Add them together, and you get 492. I rounded to 490 in my prior post.

    Note that the sun started out with about 70% of its current luminosity, and with liquid water oceans, implying temperatures of over 273 K. Current temperatures, with a luminosity of 1, average about 287 or 288 K, not the over 273* (10/7)^0.25 = 298.46 we’d get with NO feedbacks. As I stated previously, we have gotten NEGATIVE feedbacks from the real world

    For more, see

    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/1520-0442%282001%29014%3C2976%3APBOTES%3E2.0.CO%3B2

    Chris Colose is figuring that 0.3K effect from a 4 watt incrrease to a 240 watt flux. That 240 watts is what the earth receives and radiates at the top of the atmosphere, not what the earth’s surface receives, closer to 490 watts thanks to back radiation. That 490 watts includes about 100 watts in convection and latent heat of vaporization.

    The Stefan-Boltzmann equation for a blackbody goes

    T(degrees Kelvin) = S(constant)*(watts/square meter)^0.25. Our first step is to find that S constant.

    Doing a google search, I find 1000 K implies a blackbody flux of 56790 watts/square meter.

    1000K = S* (56790 watts/square meter)^ 0.25. Click on your calculator and use the scientific view. Plug in 56790
    X^Y
    0.25
    =
    and you get 15.43718 Divide 1000K by 15.43718 and you get S = 64.77867

    We now know
    T(kelvin) = 64.77867 ( watts/square meter)^0.25.

    Let’s plug in some numbers.

    At 100 watts per square meter flux,

    T = 64.77867 * 100^0.25 = 204.848 K, at 400 watts per square meter,
    T = 64.77867 * 400^0.25 = 289.699 K

    T = 64.77867 W^0.25. From elementary calculus, the derivative of that
    equation will give you the sensitivity.

    dT/dW = 64.77867* 1/4 * (W^(-3/4)) = 64.77867*1/4 * (1/(W^0.75)).

    At 100 watts/sq meter, you get a sensitivity of
    64.77867*1/4*(100^-0.75) = 64.77867*0.25* 0.0316228= 0.512121 K/watt per meter squared

    At 400 watts/sq meter, you get a sensitivity of
    64.77867*1/4 *0.01118034 = 0.181062 degrees K per watt per meter squared

    If you don’t know elementary calculus, just figure what the temperature increase would be
    with a 1 watt increase, and you’ll get close to the same answer. You’ll get even closer by using a 0.1 watt increase, a 0.01

    watt increase, etc. Using this method is actually easier than messing with that derivative equation above.

    T = 64.77867*W^0.25 for 100 watts we get
    T = 64.77867* (100^0.25) =204.848. for 101 watts we get
    T = 64.77867* (101^0.25) =205.358 so a 1 watt increase gives a temperature increase of
    205.358-204.848 = 0.51 K per watt meter squared

    At 400 watts per square meter, you get a sensitivity of
    T = 64.77867* 400^0.25 = 289.699
    T = 64.77867* 401^0.25 = 289.87991
    289.87991-289.699 = 0.1809 K per watt meter squared.

    The flux at earth is about 1368 watts. When you consider the fact
    that the earth is a sphere,
    with a surface area of 4 pi r^2, and the face presented to the sun
    is a circle with an area of
    pi r^2, the average flux is (pi r^2/4pi r^2)= 1/4 * 1368 = 342
    watts.

    For a blackbody, climate sensitivity would be
    1/4 dT/ dS
    For a surface temperature of 288 K, this amounts to
    (1/4)( 288K/342 watts) = 0.21 K/watt

    Earth is not a blackbody, the albedo is about 0.3
    342 watts *(1-0.3) = 239.4 watts

    For a “graybody” earth,
    dT/dS = 1/4 (288 K/239.4 watts) = 0.3 K/ watt

    That’s where Colose gets his figures, by using Boltzmann’s
    equation. which gives a figure for
    climate sensitivity of 0.21K/watt to 0.3 K/watt.

  • mitch

    @147: Alan, lets complete the analysis. Doubling CO2 causes about a 4W/m2 change in insolation, so then you end up with the nonfeedback sensitivity of 1.2K. There has been a lot of work on the feedbacks, and when these are added in, the total climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 is probably between 2 and 4.5K. The midrange 3K, is about half the T change to bring us out of the last ice age.

  • Grabski

    Didn’t it occur to you that Global ‘Warming’ is a punchline due to the extreme cold in recent years as well as Climategate emails showing it to be nothing more than a hook to get grant money?

    Those inconvenient truths made Al Gore, who occupies a huge ‘carbon footprint’ (giggle) the poster boy and chief punchline.

  • Alan D McIntire

    In reply to Mitch. You’ve ignored my post regarding the “faint young sun” paradox (do a web search) and the fact that the feedback in the past has been NEGATIVE.

    As to the 1.2K, Colose is in effect computing what the effect on temperatures would be if the greenhouse multiplier stayed the same as it is now, and the output received by earth increased from 240 to 244 watts. What SHOULD be computed is the effect at earth’s surface
    when the output from the sun remains the same, at 240 watts, and the surface flux increases from 490 watts, (390 sensible + 100 latent), to 494 watts.

  • George55

    Matthew#146, spot on.

    Over the last 30 years the USA has been sleepwalking into a form of Fascism. Call it an oligarchy or plutocracy but however you label it, call it for what it is. Kakistocracy.

    I’m sure most of you still think Patriotism is a good thing. Me I’m just hoping there are some people in a position to weld the silo lids down tight. Just in case this President or the probably much worse next one has fidgety fingers.

    Global warming- probably a problem. Maybe even worse than the climatologists fear. Right now however there are more immediate and pressing concerns for Americans to deal with.

  • conradg

    I’m coming in very late to this discussion – just found your site via Andrew – and I’ve only read about half the comments. Pretty good all around, though some rather wildly wrong claims by the alarmists.

    To answer Bobito’s question, I’m one of those rare liberal skeptics. My politics is pretty much to the left of Obama on most issues other than climate. Long ago I once assumed the science behind the climate alarmism was solid. Once I started looking into it, I find it’s more like swiss cheese on moldly wonder bread. I guess I’d be called a skeptic because I seriously doubt the overall climate science consensus on net warming from CO2. I think the actual data and evidence indicates that CO2 greenhouse effects will be quite modest and not much more than 1C of warming for a doubling of CO2. Nor is that hazardous to the planet or to humans. In general, it’s fairly positive. There are always winners and losers whenever anything changes, but in this case I think there’s more winners than losers. Past a certain level of warming that would reverse, but I don’t see that as in the cards.

    As for the politicizing, yes, it sucks, and the exaggerations on the left and from the scientific community are truly eggregious. Science is going to have a serious reckoning from this issue in the next few decades, and the lesson will be not to make scientists into authority figures, and not to assume one knows the answer based on what is simply a partially educated hunch. But the right is also guilty of serious exagerations and misleading arguments as well. In fact, the general impression that the right in America has become anti-science is fairly accurate on a lot of issues, such as evolution. But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and in this case I’m sorry to say that even the broken minds of Limbaugh, Palin, and their followers is right on this issue. I don’t revel in that. To the contrary, as a liberal I’m quite sad that so many on my side of the aisle have fallen for this very seductive narrative. We see some of them arguing here on this thread, and it’s really too bad they’ve painted themselves into a corner and can’t find a way out of it. Progressive are going to have a serious reckoning to come on this issue as well, just as the neocons have on the Iraq war. I just hope they can find a graceful exit, rather than stay in the trenches for decades as the neocons would have us do in the middle east.

  • Chris Winter

    ConradG wrote: “Progressive are going to have a serious reckoning to come on this issue as well, just as the neocons have on the Iraq war. I just hope they can find a graceful exit, rather than stay in the trenches for decades as the neocons would have us do in the middle east.”

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I see valid evidence that I’m wrong to believe AGW is an impending disaster I’ll scratch it off my list of problems quicker than you can say chronosynclastic enfundibulum.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I see valid evidence that I’m wrong to believe AGW is an impending disaster I’ll scratch it off my list of problems quicker than you can say chronosynclastic enfundibulum.

    And, therein, lies the fundamental asymmetry of this “debate.”

  • Niran

    Is it such a surprise that the republicans are denying climate change,when evolution is still such a “hot-button” topic ?

  • Pingback: Blame Al Gore for inaction on climate change? - Verities and Vagaries

  • Aaron.Sheldon

    Part of the problem is that most people cannot grasp the scale of the numbers, and hence that mankind is geological force. So I pulled a couple of references:

    http://bit.ly/hzeY59
    http://bit.ly/crUpsa

    If you grind through the numbers you reach this startling conclusion:

    Since the dawn of industrialization, in 1751, our accumulated to present day industrial CO2 production is equivalent to 1 Mt. Pinatubo eruption in every nation in every year since 1751, and accelerating.

    This number is statistically far and beyond the background geological CO2 production rate, and likely beyond the rapid sequestering capacity of the planet, though obviously within the millions of years sequestering time scale. I think this is on the same order of magnitude as the volcanic activity during the Permian–Triassic extinction but without the cooling aerosols and SO2, that provided a short term, and catastrophic to life, buffer against CO2 greenhouse warming.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #157,

    A good calculation!

    Can you calculate for me, on the same basis, how much CO2 the tropical oceans have emitted in total since 1751? And what the ratio of that to man’s contribution is? Thanks.

  • Aaron Sheldon

    The calculation is for emissions that are above and beyond the background CO2 cycling. Oceanic cycling is on the order of months to years (you seem to have conveniently avoided mentioning that higher latitude oceans absorb CO2, the transfer has been confirmed through carbon isotope ratio measurements), while geological cycling is on the order of millions of years. The CO2 stores that have been released are geological stores.

    It will take a while to find both the total CO2 moles cycling, rate of cycling, and variance in cycling, which is what is need to estimate the oceanic capacity to sequester impulses.

    But we can do a quick observational reality check: it is certainly plausible that the oceanic cycling has capacity to sequester one extra Mt. Pinatubo a century over background, and probably 10, and even remotely one extra every year. But +100 extra a year for a quarter millennium? That is stretching the range of plausibility, and is far, far above the statistical background. Furthermore if the oceans were far enough out of equilibrium to rapidly sequester that CO2 impulse, they would have done so before the CO2 stores were released, and the planet would have never left the last ice age. Besides would you really want to see the oceanic acidity raised that much?

    Look, the some odd ~30000 equivalent Mt. Pinatubos that have been released would have taken around 3 million years to add the CO2 to the atmosphere, and some 3 million years to sequester through biological sedimentation. We have cut the whole thing down to a quarter of a millennium.

    If you really believe that oceans can buffer the CO2 impulse then can you explain how deep current turn over will increase, and surface temperatures will decrease, so as to dissolve more CO2?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #159,

    I wasn’t trying to make any point. It’s just a comparison of magnitudes, for people who have difficulty grasping the scale of numbers.

    The absorption of CO2 by polar oceans not being mentioned isn’t out of convenience. You can do the comparison with either – I don’t mind. If I had mentioned only the scale of absorption of CO2 by the polar oceans, would that have been ‘convenient’ too?

    I presume the point is that one shouldn’t ever post scientific facts and comparisons that only tell one side of the story – that lean entirely in one direction. You are swift to correct the perceived inclination of my question with some counterbalancing observations. Would you say this is a general principle? Does it apply to all sides of the debate?

  • Aaron Sheldon

    Sorry, didn’t mean to bring baggage to the table.

    I’ll find a good example of a carbon isotope ratio article that was used to calibrate oceanic CO2 cycling, volumes and rates.

  • Stephen

    in 150. Alan D McIntire Says:

    > In reply to Mitch. You’ve ignored my post regarding the “faint young sun” paradox (do a web search)
    > and the fact that the feedback in the past has been NEGATIVE.

    I don’t think this is much of a paradox — remember we have a twin planet Venus and likely our atmosphere initially was much like Venus’s. So when the sun was young we would expect the earths atmosphere to be about 2,500 times as much CO2. It certainly seems this greenhouse effect would be large enough to keep the earth warm enough for liquid oceans, and these liquid oceans are required for converting the CO2 into limestone.

  • nick

    Sean, it’s not about the climate, nor even the science, but money. No matter what I believe about climate change, I’m pretty sure 99% of the money involved doesn’t get invested in anything scientifically related. With all the billions collected any number of crude technological solutions could have been already implemented to show that the global temperature is not beyond our control. But there’s more profit in just talking.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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