Kolbert on Global Warming, Scientists, and the Media: "Total System Failure"

By Chris Mooney | March 12, 2009 12:15 pm

Yale Environment 360 interviews the renowned New Yorker journalist, who blames the media and scientists alike for our staggering failure to deal with this issue. Here’s a long quotation:

e360: We’ve talked about journalists and generally the challenges in conveying this issue to the public. But what about scientists? I mean, scientists have a responsibility to get their information out to the public whether it’s through the media or through their own writings and work. How good a job do you think they have done in conveying this whole issue?

Kolbert: Oh, I don’t think they’ve done a good job. They have some of the same problems that journalists have, which is that scientists are interested in introducing something new in their work. They want new results, new information. They want to break new ground. They need to do that to get funding, really. And global warming, the fact that global warming is happening, that is really old news in scientific circles. It’s just a settled question in scientific circles. So scientists moved on to other issues having to do with climate change…

e360: But not whether it exists?

Kolbert: No, absolutely not. That would be considered — you’d just be laughed at in a scientific discussion. But that message really never reached the public, and you could argue that that’s the journalists’ fault, and I do fault journalists for that. But I also fault scientists because they sort of have just left things to the journalists. And now that we’ve sort of moved to a new stage of the debate, a policy debate, they’re not going to be involved in that either. They’re going to leave that to the economists or to the political scientists.

The public of course isn’t innocent either–and many politicians, to say nothing of the active sowers of misinformation, are deeply guilty. And that’s why the phrase “total system failure,” which Kolbert uses later in the interview, really does seem to capture it best.

You can read the full interview here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Education, Global Warming, Hurricanes

Comments (19)

  1. Jon Winsor

    My hope is that both sides will start to see eye to eye on this issue, at least to the point where we start taking the needed steps. Historically, we’ve changed quickly as a country when we’ve gotten on the same page and decided to.

    A big part of the problem is (as with the financial crisis) the press can stumble when it tries to sort out who are the experts and who are the advocates.

    Related, is the problem of the right’s deep distrust of technocratic solutions. They hear about a problem like this and immediately that’s what they see. I remember Chris joking after one of his interviews that the right-leaning guest that he was paired up with thought he had “a closet full of ‘I (heart) big government’ T-shirts.”

    (By the way, just because the right is out of power politically, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have lots of influence over the discourse.)

  2. This bit of the interview fascinated me:But I also fault scientists because they sort of have just left things to the journalists. And now that we’ve sort of moved to a new stage of the debate, a policy debate, they’re not going to be involved in that either. They’re going to leave that to the economists or to the political scientists.Isn’t that exactly the right thing for the scientists to do? Why would we think a paleobotanist or a climate modeler would know enough about economics to make intelligent cost/benefit tradeoffs, or to judge which policies are likely to be adopted and successful?

  3. I see yet another factor at play here. There are many, especially among those activists who identify themselves as “progressive”, that have such a distrust of mainstream media as to make them believe anything that shows up on the internet which says “the media won’t tell you this, but…”.

    So, even among ardent members of the Green Party, I find those who push Lawrence Soloman’s The Deniers as a “must read”. These are the same people who should be the strongest activists… but aren’t. And that is my problem to fix.

    Wes Rolley: CoChair, EcoAction Committee, Green Party US.

  4. Dark Tent

    forgive me for disagreeing here (completely), but it’s simply not true that

    they [scientists] sort of have just left things to the journalists. And now that we’ve sort of moved to a new stage of the debate, a policy debate, they’re not going to be involved in that either. They’re going to leave that to the economists or to the political scientists.

    In producing their reports for the IPCC, scientists went to very great lengths to distill some very complex information into a form that would be accessible to policy-makers and to a minimally scientifically informed public.

    And there are many scientists involved in public outreach on this issue. james hansen is just the most famous one.

    problem is, our public is completely scientifically illiterate. Not only that, they seem to be damned proud of it. Worse still, they don’t seem to give a damn as long as it does not impact them directly.

    When I hear my 16 year old niece comment that “she’s tired of hearing about global warming”* , should I blame the scientists?

    (*not from me, since I only commented on it once when Al Gore’s movie came out)

    The people in this country need a good shaking. They just got one on the economy — and I think they are finally paying some attention.

    maybe they need it on climate change as well, though i don’t know how that will ever happen because no single event (eg, drought, hurricane, etc0 can be blamed on global warming.

    the problem (exemplified by what my niece said) is that the truth is often the last thing people want to hear. It makes people uncomfortable when they are confronted with the fact that what they are doing right now (driving their car when they could be walking or taking public transit, leaving all the lights and computers in their house on 24/7, etc) may negatively impact the lives of millions of people in the future.

  5. Erasmussimo

    When I hear my 16 year old niece comment that “she’s tired of hearing about global warming”* , should I blame the scientists?

    A cute riposte: “Do you think you’ll get tired of living with the consequences?”

  6. SLC

    What’s the latest on Mr. Mooneys’ proposed oped in the Washington Post refuting George Will?

  7. Orson

    Actually, it would help scientists to engage in SUBSTANTIVE criticism with reasonable and informed critics. A look at the IPPCs FAR reviewer’s attempts to get substantive responses shows that they don’t. Far from responding sensibly, the lead authors are fully politicized, ala the great monarchs: “L’etate c’est moi!”

    Contrary to Kolbert and Dare Tent, the responsibility for muddling messages is entirely deserved. The establishment has, as we American’s are fond of saying, dropped the ball. AGW alarmism is a hoax, lacking compelling evidence.

    -Orson
    Environmental scientist, Boulder, CO

  8. Erasmussimo

    Orson, are you just another drive-by troll, or do you wish to “engage in substantive criticism”? I’d love to “engage with substantive criticism”. Are you up for it?

  9. Orson

    Sure, Erasmussimo

    EVIDENCE. Lack of evidence of climate sensitivity to ACO2.

    I’ve been ready to be convinced for many years, having studied the issue for 20 years. I used to be a Roger A. Pielke, jr-style light warmer, but the lack of evidence and the sustained hystreia since FAR (2007) has pushed me into the Vincent Gray “I am a proud denier” camp of it is a hoax.”

    But where is the “compelling” evidence of climate sensitivity? Not here
    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/MonthlyCO2vsTemps.jpg

    Evidence and falsifiability: Where is theIPCC predicted monotonic temp to ACO2? Where is it here?
    http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2009/02/global-warming-accelerating-3.html

    And where is the IPCC predicted greenhouse fingerprint?
    http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2009/01/can-you-have-a-consensus-if-no-one-agrees-what-the-consensus-is.html

    Where is the paleoclimate sensitivity?

    Oops!

    Instead of compelling arguments turning on sound evidence, I see a lot of wailing and eco-correct gnashing of teeth. I mean doesn’t it bother anyone purportedly concerned about facts and sound science that AGW alarmists always lose in face-to-face debate with their critics?

    “Mugatu: ‘SHUT UP! Enough already, Ballstein! Who cares about Derek Zoolander anyway? The man has only one look, for Christ’s sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They’re the same face! Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills…!'” -Zoolander (2001)

    What’s left except to “go over to the ‘dark’ side’???

  10. Erasmussimo

    Lack of evidence of climate sensitivity to ACO2.
    Really? Look, just go into a lab and measure the cross section for the CO2 molecule at various wavelengths. Then use that cross-section along with the blackbody radiation distribution emitted by the earth to calculate the probability of a single CO2 molecule absorbing a single photon of that blackbody radiation. Scale the calculation up for the current concentration of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere. Without even stepping outside, you can get a first approximation of the climate sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2. It’s all straightforward physics, the kind of calculation that physicists have been doing for a century now. The evidence is there and it’s overwhelming — you are apparently unaware of it.

    On your first link to the data from 1998: there’s an important idea here: weather is not climate. You’re citing data extending back a grand total of 11 years. That’s like complaining that Mr. Obama’s economic plans don’t work because it’s been a whole month and we’re STILL having economic problems. Climate is a long-term phenomenon, not a short-term phenomenon; you should be thinking in terms of 30 year time spans, not 10 year time spans. Besides, the predictions for climate change all cover periods of 40 to 100 years; don’t you think it inappropriate to use 10-year data to predict 100-year changes?

    Where is theIPCC predicted monotonic temp to ACO2?
    The requirement of monotonicity is a good example of the failure to understand complex phenomena. You can get a long-term secular trend even though there are short-term fluctuations. For example, the American economy has grown enormously since 1950, but that growth has not been monotonic. There have been periods where the economy lost ground. We are currently in such a period. Would you say that the US economy is doomed to permanent decline because we’re experiencing decline now?

    The second link you provide suffers from the same failure to understand the difference between climate and weather. The author makes his case on the data from the last ten years. That’s not an appropriate time period for considerations of climate change.

    Here’s an analogy that will help you understand why a ten-year period is too short to draw any conclusions. Suppose you’re a prisoner inside a tractor-trailer barreling down a bumpy road. You want to know if you’re speeding up or slowing down. You can feel the accelerations because you’re being tossed forward and backward. But how long a time period should you take into consideration before drawing conclusions? After all, you might get thrown forward (indicating deceleration) for one second, then thrown backward (indicating acceleration) for 2 seconds, then thrown forward for 3 seconds, and so on. How can you figure out the appropriate time frame to use? Well, that depends a lot on the total mass of the tractor-trailer combination. If this thing is loaded with lead, then you know that it will take a long time to speed up or slow down, so you want to use a long time window. If, on the other hand, it’s empty, then you know that it can speed up or slow down quickly. It depends on the mass of the tractor-trailer.

    In the same way, the earth can heat up or cool down only as fast as its “thermal mass” will permit it to. What’s that thermal mass? For the most part, it’s the ocean. Each gram of water in the ocean requires 4 Joules of heat to increase its temperature by one degree K. The total mass of all the water in all the oceans is about 1 x 10**24 grams. Hence it would take 1 x 10**24 Joules of heat to warm the oceans by 1ºK. How much heat is that? About the amount of heat that the earth receives from the sun in an entire year. To put it another way, if the sun simply went out, it would take the oceans of the earth one year to cool by one degree K. So you see then why it’s absurd to talk about changes in the earth’s temperature extending over a mere 10 years? The earth heats up and cools down very slowly. (BTW, these numbers strike me as a bit high — I’ve done this calculation before and I don’t recall the results being so strong. If you see a mistake, please point it out.)

    I looked at your third link but I don’t see the point that you are making.

    And as to your question about paleoclimate sensitivity, I have to ask “What is ‘paleoclimate sensitivity’? Is it sensitivity of ancient climates to… what?”

    So as you can see, the science here really is clear.

  11. Erasmussimo

    Oops, it would take 4 x 10**24 Joules to heat the oceans by 1ºK. And remember, this is just a first-order calculation. It doesn’t take into account any feedback mechanisms, radiative transfer, or mixing issues.

  12. Orson

    Erasmussimo-Thank you for your extended reply. You try to be thoughtful.

    I agree with you, “the science is really clear” – clearly not worthy of alarm. For instance, CO2 doubling in the lab – all else held equal – ought to result in about +1C degrees. (See experiment summaries here:
    http://www.junkscience.com/Greenhouse/co2greenhouse-X4.png)
    So what’s the problem? The past century witnessed about +1C and the human population grew several times, and the biosphere is better protected against threats at the end than it was before. In short, justification for alarm based on history is hard to come by.

    There is no good evidence for the IPPCs alarmist claims of positive forcing and there is increasing evidence of negative forcing in the real world. (Cf, Roy Spencer’s work over the past tow years, among others, but most easily accessed via his congressional testimony, July 2008
    http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20070320152338-19776.pdf)

    In both my claims you cite a failure on my part to distinguish between climate versus weather. But we both know that climate is a humanistic convention, typically 30 years time span. However, this argument amounts to moving the goal posts instead of acknowledging the failure of the IPCCs own recent predictions.

    What value are these “predictions” and billions spent on GCMs when simple linear trends cast with a ruler prove more accurate? (For example, SEE http://rankexploits.com/musings/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/hansenlineartrend.jpg) Climate forecasting is, as the eminent expert in the field of forecasting J. Scott Armstrong (et al) says, a “fraud,” mere pseudo-science.

    “The IPCC first projected a global warming rate of 0.03°C per year in 1992. The errors of the IPCC projection over the years 1992 to 2008 were little different from the errors from the no-change model, when compared to actual measured temperature changes. When the IPCC’s warming rate is applied to a historical period of exponential CO2 growth, from 1851 to 1975, the errors are more than seven times greater than errors from the no-change model.

    “The models employed by James Hansen and the IPCC are not based on scientific forecasting principles. There is no empirical evidence that they provide long-term forecasts that are as accurate as forecasting that global average temperatures won’t change. Hansen’s, and the IPCC’s, forecasts, and the recommendations based on them, should be ignored.” http://jennifermarohasy.com/blog/?p=4407

    You write: “I looked at your third link but I don’t see the point that you are making.”
    Oh, thou art faux naive, me thinks!

    If you cannot understand the principle of falsification on a science blog, I don’t intend to waste my time and educate you. Perhaps an introduction to the greatest philosopher of science of the 20th century is a place to start? (SEE http://www.the-rathouse.com/poptheoryknow.html and links at the bottom.) Perhaps an elementary introduction, the chapter on “The Greenhouse Fingerprint” from “The Change in The Weather” by William K. Stevens (1999) is in order?

    But step back for a moment: if the IPCC FAR makes a prediction about climate sensitivity that then cannot be observed, what happens to the claim for alarm over messing with a primary cause for that alarm, ie, ACO2? It diminishes, does it not?

    “What is ‘paleoclimate sensitivity’? Is it sensitivity of ancient climates to… what?” In the 1990s it was credibly thought that in prior geological eras, CO2 dynamics had a large impact on temperature flux. By the present decade, this was falsified because resolution of ice core samples had improved and show that temperature leads CO2 flux.
    (SEE http://biocab.org/Carbon_Dioxide_Geological.jpg_
    AND http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/gw/paleo/400000yrfig.htm)
    If this were not the case, then alarm over ACO2 would have well remained justified. Instead, those guided by facts were well advised to rethink their concerns.

    As you consider these arguments, it is no doubt good to see that North Koreans have done their part in combating AGW and reduced their carbon footprint, as seen here:
    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Image:Korean_peninsula_at_night.jpg)

  13. Erasmussimo

    I’m glad to see that you concede the fundamental, irrefutable fact that CO2 will increase global temperatures. You have retreated to the point that CO2 forcing is good for only about 1ºC. I agree. So, having established that CO2 forcing is, in fact, real, we now turn to the matter of the various feedbacks. You will, of course, deny that such feedbacks exist. But in fact you have provided the best evidence that they do exist: the fact that we have historical observations that increases in temperatures cause increases in CO2 concentrations. That in itself proves that there are positive feedback mechanisms.

    Let me reiterate the logic here, based on only the facts you have acknowledged:

    1. Increases in CO2 concentration always lead to increases in temperature.
    2. In the past, increases in temperature were followed by increases in CO2 concentration.
    3. Therefore, these #2 increases in CO2 concentration will lead to increases in temperature.
    4. And these #3 increases in temperature lead to increases in CO2 concentration.
    5. Loop back to #3.

    But we both know that climate is a humanistic convention
    Absolutely not! The difference between climate and weather is established by the thermal relaxation time of the oceans, which turns out to be about 30 years. It’s a hard physical reality, not an artificial construct.

    However, this argument amounts to moving the goal posts instead of acknowledging the failure of the IPCCs own recent predictions
    No, it doesn’t. It’s been called “climate change” for a reason: it’s a change in CLIMATE, not weather. You’re still stuck in the assumption of monotonicity: that if temperature goes down even once, then the entire hypothesis must be incorrect. But monotonicity is not part of the AGW hypothesis: it’s something that you’re invalidly imposing upon the AGW hypothesis. Can you justify the assumption of monotonicity?

    What value are these “predictions” and billions spent on GCMs when simple linear trends cast with a ruler prove more accurate?
    Because if we just laid a ruler down on the past temperature plots and extrapolated it into the future, good scientists would object that there is no scientific basis for a mindless extrapolation. We need to understand the natural processes at work. Otherwise, a global warming denier could validly object that some magic process appearing next year would make it all go away.

    The errors of the IPCC projection over the years 1992 to 2008 were little different from the errors from the no-change model, when compared to actual measured temperature changes.
    Weather is not climate. You’re STILL stuck in short-term data. Look at ALL The data!

    When the IPCC’s warming rate is applied to a historical period of exponential CO2 growth, from 1851 to 1975, the errors are more than seven times greater than errors from the no-change model.
    Yes, and you’re welcome to apply IPCC’s numbers in all sorts of inappropriate places. But if you want to make any sense, you need to apply them in a manner consistent with what the IPCC actually wrote. Moreover, you’re unnecessarily muddying the waters by basing your case on old science. What the IPCC said in 1998 is no longer relevant — we’ve gotten a lot more data and analysis since then. Please confine your comments to the best available evidence, not stuff from the past that has been superceded by superior data and analysis.

    The models employed by James Hansen and the IPCC are not based on scientific forecasting principles.
    Let’s keep the discussion clear and focus on the best available evidence: the IPCC reports. OK?

    You write: “I looked at your third link but I don’t see the point that you are making.”
    Oh, thou art faux naive, me thinks!
    If you cannot understand the principle of falsification on a science blog, I don’t intend to waste my time and educate you
    My concern was that your comment was entirely too vague to respond to. If you wish to make a specific complaint regarding falsification, please make it. Waving your hands and declaring “AGW is not falsifiable” isn’t a cogent criticism. You need to be explicit here.

    But step back for a moment: if the IPCC FAR makes a prediction about climate sensitivity that then cannot be observed, what happens to the claim for alarm over messing with a primary cause for that alarm, ie, ACO2? It diminishes, does it not?
    You’ll need to rewrite that sentence to be syntactically valid. As written, it makes no sense. You seem to be assuming that the IPCC is “predicting climate sensitivity”. They are doing no such thing — they are DEDUCING climate sensitivities of various forms based on various forms of evidence. Don’t confuse deduction with prediction.

    temperature leads CO2 flux.
    You still don’t get the idea of feedback loops. Yes, temperature leads CO2 — and then CO2 causes temperature increase. It’s not a one-way phenomenon, it’s a feedback loop.

    As you consider these arguments, it is no doubt good to see that North Koreans have done their part in combating AGW and reduced their carbon footprint, as seen here:
    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Image:Korean_peninsula_at_night.jpg)

    It’s this kind of gratuitous digression that leads me to suspect that your science is driven by your politics rather than the other way around.

  14. Orson

    Popper’s classic statement on falsifiability from “Conjectures and Refutations” (1962) is here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/StudyRoomMD/message/38

  15. Erasmussimo

    Yes, I’ve read Popper. My problem with your statements is that they don’t apply the concept of falsifiability properly.

  16. Orson

    “I’m glad to see that you concede the fundamental, irrefutable fact that CO2 will increase global temperatures. ”

    But I don’t concede this IN THE REAL WORLD. The fundamental issue – again – is climate sensitivity. Spencer’s analysis based on new satellite data (over several years of collection) is less than 0.2C degrees for ACO2 doubling. A trivial, unmeasurable sensitivity in the real world.

    YOUR logic of the loop only works IF the postulated water vapor feedbacks the IPPC embraces are found in the real world. The failure to find this through the Greenhouse Fingerprint means a failure to find positive feedback loop. Ergo, AGW fails.

    “‘But we both know that climate is a humanistic convention’
    Absolutely not! The difference between climate and weather is established by the thermal relaxation time of the oceans, which turns out to be about 30 years. It’s a hard physical reality, not an artificial construct.”

    THIS ‘hard physical’ reality is asserted on measured ocean temps over a decadal basis that are less reliable than land based air temps (which outside of the US are themselves disputed). So this claim of “hardness” is silly.

    “‘The models employed by James Hansen and the IPCC are not based on scientific forecasting principles.’
    Let’s keep the discussion clear and focus on the best available evidence: the IPCC reports. OK?” It doesn’t matter whether you cherry pick your baseline argument for GCM fidelity or not (and Armstrong, et al, argue inclusively).
    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/ipccchart.jpg
    BOTH projections – whether older Hansen or AR4 – are empirical failures.

    On goalpost moving? “monotonicity is not part of the AGW hypothesis” True, it needn’t be -but it was a part of AR4 “consensus” case for AGW. And again it has been falsified empirically. In fact the first money quote from NOAAs Susan Solomon (and co-chair of IPCCs Working Group I – the science section) in the Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera, when AR4 was released in 2007 was “we have improved models.” (The exact quote can be searched…I surmise from memory.)

    “‘What value are these ‘predictions’ and billions spent on GCMs when simple linear trends cast with a ruler prove more accurate?’
    Because if we just laid a ruler down on the past temperature plots and extrapolated it into the future, good scientists would object that there is no scientific basis for a mindless extrapolation. We need to understand the natural processes at work….”

    But we don’t understand the underlying physical processes. When modelers face this lack, they “paramatarize”, ie, make guesses that paper over the fact that these are not understood. Clouds are not understood – a major factor in predicting temperature change. Thus, for example, as a Hadley Center web page once famously cautioned, if you live near mountains, oceans, or other large bodies of water – their model won’t tell you much! (EXACT reference available upon request-from memory again.) In other words, it will not apply to most people – in other words, it won’t be useful for the purpose it is purported to be used. Hence, the Armstrong,et al, quotation above by THE leading expert in the scientific forecasting rubbishing IPCCs climate models.

    “You write: “I looked at your third link….[Y]ou seem to be assuming that the IPCC is “predicting climate sensitivity”. They are doing no such thing — they are DEDUCING climate sensitivities of various forms based on various forms of evidence. Don’t confuse deduction with prediction.”

    These semantic games are fine points that are differences without a difference in the media, to the public, and to policymakers. They amount to the same assertions to these audiences. The issue for me is that the IPCC claims soundness based upon the fundamental basis for all junk science like ‘silicone breast implant cause autoimmune disorders’ of the late ’90s and 90s – ie, “weight of the evidence” standard. THIS is the ‘standard’ of science I’m criticizing (and AGW skeptics criticize generally).

    It cannot substitute for repeatability, internal and external logical consistency, and falsifiability – ie, traditional canons of scientific legitimacy – which is why IPCC climate ‘science’ works among the converted, but not with scientists outside the eco-wacked alarmist camps, as well as the public (including Italy, interestingly enough) (SEE Lawrence Solomon’s “The Deniers” for further unofficial but widespread annectdotal support for this assertion. But i’ve seen this personally myself among other natural scientists.)

    ….”It’s this kind of gratuitous digression that leads me to suspect that your science is driven by your politics rather than the other way around.” WHY is this real world Bjorn Lomborg “Cool IT!”-style observation “gratuitous” rather than simple real world realism??? Something suspiciously lacking elsewhere in these matters?

    The Truth is that I’m angry at the prostitution (and – yes – prostitutes) of good science! (See Christopher Horner’s “Red Hot Lies” (Nov 2008) for outrageous details on the corruption of climate science, as well as Richard Lindzen’s ERICE seminars paper, August, 2008. Just google it.) Which is a stance that ought to find sympathy in any blog purportedly devoted to science.

    “Waving your hands and declaring “AGW is not falsifiable” isn’t a cogent criticism. You need to be explicit here.” I’m arguing above that it is indeed a decisive Popperian criticism; it moved me and many of those I’m acquainted with. As for “handwaving” to issue is that the shoe is far far too much on the other foot: the IPPC claim on positive temp feedbacks amounts to armwaving (as expert IPCC reviewer Steve McIntyre’s repeatedly attempts to get clarified have met with stonewalling, by Gavin Schmidt, among others, attests to).

    I haven;t even got into the censorship, data-sharing denial (eg,with the Stieg, et al, paper on Antarctic warming-which is only the latest chapter in this too often fraudulent saga), and at documenting sources….I am appalled and ANGRY at this enormous hoax! And the group-think madness that pervades in the real debate that AGW alarmists are losing in spheres informed, interested and public…. Which properly ought to discredit proponents (but alarmists like Gore and Hansen ARe shameless)….so I mock thee….

    ‘Nuff said.

  17. Erasmussimo

    Orson, you are arguing an impossible proposition: that basic physical laws proven in the lab don’t work in the real world. I agree that the real world is much more complicated than the lab, but the whole idea of science is the notion that you can determine basic physical laws by experiment and then apply those laws, with greater or lesser reliability, to the real world. You are arguing that they don’t apply AT ALL:

    But I don’t concede this IN THE REAL WORLD.

    I suggest that we start with the basic physical laws as established in the lab: you can measure absorption coefficients for CO2 and then apply those coefficients to radiative transfer in the atmosphere to get a first-order approximation of the greenhouse effect. Do you deny this elementary physics?

    Spencer’s analysis based on new satellite data (over several years of collection) is less than 0.2C degrees for ACO2 doubling.
    I slogged through Spencer’s paper. At several places its references to spirals and striations in the graphs lose cogency — his arguments strike me as hand-waving rather than rigorous analysis. In any event, Spencer’s paper has not been published and so has not been subjected to peer review and must therefore be dismissed — for the moment — as not providing us with reliable information. Once it’s published, you can use it, but until then, you’re basing your case on speculation.

    YOUR logic of the loop only works IF the postulated water vapor feedbacks the IPPC embraces are found in the real world. The failure to find this through the Greenhouse Fingerprint means a failure to find positive feedback loop. Ergo, AGW fails.

    Wait a minute — I was using YOUR assertions that temperature increases have always produced increases in CO2. Do you now retract those assertions? If not, then we have tw fundamental points on which we agree: that increased CO2 leads to increased temperature, and increased temperature leads to increased CO2. We don’t need to postulate any particular source for the feedback — the observation you provide regarding CO2 lag demonstrates the end result. You could prepare a more detailed analysis of correlations between ancient CO2 and ancient temperature to explore the matter in more detail, but if you don’t want to work out those correlations, then you have no case.

    THIS ‘hard physical’ reality is asserted on measured ocean temps over a decadal basis that are less reliable than land based air temps (which outside of the US are themselves disputed). So this claim of “hardness” is silly.
    This kind of thing leads me to suspect that you have no training in physics. This is all basic physics. The heat capacity of water is 4.19 J/g-ºK. That’s a value that was measured some two hundred years ago. It’s not something that you have to use satellites to prove. It has long since been proven. And we also know that the oceans are mostly water — exactly the same stuff that has the heat capacity of 4.19 J/g-ºK. Again, you don’t need satellites to figure out that oceans are composed of water. This is all extremely basic stuff. So now you need only measure the amount of water in the oceans — satellites won’t help here but fortunately, that number has been measured and we know it to be some 1.4 x 10**24 g. Again, you don’t need to do any grand satellite measurements or complicated calculus. This the kind of problem that kids learn in high school physics: if the heat capacity of water is 4.19 J/g-ºK and the mass of the oceans is 1.4 x 10**24 g, then how much heat would be required to heat the oceans by 1ºK? And all you do is multiply the two numbers together to get the answer, 5.9 x 10**24 J. It’s that simple. Yes, if you want to measure actual ocean temperatures you need to take lots of complicated factors into account, but the basic physics remains unchanged: if you want to increase the temperature of the oceans by 1ºK, it will take 5.9 x 10**24 J.

    I’d like to step back for a moment and explain something important about science. You are apparently (I suspect) a member of that group of people who think that science is all about carrying out complicated measurements to figure things out — and that the measurements are the only thing that matter. That’s horribly wrong. The starting point for all science is the establishment of basic laws and the application of those laws. There’s always THEORY behind the NUMBERS, and if you don’t understand the theory, then you can’t understand the numbers. You seem to think that the amount of energy required to heat the oceans is some complicated measurement that is subject to all sorts of messy considerations that can be used to muddy up the issues. It isn’t. The basics really are simple. The fine points, yes, can get complicated. But when you write that the thermal capacity of the oceans is not a hard physical reality — well, that statement would get you flunked out of a high school physics course.

    You claim that the IPCC reports are empirical failures. From this I draw the conclusion that you do not understand the IPCC reports. They are CLIMATE reports, not WEATHER reports. For the umpteemth time, weather is not climate. The only predictions that they make concern the long-term future. They are very clear that they are not making specific predictions for any specific location or time. They’re talking CLIMATE, not WEATHER. You still don’t seem to get the difference.

    “monotonicity is not part of the AGW hypothesis” True, it needn’t be -but it was a part of AR4 “consensus” case for AGW
    I challenge that claim. Let me be explicit: I claim that you’re lying. Show me the page in the IPCC AR4 report that claims that temperature must show monotonic increase.

    In fact the first money quote from NOAAs Susan Solomon (and co-chair of IPCCs Working Group I – the science section) in the Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera, when AR4 was released in 2007 was “we have improved models.”

    So you argue that “we have improved models” is tantamount to “temperature increases must be monotonic.” Do I need to point out that the only connection between “models” and “monotonicity” is the first two letters of each word?

    But we don’t understand the underlying physical processes.
    This is the third time you’ve made this mistake. As I have twice pointed out, we don’t need to understand the science down to the 23rd significant digit to obtain useful information. This is an old problem that has been long studied; it’s called error analysis. Did you notice all the little “plus or minus” symbols in the IPCC reports? Those are part of the error analysis. You’re thinking in simple-minded black and white terms: either we understand it completely or we don’t understand it at all. The truth is more nuanced: we understand it to a certain degree, and we express that degree of uncertainty with our error bars.

    Your comments on climate models meander over a variety of points: we don’t understand clouds (more black and white thinking); the ability of the models to predict weather at specific locations (sigh: weather is not climate); and the reference to a quote from a Mr. Armstrong which you claim rubbishes the IPCC’s climate models — but the link you provide generates a 404 error. Lots of meandering, but nothing that sticks to the ribs.

    Next, you produce the jaw-dropping claim that there is no difference between a deduction and a prediction. At this, I can only throw my hands up in despair.

    You then argue that it’s not what the IPCC actually wrote that matters, it’s how people like you interpret what they wrote that matters. (“These semantic games are fine points that are differences without a difference in the media, to the public, and to policymakers.”) Again I can only throw my hands up in despair at such statements.

    The issue for me is that the IPCC claims soundness based upon the… “weight of the evidence” standard. THIS is the ‘standard’ of science I’m criticizing (and AGW skeptics criticize generally).
    So you reject the weight of evidence. Instead, you want ” repeatability, internal and external logical consistency, and falsifiability – ie, traditional canons of scientific legitimacy”. I think that you misunderstand the process of scientific reasoning. Yes, repeatability, internal and external logical consistency, and falsifiability are all necessary, but the weight of evidence is ALSO necessary. You are assuming without any justification whatsoever that the science in the IPCC report is not repeatable, inconsistent, and unfalsifiable. I challenge you to back that up. (I’m pretty sure that I know the mistake you’ll make next, but I’d rather let you make the mistake than try to explain it to you in advance.)

    ….”It’s this kind of gratuitous digression that leads me to suspect that your science is driven by your politics rather than the other way around.” WHY is this real world Bjorn Lomborg “Cool IT!”-style observation “gratuitous” rather than simple real world realism???
    It’s not a “Cool it” style observation that I was objecting to. It was the comment about North Korea, insinuating that somehow those who disagree with you are Stalinists. Let’s leave that kind of political nonsense out of this discussion, OK?

    The Truth is that I’m angry at the prostitution (and – yes – prostitutes) of good science!
    You claim that it’s prostitution. I disagree. I maintain that it’s good science. I have challenged you to substantiate your claims. Please, before you leap to vituperation, it would be good to actually make your case.

    I’m arguing above that it is indeed a decisive Popperian criticism;
    This sentence and the paragraph in which it is embedded suffer from a lack of explicitness. What is “it” in the sentence? Does it refer to “my claim that AGW is not falsifiable?” If so, you never made any attempt to justify that claim; you simply declared that AGW is not falsifiable, and then declared that you were right because Popper says that hypotheses must be falsifiable. FIRST make your case that AGW is not falsifiable.

    As for “handwaving” to issue is that the shoe is far far too much on the other foot:
    OK, so you admit that you’re handwaving. I’m not. So instead of blaming other people, why don’t you just stop the handwaving and make your case explicit? You talk ABOUT your arguments but when I ask you to be more specific, you just start pointing the finger at others. Can you be explicit?

    I am appalled and ANGRY at this enormous hoax!

    Fine. Show that it’s a hoax. Give me your arguments. You make lots of claims, but you never follow through. In particular, I’m going to repeat my challenges to you:

    1. Can you justify the assumption of monotonicity?
    2. Do you deny that the physics of CO2 absorption applies in the real world?
    3. Do you retract your earlier claim that previous increases in temperature led to increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere?
    4. Show me the page in the IPCC AR4 report that claims that temperature must show monotonic increase.
    5. Do you argue that “we have improved models” is tantamount to “temperature increases must be monotonic.”
    6. Would you show me what part of the IPCC science is not falsifiable? Please be specific!

  18. Orson

    “Orson, you are arguing an impossible proposition: that basic physical laws proven in the lab don’t work in the real world….”

    But in the real, dynamic world of complex coupled systems like our planet’s climate, the proposition supporting AGW IS a matter of contingent facts.

    Take this chart (SORRY-I see my previous posted link did not take, somehow), summarizing the measured lab effect of ACO2x2 (and x4, in fact)
    http://www.junkscience.com/Greenhouse/co2greenhouse-X4.png

    Since we have gone from about 280ppm to around 390ppm for CO2, the measured temp effects ought to be (if all else is held equal – which it isn’t) about 2/3rds of those at ACO2x2.

    And since the measured temp effects in the real world (I’m counting the US, radiosonde and satellite data – NOT the significantly disputed world-wide measures wherein the IPCC implausibly dismisses UHI and land-use change effects), cannot distinguish this from natural background variability – then the climate sensitivity for ACO2 is proven to be small. The point being that the actual temp record is a noisyt one, and the actual sensitivity of climate to ACO2 is low, if it is distinguishable at all.

    Rather than comforting the environmentally conscious, somehow reccnt cooling trends have launched such True Believers into hysterics like Jim Hansen’s “Death Trains,” and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu into “Coal is my worst nightmare” – statements so hysterical they are self-refuting to sensible people, reached by the evidence.

    Well-it is Friday. And your post is rather (impressively) long….
    I will catch up to you by Sunday or Monday evening. In the meantime, I wan to THAN YOU – Erasmussimo – for persistently engaging me! I am gratified at your thoughtful input and regard. Even if ewe must disagree in the end. THNX.

    TO my mind, the above evidence is also decisive in refuting AGW fears….sooner or later, I will catch up with you again, Erasmussimo!

  19. Erasmussimo

    I am pleased to be able to agree with you on an important point: that the anthropogenic CO2 increases are by themselves insufficient to explain the amount of warming we have already observed. Clearly, there are also feedback mechanisms at work — and I will once again agree with you that our understanding of some of these feedback mechanisms is weak. However, let us not make the mistake of simply declaring that we don’t understand any of them. We understand differing factors to differing degrees. The IPCC AR4 addresses these in various ways in various places, but Chapter 8 is the most pertinent. And the report is quite frank in acknowledging the uncertainties in some of the feedbacks. The most important feedback mechanism is water vapor; the increase in temperature due to CO2 increases in turn increases both the evaporation rate of water from the ocean surface and the capacity of the air to absorb water vapor. With more water vapor in the air, we get a stronger greenhouse effect. They also provide quantitative uncertainties for some of the driving forces, but I am too lazy to dig those up; if you wish, I can take the time to find them.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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