Will the New Congress Subpoena Climate Scientists?

By Chris Mooney | November 22, 2010 9:12 am

This is the full text of an article that I recently reported out, but that didn’t end up at its intended home. I decided to post it here instead.

Multiple investigations over the last year have failed to uncover any serious wrongdoing in the year old “ClimateGate” fiasco over climate researchers’ pilfered emails. Substantively, the matter is dead. But politically is quite another matter—it remains to be seen how long “ClimateGate” can walk the earth as a zombie.

There have already been attempts to reawaken the corpse. Most prominently, Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli launched a harassing investigation of famed climate researcher Michael Mann’s career at the University of Virginia, demanding a wide range of emails and documents. And since the November 2 elections, there have been concerns that the new Republican Congress may join in the rite. Several top House Republicans have indicated that they may want to hold “Climategate” hearings (although more recently, there has been some apparent backing away from this idea).

The question now becomes whether incoming Republicans will follow through on such plans—or if it’s all just a head feint. If they’re serious, they can expect a powerful response from scientists, much like the strong mobilization against Cuccinelli organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Association of University Professors, and many others.

Recently I got the chance to speak with Michael Mann—by far the most attacked climate researcher on the planet—and to ask what he was expecting from the next Congress, and how he might respond. Mann pulled no punches. “I think I speak for the entire scientific community,” he answered, “in saying that if scientists are subject to the sorts of McCarthyite witch hunts that took place during the 1950s, there will I suspect be a very fierce pushback by the scientific community, and by public interest groups that support science.”

That if is critical. Speculation notwithstanding, the climate researchers I’ve spoken with so far—and the advocacy groups most likely to back them up—aren’t making any assumptions about what the new Congress will do.

The next two years will surely feature congressional hearings related to climate change. But they could take various forms, ranging from perfectly legitimate to very disturbing.

One type of hearing would be open minded and informational, calling upon scientists to testify about their federally funded research and its implications. That’s what Congress ought to be doing, and scientists will participate eagerly. “Climate scientists are more than willing, at any time, any place, to explain their science and show their results to anybody that asks,” observes climate modeler Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who along with Mann created the leading climate science website “Real Climate.”

Sadly, that’s not the most likely scenario with this Congress. Far too many of its leading members, like Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, have gone on record with the opinion that modern climate science is not only wrong, but in some way corrupt.

The second type of hearing—much more problematic, but nothing un-heard of—would feature political grandstanding to highlight the pseudo-arguments in favor of global warming denial and attack the administration’s climate policies. It would likely pit a few mainstream scientists against a bevy of climate science skeptics and deniers—a “balanced” treatment of a topic where opinions are anything but balanced within the relevant expert community.

We’ve seen such hearings before—from Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, for instance, when he ran the Environment and Public Works Committee. Similarly, when the Gingrich Republicans took over in 1994, they promptly held show hearings to cast doubt not only on climate research, but also on the evidence suggesting the role of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in depleting the stratospheric ozone layer. (That one doesn’t age well.)

Such hearings would not be an enlightening spectacle; but neither would they necessarily cross the line that scientists and their supporting organizations are drawing when it comes to protecting researchers from harassment, character assassination, and political attacks. That won’t occur unless Congress also attempts to launch gotcha investigations into climate researchers’ work and communications—assuming wrongdoing and then going fishing to catch it. Most disturbingly, this could conceivably include the wielding of congressional subpoena power to compel testimony or pry loose information and documents, such as personal papers or emails.

Should this occur, you’ve long since left behind anything resembling an “appropriate democratic process,” observes Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which strongly backed Mann against Cuccinelli. That’s especially the case in light of the multiple independent inquiries that have failed to charge climate scientists with any behavior outside of the ordinary practices of science.

Just as scientific organizations rallied behind Mann in the wake of Cuccinelli’s probe—and the exceedingly broad informational demands it contained–they would be similarly roused by subpoenas. If anything, the latter could be even more menacing. After all, at least a court could eventually rebuke Cuccinelli for his unjustified investigation—and did so. But it’s doubtful the same could happen to Congress.

“The problem is that the subpoena power is pretty open ended, and there’s nobody that supervises it,” observes environmental law professor Rena Steinzor of the University of Maryland. “Courts don’t supervise it. So there’s no one to run to if they ask you for things that you think are irrelevant or intrusive.”

A congressional subpoena fight could get ugly—but for precisely that reason, it could also backfire for congressional Republicans. They could come off looking like bullies.

The fundamental question thus becomes, with so much on its agenda—like trying to take down “Obamacare”–does the new Congress really want to go there?

I doubt it will be of much relevance to Republicans, but based on my own observations, the climate science community is in an interesting place right now. The outrage over “Climategate,” and over investigations like Cuccinelli’s, is palpable. But at the same time, the community would much prefer to offer earnest scientific information in good faith, rather than getting into political battles. Most of all, climate scientists are engaged in deep internal introspection about where the proper line lies between defending one’s science (which most researchers support) and engaging in political activism for particular parties or policy outcomes (which makes many very uncomfortable).

In this context, the new Congress may—or may not—push the research community in a particular direction. One thing’s certain: If an individual climate researcher like Mann gets targeted, he will find strong backing. “If you put your head above the burm, you takes shots, you’re going to have a huge support network,” says Suffolk County Community College physical scientist Scott Mandia, who has recently worked on forming a “rapid response team” to rebut climate science misinformation. “Everybody’s coming to everybody’s rescue.” [See my recent Point of Inquiry episode with Mandia and fellow scientist John Abraham for more on the Climate Science Rapid Response Team.]

Climate scientists are capable of great solidarity—if needed. The ball is in Congress’s court.

Comments (55)

  1. ChH

    The question “How are you using my constituents’ money?” is always appropriate. If it crosses over into bullying, that’s another matter entirely.

    Also – two questions – Did Ottmar Edenhofer really say this, and if so, do you agree with him?:
    http://www.thegwpf.org/ipcc-news/1877-ipcc-official-climate-policy-is-redistributing-the-worlds-wealth.html

  2. RK

    The “multiple investigations” indirectly referred to at the beginning of your article refers to investigations done by non-neutral parties…its like foxes investigating a break in to the henhouse, and declaring no foxes were involved. I challenge you to bring up an investigative inquiry regarding scientific “climate” bias from a group that was truly neutral on the outcome of the investigation.

    Secondly, the climate debate is asking for the redistribution of TRILLIONS of dollars around the world. An investigation by Congress is entirely appropriate, as the “science” of the debate has been tainted by political interests with a decided left leaning bias, that would welcome “spreading the wealth”.

  3. Secondly, the climate debate is asking for the redistribution of TRILLIONS of dollars around the world.

    And I thought the climate science debate was about the science, you know, the possibility of PETM style methane outgassing on top of the massive spike of atmospheric carbon dioxide, timeframes for ice sheet melting rates, new satellites to more accurately quantify ice sheet volume, rates of ocean acidification, ocean heat content and flows related to Younger Dryas type responses to ice sheet melting, stuff like that. Oh silly me. Carry on with your delusions.

    Mooney is doing a GREAT JOB accommodating you nuts here.

  4. “A congressional subpoena fight could get ugly—but for precisely that reason, it could also backfire for congressional Republicans. They could come off looking like bullies.”

    Based on what I have observed in local politics, those who are the most fervent climate deniers would be the cheerleaders for any bullying from Inhofe, Barton and Co. They would probably stand around and yell, “kick ‘em again”. In the election of 2006, Pete McCloskey and Lew Butler set up The Revolt of the Elders to fight what they perceived as corruption in the Republican Party. It is clear that we still need something of the sort from other long-time figures. I would love to see a follow-up to Sherwood Boehlert’s >WaPo oped, led by Boehlert and McCloskey. Maybe Lincoln Chaffee and Wayne Gilchrest would join. All of those named have show responsible leadership in dealing with ecological issues. McCloskey co-chaired the first Earth Day with Sen. Gaylord Nelson. All have had to deal the rise of the quasi religious fanaticism of the current Republican electorate.

  5. dcwarrior

    hmm, the denier wing of the House Republicans may realize that continuing to hint and doubt may be more effective than calling witnesses – after all, the Democrats and the other Republicans may call their own witnesses to the stand or subpoena the deniers’ witnesses to actually bring forth their own research.

  6. MJ Murphy

    hey RK-about this ‘spreading the wealth’ meme: you mean the super-polluters like Koch? well, please try not to spend too many cycles worrying about the poor little Koch brothers because I assure you they are certainly NOT worrying about you. No tears!

  7. Magoonski

    If it does happen, please for the love of all that is logical, get Mann and anyone else involved a public relations consultant! Too many times the general public doesn’t listen and is put off by “experts.”
    It doesn’t matter how much evidence there is to support climate change, if people don’t understand what the scientists say then they will form their opinions on superfluous things!
    So please be mindful of presence, wording, body language and even looks if this does happen.

  8. Walker

    Secondly, the climate debate is asking for the redistribution of TRILLIONS of dollars around the world.

    Shorter RK: We cannot be expected to pay for the resources that we have been stealing for so long. How will we ever remain in business?

  9. Of course the end is near, haven’t you read the Bible, you heathens?

    Where does lack of respect for science come from?

    So far, one of the few groups in the world to display grotesque arrogance and lack of respect for scientific organizations are the Young-Earth Creationists. YEC’s believe the earth is only 6000 years old when in fact about 40 different lines of scientific evidence all corroborate each other and prove that it’s closer to 4.5 billion years old. As far as the science goes, these folks are off by a factor of 750,000 to 1. It’s like asking someone how far they think the moon is from the earth and they tell you it’s 3 miles away. What’s even more funny is that these folks will argue until the cows come home that the science backs them up.

    The Republican party is inundated with Young-Earth-Creationists who abhor science. Many of them think we should let the earth fall into ruin because then Jesus will come back. Many of them also believe that rules to protect the environment aren’t just wrong, but, evil.

    I’ll give you an example:

    Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is currently campaigning to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year. He’s been on the committee since 1997, and he says he’s “uniquely qualified” for the job. According to the Toronto Star, Shimkus claimed in 2009 that we don’t have to worry about global warming because God promised not to destroy the Earth. Really, I’m not kidding.

    First, he spoke of God’s post-Flood promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21-22:

    “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.

    “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”

    “I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation,” Shimkus said.

    Then he quoted Matthew 24:31:

    “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.”

    “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood,” Shimkus asserted. “I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

    People with such a mindset don’t change their minds readily. It’s going to take a whole lot more than scientific evidence to convince them of anything.

    I’m hoping that some day some of them will actually care a little about what the smartest people on the planet think.

    Read: Talent and Taste
    http://harryhammer.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/talent-and-taste/

    Read: Opinions that Matter
    http://harryhammer.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/opinions-that-matter/

    Read: The Highest IQ in the World
    http://harryhammer.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/the-highest-iq-in-the-world/

  10. Nemesis

    “..have gone on record with the opinion that modern climate science is not only wrong, but in some way corrupt.”

    How would they determine climate science to be corrupt? Is it corrupt because it makes it more difficult for billionaires to get more billions? Do they suspect climate scientists of creating fear for their own monetary gain?

    I don’t understand how attempting to manage natural resources and limit pollution could be a bad thing.

  11. Also – two questions – Did Ottmar Edenhofer really say this, and if so, do you agree with him?

    It would be easier to answer your questions if you let us know what you think he said.

    As for the quote in the title of the post you linked to:

    “Climate Policy Is Redistributing The World’s Wealth”

    You might notice that that “quote” doesn’t occur anywhere in the actual interview.

  12. MJ Murphy

    i am rather looking forward to seeing a posting with ‘they want to take away our guns’ tyranny meme n.4

  13. Mike

    Mann and other climate scientists should be investigated, with rigor. Scientists who recieve public funds are government contractors, and they are subject to the same laws as businesses who deal with the government. Climategate revealed conspiracy to subvert FOIA, delete and alter data, and to rig the peer-review process. The ‘exonerations’ have been conducted by institutions that have much to lose if global warming is shown to be a fraud. Businessmen who recieve government funds who did what the Cimategate frauds did would be in federal prison. Try accepting a government contract, then conspiring to evade FOIA, delete data relevant to your business, and rig the appropriations process, and see how quickly you end up in federal court.

    Mann has nothing to fear if he has been honest. He accepted public money, and has a moral and legal responsibility to answer public questions about how he spent that money. I’m a scientist, and I’d be delighted to present my science in front of Congress. Data, e-mails, all of it. I’ve got nothing to hide. Why are climate scientists so nervous?

    And the part about “a very serious pushback” by the science community- what a joke. Perhaps scientists who object to public accountability will refuse to take public funds. Scientists are in no position to “push back”; we’d be a lot better off if these climate frauds retired anyway.

    I look forward to a public accounting of climate science. Why do climate scientists fear scrutiny?

  14. If Fox News is practicing a journalism of resentment, as Pressthink’s Jay Rosen believes, then a good thing for climate scientists would be to figure out how to push back against the resentment in a way that does not create more resentment. This is particularly true where the resentment is aimed at so called “elites”.

    Video at the link is a little under 15 minutes and best absorbed with a glass of Laphroaig.

  15. Mann and other climate scientists should be investigated, with rigor.

    For what? Practicing scientific methods without a license? Violating their first amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression? Be creative. This should be good.

    Entertain us some more.

  16. Mike

    “For what? Practicing scientific methods without a license? Violating their first amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression? Be creative. This should be good.
    Entertain us some more.”

    When you spend the public’s (i.e. my) money, you damn well need a ‘license’. Your license is the contract you sign when you get a government grant, and it is your commitment to integrity and public accountability. Substitute “business” for “science” in any of this, and the ethics are clear. When you are a public contractor, you have rules of conduct that you have to comply with. You have to have open books, provide honest and candid reports of your dealings, etc.

    When you do science on the public dime, you need to account for the integrity of your work when you are asked to do it by the elected representatives of the public. Just like if you are a business in the NYSE. If the SEC asks you to explain something, you explain it. If Martha Stewart has to do it, so do you.

    Scientists aren’t above accountability. Very serious questions have been asked about Mann’s work. You don’t think they’re serious questions, but unfortunately you don’t get to decide. The people who do get to decide (the American public) did decide, and Mann has some explaining to do. Scientists who don’t want to explain their work to the public have an option: take no public funds.

    An honest scientist would be happy to publicly present his work, and has nothing to hide. A dishonest scientist would… act exactly like Mann, and, like you, Elifritz.
    Get used to scrutiny. Your arrogant attitude only enrages the public, and brings shame on the scientific profession.

  17. Brian

    Instead of bickering and calling names, we could just wait and see what, if anything, actually happens.

    Just a thought.

  18. Sundance

    Anybody receiving public funding should expect to be “audited” period!!!! The government can audit hospitals and doctors who receive government money, unannounced at any time. What makes climate agencies and climate scientists funded by the government so special that they should be excused from any government oversight? If hospitals and doctors don’t like government oversight they can opt out of taking government reimbursement. It should be the same for scientists and agencies that accept government money.

  19. Mike

    I agree with Sundance. This is a matter of routine public accountability. Mann has a responsibility to release all his data/e-mails that are paid for by public funds, for the simplest of reasons: they belong to the public, not him. He has a responsibility to explain his work, under oath. He can plead the 5th, of course, which perhaps what his attorney would recommend. It’s a common defense used by gangsters.

    Scientists are not exempt from public accountability. The fact that they arrogantly demand exemption is pretty clear evidence that they have something to hide. That is all the more reason to demand all of their data and communications. If they have altered data, deleted data for reasons of concealment, conspired to evade FOIA, conspired to rig peer review, they should be prosecuted criminally.

    Because if they do what they did in the Climategate emails, they are criminals. There will be an accounting.

  20. bad Jim

    I think denialists are simply adorable, like three-year-olds.

  21. Chris Mooney

    this item has been reposted on desmogblog. thanks to all for the comments

    http://www.desmogblog.com/will-new-congress-subpoena-climate-scientists

  22. Jack

    Go after all the Climategate scientists for fraud.

  23. ChH

    Jinchi, what I meant is – is the transcript of the interview to which I linked accurate, or has it been disputed or declared a hoax? I’ve looked and have not seen it disputed. For those who missed it, we’re discussing this interview with IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer:
    http://www.thegwpf.org/ipcc-news/1877-ipcc-official-climate-policy-is-redistributing-the-worlds-wealth.html

    If the interview is accurate, Edenhofer’s own words included: “… we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.”
    So … the headline “Climate Policy Is Redistributing The World’s Wealth” is not only accurate, but almost verbatim.

    Other interesting quotes:
    “… If [global emission rights distributed] happens … then Africa will be the big winner, and huge amounts of money will flow there.”

    Now – some of you have said that the developed world “stole” the resources of the developing world, when in fact they were paid hansomly for them. That quote represents theft more than any international purchase of resources does.

    I have nothing against Africa or the people who live there. I mourn that they die by the millions from mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria that the developed world successfully eliminated with DDT, then decided bird shell thickness (or whatever other contrived problem) was more important than those tens of millions of human lives. Hey – maybe that could even help with the overpopulation problem, right??? Makes me SICK! You want to talk about racism or genocide? – let’s start on that topic.
    I also mourn the lack of the rule of law and property rights in Africa. If they had those there, they would not be experiencing such a tragedy of the commons. They would not have seen the decimation of their agricultural production due to events such as Mugabe’s redistribution of farms to his incompetent cronies.
    The answer to what ails Africa is to fix those problems, not to additionally empower such bloodthirsty tyrants.

    And finally: “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore…”
    Edenhofer’s words – not mine.

  24. Jack

    Go after all the climategate scientists; they’re cooking the book and they know. So cry all they want; we want the truth.

  25. Gonzo

    You know, I think the climate science folks are not so concerned about PR and Congress and the like and are focused, you know, on trying to fix the models.

    The more years go through the sands of history’s hour glass, the more obvious it is that we’re still missing some key bits of information in the models. That’s OK, no one ever said the models were perfect, but it needs to be addressed. No amount of foolish Congressional flim-flam would be able to impeach a model that actually was creating data that reasonably predicted yesterday what the climate is doing today.

    Instead, we’ve done the opposite: Dire predictions of catastrophe have been trotted out, with the best of intentions no doubt in order to spur action, but we’re now ten years removed from some of those initial “sky is falling” predictions, we have not turned around folks’ carbon use, but the some of those “oh, too specific” outcomes have been demonstrated as false prophesy. Into this climate, the skeptics can inject a lot of doubt.

    Bottom line: Scientists will, as they ought to, continue working on the models and I have no doubt that in the next decade we will see computing technology and our understanding of the dynamic systems being modeled mature to where we actually get some unassailable data and a very good sense of what is coming.

  26. ThomasL

    ChH -

    Try a link to the actual acrticle: http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/schweiz/klimapolitik_verteilt_das_weltvermoegen_neu_1.8373227.html

    It’s in German. It is also nuanced, so don’t jump to conclusions about what he is saying…

  27. Chris Mooney is a concern troll. Thanks, Chris.

  28. Global warming is a hoax, scaring the people ( THE SKY IS FALLING) so as to get more money allotted into Government funded energy research with big business and private interest in control, dictating the rate in which technology is released and what is made available. I am not saying that trying to go green is a bad thing but when it is controlled by government and private industry with free market and/or private inventors being squashed with a monkey hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil mentality somebody should speak out. I am the perfect example of this, I have tried to get a real fuel savings technology into the market for seven years and every avenue I have traveled has been blocked, thank God for our freedom of speech and the internet. This will be the next thing they attack in an attempt to censor real freedom of information. Douglas Fairburn is my name and natural ventilation systems to reduce drag on vehicles is my game. If every truck in the country saves a 1/10 of a mpg it equates to a million gallons a day in fuel savings.
    When you reduce the drag on a vehicle you reduce the largest amount of parasitic losses and save the most fuel. My device picks up at least 3/10 mpg. See Proof of MPG on my web site!

  29. Jonathan Dickson

    It is obvious to anyone that has actually read the CRU e-mails that the whole ‘climate warming’ scam is just that, a scam. To suggest that is is not is to be in the depths of denial. The amount of attempts to whitewash the stain of Climategate is testament to the truth of the allegations against the so-called ‘scientists’ behind the scam. The truth does not need any whitewash.

  30. hunter

    You journalists covered yourselves in disrepute over this. You refused to interview the skeptics, you enabled the viciousness of the AGW apologists and you decline to critically review climategate.
    Falling back on the so-called investigations in Britain and the one here on Mann as an excuse to claim the case is closed only makes you look more like Pravda and less like free journalists.

  31. TTT

    Chris, it says something about your much-vaunted “communication” and “accommodation” skills when the regular readers of your own site are anti-science denialists who reject not only everything you say, but also the fundamental understandings of facts that led you to say them in the first place. Clearly your tactics haven’t improved communication or understanding, probably because–and this is key–on matters of science and the wholesale rejection thereof, the real problem lies not with the speaker but with the audience.

    You’re being plenty nice and non-confrontational to your resident trolls, but do they understand the greenhouse effect one iota more because of it? Do they walk away from your messages with a BETTER understanding of scientific truths, or the SAME or even WORSE falsehoods than they had when they first encountered you?

    The Gnu Atheists warned you, but you didn’t listen.

  32. R’s will do hearings essentially where the only invite witnesses that agree with them. maybe the D’s will get one witness, but the stage is set…

  33. it says something about your much-vaunted “communication” and “accommodation” skills when the regular readers of your own site are anti-science denialists who reject not only everything you say, but also the fundamental understandings of facts that led you to say them in the first place.

    Don’t confuse the comment section with a cross section of Chris’s readership. Every time he posts on climate he gets a spammed by denialists (usually directed here straight from WUWT). Every time he writes the word “religion” he gets flamed by New Atheists (usually directed here straight from PZ Myers’ site). My guess is that most of them aren’t regular readers and certainly aren’t the people Chris needs to be targeting.

  34. Grok Monster

    When you spend the public’s (i.e. my) money, you damn well need a ‘license’.

    Er … no … you don’t. The government agency responsible for disbursing the funds to ‘contractors’ are responsible for due diligence to see that is was spent correctly. One can surely make the claim that Joe Barton wasn’t exercising due diligence when he contracted Edward Wegman to verify his claim that Michael Mann wasn’t exercising due diligence in satisfying the requirement for his research grants on paleoproxies of past temperature data, when Mann’s work has been verified by every other study besides Wegman’s and Dr. Wegman’s ‘report’ has been clearly demonstrated to have been both plagiarized and fraudulent.

    The people that need to be investigated and criticized are Joe Barton and Edward Wegman.

  35. The truth is, there is no “greenhouse effect” at all.

    http://theendofthemystery.blogspot.com/2010/11/venus-no-greenhouse-effect.html

    The consensus, built over the last 20 years and put forward by the UN IPCC, that says otherwise, is scientifically incompetent. That is the hard reality, that the real “deniers” — those who think consensus means truth — can’t believe, and refuse to investigate. It is not the climate system that is broken, it is the politicized, incompetent science. It is entirely beyond anyone’s power to address it at the root by political argument. The entire science needs to be corrected (as is true of so many powerful institutions today).

  36. TTT

    Harry, do you also blog about cold fusion and perpetual motion machines?

    If there were no such thing as a greenhouse effect at all, life as we know it could never have evolved. The heat-trapping properties of certain gases has been documented in lab experiments for about 150 years. There’s a “consensus” on the existence of the greenhouse effect like there’s a “consensus” on the existence of gravity.

  37. Nullius in Verba

    #40,

    The truth is, “the greenhouse effect” is a real effect, but it is misnamed and poorly explained – it works neither like a greenhouse does, nor in the way that the ignorant commonly claim a greenhouse works when trying to explain it to the general public. Gerlich and Tscheuschner (who you cite) debunked only the simplistic ‘media’ version, which is itself garbled, and which is why their paper didn’t make much sense either.

    The original explanation developed by Fourier 150 years ago (incoming shortwave light passes through and hits the ground, outgoing longwave is blocked by gases in the atmosphere) was shown to be incorrect and the right (but still grossly simplified and approximated) explanation was only developed in the 1970s with the revolutionary work of Manabe and Wetherald. (Fourier’s original was disproved as an explanation for real greenhouses in 1904.)

    Greenhouse gases (primarily water vapour) do have an effect on surface temperature, but as a consequence of their effect on the average altitude of emission to outer space. (And in the case of water vapour, via its effect on the lapse rate.) Convection short-circuits the “trapping” effect.

    So the IPCC does know how it works, but they have chosen not to explain it. This wastes a tremendous amount of effort from people trying to examine their reasoning and arguments, and diverts attention away from the other parts that they genuinely can’t understand or measure – the parts that are controversial. The main reason the IPCC has it wrong (or at the least, dubious) is their estimate of feedback sensitivity, not the basic “greenhouse” mechanism.

    Regarding your Venus calculations, you didn’t include the effect of albedo. Most sunlight is reflected off the clouds of Venus, and never gets absorbed. This results in Venus absorbing even less energy than the Earth. But the two cases are not easily comparable – there are too many other factors different between them (like the lapse rate at that altitude).

    #41,

    I think your reply would work better if you addressed the arguments actually being made. Anyone can get the physics wrong, but it’s only by presenting and examining the details that we can make progress fixing it. That gases can trap heat in the lab doesn’t prove that they do so in the open atmosphere, or that the result is an increase in temperature. If you want to persuade people, you need to take their arguments seriously.

    And consensus is irrelevant to science. The only thing that matters is evidence. (And there is no consensus on gravity either, when it comes to the fine details.)

  38. anon

    To those living under a rock: the Russians opened the archives to discover that a great number of the people brought before HUAC were Communist Party members with identity cards and Party membership numbers.

  39. I suspect that the newly minted GOP controlled US House will hold back as their and their sponsor’s whole strategy revolves around casting doubt and not opposing head on. Casting doubt means that you don’t have to operate in the rational empirical arena where they know they would take a pounding.

  40. Mike, that all sounds good, however, some corporations are now so big that they can manipulate the game. As a result, nothing like capitalism exists anymore.

    Before you call me a communist, I want to state for the record that I’m not in favor of communism, whatsoever. I’m for capitalism, small-scale capitalism, the kind that actually works.

    I’m all in favor of merchants competing for their customers to provide the best service and products, etc.. What I am opposed to is allowing corporations to become so massive that they can boss us around. By “us” I mean everyone.

  41. TTT, one day all of the oil and coal will run out, with or without global warming. That’s one of the facts that makes not dealing with this problem insanely stupid.

    Edison spoke of it:

    “This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of–it is so wasteful. It is just the old, foolish Prometheus idea, and the father of Prometheus was a baboon.”

    “When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy.”

    “Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.”

    “There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen, for it cannot be destroyed.”

    Edison made that strong statement 100 years ago in 1910. About 20 years later, speaking shortly before his death, it became quite apparent that he felt as strongly about the issue as ever:

    “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

    Read: The Edison of Our Age

    http://harryhammer.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/the-edison-of-our-age/

  42. Wm Gross

    It’s a bit naive to think “pure science” can exist apart from economics and politics. I have no doubt that global warming is a fact. What I doubt is the alleged cause of it being CFC’s or any other emissions coming from human activity. Notice I used the word “doubt” – not “reject.” And so, having my doubts, I turn to the scientific community for facts – for reasoned, demonstrable, and repeatable evidences.

    But what I get are conflicting arguments and conjectures based on questionable lab experiments – not questionable because they aren’t valid in the lab; they’re questionable because they don’t take into account world climatology, or how shifting poles may affect the protection of the Van Allen belt, or the natural climatic cycles that are already documented from ice-core samples, or how much volcanic action contributes to the warming effects, etc. Or else I get Al Gore wanting to make himself a gazillionaire by selling me carbon credits – who is HE to be selling them anyway??

    And then comes climate-gate and what appears to be fudging the numbers to produce the desired results; or the U.N. “scientists” are becoming politicized and doing the same thing. My confidence in scientists – NOT in science – is diminished by all this. I’m already cynical about my politicians, and now it looks like – IT APPEARS – that the scientific community is every bit as political and unscientific as my government. It has nothing to do with the reality of it – it has everything to do with the appearance of it.

    I WANT those satellites, and deep-sea temperature probes, and whatever else we need to get the evidence that will draw a direct, undeniable, and measurable correlation between OUR activity as human beings, on a world-wide, real-time basis, and global warming. So far, I haven’t seen that evidence. And being the cynic that I am, I suspect that “green” only means a money-making venture for some greedy speculators and corporations. We might throw trillions at this for the next fifty years only to find out it didn’t make a dent, because it’s just a natural and inescapable cycle.

    The earth always heats up just before an ice age – doesn’t it?? The heat melts the polar caps which spill into the oceans taking down the world-wide temperature by 3 to 5 degrees over a hundred year period, and bingo: ice age. It happens every 10,000 years or so, and every 100,000 years it gets REALLY bad. As I understand it, from the scientific community, we’re at the juncture of both the 10,000 and 100,000 year cycles – or was that just a scientific myth I heard somewhere along the line? If it’s not a myth, can we really hold back those “tides”? (yeah, that’s a visual pun)

    This panic-inducing claptrap about man being the cause of global warming may be all about making money, or maybe a few scientists are seeking their fame and fortune through it, or perhaps it’s ignorance and hysteria run amuck, OR …maybe it’s all true. I dunno. I have doubts, and suspicions. And I can’t find a scientist worth his or her salt that can settle the matter – because if such a scientist existed, and if such scientific proof was available, surely the facts would persuade everyone of the truth of global warming. Wouldn’t they? Or is that actually what’s at issue here? (smile)

  43. Mr. Gross, you may love the oil industry, but, most of the world is fed up with it and so are most Americans.

    In 2006, Gallup published its annual rating of public perceptions of U.S. industry. The oil industry has always been a poor performer, but, this time it came in dead last, earning the lowest rating for any industry in the history of the poll.

    Just a decade ago, oil was selling for about $28 per barrel. Since then, we’ve seen a chain of events lead to the price of oil smashing the $100 mark for the first time ever. Throughout this chain of events we’ve witnessed the masters of the oil industry exercising their influence: through rapidly and ever-increasing oil and gas prices, a lack of viable alternatives, the erosion of democracy, environmental destruction, global warming, violence, and even war. We watched this group crush electric cars and shelve innovation that would have greatly benefited all of mankind. We’ve watched this group demonize Al Gore, which is quite frankly absurd.

    Mr. Gross, are you oblivious to the many negative externalities associated with this industry?

    It seems as though there are two Americas; one for the lobbyists; the special interests, the powerful, the big multinational corporations, and another for everybody else.

    I would just like to go on the record and say that I’m for everybody else.

    John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. Before long, Standard Oil controlled 90 percent of all refining in the United States, 80 percent of the marketing of oil products, a quarter of the country’s total crude output, and produced more than a quarter of the world’s total supply of kerosene. Standard Oil was renowned for both the ruthlessness and the illegality of its business methods. Dozens of court cases were brought against the company, and Standard Oil was broken up by three separate state-level injunctions. It responded by changing states, making federal action necessary.

    In addition to the producers, refiners, and other sellers of oil that Standard Oil bought out, bribed, bullied, or burned down, masses of people across the country were enraged by its exercise of control over their government, which is much like what is happening now.

    Competition laws have existed since the Roman Empire to prevent these things from happening. The problem is that the Republican Party has been working hard to dismantle such logic.

    As a result, Exxon-Mobil became the largest company in the world in 1998 with the merger of Exxon and Mobil. What makes this merger historically significant is that it reunited the two largest parts of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil trust. In 1911, the US Supreme Court declared them guilty of monopolistic practices and broke the company up.

    Exxon-Mobil is responsible for 397 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, more than twice that of the nation’s dirtiest electric utility which accounts for 6.5 percent of America’s climate-warming pollution. As part of its campaign to defeat climate legislation, which the company’s CEO Tillerson claims will “cap economic growth,” Exxon spent $29 million on lobbying in 2008, second only to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And despite vowing to stop its funding of climate denial, it continues to foot the bill for bogus research by right-wing outfits like the Heritage Foundation, which asserts that “growing scientific evidence casts doubt on whether global warming constitutes such a threat.”

    Smarten up Mr. Gross. The poor and soon to be obsolete middle class need your help.

    The billionaires will be just fine on their own.

    Read: Capitalism School

    http://harryhammer.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/capitalism-school/

  44. #40,

    The truth is, “the greenhouse effect” is a real effect, but it is misnamed and poorly explained – it works neither like a greenhouse does, nor in the way that the ignorant commonly claim a greenhouse works when trying to explain it to the general public. Gerlich and Tscheuschner (who you cite) debunked only the simplistic ‘media’ version, which is itself garbled, and which is why their paper didn’t make much sense either.

    The original explanation developed by Fourier 150 years ago (incoming shortwave light passes through and hits the ground, outgoing longwave is blocked by gases in the atmosphere) was shown to be incorrect and the right (but still grossly simplified and approximated) explanation was only developed in the 1970s with the revolutionary work of Manabe and Wetherald. (Fourier’s original was disproved as an explanation for real greenhouses in 1904.)

    Greenhouse gases (primarily water vapour) do have an effect on surface temperature, but as a consequence of their effect on the average altitude of emission to outer space. (And in the case of water vapour, via its effect on the lapse rate.) Convection short-circuits the “trapping” effect.

    So the IPCC does know how it works, but they have chosen not to explain it. This wastes a tremendous amount of effort from people trying to examine their reasoning and arguments, and diverts attention away from the other parts that they genuinely can’t understand or measure – the parts that are controversial. The main reason the IPCC has it wrong (or at the least, dubious) is their estimate of feedback sensitivity, not the basic “greenhouse” mechanism.

    Regarding your Venus calculations, you didn’t include the effect of albedo. Most sunlight is reflected off the clouds of Venus, and never gets absorbed. This results in Venus absorbing even less energy than the Earth. But the two cases are not easily comparable – there are too many other factors different between them (like the lapse rate at that altitude).

    #41,

    I think your reply would work better if you addressed the arguments actually being made. Anyone can get the physics wrong, but it’s only by presenting and examining the details that we can make progress fixing it. That gases can trap heat in the lab doesn’t prove that they do so in the open atmosphere, or that the result is an increase in temperature. If you want to persuade people, you need to take their arguments seriously.

    And consensus is irrelevant to science. The only thing that matters is evidence. (And there is no consensus on gravity either, when it comes to the fine details.)

  45. RickOden

    Q: Why do we think Climate $cience is a scam?

    A: It is the only science that needs a team of lawyers.

  46. Mr. Oden, do you remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

    About 38,000 people were negatively affected by that spill and a jury found Exxon negligent and awarded the plaintiffs $287,000,000 in compensatory damages and $5,000,000,000 in punitive damages. That was 17 years ago.

    Exxon responded by hiring a team of lawyers that have been endlessly appealing both the charges and amount. They spent about $600,000,000 in legal fees, and eventually had the award reduced to about 1/10th of the original.

    They were able to do this despite the fact that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as of 2010, approximately 26,000 gallons of Valdez crude oil remains yet to be cleaned up in Alaska’s sand and soil.

    Climate scientists need a team of lawyers to deal with these scoundrels, otherwise they’ll get chewed up and spit out like a gob of tobacco.

  47. By the way, every worker that helped clean up the Valdez spill is now dead.

    That’s right, dead.

    Apparently the “toxic soup” of oil, methane, benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases killed them all.

    The average life expectancy of the volunteers was 51.

    The big oil mob has been arguing that the people of Valdez are better off on account of the spill.

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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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