George Will: Uncheckable?

By Carl Zimmer | December 6, 2009 1:45 pm

Long-time readers of this blog will be aware of my Ahab-like obsession with George Will’s global warming errors in the Washington Post–and the Post’s hollow claims to have carefully fact-checked him. I confess that I’ve let a couple of his more recent columns slip by. But I had to stop to blog about his latest take on global warming, in which he jumps on the recently stolen emails among climate scientists. He does a remarkable job of making no sense at all.

In case you haven’t followed it, somebody stole thousands of private emails from the University of East Anglia, where the Climate Research Unit gathers and analyzes climate data. Suspicions are turning to Russian hackers, but there’s been no official word about who did it. The emails ended up on the Internet, and have become a big deal. The University of East Anglia, for example, is investigating both the theft itself and the accusations that have been leveled against UAE scientists as a result.

There’s been a huge amount of stuff published in newspapers and on blogs in the two weeks since the theft. I recommend a piece in Popular Mechanics by a geochemist at Columbia named Peter Keleman. Keleman carefully distinguishes between the possible ethical issues raised in the emails and where this controversy leaves the science of climate change.

Unfortunately, pieces like Keleman’s are not stopping the spread of myths that promote the notion that global warming is a fiction generated by a global (and centuries-old!) conspiracy. For example, US congressmen are claiming that the emails reveal a campaign of suppression that included the firing of the editor of a journal called Climate Research after the publication of a “skeptical” paper. Actually, the editor-in-chief resigned in protest over the paper, which he considered flawed, as well as the publisher’s unwillingness to let him write an editorial about that. (Three other editors resigned at the same time.)

George Will gets on the bandwagon, too, in his latest piece. He tries to fold the news about the email theft into his favorite errors, like the one about how global warming actually “stopped” in 1998, because 1998 was warmer than any other year since. He seizes on one email for his opportunity.

A CRU e-mail says: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment” — this “moment” is in its second decade — “and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Will has put himself in a bind. He loves to tell us that it’s been over ten years that there has been no global warming. In an earlier column, he invoked the World Meteorological Organization as his source, linking to this document (pdf). But the climate record they show (on page 4) is the handiwork of none other than the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the epicenter of those wretched climate scientists who, Will assures us, “compound their delusions of intellectual adequacy with messiah complexes.” If you look at analyses produced by other groups, 1998 does not appear as the warmest year on record–instead, it is much more recent. In NASA’s analysis, it’s 2006. The difference lies, in part, in the weather stations included in the analyses.

Will cannot have it both ways. He cannot pretend to speak with authority about the history of climate, but rely on people he considers cranks as authorities on that history.

None other than the Secretary General of Will’s beloved World Meteorological Organization himself wrote to the Post in March to explain why Will’s fixation on 1998 was misleading:

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column ["Dark Green Doomsayers," George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

The difference between climate variability and climate change is critical, not just for scientists or those engaging in policy debates about warming. Just as one cold snap does not change the global warming trend, one heat wave does not reinforce it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Evidence of global warming has been documented in widespread decreases in snow cover, sea ice and glaciers. The 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years.

The difference between long-term and short-term patterns was actually at the heart of the email Will quotes. Kevin Trenberth of National Center for Atmospheric Research was writing in reference to a paper (pdf) he recently published in which he wrote that, while the long-term trend in global warming is clear, scientists ought to try to monitor short-term variability more closely to understand its sources. In other words, Trenberth was not  part of a conspiracy to hide some embarrassing facts about the climate history. He was writing about it in public, and proposing ways to move the science forward.

I have no idea if Will was even aware that Trenberth wrote the email, let alone bothered to read the paper to get some context. But a fact-checker definitely should have, and should have raised a host of red flags.

Comments (45)

  1. Eric Barnes

    Discover is such a rag for posting this dissembling nonsense. The AGW crowd can’t even recognize their own biases.
    The claim that get’s people up in arms is that the earth is going to warm catastrophically. *None* of the GCM’s predicted the last 11 years, and yet the public is just supposed to take it on faith that unscientific GCM’s are dead on about the climate. GCM’s can’t predict how cloud’s form, have to assume a positive feedback to CO2 to get catastrophic warming, etc. etc. Yet, this is never reported. Yes, we’ve heard your long term vs. short term gibberish before and I for one am sick of it. Try to come up with a compelling argument for spending trillions of dollars to fight Climate Change. Try not to muddy the issue. Discover, could you please quit advocating one side of a complex, controversial issue?

  2. Badger3k

    Fact-Checker? At the Washington Post? They’ve never done that in the past, why should they start now?

  3. Eric Barnes

    The claim that get’s people up in arms is that the earth is going to warm catastrophically. *None* of the GCM’s predicted the last 11 years, and yet the public is just supposed to take it on faith that unscientific GCM’s are dead on about the climate. GCM’s can’t predict how cloud’s form, have to assume a positive feedback to CO2 to get catastrophic warming, etc. etc. Yet, this is never reported. Yes, we’ve heard your long term vs. short term gibberish before and I for one am sick of it. Try to come up with a compelling argument for spending trillions of dollars to fight Climate Change. Try not to muddy the issue. Discover, could you please quit advocating one side of a complex, controversial issue?

    [CZ: Your sickness is not an argument about the issue I have been raising.]

  4. Eric Barnes

    [CZ: Your sickness is not an argument about the issue I have been raising.]

    That’s right. When you can’t argue facts, ad hominem will do. Nice job.

  5. Justanother Christian

    AGW is indeed fiction as was AGC in the early seventees. It’s all about money. So-called scientists need fear to generate money for grants and subsidies. Gore needs the same fear so his carbon credit company will make him millions if not billions. What’s at stake here is the credibility of science.

    [CZ: NB--Nowhere in this comment appears the name, "George Will."]

  6. FastEddie

    The only thing about this incident which bothers me is that some scientists may have been suppressing data and results they did not like. The scientific process simply cannot tolerate this.

    However, none of this has had any effect on my views of the reality of global warming. Glaciers and polar ice sheets are still melting, growing seasons are still getting longer, and tropical plants are still creeping into temperate zones. Just because some idiot at East Anglia deleted a data set does not restore glaciers to their state 50 or 100 years ago.

  7. Cameron

    For a compelling argument, try reading the IPCC reports.

  8. When you can’t argue facts, ad hominem will do.

    You mean like referring to Discover as a ‘rag’?

    I didn’t see any facts presented in your argument. I probably wouldn’t have been as kind as Carl, and might have just summarily deleted your comments.

    [CZ: I don't delete comments, except for case of spam, over-the-top obscenity, and other egregious stuff. I do try to respond when I have the time, but I usually only manage to get back to a low percentage of commenters. More on comment policy here.]

  9. Eric Barnes

    Orboros: I didn’t see any facts presented in your argument. I probably wouldn’t have been as kind as Carl, and might have just summarily deleted your comments.

    It could be because that you don’t recognize the facts presented to you.

    1. *None* of the GCM’s predicted the last 11 years.
    This is a fact. Go look at the predictions in IPCC AR4.

    2. GCM’s can’t predict how cloud’s form.
    This is another well known fact. The amount of cloud cover is an assumed constant. Go check the models referenced in IPCC AR4.

    3. You, have to assume a positive feedback to CO2 to get catastrophic warming.
    Another fact. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I think the most a doubling of C02 can warm the earth is about 1 degree C. The catastrophic warming scenarios get to 7-11 degrees by assuming a positive water vapor feedback. There is no proof of this. Check out Dr. Roy Spencer’s site for more information on this if you wish.

    I’m sorry about the “rag” comment. I do regret that statement. I don’t regret cancelling my subsription to Discover.

  10. 1) I don’t need the GCM’s to predict the past. I assume you are referring to Global Climate Models, even as I’m not 100% certain. If you want these things to be considered “facts” you need to define your terms and not use jargon if possible.

    2) If I was a grammar nazi, I’d criticize the apostrophes as neither use is possessive. I’ve had many conversations with a scientist who studies clouds. We’ve discussed a variety of issues related to the challenges of creating accurate models (which isn’t his field really, except insofar as having accurate temperature and humidity measurements ultimately improves the inputs to such models).

    3) I believe that there are a very wide variety of factors influencing climate today. I think human impacts on albedo are non-zero. I think human influences of methane from ranching are also significant. In my state, I see that fire suppression has created unhealthy forests and as a result, the bark beetle is devastating them. Those carbon sinks are becoming carbon sources. That fire suppression has, over the long term, contributed to its own discrete form of anthropogenic warming. CO2 is just one small piece of a much larger picture. In addition to facing the lost of most of the pine trees in the Rocky Mountains, our aspen are also dying of a stress-related blight that isn’t fully understood. I’m not sure how many native trees will be left in this state in another decade. The damage is already staggering. I’d invite you to take a drive on I-70 across the Continental Divide if you want to see something shocking and heart-wrenching. The forests in my ecosystem are dying. I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to fix them at this point.

    The acidification of the oceans creates even more cause for alarm. Whether human CO2 emissions are directly responsible for much or all of the warming is debatable, but the acidification poses its own set of problems that requires separate consideration (and is very difficult to understand since there are synergistic effects – warmer oceans absorb less CO2 which in theory, creates more warming, but by virtue of increasing atmospheric CO2 should still cause increased absorption).

  11. P.S. The reason I’m not a grammar nazi is that I screwed it up myself. :@

    I do appreciate that apology. I believe that the views of this blog are Carl’s and not Discover’s.

    (There, two successful use of apostrophes to indicate possession).

  12. XQZME

    Four agencies have been officially designated to monitor and maintain global temperature records. These are NASA GISS; RSS MSU; UAH AMSU; HADLEY. A superposition of the global temperatures they have recorded since 2002 shows global temperature have declined. See
    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/monckton-global_warming_has_stopped.pdf

    [CZ: Where are the detailed methods for this superposition published so that I can see whether they're legitimate or not? Certainly not in the link you supplied. Even if this was accurate, it doesn't address my point about short-term variability and long-term trends]

    The earth has cooled for 11 years and will cool for another 20 years before warming for 30 years just as it has for the two previous 60 year cycles independent of increasing green house gasses.
    http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/GW_Summary.htm

    [CZ: I have no idea who wrote that web site, but whoever it was didn't describe the evidence for global warming accurately, leaving out, for starters, the long-wave absorption of carbon dioxide. The site offers no published evidence for a 60 year cycle, simply cutting and pasting two parts of the climate record without explaining why the overall trend has increased in a way that natural forcing cannot account for.]

    It was warmer than now for hundreds of years during both the Medieval and Roman Warm periods. Global temperatures are now recovering from the Little Ice Age that started about 1350.
    http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/GW_Summary.htm

    [CZ: Recovering from what, exactly? Why? There are no answers on the site you linked to, just an assertion. It doesn't address the very regionalized pattern of the "Little Ice Age." And it still doesn't explain where the radiative forcing of dramatically increased greenhouse gases are going. Computer models explain many of these patterns based on solar activity and other natural fluctuations, but don't for recent decades without anthropogenic CO2]

    Analysis of climate records from various sources for millions of years reveals that CO2 increases always follows global warming and never precedes it. Therefore CO2 has never caused any of the many Global Warming periods.

    [CZ: No source at all? What's a fact-checker to do? Any ideas about what drives the warming in interglacials if it's not the dramatic increase of carbon dioxide, which is known to be a heat-trapping gas? Orbital fluctuations, etc., don't show evidence of being enough. Here's one of many studies supporting CO2's role in climate (specifically as being important for the advances of ice sheets).]

    IAW the 2007 IPCC report, the DOE, the EPA, several universities and independent climatologists, global warming contribution are as follows:
    99.72% of GW is natural
    Only 0.117% is from man-made CO2
    http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    [CZ: The calculations on this site don't make sense. The site does not offer a source, for example, for the claim that water has 95% of the "Relative Contribution to the 'Greenhouse Effect.'" Climate scientists have recognized for decades that water vapor is an important greenhouse gas. The latest (scientific) estimates are that water vapor is responsible for 36-70% of the natural greenhouse effect on Earth, carbon dioxide 9-26%, and smaller figures for other gases. Water vapor goes in and out of the atmosphere very quickly, and humidity increases at higher temperatures. In other words, it is a feedback on climate, not a forcing. Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases have been increasing over the past couple centuries, and carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. So it has had a substantial effect on the balance of energy in the atmosphere.]

    [CZ (again): All those links, and nary a mention of George Will, the actual subject of the post.]

  13. Wil

    I do not want to put words in his mouth, but I think that some of George Will’s negative reaction to the leaked e-mails is caused by the response to the e-mails from believers of man-made global warming.

    Reasonable people would have liked to have heard believers of man-made global warming say something like: “Wow. We need to investigate and clean up some of the climate scientists, as well as the raw data and models. Then we can scientifically prove to any and all doubters that man-made global warming is real. We are so certain of our position that we welcome close scrutiny. When everybody is on board, then we can ask them to pay trillions of dollars (collectively) worth of higher taxes and higher prices.”

    Instead, the response from many of the believers has been: “We are right and you are wrong, stupid, mean assho–s. There is no need to investigate anything or anyone. Just shut up and hand over your money, indefinitely, and submit to the world climate government that will be set up soon”.

    This kind of response makes people even more suspicious, and it destroys trust like a blowtorch melts ice. It is completely okay that reasonable people ask how we know that it is CO2, and not any other factor in heaven or earth, that might be causing long term global warming. And it is okay to ask whether we are SURE that a long term warming is happening at all, and not something with a 20 year cycle, a 50 year cycle, a 150 year cycle, or something else.

    I guess I am speculating that Mr. Will would not be so draconian on this topic if he sensed that the believers wanted to have the normal scientific method applied to climate research, instead of being cheerleaders and defenders of scientists who obviously should be fired, banned from future involvement, sued, and possibly jailed.

    [CZ: Speculating about why someone's mad or not is beside the point, and doesn't actually help in terms of making sure information is reported accurately.]

  14. Will and others keep repeating these same arguments again and again. All these arguments have been refuted by knowledgeable scientists dozens of times. Yet they keep repeating them, and never substantively respond to the refutations, and almost never cite any actual data in context. And now these are the same people who are shocked — shocked! — that real scientists might have sexed up their charts to make the data more compelling — actual data. Will and others are at worst knowingly lying about these matters, or are at best simply indifferent to the facts of the matter. But the facts are what is really happening. Reality is not subject to opinion. And the facts, the real world, will kill everyone who is indifferent to it. To lie about the facts of a matter of life and death is tantamount to committing murder. To be indifferent to the facts of a matter of life and death is tantamount to condoning murder.

  15. Stitch

    Re: Washington Posts’ fact checking

    They recently published a story about a Public Enemy song, calling it 9/11 is a Joke. The song came out in 1990. It’s about 911, not Sept. 11. It took a few weeks to catch the error.

  16. “But a fact-checker definitely should have, and should have raised a host of red flags.”

    They would have but all the spare red flags in the world are currently deployed around HadleyCRU and the frauds and fact-manipulation there. None to spare for Will this week.

  17. I guess I am speculating that Mr. Will would not be so draconian on this topic if he sensed that the believers wanted to have the normal scientific method applied to climate research, instead of being cheerleaders and defenders of scientists who obviously should be fired, banned from future involvement, sued, and possibly jailed.

    There are so many different ways to interpret everything that has been published so far. I see some of it as an interdisciplinary squabble. I think geologists are predisposed to disbelief of anthropogenic causes for two reasons:

    1) They aren’t climate experts and look at the earth in very different terms.

    2) They often tend to be employed by extractive industries who stand to lose from the science.

    #2 gets me a lot of flack, as it is a “situational ad hominem” I’m told. The climate science alarmists also have financial benefit. But it isn’t the same magnitude. There are a lot more geology jobs on the line if fossil fuels are indicted.

    That said, I want the geologists included in the largest terms of the debate and believe their views are vital, even when they are backed by industry. As long as the bias is acknowledged, their views should be given weight.

    I’ve collected some links as I’ve thought about the largest issues of science and public policy in light of this “scandal”. These are in no particular order:

    The Relativity of Wrong by Isaac Asimov.

    The Sensuous Curmudgeon is my favorite “new” blogger on science. So many of the climate change skeptics/deniers turn out to also be: 9/11 “truthers”, holocaust deniers, vaccine fear-mongers, and creationism proponents. That said, there is also much more respectable dissent that hasn’t always been acknowledged as it should be.

    Roger Pielke Jr. is one “skeptic” whose blog I appreciate. I found his blog as I was starting to research some of the supposed 450 papers skeptical of anthropogenic causes. Roger took exception to the inclusion of his work on that list.

    There was another time in our history when science was suspected of conspiracy:

    Antifluoridationists ignored logical fallacies and skewed evidence in order to create a conspiracy that predated the endorsement of fluoridation….. Like other ex-Communists, Goff may have written a partially untrue statement condemning fluoridation in exchange for money. But despite his questionable credibility, opponents heavily emphasized Goff’s statement, thus showing that the existence of the conspiracy was more important than the evidence supporting it.

    Quote Mining Code is an excellent analysis of a small piece of IDL code that is called into question in this case. I have a friend who writes IDL, and learned about an open-source implementation as a result of this blog.

    The Mountains that Froze the World – how geology can alter climate (the original story is now restricted and this unauthorized reprint will probably disappear sooner or later).

    Atmospheric Tides Trigger Landslides at Night – climate and weather also influence geology.

    I’ve got yet more excellent links, but I’m definitely over quota now.

  18. Responding to Eric Barnes and George Will:

    George Will wrote: “Skeptics doubt that the scientists’ models, which cannot explain the present, infallibly map the distant future.”

    Eric Barnes wrote here: “I don’t remember the exact amount, but I think the most a doubling of C02 can warm the earth is about 1 degree C. The catastrophic warming scenarios get to 7-11 degrees by assuming a positive water vapor feedback. There is no proof of this. Check out Dr. Roy Spencer’s site for more information on this if you wish.”

    And if you wish to get some actual science, check out December’s Journal of Climate. It will be obvious why — to anyone who actually knows what to look for.

  19. It is sad that the Journal of Climate doesn’t seem very open to the casual reader. I’m personally willing to wade in far over my head. If there’s something of interest that requires doing more background research, I will do that when it is important. I’d pay something to a trade organization to give me access to the journals as an amateur. I’d be willing to pony up at least $50/year membership and $1/article. Maybe even $2-3/article, if I could pre-pay in $10 increments. But I’d want basic access to journals in all the disciplines.

    Otherwise, I just move on and look for something else that is more accessible. I can’t afford every subscription I’d like. One paper that I may have to really work hard to read is worth only a few dollars at most.

    P.S. I meant to also include the link to NOVA’s special on global dimming in my last post. Cleaning up our energy production may actually amplify the anthropogenic effects, but that is NOT an excuse for Business as Usual.

  20. Urstoff

    The root of climate change opponents seems to be simply an argumentum ad consequentiam. They want to deny man-made climate change because of the (political, economic) consequences of it being true. Unfortunately that’s a bit of a false dichotomy, but one that’s been encouraged because there’s been little public debate about priorities among those who accept the fact of man-made climate change. The question isn’t what should we do about it, but rather should we do anything about it? The answer to this seems to have been universally assumed to be yes (accept for the occasional dissenting voice such as Bjorn Lomborg), but it seems to me that we should take a closer look at this question. I recall reading an editorial in nature that said we must act because beyond a certain rise in temperatures we have no idea what would happen. That’s making decisions off of unquantified probabilities, hardly a good guide for policy.

    So of course man-made climate change is real. Any layman should accept the scientific consensus on it. But policy decisions are not a scientific matter. Scientists can give the ecological tradeoffs involved in policy decisions, but economists give us the economic tradeoffs. All must be weighed against all, and unfortunately the histrionics of climate change deniers mask the real discussion that needs to take place.

  21. Michael

    Let’s not confuse ‘green’ with man-made global warming. I’m a green avocate, but the idea that humans are significantly affecting the world climate is nonsense to me.

    Neither George Will nor Albert Gore are noted as scientific thinkers, so their opinions should should be considered in their opposing political contexts.

    The IPCC predictions have virtually all been proven to be in error, as the average global temperature continues to fall, sea levels don’t rise, and most glaciers in the northern hemisphere are growing, not melting.

    It is interesting that these documented, measureable facts have no bearing on the lemming-like attitudes of the global warming alarmists.

    The fact that so many who are true believers are on the left, and many who doubt are on the right, has added a very unfortunate political element into the debate. This pollitical element has tainted the discourse beyond repair.

  22. Ah, but is average global temperature our only measure? I’m not sure that your statement is correct and there is new data imminent. So I suspect that you seem to have your own set of ideological blinders when looking at the evidence.

    Here are a couple other relevant links:

    Record High Temperatures Far Outpace Record Lows Across U.S.

    NOAA: Global Ocean Surface Temperature Warmest on Record for June

    NOAA: Warmest Global Ocean Surface Temperatures on Record for July</A.

    The warming oceans are cause for serious concern. Water holds heat much longer than air does. Warming is directly implicated in the death of coral by bleaching. They are often thought of as the “rainforests of the oceans” and all the major extinction events on earth were punctuated by millions of years without living reefs.

    Sharks are being spotted in the Atlantic for the first time. I guess that marine biologists are in on the “fix” too eh? Likewise for all those faked stories of Jellyfish populations booming in warm waters. There are even Japanese fisherman who are in on the big global warming conspiracy and who sank their own boat and blamed it on a giant Jellyfish.

    In the end, it may not matter if the changing climate is only partially caused by human industry. It is indisputably changing and we are going to have to deal with those consequences either way. Common sense says that since C02 is a known greenhouse gas, we probably have a notable effect given the 24x7x365 fossil fuel combustion that has been occurring intensively for the last century.

  23. Michael- Is average global temperature our only measure? I’m not sure that your statement is correct and there is new data imminent. So I suspect that you seem to have your own set of ideological blinders when looking at the evidence.

    Here are a couple other relevant links:

    Record High Temperatures Far Outpace Record Lows Across U.S.

    NOAA: Global Ocean Surface Temperature Warmest on Record for June

    NOAA: Warmest Global Ocean Surface Temperatures on Record for July

    The warming oceans are cause for serious concern. Water holds heat much longer than air does. Warming is directly implicated in the death of coral by bleaching. They are often thought of as the “rainforests of the oceans” and all the major extinction events on earth were punctuated by millions of years without living reefs.

    Sharks are being spotted in the Atlantic for the first time. I guess that marine biologists are in on the “fix” too eh? Likewise for all those faked stories of Jellyfish populations booming in warm waters. There are even Japanese fisherman who are in on the big global warming conspiracy and who sank their own boat and blamed it on a giant Jellyfish.

    In the end, it may not matter if the changing climate is only partially caused by human industry. It is indisputably changing and we are going to have to deal with those consequences either way. Common sense says that since C02 is a known greenhouse gas, we probably have a notable effect given the 24x7x365 fossil fuel combustion that has been occurring intensively for the last century.

    Carl, I made one small mistake on the previous comment. Would you please delete it? A missing HTML close tag caused truncation of a paragraph.

  24. One last link for now on the larger subject of the CRU thefts vs established science:

    Consensus and controversy: Which makes the news?

  25. Jud

    michael writes: [M]ost glaciers in the northern hemisphere are growing, not melting.”

    I suppose then that James Balog must be visiting all the exceptions to your “rule.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/extremeice/melt.html And that the Columbia Icefield, which I personally have seen shrink to an astonishing extent over a 15-year period, must be some sort of local hot-spot, eh?

    Why you would choose to state untruths that are so easily refuted is beyond me. I hope I speak for your legions of fans when I ask that next time you make it a much greater challenge for us to tell you are lying.

  26. Carl: The issue of non-CRU peer-reviewed papers has arisen at your old bailiwick, bhTV – we miss you!

    http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showpost.php?p=141546&postcount=1

    Can you offer some peer-reviewed papers supporting climate change that are not associated with CRU?

  27. Greg Peterson

    I am in no way qualified to talk about climate science as such, but after seeing this sort of “debate” played out in other arenas, I have an opinion about something related to the issue. It has to do with the confusion of “believing in” something versus being provisionally convinced of a position by what appears to be an inference to the best explanation. Often I see what appear to be religious types using the language of faith in discussions like this, and they seem to think that science operates similar to their special “way of knowing,” where things like feelings, arguments to authority, and starting with the answer and then interpreting the facts in the light of the conclusion desired are fairly common. Look, I don’t want man-made global warming to be true. I’d LOVE to find credible reasons not to worry about the carbon footprint of my coffee habit and toasty Minnesota home and travel by jet. Not to mention my grave concern for what some predictions might mean for my adult children and their kids. I don’t have an agenda; I’m politically pretty moderate and have no interest in one-world governments or any of that “Left Behind”-inspired stuff. I just think, based on what I have read, based on what the consensus of the elite experts in the field are saying, that human-caused climate change is likely.

    And here’s what makes that seem not-crazy to me: We have taken a chunk of the carbon that was locked up in solids and liquids from periods of many thousands of years and released it as a gas into the atmosphere within decades. I don’t see how that could BUT throw off the climate’s balance. Now, I realize that sometimes things that are entirely intuitive are also desperately wrong, and I am open to that possibility. But sometimes, when people try to convice you, for example, that sucking smoke into your lungs ever day over a prolong period will have no impact on your health, for example, I think it’s fair to step back and say, “Really? Because that’s the kind of thing that seems, I don’t know…really hard to accept.”

    I see the cars lined up for miles as I fly into Chicago, Miami, Houston, and the factories and huge islands of light, and I just think, “Is it reasonable to think that all of this is having no effect?” It’s true that the precise effect might be difficult to predict or even to measure, but I don’t think it’s stupid to assume that it’ll do something. Even as a non-expert I feel safe having that low level opinion.

    But I’ll go one step further: It amazes that anyone would argue for using more fossil fuels. Climate change aside, we have paid a heavy price for fossil fuels, and we simply must transition to something else eventually. Is the threat of global climate change–even if it is not the “sun-is-rising-tomorrow” certainty that some “skeptics” pretend to demand–not a timely motivator for us to seek other sources of energy for their own sake?

  28. Cameron

    Joseph, check the references of IPCC 2007 Reports for independent research not associated with the CRU, or the recently released Copenhagen Diagnosis.

  29. David B. Benson

    First of all, read the summary of the 1979 Charney et al. NAS/NRC report on CO2 and climate:
    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12181&page=1
    to note that essentially nothing has changed in the subsequent 30 years of reasearch. So long before CRU even existed, in the days when very few even had e-mail, that aspect of the science was known to (a;most) modern precision.

    So a better take on the matter is that we have wasted those three decades in not moving away from burning fossil fuels; the science is just the laws of thermodynamics and the radiative properties of CO2 and water vapor.

    Now I would hope that even George Will could manage to understand that summary; it is just not that hard to read. Try it yourself.

  30. David B. Benson

    Second of all, the global temperatures do indeed continue to rise. Statistician Tamino explains this thoroughly and simply:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/riddle-me-this/
    which is precisely what even the simple Arrhenius equation predicts.

    I fear at this point I begin to question even the basic sanity of many of my fellow citizens.

  31. Evil Merodach

    As for “GCM”s not predicting the last 11 years, I wasn’t aware that climatologists were able to make climate predictions with such granularity.

    1998 was an unusually warm El Nino event. The years following 1998 were characterized by La Nina and the Solar Minimum. Factor in Mt Pinatubo belching 20E6 metric tons of SO2 in 1991 and there has to be some cooling, most of it not predictable by any climate model. So, yes, the years immediately after 1998 were cooler, but they were still warm compared to previous years.

    Despite this “cooling”, the last decade is still shaping up to be one of the hottest, if not THE hottest, on record.

  32. Carl Z. brings up a point I noted when this whole kerbubble started.

    For the past … oh … five years, folks like Will have been pointing to the CRU and NASA and other temperature records and claiming they show a decline in global average temperature since the peak El Nino year of 1998. Now, Will et al. are claiming the same temperature data set has been manipulated to show a warming trend.

    Folks, you can’t use the same dataset you declare fraudulent as your proof that the planet is cooling, not warming.

    Well, if you’re sane and not mendacious, that is.

    As my wife says, it can’t have happened both ways.

  33. Jim Kelly

    Mr. Barnes -

    You’re alienating a substantial portion of your readership by egregious misuse of apostrophes. While it seems no one at the WashPost dares question George Will’s faulty logic, at least they have copy editors to make sure his columns are properly punctuated.

  34. tom shereman

    this whole debate about global warming is irrelevant. we will need a wordwide depression to prevent environmental diaster from all causes in general anyway even if gb was not occurring. something i published in a letter to the editor in 1974.

    george will is an idiot anyway. if he is this dumb in the present it would be interesting to research any comments he made about the e movement from its start. for example say per rachel carson, or per the club of rome etc

  35. tom shereman

    i would say most of u may be as dumb as will in bothering to argue the gw facts against him. c #44

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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