by Judith Curry

While my goal is to build bridges, I realize that there is no hope of eliminating disagreement on the climate change issue. Does this mean that we are we forever are doomed (Anthony Watts once referred to it as the world’s longest monopoly game), or do we have some chance of dealing with this issue and the risks it presents in a sensible way?

The previous thread clearly illustrates the disagreement about the topic of climate change, a disagreement that has many dimensions.  Mike Hulme provides a fascinating analysis of why we disagree about climate change.   I’ve argued that we need to embrace the uncertainty and complexity monsters; we also need to accept the disagreement.

This post on disagreement sets the stage for the forthcoming series on decision making under climate uncertainty.

Climate hawks and doves

David Roberts at Grist has done something very interesting, he has collapsed the disagreement into two dimensions. Roberts develops the idea of climate hawks and doves. An excerpt from Roberts’ piece:

“The hawk/dove distinction — on climate as on foreign policy or the deficit — is about more than facts. It’s about risk assessment. How serious is the threat and how strong a response is warranted? Answering those questions goes beyond facts into economic, ethical, and policy judgments. It’s not about what to believe, it’s about what to do.”

To help get clear about this, let’s do a crude exercise. Here are two positions on climate change science:

1. Climate science shows that climate change is a serious, pressing threat.

2. Climate science is uncertain and the risks of climate change are distant and highly speculative (or climate change is a big hoax).

Here are two positions on climate and clean energy policy:

A. Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy will be socially and economically beneficial: it will save consumers money, increase the nation’s energy security, and create jobs.

B. Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy will be prohibitively costly: it will cost consumers money, decrease energy security, and destroy jobs.

You can now see four distinct positions:

1A. Climate hawk.
1B. Climate hawk or dove (depending which is judged higher, the threat or the costs).
2A. Climate hawk.
2B. Climate dove.

Of course this is reductive: there are many positions on the spectrum between 1 and 2, and between A and B, and thus there are many nuanced positions along the climate hawk/dove spectrum. Climate hawks will have divergent views about the science, as will doves.

Point is: the hawk/dove spectrum implies nothing in particular about one’s scientific views. It is supposed to capture where you come out after weighing the risks, no matter what you think the respective risks are.”

The implication is that uncertainty in the science isn’t a big driver for the policy choice between A and B.  We can acknowledge the uncertainty and that there are diverse opinions about the science, and get on with A and B which are political decisions.

If we can switch the debate over energy and climate policy to the political arena (where it belongs),   Mann, Curry, et al. are no longer the whipping boys (and girls) for political disputes over energy and climate policy (why the heck should energy and climate policy depend on how we count tree rings anyways?)  This seems especially appealing after my adventures this past week as a heretic.

The uncertainty monster

Does it really make sense that the level of uncertainty in climate science shouldn’t be a big driver in the political decision between A and B?  Uncertainty can play into the decision making process in the following three frameworks:

1.    Classical decision theory involves reducing uncertainty before acting.

2.    Paul Krugman’s perspective that “You might think that this uncertainty weakens the case for action, but it actually strengthens it.”

3.    Uncertainty monster assimilation gives uncertainty an explicit place in the contemplation and management of environmental risks, whereby uncertainty is regarded as information that contributes to the decision making process.

We will discuss the pros and cons of these different decision making frameworks in the forthcoming series on decision making under climate uncertainty, but it suffices for now that 2 out of the 3 decision making strategies don’t preclude decision making in an environment of uncertainty.

For too long, climate science has been a proxy for what should be a political debate about climate and energy policy.

Scientific disagreement

Charles Sanders Peirce outlined four methods of settling opinion and overcoming disagreements, ordered from least to most successful:

  • the method of tenacity (sticking with one’s initial belief) and trying to ignore contrary information.
  • the method of authority, which overcomes disagreements but sometimes brutally.
  • the method of congruity or “what is agreeable to reason,” which depends on taste and fashion in paradigms.
  • the scientific method whereby inquiry regards itself as fallible and continually tests, criticizes, corrects, and improves itself.

Engaging in the first three actions in establishing a consensus is no longer necessary or desirable if there is no pressure from the decision making framework to reduce uncertainties.  Rather the challenge for scientists is to understand and characterize the uncertainties.  Oppenheimer et al. sense this in their statement about the IPCC: “The establishment of consensus by the IPCC is no longer as important to governments as a full exploration of uncertainty.”

Once the pressure for a consensus disappears, the politicization of the science can disappear along with it.  And scientific debate about climate change can be scientific again.

What role for scientists in the politics and policy deliberations?

One of the things I really like about David Robert’s scheme is that climate scientists are removed from the political debate.  Scientists and science inform the debate, but the political battles stay in the realm of politics.

While I support the general idea of the climate hawks and doves, I don’t support this idea put forward by John Rennie and Keith Kloor that somehow I could make this all work by declaring my position as a climate hawk.    I think this is exactly what not to do:  the beauty of this idea is that it separates the climate science from the politics.  This only works if the scientists stay out of the politics.

Climate scientists have no particular expertise on politics, economics or social ethics.  A scientist’s personal sense of values and morality has no more legitimacy in this debate than any other individual’s personal sense.  There’s an additional reason for climate scientists to stay out of the public debate on this topic: they are biased because of their personal research interests and results, with professional egos and other factors likely weighing into their policy preferences.

Staying out of politics does not preclude engagement in the policy process. Climate scientists have a key role to play in developing future scenarios, characterizing uncertainties, and analyzing policy options.

People ask me where I stand and what my preferred policy options are.  I am not being coy when I say that I want clean green energy, economic development and “world peace.”  And that I don’t have any particular wisdom or ideas on what the actual solution might be.

But what I would like to do in the forthcoming series on decision making under climate uncertainty is to explore how we might approach reframing the strategy for identifying robust policy options for dealing with climate change in the context of the broader challenges to sustainability.

Taking the politics out of the science would help clarify both the scientific disagreements and the political disagreements.  Neither the scientific or political disagreements are going to go away.  But by separating them we stand to make much more progress on each.

Am I being naive and optimistic about how this might work?  I look forward to your assessment and further development of these ideas.

474 responses to “Disagreement

  1. Taking the politics out of the science would help clarify both the scientific disagreements and the political disagreements.

    That’s what I want. Given all the uncertainties and differing political approaches and priorities, climate change is guaranteed to be a classic mess no matter what.

    But it would be somewhat simpler, IMO, if climate scientists were just telling it straight, as opposed to second-guessing the rest of us and spinning their results and pronouncements so that they “nudge” us to the actions that they think best, which may be nothing more than their personal politics or self-aggrandizement.

    In that case scientists squander their authority. I won’t consider them any more trustworthy than politicians who will do whatever it takes to get votes. That’s a huge demotion.

    In that case I will assume scientists are likely lying to get their way unless they go to extreme lengths to show that they are not hiding the ball and manipulating the rest of us.

    I don’t think that today’s scientists realize how much damage has been done to their credibility and consequently to society. It is a great shame.

    • Ditto!

    • Huxley and Dr. Curry are on their way toward reinvention of the Scientific Assessment. They propose removing the politics from the science and removing the scientists from the politics. Drs. Albritton and Watson actually succeeded brilliantly at this in the case of Ozone Depletion. The Scientific Assessments of Ozone Depletion were successful in presenting the science of ozone depletion without suggesting policy. The technical and economic assessments provided information on what was possible and how much it would cost. The Montreal process is still working and still addressing new issues, new discoveries and new needs. More than 100 countries have signed on the decrease in global ozone signaled by the ozone hole has been arrested by the regulatory steps which have stopped the growth in atmospheric abundance of many ozone depletion substances. According to President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers the Montreal Protocol would save the lives of 5 million Americans and 10 trillion dollars in the time period up to 2185. (Many so-called climate skeptics
      So what is the difference between Ozone and Climate? Here are some options:
      1) The science of ozone depletion was clearer sooner than the science of climate change
      2) The major producers of ozone depleting chemicals understood the science and knew that they did not want to face the liability for contributing to growing numbers of skin cancers. Therefore, after 1987 they did not oppose regulation of CFCs. The carbon-based energy companies have taken a different path and are active at various levels in contesting the science and influencing the legislation.
      3) The consumer pain of parting with carbon fuels is huge (or thought to be huge) compared to the pain of parting with CFCs. Therefore the political thresholds are higher.
      4) The IPCC erred somehow in ways that the Scientific Assessments of Ozone Depletion did not. These errors doomed the progress toward protecting climate.
      5) The Montreal Protocol achieved agreement between developing and developed countries by providing assurances that poor countries would not be punished in the switch over from CFCs and their substitutes. Copenhagen climate talks failed to achieve a viable pain-sharing agreement among the various classifications of states and economies.

      The IPCC processes were open, defined and transparent. They were equally or more open, defined and transparent than the those of the Scientific Assessments of Ozone. The error rate in IPCC AR4 WG1 is small by any standard for any scientific document. The “Reforms” that will certainly be made for the next IPCC report will certainly make things even better, but they will not solve the disagreements. Dr. Curry and huxley do not need to reinvent the scientific assessment. It exists.

      Dr. Curry feels that she has found the fatal flaw in IPCC’s treatment of uncertainty. The literature summarized by IPCC and showing up since still has a center of gravity around 3.5C for a doubling of CO2 and a range of a 1.5C on either side. I do not think that Climate etc is moving the needle on this estimate. The problem is not a scientific refusal to acknowledge uncertainty, it is a lack of policy tools for dealing with it. Cost benefit like that done by the Reagan administration does not work all that well when the cost distributions of climate change are that fuzzy. The disagreements between developed and developing have fractured into more categories and deeper complexity.

      The floggings of IPCC and climate scientists that characterizes much of the discussion here are factually wrong and they miss the point. There was flogging of ozone scientists by the George C Marshall Institute, the WSJ and ideological politicians, and the ozone contrarians were really ozone/climate contrarians. Now they have larger megaphones and a political wind at their back.

      The topic should be agreements, and the agreements that are needed will be facilitated if the technological optimism of Dr. Chu is validated in the market place, the political noise is tuned out and the world focuses on the range of sensitivities that is surprisingly and increasingly noncontroversial, and accurate costs are understood and communicated for the many inconveniences of our present practice of organizing industrial society around carbon.

      Chuck Wilson

    • So what is the difference between Ozone and Climate? Here are some options:

      Chuck Wilson: The science certainly was clearer for Ozone than Climate.

      I don’t remember anything like the scandal of Climategate — which wasn’t just one scandal but several, all of which you conveniently ignore — afflicting Ozone. Nor do I remember concerted dissenting scientific opinions that were marginalized and shunted aside, just as you are doing here.

      I suspect a more apt comparison of Climate is with the whole Population Bomb/Club of Rome/Nuclear Winter forays of science into politics that never achieved the political muscle of the climate change movement, though they had their time and power, but all suffered ill fates and deservedly so.

      Most scientists were sympathetic to those movements — there were virtually no scientists who spoke out against them. If Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, and Carl Sagan had been more politically savvy, there could well have been an IPCC for each of those causes, and it would have said little about the validity of those concerns.

    • huxley,
      You fail to remember the assault on ozone science conducted by S. Fred Singer, S. Fred Seitz, Sallie Baliunas. Some of these were aided and abetted by the George C. Marshall Institute and, of course, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page. The names should sound familiar as they are in the first rank of climate change denial. I think I remember an interview given by Prof. Lindzen to the Jerusalem Post in which he waxed poetic about the lack of science or perversion of science in the whole ozone discussion. I think that this was after 1987 when doubt concerning the causes of the Antarctic Ozone Hole were certainly politically motivated because 1 ppb of ClO measured in the polar vortex made scientific doubt insane.
      Singer was the prince of wrong in the 1995 house hearings on scientific integrity. He complained that the theory of ozone depletion was unable to predict the ozone hole and was therefore wrong. I will review a few facts for you: The theory that Singer was referring to contained only gas-phase chemistry. When the role of heterogeneous chemistry became clear, that theory was amended. This the the nature of science and scientific progress. Fred did not get it and would not admit to the amended theory. His Lament the “They do not pay any attention to me” was edited out of the published records of the hearings. Fred and Sallie were crushed by the data in the Scientific Assessments. Doolittle’s and DeLay’s bills to retard and stop protection of the ozone layer disappeared like stones in a deep pool. But of course the Ozone Hole over Kennebunkport remains a rallying call for the ideologues who still point to the protection of ozone as politicized science. Their audience is limited to the scientifically challenged.
      Speaking of ideologues and their inability to accept science, it is worth while to illustrate a Hall of Shame in American Science Denial and a corresponding Hall of Heroes. The first Hero that comes to mind is Dwight Eisenhower. He negotiated the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets which he was unable to sign because Francis Gary Powers was shot down and the Soviets grandstanded for several months before getting to the banning of atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. Kennedy signed the treaty. Eisenhower initiated the negotiations over the objections of Edward Teller (like Singer, Teller enjoyed a long life and inveighed against anthropogenic climate change until he thought he could score on geoengineering – Singer is still enjoying -good for him). The entire right wing of the Republican Party also disagreed with the President who understood that the tests were sickening and killing Americans. (Good guys: Scientists tracking fallout. Bad Guys: Ideologues). The second hero has to be Richard Nixon. He proposed the EPA, signed the Clean Air Act etc. The Six Cities Study showed that particulate matter in the air shortened lives. The cleaning of the air and consequent lengthening of lives has proved President Nixon’s policies and EPA’s science to be correct. Of course he had to fight off the entire conservative establishment to achieve this breakthrough. Many in today’s GOP still deny that the benefits of the Clean Air Act exceed the costs. (Good Guys: Nixon and Ruckelshaus. Bad Guys: Ideologues). Then of course the spotlight shifts to ozone. The good guys are Reagan and Bush, his vice president and successor as president. Ozone has been protected through international agreements. It was done over the objections again of the Ideologues.
      Oh by the way, have you read the prologue to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty? The part about nuclear war being devastating for all of humanity is is about nuclear winter which was taken very seriously in both the Soviet Union and among many in the United States. It remains a concern in non-proliferation efforts today. You should visit the literature on the subject. We have not run the experiment as we did in ozone and are doing in climate. But the theory is pretty compelling that a modest exchange of nuclear weapons will be a problem. Winnable nuclear war is an oxymoron.

      So, by my count, the history has atmospheric science 4 and political ideologues 0 in terms of settled laws and treaties and human benefit. Because the radiation balance of the earth shows that CO2 is warming and environmental science suggests that the warming will be dangerous, the yadayada about the emails is a mere distraction from the next agenda item, protecting climate.

      Chuck Wilson

  2. As I understand it, 30 years is the minimal meanful period in climatology. If we say the last 15 have seen temperatures level off, and if this continues for antoher 15, the impasse may pass. Even Gavin Schmidt once said he would have a serious rethink in another 5 or so if that happened.

    • Gavin Schmidt is a great example of a scientist who has already squandered his credibility.

      In the Climategate emails Schmidt is on record announcing that the RealClimate website dialogs would be manipulated to support the agenda of the Climategate scientists.

      These days any skeptic, or even “lukewarmists” like Tom Fuller, knows that the discussions on RealClimate are not in good faith, that heterodox comments will be censored, deleted, ignored, distorted or ridiculed as a matter of course and regardless of merit.

      Again, this is tremendously damaging. It means that scientists are behaving as politicians, and nasty politicians at that.

    • For some reason, you want the CRU emailers and RC to represent all of climate science. As even the emailers have admitted, the hack shows that many of them are capable of writing some pretty horrible emails. But a look at the record shows that the papers that were supposedly to be excluded from IPCC in fact were discussed in the IPCC WG1 AR4. So whatever their wishes and intentions, we know nothing of their actions. And we know that IPCC was true to its charter and did deal with the refereed literature including the papers dised by the CRU emailers. So there is proof, before your eyes (read IPCC WG1 AR4 – its on the web) that climate science is more vast than the institutions and names you can recite and that the ethics of climate science are robust against whatever threats you construe from the emails. The polls indicate that the fraction of informed opinion in climate science that believes that climate is warming; that humans are contributing; that unabated the warming is dangerous is much closer to 1 than to 0.5. So, you can stop trying to make your favorite punching bags symbolic of the total of climate science which is vast, active and vital and engaged is science as it is supposed to be done.
      Chuck Wilson
      PS RC is quite informative as blogs are supposed to be. But it is not the literature.

    • That’s kind of my point really. If even someone as far gone as Schmidt may drop it, the issue may yet just fade away.

    • His position on this would be moot should we have no warming for 5 more years. The NOAA has already stated the the ENSO adjusted trend from 1999 – 2008 as 0.00 +/- 0.05C and that 15 years of no warming would invalidate the models at the 95%. The 15 year requirement is less then 5 years away should the trend not show warming.

    • Good luck with that. If you look at the global mean surface temperature, you see that it has been rising since the mid-sixties with each decade warmer than the previous decade. And the decade just finishing is clearly warmer that the decade of the 90′s and so on back to the 60′s. The 5 year running average is not monotonic. It takes dips every 10 years or so: see 1975, 1985, 2005. The dip in the last decade is not unusual. So I expect that the 2010-2020 decade will be warmer than 2000-2010 decade. The evolving radiation balance of the earth as seen in the satellite data shows that the energy added by the CO2 and feedbacks is more than sufficient to explain the observed warming surface temperatures. Betting against the First Law of Thermodynamics is not prudent.
      I am expecting the warmest trick or treat evening in memory and will take the girls around the neighborhood. My wife complains that it usually snowed when she took them. My 80 year old neighbor does not remember a warmer October. But that is just weather. But at the end of next month, it will become part of one of the warmest years in the climate record.

      Chuck Wilson

    • I suppose if you cherry pick just the right starting point you could claim since the mid 60s. I personally wouldn’t say it was in an uptrend until the mid 70s. The 30 years previous to that there was no uptrend. In 3 years we will have our answer. As far as 2010 being the warmest year ever, this seems quite unlikely by hadley measurements but would be rather meaningless even if it were since the argument isn’t over are we warming or is co2 a greenhouse gas but rather do the models overstate the feedbacks.Besides, it does clearly state ENSO adjusted does it not? I would think it is you that is the one battling against the first law of thermodynamics. The oceans would appear to need to warm up by about 0.1C to match that of previous years.

    • Isn’t it doubtful we know enough to construct a valid argument for any 5, 10 or 15-year span proving or disproving Climate Disruption on the temperature record alone?

      Forgetting the various quibbles about reliability, accuracy and precision — and whether we can accept the hypothesis of any sort of level off — temperature is such a remote measure from the supposed causes of the effect in a large and complex system, and our systematic efforts to capture sufficient data to support either case so inadequate, that within our lifetimes we will always be Uncertain if we’re only looking at thermometers, seems patently clear to me.

    • David L. Hagen

      See Don Easterbrook’s temperature projections with 60 year cycles based on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (ignored by the IPCC.) i.e. a 30 year cooling trend to about 2030, followed by 30 year warming trend etc. on top of other fluctuations. That makes sense. Now to compare the accuracy of that projection vs global climate models that ignore the PDO. My expectation is for Don’s to give the better forecast.

  3. Judith,

    I don’t think either pessimism or naivety are at issue here. The political context for it all makes the hawks/doves dichotomy appealing (especially after watching the premiere of ‘Fair Game’ last night). Throughout the last few years there have been calls of this kind: ‘The science is settled. Let’s stop the talking. It’s time for real action!’

    On the whole these calls come from politicians and community activists/NGO spokespeople, not notably from scientists. Why? Because, as has been mentioned already, there is a mood out there, and politicians in elected democracies are sensitive to such moods.

    I wrote this three years ago. To save time I’ve cut the first paragraphs, because it is all familiar on this thread, and slightly amended it:

    ‘ the Greens and environmentalists generally welcome the AGW proposition because it fits in with their own world-view, and they have helped to popularise it. Governments that depend on Green support have found themselves, however willingly or unwillingly, trapped in AGW policies… The hard-heads may not buy the story, but they do want to be elected or re-elected. Democratic governments facing elections are sensitive to popular movements that could have electoral effect. I am sure that it was this electoral perception that caused the [Australian] Howard Government at the end to move significantly towards Kyoto and indicate a preparedness to go down the Kyoto path… as indeed the new Labor Government did as soon as it was elected.

    A fourth is that even democratically elected governments are prone to use fear as a reason to induce their societies to accept government policies, and I see this occurring around the world. A fifth is that we human beings rather like scary stories, catastrophe films and horror stuff; we may not believe it, but we get some kind of kick from it. A sixth, if you are still counting, is that governments don’t like uncertainty: they search for the one-handed economist and adviser, the one who ignores the other possibilities and plumps for action. Put them all together, and you have a seventh, which takes us back to the availability cascade: I have encountered quite a few people, scientists and policymakers among them, who have made it plain to me that they do not agree with the AGW proposition. But they don’t want to get involved: there are other issues at stake; anyway, people need a wake-up call (a mild version of ‘the end justifies the means’). A seventh is that the media find it a wonderfully continual storehouse of visual and ‘scientific’ horror stories, much better than ‘medical breakthroughs’. And so on.’

    If this is the real out-there context, and I think it is in the English-speaking democracies anyway, then the question becomes your last one: “What role for scientists…?

    And I do think that the quiescence over all the hyperbole, the silence of government scientists and policy advisers when they must have known that it was all much dodgier than was being said (see Fair Game when you can!!) has brought great harm to the scientific endeavour generally, and bring more in the future.

    So speaking out has to be part of it, hence the applause you are getting. But I doubt that anything is going to happen quickly.

  4. “For too long, climate science has been a proxy for what should be a political debate about climate and energy policy.”

    I particularly like Daniel Sarewitz’s take on this, and his call to de-scientize the political debate:


    as well as this comment:


    Yes scientific findings have political implications, but just as there can be political differences resulting from agreed science, so can there be policy agreement where scientific disagreement is present.

  5. Judith,
    I wasn’t actually “putting forth” (with a straight face) the notion that peace would reign if you declared yourself a climate hawk–at least not the same way that Rennie was. I was being more tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps that didn’t come through.

    But I am putting you down as an apostate, not a heretic. :)

  6. I could be very wrong here but didn’t this whole process come about through the intervention of climate scientists in the politic process either publicly or privately as advisors and/or lobbyists.

    Having said that I wouldn’t necessarily single out climate science as something special here, the ‘cult of the expert’ seems to pervade many areas of policy today. The problem doesn’t really lie with overly confident scientists but overly-weak politicians. Politics now is no longer a battle of ideas instead we are often presented with CV’s about who will make the better manager. In this circumstance a lack of political direction and confidence means that crisis are seen to be better handled by experts. You can see it in many social and policy areas. Psychologistics, sociologists, neurologists and the like are wheeled out to pass judgement on anything from family life, teenage alcoholism, war even men trapped down mines. It seems only right that the same weak politicians are going to defer to climate scientists on this subject The weakness is obvious given the freedom these scientists have to spout on about anything and everything including policy.

    It seems unlikely that climate scientists are going to retreat to their ivory towers and stick to the science while we have the present vaacum in politics.

    • My hazy recollection is that it went something like this (feel free to substitute your own dates and names depending on the part of the world you’re in; it wasn’t a uniform progression):

      About 1980ish, some old ideas like the greenhouse effect were brought out of mothballs and re-examined with new tools and techniques; simultaneously several researchers and theoreticians released their notes, published, or otherwise got together and there was a surprising consilience and not a small amount of mixing with old school hippy ecologism on some of the topics that became the roots of Climate Change science (before it was called Global Warming); innovations in mathematics were also applied to climate thought; supercomputers (though ‘disappointing’ on weather forecasting) allowed demonstration of plausibility of runaway climate effects, comparison of scales of effects, and the possibility of climate models combined with a good understanding of the limits of predictive power of weather models.

      This tiny minority of scholars and their new point of view was not welcome initially. They were the heretics and rebels, and very often the laughingstocks. They privately admitted that talking about it put their grants at risk and threatened their professional reputation.

      Almost a decade passed between the Climate Change consilience and two other events. 1) Rapid conversion of a large number of scientists from patent scepticism toward acceptance of the likelihood that there was something to the idea of ACC, enough that no one mentioned career suicide at least. 2) Nothing. Little to no measurable penetration of the idea into policy, politics, or public awareness.

      There followed as a result of (2) a period of serious discussion among scientists about the responsibility of science to the public good. Some eventually concluded that they were human beings first, and scientists second, and they must speak out and agitate and promote this issue because it was to them too important to leave to politicians. They’d seen how Policy experts without scientific training handled AIDS, after all, and figured they could do no worse. Some were galled that big business was turning the same marketing machinery used to sell tobacco was being used to suppress their science too, and they reacted. Some were dragged kicking and screaming to the venture against their will.

      And then there was Al Gore and IPCC, and before they knew it, the ACC group were flipped into ‘the Establishment’, for a brief moment the wider public agreed with the tiny ACC minority view — which by that time was much more mature and had substantial interest and support as, if certainly not definitive, the best of the extant theories at that time.

      Everything since then you all no doubt know much better than me, since by that time I was not paying attention, and the rest of you seem to have been getting up to your elbows in the topic.

      Can the genie be put back in the bottle? How are you going to keep them down in the lab, now that they’ve seen Madrid? Can, must, science return barefoot and pregnant to the kitchen?

      Because we all know how much more trustworthy are politicians. Or how much better we all feel when we don’t bear any actual responsibility for action.

      Wouldn’t it be just as viable to teach scientists to use file management systems properly (so they don’t become subject to spurious charges of fabricating data if for no other reason), think about public relations issues before using jocular names for their datasets and chapter headings, and for crying out loud to wash out their mouths and use respectful language and simulate a double-digit emotional age in emails and online if they don’t have the charisma to carry off being a bit of a jerk?

      After all, if politicians and religious leaders can fake sincerity, surely someone with an advanced degree or three could too.

    • Politics is the art of dealing with vaacums. I don’t “see” any change needed in the political arena from the politicians. I do “see” a problem in the area of “expert testimony” . Anyone can testify before a committee or a court and say anything. How can scientists help the political process by ensuring that the testimony is from the best representative(s) in that field, the person or persons who indeed possess the “full confidence” of the group to give the politicians and the public the facts and truth as it is currently known; and NOT a bunch of “personal views” or “bright ideas” about using pure gold slabs to cover every city and village on the planet and protecting everyone from harmful intergalactic Z-rays?

  7. Seems to me that you need an option c,

    • Oops, that should continue, “Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is pointless, because fossil fuels will continue to be consumed by someone until they are no longer the cheapest option. The only result of such action is to make those taking it less competitive.”

  8. I caution against solutions which involve “taking the politics out of (climate) science”. Climate science is the creature of politics, and always will be, until and unless it acknowledges that there isn’t much for the lay public to be worried about. And if it did that, it would revert to its constituent parts of climatology, paleontology, physics, etc, and no longer be climate science as such – so it isn’t going to happen. And I suppose if I really, truly believed that the planet was at risk, I’d be proposing public action, too, rather than opposing it, as I do.

    Better to assume that a disagreement in the science will inevitably entail a political disagreement as well, and work out how best to conduct the science in those circumstances.

    • Taking the politics out of science is the ideal. It will never happen, but it is to be sought after, and the best people to do it are the scientists themselves. Professionals of every caste and clan must first have their own high standards and live by these to protect themselves and the society in which they must work from those who would endanger them and society. The few of these who claim to be “Climate Scientists”, or whatever, ARE in danger today because of a few wild eyed fanatics in their ranks; and all ‘professionals’, of every stripe, can also be contaminated by what is happening now in this new profession. Guilt by association IS a very real fact of life.

  9. I’m not so sure that “the science” should stay entirely out of politics. The two classics here are tobacco and immunisation. (Seatbelts in cars might be another contender.)

    I suppose the immunisation drive was a lot easier to put forward when I was a child. Parents everywhere were terrified of the rolling polio epidemics. It’s now becoming harder to convince some people in the advanced economies with successful vaccination programs that the dangers of communicable disease still lurks. They have no personal direct experience of the effects of non-vaccination. But epidemiologists are out there still putting the case – over and over again with each new generation of parents.

    Tobacco? The whole medical profession is on side and up front on this one.

    I see their role as valuable and important. Exactly how similar a climate expert’s role could or should be is not settled by this. But it certainly doesn’t exclude them.

  10. Judith
    My compliments on your effort to separate the science from the politics, and to get the political debate going over energy & climate. Some issues:

    Clarify Consequences:
    May I encourage challenging all those in the climate/energy debate to clearly lay out the consequences of each and every policy option with sufficient detail for societal consequences to be quantified – both human and economic. The Copenhagen Consensus evaluated the costs and benefits of the 30 largest humanitarian projects. The available data on mitigating “global warming” placed it dead last on benefits/costs. Energy options need to be similarly addressed. As you have been highlighting, the full uncertainty evaluations need to be clearly laid out for each of these options.

    Mitigation vs Adaptation
    The alarmist advocacy over “mitigating” climate has prevented serious debate over “adaptation”.
    “Mitigation” inherently requires “control”. As summarized in
    Chemical Engineer Takes on Global Warming Dr. Pierre Latour addresses each of the factors essential to controlling chemical processes. He shows that NONE of them are met in trying to control (“mitigate”) “climate change” (anthropogenic global warming). To provide a credible base for “mitigation”, advocates will need to quantifiably overcome each of Latour’s criticisms. I estimate the prospects for that to be negligible. Consequently I expect only “adaptation” is achievable. Consequently adaptation options need to be seriously weighed against the other humanitarian and energy options.

    Transportation Fuel Transitions
    All previous IPCC projections have assumed whatever growth and fuel use is needed. Global crude oil production has plateaued since 2004 within a 5% band. There is a rapidly growing concern over the impending decline of light oil. See Robert L. Hirsch et al. The Impending World Energy Mess.

    J. Fredrichs reviews the Global energy crunch: How different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario Energy Policy, 2010-04-27.
    Within four years, during the USA’s Civil War (1861-1865), the South lost its primary production resource (slaves). It took until World War II to fully recover. Japan imported 90% of its oil, 75% to 80% from the USA. Following the US’s embargo, Japan took over the Dutch East Indies for fuel and attacked Pearl Harbor.

    With rapid industrialization, No. Korea increased its energy use to almost twice China’s and half of Japan’s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost its spare parts, and its fuel imports dropped 90% within two years. Transport collapsed including coal to fertilizer plants. Consequent food shortages were magnified by the floods and droughts of 1995-98 causing 600,000 to 1 million deaths (3% to 5% of the population).

    From 1989 to 1993 Cuba lost about 71% of its fuel imports from the USSR. Coupled with a major GPD drop, a major portion of the population was forced into growing food on spare land to survive.

    These consequences of such rapid resource depletion appear far faster and more catastrophic than those conventionally considered for climate change. I strongly recommend that these transport fuel issues be addressed within the debate over climate and global humanitarian projects.

  11. Here’s a ‘bystander’ point of view, as I am not involved in climate science, (but am engineer, having the ‘engineer’s mentality’ of wanting to verify statements that don’t quite seem logical, and always expect the use of the ‘scientific method):

    It appears to me the reason the attitudes around climate science is the way it is, is BECAUSE OF THE UNCERTAINTY. That is, not a lot of real verification of models or the AGW hypothesis is possible as I understand it. I give credit that on a short term basis, the models can take a set of atmosphere conditions, and show what is expected out a few day. But longer term is obviously much more uncertain. And then some points of atmospheric physics are taken (e.g increase CO2 will more quickly absorb OLR), then ‘extrapolated’ in ways to ‘create’ the desired condition.

    This is different from, say, structural analysis, where finite element models can be verified by experimentation. Or airflow/CFD analysis over surface, that can be verified in wind tunnels. CFD models, and so on.

    That unverifiable uncertainty in climate science leads to exploitation of the issue. Models can generate ‘answers’ that then the data can be looked for to satisfy. The true uncertainty of ALL the atmospheric process and how they are interrelated, let alone solar issues, results in the situation. Exploitation of the issue takes the data, or observations that suit their purposes, by those who might want to make a name for themselves; or by less scrupulous politicians or business people exploiting the ‘fear’ aspect to make money.

    Until the science can understand to a great degree all of these factors, I will have a skeptical view of ‘definitive’ or ‘incontravertible’ statements concerning climate change.

  12. Philosophy holds two problems. One is the problem of beliefs. The other is the problem of values. The problem of beliefs is the province of the scientific researcher. The problem of values is the province of the ethicist or theologian. The politican has to deal with both problems.

    Our values vary from person to person. However, there is no necessary reason for our beliefs to vary. In today’s world, beliefs vary because of the continuing use by the builders of our models of intuitive rules of thumb called “heuristics” in discrimination of the one correct inference from among the many inferences that are candidates for being made by the model. Each time a particular heuristic identifies a particular inference as the one correct inference, a different heuristic identifies a different inference as the one correct inference. Variability in our heuristics generate the variability in our beliefs.. With Ronald Christensen’s 1963 discovery of the principles of reasoning the one correct inference is identified uniquely, eliminating the need for disagreement.

    • I’m intrigued by this dualistic description of Philosophy. I would phrase it differently. I would say that the two problems of Philosophy are premises and conclusions. The premises are the domain of Science; Conclusions, the domain of Logic–whether indictive or deductive.

      Beliefs are the domain of Theologians, but ethics could go either way.

      You could say that ethics are a system of behavior predicated on scientific observations about best possible outcomes, or you could say that they are based on beliefs disbursed by Theologians.

      There are purely logical systems of ethics. But there are no purely logical beliefs.

    • The most difficult part of being human is communication. We simply must develope something better than language, it’s so confusing.

    • Mac:

      Beliefs are logical if consistent with the evidence and with the principles of reasoning. The argument that says:
      A implies B
      Therefore B
      is logical. A mathematical proof is logical.

      The deductive branch of logic was described 2400 years ago by Aristotle. This set the stage for the development of mathematics and computer science. However, in the construction of a model, the model builder needs to use the inductive branch of logic if the model is to be constructed logically. The problem of how to extend the deductive branch of logic through the inductive branch was solved 47 years ago. Like most scientists, the builders of climatological models didn’t notice.

    • Mac:

      Further to this issue, you’re pointing out that philosophy can be divided up in a number of ways: I agree. One of these ways is to divide philosophy between beliefs and values.

      Decisions are made on the basis of both beliefs and values. Beliefs provide us with information about the outcomes of events, given that a particular decision is made. However, they provide insufficient grounds for action. Given that falling on a live grenade to save one’s comrades means almost certain death for one’s self and life for one’s comrades, some people choose life for themselves while others choose death. The variability in choices can be explained as a result from variability in the values of different people.

      That a division can be made between the two branches of philosophy results from a little known fact. This is that an inference has the unique measure which is called its “conditional entropy” or “entropy.” This measure is independent of one’s values.

      In view of the uniqueness of the measure of an inference, one can decide which of the several inferences that are candidates for being made by a model is the one correct inference by optimization. In an optimization, dependent upon the type of inference, the entropy is maximized under constraints or the conditional entropy is minimized. In the construction of a model, the logical principles are to maximize the entropy or minimize the conditional entropy. If these principles are followed, the method of construction is entirely logical and value free. This kind of model is a “scientific model.” The majority of models that are represented as “scientific” are not truly scientific.

      Thus far, no climatological model has been built in an entirely logical, value free way, In this sense, there are no “scienific” climatological models. Many people think, to the contrary, that a model is “scientific” if built by scientists but this is not true. This mess can be cleaned up only by assigning to the scientists the task of building logically constructed, value-free models and by assigning to non-scientists the task of setting policy. There has to be a “Chinese wall” between model building and policy making.


    • Terry,
      I notice your posts while interesting, are sometimes a little opaque. In promoting the view that there is some single standard of logic and truth that has been roundly ignored for decades by science (and thus implying that most science isn’t science at all), I think your arguments should be made clearer if you expect people to follow along and be persuaded.
      What does entropy mean in this case? (I’ve done some reading around but would be great if you clarified the process) Perhaps provide an example of how a logical, value-free climate model like the one you propose would be developed. I find climate models easy to criticize as un-scientific, but only if the rest of science is held to the same standard.
      I am skeptical that there is any single form of logic that allows science to reach singular and value-free conclusions, especially considering the science has achieved some rather impressive results for a few centuries by apparently ignoring the technique you favor.

    • Zajko, have you visited Terry’s web site knowledgetothemax.com. Lays it out in general terms. I’ve come across some of these ideas before, I think they are really important and well worth the effort to try to figure it out. We could definitely use some help from Terry in this regard, and possibly some concrete applications.

    • I have, but was missing the link at the moment. I realize that it’s not fair to repeatedly lay out the principles of a complex argument, but at least the links (http://knowledgetothemax.com/#TheEntropy) where an explanation isn’t provided.
      And from what I’ve read I would certainly take Terry’s ideas seriously, even if I’m not yet persuaded they are definitive source of logical conclusion.

    • I’ve actually been on a paper that used the entropy arguments, i understood this stuff only in a qualitative way, but I thought it was a really valuable way to look at the problem at hand (which was relatively simple compared to the possible applications Terry is describing)

    • David L. Hagen


      logic that allows science to reach singular and value-free conclusions,

      Check out (and give feedback) on the effort to provide objective principles for scientific forecasting and to audit against them at:
      Public Policy Forecasting.

    • I’m not sure if this is an effort to provide objective forecasts, the emphasis seems to be on “evidence-based”. The procedures used aren’t value-free, and any one of these audits or forecasts could have come out differently using different methodologies, premises and presuppositions. I’m all ears for arguments that claim to have the best, most reliable or valid approach to problems, but the achievement of objectivity tends to be a rhetorical device, often used in opposition to what are declared as non-objective/non-scientific arguments, rather than something which can be defended on epistemic grounds.

  13. HR refers to the ‘cult of the expert.’ I think the word ‘cult’ is critical – so much of the language around climate change is charged with apocalyptic tones strongly reminiscent of millenarian cults. The mere use of words such as ‘high priestess,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘apostasy,’ and the like with barely a hint of irony in what should ultimately be a scientific and social discourse highlights the perversion of the process.

    The intense emotions generated resemble the bitterness that has pervaded the religious conflicts that have sometimes torn societies apart. Words such as ‘warmist,’ ‘lukewarm,’ ‘sceptic,’ and the like become shibboleths while institutions such as ‘Big Oil’ take on the role of the Antichrist and the merest hint of association with ‘conservative’ politics is akin to wearing the Mark of The Beast.

    I would add that similar processes can be seen in the ‘sceptical’ camp which has its own tenets and creedal statements.

    The same folk who would decry and condemn religious intolerance seeing themselves as above and beyond the shackles of bigotry and superstition sadly all too often display the self-same traits even to the point of unselfconscious mimicry of the language of the wars of religion.

  14. The problem with getting the science out of the politics is that if 1. above is true, and a second unstated premise 1a. that “Human combustion of fossil fuels is significantly causing that climate change” is also true, then many, perhaps most, people will accept that there is a need to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy” even if it will “cost consumers money, decrease energy security and destroy jobs”. If 1. and 1a. are true then the debate is about how much cost, how much energy insecurity and how much job loss can fairly be said to be “prohibitive” and that, within the limits of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, is a political question. If 1. is not true then there is no need to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, and while “clean energy” is always a what we want, we can take CO2 out of the list of things that makes a form of energy “unclean”. Note that I have used the logical dichotomy “true/not true” with reference to 1. and have not relied on any contrast of 1. and 2. Your construction “Climate science shows…” vs “Climate science is…” fails to direct the discussion to logical alternatives. A climate science which is “uncertain” can still show that climate change is a “serious, pressing threat”, since “threat” imports uncertainty, and also still allow for the proposition that human combustion of fossil fuels does not significantly cause that climate change nor contribute to that threat. In the alternative, if Climate change is not a “serious, pressing threat”, then even if 1a. is true, no action is needed. So the real question is whether 1. is true, and that depends on what details are being subsumed in the word “threat” and what measurements are subsumed in the words “serious, pressing”. These are at once political questions, because they depend on what we value that is being changed and how much we value it, and scientific questions, because they depend on our means of knowing what is changing, how it is changing, why it is changing and what might or might not be effective to regulate that change. I don’t think you can punt the debate to the politicians because it is the scientists, or no-one, who can tell the scientific truth of the matter, even if the only scientific truth that can presently be told is “we don’t know if 1. is true or not”.

  15. Foundations for Ethics
    You noted:

    A scientist’s personal sense of values and morality has no more legitimacy in this debate than any other individual’s personal sense.

    The logical consequence of the materialistic presupposition is that there is no right or wrong and can be no morals. When King and Parliament trod on the Magna Carta’s constitutional rights, the Founders appealed to “Supreme Judge of all the world” and the “laws of nature and of nature’s God”. Those principles of the Declaration of Independence were mutually require by all States via Enabling Acts. I strongly recommend appealing to the foundational principles of the Judeo-Christian civilization on which to address the energy/climate debate. Otherwise moral arguments over climate, energy and humanitarian projects are meaningless.

    • Without that, Dr. Mengle was just a sloppy researcher and Lysenko was just over worked.

    • David L. Hagen

      And Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were just efficiently moving “Darwinian evolution” on towards its “goal”! See The Black Book of Communism. which documents how > 100 million people were killed by their own governments, while the rest of the world “was not looking”. i.e. more than 250% of the 39 million killed in all wars of the 20th century.
      In this coming century, both economic driven famines from fuel shortages, and from “climate change” (natural and/or anthropogenic) could cause greater famines. So both issues need to be seriously addressed together in context.

  16. 1) All this about politics and science is done better on theoildrum.com

    2) I’m sick of experts who are fake humble about expertise. You want to fly on airplanes designed by PhD engineers, but you think government is inherently unimportant, even though government policies can crash the air, the water, the soil, and children’ epigenesis.

    3) I’ll advance the thesis here, much evidenced already, that scientists who pretend no expertise in governance are bad citizens, and even worse citizens if they aren’t pretending. What is more important than governance?

    4) The essential question underlying this whole discussion of AGW is whether democracy can work when amoral corporations control legislators through legalized bribery.

    5) My hypothesis, which will likely be dismissed as “not relevant to this discussion” is that this democracy is inherently unstable because we refuse to admit that our citizens, especially the ivory tower scientists and businessmen, are uneducated in civics.

    • David L. Hagen

      Ormond Otvos

      whether democracy can work when amoral corporations control legislators through legalized bribery.

      See my post above on ethics.
      In an amoral materialistic world, there cannot be any concern for “bribery”.
      The Judeo-Christian world view establishes principles of stewardship over creation together with care for the poor, widows and orphans.

      Winston Churchill (House of Commons, 11 Nov. 1947) said:

      No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

      A critical challenge in democracies is to address generational challenges such as the interlinked peaking of light oil and IPCC’s projected “catastrophic anthropogenic climate change” – especially when they are beyond the public’s/representative’s immediate election cycle. Part of the issues Curry has been raising is the corruption of decision making in the face of environmentalistic advocacy and self dealing for research funding – cf Climategate.
      Theoildrum.com is focusing on peak oil – not on the critical issues of how IPCC’s has formulated/supported “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”. The issues are intertwined and need airing.

      We need to clearly address ALL of these issues to wisely see and recommend ways to proceed.

    • Dave, I respect greatly your work at theoildrum.com, but to narrowly characterize it as only concerned with the technical question of peak oil, without mentioning the constant analysis of WHY the politicians and citizenry don’t accept the often vague and uncertain science, is just not correct. Theoildrum.com has grown far beyond just talking about peak oil.

      “In an amoral materialistic world, there cannot be any concern for “bribery”.
      The Judeo-Christian world view establishes principles of stewardship over creation together with care for the poor, widows and orphans.”

      I’m a little taken aback that you presume I’m uneducated enough to automatically accept your illegitimate coupling of “amoral materialistic” and ignoring the strong possibility that ethics and morality grow from innate evolutionary pressures rewarding cooperation, trust and transparency with species survival. Long before Judaeo or Christian, groups evolved cooperative behavior.

      My objection to amoral corporations is exactly that they do not share those evolved characteristics, and that their Profit-only morality is too narrow to do more than subvert our painfully achieved evolved morality.

      Winston was not God, certainly, and this statement is SUCH a dismissive kneejerk that it is no more than a signal that the person using it has stopped thinking clearly or deeply about the real issues, because OF COURSE our democracy is best.

      “Winston Churchill (House of Commons, 11 Nov. 1947) said:

      No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

      He was talking to war-crazed nationalists just like us. No wonder you used the quote.

    • David L. Hagen


      presume I’m uneducated enough to automatically accept your illegitimate coupling of “amoral materialistic” and ignoring the strong possibility that ethics and morality grow from innate evolutionary pressures

      Not “uneducated” but not sufficiently examined.
      e.g., You give no basis for “illegitimate coupling” when transcendent principles are the foundation of Western culture including science.
      You accuse of having “stopped thinking clearly or deeply”. Foundationally, on what basis can you find morality from the four forces of nature? I don’t see how “innate evolutionary pressures” can distinguish between helping your grandmother across the street vs pushing her in front of the truck to reduce the “extra mouth to feed” or why Hitler was not justified in “accelerating” evolution. Based on natures forces, “evolutionary pressures” or “psychology” can be made fit whatever you want. See discussions at uncommon descent, and Nancy Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo See also global humanitarian projects atCopenhagen Consensus and compare with principles of ethical “stewardship”. A major danger is putting the “planet” before “people” – especially regarding consequences for the 3 billion poorest living on less than $2/day.

      I look forward to your serious consideration regarding moral foundations on which to base climate, fuel and development decisions.

  17. Don’t have time to read all comments. To me the question is: Is it [the science] settled or unsettled? The answer is obvious.

  18. I actually think claims of certainty originated with policy advocates. They obviously found some scientists to reinforce their claims.

    We act under conditions of uncertainty all the time. The issue is, what are the stakes?

    If the planet’s future is really at risk, our options are constrained. If the planet will muddle through and we will have to spend time and treasure to patch it up, we have more choices.

    It’s not the uncertainty that bedevils us. It’s the (IMO) outlandish claim that humanity’s future is at threatened by global warming that has tried to establish a false set of ‘rules of engagement.’

    • Thomas

      I disagree with your statement, “It’s not the uncertainty that bedevils us.” It seems you are echoing this statement in Dr. Curry’s post, “The implication is that uncertainty in the science isn’t a big driver for the policy choice between A and B.”

      I believe these statements are wrong. In risk assessment, you must consider both the likelihood and the consequences of the risk. E.g. the consequence of a large asteroid hitting the earth is end-game yet we have done relatively little to protect ourselves against it because the likelihood is small. If scientists were to tell us that a large asteroid has been spotted heading our way, the public outcry for action would be massive. In that example, nothing whatsoever changed regarding the consequence. The uncertainty was removed, the likelihood went up, and the public went from indifference to alarm.

      Uncertainty/likelihood matters and the public may not know risk assessment, but we practice it intuitively.

    • Saw a few minutes of something last night about dear old Vesuvius, lots of folks in and around Naples “know” she’s gonna blow but they live every day as if she won’t. The likelihood is she’ll erupt and the consequences will be horrific. People are the same all over the world. It’s the “cost” of doing things that drive people. Climate “remediation” costs too much, so no matter what anyone says, folks are just going to ignore it. Of course it really doesn’t help if people like Al Gore are out making money off the issue. In the end, people are the problem, not volcanoes or climate change or meteor impacts.

    • David L. Hagen

      Or is “nature” the problem and “people” can provide the “solution”?

    • Dave, are you operating on the axiom that humans, as a species, are not primarily concerned with their own survival, as a species?

      Do you think, as a recent poll of passersby in Berkeley found, that more than a majority think humankind doesn’t deserve to remain on earth?

      We not only don’t NEED Gods for moral instruction, we’ve found over the years that those who insert themselves between Gods and government invariably disrupt government.

      Let’s talk about scientists studying
      humanity remember that “the proper study of mankind is MAN” and that any HUMAN scientist has an OBLIGATION to relate their narrow studies to the survival, with happiness, of the human species.

      If you think otherwise, Dave, please say so clearly. There was a Dave in 2001, the movie, and I hear eerie echoes of the morality of the inhuman machine here.

    • David L. Hagen

      No. The opposite.

      We not only don’t NEED Gods for moral instruction, . . .

      The Communists/atheists who rejected God’s moral principles killed more than 100 million people in the 20th century – more than all wars combined. See The Black Book of Communism.

      Communism did kill, Courtois and his fellow historians demonstrate, with ruthless efficiency: 25 million in Russia during the Bolshevik and Stalinist eras, perhaps 65 million in China under the eyes of Mao Zedong, 2 million in Cambodia, millions more Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America–an astonishingly high toll of victims. This freely expressed penchant for homicide, Courtois maintains, was no accident, but an integral trait of a philosophy, and a practical politics, that promised to erase class distinctions by erasing classes and the living humans that populated them.

      Check the data behind your presumptions.

    • So it wasn’t ideology killed all those people, or a failure of scientific understanding of governance, or science of agriculture, or conflict under existential stress with raging capitalism.

      It was atheism failing to supply morality from God.

      So it must be the … uh … Christian god, not the Allah god, who done it. Or maybe the Hindu god is the bad one. And my checking for evidence seems to find something about Crusades, and the streets running with blood, the savages dying in the New World.

      Gawd, Dave, you need to read up a little about theistic morality driving massacres. There wasn’t a hint of moral trepidation about bombing the Christian cities of the Christian Fuhrer…

      What ever is religious morality as expressed in “Gott mit Uns?”

      You really believe people won’t behave morally unless instructed by a Sky God? I have an FSM to sell you.

    • I checked my data. There isn’t any double-blind, predictable, falsifiable thesis.

      The data is that human governance hasn’t evolved yet.

      Read “The Tangled Wing”!

  19. P Gosselin:

    Science is never ‘settled’ – there is always more to know and indeed, the more we know, the more we appreciate how much we don’t know.

    To me, this seems to be the only ‘obvious’ response.

  20. Dr. Curry,

    I like the idea. I sometimes think of it the opposite way: take the politics out of the science. But that may amount to precisely the same thing.

    Part of the problem for me is that the battles fought in both the scientific and political arenas leave little room for common sense approaches. For example, I think it’s common sense that if a certain manufacturing process results in obviously toxic substances being dumped into our environment, it doesn’t take a whole lot of science to suggest that we should do that. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of education on the science of biology to realize that you don’t want to eat, drink, or breath poisons.

    And yet, I still smoke. So where does that common sense get me? That aside–well, is it really an aside? Are we in some ways addicted to the products that poison the environment? Probably so. But that’s an entirely different topic of behavioral psychology, so let’s leave it alone for now.

    Assuming that we are not dealing with an addiction, I think there are clear cases where everyone agrees on some common sense ideas. No one really wants to have nuclear waste floating around everywhere. We realize that this is bad.

    We also agree, to an extrent that the harvesting of certain rare elements useful in electronic applications results in toxins we don’t want to deal with. So we outsourced them to China. Of the many issues of hypocrisy in our politics, criticism of China’s polution levels is a major problem. We used to do all the stuff they do now. Then we didn’t want the hassle of the pollution, and we wanted cheaper labor. And we got it by outsourcing. Now we can get a Dell for a couple hundred bucks.

    I think the real problems arise when defining what is and isn’t toxic. With some exceptions, most things aren’t at low levels. In fact, many things are beneficial at one level and harmful at another. We need CO2 to survive. We need O2 to survive as well as Nitrogen, and a lot of other things. But if you increase any of these elements to a certain extent, they are toxic to most lifeforms.

    What if we started small? What if instead of looking at possible impacts on climate, which have issues and conflicts on either side of the debate, what’s the practical issue?

    We do know that CO2 levels are increasing over time. I don’t think anyone would argue that. At what level does a concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere become toxic to biological life? At our current rate of CO2 increase, when does that happen? When does CO2 cease to be a necessary element that provides fuel for plants to grow, and become a detriment to human/animal life?

    I’m not suggesting that we push it that far or that we want to get close to that level. But I think that everyone would agree that there is a point at which that would happen, and we would create a toxic environment. At our current rate of CO2 emmissions, when do we get to that point? Or perhaps, at reasonably projected increase, when do we get there?

    Maybe that would be an interesting conversation to have because it’s grounded in reasonable, easy-to-understand stuff, and there’s not a whole lot of room for disagreement.


    • Ian Blanchard

      Unfortunately, while your suggestion has logical merit, it has unfortunately picked the wrong target.

      Geological data shows that atmospheric CO2 has varied throughout the Phanerozoic (as have temperatures) – at present we are in both a relatively low CO2 (300-400ppm is close to the lowest ever levels and a lot less that the 2000ppm of the Cretaceous and the 4000-5000ppm of the Ordovician) and low temperature era (i.e an interglacial period of an on-going ice age). Throughout all of that time, life has flourished (other than for some brief catastrophic extinction events).

      CO2 is necessary for photosynthesis, both for land plants and for a large proportion of the marine biomass. Laboratory evidence suggests that the effectiveness of photosynthesising organisms is badly hindered when CO2 levels drop below about 200ppm (and indeed commercial greenhouses pump in extra CO2 to improve the efficiency of some plant growth – my non-researched background is that tomato plants particularly respond well to this), but the geological evidence suggests that life can tolerate far higher atmospheric CO2 levels. So based on your initial hypothesis, and if we were to assume that CO2 additions to the atmosphere were otherwise harmless, there would be a case for deliberately trying to increase atmospheric CO2 so as to move away from the lower boundary.

      Obviously the above assumption of harmlessness would not be accepted on the basis of current science, both because of climate change and ocean acidification processes.

    • Mac, you are thinking in terms of robust decision making :)

    • Hi Judith
      I’m intrigued to know why you haven’t picked up on Ian Blanchard’s ridciulous post, especially when you had the chance?. Why haven’t you pointed out the obvious flaws in his argument.? You know that it’s the rapid rise in CO2 and consequent rapid rise in T that is the problem. Why did you not point out that 2000ppm CO2 also means no ice on Earth and 70m plus sea level rise?

      Your inability to educate these posters suggests to me that you aren’t really interested in the science.

    • Monty, i don’t recall seeing a post by Blanchard, and I have no hope of responding to very many of the hundreds of posts each day. People educate themselves by exposing themselves to new information and thinking about it. I am not going to spend my time trying to hit people over the head with factoids, many of which are associated with significant levels of uncertainty anyways. Other commenters can take on what they view as incorrect arguments or facts. People who come here to say things that are baseless, senseless or whatever are best ignored. Let’s spend time discussing more interesting things.

    • Well, I largely agree. But it seemed strange to me that you responded to Mac, but not to the very next post by Blanchard.

    • Monty
      Re-read what I have actually written – I’m not suggesting that we can pump unlimited CO2 into the atmosphere (even in the light of uncertain evidence as to potentially harmful effects on climate and ecosystems).

      I was responding to the original point which was the issue of whether there was a (maximum) level of CO2 that could be considered harmful (toxic was the word used in MacViolinist’s post) irrespective of warming, and that therefore could be used as a guide for action. The geological evidence is that life (in general) is fairly robust wrt atmospheric CO2 levels, and indeed that from a geological perspective we are close to the bottom end of the range of both CO2 and temperature ranges experienced in Earth history. On this basis, it is impossible to draw a conclusion that there is a level of CO2 that we are in danger of reaching (from human activity) that would be detrimental to life (toxic) OTHER THAN through rapid climate or environmental changes.

      That there is a minimum level (with regard to photosynthesis), and that we are much closer to that than to any possible dangerous maximum level (in terms of toxicity of the atmosphere) is factually correct although is not of great relevance to the discussion of climate change.

    • David L. Hagen

      You imply an Ad hominem attack by advocating conclusions from one view of climate feedbacks, claiming opponents are ignorant, while ignoring alternatives. See NIPCC, Spencer, WUWT etc. and address both sides of the issues.

    • We seem to have two “Ice Ages” during the course of each orbit of the Milky Way. The majority of the time in each orbit is much warmer and “greener” that at present. People, per se, are creatures of the current “Ice Age”. One day, no matter what we do, this cool period we’re in now will end and we’ll have to contend with palm trees on the North Slope and in Siberial, and NO Ice at the poles. The peoperty in the current zillion dollar real estate market will be a few hundred feet under water.

  21. Alexander Harvey

    I have some issues with David Roberts’ reduction, it is so damnably rational, and begs the democracy of the opinion poll.

    I think a major problem is that some options are just simply “un”.

    The power of that “un” is to begat a further “un”; unreason.

    If you present an option that is “un” some core value, the very fabric of reality, will warp under the stress.

    If at this point you feel I am getting at you, know I include everyone, it is my opinion on how things work; our ability to construct a reality that makes sense of our needs and perceptions. I do not think this to be a bad thing.

    I think that much of the reaction to climate science has little to do with science, but that the message contains an “un”. You don’t have to spell out the remedy just list the causes:

    aeroplanes, cars, heating, airconditioning, lighting, computing, working, holidaying, and so on.

    People are bright enough to be able to work out for themselves what comes next and it is going to be “un”.

    You can not project people into a future that gives rise to a visceral “un”. They simply won’t wear it.

    “Un”s are equal oportunity blockages, for some the thought that we are not going to give up on the root causes is simply “un”, unreasonable. So they appeal to reason, to science, to some child’s children’s children. When reason alone fails they temper it with some unreason, they threaten, conjure spectres, cajol, get abusive. They simply miss the point.

    On the other side we also have a mix of reason and unreason.

    Both extremes can resort to exageration, and dodgy science. They foster deep suspicion and hatred of the other. The other becomes “un”.

    Once the other is an “un”, the original basis of dispute is borderline irrelevant, The polarised sides view the other as either ideologically wedded and alternatively ideologically opposed, to the root causes. Which may or not be the case on an individual basis.

    I suspect that the polarisation has given rise to the perception on both sides that the other has distorted reality to suit their beliefs, and I think that we would all be right. It is just bias, it is what we do.

    The polarised position is to suspect the other’s motives and thereby to imply bigoted characterisations as environmentalist doom-monger vs immoral hedonist. Hopefully I have been evenhandedly spiteful.

    As for me, I take the moral low ground for I suffer from all of the above. I think that we may not reason but imagine otherselve into the future. We should be creative not rational, we should summon up a common dream.

    An unacceptable reality is just a lapse of imagination.

    Finally, this debate is a luxury, for many, for most, it is hardly the most pressing of issues.


  22. I think it is useful to be reminded that for most people, this is really an energy debate. Is is being disguised as a scientific debate, or is the climate science the strongest part of the argument. My view is that the energy debate as presented is too weak to be proven without recourse to what I guess are exaggerated climate cost scenarios. Personally, I take more interest in the scientific aspect – but I’m well aware that energy costs are increasing (I assume artificially), and energy policy was used to justify things like the UK home energy assessment nonsense.
    I’m not against progress in energy use, I have a CRZ hybrid on order, but I’m more in the ‘our understood influence is marginal, so we need to prepare to adapt’ camp.

    • David L. Hagen

      Agree that energy use and energy transitions are foundational. See above.

    • To the tune of “a brand new pair of roller skates”

      I’ve got a brand new hybrid auto, while Jeff drives an SUV
      I’m on the higher moral ground, Jeff must be in the tea par-tee

      and on and on…

  23. I wrote the following at RP jnr’s blog, regarding the outline questions asked at a discussion between RP jnr, Dr Curry and Andrew Revkin. Seems to be in fairly close agreement with Dr Curry’s initial opinion (a couple of insertions in square brackets where I have amended to improve or add clarity):

    “Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists?”

    Taking the two questions separately:
    1) Advocacy of mitigation / adaptation policies – there certainly seem to be occasions where some climate scientists (Professor Hansen being one [for example when acting as an Expert in the UK case of vandalism to the Kingsnorth power stating]) are straying beyond their expertise (of analysing the scientific evidence) and into areas of politics / policy / economics. This isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing per se (i.e. people, even scientists, have opinions on such issues), but when listening to their opinions, the public must remember that this advocacy is not from a position of [unusual] expertise (unlike for example our host here [Roger Pielke jnr], where this confluence of science and decision making IS the specific area of expertise).

    2) As above, advocacy is inevitably to be found in some (most) scientists when it comes to defending their ideas and intellectual work (although in most areas of science, the knock-on of this advocacy [in terms of policy decisions] is much less than is the case presently in climate science). However, I think there is more of a risk that advocacy can lead to a loss of objectivity of a scientist (loss of credibility may follow, depending on how resolutely you continue to defend the indefensible).

  24. Disagreements will last as long as the CO2 is considered only game in town. This is not an ‘upstart’ or ‘newcomer’ , it has the most reliable record for any physical process going back to 1600.
    Is it ‘the driver’ for the CETs and the rest of the North Atlantic temperatures – possible and likely.
    Why has it been ignored – possibly that the climate science today is blinkered and driven by agenda.

  25. Am I being naive and optimistic about how this might work?

    Hmmm… like someone said: “Never Underestimate the Predictability of Stupidity”

  26. It’s an interesting position, however i can’t help feeling you’ve still got the cart before the horse.

    This paragraph…:
    “But what I would like to do in the forthcoming series on decision making under climate uncertainty is to explore how we might approach reframing the strategy for identifying robust policy options for dealing with climate change in the context of the broader challenges to sustainability.”

    …is, with the greatest respect, based on a flawed premise. To try to ‘repair’ the science by seperating the politics out, is to try to treat an issue that MAY have been ‘invented’ (or at least blown out of proportion) by said politics. This appears to be the same circular logic that you recently accused the IPCC of.

    Not that i don’t understand your goal; to allow proper discours and progress to be made. However, for progress on an issue to be made there first has to BE an issue.

    The science can emphatically be called ‘un’ settled and our knowledge of the system itself is to be kind, woeful. So does science actually have a role here??
    I think yes, but not as you would probably put forward yourself. There is not enough information to say either way what the climate is going to do, so that is the priority; get more information. Until then all predictive exercises should be halted- if they’re not then you just cannot call it a scientific issue anymore- you’ve seperated the two (science/politics) already and it is all purely political.

    This is clearer if we work backwards using the rough example below:
    1- oucome A (dangerous cAGW) has been given 95% confidence.
    2- outcome A is predicted by models 1-10. Each programmed on certain assumptions/simplifications.
    3- These assumptions themselves are based on assumptions (that internal forcings have no influence and that forcing is external and that we understand the effects this will have- inc. climate sensitivity)
    4- THESE assumptions are based on the assumption that we know enough about the system to make these sort of judgements.

    There are FAR too many levels of assumption here with far too little actual data for there to be any real confidence in the scientific backing of ‘outcome A’.

    To attempt to show that i’m not just ‘trolling’ as it were- and working from the bottom this time, the climate scientists need to show:

    4- that they can model all the past/present changes in the climate by changing the forcings (internal and external) against the ‘recorded’ shifts in said forcings. These models MUST include clouds.
    3- proper weighing, with justifications, must be given to all (or most) of the internal and external forcings, with a clear understanding of how each affects the climate equilibrium
    2- this will naturally follow 3 and 4- thorough model validation being a must
    1- predictions must be verified with full null hypothesis in place.

    I’m not aware that climate science meets all these criteria yet (if they do then please say!!!), so therefore discussions on mitigating or preparing for climate change are not based in science, only politics and the precautionary principle (a political beast).

    Discussions on energy security, ‘possible’ climate mitigation and renewables/environmentalism are therefore seperate issues- climate science should not be used as the ‘driver’ to affect these changes.

    Well, that’s where my thinking takes me any way…. And relax :-)

    • It is about risk, which is combination of the nature of the threat and the likelihood of the threat actually occurring. Low probability, high consequence events, and even the unforeseen events such as the Black Swans, are the most challenging issues for decision makers; military, intelligence, and financial sectors deal with this all the time. I agree that the 4 steps you list are what is needed to show for a high confidence consensus. I’m saying the uncertainty is too large for this, but this does not imply we should ignore the threat.

    • Richard S Courtney

      Dr Curry:

      I agree with you that it “is about risk”.

      The introduction of ‘climate science’ into the political arena has substantially increased risk.

      Climate change is a serious problem and all governments need to address it. And they always have.

      Since the Bronze Age all sensible governments have adopted the same climate policy;
      viz. prepare for the bad times when in the good times.

      (It cannot be known where and how that policy truly originated, but according to religious scripture it was Joseph, with the Technicolour Dreamcoat, who originated it when he told Pharaoh that climate has always changed everywhere: it always will. He told Pharaoh to prepare for bad times when in good times.)

      So, all sensible governments have adopted the policy of ‘prepare for the bad times when in the good times’ throughout millennia.

      It is a sensible policy because people merely complain at taxes in good times. They revolt if short of food in bad times.

      And it is a tried and tested policy that has stood the test of time longer than any other political policy in history.

      But in recent decades several governments have replaced it with a policy of attempted climate control. And ‘climate science’ is at the root of this hubristic attempt to modulate the climate system of the entire Earth. This policy of attempted global climate control arises from the hypothesis of anthropogenic (that is, man-made) global warming (AGW).

      The attempt is a profound mistake because it increases risk.

      There can be no absolute certainty of any outcome from increased greenhouse gases in the air. But the AGW hypothesis is predicated on the presumption that increased atmospheric CO2 will induce warming (i.e. the assumption that climate sensitivity is positive and is sufficiently large as to overwhelm other climate mechanisms).

      That presumption has yet to be shown to have any certainty. And empirical evidence at very least provides doubt to the presumption. But that presumption
      (a) encourages preparation for future warm times
      (b) discourages preparation for future cold times.

      But cold is more harmful than warm.

      So, at present the AGW hypothesis is a harmful intervention into the political arena. It acts to stop politicians preparing for the range of possible future ‘bad times’.

      Scientists are trained in science. Their theories and hypotheses may be useful for politicians, but science and scientists (including me) should be ‘on tap’ for politicians and not ‘on top’ of politicians.

      The introduction of the AGW hypothesis into the political arena has been deeply harmful to political policy on climate change, and it threatens to be deeply damaging to the reputation of all science.


    • I’d largely agree Dr Curry (i have performed countless lab-based risk assessments so am all too familiar with the ‘risk tables’ used).

      My concern is that giving the circumstantial evidence more weighting because of the ‘potential’ risk, is un scientific. It’s more Health and safety than science- you can see this?

      I understand the reason for such a ‘line’ on the issue, however i think we’re deceiving ourselves AND others if we think it’s a scientific basis for action. It is not, it’s political- which is why i’m struggling to reconcile your statements on removing politics from the science with your overall position.

      Think of it this way, had we not been given the ‘Gore-treatment’ and someone had presented you the ‘data’ for the cAGW theory- i.e. you hadn’t even started thinking about the consequences yet and were just examining the theory, can you honestly say you’d think the theory passed muster?

      I also think the precautionary principle is locking us into a sort of paradox here (which make it an undeniably useful political tool):

      We are invoking the PP because the cAGW theory is incomplete/unproven. Yet we’re only using the PP BECAUSE we can’t prove/disprove the theory.

      We’re caught both ways- If the theory fails (and so far it has) then the PP is irrelevant. Without the theory there is no basis to inact the PP, therefore the PP cannot be used to support the theory.

      I really hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me on re-read, i know what i’m trying to say but am struggling to articulate it!

    • David L. Hagen

      The precautionary principle should start from the presupposition of “Do No Harm” and the Null Hypothesis that natural and historic anthropogenic changes will continue (including land use changes.)
      2/3rds world development for 3 billion plus people depends on low cost energy and transport fuel. How will/should “we” provide that?

    • An excellent point that is often dismissed from this debate.

    • Richard S Courtney


      With respect, I think that introducing the Precautionary Principle adds confusion – and does not help – because it can always be invoked on both sides of any needed decision.

      The following is intended to demonstrate this.

      Advocates of AGW use the Precutionary Principle saying we should stop greenhouse gas emissions in case the AGW hypothesis is right. But that turns the Principle on its head.

      Stopping the emissions would reduce fossil fuel usage with resulting economic damage. This would be worse than the ‘oil crisis’ of the 1970s because the reduction would be greater, would be permanent, and energy use has increased since then. The economic disruption would be world-wide. Major effects would be in the developed world because it has the largest economies. Worst effects would be on the world’s poorest peoples: people near starvation are starved by it.

      The precautionary principle says we should not accept the risks of certain economic disruption in attempt to control the world’s climate on the basis of assumptions that have no supporting evidence and merely because they’ve been described using computer games.


    • i agree it does not help one bit- hence my assertion that it is a purely political tool not scientific.

      As you’ve pointed out, both sides can invoke the precautionary principle, so it ‘cancells out’ leaving only the science. Hence, the theory should be ingored until further work is shown that it is accurate.

    • The problem, Richard, is that the PP is not a tool of the rational. It is the ultimate weapon used by the true-believers to incite irrational fears into the minds of the useful idiots, based upon some (likely irrationally) perceived threat posed by growth, development, humans, big oil, cellphones, vaccines and a host of other factors that “normies” take to be beneficial in some way. The cost-benefit analysis does not apply. Political tools are quite different from logical tools.

  27. It’s been interesting to stick my toe back in the waters of this ongoing debate after an absence of half a decade. Even with ClimateGate and Dr. Curry’s new ‘apostasy’ (word used tongue-in-cheek), I don’t detect much change in the tone or parameters of the debate. So I feel safe to check out again.

    Dr. Curry, in most things it is good to seek balance – balance between one’s professional life and one’s personal life. As professional scientists it is our unique responsibility to ignore the fact that we are human beings. Those who take up this profession don’t mind (or even find comforting refuge in) this denial of our humanity. Most other professions have no such severe dichotomy as our mandate. I’m sure professional politicians would shrivel in the cold, objective atmosphere that sustains good science. And I’m sure that I personally shrivel in the over-heated passionate world of politics. But I *am* a human being, and so I’m involuntarily drafted into this world where emotion and persuasion are the currency.

    In science the term ‘disagreement’ means ‘contradiction’: there are facts that don’t resolve each other with any consistency. And it’s a bad thing. In politics, I’d argue that disagreement is the essential element. It is not something to be eliminated (picture the consequences if it was). The balance I see therefore requires managing that fundamental tension between incompatible world-views on the deepest level. Good luck.

    As I check back out of this debate, I’ll take a moment to express my own thoughts on CO2 and Climate. I grew up in the 50′s. Building and adequately stocking bomb shelters was a common topic of discussion then. We were doing nuclear testing in the atmosphere. But we stopped because it became obvious that we were soiling our own nest. Later we stopped pumping CFCs into the atmosphere for much the same reason. What of CO2? Well, we understand that life evolved in an atmosphere much more rich in CO2 than our present atmosphere. In light of that, we’re dependent on second-order arguments (such as the rate of change of CO2) in order to make a case that it is a dangerous substance. For my part, I tend to take the long view. We are going to stop using fossil fuels eventually because we are going to run out. But we are also running out of clean water, of arable land to support a swelling population, and of every other non-renewable resource. CO2 is one piece in the jigsaw puzzle, and IMO not likely to be the most important one in playing out the future of humanity over the coming age.

    • “As professional scientists it is our unique responsibility to ignore the fact that we are human beings. ” is a gem, in this excellent post. Scientists could do well to ponder Peter’s words at length, and to implore him not to wait another lustrum before he utters more.

  28. Tomas Milanovic

    Hmmmm Judith when do we go back to water vapours, spatio temporal chaos and ergodicity?
    I am beginning to get bored by all these considerations about what the US policy in this or that should or should not be .
    Of course I fully accept that most people here are Americans but admit that the density of politico-philosophical musings is getting critical.

    For me the things are very clear and simple.
    I feel neither the need nor inclination to sophisticated debates that only a handful of people is interested in.

    a) There is no clean energy, there is only energy. Using the word “clean” applied to energy already indentifies a biased indoctrinated person.
    E.g I stop listening and ignore such persons.

    b) My personal priority set is well defined. First comes man, second everything else. That doesn’t f.ex mean that I would kill whales or panda bears just for fun. But when the evolution and man eliminate them, then it’s how things work.

    c) Observation of the world and frequent travels have shown me that the climate “problem” is an issue for less than 5% of the worl’d population. Actually much less but I take the maximum case where 100% of the western world would be thrilled by these discussions.

    d) From that follows 95% of the people will follow their priorities which are mostly centered on developpment, prosperity and comfort. And they are right to do so.
    You americans (and west europeans) are free to cut your CO2 emissions as far as you want.
    You are even free to weaken or destroy your economies in the process, I really won’t interfer – this is your business.
    But there is ONE single thing that I can’t understand – how is it possible that you don’t get this trivial fact that even if all the western 5% self destruct, it will not make the slightest difference?
    If you really believe that reducing CO2 is important and I don’t, can’t you see that whatever you do or don’t do to yourself, you have ALREADY failed?

    As for me, I am with the 95% and we’ll emit as much CO2 as is necessary to cover our economy and developpement needs with the most cost effective solutions and acceptable health&safety standards.

    So this closes for me the “political” part of the debate.
    For the rest I am only interested in examining scientifically how this complicated Earth’s system works and this is just for the fun of it :)

    • Tomas, Thank you. I have tried to think up what to say, but you have already said it. And the more CO2 we emit, up to say 1500 ppmv, the better the plants grow with less water.

    • Tomas, Climate Etc. deals with both the physics stuff and also the Etc. stuff. I hope that you will find where I go with the decision making under uncertainty thread to be interesting (no I am going nowhere near what the policies should actually look like). It will be about how spatio temporal chaos, water vapor, etc. interface with the human dimension and the science policy interface, which brings up a host of what I hope will be very interesting challenges with regards to reasoning about uncertainty that arises from scenarios and spatio-temporal chaos. My original goal was to have to have two threads per week, one related to the more physics stuff and the other related to Etc. This week is goofy, the heresy thing was totally unplanned for, and there is also considerable interest in the broader Etc community in the climate hawk thing, which I thought was a good segueway into the decision making under uncertainty. I will have a thread early fri that should interest you. The challenges of the editor . . .

    • Tomas – well said – but with great respect to your excellent command of a language not your own, may I suggest “But when the evolution and man eliminate them ” might be better expressed “But when the evolutionary processes, of a world of which man is a part, result in their extinction…”?

      By the way, I sometimes wonder what the reply would be, if one were to ask an enviro-advocate which species he believes are naturally expiring. Clearly they must be numerous, but I doubt if the average advocate could name, if any, as many as those he fervently claims are endangered by human activity.

    • Alexander Harvey

      Some would say the cheetah, it has got genetic problems that indicate that it has already come very close to extinction in pre-history and those same problems make it very vunerable anyway. Similarly a case could be made for any of the rescued species such as the North American Bisson, White & Black Rhinos to suffer extinction even if we try to keep them from harm, again to due to lack of genetic diversity, that is my speculation but for the cheetah it is a bit dire as they have very little diversity in their immune system, they are almost clones, and that is not good.


    • Let’s not talk about the “average advocate”, many of those are far too taken with pretty faces or perfectly formed flowers, not so interested in ugly or slimy animals or smelly or prickly plants. The glamorous poster animals or plants are just the advertising link to the real science. Most people never get beyond the poster.

      The scientific ecologists look at an expected or ‘background’ rate of extinctions and the actual rate – always accepting the measurement difficulties involved. What some are now focusing on is the climate related issues of habitat – if a bird migrates earlier because of warmth signals, will its major food source be available if it is a plant dependent on photoperiodicity? Where can plants migrate to from a warming location if there’s no (suitable) soil at higher altitudes or they hit the coastline between them and a cooler latitude.

      The scientific ecologist is quite attuned to evolutionary changes leading to new species or extinctions. They are also fully aware of just how many generations of any particular organism are needed to make these transitions. Those who are perturbed by climate change see extinction occurring because the organisms haven’t enough generational time to evolve to cope with rapidly changing conditions – so extinction is becoming more likely than transitional evolution.

      But a real ecologist would be better qualified to deal with your question. Any takers?

    • David L. Hagen

      If Darwinian evolution expects species loss, why the lamentation that it is happening? Concern over species loss comes from non-Darwinian presuppositions.

    • No David.
      We expect both evolution in changing existing species to some newer form suited to a new location or circumstance *and* we also expect extinctions.

      The speed of change menas that we’re now getting “excess” extinctions – mainly because many species can’t fit in enough generations to make the more gradual expected transition.

  29. One of the main difficulties to agree on „Climate Change“ derives from the completely insufficiency of the term CLIMATE. Like the word WEATHER it is merely an ‘image’ in our daily life, a personnel, individual, and experienced observation. It is a layman’s expression, and reflects in no way the physical dynamic that govern the ocean and atmospheric processes. Both terms are scientifically irrelevant, and if used by academics in their professional work, or in communication with the general public and politics it is casing “confusion” and misunderstanding, to say the least.
    Discussed at: http://www.whatisclimate.com

    Two outstanding meteorologist had this to say not a long time ago:
    ____”Only thirty years ago climatology was generally regarded as the mere dry-as-dust bookkeeping end of meteorology.” H.H. Lamb, Meteorological Office Bracknell, Berkshire (UK), “The New Look of Climatology”, NATURE, Vol. 223, September 20, 1969, pp.1209ff.

    ____”This is obviously the decade in which climate is coming into its own. You hardly heard the word professionally in the 1940s. It was a layman’s word. Climatologists were the halt and the lame. And as for the climatologists in public service, in the British service you actually, had to be medically disabled in order to get into the climatological division ! Climatology was a menial occupation that came on the pecking scale somewhat below the advertising profession. It was clearly not the age of climate.” F. Kenneth Hare, 1979; „The Vaulting of Intellectual Barriers: The Madison Thrust in Climatology“, Bulletin American Meteorological Society , Vol. 60, 1979, p. 1171 – 1124.

    CLIMATE and WEATHER are still today only layman’s term.

  30. An example of climate scientists’ bridge bombing, rather than bridge building, is the Mann group attacking a book reviewer for giving a positive review to Pielke, Jr’s “The Climate Fix.”


  31. Disagreement is a sympton of uncertainty. If we embrace uncertainty, we also embrace disagreement. From whence arises the notion that we have to all agree or be doomed. Disagreement is meaningful and useful.

    Regarding policy: there seems a notion that we must reach a decision and take some action. This is false. There is considerable value in delay. Over time; uncertainty is reduced, available options are increased, resources to apply to those options are increased.

    Regarding modeling: Computer models don’t generate data!

    • Kdk33:

      If climatologists were to stick to science (and to stay out of the the policy making arena) then there would not be the need for disagreements among them. When scientists stick to science, disagreements among them arise from the archaic practice of using intuitive rules of thumb called “heuristics” in deciding upon the inferences that will be made by models. In each instance in which a particular heuristic identifies a particular inference as the one correct inference to make in a given situation, a different heuristic identifies a different inference as the one correct inference. As the heuristics that are used vary among the scientists, you get disagreement.

  32. If all the money spent on climate research had been spent on improved weather forecasting, and measures to mitigate against extreme weather events, some lives may have been saved.

    All that climate science seems to have established for the benefit of mankind, is that if you feed rubbish data into a computer, it will produce rubbish.But we knew that anyway.

    Money, greed and power routinely corrupts politicians. Why should we expect scientists to be different when provided with the same stimuli?

  33. Hi Judith
    But isn’t this exactly what most climate scientists are doing? I try to do science (I work on palaeoclimate reconstruction and related stuff), but I also spend a lot of my time doing ‘public understanding of science’ (public lectures etc). I’m regularly asked what we should do about climate change, and asked about my political views. I am very careful to distinguish between these political views and my scientific views…..in other words I am very reluctant to get involved in politics or policy.

    As I see it, it’s the sceptics who have opened this particular can of worms. Their main issue is not about science, it’s about the implications of the science. You only have to hear the explicit and implicit references to tax, regulation on business, socialism etc in sceptic blogs to realise that their argument is political not scientific.

    Surely we can agree about the basics (radiative physics; likelihood that climate sensitivity is above 2C; impacts will likely increase with increased warming). How we deal with climate change is where, as a scientist, I try to keep out of the debate….although the debate gets nowhere if it doesn’t accept the validity of the science.

    • Hi Monty, yes this is what most climate scientists are doing. But there is a small but very influential cadre of scientists who are doing something different. And then there is the other problem whereby politics gets in the way of science (is there any other way to explain the hockey wars?) Actually in terms of the chicken and egg, This issue became politicized back in the 1970′s and increasingly in the 1980′s by the scientists; the skeptics reacted to this.

    • Yes, but the hockey wars was initiated by the sceptics….who seem to be (conveniently) blind to the fact that the hockey stick shape of climate over the past 1000-2000 years isn’t dependent on tree rings, Mike Mann or Ray Bradley. After all, it started off as an interesting first attempt at using new statistical approaches to estimate climate variability…it had little political importance (after all, our assessment of AGW doesn’t rely at all on past climate variability, although it is supported by it). It’s only when the sceptics became involved that the issue became political.

    • The counter argument to that is that IPCC launched the hockey wars by overconfidence in the hockey stick and making it an icon in the IPCC third assessment report.

    • Well I accept that the hockey stick was used centrally by IPCC (although the uncertainties weren’t hidden either). But it should have been…especially as subsequent reconstructions have supported the initial finding.

    • Hi Monty. Are there any “post hockey stick” papers that aren’t behind a pay wall that you know of that reinforce the hockey stick result?

    • Alexander Harvey

      Would you agree that the IPCC should try to make the reports as widely believable as possible?

      If so the hockey stick was not something that needed emphasis, for rightly or wrongly it was something likely to make a lot of people suspicious. A lot of people were rather fond of the mediaeval warm period. Whether it existed as a true northern hemispere phenomenon is neither here nor there, it is a recorded historical event.

      I found its absence to be distracting. I do not think it was wise to have included it in that dramatic form, if the intention was for the reports to be believed by the widest possible audience.


    • I don’t understand. The point of the MBH hockey stick was that the MWP was downplayed. Whether ” a lot of people were rather fond of the mediaeval warm period” is neither here nor there!

      By the way, I love it when sceptics argue simultaneously for a global MWP and low sensitivity….

    • Alexander Harvey

      The point is that a lot of people found its absence to be unbelievable. The question is, should it have been given such prominence. What is the point of the IPCC approach if it produces documents that are unnecessarily problematic?

      If the intention of the document was to help build a concensus amongst its readership, it seems odd to give emphasis to something that people will find doubtful when it adds so little weight to the argument. It detracted from the core issues and b rendered them hostage to fortune. It was very little importance to the science and a PR disaster. The rights and wrongs in the science are really not the issue, it is the affect that mattered.


    • Monty,
      What skeptics point out is that the MWP shows there is agreat range of variability in the climate.
      You guys have decided that there is not, and that CO2, even though when it has increased in the past has not done so, will cause run away feedbacks today.
      You were so sure the cliamte is not highly variable that you needed to do a few rewrites of history to get the point across.
      No different really from doctoring a text, or burning inconvenient texts, to make sure your creed is a bit more compelling.

    • Of course there is great variability….but the reconstructions show that recent warmth is unusual (which completely fits given the huge rise in GHG forcing!). How variable to whole Earth’s climate has been is unclear, but we know that GW IS global.

    • “Of course there is great variability….but the reconstructions show that recent warmth is unusual (which completely fits given the huge rise in GHG forcing!).”


      The point of most of sceptics is exactly that. The reconstructions and “huge rise of “GHG” forcings” are probably corrupted and very distorted. Temperature record too, by the way. Confirmation bias is huge and it is “hiding in plain sight” for consensus “scientists”.

    • Do you not accept the ice core CO2 record…or the Keeling curve?

    • Low sensitivity rules out the MWP only if you believe increasing CO2 is the only mechanism that can raise temperatures. Do you not see the circular reasoning here?

    • Not true. Although it is usually expressed in terms of a doubling in CO2 climate sensitivity actually applies to radiative forcing from any source. So if the MWP or LIA were caused by variations in solar activity they would still be more pronounced with high climate sensitivity.

    • But a sufficiently strong driver, non-CO2 in nature, could drive the temperature higher in spite of a low climate sensitivity, could it not?

    • This is something that bothers me. Climate sensitivity is defined in a general way. But in reality, we are talking about a dynamical control system. Control systems are designed to cope with a defined domain of external forces. Unless you claim to know in detail the composition of the control system, you can’t determine under what conditions it will be overwhelmed.

    • Yes, but we will never really know all the details of past forcing. All we can say is that our best estimate of forcing change during the LIA and MWP is consistent with a CS of around 3C. All the evidence stacks up.

    • but this is based on a guess about a under-understood system from a position of assumed knowledge.

      It only adds up too if you relegate internal forcings towards irrelevance.

      There’s far too many assumptions mate.

    • Monty – I don’t know if you are still around, but if so maybe you or someone knows. We see the hockey stick chart a lot. Is there a version that does not have the instrumental record spliced to the end, but instead displays the tree ring data to 2009?

    • Monty wrote @ 7:56am –

      “[Skeptics are] blind to the fact that the hockey stick shape of climate over the past 1000-2000 years isn’t dependent on tree rings, Mike Mann or Ray Bradley. ”

      That strikes me as a remarkably generous appraisal of the subspecialty of paleoclimate reconstruction. My own perspective is that prominent recent papers have not used robust methods, and that your discipline has yet to figure out how to confront its shortcomings. Mann08 (PNAS) would be my nominee for a widely-acclaimed and highly-cited paper with severe defects that are unacknowledged within the field.

      This observation is largely off-topic for this thread, except for the allusion to the “the science is settled” meme. Perhaps you could direct me to a site where the “isn’t dependent on tree rings” idea is more fully developed?

    • Look at glacier mass balances; length records; borehole records; fluvial sediment fluxes.

      And I never said the science was settled. If it was, why would I (and thousands of other people) do science?

      However, there IS a scientific consensus about AGW. The problem with sceptics is that you haven’t been able to distinguish between scientific arguments and political arguments. Just because AGW is inconvenient for someone’s world view (which might include small government, low taxes, freedom from regulation etc) doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

    • Monty, you also need to be EXCEPTIONALLY careful not to lump all skeptics into the same, big oil funded, status quo desiring mass.

      As far as i was aware the climate sensitivity issue still remains, as too do the questions over the validity of the temperature records (raising the distinct possibility that the change you are trying to detect is smaller than the error limits themselves) and the modelling parameters.

      These are all genuine, scientific issues that have yet to be resolved- i’d suggest waiting for more information on these before unleashing your anger on the skeptics.

    • Are you saying that there is a climate tipping point and global climate diruption, or are you saying that CO2 increases, all thing being equal, will warm things?

    • moi or monty?

    • Aimed at Monty, but I think it is the most important question, frankly.

    • Hi Hunter
      I’m saying that increasing atmospheric CO2 will have a warming effect…..the amount determined by climate sensitivity (which the vast amount of evidence from modern observations, paleo observations and models suggests is at least 3C). The past record shows that tipping points have occurred (at least regionally) during rapid T increases and we can assume that if similar things happened today, they would be highly disruptive to human and biological systems.

    • David L. Hagen

      There appears to be some scientific disagreement on previous vs present rates of change. See Don Easterbrook. Spencer, Lindzen and others are finding smaller or negative feedback. When the sign let alone the magnitude of climate feedback is still being explored, there appears yet more to learn before we can compare climate science with gravity or to chemical physics where optical wavelengths are measured to 17 significant figures.

    • Monty @ 10:12am –

      > Look at glacier mass balances; length records; borehole records; fluvial sediment fluxes.

      At 7:56am, you were discussing “the hockey stick shape of climate over the past 1000-2000 years.” To my knowledge, the proxies you mention are for the most part (1) scarce, (2) incompletely validated, and/or (3) lacking in adequate (decadal or better) resolution for “hockey stick shape” determination. Also, (4) they have been subjected to non-robust methods to derive a global temperature anomaly. E.g. Mann08.

      Can you offer references to the literature you have in mind?

    • As I’ve said elsewhere….try Huang, Pollack, Oerlemans, Luckman, Clague, Macklin. There’s also lots of research showing sea level rise is begining to approach the Early Holocene Sea level Rise. A hockey stick here which goes back around 7000 years! New review paper is in submission.

    • Monty- i was under the distinct impression that sea level rises have been steady at ~3.4 mm per year for the length of the instrumental record?

      if you have something to counter this, can you link it directly please.

    • Not really my field…but I think Church and White show increasing rate.

    • if you google ‘colorado sea level records’ there’s some great info there, puzzlingly they recently removed (or moved) a lot of data from their site on the older readings- howoever i stored it locally somewhere so if you need it i’ll try dig it out.

    • OK. Thanks.

    • So when Hansen or Suzuki calls for war crimes against skeptics, that is just good science?
      When Schneider calls for scientists to apply ends-justication-of-means by scientists, that is all the skeptics fault?
      Kudos on moving past ‘denialist scum’, but until you guys own up to the load of bs you have been selling and profiting from in the public square, this is not going to get resolved.
      And until enough of you guys point out that CO2 = ghg does not = global calamity, this is not giong to get better.
      Just like with early studies of evolution exciting in the minds of elites around the world that a eugenics was a great way to apply evolutionary science, climate science needs to stop (or be stopped) from creating a hugely profitable apocalypse out of CO2 = ghg.

    • Hi Hunter
      Yes, I agree this isn’t helpful. However, the sceptic side is equally aggressive!

    • I would dispute that.
      Of course.
      But I did not see Lindzen, for instance, calling for hysteria mongers to be tried as con-artists.
      And the promoters have all the money and policy tools.

  34. Professor Curry,

    Whether we label the problem as a Monster or a Sky Dragon (as it will be labelled in an upcoming book on the subject) is immaterial.

    Individually some of us (me too) have foolishly used this scientific disagreement to justify personal attacks and to focus years of anger and frustration on pitiable leaders of the scientific community and their consensus followers.

    It is time to address the basic problems that can be changed. It is time to eliminate those features of the Monster (the Sky Dragon) than can be changed. Some that cannot be eliminated are selfishness, personal greed, and personal ambition. Two that can be changed are:

    1. Concentration of power without accountability in NAS’s review of the budgets of research funding agencies (NSF, NASA, DOE, EPA, etc.) for Congress.

    2. Concentration of power without accountability in the process of ANONYMOUS review of proposals and papers.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  35. The climate community have shown themselves to be nasty, hateful and devious.

    Skeptics should dissengage from any and all discourse with climate scientists and concentrate purely on climate politics.

    • You say “Skeptics should dissengage from any and all discourse with climate scientists and concentrate purely on climate politics”.

      I agree completely. As long as the politics is based upon the best science!

    • Monty, you are contradicting your own (fallacious argument) that sceptics are motivated by politics and not science, by then going on to insist that “the politics should be based on the best science”. So it’s possible to be motivated by BOTH politics and science, but only if the science is what you consider best? Can I suggest you take a look through the preceding posts on this blog, as your remark implies a turn of mind from which it is refreshingly, if not completely free?

      Or let me put it simply. My electricity costs me more than it ought to, because of what Hal Lewis has described as a “pseudoscientific fraud”. Take the politics out of that.


      The burning of carbon has been the path to betterment for the world in which most of the visitors to this blog live. To this day, no power source comes close in fostering the green shoots of prosperity – the steps that take human beings off the backstop of survival and into the abundance all but the poorest of us take for granted. All the legions of climate “scientists” have yet do more for the betterment of humanity than Mr Honda, when in 1958 he created his 50cc, step-through, 4-stroke motorcycle, giving (with its imitators) 80 million or so owners and their dependents employment and trading opportunities undreamed of by their parents.

      Before I see the benefits of carbon combustion denied, not just to me, but to the vast swathe of marginal survivors that inhabit this planet, I want to see proper science, conducted in accordance with the scientific method, that shows that human activity is threatening the planet. So far I haven’t seen any, despite the excruciating efforts of the climate establishment.

      Take the politics out of that.

    • Well of course sceptics are mainly motivated by politics. Which is why they don’t do science. Why don’t the sceptics do the science to show (variously) that: CO2 isn’t a GHG; there isn’t a GH effect; that Co2 isn’t rising; or that it isn’t caused by human activity; or that sensitivity is low etc etc.

      The way to overturn the scientific consensus is surely to publish the science to falsify AGW. You’ve had almost 200 years….and there isn’t much to show for it!

    • Monty, you appear to be getting matters backward.

      it is upto the proponents of the theory to prove their case, not the other way around. the theory has not been sufficently proven (models i’m afraid, do not count) for it to be ‘unprovable’ yet- though the planets doing a fine job so far.

      Let me put it another way, ‘you’ve’ had decades to refine the theory and show co2 is the driver of recent climate change, so far ‘you’ve’ failed.

      I really do not want this blog to descend into a he-said, she-said ad-hom circus.

      I you have specific issues with the skeptic position, then address them, rather than making broad sweeping statements. the situation is far too nuanced for that.

    • Hi Labmunkey
      Of course, we don’t try and prove our case…we make sure it is falsifiable. The theory is predictive, and based upon well-established physical theories…until the sceptics come up with a better one (which they have failed to do despite years of argument) we have to go with the prevailing consensus, which seems watertight at the moment.

      So the sceptics should try and falsify AGW and the GE. It could easily be done. You could show that we have SB law wrong, or Wein’s law, or any other part of atmospheric physics (although this might only require adjustments to the theory). Or you could show that CO2 played little or no role in past climate change. If global T cooled for several decades with rising GHG forcing and no other cooling mechanisms, that would lead us to rethink parts of the science.

      Why hasn’t this been done?

    • Few points- again, i was under the distinct impression that the world’s warming had stalled recently.

      I’m also of the firm opinion that the temperature records are less than reliable (though emphatically not beyond repair).

      The vostock data shows the opposite trend to the one you suggest and to my mind, direclty imply LOW climate sensitivity wrt co2.

      the recent reversal shows a correlative but not causal link- akin to claiming the water is heating the kettle, not the other way around.

      As such there IS no other theroy or need to disprove, the null theory or base theory in this instance is that all observed changes are largely natural with co2 adding a slight insulative effect. I see little to discredit that assessment.

    • Well, every year in the 21st century is warmer than every year in the 20th, bar 1998 (and even that is cooler than 2005 in some data sets). So the earth hasn’t cooled. We’ve also had a very quiet sun recently, yet 2010 is likely to be one of the warmest years in the record.

      Don’t forget that there is natural variability in the climate, and the GW signal won’t be differentiated from the noise over short timescales.

    • Oh no- of course not!

      However i think it’s very difficult to remove the natural from the unnatural in this instance- the pdo etc match very well with temp on a blink-test level.

      i thought 2010 had been downgraded already from warmest to 3rd/4th?

      Oh- and somethingi’ve just discovered via a discussion on another blog is galactic radiation levels- there’s an inverse relationship between solar output and GRL’s, which is interesting as GR affects cloud cover! I’m only just delving into this area, but it’s yet another mecahnism that affects the climate (no idea which way yet), but damn, it’s interesting stuff!

    • If you think GCRs are a driver of recent warming, check out the Laschamp Event.

    • Another thing about GCRs. Sceptics are fond of grasping hold of ANY theory (however weak, fanciful or unlikely) of what drives recent warming as long as it doesn’t include CO2. Come on…..can we have some critical thinking here?

      IF GCRs were driving recent warming, you would then have to explain why elevated CO2 wasn’t having the radiative effect that atmospheric physics predicts. Welcome to the Nobel Prize committee if you can do that.

    • this is in response to monty- october 28th 11:40 and 11:45- your posts didn’t have a reply button!.

      re GCR’s- i am not suggesting that these explain the warming at all, only offering them up as another variable that we know very little about. I was quite clear that i didn’t know WHICH WAY they effected climate and only that i found it exceptionally interesting.

      Again, there’s no clutching at straws here, and i would kindly suggest that it is not skeptics who do this.
      This is the point, i’m only adding more information- i.e. further factors that affect climate. (well not personally but you get the point!). The fact you can say it is definitley co2 with a straight face while we are STILL discovering how the climate even works worries me.

    • @ monty
      ” you would then have to explain why elevated CO2 wasn’t having the radiative effect that atmospheric physics predicts”


      can i have my noble prize now please? :-)

    • The charts at this site certainly seem to implicate GCRs. This is a Register article, it isn’t peer reviewed, but do you dispute the charts shown?


    • I will avoid the issue of the problems that seem to plague the global temperature records / measurements.

      The point is, there still is no scientific proof to support the hypothesis of AGW. The point isn’t whether the global mean temperature is going up and so is CO2 content. The point is whether one can construct a predictive model based upon the AGW Hypothesis. So far, there exists no model based upon the AGW Hypothesis which has been able to accurately (95% confidence level) predict global mean temperatures. Therefore, the null hypothesis (it is just natural variation) must be accepted.

      When I hear the argument that “this is the best thing we have and until ‘you’ can come up with something better…..”, I know that the speaker has failed in understanding logic.

    • You may be the right guy to ask: Why do the CO2 levels lag the temperature levels in the ice cores?

    • Hi Jim
      Deglaciation is triggered by increasing insolation driven by Milanlovitch forcing. This also warms up the oceans and permafrost (which both release methane and CO2). There’s also an albedo feedback. This was all predicted (and the timing) before the ice core data were available.

    • That makes sense.

    • Monty:

      I don’t believc you’re correct regarding the falsifiability.

      I’m an experienced scientific researcher. For more than a year, I’ve searched for evidcnce of falsifiability of the claims that are made by the IPCC climate models without finding any such evidence.

      That a claim is “falsifiable” signifies that it can be proved false by reference to the reading of an instrument.

    • Hi Terry
      Well models are going to be difficult to falsify in the short run. I was really talking about the physical basis of the GHE. Observations should be easy to falsify in the long run.

    • Monty

      You’ve got that backwads. Predictions are falsified by observations and not the other way around.


    • If you plan to frequent Judith’s blog, I think you will find more sceptics here who “do science” than you will find congenial, judging by your manner. Try engaging in the science, if that’s your calling. Oh, and I don’t think you’ll find much contest on AGW – the dispute is in the C.

    • I don’t understand. This ‘C’ is a strawman argument. I’m not alarmist (neither are any of my colleagues)….however, AGW is clearly alarming. No scientist I know is alarmist. For instance, even Hansen et al say that sea level rise by the end of the century is likely to be less than 2m. I think this is still alarming. Don’t you?

    • You deny you are alarmist, then go on to write “AGW is clearly alarming. ” No it isn’t.

      “sea level rise by the end of the century is likely to be less than 2m. I think this is still alarming. Don’t you?”

      Nuff said – like labmunkey I’m not going to go the he said-she said route.

    • You really don’t think that 2m of sea level rise by 2100 isn’t alarming!

    • actually as i said current rates (3.4 mm a year average if constant) would put it at much less than that.

    • But the rate won’t stay the same. Thermal expansion and negative mass balances of the WAIS and GIS will see to that.

    • You didn’t say 2m, you said ” is likely to be less than 2m.”

      If you had said 2m, I would still have said no, but for the different reason that I wouldn’t have believed you.

    • Reconstruction of regional mean sea level anomalies from tide gauges using neural networks


      Manfred Wenzel
      Jens Schröter

      “The global mean sea level for the period January 1900 to December 2006 is estimated to rise at a rate of 1.56 ± 0.25 mm/yr which is reasonably consistent with earlier estimates, but we do not find significant acceleration”

    • No, this is an underestimate. For a good review see Church et al 2008. Sustain Sci (2008) 3:9–22 DOI 0.1007/s11625-008-0042-4
      They argue for around 3mm per year at present.

    • On what do you base your opinion that the Church paper is more accurate then the one I cited?

    • Well it’s a review of the bulk of the available science for a start.

    • i actually agree that the figure is closer to 3 mm a year (3.4 mm).

      But monty seems blissfully unaware that you’ll never get 2m by 21000 at that rate.

      re- sea level rise increases (rates of) you’d need to provide proof that that was going to happen- the data doesn’t suggest it. So it would seem you were invoking fear to prove your point.

    • David L. Hagen

      Monty – Lay off the ad hominem accusations of presumed association or motive.
      Try reading NIPCC’s summary of some of the science ignored by or since IPCC’s AR4.

    • Hi David
      yes, I’ve read quite a lot of NIPCC. What ad homs am I accused of? It’s also a bit rich to be accused of ad homs by a sceptic! Have you seen the treatment of Mike Mann, Gavin Schmidt et al at Climate Audit? Think this is reasonable?

    • David L. Hagen

      Think through your absolutist statements.

      Well of course sceptics are mainly motivated by politics. Which is why they don’t do science. . . .
      Sceptics are fond of grasping hold of ANY theory . . . of what drives recent warming as long as it doesn’t include CO2. . . .

      A true scientist will push all theories to quantify them and find their limits, including what does not fit his preferred paradigm.

      The way to overturn the scientific consensus is surely to publish the science to falsify AGW. . . .

      And how do you deal with Climategate type gatekeeping to prevent such data by “climate realists” from being shown?

      I trust your are not trying to imitate the reception shown in Daniel Greenberg meets the Climate Scientists.

    • Michael Larkin

      “Well of course sceptics are mainly motivated by politics.”

      Monty, how dare you! I have a certain degree of scepticism, and I absolutely loathe politics, and I know it is so for many sceptics. What I love above all else is Truth. Sounds corny, but there you go.

      You should really cease and desist from painting with so broad a brush. People aren’t like cowboys wearing black or white hats. They come in all shapes and sizes and some of them, even though they might disagree with you, aren’t thereby ignorant or basely motivated.

      Please bear in mind, Monty, that this kind of attitude is one of the factors that helps convince sceptics that not all scientists aren’t actually interested in the truth for its own sake.I’m not saying that includes you, but please, take a step back and reflect on how what you say, whilst perhaps meaning to build bridges, is in fact demolishing them.

    • OK. Point taken. I think I apologised yesterday to someone about this.

    • I’ll just respond at the beginning of your string since the block is getting so small.

      First they compare GRACE data to tide gauge data. These measure from different reference points. One of these reference points is not stationary. Then they adjust the tide gauge data by eliminating noise from the tide gauge data by comparing it with the GRACE data. There are well established techniques for eliminating noise and their results do not match that of the well established techniques. Can you point to the paper that establishes a calibration between GRACE and tide gauge data? I haven’t seen one. If I had I will still be a bit skeptical based on the questionable accuracy of GRACE

      Geophysical Journal International
      Volume 181, Issue 2, pages 762–768, May 2010

      Uncertainty in ocean mass trends from GRACE
      Katherine J. Quinn, Rui M. Ponte

      “We have examined trends in ocean mass calculated from 6 yr of GRACE data and found differences of up to 1 mm yr−1 between estimates derived from different GRACE processing centre solutions. In addition, variations in post-processing masking and filtering procedures required to convert the GRACE data into ocean mass lead to trend differences of up to 0.5 mm yr−1. Necessary external model adjustments add to these uncertainties, with reported postglacial rebound corrections differing by as much as 1 mm yr−1.”

      So what exactly leads you to the opinion that the Church study is the accurate one?

  36. “Classical decision theory involves reducing uncertainty before acting.”

    The problem with this is that we are already “acting” i.e. we’re modifying the composition of the atmosphere through the use of fossil fuels. The proposed policy is to reduce the amount of action i.e. to reduce the amount by which we modify the composition of the atmosphere.

    Hence it becomes difficult to say “We have no idea what climatic effects our changes to the atmosphere will have, therefore we have no basis on which to say we should stop modifying it”.

  37. “Classical decision theory involves reducing uncertainty before acting.”

    This depends on the cost of inaction. It’s risk assessment theory that is the more appropriate mode of thinking in debating the risks of CO2, knowing what we know about risk/uncertainty of the carbon cycle, paleo-research, modelling, observations, etc.

    See Contributions to the Theory of Statistical Estimation and Testing Hypotheses, Abraham Wald

    • This depends on the cost of inaction. It’s risk assessment theory that is the more appropriate mode of thinking in debating the risks of CO2, knowing what we know about risk/uncertainty of the carbon cycle, paleo-research, modelling, observations, etc.

      This is valid only so long as more than one course of action is allowed to be considered. Taking action is not limited to prevention. A perfectly valid action plan can include waiting to see if a problem occurs and fixing what goes wrong when it does.

      As an example, I realize that there are folks out there that believe we will reach some high atmospheric CO2 level that will trigger some sort of run away warming that will melt all of the planetary ice and flood low lying areas. There is no doubt that would be a serious problem if it occurred over a short span of time such as a century. Should be put all of our efforts into preventing sea level rise or should we evaluate what adapting to it might entail? The physics of solar radiation, green house gas radiation physics, and H2O phase change provide us with a calculation that shows more than a thousand years is necessary. There is a lot of ice on this planet to melt. Gradually relocating low lying coastal habitations and installations over the course of a millennium is not nearly a daunting a task as is typically described.

      Now, here are some of the cost I do not see mentioned in the the case of preventing increases in CO2. What is the human cost of preventing 3rd world communities from receiving the benefit of inexpensive energy. (By that, I mean low monetary cost, not catching free wind.) That low cost energy would allow them to bring themselves out of subsistence living and be more able to adapt to potential climate shifts, whether they be human caused or natural. Once out of subsistence mode of life, societies invariably seek to improve quality of their own locale. So preventing cheap energy negatively impacts their lifestyle but also the environment in general.

      Anyway, there is obviously much more discussion along this line I could present but this is Dr. Curry’s blog, not mine. My spin is that we should be examining a full range of actions, not simply prevention. This is extremely important when the uncertainties in climate predictions are considered. If adapting to a projected climate shift cost less or even the same as prevention, adapting potentially minimizes the risk inherent in choosing actions based upon uncertain risk. At least we might be able to delay adapting long enough to find out whether our guesses (yes guesses!) about future climate changes are correct.

    • A perfectly valid action plan can include waiting to see if a problem occurs and fixing what goes wrong when it does.

      In what way is this a “plan?” Unless you think any modern society of humans would “wait to see if a problem occurs and NOT fix what goes wrong when it does,” this is just a wordy way of saying “do nothing.”

    • The tires on my car will eventually wear out. I will wait until they wear down to the recommended minimum tread depth before replacing them. I do not spend a lot of time trying to invent a better tire. I do, however, plan to look for long wearing replacements when the time comes. That is my plan.

      Yesterday, our local Emergency Operations Center hosted a multi-agency table top exercise as part of an overall planning effort for response and recovery for a large earthquake. They did not spend any time figuring out how to prevent an earthquake.

      My view is neither of those examples qualify as “do nothing.”

    • Gary ‘My view is neither of those examples qualify as “do nothing.” ‘

      And neither would you count spending your leisure time hooning around on smoking tyres shortening the tyre life nor pointing out that building the emergency response centre/ fire station / hospital smack on the fault line is a very bad idea.

      Remember, we are not “doing nothing”, we are taking definite action every day to change the composition of the oceans and the atmosphere.

    • Yep in your context, my examples demonstrate a an action in the form of planning. Are you suggesting that planning itself is defined as do nothing? Is a plan that includes waiting for an appropriate execution time a do nothing effort?

  38. Harold Pierce Jr

    RE: What Climate Change?
    After watching weather reports on the TV for about 60 yers and more recently reading articles about global warming and climate changes in newspapers, magazines (e.g., Sci Am, Nat Geo, etc) and on the web, I have concluded that has been litle change in the earth’s climate. That is to say, the pattern of weather in the various region of earth are stll more or less the same. Weather is quite varaible from year to year, and there can be extreme and prolonged weather events suchas drought. Over the long term , however, the weather settles down and returns to normal.

    The reason that there has appaently been “climate change” is due to instant world wide communication systems. In the past a mudslide in a remote region of the earth would have gone unnoticed. Pesently such an an event is “breaking news” on CNN, BBC, etc. Moreover about 50% of humnas now live in urban areas, experience the urban heat island effect and thus believe the earth is warming.

    It is not possible that humans can cause climate change because a reecnt atlas of the earth reveals that:
    1. There are few humans on the earth
    2. They occuppy a small portion of the earth’s surface
    3. They have permently chanegd an even samller fraction by constructions of cities
    4. About 50% of humans live in urban areas
    5. Humans are moving in increasing numbers to urban areas.
    6. There large lamd areas of that are unhabited by humans suchas Siberia, Canada and the wesaern egions in the US and Australia

    The effects of humans on climate are tiny compared a large event such as an volacnic erruption.

  39. There is no way to de-politicize the science. The political system is how policy judgments are made and these judgments call for information, including scientific information. Clean energy is a policy issue, apparently as big as world peace (which I doubt, but no matter). The policy question immediately arises as to whether CO2 emissions are dirty? CO2 is the food supply for terrestrial life, including humans, and it is benign in atmospheric concentrations, so so far no. But climate science suggests it’s increase may be catastrophic, so yes. This is a policy question with a scientific core. In fact we are not spending billions of dollars a year on climate research for scientific reasons, but rather for policy reasons. Is fire safe? That is a policy question. The policy issue is unresolved precisely because the science is unresolved.

  40. Jonathan Gilligan


    Something you leave out of your discussion of decision making under uncertainty is that for several decades, the decision science community has been attempting to get the rest of the world to understand that to be effective at analyzing and facilitating decision-making you really need to understand the psychology of how people think about decisions (see, e.g., David Ropeik’s comment to Andrew Revkin about Lewis’s statement on the APS). Look, in particular, at the book, “On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Katrina,” (U. Penn, 2006) specifically Baruch Fischhoff’s chapter, “Behaviorally Realistic Risk Management” and Robert J. Meyer’s chapter, “Why We Under-Prepare for Hazards.”

    If you don’t understand the psychological biases and heuristics that technical experts, policy-makers, and the general public, use in thinking about uncertain risks, you won’t be able to communicate effectively because people will unconsciously distort what you say to fit their preconceived (possibly faulty) mental model of the issue (see M. Granger Morgan, “Risk Communication: A Mental Models Approach” (Cambridge, 2001) for solid empirical evidence of this problem and how to avoid it.

    From an economics point of view, Martin Weitzman has been at the forefront of attempting to work out how to fit black swans into economic analysis of risk and decisions (his review in Nature of Lomborg’s new book gives a very concise statement of his views, which are worked out in more detail in his scholarly writing).

    The foundational work on the psychology of decision-making under uncertainty has been collected into several volumes: “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,” by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky (Cambridge, 1982), “Choices, Values, and Frames,” by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (Cambridge, 2000), “Heuristics and Biases,” by Thomas Golovich, Dale Griffin, and Daniel Kahneman (Cambridge, 2002), and “The Perception of Risk,” by Paul Slovic (Earthscan, 2000). These are all well worth reading to understand why communicating effectively about uncertainty is so very difficult and why even experts often completely misunderstand uncertain probabilities. At a deep level, it’s not just about the mathematics, but how the mathematics interact with our emotions, cognitive biases, and values.

    • Jonathan, I have a cursory familiarity with this issue and the works you reference, I have even discussed cognitive biases on an earlier thread (probably uncertainty monster). I agree this is a very important issue. The focus of my dmuu threads will be the science policy interface, and how the decision making paradigm influences the way we do the science. Weitzmann will feature prominently in my discussion as an alternate decision making paradigm to the one we seem to be working under; i think this has dramatic implications for how we think about future scenarios. I first think we need to get the mathematics and the logic correct, then figure out how to communicate, but I realize that it is an iterative process, we need to understand what people actually care about. I’ve really appreciated your thoughtful posts at c-a-s, i hope you spend some time here esp on the dmuu threads.

  41. Trenberth on proposed IPCC reforms :

    But it would be unfortunate if it led to still greater separation between physical and social scientists, with economists dominating the discussion of policy options even more than now.

    The statements about the intrinsic conservative nature of the process and about China and Saudi Arabia’s influence on the reports are also interesting.

    • thanks for spotting this, i hadn’t seen it. a trenchant reminder of why scientists should stay out of the politics and the harm that the politics can do to science.

    • Startling, that we might end up with more soft scientists, especially Economists, if we aren’t careful. ;)

      This is an old story, retold anew in our times with new names and details. I believe it is worth retelling, and am glad of the forum for the discussion.

      Sir Isaac Newton was an influential policy-maker in the government of his day. (Imagine the advances he could have made, were he not hamstrung by being Chancellor of the Exchequer!)

      Throughout the Renaissance, scientists and engineers were disproportionately represented among advisors to the leaders of their day; certainly Galileo had as much influence as Machiavelli and no greater a fall from political grace within his own context. (One hopes for more of Galileo and less of Machiavelli in the formation of future policy.)

      Politics as a whole certainly does not suffer for the inclusion of able scientists trained in logic and intellectual discipline.

      Scientists ought have a robust enough mechanism for dealing with the political differences of its practitioners that it doesn’t fall to schizm with the baleful introduction of a preference for cracking the egg at the big end or the little end.

      Or is the argument that politics is a field inherently better equipped to withstand difference of opinion than science?

    • When the differences of opinion are about values, economics, intergenerational equity, etc., climate scientists’ opinions on this are no more valid than anyone elses. Best for disinterested scientists to analyze the logic. The issue is conflict of interest in your own discipline. Should we listen to Jim Hansen (interested) or Freeman Dyson (disinterested)? It gets very muddy.

    • I’m all for the democratic proposition that a single person ought have only a single vote within an electoral process.

      It’s a worthy battle to fight the Orwellian premise or practice that some animals are more equal than others.

      However, I confess I generally value logically derived, intellectually disciplined opinions produced through a dedicated lifetime of training, thought and study more highly than opinions and screeds generated by blind prejudice (which scientists might have in plenty), warped upbringing (again, not claiming scientists don’t suffer this too), and irrationality (a trifecta).

      I don’t expect every scientist to always produce pearls of perfect wisdom, nor for every pearl to be to my liking, but you can’t get pearls from sharks, sea slugs or clownfish, and life’s too short to waste a chance at a pearl now and again.

    • “The issue is conflict of interest in your own discipline.”

      We’re agreed, and I’ll try to be more serious here.

      The issue breaks down into how conflict of interest affects outcomes.

      A) Quality

      1. Internal. Certainly being blinded by preconceptions is a fearsome condition in science; it’s the enemy of discovery and a hallmark of faulty logic to not see the beam in one’s own eye. There is no one general solution for this, and pretending one has no outside interests or broader opinions of policy is more an invitation to remain unaware of the condition than to identify and seek a cure for it. The anodyne of bias is examination and recognition.

      2. External. Being pigeon-holed for presumed associations undermines the public credibility of the person doing the science and makes suspect the quality of their work. To which I say ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’. A credible reputation is a liability to a scientist first interested in clear thought and high quality investigation. It makes the scientist weigh evidence against renown instead of relevance, and the framing of key questions against prudent self-preservation. In an ideal world, there would be no such thing as credibility. There would just be the acknowledgement that there is much we do not know, and admiration for those who seek the thickest point in our ignorance and start to dig.

      However, conflict of interest also has quality benefits:

      1. Internal. Drive, motivation, desire to achieve are powerful and positive qualities which come from one’s system of attitudes, values and beliefs. If you’re going to have interests, you’ll surely face conflicts, but you’ll be interested, and you’ll pay attention to the little details that make for quality in experiment and reason.

      2. External. The greater the interest, the greater the audience. Both opponents who challenge the thoroughness of one’s logic or test one’s assumptions and overall make one a better analyst, and proponents who provide reference standards of quality are much better to have than darkness without direction.


      In another vector, conflict of interest can affect too the reach, not just the quality, of the scientist’s investigation.


      1. Internal. It can be tiring, fighting ones’ self where interests conflict. Delays for the internal monologue. You could end up like Hamlet, if you’re not careful about managing your internal conflicts. Or you could end up like the founders of AA.

      2. External. You could end up thrown to the lions or burned at the stake, too. But then too, quiet people guilty of no offense also suffer from oppression, so keeping your head out of controversy is no protection, and the ivory tower no fortification.


      1. Internal. As above, passion fuels endurance, perseverence and ambition. This is not to say there is no such thing as passion for pure science, but sublimating other passions into good science should not be dismissed out of hand.

      2. External. The more energy in the system.. I’m sure a Thermodynamist could help me perfect this metaphor. You don’t get very far in a perfect crystal at 0.0K.

      In short, while I admire your point and respect the position you take, Dr. Curry, it’s one I hope to persuade you from at least a little.

    • Thanks for your analysis. I would like to do a future post on the power politics of expertise, i have been reading some of the sociology on this, hope we can collectively explore this issue some more.

    • “Should we listen to Jim Hansen (interested) or Freeman Dyson (disinterested)?”

      Both, I hope. And whatever they say should be assessed on its merits.

    • RB. One thing I’d like to see would be a simple table showing the differences between what the scientists said in their drafts versus what the negotiations with governments eventually produced. No need to name names or point fingers, just the scientists said “Unequivocal”, the negotiations produced “more likely than not” or the scientists said “5-10 years”, the governments agreed on “by the middle of the century”.

      I imagine it’s possible that governments might come up with stronger statements than the scientists do, but I’ve not heard of any where this has yet happened.

    • David L. Hagen

      There is an ongoing discussion/exposure of such at Climate Audit and No Frakking Consensus etc.

  42. Sorry if this has already been referenced in a previous comment. Don’t have time at present to check all 81. To buttress Dr. Curry’s comment about scientists and politics, a quote from Stephen Budiansky:

    “My three years at Nature left me painfully aware that scientists are about the worst people on earth when it comes to confusing their political inclinations with objective fact — and absolutely the worst in the concomitant certainty that one’s opponents must be liars, frauds, or corruptly motivated, since (obviously) no honest person could possibly have reached a contrary conclusion through objective reasoning. As absurd and unwieldy as democracy is in handling scientific matters, I found myself constantly thankful that scientists weren’t running things, mainly because of this supreme intolerance for differing political conclusions.”


  43. It sounds so plausible, until you yourself try to spend a half day of vigorous activity at 2000 ppm, or a half hour at 5000 ppm CO2.

    In a lecture hall at 2000 ppm, most of the audience is drowsy and a substantial proportion could be described as ill.

    ‘Life’ adapts to those conditions over generations. Individual lives, not so much. We’re not likely to see such concentrations in our lifetimes at current rates of growth of CO2 emission, so maybe it’s not our problem.

    Heck of a legacy to pass on to our descendents, however. I’m sure they’ll admire us for it.

    Even CO2-loving tomato plants do better if the CO2 levels drop to 200 ppm when the lights go out.

    • Bart R. Do you have a link to support your assertions? Also, given the rate of production and absorption, do you have a link to support the assertion that CO2 will ever get to 2000 ppm before we run out of fossil fuels or are forced to scale down?

    • Jim, I founc this one while I was looking for what you were talking about. I know I’ve got it somewhere. I’ll keep at it (maybe tomorrow, it’s past my bedtime here.)

    • We have had hundreds of years of experience with plants and it goes without saying that advanced in genetic engineering will give us even greater control over the adaptivity of plants.

      In fact, the impact of a warming climate on rice is already being investigated. I don’t know if you call this mitigation or adaptation, but it is happening no matter what.

      “Based on at least one trait, the cultivars that could be studied further as potential donors
      in a heat tolerance breeding program include Basmati 370, Dom Zard, Ganjay (76349), Giza 159,
      Giza 178, IR22, IR2307-247-2-2-3, IR28, IR6, IR8, MRC603-383, Sardrome, Todorokiwase,
      Toor Thulla, and WAB96-1-1. The identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) for heat
      tolerance in the most promising donors and tagging these with molecular markers that could be
      used in selecting for the trait(s) could effectively offset the difficulty of screening cultivars in the
      field due to the unpredictability of heat stress occurrence during flowering. As noted by Collard
      and Mackill (2008), marker-assisted selection or MAS could be simpler than screening for the
      trait itself and can be practiced even at the seedling stage, on single plants, and away from the
      target environment. These advantages improve the precision, speed, and overall efficiency of the
      whole breeding process. New breeding lines derived from MAS, either in entirely new or
      recombined genetic backgrounds or in the background of rice mega-varieties that are already
      planted to millions of hectares, could potentially alleviate the negative effects of climate change
      on rice production due to global warming.”


    • Jim,
      My bet is that before CO2 hits 500 ppm the social irrationality that has suppressed nuclear power will fade away. Along with advances in thorium fission and possibly even the holy grail of fusion, we can put all of this away where it belongs- in a new edition of “Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”.

    • The links I’d have offered have been more than superceded by the very good ones several, including yourself, Jim, have been kind enough to offer in the comments below. I’d like to comment on them in turn, but must say that I value action more than word, so commend your active investigation.

      Given more than just the rate of production and absorption, but also parameters such as limits on ocean acidification, quality of life, changing consumer tastes in a world with a much higher CO2 concentration, I’d be glad to concede there’s substantial uncertainty we’ll globally see 2000 ppm before some limiting factor or mechanism slows the trend, and if 2000 ppm is passed, 5000 ppm remains all the more unlikely and uncertain.

      I generally reserve supporting links or documentary references in proportion to the precision and nature of my claims. Vague claims supported by vague links are a thorough waste of your time, and I don’t want to insult you.

      Since my claim is that vigorous activity feels bad under hypercarbonized conditions, it was more an experimental challenge in nature than a reference to authority.

      It’s an easy enough experiment to perform, reliable CO2 measuring devices are not unreasonably difficult to obtain or use, and with a few prudent precautions, a little exercise shouldn’t kill anyone.

      As for the lecture hall, I am of course aware of ventilation studies, but I’d rather expected that most of Dr. Curry’s readers must be familiar with large, packed lecture halls first hand, and the drowsiness and ill effects sometimes felt. Whether CO2 is the culprit or not, I’ll leave also as a challenge to experiment, since the links supplied in comments below seem more than adequate to me to make the case that it may be so.

    • My very unscientific personal study on lecture halls indicate the co2 causes me to feel drowsy and ill when the speaker is dry and boring. It appears co2 has no affect on me when the speaker is interesting and entertaining. This is obviously not meant to be a real argument just an observation.

    • Bart – I did find this paper.


      If you have more, I would be interested. One thing that bothers me about this paper is that the authors attempt to compare an putative adaptive response to CO2 with that of heavy metals. This isn’t a valid comparison as our bodies create CO2 and have mechanisms to deal with it in place already. More studies should be done to determine if humans do adapt to higher and persistent CO2 levels. The fact that the authors made such an inept comparison causes me to doubt their other assertions.

    • I’ll have to agree with you, that the paper is an interesting find, and I can see why it might be among the first of several offered. Of course I’m interested in more.

      I can see that you may have a point about the validity of the author’s methods; still, I’d love to examine that topic in more detail before deciding myself how much to deprecate it.

      I share no small doubt that the astounding estimate of 426 ppm is so dire as the authors appear to conclude, but I have nothing to argue against it with at this time but a sense of a need to examine the subject further.

    • Bart, at 50,000 ppm we all die. By the way, if you breathe pure H2O for five minutes, mortality rates approach 100%.
      Do you have a point hidden inside that strawman of yours, or is it as empty as it appears?

    • I’d much rather see someone die at 750,000 ppm than 50,000 ppm, I think. I’ve heard the lower concentration is a brutal way to go.

      So, here’s my question.

      Which strawman, or at the very least, what strawman?

      In which major or minor way was my reply directed at anything not in or relevant to the original argument?

      The original contention of the originating defender in an open forum was about 2000 ppm and 5000 ppm. I used the self-same figures, and not 50,000 ppm.

      It was about CO2. I talked about CO2, not some H2O Aunt Sally.

      Neither MacViolinist nor Ian Blanchard brought up dying as an especial focus. I didn’t bring up dying. Though it’s an appropriate topic, given MacViolinist’s mention of toxicity.

      Ian Blanchard was discussing, ably and eruditely, and MacViolinist opening some excellent questions, about CO2 levels. I related something from my own personal experience of and thoughts on the subject, hoping to add to, and not to very much contradict, Ian Blanchard’s quite reasoned response.

      There are many reasons to agree with most of what Ian says in his posts, both the one of his I replied to, and the one in which he replied to me. It appears I did my bit clumsily.

    • Bart R,
      From my view talking about CO2 at 2000 ppm, which as you later admitted is not a likely future, was a straw man. It is similar to Hansen talking about the Venusization of Earth or the talk about 20 meter ocean rises.
      If I lumped you in with those unjustly, please accept my apology.

    • You have no need to apologize.

      To me the difference between 5000 ppm and 426 ppm in the atmosphere is smaller than the difference between 500,000 ppm and 500,001 ppm.

      Why? Because while we well understand toxicity, we know squat about what a human lifetime spent between 426 and 5000 looks like. It’s probably not much different than 388 ppm, but the uncertainty overwhelms the ratio. Are there human in utero effects? Not only don’t we know, we can’t ethically experiment to find out. Same for early childhood.

      Outside of humans, how about birds? We know mass correlates to CO2 tolerance, but not what that means in detail. Some avians frequent forests dominated by a steep nightly CO2 rise, but a) they generally are inactive at night, and b) we have no idea how a higher baseline forest CO2 level translates to future night CO2 jumps.

      Will rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration influence formation of dead air pockets of toxic levels of CO2 or CO? By how much?

      With changing CO2 levels, will other factors limit plant activity in Nature before any CO2 effect is felt? Or will differential CO2 preferences in plants skew distribution, and if so, how, of species?

      We’re engaged in the biggest biological experiment of all time, without control and without design or plan.

      The odds aren’t high, but the uncertainty is grossly understated.

      Percentages, we can insure against and calculate an appropriate cost/benefit spectrum. Uncertainty is just not amenable to mitigation.

      By the odds, Hansen can be read to be too alarming, if read third-hand and not read carefully and in context.

      Including Uncertainty, Hansen doesn’t begin to worry enough.

    • OK, Bart, I call you out for BS. A study was done on people in an atmosphere containing CO2 at 25,000 ppm for a week. Guess what, they lived. Looks like we need to have that discussion of why we don’t trust scientists again.

      “The environmental conditions used in this study were 4oC (39°F), 16.75% O2, 2.5% CO2,
      1 atmosphere absolute pressure (ata), and 80-85% relative humidity. ”


    • Here is a link on CO2 toxicity:
      Here is an abstract showing increased wheat yield up to 1200ppm.
      Yet again, the hysterics are misrepresenting reality- I am sure for the best of motives.

    • Technically, in the parlance of some such studies, only seven of nine lived. (I do not, of course, refer to Seven of Nine, but to the nine sailors who persevered through the entire week of the test, less the two who ‘died’ by leaving the experiment early for whatever reason.

      This is, given the references in the study itself, far from the only such study. And if you’ve read it, or others like it, you’ll have noticed that this endurance study was somewhat hellish for its participants.

      Of nine healthy men in their physical prime, with 16-20 hours a day of bedrest, the conditions were so horrendous that two could not stay out the week.

      This test was not only about CO2 over sixty times the current atmospheric concentration, but also cold and low O2 and other factors, so it’s of limited use, one hopes, in a discussion of expected atmospheric levels of CO2.

      As I understand it, CO2 toxicity and CO2 sensitivity are very different, very difficult for laymen to understand, very complex topics themselves even for experts. Studies often come to vastly different conclusions about how people and animals are affected by varying CO2 levels under various conditions, LC50 for the stuff isn’t easy to get or to understand, experimenting with CO2 toxicity is sometimes called too inhumane to allow, under some extreme conditions it denatures into the much more dangerous CO, and that’s not stuff I intend to mess around with.

      So, yes, you can live at 2.5% CO2, and 2.5% CO2 is a number way outside what anyone’s seriously suggesting is on our list of concerns.

      Doesn’t make 0.5% or 0.2% BS — especially given that a source you provided (however dubious) suggested worry at 0.0426% — just makes our layman’s grasp of the topic a bit slippery yet, and so the topic all the more worth exploring.

    • I’ve read the study on the lecture hall although it has been some time ago. It wasn’t a study on co2. It was a study on ventilation. There are many factors involved in building ventilation besides co2. Mold, sweat, temperature are just a few that come to mind. If one is truely interested in how levels of co2 affect people there are a great many studies designed for that purpose. They do not show the same results. Nor do the studies of sailors on submarines, who quickly adapt to higher levels of co2 while on tour and then quickly adapt to the lower levels of co2 when the tour is over, support the conclusions reached by drawing incomplete inferences from a ventilation study.

    • Can’t add much to this, except to say they’re all adult studies, of course.

      Hate to imply the alarmist overtone, but our knowledge is small and full of gaps, and even in the unlikely event of a low CO2 limit to biological success, the question raised will be answered either by more and better study, or by waiting to find out if we guessed right.

  44. “Taking the politics out of the science would help clarify both the scientific disagreements and the political disagreements. Neither the scientific or political disagreements are going to go away. But by separating them we stand to make much more progress on each. Am I being naive and optimistic about how this might work?”

    You are NOT being naive nor too optimistic, but the devil is in the details –as they say. Some thoughts – a “scientific” issue paper or piece on this blog would not only call for the discussion/comments to be germaine to the issue (naturally something that should apply to all discussions) but, also, that it be very much more factual and technical regarding the science directly and indirectly related to the subject. This would increase editing requirements and the number of editors and limit the number of respondents to those with a verifiable and qualified background in the matter(s) under discussion. A way to perhaps achieve such a trick on the cheap would be to have such “scientific” blog pieces listed on the side of the home page by topic and, while viewing would be open to all, discussion would be restricted to those with training and credibility on the issue(s) discussed. In other words, You or a Topic Meister(s), would determine who participates and what is posted/when. Such a piece would likely have a rather long shelf life.

    While a similar trick could be accomplished on the “political” pieces, I wouldn’t bother. Everyone I know has a PhD in politics.

  45. Aha. Seems I’ve run afoul of the Reply button, too. This above was in reference to Ian Blanchard | October 28, 2010 at 4:38 am |.

    • Bart

      Thank you for the response. I accept that looking back at the geological record can be a bit misleading, in that life as currently on the planet is to a greater or lesser extent adapted to the current conditions, and that life in the Cretaceous and particularly in the Palaeozoic was very different (although there are occasional species that seem to have been able to survive through all that time and all those varying conditions).

      While the conditions in the geological past are useful indicators in suggesting climate and atmospheric conditions only vary within a a certain range (for example, that life has existed for over 3 billion years indicates that the oxygen level of the atmosphere has stayed between about 20 and 25% throughout that time), I also think some skeptics are too quick to suggest the lack of correlation between temperature and CO2 during the last 550 million years falsifies the link between CO2 and warming (too many differences in conditions to allow any such a conclusion to be drawn – for example the Ordovician with high CO2 and an ice age didn’t have any terrestrial life).

      One further question is ‘how much CO2 could human activity cause to be released?’ Even if we burn all the fossil fuels on the planet, would we reach 1000ppm, 2000ppm, 10000ppm? I don’t know the answer (and it’s probably more than a back of the envelope calculation to arrive at it, and probably also depends to some extent on rate). Also, you have to take in the additional factors of both inorganic and biological uptake (biogeochemical cycles), and what effect human activities are having on these potential CO2 reservoirs.

      One issue that perhaps merits investigation (or greater publicity) is the effect of deforestation and particularly ‘slash and burn’ on both CO2 emissions and size of the terrestrial biomass reservoir for CO2. I admit, as a geochemist I’m getting quite some way away from my area of expertise (as far as that’s worth anything in a blog discussion).

      “In a lecture hall at 2000 ppm, most of the audience is drowsy and a substantial proportion could be described as ill. ”

      Re: students falling asleep in lectures, used to happen late on Thursday afternoons, with our 2 hour Tectonic lectures with a Professor with the dullest accent and voice in history (for the UK readers, he was from Dudley) ;-)

  46. I am all for separating the science from politics. Scientists should concentrate on getting the science right and giving realistic estimates of uncertainty. They also need to take an aggressive role in calling out other scientists who make dire predictions but don’t really understand the science of global warming or the uncertainties. They absolutely must communicate with and convince the public with facts, not appeals to authority.

    I can’t agree that uncertainty does not matter or can somehow be waived. I know you are not saying it in that way, but if we start making policy based on highly uncertain propositions, we will continually be spending resources to mitigate scenarios that are not really a problem. We have to have a high degree of certainty if the cost of mitigation is high and the effect comes on slowly.

    As to green energy, I am not convinced that CO2 will cause catastrophic problems in the future. Therefore, in my view, fossil fuels are green. Even coal can be used in a non-polluting manner if one views CO2 as a benign, if not outright beneficial to plants for example, by-product. After all, wind and solar in their current manifestations will never supply the energy we need and are very expensive on a $/kW-actually-produced, under real conditions, basis. Of course, nuclear can supply large amounts of 24/7 energy, but the “greens” don’t want that either.

  47. The problem is the poliiticians and the oligarchic insiders have figureed out how to make a spare trillion or so off of CO2 hysteria, so the science is now irrelevant. Look how Hansen was eased away when he started talking about unpleasant ideas like a transparent carbon tax. As long as he was on stage sweating away earnestly in an over heated Senate chamber or railing away at the wicked conspiracy to turn Earth into Venus, he was a useful prop. But he started taking himself seriously and we can’t have that.
    AGW has become a social movement of promoters, true believers and profiteers making agreat deal of social capital and money off of the apocalypse. They do not need a rational discussion of risks to get in the way, and do not appreciate the nuance or the effort.

    • Alexander Harvey


      Are you refering to this event:

      “Hansen told the [House Ways & Means] committee that a transparent carbon tax with direct dividend would “spur rapid replacement of our inefficient infrastructure” and lead to an “efficient phase-out of coal.”

      Who did he upset, and are there responses critising him quoted on the web? It’s a genuine question and any help would be gratefully received.


    • Alex,
      The money is not made in a transparent tax. The money is made in the trade and permit selling of cap-n-trade.
      Hansen, who I disagree with on many topics, has been right about nuclear power, as well. That too is not where the money is for the AGW community.
      Follow the money.
      This is strictly my observation. Historically it is based on the precedents of prophets frequently getting offed by those they actually meant to help, when the prophet wears out his utility.

    • David L. Hagen

      I happen to like 7 c/kWh coal fired electricity in Indiana vs 15 c/kWh in “clean” California.

  48. I would suggest some other dimensions to the problem of interpreting and responding to climate change science.
    1) big picture vs detail mindset
    2) risk averse vs risk tolerant
    The big picture person sees that the overall story of climate change “makes sense” and doesn’t look farther. The detail person sees details that look wrong, and this is upsetting.
    Big picture thinking often causes political trouble. The response to crime being high in blighted neigborhoods (the big picture) may be to bulldoze these neighborhoods, but then you might end up with lots of homeless people.
    I have spoken before about risk averse people. There is an ongoing tendency to believe that all risks can be eliminated in a wealthy society. Playgrounds have swingsets removed. People want “organic” food. The tiniest risk or adverse outcome is cause for a lawsuit. At the other end of the spectrum, risk tolerant people are entrepreneurs or like high impact sports.
    All of this is psychology, not science. One person comes unglued when there is a spider, the other person steps on it. If climate change means a few more tornados, I say “so?” All we need is a little better radar and sirens. No big deal. Another person is terrified (especially when “more” tornados is not really specified).

  49. A great deal of difficulty has been caused by the Precautionary Principle. The claim that greater uncertainty makes it even more urgent to act reflects the PP, because it means that an even more dangerous outcome falls within the model outputs.
    When some option has high risk vs a small cost to avoid it, PP is fine. If I open old potato salad in the fridge and it smells a little funky, it is worth disposing of it because the cost of food poisoning is so high. Fine. What if I insist on a bacterial culture of all food before I eat it? Not only expensive, but actually impossible. In the realm of policy, the PP often makes the assumption that costs (including opportunity costs) are 0 and risks are huge. This can be very disruptive. The recent regulations about child toys have treated all toys as if they will be chewed on or be ingested by infants, even bicycles. Why is your infant chewing on a bicycle? Makers of craft toys like stuffed bears and wooden toys are closing left and right because testing costs are outlandish. Mission accomplished? That is the PP at work.

    • Yes Craig. But the plausible effects of unabated CO2 emissions are 3-4C rise by the end of the century (with the Arctic rising twice this?). Do you think the effects will be benign?

    • The 3-4C rise is only plausible if computer models model water vapor and clouds well. From what is written about the models, even the scientists running them admit the effects of those are really just estimates, not results from first physical principles.

    • Well Jim. All the models (including perturbed physics assessments) show this. How should a risk management approach deal with this? All models show considerable rise by the end of the century; the paleo record shows 4-5C rise during the late Glacial into the Holocene (with 100ppm rise of CO2 or so). Are you willing to bet your house that a similar rise won’t occur with 550-650ppm?

      If you are wrong, you can say goodbye to GIS and WAIS, and much of biodiversity. Still willing to risk it?

    • I am willing to risk it until there is more certainty that the 3-5C is in the cards, yes.

    • Let’s give it another 10 years. That will be 10 more years of observation with much improved equipment and 10 more years of climate to study. I guess the models might also improve over that time and so too the theory.

    • Wow… Risk Management…. This is a distorted view of risk management. Risk Management is about minimizing the range of possible bad outcomes if a risk is taken, not eliminating all risk.

      Because a risk exists, a bad outcome is not assured.

    • We clearly can’t minimise risk. But do you think that the risk of 2m of sea level by the end of the century is increased or decreased with 550ppm?

    • David L. Hagen

      2000 mm/90 years ~ 22 mm/year. Your evidence? Compare
      North Carolina sea levels rising 3mm a year? UC sea level data says differently
      An excellent example of the very large uncertainty over “catastrophic anthropogenic climate change” projections vs recent data.

    • Check out the early Holocene sea level rise before you say things like that. Also check out the GRACE measurements from Antarctica and Greenland.

    • David L. Hagen

      Compliments on highlighting Curry’s issue of uncertainty.
      Re GRACE glacier measurements, David H. Bromwich & Julien P. Nicolas report a major reduction in uncertainty of glacier melting – they can now identify that the TREND is negative, but not yet determine the magnitude!

      Gravity measurements of the ice-mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica are complicated by glacial isostatic adjustment. Simultaneous estimates of both signals confirm the negative trends in ice-sheet mass balance, but not their magnitude.

      Sea-level rise: Ice-sheet uncertainty, Nature Geoscience 3, 596 – 597 (2010), Published online: 15 August 2010 | doi:10.1038/ngeo946

      Basin and global runoff can now be determined:

      The short-term trend in total water storage adjusted over this 7-year time span is positive and amounts to 80.6  15.7 km3/yr (net water storage excess). . . .Expressed in terms of equivalent sea level, total water volume change over 2002–2009 leads to a small negative contribution to sea level of –0.22  0.05 mm/yr.

      Llovel et al. C. R. Geoscience 342 (2010) 179–188, Global land water storage change from GRACE over 2002–2009; Inference on sea level
      Re: deglaciation:

      The onset of Northern Hemisphere deglaciation 19 to 20 ka <was induced by an increase in northern summer insolation, providing the source for an abrupt rise in sea level.

      7 AUGUST 2009 VOL 325 SCIENCE http://www.sciencemag.org

      Numerous medical studies show that cold temperatures cause substantially more deaths than warm temperatures.
      The typical glacial cycle temperature trends suggest we are headed into a major cooling period towards the next glacial period. Consequently, should we not need all the warming we can get to reduce the long term natural cooling trend towards the next glacial period?!

    • David
      Berger and Loutre suggest that the current interglacial will last another 40-50k. No comfort there for the sceptic position that we need CO2 to keep glaciation at bay.

    • David L. Hagen

      Compare 2,000 mm with:

      Portion of sea level rise through 2150 that is associated with future temperature rise is 93 mm

      after accounting for the economically available coal resource.
      Coal, Climate Change, and Peak Oil David Rutledge, Caltech ASPO-USA 2010

    • David L. Hagen

      The steady increase in crop yields with parallel increases in CO2 concentrations does not look too bad when we are dealing with billions of more mouths to feed! How else do you propose increasing agricultural production to continue to feed the world?

    • My considered opinion is that feedbacks are neutral to negative, not positive. This would mean more like 1 deg C by the 2100 (remember CO2 per se effect saturates logarithmically). “Plausible” effects would seem to be in the eye of the beholder, not established science. The argument that “all” the models show this is false. The models are all over the map. Some show very weak sensitivity. It is the high sensitivity ones that give the big warming jolt, not “all” of them.

    • OK. Explain glacial-interglacial transitions without (a) GHG, and (b) with low sensitivity. Where’s the peer-reviewed science?

    • David L. Hagen

      Peter U. Clark, et al. The Last Glacial Maximum, Science 325, 710 (2009); 7 AUGUST 2009

    • I’m afraid Peter Clark’s paper doesn’t support your position at all. Have you read it?

    • Ok Monty: glacial interglacial transitions result from earth orbit changes combined with ice albedo feedbacks. A recent paper by a Russian author showed that the rate of change (not mass) of ice matches the orbital parameters well, but the mass of ice requires a long time to accumulate or melt, due to the albedo effect and the depth of the ice involved.

    • Hi Craig
      Have you got this reference? The rate of deglaciation is much faster than glaciation (saw-tooth effect seen in Dansgard-Oeschger cycles)….it needs GHG forcing to speed this up. What do you think the radiative effect of CO2 would be as orbital forcing warms the oceans, permafrost etc?

  50. Judith,

    I am generally a pretty green person, and that is why I feel so upset about climate change. Suppose for a moment that the ‘climate hawks’ won. Much electricity would be produced by intermittent wind/wave generators, or by using energy in a grossly inefficient way so as to capture and store the CO2 generated. The expense, and the destruction of our industry would be colossal.

    If global warming were the only threat, this might even be acceptable, but as it is, our society would be hugely weakened to face other threats, such as:

    Shortage of fuel.
    Overpopluation/food shortages
    Loss of land for biofuel
    Civil strife caused by a worsening economic situation
    Some sort of a collapse resulting from the highly interlocked nature of modern society (e.g. fuel shortages prevent food distribution…)

    The risks are not just 1-dimensional! Your hawk/dove concept does not seem to embrace this issue.

    I’d like to ask you, as a climate insider, whether climate scientists privately recognise the shortcomings of their subject – such as the hockey stick, or the poor quality temperature data – or whether they simply refuse to look at what Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre, and others have unearthed.

    • Much electricity would be produced by intermittent wind/wave generators, or by using energy in a grossly inefficient way so as to capture and store the CO2 generated. The expense, and the destruction of our industry would be colossal.

      David, I’d ask you to look at what’s been written about the fallacy known as “begging the question,” and pause for a moment to consider that someone with an interest in energy policy might possibly have thought through ways to reduce carbon without “destruction of our industry.”

      Climate and energy policy would be improved by the thoughtful input of people at every point along the “hawk/dove” spectrum. I’m sorry, but I can’t see how pitting straw men against straw men is helpful in any way.

    • @PDA

      ” … someone with an interest in energy policy might possibly have thought through ways to reduce carbon without “destruction of our industry.” ”

      Well, if they have, then apart from nuclear power, they have kept it a very, very close secret

      Arm-waving about sun, solar, wind, geothermal etc has produced nothing but tightly-distributed chaos. See the UK, EU experience with wind and solar. Look at the unbelievedly stupid results of subsidising solar installations in Aus (excused as unintended consequences, of course). Look at the results in France of attempting tidal power, wherein the estuaries were silted out in very fast real time

      So far, 0 out of 10

    • Not to quibble, but “sun, solar, wind, geothermal,” is four, or three if one recognizes sun and solar to by synonyms.

      Since ‘etc.’ is not an enumerated list, and the references to the UK, EU, Australia and France are so vague as to be aptly described by the term “arm-waving,” (which we know you do not regard highly, as you disparage it at the start of the same paragraph), and also overlap with, “sun, solar, wind, geothermal,” extending the list only to by one to include tidal, we’re at best at 0 for 4.

      If we trust your arm-waving scoring system, which we can’t do because you’ve already deprecated the practice, and we don’t want to contradict your internal logic.

      Insulation to the point of meeting a fiscal payback period comparable to the useful lifetime of a structure generally can be demonstrated to reduce heating costs dramatically. At any level that could be called success equal to nuclear power, insulation is a success. I’ll cite as a supporter of insulation President George W. Bush in H.R. 6, August 8, 2005. So we’re at least 1 for 5.

      Reducing the weight, speed and power of personal passenger vehicles (cars, trucks, SUV’s), likewise, is easily comparable to nuclear power in terms of equivalent energy generation through savings. We were told this by US President Ronald Reagan, and it’s truer now than it was in his day. 2 for 6.

      Hybrid systems have such remarkable similarities to the nuclear industry in terms of exotic exposures and disposal of waste materials, as well as fuel economy performance at least equal to reducing the weight, speed and power of similar vehicles, according to their manufacturers. Barack Obama requested a hybrid limousine for these very reasons. That’s 3 for 7.

      In ground heat pumps (as distinct from geothermal) have a superior heating/cooling delivery per unit of energy of somewhere between 1.6 and 4 times conventional heating. It’s a proven technology widely used and generally accepted. Jimmy Carter backs their use in Habitats for Humanity. We’re at 4 for 8.

      And I contest your four.

      My hand shows four Presidents. You have no face cards, no straight, and can’t fill a suit.

    • Well, one problem is that wind turbine output is usually quoted as its peak value (the number politicians like). You only get this output for one particular wind speed. The average value is somewhere around 1/3 of this. Furthermore, because the wind can fluctuate rapidly, there has to be conventional generating capacity (emitting CO2) running on idle, ready to take up slack.

      However, you raise a good point – have people thought through the energy policy? I don’t think they have. Politicians are just interested in short term headlines, and the profusion of grants has distorted the ‘market’ completely. If you run a research laboratory and the government offers you a large sum of money to study carbon capture (say) do you turn the money down if you think the concept is not feasible?

      We need real research into alternative power. For example, in order to use energy generated from intermittent sources, we absolutely need good ways to store energy to smooth out the supply.

    • “Suppose for a moment that the ‘climate hawks’ won. Much electricity would be produced by intermittent wind/wave generators, or by using energy in a grossly inefficient way so as to capture and store the CO2 generated.”


      I agree. I think if the ‘climate hawks’ won (and they have been winning until this year), not much would change regarding CO2. CO2 emissions would not be reduced at all – they would probably increase. Did Kyoto agreement significantly reduce any CO2 emissions? I don’t think so.

      The alarmists’ argument that “the potential risks of doing nothing until those uncertainties are resolved (which may never happen) rule out inaction” is false because doing what they propose will not reduce our CO2 emissions. Some of the actions will probably even increase our CO2 emissions and the rest of them will not be taken in real world – only on paper.

      Besides, ongoing dogma and suppression is killing science.
      That’s the strongest motiv for me as a sceptic.

    • The “Limiting Factor” is technology. Currently, we don’t have the technology to do what the we need to do to keep current system running without carbon fuels. To “trash” current “dirty fuels” now is just shooting ourselves in the foot; something many of the “Greens” seem to think is just fine and dandy. The current system didn’t build itself overnight nor in a single century. We can’t snap our fingers or sign a piece of paper to have a Brave New Super Dupper World of the Future.

      What we need is a “FluxCapacitor”;-) And a lot of technology to go along with it;-)

  51. Dr C
    You must be aware that Scientific American’s editor in Chief, Joe Romm, John Rennie, FAIR and Salon

    are still continuing to wrestle with “the problem of Judith Curry”.

  52. This is a game of “dungeons and dragons” this is not a scientific testing of the Hypothesis of the “greenhouse gas effect” or of the many other possible or more likely causes of real long term weather changes. IN 100 or 200 years from now others can look back and see we had “climate change” To look into the future is the work of fortune tellers, not scientists.
    Where is the Creditable experimental data that proves that the “greenhouse gas effect exists! Until someone comes up with this “data” this is a Fairy-tale and far as I’m concerned this is a total fraud.

    • This is why discussing climate science with sceptics is like biologists trying to debate evolution with creationists. Judith: care to respond to cleanwater?

    • Monty, you said upthread that you are a scientist who is active in the field of paleoclimate reconstruction. As such, your voice will be very welcome, the more so if you venture away from the high-comfort websites–as you have done by commenting here.

      There is a frustration to your 1:11pm post that recalls that old New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “I can’t go to bed — somebody on the Internet is wrong!!!”

      If you consider “skeptics” as an undifferentiated mass, your attention will likely be drawn to the comments of less-scientifically-literate, more-political individuals. You will likely find few satisfying exchanges. People don’t change easily, when they change at all.

      The other option is to leave the plainly-wrong comments unrebutted. Search instead for the strongest “skeptical” arguments, and engage there. That might lead to more interesting and productive interactions.

      My two cents.

    • OK. Point taken. But it would also be nice to see some of the sceptics also criticising some of the loonier posts.

      I agree that it would be a mistake to see sceptics as some sort of undifferentiated mass. There’s clearly a world of difference between cleanwater above and Roy Spencer. And there are also obvious areas where the science is uncertain (as there are also in other sciences). But the potential risks of doing nothing until those uncertainties are resolved (which may never happen) seem to rule out inaction.

    • Monty @ 1:44pm –

      > But it would also be nice to see some of the sceptics also criticising some of the loonier posts.

      I don’t think that’s the way to raise the S/N ratio, especially on high-traffic posts. It’s just one more way to have a food fight…

    • Agreed. Ignore the loony posts, lets focus on creating a signal

    • David L. Hagen

      Loonier – like yours? Encourage you to address the uncertainties in the issues, not make blanket statements implying catastrophic anthropogenic global warming in the guise of “climate change”.

    • I hereby criticize posts that claim CO2 is not a green house gas, that claim the extra CO2 won’t cause more warming than without, that part of the increase of CO2 concentration isn’t due to man, and that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago. Also, I believe it is highly likely that smoking tobacco will significantly increase one’s chance of lung cancer and other cancers.

      I am not convinced that secondary feedbacks will warm the Earth more than the couple degrees C due to the extra CO2 in a century.

    • Monty, would you mind telling us what you have done in paleo? I’m just curious about the methods you have used and what you have attempted to measure with them. I have a BS in Chemistry and spent about 15 years in the industrial environment including a good bit of applied R&D. I’m not an expert at any of this, but I’m not a science illiterate either.

    • I have a PhD in Quaternary science and have published widely on paleoglaciology and paleoclimate reconstruction. Most of my time is spent supervising a load of grad students and on fieldwork. I have used a variety of methods over the years (although these have usually been in conjunction with colleagues who are experts in these). They include: radiocarbon dating, OSL, CRN, dendro and lichens on occasion.

    • Monty,

      If you could be tempted to give an expansive answer to Jim’s 2:41pm query, please contact me here. I would be glad to host it as a guest blog post (even if you don’t mention Tiljander).

    • Not sure what you mean. I think he asked what my research field was. Of course, if I gave more details there’d not be much point me having a pseudonym!

    • Monty @ 3:11pm,

      > Not sure what you mean.

      If you want to explain your perspective to a scientifically-literate, mostly-lukewarmer-&-skeptical lay audience, without being constrained by the blog-comment format.

      Keep the pseudonym, of course. (As long as I can be sure that your experience is as described, which seems awfully likely.)

      Or, when you start your own blog, just send along the link! :-)

    • Ah, I see. Thanks for the invitation. I might take you up on it.

    • I’d love to read it too. A new perspectives always welcome!

    • Are you saying that skeptics are just one big monolithic group of “deniers”? Because that is a fallacy that I have seen quite a few “climate scientists” use themselves. And it insults the intelligence of many, many people the world around – including myself. As a ‘skeptic’, I wear the badge proudly. But I also know that the “greenhouse effect” is very real since I have one in my backyard. Or were we talking about something else?

    • Hi MikeH
      Thanks for your comment. No, I don’t think all sceptics are the same (as I pointed out at 1.44pm). You weren’t being serious about the GE and your greenhouse, were you?

    • Monty,
      I wonder if you could have put more fallacies in your comment? I doubt it.

      The issue is not the greenhouse effect. The issue is a dangerous change in the climate.
      The fraud issue lies in hyping the fear and maximizing the risks and ignoring the problems of the catastrophic theory, and the efforts to distort the process to accomplish this. Disputing that there is an effect called the greenhouse effect from the physical properties of gasses like CO2 only leaves you in a position where anything you say is hevily discounted and you make other skeptics look bad.

    • Clearly Clearwater is wrong, in that the basic facts about CO2 (its concentration and infra-red absorption spectrum) are well known. However, Judith and other sceptics are discussing the magnitude of the effect, and the scientific quality of some of the papers, such as Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick paper.

    • Absolutely agree. In contrast there are solid records, going back to 1600 (describing natural changes in the North Atlantic, consistently ignored by the ‘climate scientists’) that well correlate with the CETs records during last 400 years.
      Consider this:
      ‘At the time of this writing, causes for (and predictability limits of) the PDO are not known. What is known is that the nature of the mechanisms giving rise to the PDO will determine whether or not it is possible to make decade-long PDO climate predictions. For example, it has been demonstrated that aspects of ENSO variability are predictable at lead times of at least one year. This time frame is related to the time period that equatorial ocean currents and temperatures need to respond and equilibrate to changes in tropical winds. By analogy, if the PDO arises from air-sea interactions that require 10 year ocean adjustment times, then aspects of the phenomenon will be (in theory) predictable at lead times of up to 10 years. ‘
      But records show that a similar physical effect to the NAP is taking place in the Pacific, with approx. 12 years PDO delay.
      again ignored by ‘climate science’.

    • Hi Vukcevic
      If your science is sound, then publish it in a peer-reviewed science journal. There are lots of them. This is how science works!

    • I plotted data related to the physical processes which are available to every climate scientist, but they are ignored. If ‘my science is sound’, and since the facts are there, then the ‘peer reviews’ is surplus to requirement for science to make a step forward.
      Any academic or other institution which is interested to verify the data and processes involved, they are welcome to get in touch (email is at graph: http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/CET-NAP.htm ). When and if satisfied then they can indulge in the ‘peer review’ papyrology.
      I think the science should be a process of continuous investigation, not a dogmatic belief.
      Do you (as scientist) investigate ?
      Judging by Dr. Curry’s comment:
      curryja | October 28, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Reply
      Agreed. Ignore the loony posts, lets focus on creating a signal.
      perhaps the above is already in the ‘loony’ category.
      Here is the data file normalised to CETs:
      for you or anyone else who cares (including Dr. Curry) to analyse. I am sure there is somewhere out there a statistical method which could show if data was ‘invented’ (that would be quite a task even for a loony).
      Since data is real, as it is openly available, than in interest of progress it should not be ignored. Note: the CETs are not a direct but an indirect response at least two stages removed.

    • You could try an Open-Access journal like CPD or one of the other EGU journals. Then you can debate with the reviewers and fight your corner. Try it. Science is an iterative process and scientifically credible contributions are welcome (even from sceptics!)

    • Thanks for the advice, I just may do that, but it may take more than just one article. Have a go at the data file, you may find some interesting aspects of it, if so let me know. It would be good to know what authority you speak with.

    • Well it’s not really my field (as I said, I’m a paleoclimate person)……don’t forget scientists are usually only really expert in a small field. Which is why you need to submit it to a journal where it will be reviewed by specialists.

    • If you are using the 10Be Greenland data be weary, there is a huge question mark over reliability, before 1960.
      McCracken data here is just the 10Be data record inverted and normalised to the CETs.
      Note: Intensity of GCRs is in the reverse proportion to the Heliospheric Magnetic field, with geomagnetic field subtracted.
      I did correction for ‘Dalton minimum’ obtaining reasonable correlation.
      As you can see the NAP data can be useful in other spheres.

  53. Dear Judith,
    The issue of applying science to real world decision making occurs daily in my job as a physician. Rarely do I have 100% certain data about the best way to diagnose a patient’s illness and then to know the “correct” treatment for that illness. The idea of evidence-based medicine has grown out of the need to apply the best available scientific data to patient treatment. This also has the effect of driving standardized care so that physicians treat similar diseases in similar ways. Principles of evidence-based medicine have been developed to systematically categorize the available medical literature on a topic, give it a rating, and generate recommendations. This is a very open, methodological approach that seeks to minimize bias and political influence. It strikes me that climate science could adapt this evidence-based model. This approach has been very helpful to assist doctors in applying the best medical research to their individual patients while minimizing personal, professional, and political bias. When I have more time, I will explain in more detail how this process could improve systematic categorization of uncertainty and how to apply the known science to the “real world”. I believe the goal of a process like this is to provide clarity and transparency. Eliminating disagreement is not a realistic goal; or even a desirable goal in my opinion.

    P.S. Why in the world are climate scientists publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through Untied Nation sponsorship? This strikes me as a terrible idea. It intertwines science with the ultimate international political machine. This does not seem to be a wise method for developing and publishing climate science summary papers.

    • AnyColourYouLike

      “P.S. Why in the world are climate scientists publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through Untied Nation sponsorship? This strikes me as a terrible idea. It intertwines science with the ultimate international political machine. This does not seem to be a wise method for developing and publishing climate science summary papers.”

      Well, probably because it gives them loads of political leverage, and an immediately powerful impact. This work is taken by governments straight from the IPCC and used to justify big policy changes around the world. What scientist hasn’t dreamed of that kind of importance, and the political prestige that ensures many years of further funding.

      This seems to me to be the practical problem with the whole “get the politics out of the science” starting point. The incumbents or hawks, ie the ones who weild the power under the auspices of the IPCC, have a lot to lose in terms of political influence. I would extend that “political” influence loosely to also cover, domination of Climate science in many universities; in peer-reviewed journals; and for the most part in the mainstream media. At this point in time pro-consensus scientists have the game all sewn up.

      By contrast, the skeptics have what political power and influence exactly? A few blogs, the odd popular-science book, the ocassional interview with Lindzen or Spencer on some BBC radio 4 science show “Is it fair to call you a denier? If we want to hear less political huffing and puffing from skeptics (that’s often what powerless folk do!) Then I wouldn’t expect it before we see some humilty and willingness to engage from those who have the “real” power and influence!

    • Let’s consider evidence based medicine. With millions of patients being treated each year, and let’s say some small percent of that making into evidence-based evaluations, progress is made. However, in the meantime, many many patients are killed by failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, surgical mistakes, infections, etc. This is in spite of the ability to learn from our mistakes. In climate the uncertainty is even bigger and we are faced with prescriptions (shut off all power plants, pump CO2 underground, etc) with NO WAY to evaluate these remedies for 100 years. Good luck with that. I think a lot more certainty is needed that the patient is even sick before giving the leaches and enemas.

  54. The answer to all of this seems very clear to me…leave the government out and collectively act according to your conscience. You don’t want to create CO2 or enjoy the cost-effective benefits of carbon fuels? Then don’t. The problem comes when people use the power of government to make people act against their will. If I believed human-generated CO2 did anything measurable to our climate, I would change my ways. But I don’t, so I won’t. Leave me alone and we have no problem.

  55. Political Junkie

    Zdoc makes a wise comment, obvious only to those who haven’t been seduced by or wallowing in the climate change debates:

    “Why in the world are climate scientists publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through Untied Nation sponsorship? This strikes me as a terrible idea. It intertwines science with the ultimate international political machine.”

    Why indeed? The solution to this problem seems obvious!

    • What are you talking about? Scientists publish papers in peer-reviewed science journals. These have NOTHING to do with the UN!

    • Monty, are you seriously trying to suggest that the United Nations I.P.C.C. has no bearing on the politicization of climate change research? Are you seriously trying to suggest that Rajendra Pachauri has no influence over the politics of proposals for transfer payments from first world to developing nations because of the “potential risk” (your words) of climate change?

    • I’m suggesting that papers are not sponsored by IPCC as Zdoc suggested.

    • Yeah, sometimes the IPCC doesn’t even use peer reviewed papers written by a real scientist.

    • True! But it’s very rare. And it’s easy to nitpick a whole scientific endeavor….try to see the bigger picture.

    • But when someone Mr Public like me wants to go and find answers to FAQ’s at a web site like realclimate.org which purports to be “Climate Science from climate scientists” and my question is “How do Human Activities Contribute to Climate Change and How do They Compare with Natural Influences?” well look at where the scientists link me. Seriously, Zdoc makes a valid point. The UN IPCC is a major interference with climate science.

    • But how else should this be done? Climate science is an enormous endeavor….it covers climatology, physics, chemistry, maths, stats, quaternary science, geology, ecology, biology etc etc.

      There must be some way to synthesise this huge body of work. What would you suggest?

    • Again using my experience in medicine, large amounts of research are usually synthesized by medical specialty professional organizations. For example, I use occupational medicine guidelines developed by the American College of Occupational Medicine (ACOEM). The guidelines synthesize research from essentially all areas of medicine. Funding for this work is provided by ACOEM. ACOEM gets the money from a combination of member dues, publishing revenue, and online subscriptions to the guidelines. Climate science could certainly develop a professional organization that could do the same thing. This would provide some “insulation” between the scientific and political process. When I say the UN sponsors the IPCC, I mean it provides all the substantial funding and resources for the process.

    • Zdoc “When I say the UN sponsors the IPCC, I mean it provides all the substantial funding and resources for the process.”

      Funding? It pays the least possible for a secretariat and the going rate for fares and committee accommodation and the like. It pays nothing at all to anyone else.

      It’s basically a volunteer enterprise.

    • I did a brief Google search looking for the total operating budget for the IPCC. Funding comes from many sources: WMO, UNEP, various governments including the US, Japan, UK, Germany, Netherlands, and India. I could not find a clear source indicating the total annual IPCC budget. I did find IPCC trust fund only budget (www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session29/doc3.pdf). It appears to range from 4-7 million US dollars per year. This does NOT include money from any of the nations or WMO/UNEP. I found one source stating that the US contributed $50 million to the IPCC since 1994. I’m sure there is someone out in the blogosphere who has more complete data on the budget.

      It obviously took tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars channeled through the UN to generate the IPCC reports. My original point stands that it is an unwise choice to have a purely political organization pay for (sponsor) the development and publication of an internationally definitive report IF your belief is that science and politics should be insulated from each other. Imagine if the international oil companies contributed all the money to develop the report!

    • In the age of the web, scientist to scientist collaboration should be possible. We might even get to see the minority report that way! :)

    • Not rare at all, Monty. From the Inter-Academy Council’s review of the IPCC

      “An analysis of the 14,000 references cited in the Third Assessment Report found that peer-reviewed journal articles comprised 84 percent of references in Working Group I, but only 59 percent of references in Working Group II and 36 percent of references in Working Group III (Bjurström and Polk, 2010).”

    • AnyColourYouLike


      On the basis of those papers they are invited to become contributing or lead authors in the IPCC process. Mann had barely attained his Phd when his Hockey Stick caught somebody’s eye. He was made a lead author.

    • Wrong way round. He was tapped on the shoulder for the IPCC role a year b.e.f.o.r.e the hockeystick paper was published.

    • AnyColourYouLike

      Wow, MBH 98 came out in…er…1998. The same year Mann gained his Phd. So you’re telling me they had him tagged for 2001 lead author (where he essentially refereed his own work) when he was still an under-graduate? Nothing strange there then….

    • What better way to get hold of a willing worker – one at the outset of a career who’d like to have something exciting on the CV. Talk about 4 years of slave labour with a smile! And nobody knew it was going to be such a huge deal at the time. Did you? I was interested, but I really didn’t see this enormous blowout coming.

      PhD’s aren’t awarded to undergraduates are they?

    • AnyColourYouLike

      Yeah, you’re right, I meant a graduate with a 1st or undergraduate degree. Same as what I’ve got. I’d have been a willing worker too, but sadly was never offered the chance. :-(

    • AnyColourYouLike


      “And nobody knew it was going to be such a huge deal at the time. Did you?”

      Tbh I was completely unaware of what or who the IPCC and Mann were at that time. We have a geologist in the family, who first alerted me to the issues a few years ago.

      However, since the HS effectively wiped out well known (and previously uncontroversial) features of the historical temp record such as the MWP and LIA, I think I might have hazarded a guess, had I been watching at the time, that it would indeed be an “enormous blowout”.

    • Well I wouldn’t be too sure that the global extent of the LIA or MWP was established. The 1st IPCC report showed a diagram (not a reconstruction) from HH Lamb showing a warm MWP and wrongly suggested this was global (in fact, it was strictly NH). I wonder if this is where the confusion arose?

      Soon and Baliunas also tried to show a global MWP…and made a complete mess of it.

    • AnyColourYouLike


      “The 1st IPCC report showed a diagram (not a reconstruction) from HH Lamb showing a warm MWP and wrongly suggested this was global (in fact, it was strictly NH). ”

      Your use of the word “strictly” implies once again “the science is settled” on this issue. This is disingenuous. You presumably will have heard about the recent conference in Portugal addressing this issue? The attendees included Mann, Jones, Bradley et al. Among the topics discussed were…

      • What do the latest modeling results tell us about possible forcing mechanisms during this period?

      • What are some other impacts of climatic variability during the MCA/MWP regarding such topics as changes in ocean basin tropical cyclone activity?

      • What were some of the key regional patterns of climatic anomalies during this time? How do they compare with 20th century patterns?

      • In what specific ways does the post-1980 period, considered a time when the global warming signal is evident, different from the largest anomalous multidecadal periods of the MCA/MWP?

      They still seem pretty uncertain about it to me.

    • Yes, I wish my career had had the same initial trajectory!!

    • Monty, there are many different types of papers published in scientific journals. Beyond the obvious new research papers, there are editorials, book reviews, letters to the editor, news summaries, and most pertinent here, “review” articles. At least that is what they are called in the medical literature. A review article summarizes and synthesis a group of related research articles to develop the “big picture”. That is, it usually takes several research papers in a specific niche to start seeing more certainty and understanding. Over time, a body of published research on a topic reaches the point that it can be used to create a generalized theory or practice guideline, etc. The knowledge filters its way into textbooks. That is the function that the IPCC is playing in climate science. It is necessary to synthesize all the published research minutia into the “state-of-the-art” knowledge for a specific topic. This allows people that are new to the topic to quickly get “up to speed” on the state and direction of the science without having to read hundreds or thousands of individual research papers. This is the function that the IPCC reports are fulfilling.

  56. Nullius in Verba

    Would using Pascal’s Wager to justify a state church be an example of ‘separating the theology from the politics’ and turning it into a question of ‘decision-making under uncertainty’?

  57. ‘the scientific method whereby inquiry regards itself as fallible and continually tests, criticizes, corrects, and improves itself.’

    It’s badly needed in climate research because the equation used to predict the effect of pollution on cloud albedo, the largest correction to predicted AGW, is very wrong**. There’s no such cooling; it could be heating, another AGW. At best, AR4′s CO2-AGW prediction is high by a factor of 3.

    **The first use [eq. 19] appears to be here: http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1974/1974_Lacis_Hansen_1.pdf

    Whilst plausible, it’s wrong because light transmission is controlled by two factors: ‘shielding’ [enhanced backscattering until geometrical information is lost]; isotropic scattering. As these have opposite droplet size dependence, pollution makes thick clouds transmit more, thin clouds less.

    The mistake apparently arose because earlier workers failed to realise Mie assumed a plane wave as a boundary condition to solve Maxwell’s equations. After the first interaction the mathematics completely changes.

    Following the failure to prove the effect experimentally, NASA claimed still different physics: http://terra.nasa.gov/FactSheets/Aerosols/ . There is no enhanced ‘reflection’ from greater water surface area in polluted clouds. Was this to justify the inclusion of the imaginary correction in AR4?

  58. Political Junkie

    Monty, try to read this sentence again, carefully:

    “Why in the world are climate scientists publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through United Nation sponsorship?”

    Notice the phrase – “international consensus.”

    • There is only consensus around the basics (which I don’t need to go into as I’ve pointed these out repeatedly today). There is HUGE debate about loads of climate science….how quickly are ice sheets and glaciers melting? how can we better constrain climate sensitivity? how will geomorphological systesm respond? What are the ecological effects of future warming? What will soil carbon do?

      The idea that scientists are all involved in some enormous fraudulent attempt to impose world socialism is just unbelievable nonsense.

      I honestly don’t have the faintest idea where you got the idea that we are all sponsored by the UN.

  59. Political Junkie

    Monty, please pay attention! You have to learn to focus.
    He didn’t say what you think.
    Is he wrong in saying that climate scientists are “publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through United Nation sponsorship?”
    He’s talking about the IPCC reports.
    Of course, when it’s convenient, Pachauri says that the IPCC has nothing to do with the U.N., but I don’t think that’s your point.

  60. Hi PJ
    I don’t understand this bit: “publishing their international consensus papers (IPCC) through United Nation sponsorship?”

    What are international consensus papers? Papers used by IPCC are just papers published by thousands of scientists like me (and Judith). I don’t write ‘consensu papers’….I write papers on the science. If I could prove that the GHE was flawed science, or that warming wasn’t happening or that ice sheets and glaciers weren’t melting, then I’d be famous!

    • Monty, you’re just playing semantics. I think what zdoc was trying to get at is that the UN IPCC should get the heck out of climate science advocacy. Many do not share your apparent faith in the U.N IPCC. And to the point that Dr Curry is making, if we want to get politics out of the science of global warming then would it be so bad if we were to politely ask the UN to butt out? But then, quite a bit of funding would be cut off – eh? (http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session29/doc3.pdf). As for your statement that there is only “consensus around the basics”; please enlighten me as to what that consensus is because after following the climate debate (and learning the science) for almost ten years, I haven’t seen ANY consensus on anything I would call BASIC. Far from it, from my humble position as Mr Public, I see more questions than answers. I see models that can’t predict the future and I see global temperatures pretty much flat if not in fact dropping. And I see a bunch of scientists behaving like political advocates. It makes my BS detector go off loudly.

    • The basics are: there is a GE effect; CO2 is a GHG; adding a GHG to the atmosphere MUST have a warming effect; the Earth is warming (despite your post). The debate lies with: how much (although there is consensus that sensitivity is 3C plus); what are the effects.

      The Royal Society hardly changed its position on AGW. And if you think that the UN pays for much science (mine included) then you clearly don’t know much about how science works.

    • And when you have Muir Russell and Acton inquiries into CRU that are a total whitewash and sweeping under the rug affair; you shouldn’t wonder why Mr Public becomes Mr Skeptical.

    • Alexander Harvey


      I have not heard of the consensus for more then 3C, can you give us a link, or a statement on which consensus this is?

      I know about 3C with a range (2-4.5) but not for >3C.


    • Well it depends on whether you are talking about Climate Sensitivity (Charney sensitivity…which is modelled) or Earth System Sensitivity (where things like ice sheet extent, vegetation cover etc are regarded as able to respond quickly to warming). If the latter, then sensitivity is likely to be much more than 3C, and the paleo record shows this.

    • Alexander Harvey

      Sorry I was not asking about the figure.

      I am asking about the >3C consensus you mentioned, a consensus of whom, and when, and where might I read it about it, is it a private consensus, your consensus?

      I hope you didn’t make up the consensus bit.


    • Quite a bit of funding? According to Table 1 , there’s been less than 95mil Swiss Francs available from the trust fund over 18 years from 89 to 07.

      There are high schools that have bigger budgets than 5-and-a-bit million a year.

  61. Hi PJ
    OK. I’ve reread your post….it’s the IPCC reports which are consensus science. Who would you rather pay for them? By the way, NAS has also done independent reviews of the science and agrees largely with the consensus. So has the majority of national academies of science of the leading industrial nations. Maybe they are all in on the conspiracy.

    • So now that the British Royal Academy has toned down its position on global warming will you agree that the consensus is now less than it used to be? Can you at least concede that “consensus” is not even a scientific term? http://royalsociety.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=4294972963
      And you do realize that a full audit of the last IPCC report was done (by bloggers) and it is deeply embarrassing to the U.N IPCC to such an extent that the U.N. IPCC is essentially being forced to restructure its entire purpose and remit? Calls for the resignation of Pachauri have in fact been made or did you miss that? I understand that some people may still think that the status quo can be maintained after a damaging episode like climategate (and the ongoing exposure of bad science – my personal favourite being poorly positioned temperature stations, oh and who can forget the tree ring studies); but it is simply unrealistic for someone like yourself to believe that things are not going to change as a result of all that. You don’t have to look very far to find that things have already changed. Why even you are posting on a blog that exists today for the very reason that things HAVE changed. The politics and the science HAS changed. And it would be very useful for the scientists if political outfits were to get out of the way so that the scientists can do their work without undue influence by those who perhaps have less than honorable motives.

  62. Political Junkie

    Whew! You got it Monty!
    Zdoc simply thinks that if it’s a good idea to put some space between science and politics, why on earth would you want to be dealing with the demonstrably most political and frequently dysfunctional organization on the globe? He’s not discussing funding at all.
    Hard to argue with that!

    • Yes, I was a bit slow! It’s getting late here….

      I agree that we should separate science from politics (this is what I’ve been arguing for) and this is the point of Judith’s posts I think. But you still need a comprehensive review of the science….as much to inform policymakers. What alternative to IPCC would you suggest? Whatever your answer, it would still have to be paid for. Any suggestions?

      After this, I’m stopping posting.

    • Monty,
      Thank you for being agreeable even as we disagree.
      It is appreciated.

  63. AnyColourYouLike


    A related problem is the ability of skeptic scientists to get published in the peer-review journals, the sort of route that might give one a chance to become part of the IPCC process. This isn’t easy when consensus scientists use their ploitical influence to effectively block papers from being published. If you doubt this goes on refer to the CRU emails.

    This for instance from Tom Wigley:

    “Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. “

    • But Saiers was not ousted; in fact, there is no evidence that an attempt was made. Nor were any papers that were discussed in the emails prevented from being published, AFAIK.

      And note that Lindzen and Spencer publish regularly.

    • The bigger point, that is often missed when discussing the CRU emails, is that suggestions like this, preemptive steps to frustrate FOI, requests to delete emails, and so forth, received almost no censure! The impression is left that the group (with an honourable, but short-lived exception in the case of Wigley, I believe) were quite used to this sort of chicanery, and regarded it as all in a day’s work. Whether or not these particular suggestions were acted upon is really beside this point.

    • TomFP and AnyColourYouLike, we have different perspectives regarding these emails. I certainly understand how one can see them as you do: evidence of a vast corruption. Perhaps you can understand the way I see them, even if we disagree on their import.

      I have witnessed, close-up, more than a few professional spats: authors outraged that their papers received a poor review; reviewers outraged that editors made editorial decisions contrary to their recommendations; scientists outraged that a colleague’s views are given more weight than their own. Arrogance? You bet. Bad behaviour? Sort of. Really bad behaviour? Hardly ever.

      Under normal circumstances these kinds of things are resolved without bloodshed, and without long-term damage to the enterprise. We all learn fairly early that some of the most arrogant scientists can actually be (often are) right; that an unwillingness to share data does not mean that it is faked; that complaints about colleagues are not usually politically motivated; that dumb ideas are not always acted upon.

      I will not be drawn into a defense of the content of the email excerpts – I don’t approve of them – or the attitudes of individual scientists. But neither will I accept the unfounded exploitation of their content to attack the scientific integrity of their authors, the integrity of climate scientists in general, or the overall conclusions of climate science. Nor do I accept the allegation that there is an ever-widening circle of corruption that must include journal editors, university officials, the boards of professional societies, contributors to the IPCC, the Royal Society, etc., which many invoke to account for conclusions contrary to their own.

      You needn’t agree with this, but perhaps you can understand my viewpoint.

    • In fact we see a disgusting set of behavior from the Manniacs documented over at Pielke, Jr.’s at this time.

  64. I’ll try again the first copy went in the bin.

    Arguing about the actual climate sensitivity +.5,1.5,2.5,3.5 C for a doubling of Co2 is a waste of time. With China, India, and the rest of the developing world building coal power plants as fast as they can get them on line at the rate of about 4 to 5 per week. They will be pushing the CO2 level at rapid rates no matter what, the other 25% of the total CO2 production of the developed world output does to their economy in an attempt to decrease the global CO2 level.

    So we shall soon see what the real climate sensitivity is, as the resultant CO2 levels of production from those who have NO INTENTION of slowing down their coal and oil consumption, continue to ramp up their use of fossil fuels.

    Changing the rules for power production in the USA and EU countries, NZ and Australia, with huge increases in costs of power, will have no effect on the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Except that the lower competition for coal and oil stores will in effect lower the costs for the third world and increase their maximum consumption rates possiable.

    To waste time talking about the “two sides” of this distracting argument, as the total consumption of fossil fuels goes up as fast as it can be removed from the ground is a shame. Adaption to any resulting effects is the only viable alternative. Forcing by regulation or taxation the developed world to eviscerate itself uselessly investing in unreliable solar or wind power, at the same time driving all production industries, and jobs toward the third world, makes sense only to international corporations and banking systems.

    This senseless name calling of the scientists on both sides of the political fence, and infighting over the details of the amount of the sensitivity of the climate will soon come to an end, as the experiment on the Earth is continued with out any possible controls by the IPCC policy makers, who only want it to proceed as is, with ADDITIONAL FUNDS taken from taxes paid by the developed world, to hasten to transfer of wealth to the third world, while weakening the Western government systems through self imposed bankruptcy.

    • Good post Richard H. It does make any action to mitigate global warming seem totally pointless, doesn’t it.

    • Not to mention all of the vitriol comments over nothing of importance.

      It is what it is, we’ll all see soon enough, its like training horses, it becomes easy once they learn they can relax as soon as they “get the lesson”.

      Generating power efficiently, as close to point of source of fuel, cleanly, and with load stability, as much as possible, seems to be the only real answer. Choices are hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, and isolated solar for off grid and satellite apps, some day it will be cost effective to mine landfills for metals and hydrocarbons for fuels.

    • Richard, there is also a nuclear option for off-grid. See Small Reactors. These could be used to supply industries around metropolitan areas also, taking a significant load off the grid.

      I can see this point has been ignored by all. The fact that we can’t control China, India, and other countries makes all this discussion, the expensive satellites, expensive super-computer models, and money dumped on climate science an exercise in futility as far as mitigation of global warming is concerned. I can see why many don’t want to discuss this.

  65. AnyColourYouLike

    Pat Cassen

    True on Saiers, but one cannot deny the political intent. The arrogant attitude to fair discourse, that this and so many other mails point to. Also McIntyre and McKitrick had a lot of trouble getting comments and replies to Mann published in Nature, effectively given the runaround in what I would suggest was (to any reasonable person) not an even-handed publishing process.
    These are examples we know about that are clearly political. You may say they are isolated incidents. I personally doubt that.

  66. I am not a “climate scientist”, but have undergrad degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, so I am generally pretty logical. I have tried to learn about climate change and the impact of atmospheric CO2 and it seems like it boils down to many people believing:
    1. human caused atmospheric CO2 is the root and predominant cause of a warmer planet,
    2. that a warmer planet will be a disaster for humanity, and
    3. that if America does not rapidly and substantially reduce its CO2 emissions (and implement some type of Carbon Capture program) then America will be the cause of the warmer planet and be responsible for destroying humanity.

    I do understand taking these position since it seems the science simply does not yet support these conclusions. Regarding point number 1- there is clearly evidence that humans have increased atmospheric CO2, and it is highly probably that this has contributed to a warmer planet. There are also secondary effects and other factors that have impacted the climate that are seemingly very significant factors.

    Regarding point #2- People who push for immediate action almost solely point out any possible negative consequences of a warmer planet, but never mention any possible benefits. Anyone who has studied the issue understands that the modelling of climate is not nearly accurate enough at this time to draw reliable conclusions that a warmer planet is actually bad for humanity overall in the long term. It seems dishonest to simply point out the sensational potential negative consequences to promote hysteria on the subject and to try to encourage political action.

    Regarding point #3- There is almost no reporting by anyone regarding what positive effect on climate there would be if the United States were to reduce CO2 emissions by (you pick the amount). Isn’t the truth that there will be almost no impact after a huge economic cost to Americans?

    I would sincerely appreciate others feedback.

    • ” … a huge economic cost to Americans?” Worldwide government subsidies to FF companies amount to $US500 billion, a substantial portion of that is forked out by US taxpayers. Eliminate those subsidies and the US treasury has a whole heap of options with more dollars in the pocket.

      Maybe put some of it into citizens pockets directly, spend some on job creating industries rather than on old industries that are cutting staff (coal mining for example), maybe a dozen other things that looked impossible before you decided to change your spending patterns. $20 billion for , say, improving public transport sounds like a lot until someone points out you’ve got 10 times as much looking for a useful role.

    • Alex Heyworth

      “Worldwide government subsidies to FF companies amount to $US500 billion”

      Your source for this claim?

    • OK, I knew you’d ask that. I hadn’t kept the reference and I still haven’t found the one I want. Someone had some US figures on individual states giving power plants a free pass on water and there was something about cement too (why? I really don’t remember.) I hereby faithfully promise in accordance with my old Girl Guide principles that I will faithfully record every, single, reference I’m likely to need to cite when asked.

      Found these numbers even though they’re not what I had in mind.

    • Alex Heyworth

      This is probably what you had in mind http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2264365/iea-reveals-fossil-fuel%20.

      The original source is the IEA.

    • Nah, not the one. But I _have_ put it into my list just as I promised.
      (I have a horrible feeling it was a comment – unrelated to a post – somewhere with an extract and I only followed the link for a piccie or something.)

    • EIA did an energy report for the US as of 2007.

      The press release contains a link to the entire report.

      Here is a snippet.

      “Coal-based synfuels (refined coal) that are eligible for the alternative fuels tax credit, solar power, and wind power received the highest subsidies per unit of generation, ranging from more than $23 to nearly $30 per megawatthour of generation.

      The smallest subsidies on a per unit basis were for coal, natural gas and petroleum liquids, and municipal solid waste, all at less than $0.45 per megawatthour of generation.”

    • Intrinsic subsidies to fossil fuel would be large — one doubts anywhere near so small as the $500m figure — but also controversial.

      Does one include the price states pay for asphalt, a byproduct of the processing of fossil fuels? Why, after all, should governments be paying for paved roads, when the chief beneficiary by far are private corporations making fossil fuel consuming vehicles? Wouldn’t would be more appropriate by far for governments to build high speed fiber optic networks and hand them over to movie studios.

      The free or discounted land expropriated and granted to pipelines, storage facilities, refineries and so forth, is that included? After a generation of being used in that way, hardly like the land could be remediated cheaply and put to any other use anyway, so could it really be called worth anything?

      The unrecognized liability of the future cost of remediation, and the common practice of governments to forgive this cost or refuse to enforce the action?

      The fact that the US government buys huge amounts of fuel to pump straight back into the ground?

      The cost of military actions which mmmmaybe kinda sorta to do with stabilizing foreign sources of fuel?

      The system of regulations and laws surrounding the implicit assumption that private fuel-powered vehicles are a core of modern society, the salaries of highway patrolmen and meter maids, the whole government infrastructure surrounding fossil fuels and the things that use them?

      And does anyone anywhere in the world believe that oil companies like BP will really end up paying the true cost of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Or, if somehow they do, it would be representative of past practice or indicative of future good behavior?

      Direct subsidies, that part is easy.

      Radical re-evaluation of baseline assumptions, everyone hates that.

    • You do not think the role of government is to provide a good infrastructur e for it’s citizens??? I don’t think you would get many votes

    • Because the road won’t need to be paved when I hop in my solar powered hovercraft?

      Solar and wind power won’t require land and power lines?

      Future liability is questionable. It is what we are here arguing about.

      You don’t think a strategic reserve is a good idea? Because the navy can hop in their solar powered destroyers, the airforce can fly their solar powered planes, and the army can drive their solar powered tanks?

      There were never wars before the cumbustion engine? There are huge oil deposits in Bosnia? Somalia? Afghanistan? Korea? Vietnam?

      My solar powered car won’t need a parking spot? I can believe it won’t go fast enough to need patrolmen. Of course then there is the intrinsic cost of travel time.

      I have read papers on the “true” cost of oil before. They continuously leave out the cost of hay which is the only way the papers make any sense.

    • Rob & steven, excellent points.

      I think a libertarian, anarchist, many types of conservatives and not a few type of liberals believe the role of determining infrastructure is at its worst in the hands of government.

      Look at the example of telephones. North America is regarded as hideously backward in terms of cell phone adoption and sophistication. The existing land line telephone system, its infrastructure, regulations, the entire industrial halo of the telephone corporations (a near monopoly, despite the failed trust busting attempt of an earlier era) stifled and constrained North American mobile phone adoption, short-sighted governments taxed infant cell companies rather than freeing them of the uphill struggle they faced, and as a result, the average North American is backwards compared to the average denizen of an emerging economy when it comes to mobile life.

      Freed of corporate inertia and government bungling, emerging economies adopted a more efficient technology and carried it cheaply and quickly forward.

      If the road weren’t paved by the government, you’d have the choice of paying a toll to drive from the suburbs to your job, or of living downtown and taking an elevator for free.

      This subsidy of suburbanites by inner city occupants, of oil companies and auto makers by pedestrians and train riders.. how is that not taking the decision power out of the hands of the common person?

      Hovercraft indeed.

    • Arguing how to pay for paving roads isn’t the same as arguing the roads are an intrinsic cost of an oil based economy. An electric car requires a paved road. A horse wouldn’t and a hovercraft wouldn’t. I haven’t seen an electric powered hovercraft but I have seen a horse.

    • What a shocking thing to say.

      How to pay is exactly the same.

      Who has the choice of how to pay — the individual guided by their own satisfactions and miseries, or the government with its armed power to extract taxes — is the only question.

    • No it isn’t exactly the same. It is two different issues. When you say something is part of the true cost of oil then by omission and specification you are indicating it isn’t part of the true cost of alternate forms of energy when it is quite clear that it is. If this wasn’t the intention then it would be labeled the true cost of suburbia.

    • Zero based accounting would of course require alternate forms of energy also include their own intrinsic subsidies.


      And the true cost of suburbia is an element of the true cost of oil. Hence ‘intrinsic’.

      So we could do zero based accounting, or we could just keep politicians from tapping into the public purse to pay private companies extrinsically and intrinsically quite so much and quite so often, and let the invisible hand of competition let the individual buying choices of consumers determine how the market moves, instead of the combined heavy hand of the tax man backed by threat of prison and the string pulling of marketers upon the political sentiment by demagogues.

    • So do you believe that if the United States reduced emissions by say 50%, that there would be any benefit to the climate? If you do, I do not understand how you reached that conclusion. World wide, CO2 emissions will rise dramatically regardless of what the US does or does not do.

    • If the US reduced emissions by 50%, all the other kids who wanted to hang out with the cool kids would follow, too.

      In point of fact, other countries have publicly linked their CO2 output policy explicitly to the as yet undeveloped US position.

      Canada and China have both said exactly this, and in pretty much so many words.

      Or don’t you trust what China says?

    • Alex Heyworth

      I trust what China says to have nothing to do with what it does.

    • From what I understand, when that too has been the Chinese experience of others, they learn from it; when not, they learn to take advantage of it.

      This being almost the definition of the optimal self-interested player in Game Theory, again where the US drops CO2 emissions 50%, China shifts to producing high-efficiency low CO2 equiment to sell to the USA at inflated prices, while distributing bargain-basement knockoffs to its own people.

      Net result is the same either way.

    • Alex Heyworth

      China, India and most of the other players understand the enormous first mover disadvantage issue, which is the only reason why they peg their response to action by the US.

      The UK and much of Europe, on the other hand, have totally lost the plot and shot themselves in the foot. They seem to have a death wish.

  67. It’s interesting how many commentators leapfrog the philosophical question of whether we should extricate science from politics, and start describing what is the correct solution. Or from a different angle, describing what the problem really is (or isn’t). As if the existance (or not) of AGW isn’t really the issue so much as implementing or not implementing certain policies in the name of it. It becomes hard to divorce the two.

    It would be an interesting exercise to discover what percentage of opinions regarding the topic of climate change are driven by fear of, or desire for, actions that will impact society in a certain way. I think this line of thought dovetails into topics examined by Mike Hulme in _Why We Disagree About Climate Change_. e.g., in the preface: “…very often scientific disputes about climate change end up being used as a proxy for much deeper conflicts between alternative visions of the future and competing centres of authority in society.” and (also in the preface): “…the idea of climate change has been constructed in such a way as to ensure that it possesses this quality of plasticity. Such an attribute allows climate change easily to be appropriated in support of a wide range of ideological projects.”

    I freely admit that I have more fear of what idealogues will do with the IDEA of climate change, than I am of the physical manifestations of climate change. I believe that the availability of energy is directly coupled to human lifespan as well as quality of life. It also controls our ability to adapt to and survive change. Most people understand this, instinctively if not through rational thought processes.

    So I think back to the mid-70′s when I first began to try to evaluate the various environmental arguments in play at the time, and eventually the focus of my interest landed on the nuclear power wars. The attacks on nuclear power by activists (and some scientists) were (it seemed to me) hysterical. Listening to a debate on Long Island in the mid-80′s, I was struck by the arguments of a prominent anti-nuclear activist. The debate was whether or not to mothball the Shoreham nuke plant, and scientists from Brookhaven Nat’l Lab were debating a panel of anti-nuclear activists and their like-minded scientists. At one point the arguments centered on availability of energy, in particular to the poor and undeveloped nations in Africa. A Brookhaven physicist argued passionately regarding the benefits and lives saved that nuclear energy would provide to these people. In response a leading anti-nuclear activist argued that this would be the worse possible outcome, as this would allow their population growth to become more prolific than ever — that our goal should be to reduce their population, not facilitate it’s growth. There was stunned silence.
    It was such a short path from opposition to nuclear power, to population control by energy deprivation. As Petr Beckmann once said, these people don’t just want to destroy the nuclear power industry, they want to destroy all large-scale power generation industries. How prophetic.

    By this time I had learned that many “problems” become vehicles for agendas. And that in this context, the cure is often worse than the malady.

  68. Judith I think I used the word CO2 too many times in my last post and it went to the bin…

  69. While debating disagreements of the detail, history demonstrates that it is all too easy to take things for granted, and ignore the fragile ebb and flow of democratic freedom and civilization, where the potential exists for extreme policy dogma. This overshadows proponents and sceptics alike. Warning signs of various repression of opposing views, school propaganda etc are already evident.

    Most Americans are familiar with Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation.

    Last week another President gave an outstanding address in London. It was by the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus, and a hi-res video is available here


  70. 100% certainty means we know every possible potential driver of global temperature on the scales of subatomic particles, atoms and molecules, the microscopic, the macroscopic, the Earth, the Solar System, the galaxy, and the Universe. There are no unknown potential drivers of global temperature. Furthermore, we have examined in turn each of these potential drivers and have eliminated every one except carbon dioxide.

    I don’t believe we are that certain.

  71. @curryj

    ” But by separating them we stand to make much more progress on each.

    Am I being naive and optimistic about how this might work?”

    I’ve held off for the longish duration of this thread because the following comment will be disregarded as negative (that most PC of crimes)

    But in my view it is naive even to ask your question. There is no hope at all of separating them – the posters above, such as Monty, who claimed to separate the issues and challenge sceptics with science, all then claimed “consensus” when challenged with contrary peer-reviewed papers. This is just politics under a faint guise

  72. Either an AGW threat exists, or it does not. Whilst there seems to be general agreement that the physics of anthropogenic additions to GHGs indicates a potential rise in global temperatures, IMO it’s all a question of feedbacks; if the climate system can easily compensate, then AGW does not exist as a threat.

    I’d say this is the key thing to resolve – not whether an *effect* exists, but whether it’s a *threat*. If not, because the climate system is resilient, then taking action to reduce anthropogenic GHGs is plainly unwarranted.

    If it were proven that the system isn’t resilient, the question becomes what the consequences would be – beneficial, or deleterious? If beneficial, there is no threat. If deleterious, how should we forestall and/or adapt?

    The message has been widely disseminated that:

    a. The climate system isn’t resilient;
    b. The effects are deleterious;
    c. It becomes a question of how to deal with those effects.

    If I thought we’d done due diligence at arriving at c., I’d agree with it. However, I’m not convinced we have. I think we’re still determining whether a. is true or false.

    As a non-scientist, do I have a right to that opinion, whose natural consequence would be to do nothing about, rather than spend huge time and resources on, a non-problem? Well, as much right as non-scientists who opine we are already at stage c. Together, non-scientists are in the huge majority. We can all only employ whatever level of understanding of the science we might have – and doubtless some consideration of human nature – to evaluate the situation.

    At bottom, I think that science is the principal factor. Many political issues depend on it, to be sure, but until stage c. is reached, I can’t theoretically make a good case for action. If and when we were to reach c., the matter could legitimately move into the political sphere, though there might be some continued input from science in helping devise solutions.

    Unfortunately, there is evidence scientists have not remained aloof from the political, or politicians from the scientific, arena. Indeed, a few actors are as much one thing as the other.

    A few scientist are openly sceptical, but the Lord only knows what most of the rest truly think. We’ve all been in situations where there are some things that it’s politic not to espouse, and so if pressed we may stick to the party line. Scientists are no more immune to peer pressure than anyone else.

    I think we have engaged too previously in politics and policy. The science has not been allowed to progress as it theoretically should (actually, whether it historically ever has remains a moot point). There has been pressure – overt, covert, and maybe not always even conscious, to tow a line.

    Even where science and external politics are kept separate, the scientific establishment isn’t immune to internal politics. There are many historical examples where a dominant and dominating individual or group succeeded, at least for a time, in suppressing dissent. Climate science is not the only discipline where there may currently be a problem, but as it has such important implications for us all, it’s the main one that interests people.

    Is the problem dominant in climate science? I can’t say. But I know it exists. Some choose to brush it aside as minor, and some, to reject AGW out of hand. Others, like me, have their suspicions and are agnostics with sceptical leanings.

    I doubt that science, whatever capacity we have to understand it, is always our main issue. AGW feeds into our personal narratives (freedom and free markets, environmental concerns, egalitarianism, or whatever), and may become a Trojan horse for advancing those. Very few people are consciously insincere, but they will use “science” to justify their views (“Look at the overwhelming consensus” vs. “What consensus?” for example).

    It’s a polarising mess. Welcome to the current episode of the soap opera of human existence. It wouldn’t be interesting if we never made mistakes, as we have done monotonously for millennia. We habitually reify non-existent problems and then look back and marvel at how much time and effort we expended on them. Is AGW one of them? Could be.

    One can’t underestimate the relevance of such thoughts to the way that people evaluate AGW. Sure, it’s not “scientific”, but then again, neither is a fair amount of “science”. If we’d eliminated ego from human affairs, we’d maybe have invented modern technologies centuries ago.

    To summarise: it’s my belief that we shouldn’t even be considering policies in respect of AGW. We have yet to establish point a. It’s irrelevant that some think we have, and want to jump to point c. It’s irrelevant that some of them have been heatedly vilifying dissenters, or, for that matter, that the latter have pitched into the battle and given them a hard time.

    We will do whatever we do, and the due consequences will follow. There’s sod all I can do to change anything. I just hope I live long enough to see what the final verdict is. One side or the other is going to be feeling foolish, that’s for sure.

    • Michael thanks for your thoughtful analysis. The challenge for c) is that once we have the evidence (assuming a and b is true), it is too late to do anything about it. The issue is foreseeing a black swan possibility that should somehow be factored into our decision making. This will topic will be addressed in the forthcoming series on decision making under climate uncertainty.

    • Dr. Curry,
      It just struck me that the assumption that ‘it will be too late…’ is worth a critical review.
      One thing I see lacking in this ‘longest monopoly game’ is discussion of the most well proven, well practiced human strategy in dealing with adverse environments: adaptation and mitigation on a case-by-case basis. It is as if we either want a solution to control the one thing we have never controlled- climate/weather- or we are all going to die. This makes no sense, if you really think about it.

    • I have been thinking about this, given what happens in the next 50 years is pretty much settled, already in the pipeline and not yet catastrophic on those time scales. I don’t buy the CO2 as control knob idea, even if sensitivity is 3C or whatever the current preferred value is. The sun, volcanoes, natural internal variability, and surprise are wild cards here, too many wild cards to think that controlling CO2 is a big control knob.

    • David L. Hagen

      Chemical engineer Dr. Pierre Latour details how we cannot control climate by CO2.

    • Hi Judith
      But surely the whole idea is to control the things that we CAN control (GHG emissions etc), and make our systems as resilient as possible to the stochastic events.

    • Monty – How do you propose to control China and India? The fact is that you can’t control GHGs.

    • Yes, agreed. But this is a political and economic problem, NOT a scientific one. If we can agree on the science, it would be an important first step. THEN we need to work on the important stuff!! At that point, I (and most of science colleagues) are very happy to bow out and leave it to people who understand politics and economics.

    • So the prediction, generally, is a 3-5 C per doubling CO2. I believe that is also in the ballpark predicted temperature rise in the next century. How would you feel about a 10 year moratorium on mitigation to accumulate more observations of the actual climate system with our improved instruments? I assume the models would also be improved.

    • Well this would mean that emission reductions would have to be MUCH greater from then on. Surely we can agree that there are compelling reasons to go low-carbon, even if we don’t agree with AGW?

    • Roddy Campbell

      Monty ‘ Surely we can agree that there are compelling reasons to go low-carbon, even if we don’t agree with AGW?’ – that’s a cop-out. If there were, we would be doing them, right? Or at least it wouldn’t be so extremely hard to do them. Which it seems to be. Those ‘compelling reasons’ you cite, when taken out and inspected, seem rather less compelling.

      I’m quite prepared to be wrong – what are they?

    • I don’t know of any other truly compelling reasons to go low carbon. We can manage waste from coal and nuclear, IMO. The benefits of fossil fuels are huge. A lot of negatives would have to exist to rationalize not using them. Of course, we still need to work on alternatives for the very long run. We probably have enough uranium and thorium to last a thousand years, especially if we learn to utilize thorium. Thorium technology is inherently non-proliferation. It certainly looks promising.

    • Monty – An area of compromise between liberals and conservatives, or pro-carbon mitigation and skeptics, might be nuclear power. We can wait 10 years to collect more observations. To begin mitigation, we do a moon-shot effort to develop small nuclear plants that can be built on an assembly line and deploy them wherever possible, which would be just about anywhere power is needed. These locations could be isolated cities and mines. Also, industrial areas around larger cites could use them to alleviate the need to build more fossil fuel generating plants. Start intense research on thorium-based nuclear reactors. In this way, we could begin mitigation in a manner that also moves us forward on energy independence.

    • As much as I am enjoying Pielke’s ‘Climate Fix’, I think the solution will found by our doing things that help us live better lives. For instance, reforestation is a worthy effort. Cleaning effluent and toxins from water, and using less water, and providing more clean water, are all very good. I think fertilizing ocean fisheries will help people and fish. Building as many more nuke power plants as we can manage will help people. As rivers modify course, rebuilding levees will need to done. As areas subside (as they always have) we will build up flood control. As crops are modified by people, weather paterns, pests, etc. we will modify what we grow.
      Since we are not going to stop increasing CO2- and it is not going to happen for the forseeable future- can we please ask the AGW promoters to lay off and to focus on doing things that actually help and to stop wasting so much money on conferences and windmills?
      The opportunity costs of AGW hysteria are approaching ~$100 billion pretty soon. Can we please stop at least wasting the money?

    • Hi Hunter
      I agree with all of the first paragraph. But surely your second paragraph assumes that CO2 is not a problem. If I thought this, then I wouldn’t be posting here (and presumably this blog wouldn’t exist). I think it is a problem…..whether we do anything about CO2 is largely a political and economic decision…it doesn’t change the basic science.

    • Reply to Roddy at 11.14am.
      Ocean acidification; peak oil; energy security.

    • Good question. I guess what I am suggesting is what Pielke, Sr. is suggesting: that CO2 is part of a menu of forcings. Why focus on one (obsession comes to mind) when it is the one we can least control, and why not focus our efforts on where we know we can make a difference.
      Take my area of current interest for example: ocean fertilization. Even if it does not dramtically lower CO2 ( I see no evidence it will not) it should improve the productivity of fisheries. And it is cheap and can be stopped if it proves to be a problem. OF does not require huge infrastructure, does not cost much to operate, and its results from the fishing industry pov is simple: more fish or not?
      We need more seafod. If CO2 is reduced, then the concerns of the CO2 community are satisfied. A 50,000 tonne tanker charter costs X thousands per day (out of that market too long for a good price). an iron concentrate solution suitable for ocean use is going to cost I bet in the ~$1million range.
      A voyage roudtrip to an Antarctic fishery would be in 6-8 week range. Assume $25,000 per day for an all in charter(per wiki lateest), $1million for iron concentrate and 56 full days. Add $1million dollar risk premium for sailing into the Antarctic, far from regular shipping lanes. For less than $3.5 million you could get a realistic amount of iron in the water- enough to see something significant if anything is going to happen at all. And not enough to tip the southern ocean into some disaster. The key questions would be if fish would respond in only one season of this, or would this be something that would not show up in netting yields until a second or third season?’
      Let’s say it takes three eyars to get the fishery yield up. In a world where we are spending ~$10billion per year studying CO2, certainly we can commit ~$10million over three eyars to actually see if something works?
      As to the science- I am not disputing CO2 as a a ghg. I am disputing, based on reading credible scientists and looking at Earth history, the idea that CO2 is an agent of doom at current or realistically attainable levels in the future.

  73. Judith – I’m still trying to get my head around the Italian flag idea, and to locate precisely the nagging doubt I have about its usefulness. I have observed earlier that it appears to obscure the null hypothesis, a notion apparently alien to climate science. Equally abhorred, it seems to me, is the time-hallowed imperative on scientists to consider rival and/or contradictory hypotheses synoptically – an imperative I have seen you endorse. But if this WERE to be done with CAGW, how would your Italian flag then look? Would you have a flag for each hypothesis? Or one for the whole body of work? If so, how would you resolve the conflicts that would, (given that we only have one climate), inevitably arise?

    As you know, I am not a scientist, but I suspect that if climate science had, indeed conducted itself in this way, and Occam’s razor applied to the resulting body of work, the need for (as well as the practicality of constructing) the Italian flag might disappear.

    I’m sure my more scientifically literate fellow visitors can supply plenty of rival and counter-hypotheses, so perhaps we can see what happens when the flag technique is attempted – but I suspect it’s going to look less like an Italian flag, and more like a 5 year old’s finger painting!

    • Tom, it is potentially useful in formal reasoning like evidence theory (see the original source I linked to in the Doubt analysis). I was mainly using it as an heuristic to point out that in our debates, we have red arguing with green, but both ignore the white area, which often overwhelms either green or red.

  74. George Carlin on saving the planet.

  75. Alexander Harvey

    Health Warning:

    “This rambles, gets bloody (millions may die), rants incoherently, and finally appeals for action based on being sensible and forgetting our hangups.”

    Re David Roberts reduction:

    I do not feel that the cases are sufficiently precise nor that it is correct not to consider adaptation.

    A is clear but B is muddled.

    Action A => Hawk

    If acting to reduce GH emissions would be beneficial anyway, we should do it. The science is irrelevant to arriving at this position, we know all we need to know. As A is inherently beneficial, market forces will do what is requiredprovided the capital is available, beyond that we need do no more.

    The way statement B is worded; B should imply Dove (B => Dove). The wording states that being a Hawk would be “prohibitively costly”, any normal reading of this imples it is not an option. If that were true, we would have.

    A => Hawk
    B => Dove

    The science would be irrelevant.

    So to get science back into the picture we need to deal with the word “prohibitive” and form a case C which is not prohibitively expensive but not a no-brainer.

    Case C. It is not known whether action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy will be prohibitively costly or is inherently beneifical.

    If C is true, we have a cost benefits situation.

    Again case 2 is not the opposite of case 1.

    Case 1 is clear and absolute (a pressing threat) but 2 is not clear.

    Case 1 being false implies that AGW is not a pressing threat.
    Case 2 is a mix of 1 being false and not knowing whether the threat is pressing or not.

    If we define 2 as pure “Hoax” 3 as representing the uncertain case, and “Egg” to indicate that we lack information on whether to be a Hawk or a Dove.

    C & 1 => Hawk
    C & 2 => Dove
    C & 3 => Egg

    and the following are still the case:

    A => Hawk (action is an obvious benefit)
    B => Dove ( action is prohibited due to costs)

    The only area for debate is if the science is not clear and that the action is neither obviously beneficial nor prohibitively costly.

    We can also work out implications.

    To recap:

    A = acting is obviously beneficial.
    B= acting is not possible.
    C = the benefit of acting is not in itself clear.

    1 = Act or perish
    2 = No need to act at all
    3 = The need to act is uncertain

    A v 2 => Happy, we are going to survive if the action is inherently beneficial (and is sufficiently capitalised) or there is no need to act anyway.

    B & 1 => Sad, action was a pressing imperative but prohibited by the costs.
    B & 3 => Anxious , we can’t act, and we might or might not perish.
    C & 1 => Anxious, we must act, but we might run out of cash and perish.
    C & 3 => Puzzled, we do not necessarily know what to do for the best.

    This is all well and good but we have no way of knowing which cases are knowable (in a relevant timeframe)

    We do not know which of 1, 2 or 3 is true.
    We do not know which of A, B or C is true.

    Also it seems unlikely whether we will or not, in any particular timeframe.

    Perhaps it is just down to belief systems after all. Unfortunately we do not even agree on what we believe to be true.

    As I mentioned in a post above, the reduction looks reasonable but I can not see that it actually helps directly, also as we neither know the truth nor if it is knowable, it invites decision by opinion poll.

    That said, provided we can put some likelihood values to the cases, we could perhaps create some rationale behind the decision making process but unfortunately acting directly on that rationale is inherently undemocratic. When the most rational course of action, the one with the most likelihood of a beneficial outcome, is known; imposing that action would require a tyrant, if it was not the democratic choice.

    If we abhor tyrants, knowing the rational action is not necessarily relevant unless one believes that people make rational choices. One could try to influence the democratic process by propaganda and make people choose the most rational course of action.

    The rational plan would appear to be,

    decide on the best course of action,
    ensure that either the people agree,
    or overrule them.

    The democratic plan might be:
    decide on the best course of action,
    make whatever modifications are necessary to make it popular,
    carry out the popular plan and hope for the best.

    Part of the world may carry out the democratic approach, the other the tyrannical approach each based on different parochial versions of what is the most rational course of action.

    This may illustrate an unaddressed questions about the IPCC process. The IPCC is a world body, but decisions will be based national imperatives.

    The relevant decision making process may be game theory.

    I am not sure that pursuing the science is necessarily a good thing. I am not sure that the rational decision based on science is related to the best hindsight decision (at lest at the level of the nation state), it seems rational to think that logic would favour the best choice but it may be no better than guessing.

    I suspect that we know all we need to know about the science and have done since embarking on the IPCC process, I suspect we know which levers affect the temperature and roughly which are the most potent.

    I suspect that we have already pulled on one of those levers and it did what we thought it should.

    I do not think that knowing the climate sensitivity any better than we do is all that relevant.

    I suspect that we should and will take whatever short term measures that are palatable, and see how it goes.

    I suspect that the tendency to treat the issue as a front end loaded decision making one (the artillery approach) is the correct approach. Better to treat the problem as a step by step guidance process. We lack simply lack the tools in order to make all the decisions upfront. I think we would do a lot better to invest all the science money into monitoring as we need to know what is happening to steer a course, we already know what the controls do but we need to know what affect they have.

    I suspect we will make piecemeal decisions and will not take any unpalatable actions until the outcomes are proven to be intolerable.

    Intolerable probably equates to around 30 million excess deaths per annum (one a second) which could be mitigated by a similar reduction in other unnecessary deaths. One a second is horrendous but there is a proven high tolerance to excess deaths.

    I view that situation will not be critical, in an existential sense, until the excess mortalities reach around 120-150 million deaths per annum (4-5 per second) , i.e. not until it is likely that the population would be declining after we have fixed most other causes of avoidable mortality.

    What are the current estimates of excess mortalities? Is it around a million per year (I seem to recall 300,000 is in the IPCC), if so we are a long way from an palpable existential threat.

    I no longer see the necessity for anymore climate science, at least until we have but in place the people and equipment required to embark on climate engineering or climate navigation, I think we could spend the money more wisely by ensuring we have the best navigational system currently possiblle given the current science.

    Also we should start by pulling on all the levers that we can afford to pull on, especially any that should make the temperatures rise such as aerosol gasses, that at least should give us data to compare to theory, if the temperatures rocket we could always stop. Alternatively we could what for the science and the modellers to get a clearer picture and then act. But what if the levers don’t do what they should? If you want to know what a lever does, it is not a bad idea to pull on it. Meditating on it, is not really all that useful beyond a point that I think we passed long ago.

    We are going to make this problem go away. We need to do what we can and do the simplest first and see what happens. We won’t get the ship into the harbour unless we get used to manning the controls.

    We do not need to know how bad it could get according to particular scenarios in 2100 or 2200 if we have no intention of finding out if the projections are correct, this is not an experimental situation, so they are not really part of science. The models all agree fairly well on the projection to 2050 irrespective of their individual sensitivities, and I do not anticipate further science making much difference in the next decade. The science is not settled but for now it may have run its course.

    I simply do not see that we need to know more, when we could make substantive progress comparatively painlessly. I cannot see that at this stage it is necessary to take people’s cars away, nor their lightbulbs for that matter. I cannot see poking people off as being all that productive.

    Until reducing CO2 is truly viable, is it really likely to happen? We can export its production to other countries but can we really make a dent in it? We can invest beneficially in new technologies but they have timescales that are expensive to force down by price manipulation.

    There are things we can get on with while we figure out how to eat the CO2 elephant, we don’t yet know how much of it we need to swallow.

    If we remove as many of the other factors as we can, we may reveal the nature of the beast. It won’t cost much, it will clean up the atmosphere, and we may can valuable guidance data.

    I know why people are fixated on CO2 it is the elphant in the room, or even the mouse if you prefer. But I think we need to get over ourselves, and concentrate on doing otherthings.

    We should practice the art of the possible.


    • Alex, this is a very interesting analysis, I will ponder some more.

    • Roddy Campbell

      I enjoyed it. Parts of it are much where I am, and, much to his credit, where Lomborg was some time ago. Saying ‘stop arguing about the science, let’s assume it’s right’ is much the same as ‘stop arguing about the science it isn’t going to change much’.

      More interesting to decide what we can do, ‘can’ in the sense of what do we know how to do, and what can we get through the political global process to actually achieve.

      This really focusses attention on the costs of BAU (biz as usual), and on WG2 and 3, on what Germany has done with solar and wind, and so on.

      What interests me is that it is seen as somehow unacceptable, unethical, to debate what we do (in the blogosphere), except in really airy-fairy it isn’t going to happen terms, because as soon as you do you have to accept that CO2 levels are still going to rise. Yup. And it seems better to me to talk about it than arm-wave. It’s not me who is unwilling to decarbonise (well, a bit :) ), it’s the Indians and the Chinese who are very unwilling not to carbonise up.

      It’s the treatment Pielke Jr gets every time – if he says ‘I see no practical way, politically, and given energy technology and cost, that you can reduce emissions faster than x in the developed world, or make them grow slower than y in the developing world’ (examples include his pieces on UK and Japan CO2 commitments, and on China and India decarb rates vs GDP growth), he’s called an obstructer, a denier. Me too, when anyone notices me.

      If you want to stabilise GHGs let’s talk about how, stop shouting. And I’ll stop saying you’re killing children in the third world by blocking coal power stations if you’ll stop saying I’m a Koched-up denier.


      Where is the forum for conversations about policy? There’s plenty of disagreement about that too.

    • Alex Heyworth

      Well said, Roddy (and Alex Harvey).

      IMO we should totally reframe the issue as: how are we going to provide first world levels of energy to the third world at affordable prices?

      I suspect that if this were the focus of research, the issue of climate would soon become a non-issue, as non-fossil fuel sources of energy rapidly became cheaper.

  76. Judith, sometimes you say the most common senses things, and for some reason, they strike me as funny. Not funny as in odd. Funny as in laughter.

    “…we also need to accept the disagreement.”

    This in a science which is settled.

    This in a science which has a consensus.

    No, to both.

    What we really have is a world in which scientists in a certain field really DO consider themselves as the only ones with brains. Listen to the comments, over and over: “Stupid” “anti-science” “idiots” “deniers” All completely disrespectful comments. (They have actually taken a good deal of the stigma off the term “denier,” after all is said and done.)

    Anyone who is not them – “How DARE they think they think! And in OUR field! How DARE they not accept our thinking!”

    For years now, I’ve heard, over and over again, that the “warmist scientists are like priests,” and I usually let it pass.

    But when I think about it: The attitude in the Climategate files (the closest thing we have to getting inside their heads) is, “How DARE they assert any right to question our work? Who the hell are THEY, anyway? They are not US, so they don’t HAVE any right. (…Mike, did you finish that grant application for more taxpayer money yet?” We are running a little low for next year’s budget…)

    I hate to say it, but the CRU folks (including Michael Mann) showed nothing but a collective superiority complex, that only THEY have seen the light, and these heretical FOOLS out there, what IS their PROBLEM, anyway?

    Judith, NONE of this started with the skeptics. Trust me. The skeptics just thought SOMETHING didn’t quite sound right, and chose to explore a bit into it all – and then found some errors, or what they thought could BE errors. Then along came Steve McIntyre and Ross McKittrick, who had the capacity to look into it (more or less on behalf of a community that had gathered kind of “on a street corner” comparing notes).

    It was like Martin Luther had a group of buddies down at the Ratskeller, who dared him to put that note on the church door. Some saying, “Well, if you can see where the error is, go ahead – they’ll understand your points; they are reasonable priests, after all…”

    (Were ratskellers/coffee houses/pubs the original blogosphere?)

    So, RIGHT you are, that there may not BE any of that common ground that you sought to find. But you sure as heck are finding out who the uncivil folks are.

    When people aren’t even ALLOWED to ask, “Are you SURE?” is any dialogue even possible?

    Here you are, the monk who opened the door, just to see what Luther posted, and when you started nodding to some of his points as you read them, the priests LOCKED YOU OUT of the church (of consensus).

    Luther was HOW MANY hundreds of years ago? And how much common ground have the Catholics and Protestants found in the intervening time?

    It doesn’t look too hopeful for the near future, does it?

    Your poking your head out has brought this all into clear focus. The problem isn’t that skeptics are stupid, or skeptics are annoying, or skeptics are anti-science.

    The problem is that climate scientists on the pro-global warming side don’t have any humility. The term hubris is probably a bit overdone, but is probably the one that fits best.

    The funny thing is this: If they would PROVE their contentions, we could all go back to the Ratskeller and have a liter or two. Our side is willing to accept proof and go on our way – if they ever actually do that. (But IMHO the science of climatology is about 100-200 years from actually knowing what is going on. It is just too NEW of a science. They should be collecting their data and firming up what they can, and telling the world, “This is the best we have, so our conclusions are tentative.” But they won’t do that.)

    They don’t GET IT, that they haven’t proven their case. From inside their heads, they have, evidently. I did not think so over 10 years ago, and they haven’t done anything additional to prove it since then. Until they address the shortcomings in their hypothesis – which they don’t seem to accept as shortcomings – they never will.

    When they do, we will listen.

  77. Judith and friends
    Another great post and interesting conversation. Is it only me, or do others see that blogs like this show that climate science is in great shape! Wouldn’t it be great if more science was like this – hundreds of interested bloggers, laypeople and scientist interracting, arguing, disagreeing, learning. Maybe this is the real postnormal science!

    • @Michael Lowe,
      When RC, Romm, etc. actually engage in something like this blog, when science journals are no longer suppressing papers for AGW political reasons, when ‘the team’ is no longer seeking to control the discussion, when government funding for research is not being used to politicize research, and when transparency returns to cliamte science, then we can say climate science is healthy. But then climate science will no longer be ‘post normal’.

    • Thanks for your 5.48 comment. I’m more than happy to debate in a friendly fashion with people who show goodwill and an open mind. We are learn in these debates…I certainly am.

    • Monty,
      You are most welcome. This site is somehow approaching more closely to an actual conversation than the others I am familiar with.
      It is very interesting.

    • Dr. Strangelove


      As a scientist and being open-minded, I urge you to read these scientific papers and studies that undermine AGW and tell me what you think.

      Uncertainty in climate models by Dr. Frank Patrick


      Uncertainty in global temp. data by Anthony Watts


      On the physics of atmospheric greenhouse effect by Prof. Gerhard Gerlich


      On global temp. data and warming trend from CRU


      See page 21 bottom chart. It shows the global temp. anomaly from 1850 to 2005. Note that given the margins of error, one cannot conclude a definite warming trend until 1990 to 2005. How can anyone attribute a cause such as anthropogenic CO2 when the effect itself (global warming) is uncertain?

      Thank you

    • yes this is the extended peer community in action, i think it is great!

    • Dr. Strangelove

      Judith and Michael,

      In many areas of science, the internet has already sort of replaced the traditional peer review process in journals. For example, one of the most difficult and most famous mathematical problems of our time – the Poincare conjecture – was solved by Grigory Perelman, not in a mathematics journal but on the website http://www.arxiv.org (one of websites I posted) which has become the standard exchange of papers in physics, mathematics and computer science.

      The problem, which deals with the potential shape of our universe, was unsolved for 100 yrs. The Clay Institute offered a $1 million reward for its solution. Perelman solved it through a series of papers in 2002-2003 posted on the website. He never published his papers breaking the rules of the Institute that solutions must be published in a refereed mathematics journal of worldwide repute.

      Nonetheless, he won the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. He rejected the $1 million reward as he was not interested in the money but only in the advancement of mathematics. Indeed his solution is acclaimed as a revolution in mathematics.

      I hope we have more Perelmans in climate science.

    • Agreed, that was a real “bravo” moment.

  78. When they do, we will listen.

    Really? I don’t see any evidence that you are listening at the moment. Maybe you will personally, but there are plenty of others who will clearly not be convinced by any evidence whatsoever.

    • Andrew: Convinced of what, exactly? Of course there will be some who will not be convinced by any evidence, but the arguments put forth by alarmists are full of circular reasoning, claiming that vague agreement with data means infallible models, unjustified extrapolation, suppression of uncertainty, you name it. Intelligent and reasonable people can be offended by this degree of sloppiness for a so-called consensus. 20 feet of sea level rise? really? The greenland ice cap sliding into the sea like on a slip-and-slide? Really? The whole earth uninhabitable from a 3 deg C temp rise? Really? All of this is stated by the cheerleaders and big names (Hansen for example) even though it is not implied by the current models or even by the IPCC. Do you agree with these claims?

    • andrew adams: No doubt about it, people can be a fractious, stubborn lot. In any group of people, including scientists, you will find those who do not listen.

      However, feet2thefire raised several points arising from Climategate that are more serious than not listening — namely scientists rigging the climate debate from behind the scenes.

      Rather than address feet’s concerns, your response is a standard tu quoque (“you too”) fallacy combined with mindreading about some unspecified “plenty of others who will clearly not be convinced by any evidence whatsoever.”

      Is that the best you can do? Before Climategate I used to defend climate change. I don’t any longer in large part because of responses such as yours.

      Like it or not, the onus is on the climate change movement to make its case to the rest of us and we are told that the case is overwhelming. But instead of making the case we find climate advocates rigging the debate and complaining about skeptics.

      Which is overall the point feet2thefire was making and which you avoided.

  79. blank

  80. Hi Judith
    I’m having problems replying to some posters…the Reply button doesn’t always exist.

    • You’ve probably reached the maximum depth of replies. You can still reply to the layer above the comment and it will drop your comment below it.

  81. Conservative vs Liberal approach to risk: It may be that liberals tend to be pro-carbon mitigation even though they don’t understand the science and conservatives tend to be against mitigation even though they don’t understand the science due to the difference in the way they approach risk. This might also account for why more science savvy conservatives want to see more proof before acting on mitigation. Conservatives see the good in fossil fuels and want to continue using them. They also see the immense expense of mitigation a understand the negative impact to the economy. Liberals, OTOH, see great risk in not mitigating carbon now and tend not to take into account the immense costs. For example, higher energy costs will have a more direct impact on the poor. This in turn will require more socialist-oriented welfare programs to help them.

    From the link:
    Lee Harris at TCSDaily examines the old slander that conservatives are from the “stupid party”. What he finds is something that I have been saying about conservatives for a long time: What fundamentally distinguishes conservatives from liberals is not, as some liberals would maliciously suggest, intelligence or sanity or morality, but rather simply a different attitude towards risk.

    Contrary to the claims of their self-congratulatory elements, neither liberals nor conservatives derive from objectively superior moral or intellectual grounds. Rather, they are both using standard cost-benefit logic, only differing in the relative weighting that they use to reduce intangible costs and benefits to weigh-able estimates. Liberals tend to heavily weight the costs observed in the status quo and to discount as exaggerated and unlikely the potential costs of change. Accordingly, they prefer “progressive” policies that seek to challenge the status quo. The liberal position is summed up in the idea that policymakers should not just stand there, but should do something.

    Conversely, conservatives tend to heavily weight the gains that have already been achieved — the benefits of the status quo, and to discount as risky and uncertain the predicted benefits from a proposed change. Accordingly, conservatives tend to prefer to maintain the status quo except in the face of overwhelming evidence not only of concrete existing problems but also of solutions that have been thoroughly examined and tested. Conservatives invert the liberal prescription to “don’t just do something, stand there.”


    • Jim: Well said and IMO fair to both sides. If I’m not mistaken, Dr. Curry is attempting to get “outside the box” in a similar way.

      I’m reminded of a favorite quote from “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 film:

      Colonel Brighton: Look, sir, we can’t just do nothing.
      General Allenby: Why not? It’s usually best.

    • One of my favorite lines, as well.
      There are other messages in that movie relevant for the great AGW blogwar.

    • Michael Larkin

      Hi Jim,

      “Conservative” and “Liberal” have political connotations, but politics is but one of the many things that characterises human beings. I’d prefer to stipulate that “conservative” and “liberal” with small initial letters refer to two tendencies that run in opposite directions. I’d say conservatism is the tendency to value the present over the future, and liberalism, the future over the present.

      One rarely (possibly never?) finds people who are at the extreme of one or the other in all aspects of life. Typically, in one area, they will strike one balance between the two, and in another, another.

      We probably all start off with certain inherent inclinations, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us, as we grow older, from whatever base we start, become on average more conservative. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some old liberals or young conservatives, of course. And certainly, there will be exceptions who buck the trend – perhaps as a result of a seminal experience that effects a sea change.

      But you know what? I believe the world needs both principles to be in appropriate balance according to circumstances. If there’s an obvious excess of one or the other for any length of time, there’s usually big trouble.

      But in the end, the system trends back to a stable equilibrium. Democratic societies have been so successful in my view because it’s extremely difficult for either conservatism or liberalism to get and retain power for extended periods.

      Things like intelligence, aptitude and talent are independent of liberalism or conservatism. Just as are gender and race. To brand what at any given time approaches half the population (be they liberal or conservative) as inherently stupid is just another form of mindless discrimination.

      I think this is very relevant for the debate going on here. The idea of “having respect” for those with differing opinions (which may be another way of saying “toleration between liberals and conservatives”) is absolutely vital: an irreducible prerequisite for making progress.

    • I agree that is it good that we have balance in the political system. Of course, liberals and conservatives generally differ in respects other than the approach to risk. Liberal, in the US sense of the word, tend to look to the government for solutions to problems while conservatives turn to capitalism and individualism. As you say, most people are not extremely one or the other. The interesting thing to me is the thought that one’s personality determines if one is dominantly liberal or conservative, pro-AWG/CAWG or skeptical. If we want to bridge the chasm, we must understand the nature of the walls of it. Is it made of ice? Is the temperature above, at, or below freezing? Is it made of solid rock? Or is the rock friable? We do have to approach each other with respect if we are to bridge this chasm. Maybe one extreme will never truly understand the other, but perhaps some common ground can be found.

    • Michael Larkin

      Nice metaphor, Jim. You know, as I grow older, I think I understand the wall better, and there’s no doubt it can seem impenetrable.

      You know what they say: perception IS reality. But perception can change. I think it’s worthwhile “pretending” one’s perception ISN’T or at least MIGHT NOT be reality.

      Engaging with someone with a differing opinion as if one really believed the wall wasn’t there can, in my experience, create a genuine shift in perception.

      At a certain point, a doorway may appear. It always seems to lead somewhere unexpected – a better vantage point if you like.

      Even if the other person continues to see nothing but wall, communication becomes a little easier. I think everyone can detect, and respond to, sincerity.

      It’s not about giving ground just to keep the peace. One still has one’s own views, but IMO will be able to put them across more cogently and at least have them seriously considered. Of course, the other must also feel quite sure their point of view is also being considered.

      A genuine exchange of views like this has immense power to shift attitudes and understandings. That doesn’t mean winning arguments, nor even changing opinions. It’s much more subtle than that.

      Our host, Dr. Curry, has a talent for finding doors. She hasn’t as yet convinced me of anything, but I’m enjoying exploring new landscapes, hers and mine.

      Life is really about learning, isn’t it? :-)

    • By that measure, wouldn’t politicians who shrink government be conservative, and those who increase it liberal?

      So Clinton = conservative, Bush = liberal?

    • That just illustrates we are dealing with shades of gray, not black and white.

    • Also, Clinton was a realist who shifted to the right to maintain his place in the game. And a lot of conservatives were upset with Bush and his big spending ways.

    • Or the whole left-right thing is a wasted and anachronistic metaphor, devoid of power?

      Given that Clinton’s popularity was so staggering during his time in office (and since) as to allow him the freedom to shift any direction he wanted and only enhance whatever position in the game he chose, it’s not even barely credible to suggest Clinton was a realist who saw the natural beauty of the right and bent to hold its perfection to his bosom.

      And if ‘a lot of conservatives were upset with Bush,’ their realist actions prove only that the place in the game mattered to them. Which conservative of note and principle stood up in public against Bush in anything but the most token and symbolic way?

      Conservative, liberal, left, right, libertarian, socialist; those are all hollow shells last capable of carrying meaning long before anyone on this blog was born, if they ever were.

      They’re duds. They’re spent. They long ago jettisoned any semblance of core philosophy or value.

      In this post-soundbite age, they’re the names of debased cliques no one wants or needs.

      What’s left?

      There’s what a tweet can convince sheeple to believe, and there’s what a tweet can’t.

      So the question is, have you subscribed to the twitter of a pirate, or haven’t you?

    • Conservative, liberal, left, right, libertarian, socialist….are all hollow shells …..
      What’s left? There’s what a tweet can convince sheeple to believe, and there’s what a tweet can’t.

      That the general populace may not understand quantum physics, does not make it a hollow shell. Ditto political philosophy.

    • A quant never had to convince somebody to follow it or cease to exist.

    • By that measure, wouldn’t politicians who shrink government be conservative, and those who increase it liberal?

      That does seem to be the way the terms are used, in the US at least.
      Which is very confusing, since logically ‘liberal’ implies one who espouses liberty (ie similar to ‘libertarian’), which means minimising government.
      And ‘conservative’ means one who values what we now have, ie is opposed to change.
      So when a reduction in government is proposed, those who oppose it are conservative because they oppose change, but at the same time liberal (in the US sense) because they want big government …. groan …

  82. Judith, you cited Paul Krugman’s perspective that “You might think that this uncertainty weakens the case for action, but it actually strengthens it.” Exactly! This means that activists at the IPCC only need to distort probability on the upper end of the climate sensitivity scale to scare us into excessive action. The threat of catastrophic climate change becomes Schneider’s argument for buying insurance against climate change. Unfortunately, poorer nations of the world can’t afford this insurance and globalization forces us to compete with them. Any attempts to bribe poorer nations into buying insurance (aka tradable emission permits) involves contracts that can’t be enforced in the long run. In their efforts to raise 2 billion people out of poverty using the only cheap energy sources available to them (and avoid revolution), there is little chance that China and India won’t burn every ton of cheap coal they can purchase.

    Thanks to your activist colleagues, even a smart man like Paul Krugman believes that the threat from climate change HAS INCREASED during the past decade of negligible temperature rise. However, it is already “likely” (to use the IPCC’s terminology) that the past decade of negligible temperature rise has invalidated all of the IPCC’s climate models. Even Hadley recently admitted that the probability of invalidation could reach “virtually certain” if this trend continues through 2014. (Kerr, Science (2009) 326: 28-29; referencing J. KNIGHT ET AL., BULL. AMER. METEOR. SOC., 90 (SUPPL.), S22–S23 (AUGUST 2009); work unlikely to appear in full form in a prominent journal.) Of course, the missing tropical hotspot already appears to have invalidated these models. And in Santer et al, we see some of the biggest names in climate science choosing not to apply part of their methodology to the full 1979-2007 time period so they can avoid reaching this conclusion! And then they M&M’s publication demonstrating this fact is suppressed, probably by the same authors! Oh well, November 2 is only days away. Let the Congressional hearings begin!

    What would happen if an unbiased assessment of climate sensitivity were 1.5-3.0 degK with a best estimate of 2.0 degK?

    • I’m working on deconstructing the Krugman point, I think I’ve come up with something insightful, should be in the Part II post on Wed.

    • Alexander Harvey


      “What would happen if an unbiased assessment of climate sensitivity were 1.5-3.0 degK with a best estimate of 2.0 degK?”

      I can not say what would happen politically, but I will venture a view on what should happen practically.

      It should make no difference. Why? Because in the short-run, unless the value was very low, its value really does make very little difference, it is not the predominent factor in deciding of fast the earth should warm.

      I doubt that the divergence in outcomes between 2C and 3C will be material in the period upto 2050. Also I doubt if the divergence between 3C and 12C would be of material significance in the next 40 years.

      “Even Hadley recently admitted that the probability of invalidation could reach “virtually certain” if this trend continues through 2014.”

      Hmmm, they must hanker after becoming hostages to fortune. Although “this trend” is a bit wooly and could cover a number of possibilities. That the record and the projections should diverge is predicable, particularly if the models “learn” from the record. Also if the atmospheric concentrations have diverged from those projected. Their statement would appear to be a bit hasty, and I am not sure why they would have made it.

      I will make a prediction of mine own, that the “stalling” or “reduced rate” will come to vindicate AGW theory, for two reasons. Firstly because it will become an imperative, secondly because it would be true.

      The hostage to fortune theme, seems to have become rather significant since the 1998 El Nino event. I do not know if it was politically/ideologically motivated, or a bit of a make like an ostrich moment.

      I think that the new millenial divergence does have a significance and it will be interesting to see what is made of it in AR5. I wonder if the “breathtaking” closeness of fit between the ensemble mean and the historic record produced for AR4 will be repeated. Who knows?


  83. Given uncertainty, I like the idea of a carbon tax that increases according to the rate at which we are approaching “unacceptable” climate change. At the current rate of sea level increase, a 1 meter rise is 300 years away: No tax. When our margin of safety reaches 200 years, mild tax. When our margin of safety reaches 100 years, serious tax. When it reaches 50 year, punitive tax that shuts down all but emergency use. Based on current satellite observation of temperature rise, it will be 150 years before temperature rises 2 degC: mild tax. Or based on the Argo sea buoys, the current rate is … For this we need something that all side agree we can measure accurately.

  84. Judith asks if it is naive to think we might be able to take the politics out of the science to help clarify the disagreements …….

    Naive? No, because it surely can happen. A big problem I see is that there are extremists (a portion of whom yield power and influence) who will refuse to even consider such an endeavor because they “are right, and are always right.” It’s possible too, that what we’re discussing may be a bit too academic for some, and certainly over the head of at least a few of the aforementioned extremists.

    IMO it’s definitely worth a shot. Business as it is now is surely a mess.

  85. I find David Roberts’ efforts to distill the labels down to “hawks” and “dove” pretty clever by half. A labeling designed to put people who generally oppose his climatic stance into a defensive posture. IMO, generally speaking, people who are fiscal and/or national security hawks (a group that has a large intersection), will also tend to be “climate doves” in his binary world. HMM! a hawk who is a dove!

  86. Here is a new description of the overview. A novel method of analysis is suggested. References concerning this approach are unknown to me.

    Hawks and Doves?
    Uncertainty and unknowns?
    Circular reasoning?
    Postnormal science?

    1) Earlier it was suggested and herein presumed that the IPCC review process is ‘circular reasoning’. It is turtles all the way down.

    2) Now let’s suppose that (1) is not a crucial flaw. By that I mean that all investigative processes are ‘circular reasoning’. The IPCC is similar to any other precess of discovery and development.

    3) Given (2) how is it possible to discriminate between the notions of objective science and Tautological Accretion and Revisionism (TAR) ?

    My suggestion is that all progress starts off as a TAR type activity. It’s the natural consequence of posing rhetorical questions and searching for rhetorical answers to such self-defining mandate (tautology).

    For lack of knowledge ( ceteris paribus ) TAR amounts to a random walk through an unknown space of unknown dimensionality.

    Although Uncertainty can be estimated and bounded, here it is open and unbounded. That which is unknown has yet to be discovered.

    So what is the difference between objective science and self-affirming fiction? Are all TARs destined to remain that way? Is it possible for a TAR to cross over into what is commonly recognized as being objective science?

    Yes, it is possible …

    The ‘key’ is to recognize:
    a) How does the transformation of a TAR takes place? (new undeveloped methodology)

    b) ‘Objective Science’ isn’t quite up to being what it claims to be.

    I am suggesting that any investigative developmental process is a TAR. That it progresses through it’s own self-directed, self-affirming, self-revising random walk through an unknown and unanticipated domain. In the course of such meander over a progressive duration of time, the investigation traces out and fills a certain percentage of the uncertainty in an evidential and self-demonstrated manner.

    Understanding is revised accordingly. The narrative is made self-consistent and commensurate with other knowledge.

    Uhm, the TAG crosses over and becomes ‘objective science’ when it a posteriori recognized as i) self-consistent and ii) consistent and commensurate with the aggregate totality of science.

    What is important and plausible is that the process of space filling that the TAG undertakes in it’s random walk of accretion and development can be observed and considered.

    It is difficult to appreciate and understand uncertainty when such an unknown is open and unbounded. It is easier to estimate and criticize what one does know. In the context of AGW such estimation and critique is directed at the quantitative and qualitative aspects.

    The colligative, dimensional and scaling features are pushed out of sight and out of mind. They are swept up and assumed in unwavering context in the perceptual preference for focal awareness … for the sake of convergence and the substantial.

  87. Some further funnies from sourcewatch. Apparently they are getting some heat from what they posted on their site about me, they came back with the following questions:


    Hello again Dr. Curry -

    People who know climate science are having trouble making sense of
    your critiques, and I am having trouble making sense of your
    classifying my community’s most blatant global warming denier as “not
    an identified “skeptic” (as far as i can tell)”.

    So I have additional Qs to you – and yes, I realize they’re obnoxious
    and I apologize for that, but IMO we need to get at the truth.

    Has your handwriting been getting shaky lately, or your balance
    worsening, or your (verbal, etc) self-restraint just vaporizing? (I
    ask since these did noticeably happen to me, & not all at the same
    time; fortunately they didn’t persist.)

    Are you being threatened or blackmailed; either on behalf of you, or
    on behalf of others (e.g. family members) close to you, including the
    younger generation(s)?

    Would you take the enhanced [Jeffrey] Dubner oath?
    (“I swear that I have never taken money or received services –
    whether directly or indirectly — from any political campaign or
    political group or government agency or think tank — whether federal,
    state, or local — or from anyone else — in exchange for any service
    performed in my climate communication endeavors.”)
    (“directly or indirectly” would include carrots/sticks for friends and
    family members)

    I’m sorry to ask you so directly, and you’re certainly free not to
    answer any of these Qs; but they are the questions I have.

  88. > scientists have no particular expertise on politics, economics
    > or social ethics. A scientist’s personal sense of values and
    > morality has no more legitimacy in this debate than any
    > other individual’s personal sense.

    That basically says science is useless, except for making money, doesn’t it?
    What would public health be, if not political, economical, and social ethical behavior? What does herd immunity say about individual personal morality?

    Much of what we in recent centuries think of as moral is based on scientific understanding. Much of what we consider good behavior — not crapping upstream of where people drink, getting children vaccinated for mumps, measles, and polio, not tossing NiCd batteries in the incinerator, not using lead solder on plumbing, not putting melamine powder in the powdered milk to fool the protein analysis — is behavior that people only do because they understand or trust the science.

    Self-interest argues against many choices that science has led us to recognize as wise.

    • Self-interest argues against many choices that science has led us to recognize as wise.

      This is just a crackpot/marxist strawman notion of self-interest, an attempt to equate science with the totalitarian espousal of coercion as a mode of social interaction that gives some people rights at the expense of others.
      The classical liberal notion, is of enlightened self-interest, where social interaction is consensual, and everyone’s equal rights and obligations are consistent with everyone else’s.

  89. > enlightened self-interest
    Self-interest enlightened by? Science.
    Got any other source of illumination?


    “consilience” was coined in the last century and refers to long-separated fields of inquiry that come together ….
    Q: Can science not only shed light on existing ethics, but also create new ethics?
    A: When we talk about the physical environment we now know with increasing precision what it is that we’re doing to it…. Bertrand Russell once said … people would rather commit suicide than learn arithmetic.
    — E.O. Wilson

    • Yes, science, inter alia. Also the morality mentioned above.
      Science per se does not undermine the case for a cooperative/contractual society, or strenghthen the case for the coercive/statist society you seem to approve of, as you try to imply.

  90. >coercive/statist society you seem to approve of, as you try to imply.
    Got commies under your bed? Your imagination is going wild here.

  91. Here, Punksta, if you can’t stand the airlines idea, try an example far enough from the present you can look at it without feeling it’s a personal constraint — and one where the best efforts to use science to advise policy so far have devastated the resource instead of protecting it — fisheries.

    If you read the history you know that free unconstrained fishing was a disaster for all the big fisheries — the fish that used to be caught are gone.

    The attempts so far to use science to advise policy have been abysmal. The scientists know this.

    It’s an example of how scientists try to become more, not less, involved, where they hope to keep the subject they’re interested in alive.

    Kraak, S. B. M., Kelly, C. J., Codling, E. A. and Rogan, E. (2010), On scientists’ discomfort in fisheries advisory science: the example of simulation-based fisheries management-strategy evaluations. Fish and Fisheries, 11: 119–132. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-2979.2009.00352.x


    “Scientists feel discomfort when they are asked to create certainty, where none exists, for use as an alibi in policy-making. Recently, the scientific literature has drawn attention to some pitfalls of simulation-based fisheries management-strategy evaluation (MSE). For example, while estimates concerning central tendencies of distributions of simulation outcomes are usually fairly robust because they are conditioned on ample data, estimates concerning the tails of distributions (such as the probability of falling below a critical biomass) are usually conditional on few data and thus often rely on assumptions that have no strong knowledge base. The clients of scientific advice, such as the European Commission, are embracing the mechanization of the evaluation of proposed Harvest Control Rules against the precautionary principle and management objectives. Where the fisheries management institutions aim for simple answers from the scientists, giving ‘green/red light’ to a proposed management strategy, the scientists are forced into a split position between satisfying the demands of their advisory role and living up to the standards of scientific rigour. We argue against the mechanization of scientific advice ….”

    Sounds like what’s being suggested for climate, doesn’t it?

  92. Well what we have is someone trying to tell us enlightened self-interest is undermined by science. Which by implication recommends a coercive society, ie where self-interest is systematically crushed by the state. I suppose you could call that communism/socialism, yes.

  93. Er, no. You’re still seeing boogiemen.
    Where do you think the “enlightenment” came from?
    Do you have any source other than science?

  94. Punksta, if you insist everyone who doesn’t agree with you is against you, you miss a whole lot of people you can disagree with _and_ work with at the same time.

    Try some of this:

    For example:
    — brief excerpt follows —–
    … the Enlightenment’s greatest insight — that humans are inherently delusional beings, able to talk ourselves into anything at all…..
    … the pragmatic-scientific wing said:
    Everybody will be deluded, as a matter of basic human nature, and we are terrible at spotting our own errors. Rationality can be just another method for incantatory justification and rationalization. But there is another answer.
    If we cannot spot our own mistakes, we can often notice each others!
    Through well-run competitive systems, like democracy, markets, and science, the give and take of reciprocal accountability can edge us ever forward toward the truth.

    Oh, sure, these competitive systems are very hard to set up and maintain.

    As one of the earliest leaders of the Anglo-American wing, Adam Smith, described, it is hard to arrange circumstance under which competition delivers all its benfits — creativity, innovation, vigor, accountability and error detection — without soon drawing in its own worst enemy, _cheaters._

    As both Smith and Karl Marx pointed out, Capitalism and Democracy can turn into their own worst enemies.

    These pragmatic tools require endless fine-tuning, a gritty chore that often makes people tempted to turn back to simplistic dogmatism.
    —— end quote —–

    Look at the fisheries science. Look at what the scientists have been saying for _decades_ now and how the politicians have wiped out the fisheries, by servicing the cheaters.

    Who do you trust? Watch out for those cheating the world to their own advantage, because they aren’t — enlightened — about what they’re doing.

    What source of enlightenment do you have, outside of science?

  95. > cheaters

    Read the Mike Hulme article recommended earlier.
    We’re in a world that mostly doesn’t understand or accept science, yet.
    What other source of enlightenment do you have to suggest that really enlightens?

    • We’re in a world that mostly doesn’t understand or accept science, yet.
      What other source of enlightenment do you have to suggest that really enlightens?

      ‘Raving’ recommends P E R C E P T I O N

      No, not follow the money …
      … follow the context
      … follow the focal awareness
      … follow the process which directs the awarenesss

      Follow the bouncing ball. … (subjectivity)

      When all else fails, be quiet and learn how to ‘listen’ observe

    • What other source of enlightenment do you have to suggest that really enlightens?

      You could try ‘perception’.
      Follow and track the awareness

  96. “Punksta, if you insist everyone who doesn’t agree with you is against you, you miss a whole lot of people you can disagree with _and_ work with at the same time.”

    An odd coment coming from someone that usually resides at realclimate where insults of those with opposing points of view on a variety of issues are of no more concern then as if declaring an object the color red.

    “Scientists feel discomfort when they are asked to create certainty, where none exists, for use as an alibi in policy-making”

    As well they should. So why do they do it?

    “We’re in a world that mostly doesn’t understand or accept science, yet.”

    Yes, and I suppose when they do they will understand you can’t ignore a troposphere that isn’t warming at the appropriate rate to the surface; you can’t ignore a stratosphere that isn’t cooling at the appropriate rate per decade; you can’t ignore an ocean that isn’t warming despite an assumed large energy imbalance; you can’t ignore that if you declare a long lag time or a large long term climate sensitivity then previous forcings are subject to the same principles; and you can’t ignore that the rate of warming was no different this last time then the time before it and the time before that.

    “That basically says science is useless, except for making money, doesn’t it?”

    Not at all. That comment is just pointing out the obvious. A person with a degree in physics is no better suited to make a moral judgement on who should live and who should die than I am. You do understand that raising the cost of energy will cause people to die don’t you? That these people that die will for the most part be from the same places where people may die in 100 years from drought and floods if the models turn out to be right despite all the empirical evidence pointing to a lower sensitivity. When grandma dies as a baby I guess you won’t be around to worry about climate change.

  97. “You’re still seeing boogiemen.”
    No, what I’m seeing is your “Self-interest argues against many choices that science has led us to recognize as wise”.
    Seems pretty clear to me you were trying to got a foothold for the idea that the social process of consent is flawed, and that coercion is thus justified, paving the way for an acceptance of taxes and other coercion to ‘fight’ climate change.
    But if you’d prefer to retract that and/or rephrase, just say so.

  98. “We’re in a world that mostly doesn’t understand or accept science, yet.”

    What is your evidence for this? That people won’t swallow the DAGW line being put out by he the blatantly fraudulent IPCC cadre?

  99. and
    “… ‘understanding how science really works’. That science is not only done by, but advocated by networks of human beings. ….
    This is just a brief sketch of the basic problems with scientific literacy (yes, this was the brief version). If you are interested in more, I can recommend the following. They are all a bit old. It is an old argument….”

  100. This also:

    And remember:

    “Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.”


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