Friday, December 9, 2011

"[T]o keep the populace alarmed..."

Charles Cooke has a superb commentary on a recent scientific study that suggests that the apocalyptic global warming climate change global climate chaos scenarios proclaimed by climate scientists are grossly exaggerated.

The Climate Cataclysm Is Not Nigh 

“We have some room to breathe,” a scientist reports.
In 1783, William Pitt warned the British Parliament about the dangers of those who would reflexively employ “necessity” as an argument in favor of their preferences. “Necessity,” Pitt exclaimed, “is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves!” These are wise words indeed. But in a purely Machiavellian sense, the tactic is also a risky one. Those who shout “or else!” tend to be left in the role of the boy who cried wolf if their apocalypse fails to turn up on time.
The environmental Left has long neglected Pitt’s admonition and is starting to pay the price. Having careered wantonly from “global cooling” to “global warming” to “climate change,” the greenies eventually settled on the rather dramatic “global climate chaos,” a neatly eschatological term that has the delicious benefit of being so vague as to be unfalsifiable. For years now we have been told that this week, or month, or year — or conference, or junket — is our last chance to save the world.
Such an approach is rapidly losing its efficacy. What the global downturn has done for prioritization, science is doing for perspective. Enter Andreas Schmittner, a professor at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Schmittner headed up a major study recently published in Science and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which baldly concludes that the sort of doomsday scenario readily thrown around by the scaremongers is simply not rooted in reality...  
... In other words, we’re not all going to die.

By painting Armageddon as the price of inaction, the green lobby has sought to achieve two goals. First, focusing in on an extreme scenario allowed advocates more effectively to play the we-should-do-something-just-in-case card. Second, with all nuance removed from the discussion, even the slightest evidence in favor of an anthropogenic contribution to climate fluctuations could be tied to eschatological imagery, and “climate moderates” could be portrayed as being just as complicit in bringing about the end of the world as the evil deniers. “Necessity” would thus become the mother of intervention.

“The whole aim of practical politics,” wrote H. L. Mencken, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” It is still a matter of debate whether there are any hobgoblins at all (the very existence of a “consensus” is rendered comical, given the existence of new papers such as Schmittner’s), but if they do exist, the tallest among them are disappearing at a rate of knots.

As they go, we must insist that so too do the invitations to be led to safety, for without necessity we have no reason to be slaves.

Please read the whole thing. Cooke discusses the study, and points out that the invocation of impending catastrophe unless you do exactly what the Cassandras say-- which invariably involves empowering and enriching the Cassandras-- is the oldest political trick in the book, and is usually a lie. 


  1. Michael,

    I read the November 25, 2011 issue of 'Science' and I was surprised that I couldn't remember that I'd seen Andreas Schmittner's article.

    It turns out that it was published in the online version (the express preprint one) which doesn't mean it's a bad paper, but it explains the difficulty I had finding it.

    Back to the paper. It is using a model to estimate the sensitivity of global temperature to doubling CO2 levels. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't reject all the climate models predicting large increases in global temperature and accept just one model predicting a lower temperature increase. That's just wishful thinking.

    The authors are predicting a global temperature sensitivity of 1.7 to 2.6C (60% confidence) and 1.4 to 2.8C (90% confidence), which isn't actually all that different from the IPCC predictions.

    Both ranges include a possibility of increases above 2C, which isn't actually an established 'safe' increase. It's just what the various governments thought might possibly be achievable, and indications are currently that we are going to overshoot it considerably.

    Sorry Michael, you can't pick and choose. You can't pick which models you want to believe. You can't pick the scientists you want to believe. You also can't pick which interpretations of highly technical papers in newspapers written by laypeople you want to accept. Why don't you read the paper, and see if you agree with the interpretation you've linked to?

  2. Egnor just believes what he wants to believe, no matter how absurd or contradicted by evidence.

    Previously Egnor dismissed AGW as a hoax, but now he apparently endorses a paper that models the effects of man-made CO2 increases. Because he likes the results better, that's why.

  3. Troy,

    I don't think that he's read the paper, and is just going on a mass media outlet that he likes as reflecting his worldview.

    Rather ironic really, as he dismissed Carl Zimmer's book 'Microcosm' as being written only by a science writer, insisting that I should have quoted a 'real' science paper when I was refuting his argument that self sacrifice should be the norm in colonies of bacteria, since they're all genetically identical (and actually, there's a mechanism where self sacrifice does occur in bacteria and it is beneficial).

    He's adopted his views and cherry picks the evidence to support them; a classic case of confirmation bias.

  4. From Cooke's piece:

    "Science has an established history of running new studies only when they significantly add to or contradict previously published work. While Schmittner is very clearly not arguing that global warming isn’t happening, nor that mankind does not play a role in changing the earth’s climate, there is simply no way to read the report without concluding that the apocalyptic narrative is dead in the water."

    I have a feeling that Mike and company will only take home the last half of the last sentence in this paragraph and ignore the rest. And even that paragraph has already been filtered through the prism of National Review. No numbers. Just editorial content.

    Here is a more nuanced approach by the BBC.

    "Global temperatures could be less sensitive to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels than previously thought, a study suggests. The researchers said people should still expect to see "drastic changes" in climate worldwide, but that the risk was a little less imminent. The results are published in Science. The study is the latest to derive a value for "climate sensitivity" - the temperature rise for a doubling of CO2 concentrations - from paleontology. Previous studies have produced a mean value around 3C; but the new analysis concludes it is somewhat lower, around 2.3C."

    The BBC's one paragraph tells a whole lot more than the entire piece in National Review, doesn't it? NR's journalism isn't journalism. It's political hackery.

  5. Climate change e.g. AGW is like Darwinism: pseudo-science where wild speculation replaces evidence to bow to an unspeakable agenda!

  6. The BBC further notes:

    "The new models predict that given a doubling in CO2 levels from pre-industrial levels, the Earth's surface temperatures will rise by 1.7C to 2.6C (3.1F to 4.7F), with a mean value of 2.3C. That is a much tighter range than the one produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 report, which suggested a rise of 2.0-4.5C, with a mean of about 3C."

    This, again, puts things in perspective. The previous estimates, quoted by the IPCC, had a larger margin of error. The new one tightens it up. Note, however, that the new estimate (1.7 to 2.6 degrees centigrade) is consistent with the previous one (2 to 4.5 degrees). The world is still warming and man-made CO2 is still the culprit.

  7. Bachfiend:

    "I don't think that he's read the paper, and is just going on a mass media outlet that he likes as reflecting his worldview."

    I know. The Science paper appears to be free of charge, so no excuse there. I'm looking forward to Egnor's analysis of the 36 page technical supplementary info.

  8. It's a bit too much asking of Egnor to comment on a technical article not in his field. Fortunately, Science and Nature often publish less technical summaries of their most important papers. These summaries are written by experts in the respective fields and are usually pretty good.

    Here is one for the article in question: Gabriele C. Hegerl, Tom Russon, Perspective: Cimate Change: Using the Past to Predict the Future? Science 334, 1360 (2011). doi:10.1126/science.1214828.

    Read. Discuss.

  9. If the DOI link above does not work, here is a direct one.

  10. The Perspective has tons of information. The figure alone is worth a thousand words.

  11. "Climate change e.g. AGW is like Darwinism: pseudo-science where wild speculation replaces evidence to bow to an unspeakable agenda!"


  12. Interesting take, Mike.
    I can see exactly what this fellow means.
    The real issue with the AGW argument is, in my mind, not so much the all to frequent chicken little scenario, but a 'boy who cried wolf' scenario.
    There has been so much debate and derision over this issue of man's influence or lack thereof (egoist? Hubris?) that the actual EFFECTS of any such change (natural, or man made) become talking points.
    So while we discuss if WHY the strange weather and climate patters we see exists, the real proximate solutions and adaptations are IGNORED. Scientists scratch their chins over 100,000 year old ice cores while people die in floods...and we are supposed to cheer on the chin scratchers?
    And what do we get for indulging these magii of the norther winds?
    We end up with stupid 'green' taxes on the little guy and a new hamburger box each year. Rich idiots get richer crying wolf, or scolding those who do.
    Climate changes. Nobody denies that.
    We need to adapt before we begin with the 'hows and whys'. We do not need an ALARM, we need some actual adaptations to take to the bank. We do not need drawings of space balloon reflectors and cool little scifi ships.
    We need more efficient levies, more efficient desalination facilities, new trade routes, and management techniques for renewable resources.
    We do not need hysteria and name calling by the people who are supposed to be expert in this matter.

  13. Michael,

    You still haven't come back to comment about whether Crooke has interpreted the paper in Science Online correctly.

    I'd assumed that you'd be noting that he'd claimed that the low CO2 levels 21,000 years ago should have sent the Earth into another Snowball Earth as happened 1,000 to 600 MYA .

    This is a misunderstanding of climate so profound I'm not certain whether it's deliberate or just due to sheer ignorance.

    The Earth has been in an ice age for the past 3 million years, with ice at both poles (for the previous 30 million years, there was just ice on Antarctica). During this time the Earth has cycled through around 50 glaciations and 50 interglacial periods (we are currently in an interglacial) due to minor changes in the Earth's orbit and axial tilt causing small increases in the Sun's warming in the Northern hemisphere Summer melting a little more ice and snow each Summer which doesn't quite reform each Winter causing a progressively decreasing albedo and increasing the Sun's warming in a positive feedback.

    The climate is sensitive to small changes. This is how ice sheets kilometers thick disappeared over thousands of years, nothing to do with CO2.

    We are now engaged in an experiment to see what we can do if we dump billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The paper in Science doesn't dispute that there will be a warming of around 2C. The question is how bad the effect will be and whether there will be additional positive feedbacks to amplify the warming.

    Don't forget. The present climate is very good for humans. We've gone from 1 billion to 7 billion in just over 200 years.

  14. Oops,

    I mistyped Cooke as Crooke. Apparently because his article was so crook ...

  15. oleg@

    I wasn't discussing the scientific minutiae of the paper. The post is about using hysteria to manipulate the public and advance special interests, which is precisely what AGW is all about.

  16. Minutiae?! Isn't the devil in those details? You, guys, don't do nuance, do you? You're just interested in declaring that climate science is fraud. Did I get that right?

  17. Michael,

    You really are out of contact with reality. 'Charles Cooke has a superb commentary on a recent scientific study that suggests that the apocalyptic ... proclaimed by climate scientists are grossly exaggerated'.

    This means that you must read the paper (it's available in printed form in Science yesterday) and understand it to assess whether Charles Cooke's interpretation is correct.

    You're also ignorant about Greek mythology. Cassandra was the Trojan blessed with perfect prediction and cursed with no one believing her, so her warnings about the Trojan Horse were ignored.

    Talking about the 'Cassandras' of climate change means that they are correct and that they are being ignored.

    Oh, you're right. First time you're accurate. You've just admitted that the predictions of climate scientists are correct, but you are deliberately denying them.

    You still haven't responded to my comment previously.

  18. Although there is agreement among scientists that global temperatures have been rising (around 0.8°C in the past 150 years), that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that CO2 concentrations have been rising; that, other things being equal, a doubling in CO2 concentration would on its own generate about a 1°C increase, there is little agreement beyond that. Virtually every step in the chain of causation is disputed and even the basic data on measurements is challenged. There is huge controversy about the relative contribution of man-made CO2 versus natural forces such as the sun, cosmic rays, clouds and the oceans. Many scientists would support an alternative hypothesis, that the globe has been on a gentle warming trend since the end of the Little Ice Age around two hundred years ago, with alternating periods measured in decades of faster and slower growth, or even periods of moderate decline. Such an alternative view would not justify the alarmism which characterizes much of the public debate.


  19. @O'Brien

    May you should sing this:

    I’m Popeye the Darwin man;
    I fabricate all I can.
    I fight to the finish
    To ID diminish;
    I’m Popeye the Darwin man.


  20. Of the 186 billion tons of carbon from CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources, only 6 billion tons are from human activity. Approximately 90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land plants.

    At 380 parts per million CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere-- less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. Compared to former geologic times, earth's current atmosphere is CO2- impoverished.

    CO2 is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Plants absorb CO2 and emit oxygen as a waste product. Humans and animals breathe oxygen and emit CO2 as a waste product. Carbon dioxide is a nutrient, not a pollutant, and all life-- plants and animals alike-- benefit from more of it. All life on earth is carbon-based and CO2 is an essential ingredient. When plant-growers want to stimulate plant growth, they introduce more carbon dioxide.

    CO2 that goes into the atmosphere does not stay there but is continually recycled by terrestrial plant life and earth's oceans-- the great retirement home for most terrestrial carbon dioxide.

    If we are in a global warming crisis today, even the most aggressive and costly proposals for limiting industrial carbon dioxide emissions would have a negligible effect on global climate!

    Global Warming: A Chilling Perspective

  21. Pepe,

    You're still a farking idiot. Still quoting 'Plant Fossils of West Virginia' which is compiled by a mining engineer employed indirectly by the coal mining industry.

    You are moronic considering only the CO2 being put into the atmosphere. You have to consider the processes taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. All of the processes putting CO2 into the atmosphere are balanced by natural processes taking CO2 out of the atmosphere.


    The CO2 level is currently around 390 ppmv not 380. It's a trace gas, but trace gases can be extremely important. Ozone which provides vital screening of the Sun's UV radiation has a level of just 3 ppmv.

    CO2 is limiting for cultivation ONLY when all the other factors are controlled; water, soil nutrients, temperature, insects and other biological 'pests', sunlight ...

    I don't think you responded to my previous comment about Happer's claim about Californian orange orchards becoming '30% more productive' in 150 years.

    To reiterate, you're an imbecile.

  22. @bachfiend
    ...mining engineer employed indirectly by the coal mining industry...

    What's wrong with that? To me it is a lot better than a raving materialist trying to persuade people that we can control nature!

    I am impressed by the insane insistence you have in pushing your crappy agenda. Seems C02 is a fixation with you. A lot f***ed up aren't you?


  23. Pepe,

    You're still an idiot. Monte Hieb who compiles the website you love to quote either is an idiot or has perfectly judged the intelligence of his audience in crafting his 'arguments'. Going on your comments, the second explanation is the correct one. You are moronic if you think that you can consider only the inputs of CO2 into the atmosphere. Common sense isn't one of your strong points. Also you have to consider the motives of people writing on the Internet. Michael and presumably you reject climate scientists as having ulterior motives. A mining engineer involved in the coal mining industry doesn't have ulterior motives? Really?

  24. @bach
    ...presumably you reject climate scientists as having ulterior motives

    You bet! Climategate I and Climategate II.

    People are seeing right through the curtain of lies these scientists make. See what happened in Durban. More and more don't by alarmist statements like this:

    ...the world will need to brace for more extreme weather conditions. There will be severe drought in many places, more cyclones, freakish weather and poorer crop conditions. There will be greater spread of diseases among humans and animals.

    You can cry wolf so many times.

    You can’t fool all of the people all of the time!

  25. Pepe, Climategate I and II are the same Climategate. From the same place, the same people, the same cache of emails.
    Same reason for releasing them (FUD), at the same time, too (see: your link).
    And, if history is any guide, different groups will run different investigations (9X the first time, if memory serves) into East Anglia and come to the same conclusion on the "new" controversy.

  26. Here is another view at the AGW hoax.

    Some commenters should stop fantasizing and start doing some serious research!