Various finds and ruminations on … 4

Climate Change 4

Yes, I’m afraid so. And some are really basic things that have occurred to me as a layperson as I have pondered quite a few views since last posting on this. I’ve been storing my finds on Google. So before I purge the favourites, I’ll share a few with you.

1. Why climate realists and skeptics talk past each other

There does seem to be a lot of that going on…

Truth be told, I’m more interested in people who are overcoming barriers to progress than in the endless “does global warming exist?” debates. When your house is on fire, at some point you stop arguing with someone who says there’s no fire, and you focus on getting your family out. Or if the house is an inescapable planet, you get to work dousing the fire.

But … there’s this awesome metaphor in The Economist that’s useful for understanding how climate realists and skeptics talk past each other. It goes like this: If you view climate science as a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture becomes clear once you’ve got most pieces in place. A loose piece here and there doesn’t obscure the whole picture. If it’s a kitten in a laundry basket you’re looking at, you can be sure it’s a kitten in a laundry basket with only 90 percent of the pieces in place.

On the other hand, if you view climate science as a house of cards, with each piece dependent on another piece, one loose card can topple the whole apparatus. (The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, to add yet another metaphor.) So the improper emails at the heart of the “climategate” uproar or one incorrect report on Himalayan glaciers can seem like a fatal blow, even though the body of scientific work confirming climate change vastly outweighs them.

I find this illuminating. Understanding the difference between jigsaw people and house-of-cards people doesn’t resolve their disagreements. But it’s useful to see how they’re working off different metaphors. And The Economist’s thorough overview of climate science makes a strong case for why the jigsaw metaphor is the more appropriate one…

2. An example of a politically corrupted source?

Ever been to the “denialist” site Global Warming.org? What, from the title, might you have thought it was? Well, objectivity isn’t its long suit. In fact, it is instructive to follow the tabs at the top of the site to the CAP Project.

CEI’s CAP project (“Control Abuse of Power”) aims to fight unaccountable government power.

In recent decades, government has increasingly assumed tax and regulatory powers that impact consumers and businesses nationwide. But many of those important policy decisions are made independently of lawmakers and voters. The $240 billion tobacco deal, for example, was made by state attorneys general and major tobacco companies– not by legislators at the federal or state level. And the PCAOB is comprised of regulators who are unaccountable to the president or Congress or the businesses they regulate.

Unfortunately, businesses are often fearful of incurring the wrath of government officials and regulators. And average citizens are often ill-equipped to wage expensive and complicated challenges to such government abuse of power. But such massive use and abuse of government power cannot be left unchecked.

CAP pursues its mission through public education, regulatory interventions, litigation, and policy research.

The project’s initial targets are the 1998 tobacco settlement and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). CEI has mounted constitutional legal challenges to both the tobacco settlement and the PCAOB in an effort to restore power and accountability to the people.

As a non-profit public policy organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government. We believe that individuals are best helped not by government intervention but by making their own choices in a free marketplace.

It and Global Warming.org are projects of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Checking it out one finds pretty much the usual suspects. This is a case where cui bono? is definitely rewarded. OK, cross that off your list of reputable scientific sites.

3. It’s all over now, Baby Blue!

There’s a feature article in the latest Der SpiegelA Superstorm for Global Warming Research by Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and Gerald Traufetter. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the time lag between commissioning a print feature article and publishing it, events have overtaken some of its best examples.

Plagued by reports of sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations, climate research is facing a crisis of confidence. How reliable are the predictions about global warming and its consequences? And would it really be the end of the world if temperatures rose by more than the much-quoted limit of two degrees Celsius?

Life has become "awful" for Phil Jones. Just a few months ago, he was a man with an enviable reputation: the head of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, an expert in his field and the father of an alarming global temperature curve that apparently showed how the Earth was heating up as a result of anthropogenic global warming.

Those days are now gone.

Nowadays, Jones, who is at the center of the "Climategate" affair involving hacked CRU emails, needs medication to fall sleep. He feels a constant tightness in his chest. He takes beta-blockers to help him get through the day. He is gaunt and his skin is pallid. He is 57, but he looks much older. He was at the center of a research scandal that hit him as unexpectedly as a rear-end collision on the highway.

His days are now shaped by investigative commissions at the university and in the British Parliament. He sits on his chair at the hearings, looking miserable, sometimes even trembling. The Internet is full of derisive remarks about him, as well as insults and death threats. "We know where you live," his detractors taunt.

Jones is finished: emotionally, physically and professionally. He has contemplated suicide several times recently, and he says that one of the only things that have kept him from doing it is the desire to watch his five-year-old granddaughter grow up.

Now exonerated**, as you know. See also: Climategate: An Autopsy; The Smoking Guns and Blue Dress Moments of Climategate.

In seeking balance it also pays too much attention to some dubious viewpoints.

A Climate Rebel Takes on the Establishment

One man notes with particular satisfaction how Phil Jones and his colleagues are being forced to confess to one mistake after another. Steve McIntyre lives in a small brick house near downtown Toronto. It is a Sunday afternoon and he is sitting at his well-worn desk, illuminated only by a small energy-saving bulb on the ceiling.

This man, with his thinning gray hair, is an unlikely adversary for climatologists, and yet he is largely responsible for the current tumult in their field. "This is the computer I used to begin doing the recalculations," he says, holding a six-year-old Acer laptop with a 40-gigabyte hard drive. "My wife finally gave me a new one for Christmas."

See: Steve McIntyre, down in the quote mine; McIntyre had the data all along; Mcintyre misunderstood somehow. Yet again….

Here are some survey results for Germany published in “A Superstorm for Global Warming”. The first does testify to two matters wider than just Germany, I suspect: how the issue has been taken off the boiler by politicians since Copenhagen – certainly the case here in Oz; how the “sceptics” have had considerable success.

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Robyn Williams: Climate change science: the evidence is clear

with 115 comments: one referred us to Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore. Sounds interesting. There’s an extended interview with the author here.

JAMES HOGGAN:  … Our book—I’m a PR guy of about thirty years, and I kind of stumbled across this campaign, what I would call a kind of confusion campaign, when I was doing some reading. And we’ve documented this two-decade-long campaign by industry and Canada and the United States, that the energy industry basically designed to confuse the public about climate change and give people the sense that there’s a debate about the science of climate change. And my reason for writing this book is that I don’t think that PR people and industry front groups should be determining what our policies are in Canada and the United States on solving climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, outline the strategy. What was the corporate strategy to do this? And name names.

JAMES HOGGAN: Well, the first thing was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on everything from focus groups to very sophisticated messaging to setting up groups of pseudoscientists to confuse the public about—to create the impression that there was actually a debate, where there was none.

In the—two decades ago, there was a group called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition that was put together by Philip Morris. They were having problems, as we know, with public credibility, so they decided to invite some friends to join this fight, what became a fight against scientists. And one of the first companies they invited was Exxon Mobil. And this was kind of the beginning of these front groups in this war on science that has evolved and continues today with front groups all over the United States…

JAMES HOGGAN: Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that they did was they basically started to create this impression that there was a scientific debate. There was an enormous amount of research done in this area to—you know, they do these focus groups, and they find out that your average person thinks that there’s always a debate in science. So, rather than kind of fighting and saying climate change isn’t happening, let’s just say we don’t know if it’s happening. There’s a debate.

Now, that debate actually wasn’t taking place in the scientific community; it was actually taking place in the news media, in the mainstream news media. And just by repeating it, having enough money to repeat these kinds of messages over and over again, people start to become susceptible to this. The root of all this, this campaign, is the fact that corporations have less and less credibility as the years roll along, particularly over the past couple of decades…

The more we know about these kinds of groups and these kinds of efforts, the less they work. And I would just encourage journalists to ask these people whether or not they’re actually practicing climate science, whether they have—they are climate scientists, and who they’re taking money from. Start to ask these questions and shed light on these people, they’ll be far less effective…

As Robyn Williams concludes:

…why does the opposite seem to prevail? Three reasons, I suggest.

One is that the scientists themselves have been naive, even lazy. When I asked Tim Flannery and Philip Campbell, editor of the journal Nature, their opinion of so called deniers like Ian Plimer, or the incongruous toff Lord Monkton, they just shrugged and said "the climate debate has moved on." Well, it hasn’t. It’s gone backwards. Not least because the scientists, in the main, have been passive, restrained and much too polite. And after Climategate – too much mea culpa. It’s time for them to get their skates on. To be aggressive in the cause of truth.

After the Climategate debacle and theft of the personal emails of climatologists going back over 10 years the journal Nature finally tackled the smear that science was faking its data.

"This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill. Nothing in the emails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real – or that human activities are almost certainly the cause."

The paradox is that allowing this chaos to continue is likely to delay, catastrophically, any moves to combat climate change itself.

Another reason we hear the voices of the extreme the loudest is that the new media allow many citizens to occupy their own nether world where they need never come across an opinion that conflicts with their own.

A third reason extremists seem to dominate has been the powerful use of lobby groups. Now, it so happens that we keep well away from lobbyists in our science broadcasting, left or right, green or brown, because they are unstoppable, often shameless and rarely alter their messages, despite the evidence.

We go by published research results, in top journals and commentators with a reputation for probity … the evidence is clear. We need to change policy and to do so urgently.

Robyn Williams has been hosting the ABC Radio National Science Show for yonks…

Update 11 March

See Climate change is a fact, says China. Wade through the discussion thread as well.

Taking time to think about the controversies now hitting “climate change”

It is worth quoting IPCC errors: facts and spin, the latest post on Real Climate.

Currently, a few errors –and supposed errors– in the last IPCC report (“AR4″) are making the media rounds – together with a lot of distortion and professional spin by parties interested in discrediting climate science.  Time for us to sort the wheat from the chaff: which of these putative errors are real, and which not? And what does it all mean, for the IPCC in particular, and for climate science more broadly?

Let’s start with a few basic facts about the IPCC.  The IPCC is not, as many people seem to think, a large organization. In fact, it has only 10 full-time staff in its secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers – thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of the IPCC reports. A large fraction of the relevant scientific community is thus involved in the effort.  The three working groups are:

Working Group 1 (WG1), which deals with the physical climate science basis, as assessed by the climatologists, including several of the Realclimate authors.

Working Group 2 (WG2), which deals with impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems, as assessed by social scientists, ecologists, etc.

Working Group 3 (WG3) , which deals with mitigation options for limiting global warming, as assessed by energy experts, economists, etc…

To those familiar with the science and the IPCC’s work, the current media discussion is in large part simply absurd and surreal. Journalists who have never even peeked into the IPCC report are now outraged that one wrong number appears on page 493 of Volume 2. We’ve met TV teams coming to film a report on the IPCC reports’ errors, who were astonished when they held one of the heavy volumes in hand, having never even seen it. They told us frankly that they had no way to make their own judgment; they could only report what they were being told about it. And there are well-organized lobby forces with proper PR skills that make sure these journalists are being told the “right” story. That explains why some media stories about what is supposedly said in the IPCC reports can easily be falsified simply by opening the report and reading. Unfortunately, as a broad-based volunteer effort with only minimal organizational structure the IPCC is not in a good position to rapidly counter misinformation.

One near-universal meme of the media stories on the Himalaya mistake was that this was “one of the most central predictions of the IPCC” – apparently in order to make the error look more serious than it was.  However, this prediction does not appear in any of the IPCC Summaries for Policy Makers, nor in the Synthesis Report (which at least partly explains why it went unnoticed for years). None of the media reports that we saw properly explained that Volume 1 (which is where projections of physical climate changes belong) has an extensive and entirely valid discussion of glacier loss…

Overall then, the IPCC assessment reports reflect the state of scientific knowledge very well. There have been a few isolated errors, and these have been acknowledged and corrected. What is seriously amiss is something else: the public perception of the IPCC, and of climate science in general, has been massively distorted by the recent media storm. All of these various “gates” – Climategate, Amazongate, Seagate, Africagate, etc., do not represent scandals of the IPCC or of climate science. Rather, they are the embarrassing battle-cries of a media scandal, in which a few journalists have misled the public with grossly overblown or entirely fabricated pseudogates, and many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam. It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again, e.g. by publishing proper analysis pieces like the one of Tim Holmes and by issuing formal corrections of their mistaken reporting. We will follow with great interest whether the media world has the professional and moral integrity to correct its own errors…

A long extract, I admit, but I urge you to read the whole thing.

See also Deltoid over the past week, especially the stories about the debate with Lord Monckton.

Related:  New Internationalist Copenhagen issue.

Give-aways of the day

South Sydney Herald February 2009.

includes reports on the Copenhagen Climate Summit -- from local perspectives.

Here is your free copy. I’m on page 7, where there is also another story about Aunty Beryl.

See also the new South Sydney Uniting Church site.

Good source of free programs

Sometimes there are time or other limitations, but I have found the Giveaway of the day project to be worthwhile. Try it out.

The bemused person’s guide to global warming – interesting post by Ken Parish

This appears today on Club Troppo.

… First, a brief explanation.  Until a few years ago I would have counted myself as a moderate climate change sceptic, or more accurately an agnostic.  What convinced me that carbon-driven man-made warming was not only a reality but a serious problem was an argument between the Godfather of econoblogging John Quiggin and (now deceased)  prominent Australian sceptic John Daly…

The following comment is also worth noting:

Ken Miles said:

Ken, nice post.

Some points:

* I wouldn’t pay much attention to short term changes in the temperature as there is lots of noise in the data. You risk spending your time looking for patterns in static.

* The question of what causes this noise is (in my mind) far more interesting.

* Here is a link to a blog post which looks at adjusting the temperature for volcanic and El Nino/La Nina. Once these are done, the rate of temperature change is much more linear.

Good to see discussion at a level much more promising than that generated by the likes of Lord Monckton.

Ben Eltham on Matilda has Turnbull Takes Abbott To The Cleaners, a good follow-up to my post today.

… Turnbull makes the obvious — and highly ironic — point that by using "market forces" to address climate change, the Government’s CPRS "is far more in the great traditions of modern liberalism" than Tony Abbott’s new policy. (You can see footage of the speech on this Fairfax article by Michelle Grattan and Tom Arup.)

"After all," he continued, "I have always believed that Liberals reject the idea that government knows best and embrace the idea that government’s job is to enable each of us to do our best. This ETS allows Australian businesses to make their own decisions as how to reduce their emissions."

Turnbull pointed out that "schemes where bureaucrats and politicians pick technologies and winners, doling out billions of taxpayers dollars, [are] neither economically efficient, nor will [they] be environmentally effective."

He also skewered, once and for all, the idea that Australia should wait for action from the US and other big polluting nations before implementing our own emissions reduction measures. "Far from being in front of the world in action to reduce emissions, we start way behind because our per capita emissions are so large and because our sources of energy are overwhelmingly dependent on burning coal."

It was a double-barreled broadside at the Coalition’s new climate change policy, released last week, which eschews a cap on carbon and instead proposes exactly what Turnbull decries, doling out billions in taxpayer dollars to big polluters…

My Google Reader

Lately I have added a number of first-rate science and climate sites to my Google Reader. Given the tone of so much being said now, and my own lack of expertise, I felt that was the best service I could offer on behalf of the sane side(s) of the debate in this election year.

Note too  The John Ray Initiative: JRI Newsletter No 22- Copenhagen Special.

The John Ray Initiative (JRI) is an educational charity with a vision to bring together scientific and Christian understandings of the environment in a way that can be widely communicated and lead to effective action. It was formed in 1997 in recognition of the urgent need to respond to the global environmental crisis and the challenges of sustainable development and environmental stewardship.

That latest newsletter is by Sir John Houghton, so traduced of late by Lord Monckton – see my previous entry. I really believe that tells you all you need to know about Monckton and nothing about Sir John Houghton.

Sir John Houghton FRS has held positions as chairman or co-chairman of Scientific Assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 1988-2002, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Oxford, 1976-1983, Director General and Chief Executive of the UK Meteorological Office, 1983-1991, Chairman of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1992-1998, member of the UK Government Panel on Sustainable Development, 1994-2000. He has received numerous awards including the Japan Prize, Fellowship of the Royal Society of London and the International Meteorological Organisation Prize. In December 2007 he received the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the IPCC delegation, alongside the former vice-president of America, Al Gore. His publications include The Physics of Atmospheres(3rd edn. CUP, 2002), Global Warming: the Complete Briefing (4th ed CUP 2009) and The search for God, can science help? (Regents College Publishing, Dec 2007).

Duelling lords 2 — duelling videos

See also Duelling Lords (28 January).

1. Lord Monckton

October 2009. See also last night’s 7.30 Report:

…JOHN CONNOR: Claims that he’s made around a world government being formed quietly behind the scenes is just crazy stuff, frankly. And a gross misinterpretation of what was going on in the Copenhagen negotiation process.

TRACY BOWDEN: Lord Monckton’s supporters describe him as a champion of free speech and debate. But he doesn’t always appreciate the views of his opponents as a group of climate change supporters in Copenhagen discovered.

LORD CHRISTOPHER MONCKTON: You are listening now to the shouts in the background of the Hitler youth who have sprayed Copenhagen with slogans of a childish nature.

TRACY BOWDEN: So if climate change is nothing to worry about, what does Lord Monckton suggest?

LORD CHRISTOPHER MONCKTON: My advice would be to sit back, wait 10 years. If we have another 10 years during which the absurdly exaggerated temperature forecast do not come to pass it will become apparent to everyone that nothing needs to be done.

TRACY BOWDEN: Lord Monckton is due to leave Australia at the end of the week. But in a federal election year with climate change a hot button issue, debate on the subject is far from over.

The video above “is just crazy stuff, frankly” — what else could you call it? And it is the man himself, not a satirist impersonating him!

2. Lord May

July 2009

Environmental Economics

I came upon the blog Environmental Economics while in pursuit of material on a book I am reading – a book by turns informative, authoritative, scary, and one-eyed. More on that some other time.

Tim Haab is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at The Ohio State University.  He received his PhD from the University of Maryland in 1995 and spent five years on the faculty at East Carolina University before moving to Ohio State.  Tim’s research and teaching focus on methods for valuing environmental amenities and applying statistical methods to economic problems (called econometrics).  He is an ex-Co-Editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management and is co-author with Ted McConnell of a top-selling book, at least in academic terms, on Valuing Environmental and Natural Resources: currently the 540,129th best seller on Amazon.com (only a few to go to catch up to Harry Potter).

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