What are they thinking?

2 views
Skip to first unread message

Michael Tobis

unread,
Mar 31, 2007, 1:00:19 PM3/31/07
to globalchange
There's been a lot of talk about what is behind the thinking of the
"skeptics" crowd, kicked off largely by Gavin Schmidt's experience in
more or less losing a debate:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/adventures-on-the-east-side/

and by Chait's article "Why the right goes nuclear over global
warming" in the LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-chait25mar25,0,3748551.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

I sent a comment about this to RealClimate, spending considerable
effort on formatting it for legibility. It looked fine in the
previews, but (unlike my previous efforts using HTML tags) got
hopelessly mangled in the commentary section.

So I reposted my comment in blogger, along the way starting a climate/
global change specific blog. I argue that there isn't that much
substance to the "arrogance meme", but it is a trap we easily and
regularly fall into.

Here's the blog entry:

http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2007/03/why-truth-is-losing-ground.html

Comments and inbound links would be much appreciated.

mt

john fernbach

unread,
Mar 31, 2007, 4:00:22 PM3/31/07
to globalchange
Michael - I agree completely with your recommendations on how people
who follow the AGW research should behave in debate.

Regardless of whether GW skeptics/denialists are writing in bad faith
-- which I think most of them are -- expressing anger, contempt and
exasperation in reply to their provocations is not likely to do any
good. The GW Denialist who's being attacked is unlikely to change his/
her mind in response to a put-down, and the person who follows the
scientific mainstream on AGW is likely to look foolish, intolerant,
etc.

I wonder about a couple of points in your blog, however.

First, you seem to me to be saying that supporters of the IPCC's
conclusions are losing some kind of public relations battle, and I
wonder if that's really true. Certainly a number of conservative
business leaders and politicians around the world are belatedly
agreeing that yes, climate change is a problem. I don't know what the
public opinion polls say, partly because it seems to depend on who's
running the poll and what questions are asked, but my sense is that
climate change is making headway in popular opinion, too.

Is this impression wrong?

Secondly, you convey the sense that it's somehow surprising or
distressing that members of the right are becoming ever more adamant
in their rejection of AGW science, even as the science improves.

However, I think the economic self-interest of the energy companies
who are funding some of the GW Denialist science, the ideological
biases of libertarian advocates of laissez faire economics who see in
AGW the threat of government interference in the markets, and the ego
needs of legitimate scientists who have questioned AGW in the past all
suggest that some people will never change their minds on this issue.
It would simply cost them too much -- whether in terms of lost profits
and emploment income, or in terms of ideological uncertainty, or in
terms of professional status & pride.

Thomas Kuhn, in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," notes that
when scientific disciplines have undergone major shifts in paradigms
in the past, it hasn't been the case that most of the older
researchers who supported the older paradigms were instantly converted
to "the truth."

Instead, those with reputations to protect have generally continued to
insist on the validity of Ptolemaic astronomy, phlogiston theory, pre-
relativity physics etc until their generation died off. A new
generation of researchers with no prestige at stake, and no emotional
investment in the older paradigms, then has usually ensured the
virtually universal acceptance of the new thinking.

It seems extremely likely that similar patterns will prevail in the
ongoing controversy over CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and
global climate change. Those of us who think we're on the side of "the
truth" in this fight should not be surprised, or shocked, or angered
by the fact that the GW Denialists stubbornly refuse to accept a
version of climate science that they see as threatening either to
their interests or to their basic understanding of reality.
Resistance from them against AGW science is almost inevitable, and not
worth taking seriously unless they carry large sections of the public
along with them.


On Mar 31, 1:00 pm, "Michael Tobis" <mto...@gmail.com> wrote:
> There's been a lot of talk about what is behind the thinking of the
> "skeptics" crowd, kicked off largely by Gavin Schmidt's experience in
> more or less losing a debate:
>

> http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/adventures-on-t...


>
> and by Chait's article "Why the right goes nuclear over global
> warming" in the LA Times:
>

> http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-chait25mar25,0,3...


>
> I sent a comment about this to RealClimate, spending considerable
> effort on formatting it for legibility. It looked fine in the
> previews, but (unlike my previous efforts using HTML tags) got
> hopelessly mangled in the commentary section.
>
> So I reposted my comment in blogger, along the way starting a climate/
> global change specific blog. I argue that there isn't that much
> substance to the "arrogance meme", but it is a trap we easily and
> regularly fall into.
>
> Here's the blog entry:
>

> http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2007/03/why-truth-is-losing-ground...

Michael Tobis

unread,
Apr 1, 2007, 1:35:14 PM4/1/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
On 3/31/07, john fernbach <fernba...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> Michael - I agree completely with your recommendations on how people
> who follow the AGW research should behave in debate.
>
> Regardless of whether GW skeptics/denialists are writing in bad faith
> -- which I think most of them are -- expressing anger, contempt and
> exasperation in reply to their provocations is not likely to do any
> good. The GW Denialist who's being attacked is unlikely to change his/
> her mind in response to a put-down, and the person who follows the
> scientific mainstream on AGW is likely to look foolish, intolerant,
> etc.
>
> I wonder about a couple of points in your blog, however.
>
> First, you seem to me to be saying that supporters of the IPCC's
> conclusions are losing some kind of public relations battle, and I
> wonder if that's really true. Certainly a number of conservative
> business leaders and politicians around the world are belatedly
> agreeing that yes, climate change is a problem. I don't know what the
> public opinion polls say, partly because it seems to depend on who's
> running the poll and what questions are asked, but my sense is that
> climate change is making headway in popular opinion, too.
>
> Is this impression wrong?

Did you follow the link to chait's article? It is certainly the case
that the bulk of the population is more or less convinced. The issue
is that the ideologically committed are moving the other way. I think
this is important.

> Secondly, you convey the sense that it's somehow surprising or
> distressing that members of the right are becoming ever more adamant
> in their rejection of AGW science, even as the science improves.

> However, I think the economic self-interest of the energy companies
> who are funding some of the GW Denialist science, the ideological
> biases of libertarian advocates of laissez faire economics who see in
> AGW the threat of government interference in the markets, and the ego
> needs of legitimate scientists who have questioned AGW in the past all
> suggest that some people will never change their minds on this issue.
> It would simply cost them too much -- whether in terms of lost profits
> and emploment income, or in terms of ideological uncertainty, or in
> terms of professional status & pride.

It will always be in the financial interests of someone who owns some
coal reserves to cast doubt on the facts, yes. Everybody, left and
right, has ideological biases, yes. The scary thing is the trend among
the ideologically committed.

> Thomas Kuhn, in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," notes that
> when scientific disciplines have undergone major shifts in paradigms
> in the past, it hasn't been the case that most of the older
> researchers who supported the older paradigms were instantly converted
> to "the truth."
>
> Instead, those with reputations to protect have generally continued to
> insist on the validity of Ptolemaic astronomy, phlogiston theory, pre-
> relativity physics etc until their generation died off. A new
> generation of researchers with no prestige at stake, and no emotional
> investment in the older paradigms, then has usually ensured the
> virtually universal acceptance of the new thinking.

In this case there is no "old guard" defending any real position.
Physical climatology arrived on the scene with a bunch of natural and
anthropogenic forcings, and very quickly came to the point where CO2
forcing was seen as the top dog. Casting this as a Kuhnian revolution
presumes that there was some previous "no anthropogenic forcing"
entrenched point of view. This just didn't happen.

In fact, the "it's the sun" people are trying to cast themselves as
the scientific revolutionaries, and the rest of us as the old guard.

...

> Resistance from them against AGW science is almost inevitable, and not
> worth taking seriously unless they carry large sections of the public
> along with them.

Right. but they do.

Consider this effort from a very bright high school student, Kristen
Byrnes, to get a grip on the situation (linked from Climate Audit):

http://home.earthlink.net/~ponderthemaunder/id19.html

She gets a lot of things right, but some things very wrong.

Why? I think it's because the misapprehensions are delivered by paid
communication professionals and the truth is delivered by scientists
who are motivated by getting new results, and who communicate in their
spare time. That's another story for another time.

The point here is that people like Kristen do try earnestly to sort it
out and they end up with some muddle like Kristen ends up with. (I'm
not worried about her in particular; I suspect she will get it all
sorted out eventually. I am sure, though, that in my adolescent
investigations I was not subject to as much plausible misinformation
as she had to sort through.)

I hope you are right that this isn's worth worrying about, but I'm not
convinced.

mt

Alastair McDonald

unread,
Apr 1, 2007, 4:43:45 PM4/1/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
>> Thomas Kuhn, in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," notes that
>> when scientific disciplines have undergone major shifts in paradigms
>> in the past, it hasn't been the case that most of the older
>> researchers who supported the older paradigms were instantly converted
>> to "the truth."
>>
>> Instead, those with reputations to protect have generally continued to
>> insist on the validity of Ptolemaic astronomy, phlogiston theory, pre-
>> relativity physics etc. until their generation died off. A new

>> generation of researchers with no prestige at stake, and no emotional
>> investment in the older paradigms, then has usually ensured the
>> virtually universal acceptance of the new thinking.
>
> In this case there is no "old guard" defending any real position.

The "old guard" are defending their models, which are based on a
forcing that is driven by the temperature of the tropopause. But
the sceptics have not yet described the correct model, and so
are unaware that it means that global warming will be more rather
than less severe as they fondly imagine.

But the change of paradigm is much deeper than that. It stems
from the concept of uniforitarianism propounded by Charles Lyell.
He persuaded everyone that because geological time is so vast, then
geological processes must be slow. But this is false. For instance it
may take a million years for a mountain like St. Helens to grow, but
that is not the result of a slow and even evolution. It is the result of a
series of catastrophic eruptions interrupting long periods of quiescence.

Because slow smooth change is the current paradigm, everybody
subscribes to it, even if they don't know its name. Both the sceptics
and the scientists believe in it, and that is why people like Gavin have
difficulty arguing against the sceptics, because both sides believe in
the same paradigm.

Wally Broecker was one of the first to point out that climate may not
be stable, and James Lovelock has suggested some mechanisms that
may lead to this instability. But the real problem is that the climate
models were first conceived based on the idea that if solar radiation
increased, then the outgoing radiation would increase to match it. That
is not the case.

What does happen is that the outgoing radiation from the greenhouse
gases remains the same, and it is changes in cloud cover that ensure
the radiation balance. Since global cloud cover does not increase
linearly with temperature, then you get non-linear changes in climate,
such as those at the start and end of the Younger Dryas stadial, when
we had already abruptly entered the inter glacial.

Over to you, Michael. Let's hear your defence of the "old guard"s position.

Cheers, Alastair.


gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 3:13:56 AM4/3/07
to globalchange
> There's been a lot of talk about what is behind the thinking of the
> "skeptics" crowd, kicked off largely by Gavin Schmidt's experience in
> more or less losing a debate:
>
> http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/adventures-on-t...

The debate was about whether climate change constitutes a crisis, it
wasn't about whether climate sensitivity is closer to 1C or to 10C.

If I was in the crowd, I'd have voted that climate change is not a
crisis.

There were a number of dubious points on the "it's not a crisis" side,
on the other hand, there's this attempt by the other side in the
debate to side step all opposing arguments with a reference to
"scientific consensus", even when the arguments have all to do with
politics and economics and virtually nothing with climate science, and
when there clearly is no scientific consensus about what should be
done about climate change.

James Annan

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 3:46:07 AM4/3/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
gerh...@aston.ac.uk wrote:

> There were a number of dubious points on the "it's not a crisis" side,
> on the other hand, there's this attempt by the other side in the
> debate to side step all opposing arguments with a reference to
> "scientific consensus",

I was rather alarmed to see the opening statement of the ice sheet group:

"Polar ice experts from Europe and the United States, meeting *to pursue
greater scientific consensus*"

(my emphasis)

http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/032807.html

I hope it was just clumsy wording, but unfortunately climate scientists
are so embattled that they do sometimes seem to strive rather harder to
agree with each other than to debate their differences. Of course it is
the latter that actually helps to progress knowledge. The famous "cannot
be excluded" of the IPCC seems a deliberate attempt to present a
disagreement as if it is an agreement.

I note that it was explicitly on the grounds that the "consensus"
disagreed with me that a Nature editor refused to consider our comment
to the effect that the method used in recent paper was faulty (and
biased in a strongly alarmist direction). I agree with her judgement
that the method is widely used, but IMO that makes it more, not less,
important that its failings are openly discussed.

> even when the arguments have all to do with
> politics and economics and virtually nothing with climate science, and
> when there clearly is no scientific consensus about what should be
> done about climate change.

I'm not very well-read but I had the impression that there was really
quite a strong consensus that modest mitigation was sensible
(Tol/Nordhaus/Yohe etc, even without going as far as Stern). Are there
serious claims that we should do nothing at all, or do you consider this
range of views already to be broad enough as to consist of "no
scientific consensus"? Of course I'm sure they all disagree to some
extent about the detailed implementation.

James

Michael Tobis

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 10:51:41 AM4/3/07
to globalchange
On Apr 3, 2:46 am, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:

>
> I was rather alarmed to see the opening statement of the ice sheet group:
>
> "Polar ice experts from Europe and the United States, meeting *to pursue
> greater scientific consensus*"
>
> (my emphasis)
>
> http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/032807.html

What's wrong with *pursuing* consensus? Isn't that a summary of the
whole process of science?

> I hope it was just clumsy wording,

I'll poke 'em here on the Texas side and see if I can get a read on
it.

> but unfortunately climate scientists
> are so embattled that they do sometimes seem to strive rather harder to
> agree with each other than to debate their differences. Of course it is
> the latter that actually helps to progress knowledge.

Right, but the goal is the actual knowledge, right?

> I note that it was explicitly on the grounds that the "consensus"
> disagreed with me that a Nature editor refused to consider our comment
> to the effect that the method used in recent paper was faulty (and
> biased in a strongly alarmist direction). I agree with her judgement
> that the method is widely used, but IMO that makes it more, not less,
> important that its failings are openly discussed.

I'm fairly confident I'd disagree with the reviewer in this particular
case, but it's a difficult call. Progress requires disagreement, but
quality requires filtering.

e.g., am I failing to understand Alastair's arguments, or is he simply
wrong from the get-go? On what basis do I find his assertion that

"But the real problem is that the climate
models were first conceived based on the idea that if solar radiation
increased, then the outgoing radiation would increase to match it."

not worth considering in great detail?

I am sufficiently confident that his whole argument founders on this
fallacy that I don't intend to refer to chapter and verse of the
source code to try to make a detailed argument.

Choosing whom to listen to and when is not a trivial matter. Some of
us think that if James Annan says something it's worth sitting up and
taking notice of, but apparently the reviewer is not among them. I
would still be willing to attribute this to a false negative inherent
in the process rather than an organized bias toward stubbornness.

None of this, I think, argues against that idea that science is a
process of emerging consensus. It's the failure of social trust that
is making the lines of communication between science and policy
difficult here.

By the way, I agree with you that applying the word "crisis" to
climate is problematic at best; if anything it is a remarkably slow-
motion crisis on policy time scales. I would tend to vote in the
negative on substance, though in practice I might have cast my vote on
the affirmative side because the question's semantics are distinct
from its semiotics. You have to decide how mouch weight to give to
each game in any circumstance. When you assert "it's not a crisis" you
are likely to be heard as saying "nothing needs to be done", a
position with which I wholeheartedly disagree.

I think the blame is being put in the wrong place here, though.
Schmidt et al. may have been foolish in accepting the debate on those
terms, but the question was cleverly framed to skew against any
greenhouse gas policy within the polemic/political context. I suspect
this was deliberate and malign.

In any case, I think we need to get serious about what we mean by
"consensus"; dropping the whole idea under unfair pressure from the
likes of Crichton is a bizarre and excessive response. Somehow science
needs to be able to reach conclusions, and not just debate endlessly.

mt

gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 11:37:29 AM4/3/07
to globalchange
> I'm not very well-read but I had the impression that there was really
> quite a strong consensus that modest mitigation was sensible
> (Tol/Nordhaus/Yohe etc, even without going as far as Stern). Are there
> serious claims that we should do nothing at all, or do you consider this
> range of views already to be broad enough as to consist of "no
> scientific consensus"? Of course I'm sure they all disagree to some
> extent about the detailed implementation.

It seems my earlier attempt at a reply got lost.

The following reference gives a good overview of estimates of marginal
damage costs in the peer reviewed literature:

The marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions: an assessment
of the uncertainties
Energy Policy, Volume 33, Issue 16, November 2005, Pages 2064-2074
Richard S. J. Tol

I think there are many issues underlying economic analysis (eg the
discount rate) that are fundamentally not about finding a scientific
consensus, but about finding a democratic consensus.

On top of that, the range of costs (marginal damage) in the peer
reviewed literature quite credibly includes zero and negative values.

But that doesn't mean, nothing should be done.

Many people will agree that public funding of some research is
worthwhile, and there are many measures, such as petrol taxes, or
support for nuclear power, that can be supported both for climate and
non climate reasons.

The range of marginal damage costs given by Tol is quite low for
discount rates greater than 3%. As discussed on this board before, I
think that for such low carbon taxes, the total level of tax/subsidy
will often be completely dominated by other factors (eg for petrol or
coal).


gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 12:18:55 PM4/3/07
to globalchange
> By the way, I agree with you that applying the word "crisis" to
> climate is problematic at best;

I think the problem with such adversarial debates reducing the climate
issue to a simple no/yes answer is,

that it well, isn't a simple no/yes type of issue. It's not about
"doing nothing" or "taking drastic action now", it's about a whole
range of questions, where people can have a panoply of opinions.

> In any case, I think we need to get serious about what we mean by
> "consensus"; dropping the whole idea under unfair pressure from the
> likes of Crichton is a bizarre and excessive response. Somehow science
> needs to be able to reach conclusions, and not just debate endlessly.

The key here I think is to limit "scientific consensus" to matters of
fact, as opposed to matters of moral value judgment. And there are
issues that are in principle matters of fact, but where the complexity
is such, that personal biases just cannot be excluded, and I think to
a large degree, judging the consequences of climate change falls into
that category.

Eg, think about agriculture and climate change. To judge the impact,
you have to have some knowledge about large scale irrigation systems,
about whether these schemes will be politically feasible in 2040
China, and so forth. This comes down to an informed guess in the end,
an informed guess about which reasonable people can disagree.

James Annan

unread,
Apr 3, 2007, 9:16:07 PM4/3/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
Michael Tobis wrote:
> On Apr 3, 2:46 am, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> I was rather alarmed to see the opening statement of the ice sheet group:
>>
>> "Polar ice experts from Europe and the United States, meeting *to pursue
>> greater scientific consensus*"
>>
>> (my emphasis)
>>
>> http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/032807.html
>
> What's wrong with *pursuing* consensus? Isn't that a summary of the
> whole process of science?
>

Maybe it's a bit of a petty niggle, but surely it's better to think of
consensus as a by-product. We are *pursuing* the truth, and consensus is
a measure of how close we think we are to the truth.

Note that (of course) the purpose of the meeting was not actually to
undertake new research so as to bring better understanding of the truth.
Rather, it developed a position statement that everyone could sign up
to. That's a useful output of science but certainly not the actual goal,
and trying to find a wording that is vague enough to encompass all the
perspectives is more of a political process than a scientific one.

>
> e.g., am I failing to understand Alastair's arguments, or is he simply
> wrong from the get-go?

No comment :-)

> By the way, I agree with you that applying the word "crisis" to
> climate is problematic at best; if anything it is a remarkably slow-
> motion crisis on policy time scales. I would tend to vote in the
> negative on substance, though in practice I might have cast my vote on
> the affirmative side because the question's semantics are distinct
> from its semiotics. You have to decide how mouch weight to give to
> each game in any circumstance. When you assert "it's not a crisis" you
> are likely to be heard as saying "nothing needs to be done", a
> position with which I wholeheartedly disagree.
>
> I think the blame is being put in the wrong place here, though.
> Schmidt et al. may have been foolish in accepting the debate on those
> terms, but the question was cleverly framed to skew against any
> greenhouse gas policy within the polemic/political context. I suspect
> this was deliberate and malign.
>
> In any case, I think we need to get serious about what we mean by
> "consensus"; dropping the whole idea under unfair pressure from the
> likes of Crichton is a bizarre and excessive response. Somehow science
> needs to be able to reach conclusions, and not just debate endlessly.

I agree on all points.

It's a difficult line to tread, both presenting the "consensus" as it
is, while not circling the wagons to the extent that future progress is
impeded. The probabilistic stuff (not just climate sensitivity, although
this is perhaps the most prominent example) brings this most sharply
into focus because there is no possibility that the "correct" answer is
actually a probability distribution. In fact the truth is a single
number and the probabilistic description is an indication of our current
ignorance, thus necessarily subject to future change. This context makes
it abundantly clear why any attempt to directly equate consensus with
truth is doomed from the outset.

James

Tom Adams

unread,
Apr 5, 2007, 11:50:37 AM4/5/07
to globalchange
On Apr 3, 9:16 pm, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Michael Tobis wrote:
> > On Apr 3, 2:46 am, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> >> I was rather alarmed to see the opening statement of the ice sheet group:
>
> >> "Polar ice experts from Europe and the United States, meeting *to pursue
> >> greater scientific consensus*"
>
> >> (my emphasis)
>
> >>http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/032807.html
>
> > What's wrong with *pursuing* consensus? Isn't that a summary of the
> > whole process of science?
>
> Maybe it's a bit of a petty niggle, but surely it's better to think of
> consensus as a by-product. We are *pursuing* the truth, and consensus is
> a measure of how close we think we are to the truth.
>
> Note that (of course) the purpose of the meeting was not actually to
> undertake new research so as to bring better understanding of the truth.
> Rather, it developed a position statement that everyone could sign up
> to.

I don't think that was the purpose.

"The authors of the recent IPCC assessment acknowledged that
scientific effort is required to resolve these uncertainties, and for
this reason they specifically did not include the West Antarctic Ice
Sheet in their projections of future sea-level rise."

http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/walse/

Looks to me like the purpose of the meeting was to come up with a
general research plan to reduce uncertainty about the West Antarctic
Ice Sheet so that it could be included in future quantitative
projections.

I agree that the wording about consensus is unfortunate.

> James- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Don Libby

unread,
Apr 7, 2007, 11:54:29 AM4/7/07
to global...@googlegroups.com

> I hope you are right that this isn's worth worrying about, but I'm not
> convinced.
>
> mt
>

I agree with Fernbach that reactionary backlash underpinned by financial
self-interest is to be expected. However, I'm perceiving that acceptance of
AGW is rapidly going mainstream, and with a fairly certain shift in US
balance of power back to Democrats, the hard-core AGW denialists are likely
to lose relevance.

What worries me more is the next wave of denialism by entrenched ideologues
that is likely to further delay progress toward atmospheric stabilization of
GHG. We can see the swell of the next wave forming already on the horizon,
from your cite (Chait's article "Why the right goes nuclear over global
warming" in the LA Times:) "In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part
of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent."

The emissions scenarios in the TAR agree on a consensus of sorts:
stabilization by 2100 cannot be achieved without at least six times more
nuclear power plants than exist today. That seems to me to be more than "a
small part" of the answer, although I quite agree that it is not the whole
answer: it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for stabilization.

Parsing the next phrase, "you couldn't build enough to make a major dent",
begs the question, "why not?" Building 50 plants per year for 50 years
would achieve the minimum inventory as indicated in the TAR stabilization
scenarios. That is a rate of construction that is somewhat higher than the
maximum historical rate of 30 per year achieved in the 1970s, but certainly
not impossible in a world that is building 150 coal plants per year.

So now appearing in the Op-Ed pages we have a new rhetorical distraction
from what must be done, and overcoming the next ideological obstacle will
also require honest hard work, as did the first. Coal mine owners and
miners' unions alike resist GW, and also NP. Let's hope we get past it
within a decade or two, the clock is ticking.

-dl


James Annan

unread,
Apr 7, 2007, 6:27:22 PM4/7/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
Don Libby wrote:
>
> The emissions scenarios in the TAR agree on a consensus of sorts:
> stabilization by 2100 cannot be achieved without at least six times more
> nuclear power plants than exist today. That seems to me to be more than "a
> small part" of the answer, although I quite agree that it is not the whole
> answer: it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for stabilization.

While I'm not saying the conclusion is necessarily wrong, note the SRES
did not attempt to consider stabilisation scenarios, or indeed any
direct CO2 mitigation effort at all (IMO a very disappointing decision
which I hope they overturn for the next set of scenarios). So deliberate
efforts to curb demand growth and promote renewables might achieve
more than is suggested in the scenarios.

James

gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 7, 2007, 6:44:45 PM4/7/07
to globalchange
> While I'm not saying the conclusion is necessarily wrong, note the SRES
> did not attempt to consider stabilisation scenarios, or indeed any
> direct CO2 mitigation effort at all (IMO a very disappointing decision
> which I hope they overturn for the next set of scenarios). So deliberate
> efforts to curb demand growth and promote renewables might achieve
> more than is suggested in the scenarios.

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg3/087.htm

gives the following relevant reference:

Mori, S. 2000: Effects of Carbon Emission Mitigation Options under
Carbon Concentration Stabilization Scenarios. Environmental Economics
and Policy Studies, 3(2).

and by the same author:

Energy Economics
Volume 26, Issue 4 , July 2004, Pages 565-578
Alternative technology strategies for climate change policy

The key section from that paper reads as follows:
"The previous sections suggest that the contribution of nuclear power
is essential to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of carbon-
dioxide. Although the nuclear power is the most cost-effective option,
it is not indispensable as will be shown in this section."

Rob

unread,
Apr 8, 2007, 1:08:32 AM4/8/07
to globalchange

Here's a take on the Chait article: the second poll, which showed
that the number of Republican global warming deniers had grown in a
year, was taken one month in to the new Democratic congress. It could
be Republicans were still smarting, they were in "bunker" mode, and
not going to agree with Democrats on any of "their" issues. I hope
they do a similar poll next year.

So what might they be thinking? The Chait article mentions how some
are complete tools of the energy industry. mt mentioned the
conservative's general distaste for collective action. I'd add
residual animosity towards Al Gore for being a member of the hated (by
the right) Clinton administration. Taking Gore's most prominent issue
seriously means taking Al Gore seriously which some Republicans just
can't do. If they admit the basic science of global warming then
they'd also be aligned with environmental groups, Hollywood liberals
and other boogymen of the right. They've invested a lot in portraying
those folks , and Gore, as fools.

One of the outcomes of Al Gore's testimony was that its clear there's
a lot of congressmen who just don't know much about the science. We
can continue to explain it to them and hopefully move those numbers in
the other direction by next year.

Rob

On Mar 31, 12:00 pm, "Michael Tobis" <mto...@gm ail.com> wrote:
> There's been a lot of talk about what is behind the thinking of the
> "skeptics" crowd, kicked off largely by Gavin Schmidt's experience in
> more or less losing a debate:
>

> http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/adventures-on-t...


>
> and by Chait's article "Why the right goes nuclear over global
> warming" in the LA Times:
>

> http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-chait25mar25,0,3...
>
>

gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 8, 2007, 11:44:32 AM4/8/07
to globalchange
> http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-chait25mar25,0,3...

The two surveys are available here:

http://www.envsci.rutgers.edu/~weaver/national_journal_2006_04_01_insiders.pdf

http://syndication.nationaljournal.com/images/203Insiderspoll_NJlogo.pdf

The results are based on 58 Republicans (first poll) and 55
Republicans (second poll).

The difference between the first and second poll therefore amounts to
5 or 6 congress members (10% of 58 or 55).

By far the easiest way to explain the difference is therefore that
said 5 members of congress came from vulnerable seats and lost them in
between the two surveys.

I've got some other minor quibbles. Like, the question asked isn't the
same. In the first survey the word "pollution" is used, where in the
second the word "problem" appears. This may have made a difference to
the answer, and for example might have moved one Democrat to give a
different answer in the second survey (instead of 98% of Democrats
answering with a simple yes, in the second survey it's only 95%).

--------------------

It's not really that helpful to label Republicans denialists, it's
rather divisive and dismissive.

Michael Tobis mentioned that he would have probably answered "Yes it's
a crisis", even though he didn't really think that that's quite the
right way to put it, because, if I understand him right, an answer
"No, it's not a crisis" would be misunderstood.

Likewise, I think many Republicans might conceivably be reluctant to,
with a similar border line question (which hinges on what "beyond
reasonable doubt" means), answer in the affirmative, because they
don't want their position to be misunderstood.

--------------------

It seems a no brainer that people already favourable to CAFE
(Democrats) or nuclear power (Republicans) would prefer the solutions
they happen to like anyway?

Michael Tobis

unread,
Apr 8, 2007, 1:07:18 PM4/8/07
to globalchange
Good points, Heiko, and thanks.

Is it even clear how much the samples overlap? If the response is
voluntary, the shift wouldn't be significant even without an
intervening election.

That there is no sample bias? If the respondents are self-selected
this means little about the overall position of the congress.

There is cringe-inducing stuff on both sides but I would say the stuff
from the Democrats is more credulous and less informed. On the other
other hand, that probably isn't a random sample either.

mt

On Apr 8, 10:44 am, "gerha...@aston.ac.uk" <gerha...@aston.ac.uk>
wrote:

> http://www.envsci.rutgers.edu/~weaver/national_journal_2006_04_01_ins...

gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 8, 2007, 3:22:50 PM4/8/07
to globalchange
> Is it even clear how much the samples overlap?

There's a full list of all the participants for both surveys, I tried
to compare them and there is a lot of overlap, but I got bored working
out how much.

Michael Tobis

unread,
Apr 8, 2007, 8:21:04 PM4/8/07
to globalchange
The US National Institutes of Health apparently has a consensus
process:

http://consensus.nih.gov/PREVIOUSSTATEMENTS.htm

I really don't see why this word should constitute an issue, nor would
it, I think, had Crichton and co. not made a fuss about it.

mt

On Apr 3, 2:46 am, James Annan <james.an...@gmail.com> wrote:

James Annan

unread,
Apr 9, 2007, 12:49:36 AM4/9/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
Michael Tobis wrote:
> The US National Institutes of Health apparently has a consensus
> process:
>
> http://consensus.nih.gov/PREVIOUSSTATEMENTS.htm
>
> I really don't see why this word should constitute an issue, nor would
> it, I think, had Crichton and co. not made a fuss about it.

I have no problem with the word itself, nor with scientists describing
the consensus that exists. But I cannot help but be aware of the risk
that people allow their thoughts to be constrained (or perhaps betrayed)
by an unfortunate choice of words, as in "_the_ pdf of climate sensitivity".

James

john fernbach

unread,
Apr 9, 2007, 5:20:11 PM4/9/07
to globalchange

I tried posting something to this effect before, but it either got
lost or the moderators in here believed that it didn't meet the test
of acceptability for the group. So I'll try again in somewhat more
restrained language.

I'm quite appalled by the same thing that Michael Tobis finds
appalling -- the continued denial by the GOP right of what looks like
the reality principle -- at least as I see it.

However, I don't think it's at all surprising that fairly large groups
of humans will decide to ignore or deny, or possibly fight against, a
new set of theories and/or facts that at least purports to be
scientifically grounded, but that threatens either their ideological
and political beliefs, or their economic self-interest, or both.

If people in here who are persuaded that AGW is a big issue and a real
environmental problem wish to counteract this tendency in their
opponents to deny or distort what we think of as "the truth" about
climate, therefore, I think we should think about addressing the roots
of why so many of the GOP faithful, for example, are taking the
denialist and/or contrarian stance.

Meanwhing what? Well, first I think we AGW true believers need to
face the facts that some people see the entire AGW issue as being
cooked up to justify "big government," if not the dreaded word
"socialism," and to diminish human liberty in the process.

If we want to try to talk AGW science to these people, then, I suggest
we find ways to think about cures to AGW that won't involve big
government, socialism or major losses of individual liberties.

Secondly, I think it's clear that some AGW skeptics/contrarians/
denialists are motivated to repudiate the IPCC because its finding
threaten the fossil fuel industries, the American auto industry, etc.
Personally, I think this is inevitable -- real curbs on CO2 emissions
no doubt would threaten some large industries, especially in the US.

But people who believe in AGW and the findings of the AGW researchers,
as I like to think I do, might make the conflict a little less, and
help to make proposed CO2 curbs more popular with a sector of the
public, by addressing the legitimate economic interests of thousands
of people who would be affected by any shift from a fossil fuel
economy to either a nuclear one or a "greener" one fueled by solar,
wind, biomass, etc.

What can the AGW crowd say about, or lobby Congress about, the
creation of new "green" jobs to replace those that a low-carbon future
might destroy in the coal mining industry or the US auto industry, for
example?

The US government supposedly already provides some economic transition
aid to working people whose jobs are lost to economic globalization,
although the proferred aid is apparently not very effective.

Could the AGW crowd help to think up, and join with other interests to
lobby for, US government aid to working families displaced by the
transition to a greener energy economy?

What about a "Superfund for Workers," as the late Tony Mazzocchi of
the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers once called it, to provide job
retraining funds and a daily living stipend to workers in obsolete and
dirty industries, as they went back to college or trade school to
learn new job skills?

Alternatively, would it make sense for AGW believers and other
environmental and labor groups in the USA to lobby for the imposition
of a 35-hour work week, such as they recently have had in France, in
hopes of spreading available working hours around more broadly -- so
that the transition to a greener energy future doesn't threaten people
with unemployment?

What about some kind of program to provide limited government-funded
relief to small business owners who are threatened by the economics of
a post-carbon world?

Since society as a whole should ideally benefit from the shift to a
post-carbon energy economy, should society as a whole help small
distributors of heating oil and natural gas, for example, to adjust to
our Brave & Green New World?

What about publicly funded programs, or government tax breaks, to
small oil field services companies in Texas and Oklahoma?

I'm mentioning specific policy proposals here only as hypothetical
examples; I'm not saying that any one of them is "the" answer, and
perhaps some of them can't contribute to "the" answer; perhaps some of
them are wrong-headed.

But the question I hope to raise is how AGW true believers like myself
(for better or worse) can help the transition to a post-carbon economy
become less threatening to thousands of Americans, or maybe even
millions of Americans, who today have some very real short-term
reasons for rejecting it.

I don't know if this non-scientific, non-climate-oriented issue is a
valid one for this group to discuss. But then, we're already
discussing political attitudes, which are certainly not completely
rooted themselves in existing climate science.

If we hope to influence political attitudes and keep them from
hampering people's appreciation of new scientific information, I think
we need to address the political values (e.g. Libertarian worries
about individual liberties) and the economic interests (e.g., the
worries of coal- and oil- and auto-dependent communities about
unemployment) that are affecting those attitudes.

Michael Tobis

unread,
Apr 9, 2007, 7:18:04 PM4/9/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
I didn't see the previous message, but this version is certainly on topic here.

Here's the mission statement again:

Globalchange is a moderated newsgroup/mailing list for the discussion
of environmental science, economics, policy and politics, especially
as related to global change issues such as climate change,
biodiversity, and sustainability. Discussion is **not** restricted to
purely scientific/technical questions on the physics of climate
change.

I did not see your message. It may have been purged in error. Our
noise to signal ratio is about
100:1 unfortunately.

mt

Tom Adams

unread,
Apr 10, 2007, 10:19:30 AM4/10/07
to globalchange

On Apr 8, 11:44 am, "gerha...@aston.ac.uk" <gerha...@aston.ac.uk>
wrote:

> http://www.envsci.rutgers.edu/~weaver/national_journal_2006_04_01_ins...
>
> http://syndication.nationaljournal.com/images/203Insiderspoll_NJlogo.pdf
>

There is something curious about these poll numbers on support for
various policies. If you assume they are unbiased indicators of how
representatives would vote you get:

1. CO2 limits (53%)
2. Alternatve fuels (88%)
3. Greater nuke plant reliance (74%)
4. Higher fuel efficiency (67%)
5. Cap and trade (62%)

In all cases, they have enough support to get the bills past a
Democratic committee and be voted in. Even nuke plants have 58%
support from the Dems.

But alternative fuels are perhaps the only one that is really getting
the support needed to pass bills.

I think you need to discount the poll numbers by about 1/3.

Raymond Arritt

unread,
Apr 10, 2007, 12:06:46 PM4/10/07
to global...@googlegroups.com
john fernbach wrote:

> However, I don't think it's at all surprising that fairly large groups
> of humans will decide to ignore or deny, or possibly fight against, a
> new set of theories and/or facts that at least purports to be
> scientifically grounded, but that threatens either their ideological
> and political beliefs, or their economic self-interest, or both.

I think it was Max Planck who said people rarely change their minds
based on objective evidence; science goes on, and the people who insist
on holding ideas that are no longer tenable eventually die off.


gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 10, 2007, 2:31:43 PM4/10/07
to globalchange
> There is something curious about these poll numbers on support for
> various policies.

I think there's two likely explanations. Firstly, the polls might just
plain be unrepresentative. And secondly, I could imagine that some
senators might be in favour of say higher fuel economy in principle,
but when faced with the auto unions, or the pleas from senators from
states with auto plants, be willing to bargain.

Don Libby

unread,
Apr 10, 2007, 8:45:24 PM4/10/07
to global...@googlegroups.com

True, the scenarios do not represent deliberate policies to achieve
stabilization. Never the less, some of the scenarios do achieve
stabilization by 2100. Those that do are distinguished from those that do
not by the extent to which nuclear power production increases (among other
things).

You and Gerhaus are correct to point out that the scenarios do not exhaust
all possible future emission trajectories. The SAR had an interesting "coal
intensive" stabilization scenario that relied entirely on permanent
sequestration of GHG emissions. Voluntary deprivation (or involuntary)
could reduce fossil fuel consumption too.

Some scenarios are more reasonable than others: "least cost" and
"cost-effective" numbering among the more reasonable in my opinion. The
SRES scenarios have reasonable assumptions about population and economic
growth trends. Given those boundary assumptions, the substitution of
nuclear power for coal power is a key stabilizing factor.

Today's headline: "TXU Sheds Coal Plan, Charts Nuclear Path" _Wall Street
Journal_ April 10, 2007. Now that's what I call a "tipping point"!

-dl


gerh...@aston.ac.uk

unread,
Apr 11, 2007, 6:21:29 PM4/11/07
to globalchange
> Given those boundary assumptions, the substitution of
> nuclear power for coal power is a key stabilizing factor.

I've seen anti-nuclear activists argue that nuclear energy can only
ever be a small part of the solution noting that only 6% of world
energy is supplied by nuclear power plants.

A different way of looking at the issue is by noting that
stabilisation at 450 PPM is entirely feasible, if all remaing
conventional natural gas and oil are burnt, but even 900 PPM can be
easily reached by burning coal (and unconventional hydrocarbons like
the oil sands in Canada).

Therefore, in a sense if coal is replaced by nuclear for electricity,
restricting ourselves to using only conventional oil and gas will be
the entirety of the solution.

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages