Merchants of Doubt is a highly engaging read by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes about the long war on science waged by anti-regulatory forces. Obviously, this extends to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.
Nierenberg’s son Nicolas has been engaged in an understandable effort to whitewash his father’s legacy in underplaying the risks posed by climate change. In doing so, Nicolas (ironically?) follows virtually the same pattern of doubt-mongering laid out in Oreskes’s and Conway’s book. He relies upon the scientific community’s tendency to dial in on details to the exclusion of all else, and thus tries to argue the minutia in order to distract from and cast doubt on the bigger picture.
I couldn’t have scripted a better example than the beginning of a recent comment of his over at William Connolley’s: “…Merchants of Doubt (MOD) is highly misleading. As a very specific and critical point…”
Please don’t get me wrong- I believe that Nicolas is engaging in good faith, and is not deliberately trying to be misleading. I encourage everyone to read his comments in full and discuss the issue with him personally- in my experience he is always prompt and courteous.
But as I said, Nicolas is depending on our failure to keep the big picture in mind. From a science standpoint, GMI is an inexcusable, disgusting organization. It is the antithesis of what genuine and honest inquiry should be. William Nierenberg’s part in its founding is terrible, and it is simply not credible to pretend that he was not engaged in the same anti-regulatory shenanigans as his organization- no matter how much Nicolas would like us to believe otherwise. No matter what Nicolas says about Oreskes and Conway’s writing, keep that in mind. Listen to what William himself said in his own words. On the likely effects of climate change:
In actual fact- the actual fact is, that calmer [vs. the scientific consensus] analysis has restricted the maximum likely CO2 to- the concentration- to slightly less than double and extended the time for the effects to the year 2150- that’s quite an increase. The global temperature change would be at most 1°[C], and the sea level rise would be barely one foot (or 30cm). The Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is now believed to be stable for the foreseeable future. Despite this great relaxation in extremes, the dire predictions remain. [8:15-8:52]
On the atmospheric residency of CO2:
Well you see with [the scientific consensus of long atmospheric residency of CO2] in mind, you have a problem. No matter how sure you are that the effects will be minimal- you see- they are in effect irreversible. If you’ve made a mistake, if you’ve made a bad estimate, you’re stuck and you have a problem- you see- reversing what you’ve done. Now, that’s the problem, but what happened is, the change in our viewpoint- those who take the problem seriously… In fact we now know that the CO2- the excess C02- will not last for a thousand years, but in fact will decay away on the average in about 150 years. Now that alters the entire perspective of the problem. It makes a possibility of correctibility at any stage of the game, if you have made a mistestimate [about the severity of the problem], and so on. So this [atmospheric residency of CO2], however, is the reason that the problem seemed to agonizing to so many of us early, and that reason has completely disappeared today. [12:01-13:08]
Watch the video in full. There are a legion of strawmen, red herring, appeals to ridicule, and other fallacies intended to persuade an audience rhetorically at the expense of fact and logic. William Neirenberg wasn’t a Morano or Watts-type out and out denialist. He was always an interjector of “reasonable” disagreement and uncertainty to prevent meaningful action on the issue. Nicolas Nierenberg would like you to believe that his father was not a Merchant of Doubt.
Nicolas is simply wrong.
UPDATE: As it’s a particular interest to WC, I wonder how he’ll react to Nierenberg lying about the “coming ice age” bullsh*t?
UPDATE: Per request in the comments, the video I linked to was shot in 1999. I don’t believe that the date substantively excuses many of the lies and half-truths by Nierenberg, but if anyone wants to attempt to justify his claims that’s probably a persuasive place to start. Nierenberg died in 2000- I’m not sure why anyone would expect comments of his to be made much past that time…