Tag Archives: Collide-a-Scape

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.


Matt Ridley needs to take some advice from Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a techno-optimist of the Lomborgian mold, with all of the cherry-picking and source misrepresentation that goes with it apparently. He gave a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh [corrected - see below] that has “skeptics” falling all over themselves in delight.

What groundbreaking evidence does Ridley marshal in defense of his rejection of mainstream science?

I was curious. Ridley ostensibly is a cut above the average denizen of WUWT. He was trained as a zoologist before taking up science writing. He has articles frequently published in the mainstream press, as the delicious-in-hindsight tweet by Andy Revkin reflects. He’s widely acclaimed for popularizing science concepts for mainstream reading audiences. So whatever Ridley had must be good, I thought. His arguments would reflect the best of the “skeptics’” best.

It turned out I was wrong. Or perhaps, I was right, and Ridley was bringing the best of the “skeptics’” best. Either way, it was an enormous disappointment. Ridley’s speech turned out to be a textbook Gish Gallop, full of false claims, logical fallacies, and trivially true but irrelevant “facts”. It was, as I put it at Keith Kloor’s blog, “skeptic” bingo.

  • Sea level rise is small and is decelerating!
  • Methane isn’t increasing!
  • Hockey Stick!
  • Etc.

I don’t think I will do a point by point rebuttal to every claim in Ridely’s speech at this time (maybe later, for sport, time permitting). But suffice it to say that while Ridley is being lauded by the denialosphere now, he’s actually done them a tremendous disservice. With this speech, he’s fully exposing himself as a crank, and has thus reduced the ever-dwindling list of “credible skeptics” one further.

And in case anyone is curious, while the year-to-year variability is significant,  on climate-relevant timescales, sea level rise is indeed accelerating (Church and White 2011; Rahmstorf and Vermeer 2011).

But more to the point, absent emissions stabilization, sea level rise is going to increase, reaching 1m or more by end of century (Vermeer and Rahmstorf 2009).

Failure to stabilize emissions will almost assuredly result in the eventual collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, committing the world to multimeter sea level rise that will be for all practical purposes irreversible. Many of Ridley’s claims similarly depend on falsely equivocating between concern over future climate changes absent emissions stabilization (and their relative irreversibility over human timescales) and what is happening at present. This couldn’t be more misleading.

As you might imagine, given the way this is going, Ridley’s claim that methane isn’t increasing is also false. Methane levels today are much higher than they’ve been over at least the past 800,000 years and continue to increase (Loulergue et al., 2008; NOAA AGGI).

The “hockey stick” nonsense has been done to death. And “skeptics” like Ridley inevitably fail to mention the main points: the “hockey stick” has basically nothing to do with either the attribution of recent warming to humans or the seriousness of future warming; the ostensible statistical problems in the original Mann et al. paper were overstated by its critics, and the actual problems it did have don’t tremendously affect its results (Huybers 2005; Wahl and Amman 2007); moreover, independent Northern Hemisphere reconstructions (including “skeptics’” own) show more or less the same results as Mann et al.’s recent work- the warming during the instrumental record exceeds peak Medieval temperatures (Ljunqvist 2010; Loehle and McCulloch 2008; Mann et al., 2008; Moberg, et al., 2005).

People like Ridley spend an awful lot of time listening to “skeptic” bloggers like Jo Nova and Bishop Hill, but seem to have no grasp of basic Earth systems science. And it shows. There is a total lack of coherence in Ridley’s claims. Ridley wants us to know that the climate changed rapidly in the past- but yet we’re also supposed to believe that climate sensitivity is very small. He also flubs basic concepts- equilibrium sensitivity is not the same thing as transient sensitivity (i.e. how much we will warm in response to a given increase in radiative forcing is larger than how much warming we’ll experience in the near term due to things like the thermal inertia of the ocean).

Perhaps Ridley can follow his own advice and “unlearn” the lies, fallacies, and nonsense he’s being cheered for regurgitating. Though let’s just say I’m a little skeptical of the prospect.


  • Church, J.A., and N.J. White (2011): Sea-Level Rise from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Century. Surveys In Geophysics, 32, 4-5, 585-602, doi:10.1007/s10712-011-9119-1.
  • Huybers, P. (2005): Comment on “Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance” by S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, L20705, doi:10.1029/2005GL023395.Ljungqvist, F.C. (2010): A new reconstruction of temperature variability in the extra-tropical northern hemisphere during the last two millennia. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, 92, 3, 339-351, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2010.00399.x.
  • Loehle, C. and J.H. McCulloch (2008): Correction to: A 2000-Year Global Temperature Reconstruction Based on Non-Tree Ring Proxies. Energy + Environment, 19, 1, 93-100.
  • Loulergue, L., et al. (2008): Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800,000 years. Nature, 453, 383-386, doi:10.1038/nature06950.
  • Mann, M.E., et al. (2008): Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 105, 36, 13252-13257, doi:10.1073/pnas.0805721105.
  • Moberg, A., et al. (2005): Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data. Nature, 433, 613-617, doi:10.1038/nature03265.
  • NOAA AGGI: The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index. URL: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/
  • Rahmstorf, S., and M. Vermmer (2011): Discussion of: “Houston, J.R. and Dean, R.G., 2011. Sea-Level Acceleration Based on U.S. Tide Gauges and Extensions of Previous Global-Gauge Analyses”. Journal of Coastal Research, 27, 4, 784–787, doi:10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-11-00082.1.
  • Vermeer, M., and S. Rahmstorf (2009): Global sea level linked to global temperature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 106, 51, 21527-21532, doi:10.1073/pnas.0907765106.
  • Wahl, E.R., and C.M. Ammann (2007): Robustness of the Mann, Bradley, Hughes reconstruction of surface temperatures: Examination of criticisms based on the nature and processing of proxy climate evidence. Climatic Change, 85, 33-69, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9105-7.

Who isn’t taking adaptation seriously?

Image courtesy of Flickr user "Arty Smokes (deaf mute)"

Keith Kloor apparently thinks that adaptation to climate change isn’t being seriously undertaken by policy-makers because of a clandestine cabal of “green pressure groups” and the climate blogosphere’s lack of enthusiasm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t really find these explanations to be credible. From my perspective, it would seem that the relative weight of the climate blogosphere and environmental groups pales in comparison to that of an organized campaign by Republicans to annihilate US aid for adaptation in developing countries.

As Kate Sheppard reports, this comes at a time when “[o]ther countries are growing increasingly worried that the US will not follow through on its commitment to provide money” for adaptation and mitigation. And given that the Republicans’ ostensible concern is over wasteful spending in light of the deficit and these same Republicans claim that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, it’s hardly a giant leap to worry that domestic adaptation funds might appear on their chopping block as well.

Meanwhile, adaptation remains a central point of environmental (or here or here) and climate science efforts to educate the public and policy-makers on what needs to be done in response to climate changes that we may not prevent in time.

Here’s a thought- when you’re more interested in trying to assign blame to the groups trying to fix a problem than the ones making sure it will only get worse, perhaps it’s you who isn’t taking the issue seriously.

A test for establishment climate journalists

Image courtesy of Flickr user just.Luc

Over at Keith Kloor’s blog, I wrote:

Keith, respectfully- either you can acknowledge that [Bjorn Lomborg] engages in blatant misrepresentation of key indicators of climate change like [sea level rise] and [temperature] trends, or you cannot.

If you can’t, I’m not particularly interested in whether it’s a refusal to do so due to adherence to some imagined journalistic allegiance to neutrality or out of a lack of ability to understand that he’s doing it.

If climate journalists either can’t see what he’s doing or refuse to acknowledge it, then we’re in far worse trouble than I ever imagined.

I’ve submitted a similar question to Dot Earth. Can establishment climate journalists acknowledge what Lomborg does? If not, what hope is there that the general public can make an informed assessment of his credibility?

Untold gallons of figurative ink have been spilled over the efforts of climate “skeptics” to discredit Michael Mann and colleagues’ paleoclimatic reconstructions on the grounds of bad statistics. Republicans even went so far as to get “statistics expert” Ed Wegman to put an official seal on the supposed discrediting, and we can see how that’s all working out for them. Meanwhile, the overall conclusions of the Mann et al. papers have been upheld by independent reviews, other multiproxy reconstructions, and independent lines of paleoclimatic evidence, even though some of Mann’s initial statistical choices could have been better.

By contrast Lomborg takes a metric like temperature or sea level rise and then cherry-picks an interval to get the lowest possible trend out of it. If it’s an interval of two years at the time of press, so be it. If he needs to write another article and using the same interval no longer gives the lowest possible trend, he’ll use four. It’s inarguable that using his own intervals from previous claims completely contradicts his current ones, and that there is no physical, statistical, or logical justification for doing so. He is just cherry-picking. Period.

But you’d never know it reading Andy Revkin’s or Keith Kloor’s blogs. Why not? What good is climate journalism if it must slavishly attend to largely unfounded claims of “skeptics” but can’t identify clear-cut cases of misrepresentation by people like Bjorn Lomborg?

On the James Fallows Atlantic coal article

Image courtesy of Flickr user ralphrepo

[Responding to Keith Kloor's post about this James Fallows piece on coal and our global energy future and Dave Roberts's criticisms]

Roberts made some good and bad points. I think that Roberts rightly objected to Fallows conflating politico-economic “realities” (i.e. status quo) with technological ones.

I agree that coal isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But I don’t believe that Fallows has made the case that it is technologically impossible to meet global energy needs without it.

He writes that as-of-yet-unrealized cleaner coal is “the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm” and “there is no plausible other way [than coal] to meet what will be, absent an economic or social cataclysm, the world’s unavoidable energy demands. ”

But he does basically nothing to back this up. Yes, the current infrastructure is heavily tilted towards coal dependence. That’s not alone sufficient to support the claims that he’s making (which I acknowledge from the outset may in fact turn out to be true).

If coal is literally the only way forward, Fallows should have done a better job demonstrating this rather than asserting it. I realize that this might be beyond his expertise, but that’s no reason to let the assertions pass unchallenged. I didn’t see a single line dedicated to IFR nukes, for example. I didn’t see a word about solar thermal.

Being resigned to something because changing is perceived to be hard is not the same as saying that an alternative is literally impossible. Fallows has made a case for the former but in no way has done so for the latter.

Stop the Presses! Climate journos think the emissions-reduction issue looks an awful lot like a narrative problem. No word yet on just how “nail-shaped” people wielding hammers see it

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Keith Kloor, Andy Revkin, and Tom Yulsman appear to have bought into the meme that in order to really combat climate change, what’s really needed is a New Narrative. For too long, Keith tells us, people have framed the problem of climate change as… a problem of climate change.

So, I’ll bite. After all, I care about the end success, not about any particular road to it. So what’s this “new” narrative, and what’s the underlying plan to limit climate change? Apparently it goes something like this:

  1. Fund clean energy technology!
  2. ???
  3. Climate disaster averted!

Longtime participants in the climate blogosphere will note that, far from being a “new” narrative, this is just another iteration of the technology trap. Moreover, there isn’t actually anyone in favor of averting disruptive climatic change opposing clean energy technology investment- we’re all big, big fans.

Why are Kloor and Co. so hot for a master Narrative game changer? This meme plays straight into two key occupational prejudices: narrative primacy and conflict. People who make a living painstakingly creating stories from ideas tend to overvalue the importance of narrative. Additionally, people who have been brought up on journalistic crutches like forcing events into artificial frames of conflict are predisposed to view systematic and process-based events and outcomes in terms of individual actors and thus winners and losers. This is almost comically evident Kloor’s piece “Who’s got game?“:

Well that ball is dead. There’s no longer a game. There’s not even the pretense of a game on the global stage. So all those progressive steps that were promised by the legislation’s supporters are not going to happen. Where does that leave them?

Well, why not try a new ball with some life in it and get another game going? For that, let’s go to one of the willing players…

… Here’s the way I look at it: there’s no game in town right now. Norris and his team see an open court and are starting their own game, with their own ball. Some people are starting to come by and watch what unfolds. The other guys who held the court before don’t like that. Well you lost and got kicked off. What are you going to do now? Hurl insults from the stands, or take on the new guys?

In response, I and a whole host of others have pointed out that the flawed assumptions implicit in Keith’s framing of this issue in the comments section of that post. My chief objection is that it’s a little absurd to “challenge” people to adopt a “new narrative” to prevent climate change problems when said narrative is neither new nor explains how it will- even in theory- actually prevent climate change problems.

Keith has responded several times telling us all that we just don’t get what he’s saying (guilty as charged!)- he isn’t going to debate the actual merits of the “new narrative” in terms of its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. Rather, he’s interested in why people seem so unwilling to adopt this new narrative before being informed about its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. I point out the implicit, problematic assumptions in doing so, Keith complains that I’m missing the point, and on and on.

Did I mention that this New Narrative meme is being pushed by the same people who are arguing against any sort of meaningful emissions pricing? They wouldn’t have a vested interested in framing emissions legislation as a dead, would they? I mean, it’s not like they would ignore that for the first time in US history, climate legislation actually passed in the US House of Representatives.

Look, as I’ve said before- pursuing clean energy on its own isn’t going to keep coal in the ground. What is the proposed mechanism by which the “breakthrough” scheme accomplishes this? If they don’t have one, they should just explicitly acknowledge it. If they have a mechanism, they should articulate it, so that people like me will become evangelicals for them. I’m ripe for conversion, “breakthrough” people. Help me help you. How, absent a price on carbon or obscenely distorive subsidies does a clean energy fund keep coal in the ground?

It’s nice that you have a meme. It’s nice that some journalists bit. When you feel like getting around to actually hooking some grassroots support, give us a reason to support your Narrative besides an appeal to novelty.

Meanwhile, there has been early signaling that any dreams of a post-partisan big clean energy push will be dead on arrival. In a Politico story framed in terms of compromise- precisely the mood that the “breakthrough” people assure us will make their scheme viable whereas emissions pricing is not- GOP insiders have showed their hand on energy plans in a Republican-led 112th Congress: drilling in ANWR, some tax breaks for coal and nukes, with a token nod to renewables. Same old, same old. What of a transformative investment in clean energy breakthroughs?

One thing is certain: Republican leaders probably won’t have to worry about being called overly ambitious.

“I wish I had some real great novel stuff, but this is all Riggins up the middle,” said a former House Republican energy staffer, referring to former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins.

The GOP isn’t interested in averting dangerous climatic changes because it as a party has almost uniformly turned its back against science. It may make token gestures towards geothermal, natural gas, and electric vehicles as the Politico article later guesses, but a party that sees no problem with GHG emissions is going to dig up the coal and either burn it, turn it into synthetic gasoline, or export it.

Rather than take serious steps to address the issue, they’re going to try to defang or coopt the relevant Congressional committees and regulatory agencies like the EPA, Department of Interior, etc. They’re going to push for tax breaks for their pet energy industries- namely oil and gas, coal, and nuclear- without regard to GHG emissions. They’re going to push for more domestic fossil fuel consumption, not less. As they whinge about government spending and deficit doom, they will close the government’s purse strings to the kind of funding that the “breakthrough” people assured us will have bipartisan support.

Clean energy developers themselves seem to have little faith in the “breakthrough” scheme, with some major players moving their projects to nations that have more aggressive clean energy incentives and low carbon requirements. Even though there is some bipartisan support for some aspects of clean energy funding in the Senate:

[T]here’s also willingness on the Republican side to resist anything constructive being enacted.

A large majority of Americans wants the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions. As such, that isn’t the narrative failure on this issue. I do agree with Roger Pielke Jr. and many others who point out that when people are given a choice between economic growth and emissions reductions, they will choose the former over the latter. But you can substitute virtually any other subject for “emissions reductions” in that proposition and it will still hold true. If there is a narrative failure on the climate issue, it has been the utter failure to communicate to the general public that there are genuine economic costs in failing to reign in emissions. People mentally compare the costs of reductions with unimpeded economic growth, not with the costs of unchecked emissions growth.

The physical science basis for the case for emissions reductions was made sufficiently back in 1979. Obviously that doesn’t mean that there are no unanswered questions or that future studies cannot meaningfully further strengthen that case. But at a policymaker-level, the focus needs to shift to the impacts and economics of different emissions trajectories. If the various “-gates” have taught us anything, it’s that the WGII and WGIII IPCC reports need to be tightened up far more than the WGI Physical Science report.

Economic models that show a mere 50% loss in GDP for a 20°C temp increase need to be rejected out of hand. On what basis should we believe that people prefer and are willing to pay for a hotter planet? That initial warming will see a large decrease in mortality?

If there was a grossly underestimated or zero cost associated with burning a house to the ground, who would insure their home against fires? How can we expect people to prefer a significant price on carbon when they believe the alternative is basically no economic cost whatsoever? Getting a more realistic handle on the cost of unchecked emissions should be a bipartisan (post-partisan, post-post-partisan, what have you) goal. Will the “breakthrough” people and climate journalists in search of a new narrative buy in? Or are they going to bet the future of ameliorating climate problems on the GOP allowing massive governmental interference in the energy market?

UPDATE: Why on Earth is anyone supposed to take claims of bi- or post-partisan anything seriously when the GOP leadership is trumpeting its plans to frustrate the current administration at every turn? Does this sound like a political party that is going to work across party lines for massive governmental funding of a clean energy “breakthrough”?

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” — Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in an interview with the National Journal, describing his goal in retaking the Senate.