Jonah Goldberg’s classic know-nothing, non-denial climate denial

Jonah Goldberg has a new op-ed in the LA Times on climate science, and it’s about as confused and asinine as you might expect. First Jonah wants to astound us with his grasp of paleoclimate science:

There was a Maunder Minimum! It had to do with sunspots! It was cold!:

During what scientist call the Maunder Minimum — a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 — the world experienced the worst of the cold streak dubbed the Little Ice Age. At Christmastime, Londoners ice skated on the Thames, and New Yorkers (then New Amsterdamers) sometimes walked over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.

Of course, it could have been a coincidence. The Little Ice Age began before the onset of the Maunder Minimum. Many scientists think volcanic activity was a more likely, or at least a more significant, culprit. Or perhaps the big chill was, in the words of scientist Alan Cutler, writing in the Washington Post in 1997, a “one-two punch from a dimmer sun and a dustier atmosphere.”

“What does the Maunder minimum have to do with anthropogenic warming?” you might ask, given that a mere 7 years of 2003-level CO2 emissions alone would make up for the lost radiative forcing. Jonah seems to believe that Revelations of Great Importance about sunspots may throw a monkey wrench in the whole anthropogenic warming scam:

Well, we just might find out. A new study in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Eos suggests that we may be heading into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum.

I’m not finding any “new studies” in EOS that claim this. Is Goldberg talking about Livingston and Penn’s article Are Sunspots Different During This Solar Minimum? If so, add “study” to the pile of things Jonah doesn’t understand the definition of. And again, given the effect of GHGs vs. a return to Maunder like conditions, Jonah’s barking up the wrong tree.

Meanwhile, the journal Science reports that a study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, has finally figured out why increased sunspots have a dramatic effect on the weather, increasing temperatures more than the increase in solar energy should explain. Apparently, sunspots heat the stratosphere, which in turn amplifies the warming of the climate.

Scientists have known for centuries that sunspots affected the climate; they just never understood how. Now, allegedly, the mystery has been solved.

Meehl et al.’s paper Amplifying the Pacific Climate System Response to a Small 11-Year Solar Cycle Forcing is certainly interesting, but it’s by no means definitive, and it’s not really clear what impact it is supposed by Jonah to have on our understanding of anthropogenic warming- the paper purports to model the process by which known phenomena are amplified to produce known observations. Again, what point does Jonah hope to make by citing this?

Also, Milankovitch cycles have a significant impact on glaciation cycles! Something else climate scientists were ignorant of. Let Jonah blow your mind:

Last month, in another study, also released in Science, Oregon state researchers claimed to settle the debate over what caused and ended the last Ice Age. Increased solar radiation coming from slight changes in the Earth’s rotation, not greenhouse gas levels, were to blame.

The Clark et al. paper The Last Glacial Maximum helps pin down the timing of various forcings during the deglaciation ending the LGM (i.e. the lag vs. lead issue), identifying insolation as the initial driver. However, the paper confirms the significant amplifying effect of GHGs without which the magnitude of warming would not have been possible, and supports other evidence which shows that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will not decay linearly but rather abruptly- not exactly a paper I’d want to cite in challenging the consensus on the need to mitigate.

Did you know that periodicity necessitates a long term upward trend, and that this self-evident fact is completely ignored by egg headed climate scientists? Gerald Meehl may think his team’s above referenced paper is only talking about a modest amplified response to the 11-year solar cycle, but Meehl’s actually in denial that he’s discovered a massive long term solar-induced warming trend. Jonah to the rescue:

“Global warming is a long-term trend, Dr. Meehl says. … [the Science 11-year solar cycle] study attempts to explain the processes behind a periodic occurrence.”

This overlooks the fact that solar cycles are permanent “periodic occurrences,” a.k.a. a very long-term trend.

Stupid, stupid Meehl… You have to look beyond what the evidence actually says and force yourself to see the evidence visible only to Jonah.

[Periodicity of course does not imply a long term trend either positive or negative. The existence or lack of any additional long term behavior superimposed on top of the 11-year periodicity is an altogether different kettle of fish, which again I’ll get to later.]

It wouldn’t be a Goldberg piece without some requisite potshots at the deceptive Liberal Fascist Media:

For instance, when we have terribly hot weather, or bad hurricanes, the media see portentous proof of climate change. When we don’t, it’s a moment to teach the masses how weather and climate are very different things.

Of course we get the look-aren’t-I-reasonable non-denial:

No, I’m not denying that man-made pollution and other activity have played a role in planetary warming since the Industrial Revolution.

And you know what’s coming next- an enormous “but”, where non sequiturs and appeal to ridicule abound:

But we live in a moment when we are told, nay lectured and harangued, that if we use the wrong toilet paper or eat the wrong cereal, we are frying the planet.

Presumably the references to toilet paper and cereal aren’t meant to be taken at face value, but rather are to be “enjoyed” as Jonah’s trademark “aren’t enviros nutty little fascists” humor. If on the off chance they were an actual allusion to tropical deforestation, however, the warming effects of such due to increased atmospheric CO2 and decreased evapotranspiration are real enough.

Hey! Did you know that climate science has heretofore completely ignored solar variability in the context of climate change? Jonah breaks this scandal wide open:

But the sun? Well, that’s a distraction. Don’t you dare forget your reusable shopping bags, but feel free to pay no attention to that burning ball of gas in the sky — it’s just the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice engulfed in total darkness.

What’s priceless about this little argument from ignorance is that the sun is most certainly not, in Jonah’s words,  “the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice.” There’s a little something called the bloody greenhouse effect that warms the Earth by an additional ~33°C, keeping it from being a “lifeless ball of ice” whereas the sole influence of the sun does not.

Jonah then doubles (triples) down on the increased sunspot gambit, a la The Great Global Warming Swindle:

Never mind that sunspot activity doubled during the 20th century, when the bulk of global warming has taken place.

This is presumably where Jonah’s sunspot obsession has been leading all along. The ever-observant Jonah has noted that there seems to be a Correlation between sunspots/solar activity (which he Has Recently Learned causes warming, long term warming mind you) and what the enivro hippie fascist scientists would have us believe is the period of Allegedly Man-made Warming. Case closed, mirite?

Not so much. The correlation falls off completely in the last several decades:

This has been covered at length elsewhere (e.g. here, here, here).

Did you know that climate science predicts anthropogenic warming should be monotonic even though climate scientists actually never make that claim? Jonah, again, sets the scientific community straight:

What does it say that the modeling that guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s? (MIT’s Richard Lindzen says that “there has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”)

Of course this has been covered many, many times elsewhere, notably by Robert Grumbine in determining climatologically significant temperature trends (and here), by Tamino in when to expect new record temperatures, and by RealClimate discussing what the IPCC models actually say. This issue is also explicitly addressed by Easterling and Wehner in their GRL paper Is the climate warming or cooling? that demonstrates (as does the RealClimate post) that climate models, contrary to Jonah’s claim they “guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures [and] never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s” do in fact capture the kind of variability that can give the illusion of a period without warming despite a clear overall warming trend:

Jonah probably has, like Roger Pielke Jr., confused the IPCC projection of the forced component of climate over time with specific temperature predictions. However, the ensemble averaged projection isn’t even monotonic itself, and the individual modeling runs certainly are not:

Jonah asks:

What does it say that the modelers have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer?

If it were remotely true, it would say quite a lot. Of course, there’s the pesky little issue of Jonah not knowing what the frack he’s talking about. Sunspots don’t themselves warm the Earth, but rather sunspots coincide with increased solar luminosity, and changes in solar forcing certainly have an impact on the climate system- something known for decades. While the precise mechanism by which this occurs may not have been modeled until now (and still might not), the magnitude of the effect is small enough so as to be irrelevant in the context of end-of-century projections of future warming.

Jonah’s own referencing of the Maunder minimum clearly demonstrates that the sunspot/solar variability/climate link is far from new information, and solar variability both pre-industrial and current are of course taken into account in modeling the climate. What does it say about Jonah that the implications of his own column debunks this ridiculous proposition?

And of course, we end with Jonah’s actual bottom line. All of this whinging about toilet paper and sunspots and cereal, and ignorance of the meaning of scientific “study”, what climate models actually say, etc. is merely the pretext for a political argument from ignorance in opposition to climate legislation:

I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.

Although the scientific process is obviously deeply mysterious to Jonah, to the rest of us things aren’t so terribly opaque. While our understanding of the climate system increases, the broad strokes of the anthropogenic warming issue are well understood. This is why the national science academies of the US and other major science producing nations are united in their calls for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Jonah’s argument is the equivalent of  telling an HIV-positive patient that she should hold off on taking the recommended antiretroviral cocktail that will help her lead a relatively normal life because ‘we are still learning new things’ about the virus every day. It’s nonsensical, and more to the point grossly negligent advice.

The only meaningfully true statement Jonah makes in his entire column is this one:

What is the significance of all this? To say I have no idea is quite an understatement, but it will have to do.

Indeed. I believe in Jonah’s line of work we call that burying the lede.

This is what we can expect as blatant climate denialism becomes ever more ridiculed and politically untenable- the non-denial denialism. The lip service to anthropogenic warming that is ultimately revealed to be concealing the same old anti-mitigation arguments based upon economic/ideological opposition to the feared remedy of emissions reductions. This is what so many people who naively believe that “if only people were more accepting of science, they would be less opposed to preventing disastrous climate change” don’t get. The Jonah Goldbergs of the world are not, have never been, and will never be interested in what the science actually says. They are ideologically opposed to the implied solution of emissions reductions, and they shift their arguments accordingly.

Even if Jonah is made aware of the inanity of his specific complaints in this column in terms of policy relevance, he will simply move to a new but inevitably anti-mitigation position, be it geo-engineering, a gamed cost/benefit stance in the tradition of Jim Manzi, the Breakthrough fallacy of magical future clean energy, etc. Once those arguments are rebutted, we’ll still see a “But, but, China/India!” And by the time those arguments (or their successors, or their successors) are thoroughly debunked and untenable, there probably won’t be need of any further ones as the clock will have effectively run out on meaningful mitigation due to political and energy infrastructure inertia.

This is not, and will never be, about science for them. It’s about running out the clock on a perceived threat to economic interests.


36 responses to “Jonah Goldberg’s classic know-nothing, non-denial climate denial

  1. Very, very well done, written and illustrated.
    Thanks in particular for pulling the illustrations together with the text.

    You’ve taken a guy who is a really bad example, and annotated his work nicely.

    • This is well reasoned and amusingly snarky response to Goldberg’s sleazy debate club tactics.

      I only wish that you (and your fellow scientists)were willing to condescend a bit more to non-scientists like myself, who wish to rebut this nonsense in our local editorial pages, and in discussions with our friends and neighbors. It is clearly evident to us that the denialists cherry pick data and misrepresent research in order to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. But, when we look for support to rebut these specious arguments, we frequently find counter arguments that can be fully understood only by climatologists.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, and some of the references I hadn’t yet read. I don’t know if your rebuttal would make sense to a person who hasn’t been following the science and the denialist arguments, but as someone who has quite closely, this was a meaningful and even provided a few chuckles too often missing amidst the frustration of dealing with denialists.

  3. Excellent piece! Sometimes I think the Denialists are really just contrarians taking pleasure in their own intellectual gymnastics and the confusion they sow in “less gifted minds”. They couldn’t care less about a particular topic as long as they can convince themselves that they won the argument de jour. A bit of well-written scrutiny does a wonderful job of revealing their petty dishonesty.

  4. “While the precise mechanism by which this occurs may not have been modeled until now (and still might not), the magnitude of the effect is small enough so as to be irrelevant in the context of end-of-century projections of future warming.”

    Non-sequitur alert. We haven’t modeled it, but it’s small enough to be irrelevant. Verdict first, trial afterwards. Brilliant.

    • Hey “Frood”, do you understand the implications of conflating modeling and measuring? That would be brilliant.

      Variation in solar luminosity is quite precisely known and very small, with or without sunspots. That is the real-world basis for the statement you take exception to.

      Modeling mechanisms that might drive both luminosity and sunspots is excellent science, but the lack of a known mechanism is hardly a deception required to render a “verdict”, presumably “not guilty”, on the solar contribution to global warming.

      Or perhaps your “Non-sequitur alert” was self-referential.

    • Reading comprehension alert. We may not have modeled the mechanism yet, but we know the magnitude of the effect is trivial relative to doubled preindustrial CO2’s warming: ~.1-.2K vs. ~2-4K.

  5. Hey “Ben”, do you understand the whole point of bringing Meehl up is that his study shows we do not know precisely how sun activity interacts with the climate? Do you understand that it doesn’t matter a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys whether you know the “variation in solar luminosity” to a gnat’s balls if you do not know the sensitivity to it?

    Your facile little blog rant is a practical catalog of logical fallacies. I would have to spend days dissecting each one. But, I do not have the same amount of otherwise productive time to waste on it that you, quite clearly, do.

    • Wow! I couldn’t have created a more perfect example of the denialist psychology I alluded to before you first commented.

      So now you’re casting about for something to support your original free-floating pomposity. Sensitivity? Very appropriate.

      Have a nice, productive, day!

  6. “but we know the magnitude of the effect is trivial “

    No. You don’t.

    • Camp and Tung 2007’s value for solar cycle impact is the highest I’m aware of in the literature, basically twice as high as the typical value, and it’s still less than .2K.

      Perhaps you’d care to share your citation(s) showing the effect is nontrivial relative to paleoclimatically-constrained values for doubled preindustrial CO2…

  7. Bzzzzt.

    In the rodeo and in bullfights they send in clowns to distract the bull when the main act has screwed up — the would-be rider has fallen off, or the matador has dropped his cape and is bending over to retrieve it.

    Well, Goldberg obviously screwed up. He’s the main act.

    Frood is here as distraction, chanting the #1 most popular misconception.

    Focus on Goldberg’s screwups, is my suggestion. Build those Google numbers for people looking him up.

    Eschew frood. He can look that up on his own.

  8. Pingback: iTeachSTEM » Web Highlights 09/05/2009

  9. Pingback: Global Warming and the sun, JAQing off with NRO’s Jonah Goldberg « Greenfyre’s

  10. “Camp and Tung 2007’s value for solar cycle impact is the highest I’m aware of in the literature, basically twice as high as the typical value, and it’s still less than .2K.”

    You are arguing from ignorance, one of the classic fallacies.

    • The argument from ignorance is citing relevant studies while the non-fallacious “argument” that isn’t an argument from ignorance, is claiming “I can’t back my claim, but you can’t say I’m wrong.” Riiight…

  11. Incidentally, when I said “Your facile little blog rant …”, I meant this page. I assumed “Ben” was the writer of this blog. That appears to have been an incorrect assumption. Argumentum ad ignorantiam was just one of the logical fallicies I noticed permeating this blog entry.

  12. “…the effect is nontrivial relative to paleoclimatically-constrained values …”

    Petitio principii. Etcetera… Really, sloppy. And, it’s just everywhere. What DO they teach in schools these days?

    • Tossing out the names of fallacies isn’t the same as demonstrating that statements are fallacious. The evidence clearly demonstrates that the effect of the 11-year solar cycle is an order of magnitude lower than climate sensitivity. The argument from ignorance, or alternatively begging the question, is your a priori baseless assumption that all the evidence is wrong.

    • Turns out you’ve got plenty of time to waste tonight, eh? And a deep appreciation of the sound of your own voice, even if only to pedantically repeat “no it’s not” over and over again.

      P.S. learn how to use commas.

    • I’m responding to the Froodster by the way, not the post author! The formatting makes the connection ambiguous.

  13. I remember an episode of WKRP where Les and Herb came into Carlson’s office and he said “Who said send in the clowns?” (Yes, this dates me, and I haven’t watched many sit-coms or other mainstream TV since).

    Completely unscientific observations, but I noted to a friend just this morning (and to others several times over the years) that people who post several one- or two-sentence posts on forums in repetition seem to have mental issues and insecurity issues along with compulsive disorder. There is something to be said for a well-thought out, cogent and concise replies, with references where applicable (applicable in this case) which more or less resemble the care and research that documents of scientific, peer-reviewed nature tend to express. I can’t remember the last time I picked up “Geology” or “Eos” or “Nature” etc. and read about “gnat’s balls” or references to “classic fallacies” without references to the “classic” fallacies. In respectable literature, that is.

    What I’m surprised has not been mentioned (and is well documented in much recent literature) is that we’ve been in an unusually long solar minimum, and we’re not cooling (SST higher this year – sorry no inline citations – I’m tired, but it’s all over the place so you can Google Scholar it yourself) and the expected warming reduction has been ridiculously overestimated by those who have purported solar influence. Yes, in my area, Upstate NY, it’s been unusually wet and cool, at the same time Portland OR and other locales have hit into the 100s for the first times on record. And oh yeah… those pesky high SSTs and other climate data from around the world just don’t jive with my regional anomalies. Must be a big conspiratorial lie, which “the scientists” and Al Gore are all in on.

    I don’t even like Al Gore. I like reality. And climate change has nothing to do with him. he didn’t invent it, or the internet, and never claimed to do either. Neither did I. It’s about data and reality. And not pretending that climate scientists don’t look at climate. And not pretending enough that becoming a climate scientist myself seemed like the logical next step.

    We can pretend, or we can look at rational data. Or we can just listen to some nameless guy on the interblags who has doesn’t have much to talk about besides gnat balls, and fallacies s/he won’t clarify.

    “The Entertainer” just popped into my head. That reminds me of clowns, too. I have always found clowns disturbing. Trolls, as well. And I’ve probably fed this one enough for tonight. It’s time that we as rational professionals in the realm of science present facts and data without encouraging the trolls. Their numbers are dwindling, because I like to think reason eventually prevails, but they still have cheerleaders here an there who have financial and personal agendas, like this Frood nobody and Christopher Monckton (with whom I’ve personally dealt), Inhofe, The Heartland Institute (with membership and attendance dwindling) and others. Maybe Frood is referencing Penn & Teller. After all, they called Climate Change mitigation strategies BS, so it must be true.

  14. “Yes, this dates me…”

    Well, it’s not as if anyone else would.


    • It’s not enough to be aggressively ignorant apparently, you also feel the need to engage in pathetic personal attacks. How pedestrian.

      Go be boorishly stupid somewhere else. All further comments from you will be deleted.

  15. Look back at the original post folks, look at Jonah Goldberg’s screwup.

    Ignore the clowning attempt to distract.

  16. Frood is trolling, but as any angler can tell you, that someone is trolling doesn’t mean any of the fish must bite.

    Spit that rusty paperclip bent in the shape of a hook and tied to a rotten leaf out! It’s not even a very good lure.

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  18. Mike:

    An example of what you want is surely the bathtub with a tap and a drain analogy.

    Some of the issues with CO2 and absorption are complicated – the net effect is sort of like a greenhouse layer, but that’s not what’s “really” going on, and the denialists want to focus on as much complexity as possible – to make sure the public think climate science is unfathomable, to make the scientists look dodgy, and to get the word “uncertainty” as well as “error” etc. used as often as possible. Since the complexity is part of the picture, there’s not much we can do about it.

    Hank Roberts: *boy* is that an obscure one. The words “Voight-Kampff didn’t occur to me for ages.

  19. “I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.”

    GOOD IDEA JONAH!!!! But please don’t be bashful or hesitant! (e.g. a ‘bit’ more?) There is in fact SO MUCH more that we don’t understand as well as we need to, like (1) the regional effects of simultaneous changes in various climatic parameters on terrestrial carbon cycle processes (including fire regimes, growth and mortality rates etc) in different biomes/ecosystems, (2) the cascading effects of such changes on other ecosystem processes and ecosystem services
    (you know, those things that nature provides freely and which we never really think about, such as crop pollinators/pollination, water quantity and quality, hunting and fishing opportunities, human psychological benefits, genetic resources, ecosystem redundancy/stability etc), (3) human political/social/psychological responses to such cascading (and often unpredictable) changes and (4) the optimal societal response to such changes.

    In fact Jonah, solid though the global picture of warming–and its causes-is (through the veritable mountain of evidence collected regarding same), we still have a VERY LONG way to go regarding what’s going to happen at smaller spatial scales, and how the idiosyncracies of the particular political and cultural systems in place, at those scales, will affect how well the changes are dealt with.

    So Jonah, I do so much agree with you that BEFORE we spend the many billions of dollars that you rightfully state will be required to address a whole suite of potential societal problems, we should spend some serious cash to really get a GOOD idea of what we are in for. After that, because of certain elements of society’s insistence on stopping or slowing any effective actions NOW, we can spend the many billions you cite that will be needed to address the many problems.

    Wow, that’s going to cost a lot of money isn’t it?
    Brain cramp, I put my comments to this piece under the geo-engineering article. More of a diatribe really, you can ignore it. Anyway, I haven’t been drinking enough lately, but will be addressing that issue shortly.

  20. An oops (not sure where to post/email this): Followed a link from MT’s “shared items” list that fetched up here on a barren shore; not sure who to ask, but it should go to “Temperature dependence of global precipitation extremes…” — the link is:

  21. Oops! In light of Climategate, this post now seems pretty stupid.

  22. What a refreshingly sagacious column on global warming and denials and non-denial denials. I can’t say I understood every point you made, but I did learn quite a bit.

    I am going to bookmark your site and make a point of visiting regularly. As you can probably imagine, the crushing weight and frequency of the denial effort can “cloud” (sorry) the issue, even for folks who believe in the veracity and importance of science, the scientific method and, yes, scientists.

    Best, Joel MaHarry

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