A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won't repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled -- in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive -- which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick's that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people's toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.

  • L Nettles

    Jo Nova's Response
    http://joannenova.com.au/2012/04/burn-those-deniers-houses-down/
    Dear Steve,

    I’ve got great news for you, all you have to do to avert a global catastrophe is to find peer reviewed papers that support the models. I’ve been asking for two years, three months and four days, and no one can find one that suggests CO2 will cause much more than 1 degree of warming at most.

    On Jan 2nd 2010: I asked “Is there any evidence?“ Do read it, because lots of things you’ve been told are evidence, are not. We want results from instruments (not opinion polls) — things like ice cores, weather balloons, satellites, or lake sludge, heck… it could even be stuff from dead insects, dust, bits of rock, broken beach shells. Whatever. But only the real deal matters. Simulated evidence does not count. No models.

    If you find it (and good luck) do rush, send it to Real Climate, the IPCC and the Goddard Institute of Space Studies too. The evidence is overwhelming, but they can’t find that paper either.

    Sincerely,

    Jo-the-former-Green

    PS: If you have some worthless Pacific Islands in grave danger of disappearing, I’d like to buy them.

  • Bennett

    Thank you for the wonderfully clear and measured response to the madness of Steve Zwick. I am not registered to comment on Forbes, and didn't want my short note of praise to get lost on WUWT, but you have earned all the accolades that come your way.

    Please keep fighting the good fight, as a gentleman would, with honesty, integrity, and honor.

    I thank you, Sir.

  • DoctorT

    We don't need to prove that climate feedback prevents runaway global warming. The proponents of the greenhouse gas planetary warming theory need to prove that solar warming of an air molecule affects climate more than solar warming of a water molecule in the ocean or a silicate molecule on land.

    Almost every proponent of the greenhouse gas theory of global warming assumes that the solar energy absorbed by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is "extra" heat. They completely ignore the fact that nearly every photon of solar energy that gets through the atmosphere contributes to global warming (otherwise Earth would be a frozen rock). Our atmosphere absorbs only a small fraction of the solar energy Earth receives. The vast majority of solar energy is absorbed by the oceans. Having a tiny bit more energy absorbed by the atmosphere and a tiny bit less by the oceans will not have any significant affect on planetary temperatures because heat is readily exchanged between the ocean surface and the lower atmosphere.

  • Not Sure

    "We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies. Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay. Let’s let their houses burn. Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands. Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices."

    I suppose it would be rude to make a list of AGW advocates and when NYC never ends up halfway submerged, confiscate their land and property in order to pay for the losses their beliefs have inflicted on society, wouldn't it?

  • Not Sure

    I guess I should have read the article before commenting. Sorry about that.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    >>> Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.

    Except that the fact that they aren't.

    People of good will, I mean. Not most of them. They're Democrats instead.

  • MNHawk

    What about the so-called true believers...who still jet regularly back and forth between the US and Germany?

    Is there a special place in Hell reserved for the Steve Zwick's, who according to his own bio, spews more than his share of planet killing gases, in a vanity play to hold home addresses on two continents.

  • Dan Kirk-Davidoff

    Hi Warren,

    You're being a bit disingenuous here with your talk about an absence of warming. True, the global mean warming since the 1950s is only 0.6 C, but here's the map of that warming:
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/do_nmap.py?year_last=2012&month_last=3&sat=4&sst=1&type=anoms&mean_gen=03&year1=2002&year2=2011&base1=1952&base2=1961&radius=1200&pol=reg

    In the place where the climate system doesn't have a lot of heat capacity, and so can warm immediately , there's been very substantial warming- over 2 C in the center of the US, over 4 C over Eurasia. The global mean warming is slowed by the heat capacity of the oceans. The Arctic, of course, has warmed very significantly, and there are decent theoretical grounds to believe that the observed changes in gradients could result in circulation changes (weaker jets, more wavy circulation in the Northern Hemisphere) that would lead to more temperature extremes along with the global mean warming. And's that's all with less than 2 W/m^2 of climate forcing since 1750. If we just assume that Chinese coal plants won't emit any more cooling aerosol pollution than they do now (and they will almost certainly get cleaner, in reality), and hold greenhouse gas emissions constant (assuming that peak oil keeps us from emitting much more over the next few decades) we could easily have another 2 W/m^2 of net forcing by mid-century.

    Look, the reason the climate debate is acrimonious is simple. It doesn't take a catastrophe to justify a shift of tax revenue from income tax to a carbon tax. It just takes a little concern. But the huge overreaction of the fossil fuel sector to even the most modest of climate policy proposals has meant that, in order to be heard above the screaming about the death of our economy if we institute a carbon tax equivalent to 10 cents/gallon, increasing to a dollar *in 30 years*, advocates of carbon policy sometimes feel that they have to emphasize worst case scenarios.

  • Gil

    What happens though if global warming does happen but the benefits outweigh the positives? In other words, the supposed poor people who would supposedly suffer from global warming should simply move to countries that would supposedly be better off from global warming (e.g. the U.K.)?

  • caseyboy

    Lets be frank. There is a tremendous amount of money in play over this issue. Business fortunes, research grants and academic reputations dependent, not on whether the warming science is correct, but whether the general public can be convinced that it is so that the carbon taxing regimens and wealth transfer schemes can get underway. Sure, there is money pulling in the other direction, but I think the scale favors the warmers even if the science does not.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Zwick....rhymes with Gleick?

  • Ted Rado

    Dan K-D:

    The AGW people want to rduce CO2 by 80% by 2050. So does Obama. This will destroy our modern industrial economy.

    As has been pointed out many times on this blog and elsewhere, there is no viable alternative fuel. Wind, solar, and biofuels are very limited in their use and then only with large government subsidies. To suggest that the CO2 reduction that the AGW crowd wants can be accomplished without catastrophic results is nonsense.

  • Mark2

    Your Forbes blog article made the front page of junkscience.com!

  • Gil

    . . . but the benefits outweigh the costs . . . :(

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    >>> But the huge overreaction of the fossil fuel sector to even the most modest of climate policy proposals has meant that, in order to be heard above the screaming about the death of our economy if we institute a carbon tax equivalent to 10 cents/gallon, increasing to a dollar *in 30 years*, advocates of carbon policy sometimes feel that they have to emphasize worst case scenarios.

    Dan, there are no "worst case scenarios", because once a tax gets implemented, it NEVER really truly gets cut. That, and the fact that once a benny becomes law, it NEVER goes away, is the reason why the Fed is now spending trillions of dollars when even 50 years ago, a billion was a lot. It's called the "rachet effect", as taxes, fees, and other things spiral out of control.

    That's one clear "positive feedback loop" known to man -- the size and scope of government. And it's about to spin out of control, and adding yet another #^%$^@$&^%& tax to it is hardly going to HELP anything.

    Sorry, your carbon tax is nothing but a bovine excreta wealth transfer scheme, which will do nothing positive whatsoever except rip off people.

    As far as your "disingenuous" disingenuous example, the real fact is that "average temperature" is a meaningless, ridiculous concept in the first place. Part of the reason is that temperature isn't something that "means" usefully. Another part of the reason is that you're quoting an organization known to futz with its numbers in an unspecified and unshared manner, and largely unwilling to release the raw data for scientific analysis by anyone ELSE. Sorry, I don't trust anything NASA puts out on the subject because they do whatever they want to massage the data and you can't tell what the hell they've done. Show me, for example, a plot of temperature stations used to produce the above, how long the data chain is in each case, and what the raw data is doing over that time.

    The idea that these models are anything but CRAP is borne out by the simple fact that, if they weren't garbage, you could plug in known historical data, run it for a decade, and get at least vaguely accurate predictions of what the known temperature would/should be after that time frame, and compare it for accuracy to the known data -- run one of these models, for example, with the data from Jan 7, 1983 through Mar 12, 1995, and show me how the model predicts with ANY accuracy what the temperatures were at a known, measured set of locations on Mar 13, 1995. It's not going to predict JACK correctly. And that's the measure of the validity of ANY science -- its ability to PREDICT. And if these models can't predict with any reliability over the course of a decade, you're going to attempt to make some moronic claim that we should base MASSIVE ECONOMIC POLICY changes for the next 90 YEARS on them? What kind of lunatic would make such a preposterous argument?

    I've been working with computers for 30 years. I've created basic sims. I also have a lot of courses in Applied Math -- roughly half the courses I took in college were at the Calculus level and above, including a number of graduate math courses as an undergrad. So when I say "the math ain't there, the computer sims ain't there", I say so with a fairly high degree of reliability that my high degree of skepticism over about 90% of ANY claims by the AGW supporters is based on the fact that I believe it's a lot trickier to pull the wool over my eyes than yours or most other people's. I know how things "break" when it comes to computers, and the modeling software isn't just broken, it's fractured into a million pieces by ridiculous presumptions.

    Moreover, people have been pushing doom-laden assumptions for decades now, starting back in the 1960s when hard-headed critical thinking skills had atrophied in American youth. Paul Ehrlich, and the Club of Rome all had their own AGW of the era, which was Overpopulation. Both made ridiculous claims that called for exactly the same kind of insanely ridiculous fascist takeover of government at every level, or humanity was "DOOMED!!! DOOMED WE TELL YOU!!" It was CRAP then and it's CRAP now.

    The fact that just 25 years ago they were seriously concerned not about Global Warming but Global Cooling should be a warning sign that you shouldn't accept ANYTHING that climate scientists are selling without a strong grain of salt.

    The Scientific Method & Its Limits - The Decline Effect

    Climate "Science" is the exact kind of faddish, soft-factual "science" that the above article deals with, in which "known facts" radically change over the course of a decade or two, until they are often the exact opposite of what was "known for sure" only 15-20 years before. Margarine is good for you, butter is bad... no, wait, butter is better, margarine is bad. (Electro-)Magnetic fields cause cancer, no they don't, wait, they're "healthy" for you.

    This crap changes constantly for a REASON -- it's not really science and it's not being demonstrated using honest, hard working researchers using the Scientific Method even vaguely properly. All this stuff is produced from statistical analyses, which CAN be good but are always suspect when the data collectors, as well as the analyzers, have a specific point to prove or disprove. The data is too soft and too subject to any number of bias elements that futz the small data sets... and hence these "scientists" have a new theory and a new claim every five years. Remember "warm-blooded dinosaurs"? Not the theory any more, last I checked. Sexy, but wrong.

    I challenge anyone claiming AGW is valid to even a five year prediction of some mensurable, quantifiable numbers -- tell us NOW what something will be like, within a certain mean and standard deviation, across a small number of agreed data sources and using openly specified collection techniques.

    Because they have a host of questionable claims. If AGW was even vaguely accurate, there's a specific layer of the atmosphere that would be heating up. No such temperature "anomaly" (and this is a REAL anomaly) has been measured in the last 10 years. This debunks the entire CO2 claim, really.

    Further, the heat HAS to go somewhere. In truth, the oceans are both massive heat sinks AND massive gas absorption mechanisms. Increases in CO2 should be absorbed by the ocean at a certain rate rather than just sitting in the air. This should have a substantial effect on how much CO2 stays there over time AND effect any predictions about its effects, particularly positive feedback loops.

    The heat, though, that SHOULD have been building up in the oceans for the last decade JUST ISN'T THERE. Ca. 2003, NASA deployed a new system that can make regular measurements of the ocean's temperature not just on the surface, but deeper down. And guess what? Since that time frame, as of the last I heard, there'd been literally NO temperature increase observed. Suggesting that there's no actual temperature increase in the atmosphere over that time, despite significant increases in CO2 levels.

    There are just SO many things wrong with the CRAP put out by AGW supporters -- not highly abstract technical minutia, but REAL SIMPLE THINGS that just a little sense would tell you Just Ain't So. Some of it's anecdotal, and has to be taken lightly, but the preponderance of the evidence is AGAINST, not in SUPPORT OF, the notion of AGW.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    >>> What happens though if global warming does happen but the benefits outweigh the positives? In other words, the supposed poor people who would supposedly suffer from global warming should simply move to countries that would supposedly be better off from global warming (e.g. the U.K.)?

    Indeed, this is yet another issue -- the cost of "ameliorating" CO2 is almost certainly higher than the costs of just "dealing with" the effects of any actual warming. Higher temperatures and more CO2 will cause plant growth to EXPLODE, meaning more crop yields and less deforestation. Warmer winters mean fewer people dying of exposure, which is much, much more deadly than heat stroke -- just look at the statistics.

  • Zachriel

    L Nettles: I’ve got great news for you, all you have to do to avert a global catastrophe is to find peer reviewed papers that support the models. I’ve been asking for two years, three months and four days, and no one can find one that suggests CO2 will cause much more than 1 degree of warming at most.

    It's called climate sensitivity, and there is substantial and recent literature on climate sensitivity. A variety of different methods that have reached similar conclusions. Studies point to 2-5°C with 3°C as the most likely value, but with significant uncertainties on the upper limit.

    Volcanic forcing
    Wigley et al., Effect of climate sensitivity on the response to volcanic forcing, Journal of Geophysical Research 2005.

    Earth Radiation Budget Experiment
    Forster & Gregory, The Climate Sensitivity and Its Components Diagnosed from Earth Radiation Budget Data, Journal of Climate 2006.

    Paleoclimatic constraints
    Schmittner et al., Climate Sensitivity Estimated from Temperature Reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum, Science 2011.

    Bayesian probability
    Annan & Hargreaves, On the generation and interpretation of probabilistic estimates of climate sensitivity, Climate Change 2008.

    Review
    Knutti & Hegerl, The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s
    temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience 2008.

  • Mark2

    @Igotbubkis

    It is funny you should mention about futzed numbers. They futz the satellite numbers too, but can not do it as much, when satellite data is compared to ground data, you find ground data temps are going up much faster mostly due to man made adjustments to historical temperature readings made in the late 90's

    Good read about it here.

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2012/04/ushcn-surface-temperatures-1973-2012-dramatic-warming-adjustments-noisy-trends/

    Apparently if you take away the NOAA number adjustments the temperature climate has been pretty stable in 1973! It wouldn't surprise me because the base CO2 increase (not including the positive feedbacks) of about 1 - 1.5 degrees for the most part has already happened since the increase is asymptotic - it increases very fast at first but as it approaches the limit it slows down considerably, and you would need infinite CO2 in the are to get to the 1.5 mark.

  • Zachriel

    Mark2: Apparently if you take away the NOAA number adjustments the temperature climate has been pretty stable in 1973!

    Um, the U.S., which is the subject of your citation, is only 2% of the world's surface area.

  • Mark2

    @Zack, true, but the NOAA is in charge of quite a bit of the western world's world wide temperature stations. Iceland for instance has lodged a formal complaint with the NOAA for recently making their numbers look warmer.

    The ground station overstating issue world wide. USA just represents a good sample.

    Also these studies have been done on other parts of the world with similar results. You might want to read more deeply into Dr Roy Spencer's web site.

  • Zachriel

    Mark2: Iceland for instance has lodged a formal complaint with the NOAA for recently making their numbers look warmer.

    Do you have a citation for that? Of course, the data is constantly being examined and reexamined. There's no serious doubt the globe is warming, though. Do you really think otherwise?

    Mark2: Also these studies have been done on other parts of the world with similar results. You might want to read more deeply into Dr Roy Spencer’s web site.

    We are quite familiar with Spencer's work. While he occasionally makes a reasonable point, most of the time he misses the mark entirely, which explains why his ideas have so little influence among his peers. He rarely even publishes in significant journals.

  • Zachriel

    Mark2: The ground station overstating issue world wide. USA just represents a good sample.

    Turns out that satellite and radiosonde data confirm the warming trend.
    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/globalwarming/ar4-fig-3-17.gif

  • JM

    another writer who appears to have missed your article: http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2012/04/a_portfolio_risk_wall_street_ignores_at_its_peril_1.html
    of course, he would, because you publish in a lackey capitalist (ad hominem on purpose) magazine.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    Uh, Zach
    That gif is virtually unreadable. I see a bunch of pretty colored squiggles and a lot of miscolored fuzzy pixels looking like it might once have been text.

    Re: Iceland
    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/noaa-dont-believe-the-iceland-met-office/
    I haven't vetted the site, so I take its claims with a measure of salt, but it's... interesting.