Climate Science, the Media, and the Middle Ground

If you’re following press coverage of the second wave of purloined email communications between climate scientists, you might have noticed that many in the media have turned their attention to the whodunit angle. This is very much a worthy story to pursue (which I’ll have more to say on in a few days), since the identity of the hacker/leaker remains unknown.

But before we move on, there is one notable observation shared by all sides, which deserves greater attention. And that is the healthy display of outright skepticism in many of the highlighted exchanges. As the BBC’s Richard Black noted,

what’s interesting is that some of the most frank and forthright wording comes from scientists telling their peers off – often, trying to calm them down and get them to be more grounded in accurate science, whatever the political implications.

This point was echoed by Guardian reporter Juliett Jowitt in a comment at Collide-a-Scape:

They do disagree, and sometimes rather bitchily (these were “˜private’), but if anything it is reassuring that even this supposedly close cabal of self-reinforcing climate change mongers (the views of others) were so critical of each other, and so frequently at pains to make sure that uncertainty was not just taken account of but clearly shown, to make sure they would not undermine their field by appearing to hide observations which did not appear to fit the story.

Similarly, Fred Moolten makes this assessment over at Climate Etc:

The new revelations remind us of the academic squabbling, pettiness, and biases that pervade many areas of science, and the existence of a siege mentality among some of the top echelons that works to paper over differences and uncertainties. Like Judith Curry, I also believe the revelations will have little impact on MSM reporting, and so I expect little influence on public opinion or climate policy.

At the same time, I’m troubled by what I see as a misconception underlying much blogosphere commentary here and elsewhere (particularly elsewhere) ““ a tendency to confuse the IPCC with climate science, and to impute sins of the former to the latter. As Jim D reminds us, there are gradations in the uncertainty within the science itself, ranging from a near certainty (never absolute but very substantial) about the basic strength of greenhouse gas warming potency within a range of estimates derived from multiple sources (not all dependent on GCMs), to a much less sure sense of how this will play out in terms of secondary consequences ““ for example, how hurricanes or regional flooding will behave. These conclusions can be derived from the thousands of reports in the literature and do not require a dependence on IPCC synthesis of the data. Equally important, though, uncertainty, even if belittled in some public comments by IPCC defenders, is clearly apparent in the literature itself, and so I don’t see the implication that it has been neglected as supportable.

What I state is a personal judgment. While others may disagree, I don’t think the disagreement would be well-informed unless expressed by individuals who are themselves familiar with the climate science literature first hand by reading it rather than second hand from what others are claiming.

Finally, although the use of the email revelations as a political weapon is unfortunate, I do hope the revelations will have a chastening effect on individuals such as Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and some of their colleagues, whose inflated sense of importance and entitlement led to the transgressions that have surfaced.

Along these lines, Jim D expands in that same Climate Etc thread:

Fred hits a point that I wanted to add to. The intersection of politics and science via the IPCC has led to some trying to put more certainty into public statements than they could in a scientific journal (on both sides), and some feel that without more certainty politicians won’t listen. This is an added distorting force that doesn’t exist in purely scientific debates (e.g. in fields of science with no political intersection), but this is the context that drives some scientists who are more involved with IPCC to push for certainty more than they otherwise would have.

Which brings us to Alexander Harvey’s observation on the frank back-and-forth between climate scientists:

You will find the unspoken middle ground on display, This is the ground that the science community left largely publically undefended and where many of the sceptics are camped out. I think it quite shocking that this territory was largely left publically unoccupied by the science community. It is where the debate seems to take place internally, yet externally, in the public domain, the existence of that debate is denied or downplayed.

Has this “middle ground” been adequately represented in the media? If not, why?

146 Responses to “Climate Science, the Media, and the Middle Ground”

  1. grypo says:

    How do you logically go from the arguments about details on papers in the emails, to some middle ground that, according to Alex, is inhabited by skeptics?  So now the middle ground is a bunch of statisticians arguing about tree-rings and their certainty in proxy reconstructions?  Or Ed Cook getting mad at Mann and Trenberth?   The middle ground of what?  Paleoclimatology?  I’m sorry I just can’t follow the reasoning here.

    Why isn’t the ‘middle ground’ something like, “Hey, it looks like rising temperatures incur a risk that we can’t fully account for, but raise ethical and moral questions about the direction of humanity. What should we do about it?”

  2. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    There’s often an assumption that a middle ground must be closer to the truth than either pole in a dispute. Remember that Einstein, and later David Bohm and John Bell, spent many futile years attempting to find a middle ground between quantum and classical mechanics, when in fact the extreme position (“God does play dice”) was the right answer.

  3. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    I wonder whether the common preference for a middle ground comes from people unwittingly adopting the Marxist/Hegelian notion that progress arises from a dialectic of thesis and antithesis leading to synthesis. In science it’s more common that either the thesis or antithesis is correct and the other is simply wrong, so there is nothing gained by attempting to synthesize them.

    Consider, for instance, the attempt to define old-earth intelligent design as a middle ground in the evolution wars.

  4. OPatrick says:

    This is predicated on the observation that there isn’t enough public discussion of uncertainty, which is a narrative that some are trying to weave – you’ve picked out a good selection of them here. But I don’t think it’s justified.

    Perhaps what confuses people is that so much of the public discussion is addressing clearly incorrect and unjustified assertions and accusations, which squeezes out the interesting discussion. But that interesting discussion is there and if you look at it I belive you will find that uncertainty and disagreement is well represented.

    It is those who make the unjustified assertions and accusations who are at fault, not those who are addressing them.

  5. grypo says:

    I don’t know, the middle ground here seems to have something to do with journalistic inclusion.  I’d hate to think that Plato was more interested in inclusion than truth.

  6. NewYorkJ says:

    Some of those Curry blog comments are hopelessly deluded.  In contrast to their misperceptions, the IPCC often has a tendency to water down certainty levels and estimates (we’ve seen that with their sea level rise projections), sometimes to a lowest common denominator, other times for reasons unknown.

    Dr. Andrew Lacis:  My earlier criticism had been that the IPCC AR4 report was equivocating in not stating clearly and forcefully enough that human-induced warming of the climate system is established fact, and not something to be labeled as “very likely” at the 90 percent probability level.
    I understand the desire for contrarians to want to claim the “middle ground”.  That’s what politicians usually appeal to in a general election, and contrarians are generally driven by politics.  They want to win broad support.  But “middle ground” has nothing to do with science.  Finding the center of ideologically-driven zealots eager to publicly tar science and the scientific community will not lead to Truth.  When one group is claiming 1+1=2 and another group is claiming 1+1=4, we don’t split the difference.

  7. Menth says:

    On this very topic it is difficult for me to overstate my love of this article:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/25/climategate_symptoms/

  8. NewYorkJ says:

    Middle ground…Bradley doesn’t like a study by Mann & Jones.  Subsequently, Bradley, Mann, and 5 other authors publish a study together on the same topic in a prestigious journal, using different methods, but with the same broad conclusions.

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/pubs/mann2008/mann2008.html

    Of course, that is not really “middle ground”.  It’s science advancing.  And science advancing doesn’t mean changing conclusions and weakening confidence levels to satisfy the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  9. grypo says:

    But to get to your Marx/Hegel point, the science itself will, as Bayesian probability tells us, be closer to one of the extreme poles. The way in which our species deals with these realities and as history unfolds, will be a synthesis of dueling hypothesis.  It would be nice if a reasonable antithesis shows up soon.  The prospect of ending up with something in between do nothing and do everything is bad news.  

  10. Alexander Harvey says:

    grypo:
     
    First my comments referred to the general media/web presentation/interchange, specifically excluding the UEA emails. Mine was a long post and that is not clear from an extract.
     
    I largely meant, the areas of uncertainty, which many for or against campiagns chose to ignore and it can seem very much an all or nothing set of propositions.
     
    It seemed to me that the “middle ground” was left unoccupied and was indeed taken up by amatuers who were mostly sceptical or moderate. It was a position that seemed to get knocked by the majority view of the blogging scientific and media community but did get some support from some of the minority scientific view.
     
    Let me put it this way, if one expressed, views that were a bit wet and wishy-washy, or rejected one part of the package, one could get to feel a bit beaten up and lumped with the “enemy”.
     
    Perhaps worse you could get to witness, others get pretty badly savaged.
     
    I wonder how much disenchantment or hardening of scepticism was a result of collateral damage from strident pro-AGW warfare.
     
    One group seems more than happy to collect up the mildly skeptical and simply undecided than the other group is, with their seeming with us or against us options.
     
    Politically speaking, one tries to include the middle ground, for commonly that is were the majority are. Pushing the middle away for the crime of not being onside, must seem crazy.
     
    FWIW I rewatched a video (May 2010) on the media response to the first climategate affair:
    With Julian Rush (Channel4), Richard Black (BBC), James Randerson (Guardian) , and Kelly Rigg (Global Campaign for Climate Action).
    Rigg’s view of the great unwashed, e,g, people like me, was that we were too dumb, to consider things such as uncertainty. I think she made this point twice. Uncertainty seems to me to be a middle ground issue. IIRC correctly she had a bash at the technical sceptics, perhaps McIntyre, perhaps someone else. More or less said that was the domain of science and the peer-reviewed media and they had no business interfering.
     
    The video was at a media club so they perhaps felt free to say what they liked. So on the other hand you got the journalists mulling over how they, fouled up both the emails and Copenhagen. They also bashed UEA for being media clueless. They also picked out the dumb things that the emailers had done, Basically they achieved a balance when talking to their mates, that I didn’t think they did publically. I think they managed to occupy the middle ground when they thought no one was listening.
     
    I am afraid that is a bit vauge, it amounts to a personal observation that when I listen to the media, and the scientists when they think they are amongst friends, I find them to be sane, reasonable, well-informed and balanced, but when they want me to hear they commonly appear to be nuts, intollerant, socially ignorant, and biased. In publlic they seem to pick one camp or the other and anyone in the middle can hang or go begging.
     
    Alex

  11. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @grypo (#7): Nice distinction between science and politics. Similarly, AH in #8 on the political middle ground being where the majority is found.

  12. EdG says:

    “Has this “middle ground” been adequately represented in the media? If not, why?”

    No it has not. Why? Because the MSM thrives on divisive conflict in general and for those driving this project, extreme polarization is very helpful. The AGW project uses the standard operating procedure as the military-industrial complex. They sell fear and promote it with an ‘us v them’ mentality. Thus Bush Jr. could have been talking about this issue when he simplistically said ‘you’re either with us or against us.’ Anyone who can’t see the parallels between that and what we have here with this “cause” just isn’t looking.

    The middle ground is where all the calm and rational discussion could and should be. That does not necessarily mean  a ‘middle answer’ as a result, but it would provide the most rational (e.g. scientific) one.

    At least in the short term, I cannot see that happening simply because because this whole thing is political and the stakes are so high. I expect it to get even worse. In a nice parallel between climate trends and political trends, I expect to see more ‘extreme events’ in this turning point time.

    That said, somebody has to lead on this. Looks to me that Judith Curry is the current leader, and sticking to it despite the usual monkeys throwing feces at her for not helping the “cause.”

    So Keith. I guess the ball is in your hands. You can be another hero, actively promoting calm rational scientific objectivity – e.g. the middle – if you wanted to. You seem to be inching in that direction already.

    P.S. To the other point of this blog. We KNOW that some of these skeptical scientists willingly muzzled themselves. The big, significant, and inconvenient question is why? The term ‘good Germans’ comes to mind, with all its far reaching implications.

  13. Anteros says:

    Alex @ 9 –
     
    You paint an interesting picture about the middle ground and especially what happens to those (of us) that found ourselves there when the orthodoxy emerged. In public at least, any mild question that seemingly threatened the ’cause’ [as M. Mann puts it so frequently] led to accusations of denialism and bizarre things like ‘flat-earther’.
     
    I have said on many occasions that I have some sympathy with people who have been a) genuinely concerned about a fearful vision of the future, and b) seemingly faced with others that refuse to share the vision for reasons of ideology or politics. However, the consequent wagon-circling and exaggerating [Al Gore..] simply led those of us with unanswered questions to become even more sceptical, because a reasonable hypothesis took on the trappings of a dogmatic mission. It didn’t take long for the word ‘catastrophe’ to be bandied about as if it was a certainty and anybody who challenged that certainty was beyond the pale.
     
    I think many sceptics have in fact been forced into an anti-consensus position because there seems to be no room for doubt or dissent from the orthodoxy. Michael Tobis is a very good example of this – he is so convinced of the doom to come that he will not even have a discussion with those who disagree with him – he will only discuss ‘how bad it is going to be’ with fellow believers. Nothing could better describe the makings of a religion with its fundamentalist tenets and its creation of heretics.
     
    The middle ground still is where all the questioning takes place and where most [but not all] sceptics live. This place, though, is ‘outside the castle walls’, and it seems that there is so much fear inside the castle [the certainty is quite brittle] that there doesn’t seem much prospect of anyone coming out into no-man’s land where genuine conversations might ensue.
     
    The amazing thing is that we are talking about climate science – primitive, immature and dominated by speculation and under-determined theories. One of the emails summed this up quite well –
    the only thing we know with certainty is that we know f*ck-all‘.
     
    How is it that people have become so convinced that disaster awaits us, apart from the fact that being convinced of such things is, for many of us, simply part of the human condition?
     
    In retrospect, perhaps it was a religion that was ready and waiting to happen.

  14. John Garrett says:

    The media doesn’t “do” uncertain.  “Uncertain” doesn’t sell newspapers or attract eyeballs. “Uncertain” requires actual research by journalists on deadline or broadcasters faced with dead airtime or blank screens.

    The media will never report that there is significant uncertainty and ambiguous evidence underlying the hypothesis of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Expecting otherwise is similar to expecting the Nobel committee to rescind the award of a Nobel Prize to the propagandist Gore.

      

  15. Jarmo says:

    I think the most damaging aspect of this new batch of e-mails is that they provide further evidence that leading climate scientists and the IPCC process are biased.

    Gatekeeping actions, group pressure, discouragement of any “herecy” among scientists, self-censorship (I dont’t want to damage the cause), keeping all doubts private while presenting a monolithic unanimity for those who must be convinced (Joe Q. Public) and PR activities with NGOs and green media.

    In the minds of many, climate science is synonymous with climate politics of certain flavor. Hence, it is no longer science.

      

     

  16. NewYorkJ says:

    Menth,

    Change Orlowski’s “Chutney cancer” to “lung cancer and smoking” and his article looks even more like an Onion piece.  Good thing we didn’t listen to those alarmist hoaxers.

    Since my first comment didn’t make it through, a summary…

    Contrary to woeful contrarian misperceptions, the IPCC, when it’s not getting estimates and confidence assessments right (“right” being based on the preponderance of evidence in the scientific literature), it’s watering them down either to a lowest common denominator or for reasons unknown.  Dr. Andrew Lacis pointed this out last year.

    Human-induced warming of the climate system is established fact.

    My earlier criticism had been that the IPCC AR4 report was equivocating in not stating clearly and forcefully enough that human-induced warming of the climate system is established fact, and not something to be labeled as “very likely” at the 90 percent probability level.

    The evidence indicates that scientists, when forming consensus statements, tend to be conservative overall, and have a tendency to understate confidence levels.

  17. “Has this “middle ground” been adequately represented in the media?  

    err. no.   

     

  18. Michael Larkin says:

    Alexander Harvey, to my eye, wasn’t talking about “middle ground” in the sense of a compromise or a fudge. He was talking of the commonality of scepticism, which too few scientists have been willing to come forward and openly express, instead expressing it in private whilst projecting an image of unanimity and unwarranted certainty.
    Their unwillingness was perhaps based in part on desire not to rock the boat; or not to endanger sources of funding; or not to fuel what were perceived as attacks; and yes, maybe even some element of the hubris that afflicts us all.
    Whatever, it’s plain that a seige mentality developed and stopped the possibility of being openly sceptical. One can appreciate the pressure and stress in being involved in the climate science field with all the political focus on it, but a lot of that could have been avoided. It’s hard not to conclude that they have been their own worst enemy and have allowed the less laudable side of human nature to get the better of them.
    Can the situation be retrieved? Perhaps; but if so, only at the cost of what for some may be a humiliating acceptance that along the way, they lost sight of what it was they were really supposed to be doing, and what they were nominally trained for. And whatever they do, there will be long-term effects on public trust in science – more if they carry on business as usual.
    I agree to some extent with Fred Moolten that the IPCC is probably the biggest villain of the piece, but again, scientists could, with courage, have insisted more on sticking to science and keeping out of the politics, and avoided being lured by the prospect of being important and respected… the attraction of “our first Nobel”, as Trenberth had it.

  19. EdG says:

    #16 – NYJ – OK. But it is not scientists who write the IPCC summaries which are all most of the public hears about, is it?

    Thus I must conclude that you would be opposed to the heavily publicized release of these summaries to prevent politicians from selectively spinning what the legitimate scientists do conclude or suggest.

    That said, your comment that “scientists” do x or y reveals that you may not adequately appreciate that these ‘scientists’ are all individual human beings and that such simple blanket statements are inherently false. Scientists are as individually variable as priests or any other group, and as prone to groupthink. 

    Thus your statement expresses the ideal, not the real.

    P.S. Love this: “Contrary to woeful contrarian misperceptions”

  20. Tom C says:

    Mr. Kloor –

    In an earlier post you worried about the effect of Curry posting two articles on her website that had errors.  Richard Tol was very disturbed and went on in high dudgeon about how scandalous the posting was.  I’m not in a position to evaluate the statistics at issue, but even if the paper was in error, it did not seem too egregious.

    Contrast that with the Mann papers that started the hockey stick wars.  They almost instantly over-turned the agreed upon understanding of Medieval vs. modern warming.  The HS was prominently featured at the IPCC meeting, splashed across the front page of every publication, even mailed to every home in Canada. 

    Whatever the defects of the papers that Curry posted, they are nothing compared to the Mann papers.  Data from one location used at another, rainfall used in place of temperatures, incorrect use of statistical tools, ad hoc use of stats rules, data manipulated and left out for no reason.  Later papers brazenly repeated these errors and omissions, with the use of upside down data added.

    What has been the response of the climate establishment? Stonewall, obstruct, insult, prevaricate, deny, libel, anything but get the science right.

    So, what is the difference?  Why is Curry to be damned if she posts a couple of papers for discussion, while the appalling Mann papers get defended to the death?  The E-mails paint the answer quite compellingly.  A tight-knit group of IPCC insiders tries to twist every bit of information for political purpose.  Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don’t.  Meanwhile the second tier players (like Briffa) express their outrage in private but are too scared to say anything in public for fear their careers be ruined by mafia bosses Mann and Trenberth.

  21. BBD says:

    EdG @ 12
     
    P.S. To the other point of this blog. We KNOW that some of these skeptical scientists willingly muzzled themselves. The big, significant, and inconvenient question is why? The term “˜good Germans’ comes to mind, with all its far reaching implications.


    I cannot quite believe my eyes.
     
    Did nobody else spot this? Or are we all too appalled to respond?
     
    I do hope it’s the latter.


  22. Tom C says:

    It’s a metaphor BBD – spare us the faux outrage

  23. BBD says:

    It’s a damned sight more than a metaphor. Spare me the evasive apologetic.

  24. EdG says:

    No BBD, it is a metaphor, and one that fits. But just to soothe your outrage, this metaphor has nothing to do with the specific political movement that caused this effect, but rather with the propensity of humans for groupthink causes and for ‘keeping their heads down’ for personal reasons. Or do you think those Germans were inherently bad or different from anyone else?

    Many of them knew something was very wrong, just as some of the scientists in these emails knew something was wrong. Why didn’t they speak up?

    Human nature rules.

  25. NewYorkJ says:

    The latter, BBD, although such analogies are used commonly enough by Ed’s tribe that I’m a bit numb to it.

    Interesting though that the charges of groupthink and biases blinding scientists to not recognize the clear fact that global warming isn’t a problem or the science isn’t settled are slowly morphing to another line of spin, manifesting itself in varying levels of sophistication.  Scientists do secretly acknowledge the science isn’t settled but are too scared to say anything in public.  You see, if what one says to colleagues in personal email exchanges, discussing a draft of a report or what not, one has not repeated in exact form publicly to a journalist at the time, they must be doing wrong.  If one disagrees with the methods used by a colleague in a paleo study or presentation of a graph, but who’s own work agrees with the overall conclusions, and they state those conclusions publicly, and further more state with certainty that human-induced greenhouse gases are significantly warming the planet (not subject of their private discussions), they must be doing wrong.

    Now furthermore, if one was a climate scientist, might one be careful how they word things in public?  Given how obviously distorted and taken out of context these emails have been, and used to politically trash individuals and the field, I would think so.  The real tragedy of the CRU hack is that it could have a chilling effect on communication. 

    There is plenty of obfuscation apparent in this new line of spin.  For Michael Larkin, who asserts scientists publicly “projecting an image of unanimity and unwarranted certainty.”, I recommend reading the IPCC reports, its references, and the various levels of confidence assigned to each conclusion, which his writings indicate he has not done.

    Also note this apt RC post, which (for Keith) is Revkin-approved.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/12/unsettled-science/

  26. EdG says:

    BBD – Now that you are (hopefully) calmed down, got a question for you. On another thread you wrote:

    “I don’t expect my opinion to persuade you. (See my pseudonym.)”

    OK. I’ll bite. What is ‘BBD’ supposed to mean or represent?

  27. Alexander Harvey says:

    Hi,
     
    I find myself in agreement with many comments above, which is a pleasant sign, and I will try and get back to people. For now I have been trying to see if I can formulate a “middle ground” question. Something probing yet balanced and that goes to both sides. I will not claim originality. It is just that old question of putting pegs in the ground for proof and falsification of correct action. Here goes!
     
    Assume you have got your way with the policy decisions. What things do you expect will happen that will convince the majority and perhaps those you opposed that you were right, and what things would have to happen to convince the majority, and perhaps yourself that you were wrong?
     
    Alex

  28. willard says:

    EdG,

    You say:

    >  The term “˜good Germans’ comes to mind, with all its far reaching implications.

    Please name three. 

  29. BBD says:

    EdG
     
    No BBD, it is a metaphor, and one that fits. But just to soothe your outrage, this metaphor has nothing to do with the specific political movement that caused this effect,


    Then why use it?


    I flat-out do not believe you. You knew exactly what you were doing, and now you are being transparently dishonest about it.

  30. BBD says:

    @ 25
     
    Oh FFS. Now you wriggle. Answer Willard’s question.

  31. BBD says:

    While we wait

    I don’t expect my opinion to persuade you. (See my pseudonym.)

    That wasn’t me; it was ‘Nullius in Verba’. Who should be ashamed of himself. Self-aggrandising, deluded and ill-informed non-entity that he is.

  32.  It looks as though some people are coming around to the position Tom and I tried to express in the book.

    There were three characters in the narrative that I found most fascinating. Mann, Jones and Briffa. This is the story we tried to tell.

    Jones, starting in 2002, comes across as someone who is willing and open to sharing his data with anybody who asks for it. Mcintyre, an unknown at the time, asks for and gets data from Jones in 2002. By 2005 that all changes. What caused that change was Mann’s influence on Jones. Mann felt he was fighting a battle alone against the powers of big Oil. That is how he framed his fight with McIntyre. Jones over time buys into this. It controls his interactions with CA.

    Briffa  starts the story as a critic  of Mann, there was perhaps some professional jealousy as Mann won the Ar3 lead author position as a freshly minted Phd. As the story opens Briffa was in the process of writing a paper that would essentially make the same
    argument that McIntyre would make. That paper gets shelved. Jones is caught between Mann and Briffa. Briffa stays in the firing zone. When Ar4 comes around Briffa gets the Lead author position and Overpeck starts to exert pressure on Briffa to come up with a graphic that is more compelling than the HS. Briffa fights this and wants to argue that there has been no reduction in
    uncertainty since Ar3. Mann and Solomon exert pressure on Briffa using Overpeck as an intermediary. Briffa tries to be fair to mcintyre and consults Wahl in handling McIntyre’s papers in Ar4. Unfortunately, he violates the rules in transferring Drafts to Wahl.

    Simply, Overpeck and Mann want to sell more certainty than there is. Briffa is torn between his scientific beliefs and the political pressure being exerted on him. He cracks.

    In the end Jones and Mann  work together to cover up
    this story by denying Holland his FIOA rights.

    I’ve seen Briffa as the biggest victim in all of this, almost a hero. At one point I thought he was the leaker.

    If the MSM wants to tell a story about the middle that story is Briffa’s tale. 

    Most people when they read the mails move too quickly to the “bigger” story. I know I did. If I had to do it over I’d make it more about Briffa the man and the dilemmas he faced. I’d leave the larger conclusions to other people and just tell his story. 

    Someday Keith maybe Briffa would grant you an interview. He’s the guy you want to focus on.   I wouldnt ask him any questions about the science. I’d ask about Briffa/Jones/Mann relationship. 

  33. willard says:

    grypo,

    Since you mentioned Plato, I believe he made Socrates say something like this:

    > The only thing we know with certainty is that we know f*ck-all”˜

    Twas in Ancient Greek, so it might have been with different words.

  34. EdG says:

    #27 – Alexander – First, was interesting to see your comment a J Curry’s site too. It deserved that exposure, and more. 

    To the degree that this is a scientific question, the only thing which could or should legitimately determine our conclusions about it is evidence. Sound evidence that has been fully and openly explored and critiqued (before it is rushed into the media and, worse, rushed into premature conclusions).

    While many of the basic elements of this story are well understood, the study of the complexities of our whole global climate is just a baby science, full of known and unknown unknowns. There has been far too much of a rush to what clearly appear to be premature conclusions, and far too much spin and selectivity used to support them.

    For example, as reported by a source not apparently known as a Big Oil hack:

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/study-finds-limited-sensitivity-of-climate-to-co2/

    This is THE question, and the basis of so much concern or hysteria or whatever one chooses to call it. Seems to me that about the only thing we can say for certain in this is that the debate is NOT over and that it is far too early to jump to any conclusions – particularly when so much is at stake.

    To answer the predictable response to this, just let me say that the Precautionary Principle, when taken to extremes, would leave everyone hiding in their basements… just in case… 

    I would also add that the key for the AGW Team now is to dump all the compromised and incredible spokesman that have been leading the ’cause’ and start anew. The trust in them is gone for good so no matter what they say now it will not help. Humpty Dumpty…

  35. Ed Forbes says:

    Middle ground?

    LoL”¦  when the “Team” discusses “uncertainty”, it is science in action. If I discuss “uncertainty”, I am called a flat earther creationist who is denying science by those with a “cause”.
    .  
    CA is putting together several lists on the new email. One is on private expression on uncertainty by the “Team”.
    .
    Here is a keeper
    .
    http://climateaudit.org/2011/11/23/private-expressions-of-uncertainty/#comments
    .
    4997.txt, Phil Jones to Max Beran on climate variability:
    So there is a lot of variability and just saying it is decadal variability doesn’t mean that we can forget about it ! Also putting this in a box doesn’t mean we know what is causing it.
    My view is that we will never know. Is the influence stronger now because of anthro effects ““ who knows, it is a possibility but no more than that.
    I also think that there is too much emphasis on the NAO (and SOI) and other factors become more important at times. There is some modelling work with volcanoes which says that the aerosols impact the stratosphere which then feeds back on the troposphere causing the NAO to be more positive in the winters after eruptions. Maybe the 3 large eruptions in recent decades and the lack of eruptions between 1920 and 1960 is a factor. Again who knows.

  36. Jarmo says:

    #24
    The latter, BBD, although such analogies are used commonly enough by Ed’s tribe that I’m a bit numb to it.
     

    May I remind you of the origins of the word denier

     http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0210/33371.html

    Bernie Sanders compares climate skeptics to Nazi deniers
     
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/08/climate-skeptics-are-like-nazi.html

  37. willard says:

    I note that Anteros comment in #13 has basically the same ringtone as this comment he made four days earlier in another thread:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/2011/11/18/games-people-play/#comment-88347

    Politics, fondamentalism, MT for instance, strong beliefs, religion.

    But we note this update: middle ground. 

    They are extremists, so we are the middle ground.

    We should call this the Overton Theorem.

  38. Keith Kloor says:

    Folks,
    I’ll dive into this thread later. Busy day w/kids and family stuff.

    Meanwhile, let’s try not to let the discussion get diverted unnecessarily by taking the bait over obnoxiously distasteful metaphors. (EdG–you can air that crap out over at WUWT.)

  39. EdG says:

    #29 BBD

    I used that metaphor because it is a very well known one that I assumed everyone could easily get.

    How you choose to detect and interpret any other hidden meanings which you may or may not see is up to you.

    I just posted a link to Revkin’s reporting about the question of climate sensitivity. Seems that variable sensitivity to climate discussions is also part of this story.

    Believe what you want BBD. I’m all for freedom of thought and religion.

  40. Blair says:

    I have to agree with Anteros @ 13. I am a credentialed professional with academic training in both the underlying science in the field as well as the use of scientific information in the development of policies. Needless to say I understand and agree with the consensus on general AGW theory and agree that warming has occurred. That being said having seen the guts of the early global climate models I understand the uncertainties associated these models and thus have a limited degree of confidence in the model predictions (not that I disagree with them I just take them with a grain of salt and larger error bars).
     
    My biggest concerns in this field lie with the policy proposals put forward by the politicians and climate scientists. Many of these individuals are clearly out of their depth when it comes to formulating policies (being specialists in their own fields does not qualify them to be specialists in other fields) and many of the proposals put forth are clearly unworkable in the real world. A few years back I expressed my well-founded scepticism with many of the most unworkable policy proposals and I encountered such aggressive feedback that I stepped back from the debate. Meanwhile I watched others take unjustified heat for expressing justifiable concerns about models and policy frameworks. Let’s be honest Dr. Curry and Dr. Pielke Jr. are not claiming the earth is flat but reading the right blogs you would think they inhabited a position somewhere to the right of Senator Inhofe.
     
    So to grypo, NewYorkJ and your ilk I suggest that the middle ground is exactly where Alexander Harvey puts it and it is a very well-populated place. It is filled with people like myself. We are not a batch of credulous, unschooled bumpkins, but rather well-informed, technically-proficient specialists. We are numerate and scientifically literate. We do not deny the plausibility of the results, but do challenge the unsupported and unsupportable spin placed on those results. Most importantly we are not the enemy and if you want to make real change you need to get us onside and not alienate us. As I have written elsewhere we are community leaders and local opinion makers (people Malcolm Gladwell would call “mavens”). Until you and yours recognize that we are, if not your friends at least not your enemies, you will not be getting anything practical accomplished anytime soon because if you want real change you need a movement and you don’t create a viable movement by alienating those real people who inhabit the middle ground.  

  41. harrywr2 says:

    #14,
    The media doesn’t “do” uncertain
    Sure they do, almost everything the media reports is generously laced with ‘could’ and ‘may'(deep in the article, not in the headline) as do many peer reviewed articles.
    Having had a course in ‘critical reading’ I long ago learned to cross out everything that had a qualifier such as ‘if’, ‘could’ or ‘may’  to it as speculation.
    I.E.
    Let’s take a oft repeated alarmist statement
    If current fossil fuel consumption rates continue to increase the world could be 6C warmer in 2100.
    If current fossil fuel consumption rates continue to increase the world could be 6C warmer in 2100.
    Here is an article from today which seems to support the skeptic position
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15858603
    Global temperatures could be less sensitive to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide
    Global temperatures could be less sensitive to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide
    See…the media rarely tells anyone anything.
    Then we all argue about the if’s,may’s and could’s as though they are actually facts.
    I was just doing some math’s today on the feasibility of increasing US West Coast coal imports. It seems the necessary rail lines are already operating at 70+% capacity carrying 55 million tons of goods. One of the rail lines goes thru an 8 mile single track tunnel build in the 1920’s. Expansion seems unlikely.
    But when it comes out on ‘treehugger.com’
    http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/fighting-coal-exports-in-washington.html
    Coal‘s latest concoction is to expand their current operations by a whopping 48 million tons of coal every year
    The treehugger people could be correct
    If both proposed coal terminals are approved and if the rail lines between Washington State and Wyoming are substantially upgraded and if the Chinese opt not the build nuclear plants which would be cheaper then importing coal then upto 48 million tons of coal could be exported thru those terminals.
    Personally I think I have a better chance of winning the Mega-Lottery.

  42. Anteros says:

    Alex @ 26,  you ask –
     
       ‘Assume you have got your way with the policy decisions. What things do you expect will happen that will convince the majority and perhaps those you opposed that you were right, and what things would have to happen to convince the majority, and perhaps yourself that you were wrong?’


    I’m not sure I can answer your question. I think know what you mean, but my political philosophy is not to want more influence than I think is appropriate for anyone – and yet you are offering me the power of an omnipotent dictator!


    But to be reasonable, I would be happy to see countries make their decisions and investments about energy use based on what makes sense for reasons other than because they were fearful of there being more windiness or more raininess. Simple – but I would want them to make their own decisions.


    As I see the beliefs involved as being based on imagination and speculation, I don’t think anything at all will change the fears of the convinced. Nothing whatsoever. Once such things have taken hold, they tend to remain in place for the duration. It is not only science that progresses ‘one funeral at a time’. Just think, 200 years after Thomas Malthus’ terrifying prophecies, there are still people wandering around believing that we are ‘on the brink’ of a Malthusian catastrophe. The kind of people that have it in their nature to picture disastrous futures do so irrespective of the real world around us.


    For me to be convinced that I was wrong would be very easy. If the predictions made in the IPCC FAR – and AR4 for that matter – changed from being approximately 100% wrong [0.3 deg’ C per decade instead of 0.15] and there appeared some evidence that warmer temperatures [say, 3 degrees] would prove manifestly problematic for humanity and there appeared the some evidence that these problems would be worse than those caused by deliberately not using economically recoverable fossil fuels, I would say leaving the fossil fuels in the ground was what we should have done. As I see no current reason for doing that I would say that this belief was wrong.


    But I have over-responded in a way to your question. What other people do is mostly not my concern. So if Australians want to tax carbon, it makes very little difference to me. I accept that if I believed doomsday was in the offing, I might be very concerned about what other people do. But I don’t, so I don’t (as it were).
     
    Perhaps you have your own answer to your question?

     
     

  43. Anteros says:

    Willard @36
     
    If you don’t think MT’s refusal to converse or even credit a dissenting voice any kind of validity, you use the word ‘fundamentalism’ differently from the rest of us. Perhaps you share some of Michaels ‘certainties’ and ‘beliefs’. If you do, it is indeed true that you are an extremist, and also that thus is created a middle ground where all other folk remain, because you have vacated it. It is where the science, the scepticism and the questioning occurs. If you like – where there are open minds.
     
    If you let go of your certainties, you can be there too.

  44. EdG says:

    BBD – Maybe this classic Monty Python clip from ‘Life of Brian’ (Jehovah!) will cheer you?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYkbqzWVHZI

    That said, I shall avoid any metaphors that you and others would predictably find “obnoxious” in future to avoid any unnecessary knee-jerk reactions which do, as Keith noted, distract from the discussion.

    Hope everyone else does the same (see #36).

  45. willard says:

    Anteros,

    You sound mightily certain of your opinion of MT there. 

    If we were to apply your analysis to the way your express this certainty, we might get a glimpse of fundamentalism in your first comment to this effect earlier.  Now that you keep ahmmering your mantra, auditors may wonder if this is not extremism.

    Is this the extreme middle ground?
     

  46. Menth says:

    It seems to me the most important point of uncertainty is that of sensitivity. Because it hasn’t been determined cut and dry and is a spectrum of possibility it becomes a rorschach blot for people to import their pre-existing political beliefs onto.
     
    As has been written elsewhere a new paper in Science shows sensitivity to be at the lower end of the IPCC spectrum. Now I’m not qualified to parse all the details of the functionality of climate models and sensitivity studies such as these but correct me if I’m wrong; doesn’t it make a big difference in how we respond economically if climate sensitivity is say 1.8 deg C vs 7.8 deg C?  I recognize that professional freak-out artists like Joe Romm like to talk about what if scenarios where the sensitivity is higher than the IPCC estimates but I assure you this: we will not all voyage into the brave new socialist paradise that Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben envision for us because of how scary the idea of 8 deg sensitivity is; there needs to be incontrovertible proof.
     
    Many people (perhaps even scientists?) don’t see radically changing the economy as a big deal because even if climate sensitivity turns out to be low we’ll be making a Better Worldâ„¢ anyways. This is debatable to say the least. This is where the precautionary principle approach falls apart. If you can’t acknowledge that there would be tremendous economic difficulties and hardships in restructuring an economy to meaningfully decarbonize then in my view you don’t belong at the grown-ups table.

  47. BBD says:

    EdG @ 33

    If you are genuinely interested in climate sensitivity, you should read the interview with Nathan Urban (one of the authors of Schmittner et al. 2011) at Planet 3.0.
     
    Do note that Patrick Michaels gets outed for misrepresenting the paper at World Climate Report. Surprise, surprise.
     
    There are two posts about this paper by James Annan here and here.

    Annan (my emphasis):

    Jules has also been looking at some of these data recently, particularly in comparison to the PMIP2 experiments – that is, simulations of the last glacial maximum by several state of the art climate models, most of which also mostly contributed to the CMIP3/IPCC AR4 database of modern/future projections. One telling point is that several of the PMIP2 models actually appear to fit the data better than Schmittner’s best model, even though these were not specifically tuned to fit the data. Moreoever, these models are all clearly colder, in terms of global mean temperature anomaly, than the -3C value obtained in this latest paper. We haven’t done a thorough analysis of this yet but I think it is safe to say that there is a significant bias in the Schmittner fit and that the LGM was really more than 3 degrees colder than the present. The implication of this for climate sensitivity is not immediate (since there are also well-known forcing biases in the PMIP2 simulations), but this line of argument also seems to suggest that it may be reasonable to nudge the Schmittner et al values up a bit.

    It is still hard to reconcile a high sensitivity with the LGM results, though.

    So what to think? My pragmatic take is that Schmittner et al. actually changes nothing if you are in the ~3C camp. The 2.3C median figure is probably a low estimate and ~3C is probably closer to the mark. Higher estimates are likely incorrect and Schmittner et al. adds to the body of work which supports this view. 
     
    Of course ‘sceptics’ will over-play the Schmittner study, and conveniently ignore the fact that even if it is bang on the money, an ECS of 2.3C for ~550ppmv CO2 is not some kind of free pass to an untroubled and carefree BAU future.

  48. willard says:

    > Hope everyone else does the same (see #36).

    I’m not sure which analogy you mind here, EdG.

    The Overton Theorem?

    This is not an analogy, EdG. 

  49. James Evans says:

    Pre emails: There is a consensus. The science is settled. Anyone who says different is an idiot denier.

    Post emails: There are healthy disagreements between the scientists. This is science at work.

    The bottome line for commentators: I am convinced that I have a reputation to defend. If I redefine what the sceptics have been saying as “the middle ground” then maybe I can saunter out of this looking cool.

  50. Rattus Norvegicus says:

    For all trumpeting the new Schmittner, et. al. paper…
    Here is an interview with one of the et. al. who seems a whole lot less certain about the results than you do:
    http://newscience.planet3.org/2011/11/24/interview-with-nathan-urban-on-his-new-paper-climate-sensitivity-estimated-from-temperature-reconstructions-of-the-last-glacial-maximum/
    From reading this and other discussions of the paper on the interwebs, would think that these numbers might end up getting nudged up in the end.  I do think that this is an interesting approach however and worth pursing.

  51. EdG says:

    #48 Willard

    Sorry, but we must be looking at different posts. On my screen #36 refers to Jarmo’s post.

    However, in retrospect I see where I was not clear enough. The alleged problem with my metaphor was its root source, apparently. If I had used, for example, the scientists operating under the Soviet Lysenko regime, that would have been a more precise and, apparently, less controversial metaphor. So what I pledged to do is avoid ‘hot button’ metaphors, a pledge which in my mind includes equally inflammatory (for some) words. Like the d-word jarmo noted.

    I don’t know what The Overton Theorem is but I would never expect that anything with that label would be a metaphor. It could be a science fiction novel though.

  52. BBD says:

    Rattus Norvegicus
     
    Thanks. If I’d known you were going to post that I’d have saved myself the trouble at # 46 🙂

  53. Tom C says:

    Mosher –

    Thanks for taking time to give your take on the story.  I also have been fascinated with Briffa and think he must be the leaker.  I seem to remember that there were E-mails where he worried openly about his employment prospects and deepening family responsibilities.  I think he is plain fearful of losing gainful employment if he crosses Mann too publicly or forcefully.

    On that note, do you have any insight into why everyone seems to fear Mann so much?  He is such a nasty and pathetic character.

  54. harrywr2 says:

    #46
    Of course “˜sceptics’ will over-play the Schmittner study, and conveniently ignore the fact that even if it is bang on the money, an ECS of 2.3C for ~550ppmv CO2
    Nuclear is cheaper then burning coal in the EU, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Africa , the Middle East, South America and the South and Northeastern Eastern US.
    How do you plan on getting to 550ppm? The economics of burning coal for the vast majority of the worlds 7 million inhabitants just stinks. So does the necessary lead time to roll out nuclear.
     

  55. EdG says:

    #47 – BBD. Sorry, missed your post.

    Thanks. I can’t argue with that because, in summation, I appreciate their central point. Which seems to be, quite simply, here’s what we think we found but we’re not sure yet and we may have to change our conclusions with more information.

    That seems like the ideal mindset for a scientist. Or anybody really.

    I don’t expect any definitive answers, let alone precise numbers, because, as noted earlier, I see this as a baby science. And I know the difference between models and evidence. But in this paper, and on so many tangents now, we have come a long way from the ‘debate is over’ days and I see that as major progress.

    I am sure that, as you say, many ‘skeptics’ will overplay the significance of the contents of this paper, just as others on the other side overplay whatever suits their argument. Not me, for reasons explained earlier. What is significant for me is that it reminds us of how much we do not know.

    That includes their bottom line – “an ECS of 2.3C for ~550ppmv CO2.” Correct or close or way off? Who knows? Not them or anybody else. 

    And really BBD, who expects a smooth future, with or without any significant climate change?

    P.S. That Revkin covered this story at all – without full tilt spin – may tell us something about political change and the impact of those recent emails that don’t matter.
     

  56. Ed Forbes says:

     

    BBD Says: November 25th, 2011 at 5:11 pm; “Do note that Patrick Michaels gets outed for misrepresenting the paper [Schmittner et al. 2011] at World Climate Report. Surprise, surprise.”
    .
    LoL”¦talk about Schmittner and “misrepresenting”
    .
    Ross did have some “kind” words on Schneider.
    .
    http://climateaudit.org/2011/11/25/a-somewhat-late-response-to-schneider/
    Ross McKitrick: “..As I explain in the op-ed, I was responding to a claim David Suzuki had made on TVOntario a few nights earlier, saying that when he grew up in London Ontario, winter used to set in by the end of October, but now the snow didn’t come until much later; this being evidence of the fearful progress of global warming (or words to that effect)”¦”
    .
    “..Contrary to Schneider’s claim, I was not using the October-November temperature trend from Erie PA as a measure of global climate, I was using it as a measure of the October-November temperature trend for Erie PA. Schneider was careless in his reading, remiss in his recollection, and obnoxious in broadcasting his opinion to his colleagues”¦”

  57. Jeff Norris says:

     
    Our Host asks, “Has this “middle ground” been adequately represented in the media? If not, why?”
     
    My answer is no.  As to the why I give you the wisdom of two great thinkers. 🙂
    The desire for fame tempts even noble minds.
    ST. AUGUSTINE
    The idea that media is there to educate us, or to inform us, is ridiculous because that’s about tenth or eleventh on their list.”
    Abbie Hoffman
     

  58. Ed Forbes says:

    Want to check to be sure that your favorite ClimateGate email quote is in context?
    .
    Great searchable database for both CG I and CG II emails
    .
    http://www.ecowho.com/foia.php?
    EcoWho: Your guide to being Eco Friendly & Sustainable
    .
    “This is a searchable service of both ClimateGate I and II emails. All full emails, telephone numbers and passwords have been redacted (replaced with ???). Note: you can still search by them if you know them, they just won’t show in the results. The search is case insensitive and an exact phrase match (so if you want to exactly match a word put a space on the end), use the CC option to hide CC lines from the results (visual clutter).”

  59. Harry says:

    @Mosher
    “In the end Jones and Mann  work together to cover up
    this story by denying Holland his FIOA rights.
    I’ve seen Briffa as the biggest victim in all of this, almost a hero. At one point I thought he was the leaker.
    If the MSM wants to tell a story about the middle that story is Briffa’s tale. 
    Most people when they read the mails move too quickly to the “bigger” story. I know I did. If I had to do it over I’d make it more about Briffa the man and the dilemmas he faced. I’d leave the larger conclusions to other people and just tell his story. 
    Someday Keith maybe Briffa would grant you an interview. He’s the guy you want to focus on.   I wouldnt ask him any questions about the science. I’d ask about Briffa/Jones/Mann relationship. ”
     
    I think Briffa would regard you as being a self opinionated, self important, ignorant wanker, Mosher.

  60. Harry
    “I think Briffa would regard you as being a self opinionated, self important, ignorant wanker, Mosher.”
    I think it doesnt matter what you think. Self opinionated? yes, all my opinions are mine. Self important? I’ve said it before, I don’t think climategate has seeped into the brains of the general public. It’s largely unimportant as am I.  Ignorant? Probably, but I’m not stupid enough to predict what Briffa would say about anything.  I’m curious enough to wonder, and kind enough to offer that bit up to Keith.

  61. Tom C Says:
    November 25th, 2011 at 6:43 pm
    Mosher –
    Thanks for taking time to give your take on the story.  I also have been fascinated with Briffa and think he must be the leaker.
    ##########
     he was on my list as well. I dont recall whether I put those speculations in the book. He did take mails home.
    In the end I recall writing that the whodunnit was actually a diversion, so I dropped a bunch of that from the manuscript. It’s really unfair to speculate. We saw paul Dennis dragged into it. grossly unfair. There are a couple other people who stand out. Anthony hints at it a bit. Nothing solid, so I will shut up

  62. #47

    The overton theorem is of course metaphorical willard. It assumes that positions on topics can be spatialized.

    remember ‘metaphors we live by”  its a good read. 

  63. Tom Scharf says:

    Does the MSM show the middle ground of any political issue?

    No.

    They line up a left and right talking head pundits and they blurt out the same tired talking points everyone has heard a hundred times. 

    They could interview non-affiliated independents, but they don’t.  Conflict sells. 

     

  64. Keith Kloor says:

    Folks,

    Real good thread. My sense of the “middle ground”–as I interpreted it–was not a split the difference place, but pretty much what many of you described, or Alexander put it in #26,
    “Something probing yet balanced and that goes to both sides.”

    Just a quick note to say that there are some scientists who push back against positions that tend to get promoted in the media, and I’ve recently highlighted a few recent instances. See Richard Betts here, and Myles Allen here, for example.

    One other thing: most everyone who reads these emails likely does so with preconceptions. So confirmation bias will influence each of our interpretations.

    Even more of a reason for journalists to approach them as objectively as possible. 

     

  65. WRT 63.
      The mails I found most instructive were those like these
    http://www.ecowho.com/foia.php?file=4403.txt&search=Rind
     
    What to note. Note that Rind is not referred to as an Oil Shill.
     
     

  66. Alexander Harvey says:

    Anteros,

    My question was aimed at highlighting a possible dilemma. Viewed as a conflict, a War on Climate Change seems to lack some essential markers. Once embarked upon, how would we know if we were winning and when if ever we could say that it is won. A costly War, without some indication, that it is being won, must surely become problematic.

    A lot of people seem to have a lot of ideas as to how to start such a conflict, but I have not seen much thought going into how both it and democracy could be sustained.

    If one of the policy decisions, was to enforce no punitive action. To allow de-carbonisation take its natural course, due to such considerations, as fuel economics, energy sercurity, improved domestic environment, etc., For this to turn to mass support for punitive action, crippling fuel taxes, energy starvation, etc., would I think require a clear return to rising temperatures plus domestic climate wierding, and or an existential threat to one or more nation states to become obvious. The first may require a decade or more to play out, the second perhaps less, but perhaps not. If neither occured the policy would garner both popular and perhaps universal appeal.

    If the other policy is to undertake punitive action, say in the form of a tax based carbon straightjacket, in addition to natural de-carbonisation. Mass support would turn against this if it was apparently successful, e.g. the climate failed to keep its end of the bargain, and produce a clear return to rising temperatures plus domestic climate wierding, and or an existential threat to one or more nation states to become obvious. Should both occur the policy would gain both popular and perhaps universal appeal.

    It strikes me as problematic that the case for continued punitive action may rest on it being apparently non-productive. It may come to rely on continued or accelerating climatic change to sustain it. Any wavering of the climate (say a 17 year non-significant hiatus) would pose real diffiuclties

    A weakness of these arguments is an assumption that people are rational.

    Going forward, the inherent uncertainties in predicting weather and near term climate patterns, could prove to be a major hurdle to sustaining policy. I think that people need to understand this. I think that the science supports this view and if it does should place it four-square in that debate now, rather then playing catch-up later. When theories are right, the evidence will come to the science and they will be validated but in PR terms is helps if they are publicly stressed prior to the event. It seemed to me that there is no new science in the apparently sudden revelation that decadal global temperature trends can show little or no warming. This could and I think should have been stressed at the start of this century but it wasn’t. Doing so now looks like damage limitation.

    Such climate uncertainties, and the vagaries of the models, are not new. Yet somehow, they seemed to get left out of the narrative and I did not see the science put them squarely centre stage. These uncertanites were left unoccupied by that narrative but were siezed upon by many online players and they claimed that ground. I think this is called an “own goal” in stategic terms.

    The leaking of conversations is an ever present danger and can do some good put also some harm. For instance, a leaked discussion of genuine if minor concerns that the models might be showing some “learned behaviour” (in terms of the ensemble mean) due to common constraints under which they have been evolved, could be difficult to distinquish from a deliberate conspirative attempt to subvert the model output. That would be significant as it would feed into some of the current online suspicions concerning whether the models are rigged to match the temperature record which would gain them real traction. In this scenario, that would be wholly untrue but a PR disaster. I think you will see the moral coming. Such converations could be public or could be confidential but held on the record to be made public if needs be. In this case I do wonder whether they ought to trawl through whatever UEA emails they suspect may be in the encrypted dataset, with a view to dumping the whole lot into the public domain, thereby removing any inferred blackmail threat, and drawing a line. The logical flaw being that they may not have a clue which emails these were or if the the encrypted file is genuine. At the very least it might be worth their while trawling through whatever emails they had at that time to see if there are any more issues that may come out.

    Alex

  67. Bob says:

    Take a close read of McIntyre’s latest post ,http://climateaudit.org/2011/11/25/behind-closed-doors-perpetuating-rubbish/. The “middle ground” has similarities to bisexuality – sooner or later you have to come off the fence and pick a hole.

  68. Anteros says:

    Alex @65
     
    To take your last point first, it might indeed be a wise (not to say inspired) move for UEA to take the bait and say “look, here are another 200,000 emails. Lets move on” I say that mostly because in pragmatic terms there probably is very little of interest to even the most partisan sceptic in the encrypted emails. FOIA has had two years to filter through the whole lot. I can’t see any more embarrassment than has occurred already. They might even garner some sympathy. Take the hit, apologise, and try to talk about the science.
     
    I do understand the point you are making about policy – that if a punitive one is successful it will inevitably lose support as it will be unclear as to whether it is the policy or a lack of an original problem that is being demonstrated. I see that as insoluble, even though putting it centre stage (throughout the process) might help the PR a little.
     
    My take on the matter is very far removed from this and I hope wholly pragmatic. It is not based on ‘what should we do?’ or ‘what will happen if we don’t do x, y, or z’. It is based what has happened in the last 25 years. As I say quite often – we know a lot more about human beings than we do about climate.
     
    I think the fairest, most accurate description of what we have ‘done’ in the last 25 years is ‘nothing’. No measurable or meaningful quantity of fossil fuel has remained in the ground as a result of 25 years of PR, IPCC reports or Kyoto-like agreements. Remembering of course that such fossil fuel will have to remain in the ground effectively forever.
     
    So while your observation is interesting, I don’t see there being any chance of us being in a position of even getting close to the position of wondering whether our policies have been ‘effective’. I haven’t seen anyone have a go at calculating this, but lets say a tenth of a degree of temperature rise is the result of burning about 200 billion barrels of oil equiv’. To be able to identify realistically a difference we’d have to leave at least half a trillion barrels  of economically recoverable oil in the ground which is at least an order of magnitude larger than there is the slightest prospect of us doing.
     
    Putting it another way, to replace fossil fuel power stations (never mind the ones that are currently being built) would take about 12,000 nuclear plants. Now, in the real world, is there even the vaguest possibility that 10% of that number are going to be built? In the next 50 years? No, I thought not!
     
    It may be that (barring unbelievable weirding of the climate system) we have seen a fair representation of humanities response to the (alleged) threat. Effectively, none at all. Emissions have risen by more than 50% since 1990. That is the reality, and that is something that I don’t see changing – the coal, oil and gas will, sooner or later, be burnt.
     
    If I believed that the prospects for the future of earth’s climate were grim (from humanities perspective) I would be extremely pessimistic about anything being ‘done’ given the evidence of the last 25 years. I would conclude that it will take serious and unequivocally human-induced catastrophes to already be occurring for significant actions to be taken.
     
    So I definitely think we will see the whole of the experiment played out.

  69. grypo says:

    Middle ground #63
    “See Richard Betts here,”

     Betts’ ligit statement, similar to mine in comment #1:

    “Betts agrees that “climate change is a serious issue and it makes sense to try to avoid committing the planet to long-term changes.”

    But then goes off the rails discussing the 2C target: 

    “Most climate scientists do not subscribe to the 2 degrees Dangerous Climate Change meme (I know I don’t). “Dangerous” is a value judgment, and the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society.”

    First of all, no one cares whether or not climate scientists “subscribe” to the target.  The 2C target is a political number based on moral and ethical judgement.  This number is important for protecting against environmental change that goes outside certain variability for regions that do not have the capability to deal with it effectively (those most at risk want that number adjusted to 1.5C), and have very little to do with the problem.  It is based on the same uncertainty that Betts is using to argue against action!  Does this mean that being reasonable means turning risk assessment on its head?  He reaffirms this with a context-less statement:

    “The thing that worries me about the talking-up of doom at 2 degrees is that this could lead to some very bad and expensive decisions in terms of adaptation” 

    Well, the targets for mitigation purposes.  Ignoring that, he seems to arguing against adaption too!  For that statement to make any sense, he needs to give an example of misapplied adaption strategy.  Otherwise, he’s just blowing smoke.  The “doom” is merely a word to confuse people into thinking that these targets are merely there for scaring people.  Classical strawman.  No, there is risk involved in changing the climate and an ethical basis for the recommendations.

    So much like our global finance policies, the middle ground of climate science policy lacks  ethical foundation, a mis-understanding of what targets are for, and overall illogical and a brinkmanship methodology dealing with risk and uncertainty.  We deserve what get I guess.

  70. willard says:

    Steven Mosher,

    In #61, you say that my Overton Theorem is metaphorical.  I’m not sure what you mean, but here is what I can say about it for the five minutes I have before taking my leave for a few days.

    The Overton Window certainly expresses a metaphor: it’s not a real window.   It is a conceptual tool used by think tanks to sway public opinion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

    So in that sense, the expression conveys a conceptual tool through an image, which was the point of Lackoff.  My turn to thank you for reminding me a reading from my youth.  I disagree with about everything from Lackoff when I read him as a cognitive scientist, but I tend to agree with about everything he says as a communication theorist.

    But as a conceptual tool, it is more than a metaphor.  This is something one can measure.  Think tanks would not be using this if the effect was not tangible.  Stretching the Overton Window is a common strategy to frame minds.  This is also metaphorical coherence: frames bears some relationship with windows. 

    Mind framing is a concept made popular by the same George Lackoff, interestingly.

    * * *

    My use of  “theorem” was also metaphorical.  It’s a formal metaphor.  At least for now.  But that does not mean it can’t be formalized.  And if it is, chances are that a metric will be used, and that this metric could express a distance.  There are hundreds of distance metric.  This should not be that tough to do.  In fact, there are lots of studies in conceptual similarity. 

    My use of “theorem” can also be quite commonsensical.  It follows quite directly from a strategy that:

    – portrays a position as extremist;
    – presents its own position as the middle ground.

    The theorem directly follows from the concepts therein.  All we’d need is some game semantics.

    This strategy is a most common trick in the libertarian arsenal.  

    So you can guess that this strategy leaves me a bit lukewarm.

  71. Anteros says:

    Willard @69
     
    In case I catch you before you leave….
     
    As I’m not American, Republican, or even particularly political it is quite easy for me to see both political extremes using the Overton window. You say it is the most common trick in the libertarian arsenal, but isn’t it equally used by left-wing ideologues to demonise the right? To be fair, it’s all the same to me but I don’t see it as a tactic used predominantly by one side.
     
    With the debate about the climate I think you generate a false equivalence. Humanity has a history of creating myths about the future and it has always been a middle-ground, reasonable position to be sceptical about them. What we know from painful experience is that believers are always incredibly convinced and very easily become ‘extreme’. Witnessing such conviction for the hundredth time and asking for a little bit of genuine evidence from doomsters is not in itself extreme. And I would add that it is very easy to only hear the Hansens of the world saying that ‘if the tar sands are utilised it is game over’. The rhetoric is extreme [as perhaps it always must be in a world where the sounds of someone crying ‘wolf!’ are ubiquitous] and therefore the orthodox position becomes extreme. Some of the concern may be reasonable, but the loudest voices are always the most irrational – and it is to those voices people like me respond.
     
    It is not a PR strategy to describe hysteria as extreme.

  72. Anteros says:

    P.S.
     
    Perhaps in this case using the Overton Metaphor is something of a strawman argument.

  73. OPatrick says:

    Keith, the more I think about this the more I feel you are wrong about the middle ground. People like Fred Moolten and Alex Harvey are credible, they don’t deny basic science, but they lie at one end of the credibility scale. They aren’t the middle ground, and when Alex Harvey uses a phrase like “crippling fuel taxes” I think he gives an insight into where he is positioned.

    grypo gives a good critique of Richard Betts (I hadn’t noticed ’til following it just now that his original post was at Bishop Hill) and I’d add that Betts’ frequent use of the word doom is a bit of a giveaway (just looked again at grypo’s comment and realised that he’d already addressed this as well). I was also reading and discussing this piece from Michael McCarthy in the Independent this morning. My mother, who is well aware of the issues and works extraordinarily hard to encourage and facilitate people taking action on climate change, thought it was a good balanced piece – basically she was just pleased to see something so prominent on climate change in the papers. But break it down and I think you’ll start to see how far McCarthy has bent over to create a sense of balance. With the possible (and important, but I suspect not under the control of the writer) exception of the image of a red – burning – Earth, all the questionable statements in the piece lean one way, towards your supposed middle ground.

    McCarthy says “I think it is fair to say the politicisation began on the left, especially among young radicals who saw climate change as a consequence of capitalism”. I don’t know much of the history of early politicisation, but I’m suspicious of this, and he then says “and proceeded to campaign for action in traditional radical terms, with protests, and occupations, and name-calling (“climate change deniers”)” which I find misleading. The ‘name-calling’, right or wrong, isn’t from the politicised left, it’s from all those who have become deeply frustrated by the dishonesty of their opponents. Apparently then the right reacted ‘instinctively’ to this and now the issue is “polarised, right and left“. No. Possibly it’s polarised extreme-right and not-extreme-right, but mainstream Conservatives in the UK, for example, are clearly on the ‘concerned’ side of the debate.

    Apparently “At the real heart of the right-wing reaction, though, has been the matter of cost.”  Really? Presumably the same is true for military expenditure? No? Ah, perhaps it’s not cost which is at the heart of it, but rather the suspicion that an effective response will require government intervention.

    “To most ordinary people in Britain, climate change does not obviously seem to be happening.” We’ve had plenty of exceptional weather and phenological evidence shows clearly that there is an underlying trend, a changing climate. Maybe people aren’t recognising this for a reason.

    “the progressive warming of the whole globe which appeared to be observable in the 1990s appears, since the millennium, to have plateaued.” If you look at the ‘right’ graphs they do.  “No one really knows why. (A good guess is the Chinese sulphur aerosol: China’s vast, exploding carbon emissions are accompanied by huge emissions of sulphur dioxide, which have the effect of cooling, rather than warming the atmosphere.)” Just a guess, you see.

    There are others I could have picked out, but are there examples where he leans the other way? I couldn’t see any, but maybe I can’t because I’m not looking from the middle ground. I did wonder about his characterisation of teh right-wing commentators: “These days, if you’re a right-wing Conservative, or a right-wing commentator or blogger, it is virtually a badge of honour to proclaim that all this global warming stuff, and action taken to counter it, is a load of cobblers, nay, more: it is a fraud, perpetrated upon a deceived public by free-spending liberal or left-wing politicians who don’t have Britain’s own best interests at heart, and who are backed up by scientists exaggerating the problem so that they can ensure the continuation of their research funding.”  But then I thought about it and I genuinely can’t think of right-wing commentators who actively express concerns about climate change – but then again I’m not very familiar with right-wing commentators so maybe I’ve missed them.

  74. Blair says:

    Alexander Harvey (@65),


    You write with a base assumption that de-carbonisation will take place as a natural course of things. I would argue that short of major governmental interference de-cabonisation is nowhere near a likely outcome in the short/middle term. We already have a carbon-based energy infrastructure and with the recent discoveries of unconventional carbon reserves world-wide we are not looking at a reduction of carbon as cheap energy source anytime soon.

  75. Menth says:

    72.

    ‘They aren’t the middle ground, and when Alex Harvey uses a phrase like “crippling fuel taxes” I think he gives an insight into where he is positioned.’
     
    Quick question: what is this insight “crippling fuel taxes” gives? I understand it’s obvious to you but I’m confused.


  76. OPatrick says:

    I don’t think high fuel taxes are likely to be “crippling”. In the UK we have massively more tax on petrol than the US does. We aren’t crippled. Fear of tax is not middle ground.

  77. harrywr2 says:

    #72
    <i>Apparently “At the real heart of the right-wing reaction, though, has been the matter of cost.”  Really? Presumably the same is true for military expenditure?</i>
    The right is generally against ‘capital destruction’ at least in the corporate elite subset of the right.
    I.E. If I owned a $2 billion dollar coal plant that is only 15 years old I would be against a policy that would economically disadvantage that coal plant as it would destroy my capital investment. If my coal plant is 60 years old and on its last legs I really don’t care what the policy is.
    The fundamental gist of the ‘Lugar Plan’ was that existing investments in power generation plants be left to retire. He proposed no new regulation until 2018 which if you look at the aging of coal fired plants that is when they begin to retire in significant numbers.
    The SO2 model isn’t the only model we can use to get rid of pollutants. The ‘leaded gasoline’ model might be a better model.
    In the US case ‘leaded gasoline’ case most cars were designed to run on leaded gasoline. So we kept leaded gasoline as an option at the gasoline station until the ‘useful life’ of 95% of cars that ran on leaded gasoline was over. All new car fuel tanks would only take an ‘unleaded gasoline’ fuel pump nozzle. No one got penalized because they had a 3 year old car that needed leaded gasoline.
    The ‘climate community’ however wedded themselves to a specific policy model. Cap & Trade or bust. They got bust.
    If we had used a ‘Cap & Trade’ model to get rid of leaded gasoline in the US I’m not sure the public would have accepted it. In the UK they used a tax on leaded gasoline IIRC. But while the British public and American public share a similar language, they don’t respond the same to various policy approaches. 
    I bet if we had a referendum in the US as to whether we should require every new car to get at least 40 MPG or we should have a $1/gallon gas tax the new car requirement of 40 MPG would win overwhelmingly. In 10 years the result would probably end up being be the same.

  78. NewYorkJ says:

    OPatrick: They aren’t the middle ground, and when Alex Harvey uses a phrase like “crippling fuel taxes” I think he gives an insight into where he is positioned.

    His Wikipedia involvement covering the CRU hack and the tireless promotion of people like Richard Lindzen and Anthony Watts reveals a bit more insight.  

    Gavin Schmidt is a single climate scientist. He is a GISS modeller, not an expert on the surface record. The views of a single scientist with no particular relationship to Watts or the subject matter just makes the article, frankly, sound amateurish & silly. The reader wants to know immediately, “So why is Gavin Schmidt important in the context of Watts or the surface record?” This leads the reader to confusion. If Gavin Schmidt was the President, this might be relevant. If this was an official position, e.g. of the IPCC, then it might be relevant. If it was even the official position statement of the RealClimate website, it would be moving in the direction of being relevant. Right now, it seems to be nothing more than a very weak excuse for introducing the bias of the editor. I have removed it.Alex Harvey (talk) 12:51, 5 March 2009 (UTC)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Contributions&dir=prev&offset=20100121062713&limit=500&target=Alexh19740110

    Not very probing or balanced of him.  But if he’s right, who cares?  The “middle ground” Keith describes as

    “Something probing yet balanced and that goes to both sides.”

    “Both sides” is for politics.  Science is about evidence.  I don’t think that was Alex Harvey’s intended definition, however. 

    Harvey contends that scientific debate and skepticism is the middle ground (sounds reasonable, but also intentionally vague).  He forms the narrative that only contrarian bloggers and scientists have occupied it publicly (not so reasonable).  One could also call the blog SkepticalScience a “middle ground”.  It critially examines claims made by Harvey’s group.  Harvey indicates that he thinks climate scientists don’t acknowledge uncertainty or debate publicly, only privately.  Now he’s slipping.  See the “Unsettled Science” RealClimate link I posted.  See the IPCC reports (certainly considered “public communication”) and varying levels of confidence applied to conclusions.  If Harvey wants to see detailed discussions and debate, the AGU meeting in December is a good start.

    So what are we left with?  Journalists often express too much, or sometimes too little, certainty than warranted, and don’t outline the key uncertainties.  No argument there.  For example, Forbes recently blasted this headline:

    Climate Change: Not as Bad as We Thought it Was Going to Be

    This was in regards to the study BBD and Rattus linked to.  Note this headline in comparison to the Q&A with the author.

    Of course, other outlets like Fox News do much worse than this.  We can’t really put all the blame on contrarian scientists for this though.

    Journalists have their role.  Observe how many media outlets cover the AGU meeting in December.  About 20,000 scientists will attend.  Like all public and private communication that we’ve seen, you’ll see areas where there is disagreement and areas where a virtual consensus emerges, and those areas will likely displease contrarian bloggers. 

    You’d think that such an event would be significant enough to send a squad of journalists.  Revkin perhaps?  KK?  Likely again the coverage will fall far shorter of that of stolen emails, and we wonder why the pubilc is confused?  There is even an interesting session on effectively communicating climate science.  Perhaps some commenters here can attend and voice their opinions.

  79. NewYorkJ says:

    Quick question: what is this insight “crippling fuel taxes” gives? I understand it’s obvious to you but I’m confused.

    It’s pure sky-is-falling alarmism.  Such alarmism is one of the key things that leads to dismissal of evidence on global warming and the human impact and the belief that scientists are perpetuating a hoax.

  80. Menth says:

    @78 lol thanks.

  81. Anteros says:

    OPatrick @ 75
     
    I completely agree about fuel taxes. But isn’t the depressing thing that for the vast majority of people it makes virtually no difference to their consumption? Smaller cars maybe than in the States, but in London I still see nothing but long lines of vehicles going nowhere, with one person in, headed for a place where it would be quicker to cycle. It’s quite a good way to raise revenue (like taxes on cigarettes) but it changes behaviour surprisingly little.

  82. grypo says:

    To be clearer about why I think Betts statements aren’t based on a middle gound, let me take Betts reasoning for not subscribing to the “dangerous” meme
     
    “the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society.”
     
    You can use this reasoning in two sentences
     
    1)  We should act now on climate change mitigation and adaption because the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society.
     
    2)  We should wait to act on climate change mitigation and adaption because the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society.
     
    Whichever sentence you choose gives incite into how risk is percieved by polar differences.  Uncertainty flipped around is still uncertainty.
     
    Paying lip service to one argument, but acting on another is more about politcal maneuverability than it is consensus building.

  83. Menth says:

    @80.
    Agree.
     
    From the U.K dept of energy and climate change 2010 report:
    “In 2010, CO2 emissions from the transport sector, at 121 Mt, accounted for around a quarter of all CO2 emissions. Between 2009 and 2010, transport emissions were relatively stable; lower petrol consumption was offset by higher diesel consumption. Emissions from this sector are now slightly higher than 1990 levels.

  84. BBD says:

    I found Betts’ comment at BH bizarre at the time, and told him so. In one breath he says – not unreasonably – that 2C may or may not be bad; we don’t know; in the next IIRC, that in all likelihood warming would exceed 2C by century’s end.
     
    That he chose to let BH use his comment as a HEADPOST beggars belief. With absolute predictability, the audience took what RB said and turned it into this:
     
    Climate change is not going to be a big problem and an IPCC AR5 lead author who is Head of CC Impacts at the Met Office says so.
     
    I didn’t know where to look. Christ only knows what Betts thought he was trying to achieve.

  85. Alexander Harvey says:

    From the author of Guardian’s Pinkerton Agency Blog Thread:

    “One of the most intriguing statements. Why wouldn’t the vast majority of the remaining emails be released, instead of being hidden behind a password? Wikileaks, famously, did much the same thing, but the password was inadvertently revealed months later.”
     
    A peculiar use of the word “inadvertently” :
     
    It was publsihed in a book by the Guardian’s David Leigh. Yes that Guardian! They did deny that they were negligent in doing so but I must find it worrying if anything published in a book is inadvertent. Did it somehow sneak in while the author wasn’t looking or paying attention.
     
    Alex

  86. OPatrick says:

    Anteros:

    I completely agree about fuel taxes. But isn’t the depressing thing that for the vast majority of people it makes virtually no difference to their consumption? 

    Actually I think there are signs that people really are beginning to change their behaviour – a survey from moneysupermarket for example found that 84% of UK drivers say they have changed their driving behaviour because of rising fuel prices. (I did a brief search but didn’t find the original survey.)

    But wanting to and actually managing to change your behaviour are different things. I remember reading this article a while back on simple techniques to get people to actually change the way they drive.

    (Incidentally, it doesn’t serve you well to appear so moderate on one thread whilst simultaneously using such deeply divisive language on another.)
          

  87. EdG says:

    “crippling fuel taxes”

    Hard to actually argue with the word “crippling,” though it is a bit loaded. Look at the dictionary definition of crippling. Look at what energy taxes are intended to do to fossil fuel use. To cripple it.

    We are past Peak Cheap Oil. Barring the end of the world as we know it, the price of that fuel is heading up in the long term no matter what. That will naturally drive the conversion to other options. In ecology or anthropology a parallel scenario is called Optimal Foraging Theory. 

    My main concern about fuel taxes is how they are used, and I have minimal confidence in the competence of government bureaucracies to spend wisely. To put it very mildly. But looks like almost every government is now broke so I won’t exactly be shocked to see a lot more of them, with or without the climate argument.   

    Back on topic, reading Steven Mosher’s (#32) account of this story makes me realize that it is truly a Shakespeareanesque soap opera behind the scenes. Who will play Briffa in the movie?  

  88. EdG says:

    # 79 NYJ wrote: “Such alarmism is one of the key things that leads to dismissal of evidence on global warming and the human impact and the belief that scientists are perpetuating a hoax.”

    Wow, this taking sentences out of context is fun!

    Nonetheless, it is hard to dispute this statement as is.

  89. Alexander Harvey says:

    Hi all who picked out:
     
    “crippling fuel taxes,”
     
    from
     
    “… mass support for punitive action, crippling fuel taxes, energy starvation, etc.,..”
     
    where it is an example of punitive action.
     
    An attempt to squeeze carbon out of an economy by taxation, is in my view a brittle policy unless people can see a desperate and imminent need or threat. I went on to characterise a level of threat.
     
    This is quite different to prices that rise for structural reasons. The key word is punitive, a state of affairs where people are being financial punished by their government. It is much easier and more productive to protest or vote against taxation than world fuel prices.
     
    There may be some creative ways of manipulating the fuel balance by robbing Peter to pay Paul resulting in no net increase in basic domestic fuel cost heating/lighting/appliances, either for the population in general or on the basis of individual family needs and means. Some sort of taxation and subsidy scheme. Providing this is not punitive for the majority this is a more robust political stance in some but not all countries.
     
    Another structural change would be to limit or curtail the construction of coal powered electricity production. This would vary from country to country but has sound environmental underpinnings of its own.
     
    The establishment of carbon taxation in principle as an ultimate  resort may result in some structural change if it deters investment in carbon fueled infrastructure due to the financial uncertainty going forward. One might have to be brave to invest in coal powered electricity production if there was a real risk of not being able to recoup the investment given the extended lifetime involved.
     
    Anti-polution measures may tend to hit hardest at the most carbon rich energy sources. The prospect of a phasing out and banning of all significant combustion polutants other than CO2 would be both environmentally sound and make investment more risky. It has the added benefit in that it would uncloak the demon and allow us to see what the effects of CO2 actually are. My bet, for what it is worth, is that the temperatures would take a significant lurch skywards. So are we feeling lucky? It may be relatively easy to turn the polution back on if necessary.
     
    I have tried to pick out measures that I thnk that people could campaign for, by way of campaigning against things, pollution, fuel poverty, etc.. I haven’t said what should replace the carbon. It is my bias that campaign movements are at their best when they stay out of the solutions game.  It is beyond their ken and reach. Promoting solutions can be prove to be very divisive in the ranks. I think it has been historically easier to protest against something rather than for something, with the clear exception of human rights but even that can be framed as against repression, exclusion, etc.. Campaigning against new coal and new runways is robust, clear, and within their solo capabilities and democratic rights. Somehow I fail to see how one organises a protest for new nuclear, or new taxes in the same fashion. “What do we want TAXES, when do we want them NOW”.
     
    Carbon taxation is something that people can protest against. If there is a clear levy that can be revoked I think it will be difficult to sustain, if it causes hardship unless it is manifestly needed due to the existence of clear climatic hardships either domestically or internationally.
     
    I deliberately picked a set of punitive actions. as a worst case, to illustrate what I thought would be necessary to engender such drastic action. It is my opinion that people would forgo much once it is clear that to do otherwise would be cruel and inhuman. Perhaps I have made myself more clear.
     
    Alex

  90. Alexander Harvey says:

    NewyorkJ:



    OPatrick: They aren’t the middle ground, and when Alex Harvey uses a phrase like “crippling fuel taxes” I think he gives an insight into where he is positioned.
    His Wikipedia involvement covering the CRU hack and the tireless promotion of people like Richard Lindzen and Anthony Watts reveals a bit more insight.
     
    Pardon, what is the connection between these two paragraphs?
     
    Do you mean me?
     
    I have no idea what you are going on about. I have never contributed to Wikipedia or promoted Richard Lindzen. I have once at least, but perhaps only once, said something nice promoting Anthony Watts and that was in reference to the cataloguing of the US weather station network.
     
    Regarding the AGU, is it webcast? It sounds interesting but there could be no question of my attending, if that is what you meant.
     
    BTW I do not have a group, that was the other Alex Harvey (SAHB). He passed on some years ago. I bumped into him once, and I just had to introduce myself.
     
    Alex

  91. NewYorkJ says:

    Alexander Harvey: I have never contributed to Wikipedia

    My apologies then if you’re not the individual with the same name and similar loquacious style, which is entirely plausible.

    Regarding your preceding post, I always thought it’s bad messaging to call legislation that lowers greenhouse gases and other pollution, promotes clean energy, puts a price on pollution, and lowers income taxes for low and middle income consumers, simply a “carbon tax”, although that’s usually what the media, those opposed to the legislation, and even some advocates call it.  That’s how it got labelled in Australia.  Opponents also throw in phrases like “punitve” or “crippling”, or “energy starvation” to get people really riled up about the big bad government.  Funny…I just don’t feel punished, crippled, or energy-starved.

    EdG: Wow, this taking sentences out of context is fun!

    I’m sure it is.  It also makes for good soap opera.

  92. Anteros says:

    Alex –
     
    Am I right in thinking you have an American perspective? It seems to me that much of what you say has a very limited applicability to the rest of the world. As has been mentioned a couple of times upthread, we have taxes here in the UK that make gasoline twice the price you pay in the States and nobody bats an eyelid. It is also even more expensive in parts of Europe.
     
    The major point is that high prices don’t reduce consumption (much). It is also true that reducing consumption and/or emissions is an illusory gain unless the fossil fuels remain unburnt permanently. They actually have to be left in the ground or the whole process is self-deluding.
     
    My contention is that the large amounts of money spent by European countries to reduce emissions haven’t (as yet) prevented any fossil fuels from being burned at all. It has merely made it slightly cheaper for other buyers on the world market and they have consumed slightly more than they would have otherwise. And if the extra hasn’t been consumed so far, then it will in the very near future.
     
    If the above is not true, surely it should be possible to identify economically recoverable fossil fuels that we either haven’t extracted or won’t extract (ever) as a result of the strategic emissions reductions already made.

  93. Tom C says:

    Anteros –

    You and others are confusing a gasoline tax with a tax on all forms of fossil-fuel energy.  You are correct that an extra tax on gasoline is not too bothersome for Europeans.  It would be more bothersome for Americans given that population density is much lower so we drive more miles.

    But gasoline taxes for communters is not the main issue.  Manufacturing and transportation are energy intensive so all goods would become more expensive.  The more complex the product and the longer the distance of importation the more the added cost.   This is what would be “crippling”.

  94. Alexander Harvey says:

    NewYorkJ
     
    I see, what a hoot, user Alexh19740110
     
    Thanks for mentioning this.
     
    TO WHO IT MAY CONCERN:
     
    It seems I have a namesake “Alex Harvey” active at wikipedia.
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Alexh19740110
     
    where he is much involved in things climatic.
     
    I think he may also posts on blogs as “Alex Harvey” as opposed to “Alexander Harvey”. We are definitely NOT one and the same.
     
    I do not have a history of promoting prominent climate sceptic.
     
    I see from his wiki page that he has had some exchanges with William Connolley (Stoat) where I also post, I wonder if he thinks I am the other Alex Harvey. It would be a scream if he does, but I doubt it somehow.
     
    I am glad I have finally found out about my apparent split personality.
     
    Alex

  95. Alexander Harvey says:

    Anteros,
     
    You will remember the Fuel Price Escalator affair. Which was, or a at least was viewed, as a deliberate attempt to modify behaviour by a specific identifiable tariff. Identifiable things are easier to protest against.
     
    That is the sort of policy measure I would see as brittle. and if I recall it was, and it broke, and was perhaps rolled up into the excise duty.
     
    FWIW I am in the UK. In my acquaintance there are those who I know grow fretful over the rising costs of fuel and power, but they can rejoice as technically they may have already saved the planet.
     
    Alex

  96. Michael Larkin says:

    Alex,
    As long as there’s politics in the climate debate, I will be sceptical. If there’s some way to take the politics out of it, both that of governments and internally (so that one cadre within the scientific establishment can no longer rule the roost), then we will get a straight debate. It’d be interesting to see how many scientists who have so far kept quiet would be inclined to express their scepticism if they felt certain that there would be no comeback for that.
    Incidentally, many British pensioners living on small fixed incomes are very definitely crippled by rising energy prices, and this is increasingly being recognised by the British government, public and media – the litmus test for this last being that it has been openly discussed on the BBC current affairs flagship program, “Question Time”, on several occasions recently, along with the contribution of feed-in tarriffs to energy prices.
    I can only think that people opining that no one is crippled have enough money not to notice this. They never have to make the choice between keeping warm or having a square meal. Oh, and food prices have increased because of energy prices, too. So the choice might actually be between keeping warm and having less than square meals.
    The question I would have asked is: what are the implications if sceptics are wrong, and what are the implications if proponents are wrong? I’ll leave it to a proponent to deal with the latter, though they hardly need bother since we’ve all been bombarded with that for years.
    Since I’m a sceptic, if proponents are wrong, then we’ve already wasted many billions; fruitlessly increased production of biofuels that has led to price increases in food staples (Al Gore already accepts this) which may have caused starvation; despoiled landscapes with economically unproductive windfarms (something increasingly being recognised by governments); and could have done a lot of good with the wasted money, including tackling genuine environmental issues.
    At some point in the future, the verdict will be in. If that verdict is that AGW was the greatest scientific blunder of all time, we can add to the wastage that has already occurred (and will continue to occur until that point), the damage to public confidence in science. Environmentalism would be even more damaged.

  97. Tim Lambert says:

    #55 EdG: Schneider’s assessment of McKitrick’s Taken by Storm is, I think, accurate. Consider their key argument (page 108)
    “An example of something that behaves intensively would be the percent of milk fat in a coffee creamer. If you put two small containers of 10% coffee creamer together, you do not get 20% milk fat. The cream is still 10%, even if you have twice as much. In the same manner, if you have two identical boxes with the same energy and the same temperature, join them together. The resulting doubled box will have twice the energy, but it will not have twice the temperature. There is no amount of temperature; it measures the condition or state of the stuff in the box. …
    “For computing your average, why would you add up the cubes in linear form? … why not square the temperatures, or take them to the fourth power? … if you are averaging the kinetic energy of molecules, it makes sense to calculate the mean of the squares of the speeds, because energy, which goes as the square of the speed, is physically additive, while speeds themselves are not. Or, since the Stefan-Boltzmann law tells us that equilibrium radiative energy goes as the fourth power of temperature, why not raise the temperature to the fourth power before adding them up? …
    “With temperature, there is no basis on physical grounds to use a simple sum, some other sum or some other more complicated rule for averaging, because temperature is an intensive quantity.”

    OK, extensive quantities like mass and energy add when you combine things. Intensive quantities like temperature and fat percentage are the ratio of two extensive quantities. For fat percentage it’s the mass of fat divided by the total mass. So when you combine things intensive quantities don’t add, but the answer isn’t arbitrary. You just have to add up the extensive quantities and divide the totals. For the creamer example this turns out to be just your regular everyday weighted average where the weights are the mass of each creamer.
     
    And if you remember your kinetic theory of gasses, you will have noticed how dodgy their justification for squaring temperatures was. The speed of a gas molecule is proportional to the square root of temperature, so adding up the squares of the speeds is just adding up the temperatures.

  98. Paul Kelly says:

    Michael Larkin,
     
    The only way to take the politics out of it, both that of governments and internally (so that one cadre within the scientific establishment can no longer rule the roost), is to get government out of the solution.

  99. OPatrick says:

    EdG (and Michael Larkin), the “crippling” as Alex Harvey uses it refers to crippling of the economy. You know it, I know it, everyone reading this knows it.

    Fuel taxes will have down sides, they may cause individual hardships, they may impact on the economy, but it is an outlying position, though a popular rhetorical one, to think they will cripple it.

  100. grypo says:

    Remember folks, whenever someone discusses crippling energy taxes, be sure to mention negative income taxes and earned income credits! Pigvogian taxation does not have to be regressive.  Taxes elevate until market behavior changes, largest polluters are penalized, bringing the harmful behaviors to a societal tolerant level.  These are basic free market methods.

  101. John Garrett says:

    Beware of seers and entrail readers! There are well-known rules for forecasting: forecast frequently, never include dates, and (most importantly) if you’re ever right- don’t EVER let anybody forget it!

  102. Steven Sullivan says:

    Moulton:
    “I do hope the revelations will have a chastening effect on individuals such as Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and some of their colleagues, whose inflated sense of importance and entitlement led to the transgressions that have surfaced.”
     
    Really, Keith?  This is  go-to guy for you?

  103. harrywr2 says:

    #99 Grypo
    Taxes elevate until market behavior changes, largest polluters are penalized, bringing the harmful behaviors to a societal tolerant level.
    Coal costs $15/ton in Wyoming and $80/ton in West Virgina.
    Per capita electricity consumption in Wyoming is 50% higher then West Virgina, #1 in the US and more the twice the national average.
    http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/electricity/us_per_capita_electricity-2010.html
    Please explain to me how high the  tax will need to be to change the behavior of the worst polluters people of Wyoming?
    I’ll grant that even a modest tax would impact the behavior of the lesser polluters as they don’t have access to ‘cheap coal’ anyway but I don’t see that it will change anything the ‘worst polluters’ do.
    Let’s not kid ourselves, all a carbon tax will do is change the behavior of those that live in areas where burning coal was already expensive to begin with. It’s not going to change the behavior of those living in areas where coal is literally ‘cheaper then dirt’.

  104. willard,

     you misunderstand how I use the term middle. The middle ground is not a space or place between extreme positions. Briffa is the middle of a fight. Its not about left or right, more freedom or less freedom. It not about positioning or framing. It’s about the human fact that he is caught in the middle of a fight. For me that is an interesting story. The people who are caught in the middle of a fight or put themselves in the middle of a fight .

    Here is another person caught in the crossfire

    http://newzealandclimatechange.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/climategate-2-and-corruption-of-peer-review/

    Judith Curry?  to some extent she has put herself in the middle of this fight. This doesnt map so neatly into a space although one can clearly apply spatial terms to it.

    I dont need to explain how the thin green line relates to this 

  105. OPatrick says:

    “Here is another person caught in the crossfire”

    Who is the person caught int he crossfire?

  106. Fred says:

    The “healthy display of outright skepticism displayed” undermines the line that “the science is settled” doesn’t it?
     
    Read this new compilation and discussion of statements from these e-mails and tell me that “climate science” is not politically driven and that these “scientists” can be trusted:
     
    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/284137/scientists-behaving-badly-jim-lacey?pg=1
     

  107. grypo says:

    It depends on how you structure the energy policy.  In the US, the cultural and political framework calls for, at least, state inclusion in any energy policy, but more preferable, this would be regional.  The easy answer is to not get hung up on the few places that won’t change behavior and do across the board carbon taxes.  You can base the initial price and step increases based on national targets, some areas being forced to change faster than others.  This, while faster and efficient, is not possible politically, or even possible without causing severe energy shortages.   

    First, we need to know what kind of policy we can get.  It needs to have large enough time windows and have enough elasticity to allow regional decisions based on what infrastructure is needed or available for ie, nuclear, natural gas, renewables, but also have enough economic bite to get the aggregate emissions for the whole country on target for the future.

    The idea of the tax is not to crush energy consumption (there are better methods – such as outlined here for bridging the gap in the short term), but to get the country, region by region, moving toward alternatives due to known certainties on rising prices.  

  108. OPatrick says:

    Read the out-of context excerption of the emails so enthusiastically reposted by numerous ‘sceptics’ and tell me that “climate scepticism” is not politically driven and that these “sceptics” can be trusted.

    I didn’t get past the sub-heading in your link Fred.

  109. Fred says:

    OPatrick (108):
     
    On not getting past the subheading on the link – that’s your loss, you keep wasting time on a preoccupation with a failed and fairly dumb theory.
     
     

  110. BBD says:

    Fred

    On not getting past the subheading on the link ““ that’s your loss, you keep wasting time on a preoccupation with a failed and fairly dumb theory.

    Failed? As in formally disproved? Who by? Which journal is the paper in?

    We should be told.

  111. Eric Adler says:

    HarryWR2,
    @102
    Wyoming’s electricity consumption, per capita, which you rely on for an argument about carbon charges, is not what you assume.  Power exported  by Wyoming is included in this figure.  
    http://www.city-data.com/states/Wyoming-Energy-and-power.html
    It isn’t clear that Wyoming residents actually consume more electricity per capita in their homes, and businesses.
    In addition, the coal from Wyoming gets only 8600 BTU/ton, versus 12,000 BTU/ton for West Virginia coal. High quality anthracite coal  can have a BTU content between 22 and 28 BTU/ton. There is a big difference in price per ton, between anthracite produced in West Virgina, and the soft coal produced in Wyoming’s powder river basin, but the variation in cost of electric power is way less than that. 
    It isn’t clear what quality of coal you are quoting, w.r.t. the West Virginia’s coal price.
    It has been pointed out that even without accounting for climate change, the use of coal involves a lot of externalization of costs, including environmental damage, and damage to health from SO2, particulates etc. When these are included, power from sustainable resources looks more competitive.
     
     
     
     
     
     

  112. Fred says:

    BBD (110) writes:
    “Failed? As in formally disproved? Who by? Which journal is the paper in?
    We should be told.”
     
    If you can’t figure this out by now, too bad.
     
     
     
     

  113. harrywr2 says:

    #107
    The easy answer is to not get hung up on the few places that won’t change behavior and do across the board carbon taxes.  
    High voltage transmission lines are being built to ostensibly carry wind power from Wyoming to the Pacific Inter-tie.  2/3rds of the time when the wind isn’t blowing what kind of power do you think those lines are going to carry? That’s right…coal power. The folks at Peabody coal must be having a good laugh over that.
    The ‘few places’ that won’t change behavior based on your Tax are pretty much everyone West of the Mississippi river.
    We have access to either extraordinarily inexpensive coal(by world standards) or transmissions lines to someplace that does have access to inexpensive coal. Have you noticed the Texas economy is booming? They have access to cheap coal and cheap gas.
    The US Southeast isn’t interested in your tax because coal there is already not ‘economic’ and they have been patiently waiting on the US NRC to grant them permits to build some nuke plants.
    If we look to Europe a carbon tax didn’t work there either. Whatever trivial progress they’ve made has been based on subsidized Feed In Tariffs or Renewable Energy Standards.
    If you want a plan that might work in the electricity sector a renewable energy standard that increases 2.5% per year would get you off of fossil fuels in 40 years. It creates demand certainty for investors while allowing existing generating assets to remain profitable to the end of their useful lives.

  114. Neven says:

    Steven Mosher shows his other face again on WUWT. The ‘Team’ should of course have left Chris de Freitas do what he’s good at.

  115. BBD says:

    Fred
     
    If you can’t figure this out by now, too bad.
     
    So, no evidence for your claim then.

  116. Fred says:

    BBD (115):
     
    No, its gotten to where if you don’t understand it by now you’re hopeless.  Its not worth the bother.

  117. BBD says:

    All I understand, Fred, is that ‘sceptics’ have no evidence for their claims.
     
    If you have evidence that AGW is “a failed and fairly dumb theory” then provide it. If not, don’t be surprised when rationalists laugh at you for saying silly things.

     
     

  118. Fred says:

    BBD (117):
     
    “Rationalists” have already left AGW theory behind.  Those who still hold it are not worth bothering with.

  119. EdG says:

    #115 Neven writes:

    “Steven Mosher shows his other face again on WUWT.”

    I think you mean his ‘middle ground’ face, which points out problems on BOTH sides.

    Isn’t that what the middle ground is about? Isn’t criticizing this approach the way you just did a symptom of the basic ‘us v them’ problem discussed here?  

  120. BBD says:

    Fred
     
    “Rationalists” have already left AGW theory behind.  Those who still hold it are not worth bothering with.
     
    This is why nobody takes ‘sceptics’ seriously. You are your own worst enemy.

  121. Fred says:

    BBD:
     
    The ClimateGate “scientists” are perfect examples of people being their own worst enemy. 
     

  122. BBD says:

    That’s as may be, but what you said was that AGW was a “failed and fairly dumb theory”.
     
    This – especially the “failed” bit requires hard evidence. I asked you to provide it and you have not done so. That’s the important thing here.
     
    ‘Sceptics’ cannot provide any evidence that the mainstream view is wrong. Climategate 1 didn’t contain anything that led to a re-appraisal of the core science and nor will Climategate 2. It’s just nit-picking and noise.
     
    That’s why nobody takes ‘sceptics’ seriously. And you know it.

  123. Fred says:

    BBD:
     
    The evidence on AGW being a failed theory is easy to come by.  Why should I do you the favor of presenting it again here?  Finding that out is your problem, not mine. 
     
    You and others can keep wasting your time on it.

  124. Andy Revkin says:

    Coming late to this good discussion. The silent middle was on display in my print coverage as far back as January, 1, 2007.

    Mind you, there were lots of slings and arrows as a result. Peter Huybers of Harvard has been pretty public about his concerns on hype. 

    Same issues are there in climate policy discourse.  

  125. BBD says:

    Fred
     
    The evidence on AGW being a failed theory is easy to come by.  Why should I do you the favor of presenting it again here?  Finding that out is your problem, not mine. 
     
    No it isn’t. It doesn’t exist. That’s why you’ve been reduced to childish evasions like this. 
     
    Pathetic. God knows what Revkin must have made of this. Still, it has to be done.

  126. Fred says:

    BBD:
     
    What’s pathetic is that you admit that you can’t find the evidence against AGW theory and continue to support it even though it is associated with energy policies that have contributed mightily to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and has pushed up food prices causing hunger and death in the less developed countries. 
     
    I hope that you can find someone to lead you to the truth, since you admit you are unable to do so on your own.  But as the saying goes, you can only lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink.  Apply that saying to you and you will understand why I will not rehash the massive evidence against AGW.

  127. BBD says:

    Fred
     
    Stop blustering and back up your original claim that “AGW is a failed and dumb theory” with some evidence.
     
     
     
     

  128. Fred says:

    BBD (127):
     
    No. The benefits (if you understood the science) would be to you and the costs of presenting it would be mine. 
     
    In terms of the upcoming elections it is better that adherents of the party in power (overwhelmingly warmists) maintain their unquestioningly pro-AGW stance.  So, while it is obvious to anyone with common sense that global warming is not occurring, it is best to keep AGW adherents spouting their typical nonsense like “this winter will be the warmest ever.”  
     
     

  129. sharper00 says:

    “So, while it is obvious to anyone with common sense that global warming is not occurring[…]”

    Quoting for the “Skeptics never ever say warming isn’t happening” file.

  130. BBD says:

    Fred

    No. The benefits (if you understood the science) would be to you and the costs of presenting it would be mine.

    1/. You cannot back up your claims.

    2/. If you had even a weak grasp of the scientific background you would know that stating that “AGW is a failed and dumb theory” is both wrong and foolish

    So, while it is obvious to anyone with common sense that global warming is not occurring

    Global warming is occurring and nobody wishing to be taken seriously argues otherwise:

    HADCRUT, GISTEMP, UAH, RSS. Common 1981 ““ 2010 baseline; annual mean

    In summary:

    – You repeatedly claim that AGW has ‘failed’ but cannot provide any evidence

    – You also claim that global warming ‘is not occurring’ when it very clearly is

    How can you expect to be taken seriously?

  131. Fred says:

    sharper00 & BBD:
     
    Yes, please keep insisting that warming is continuing, that “scientists” like Michael Mann and Phil Jones should be trusted, and that the Keystone pipeline should not be built at the cost of 20,000 jobs.
     
    I have no interest in your doing otherwise.

  132. hunter says:

    Fred,

    Exactly.

  133. Sashka says:

    @ 117
     
    > All I understand, Fred, is that “˜sceptics’ have no evidence for their claims.
     
    What claims?

  134. OPatrick says:

    Sahska #133: “What claims?”

    Well in this case that anthropogenic climate change is “a failed and fairly dumb theory”.

  135. Sashka says:

    That’s just one claim by one person, counselor. Is that all there is to this statement?

  136. OPatrick says:

    It was a statement made as part of an ongoing conversation. Are you perchance taking BBD’s response out of context and suggesting it means more than it does? That would be a terrible thing to do.

  137. Sashka says:

    I’m not taking it in or out of the context for the reasons that should be obvious. That’s why I asked a rather direct question in 133.

  138. BBD says:

    Sashka
     
    Stop waffling. It’s tedious.

  139. Sashka says:

    Waffling is what you guys are doing. If you wanted to to say that Fred has no evidence to his claim then you had full opportunity to do so and nobody would object (except maybe for Fred but it’s his own business). But you chose to give the broad brush to “sceptics” in general and now you want to wiggle and waffle your way out. Not that I expected anything else from your bunch.

  140. BBD says:

    Sashka

    Waffling is what you guys are doing. If you wanted to to say that Fred has no evidence to his claim then you had full opportunity to do so and nobody would object

    I repeatedly challenged Fred to back up his claim that “AGW is a failed and rather dumb theory”. He couldn’t. 

    But you chose to give the broad brush to “sceptics” in general and now you want to wiggle and waffle your way out. Not that I expected anything else from your bunch.

    He couldn’t show any evidence and you can’t either because there isn’t any. ‘Sceptics’ (individually and collectively) have nothing.
     
    This is a cheap attempt at point-scoring that has backfired.

  141. Sashka says:

    What I call cheap is the attempt use one intellectually challenged person as a proxy for an extremely diverse group of people with widely varying views.
    It has backfired right in your face.

  142. BBD says:

    Rubbish, as per.
     
    Where is the evidence, Sashka?

  143. Sashka says:

    Evidence of what?

  144. BBD says:

    Evidence that “AGW is a failed and rather dumb theory”.
     
    As you know perfectly well.
     
    Pathetic.

  145. Sashka says:

    Have I said that, counselor?
     

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