Betting on Doomsday

In the Uncomfortable Truths Department, here’s one that is sure to raise the hackles of environmentalists who were quick to jump on the recent Australian bushfires/global warming bandwagon. Money quote:

To say that climate change caused these fires is untenable.

Before all you well intentioned environmentalists have a reflux reaction,  breathe deep, swallow the bile, and then hold your noses while you link over to your favorite climate bogeyman, where you can read the analysis in its entirety. (It’s not by him, either.)

In all seriousness, we really need to tread carefully when trying to connect climate change to current weather disasters. To that end, it’s worth keeping a copy of this story on your desktop. I know, I know, it’s written by that second favorite whipping boy. But this piece–despite being two years old–remains one of the best distillations of the climate change conundrum:

By the clock of geology, this climate shift is unfolding at a dizzying, perhaps unprecedented pace, but by time scales relevant to people, it’s happening in slow motion. If the bad stuff doesn’t happen for 100 years or so, it’s hard to persuade governments or voters to take action.

Those of you driven nuts by this don’t understand human behavior. Look at it this way: few of us change our unhealthy diets or take up exercise in earnest until we feel that tightening in the chest or wake up in a cardiac unit.

I know that my life-long love affair with Lucky Charms, hostess cupcakes, and snickers bars is destined to end badly. And one of these days, I’m going to start eating tofu and more green, leafy vegetables….

Now back to the matter at hand. This passage in that 2006 article by favorite whipping boy # 2 illuminates the paradox:

Many scientists say that to avoid a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations, energy efficiency must be increased drastically, and soon. And by midcentury, they add, there must be a complete transformation of energy technology. That may be why some environmentalists try to link today’s weather to tomorrow’s problem. While scientists say they lack firm evidence to connect recent weather to the human influence on climate, environmental campaigners still push the notion.

So Mr. Indispensable, and all the rest of you who are taking this tack out of expediency, you get points for understanding the human brain, but I still think you’re betting on the wrong horse.

7 Responses to “Betting on Doomsday”

  1. Steve Bloom says:

    I think you may have neglected to read much of Mr. Indispensable’s prior work product, <a href=””>this</a> e.g.  See <a href=””>this</a> for context.

    “Those of you driven nuts by this don’t understand human behavior.”  Or are driven nuts *by* human behavior.

    The flip side of the causation coin is that we also cannot say that any aberration in weather or climate is *not * anthropogenically influenced.  That hardly ever gets mentioned.  

    Try this one:  “The combination of record heat and drought in southeast Australia with simultaneous extreme flooding in northeast Australia was likely caused by a shift in atmospheric circulation induced by anthropogenic greenhouse warming.”  I assume you’re familiar with the relevant research results.

  2. Steve Bloom says:

    Like most of RP Jr.’s own writings on this sort of topic, the Australian article he posted suffers from the conflation of events with their associated damage.  The latter factor doesn’t enter into scientific attribution.   See this <a href=””>article</a> on the fire-climate connection.  An interesting aspect is that the firefighters seem to have figured things out, in both Oz and the western U.S. 

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    As it happens, I am familiar with Romm’s body of work. And guess what: a lot of it is pretty good. For example, he’s totally on the mark with respect to hydrogen fuel cells. (Sorry Amory Lovins.)

    And he’s smart enough to know when he’s hyperventilating. What pisses me off is that no greens (judging by the blog comments, anway) will give him a paper bag to breathe into when this happens.  His recent jeremiad against Pielke and Revkin is a case in point. So beware of Groupthink.

    There a lot of things in this world that make me nuts about human behavior. But it relates more to with what people do to one another than how they respond to a complex environmental issue.

    Could you give me the citation for that final quote. It sure rings a bell and I’m sure I read it,  but it would be helpful. In the meantime, I’m going to guess it’s from the last IPCC report. Still, if so, the actual page?

    Lastly, I shouldn’t tweak Romm for being called “indispensable,” because that was conferred on him; the designation and timing of it says more about Friedman than it does about Romm.

  4. L. Carey says:

    “There a lot of things in this world that make me nuts about human behavior. But it relates more to with what people do to one another than how they respond to a complex environmental issue.”
    Unfortunately, in this instance, the distinction you have attempted to draw does not exist.  In the case of climate disruption, how we “respond to a complex environmental issue” is going to result in “doing to one another” in a big way.  It is hard to look at the scientific evidence and not conclude that continuation of our current course of action will result in damage or death to many millions of people over the course of the next century and beyond.  This is the largest moral problem in our world.  And don’t call me “an environmentalist” — I’m a corporate attorney who came to this view a year ago as the result of  having a close look at the science as part of a due diligence investigation for a proposed investment in alternative energy.  And by the way, the media has failed miserably in its task of communicating the relevant information to the public.

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    L Carey-

    Duly noted.
    Regarding your last sentence, that’s a pretty broad indictment. Any sectors of the media in particular?  And by “relevant information,” do you mean the severity of the problem? As I’ve mentioned before in another thread, climate change was getting a lot of attention in the mainstream media right up until gas shot up to four bucks a gallon. Then shortly after that, the bottom fell out of the economy and we were amidst a Presidential election. Throw in a couple of unresolved wars and it’s easy for me to see how climate change dropped off the radar.

    With unemployment now rising to double digits in some states and no near end to the financial jitters, I just don’t see the average person paying much attention to the distant future, when, as you say  the “continuation of our current course of action will result in damage or death to many millions of people over the course of the next century and beyond.” And I think this would still be the case EVEN  if if the media met your expectations for better communication of climate change.

    Not that your point isn’t valid, but if only the average person got this worked up over the millions that die every year from lack of clean water, something that, given our advanced technological state, you’d think we’d be able to fix.

  6. Steve Bloom says:

    Keith, the phrase is mine.  I put it in quotes for emphasis.  The AR4 does mention the general issue, but the research was at a much more tentative stage three years ago. 

    Here’s a general-audience article discussing the effect, including its key role in the glacial cycles.  Here’s a recent review article, and here’s the most recent paper on the subject (formally pinning the shift to radiative forcing, i.e. to us).

    Recall Wally Broecker’s admonition that “climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with a stick.”  With the possible exception of ocean acidifcation, this change is the single most important thing going on with climate.  (IMHO the rainforest stuff is a close third.)  Other than a few recent mentions in the Australian media, what’s amazing is the complete lack of media attention.

    Am I correct in assuming you’re hearing about this for the first time?

    See also these related deep ocean warming results just reported in Copenhagen.  Greg Johnson is being a bit coy about the likely attribution, but the key point is that until very recently it was assumed that it would be centuries before such extensive abyssal warming would be observed.  Faster deep ocean warming has bad implications for transient climate sensitivity.

    BTW, have you read Hansen et al’s recent “Target CO2” paper?

    I second L. Carey’s views.

  7. L. Carey says:

    My comment regarding the media was with respect to the MSM, speaking from my own perspective.  A year ago, my view of the global warming issue was similar to Bill Gates’ quoted view that effects were a long way off and we had a long time to deal with it – a view largely formed by the “he said – she said” nature of the coverage in most of the media.  I was under the (mis)impression that there was actually significant disagreement among competent scientists in the field.  Once I actually started reading some of the key primary materials, I realized that not to be the case (although there are still a handful of prominent scientists, such as Lindzen, on the dissenting side).  My beef is that the media was for the most part simply doing “on the one hand this and on the other hand that” reporting, without bothering to actually reality-check the claims of the two sides – this works okay with some issues, but not so well with issues like AGW where the “on this hand” is overwhelmingly supported in the peer reviewed science and the “on that hand” is largely a bunch of inconsistent and repeatedly debunked PR apparently pushed by (a) fossil fuel funded think tanks or (b) ideologically driven wishful thinking.  And in my view, the coverage to date would not lead casual readers of the MSM to think either that the problems are already now underway or that their lives will be directly affected.

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