The Climate Middle Ground

As someone who’s long been interested in paleoenvironmental research–especially with respect to archaeology–I have a soft spot for tree ring researchers. The development of tree ring chronologies plays a major role (under-appreciated by the public) in the understanding of many ancient cultures and the prehistoric land use and climatic changes of their time

So it’s been a little frustrating that the extent of my recent twitter exchanges with one paleo researcher has focused on climategate 2, when I would prefer to be learning about what environmental reconstructions he’s currently at work on, and what new knowledge it is yielding. But Columbia University’s Kevin Anchukaitis has been exceptionally gracious and thoughtful in our bite-sized discussions, of which there has been much disagreement between us. Today, he’s given me something to think about it again, with this tweet:

Being in ‘The Middle’ has this almost mythic quality to some. In science, it’s often just halfway between a right and a wrong answer.

I’m guessing he’s referring (at least in part) to some of our recent back-and-forth and perhaps to some of my related posts from the past week, such as this one and this one.

I think Kevin makes a fair point, that the proverbial middle ground might also be a no-mans land, where truth can never be found. But I also think it depends on where you define the middle. Climate change, as it is discussed and interpreted in the public sphere, does not reflect the full spectrum of perspectives. Rather, most debate is characterized by hyperbole and spin from opposite ends of the spectrum. In this world, which journalists must navigate, being in the middle is not such a bad place to be.

77 Responses to “The Climate Middle Ground”

  1. Tim Lambert says:

    Yes, because figuring out who is right is just too hard, isn’t it?  

  2. Carl Harvard says:

    but the strategy among those most divorced from the mainstream science is precisely to pull the middle (you) farther and farther away? I’d caution against the middle being your point of pride unless both poles are equally wrong
     

  3. “I think Kevin makes a fair point, that the proverbial middle ground might also be a no-mans land, where truth can never be found.”
    I don’t think you understood Kevin’s point. At all.

  4. sharper00 says:

    “But I also think it depends on where you define the middle. Vaccination, as it is discussed and interpreted in the public sphere, does not reflect the full spectrum of perspectives. Rather, most debate is characterized by hyperbole and spin from opposite ends of the spectrum. In this world, which journalists must navigate, being in the middle is not such a bad place to be.”

    When we apply this to a different topic do you feel it’s still accurate?

    Your point about how we define the middle is good and is really the root of criticism journalists will face from the scientific side. How you define the middle in this case exemplifies the problem: Being in the middle of “spin from both sides” is absolutely the worst place to be in a debate. 

    The reality of the climate debate is that the true “middle ground” concerns policy not the science
     

  5. Kevin Anchukaitis says:

    Hi Keith,

    140 characters is admittedly almost certainly not the best way to have this conversation (I’d rather talk about southwest archaeology and paleoenvironments too!).  It wasn’t only your post that inspired that particular Tweet, but also to then have cause to think more broadly about philosophical differences between journalists and scientists. Our two communities have (largely) different paths, usually different training on the way to our careers, different social and ‘reward’ structures, different priorities.  I can’t help but be very sympathetic to the challenge that science writers face when trying to bring those two worlds together on the page or on the screen.  This is why I’ve come to appreciate ‘upstream’ reporting of science, Justin Gillis’ recent work at the NY Times, etc. It conveys science as a process, it ‘clicks’ with me, but then of course it is philosophically more similar to scientists’ experience, so I’m biased in this respect I suppose.

    But it does seem to me there is an _inherent_ value assigned to ‘the middle ground’ or ‘center’ of an argument in politics and journalism (and to the people exposing those positions) that you don’t encounter the same way in day-to-day science.  I would say scientists DO value a continuum (bounded by some kind of physical reality) and diversity of ideas and also the people willing to listen to and consider them, but ultimately we’re interested in what is the right/best/closest/most accurate/optimal/realistic/plausible answer.  And this is where science/journalism tension can arise I’d say (although obviously it need not — plenty of journalists who investigate claims for their veracity).  From my perspective, it is more important (that is, I personally value it more highly) what is true (to the extent it can be known) than anyone meeting anyone half way because, as I tweeted, sometimes the middle is just a half way point toward a correct answer.
    cheers,
    kevin 

  6. harrywr2 says:

    Being ‘in the Middle’ only makes sense if the answer to a question involves uncertainty.
     

  7. John Crane says:

    Then there is the misperception on the part of many to attribute to journalist an objectivism that, very rarely, has ever existed. In most of the past it was largely understood by most of the public that a newspaper aligned itself with one viewpoint or another and rather than triangulate with varying perspectives, people found solace in reading views that expressed their own.
    Look around you at the type of people drawn to a degree in journalism. Instead of neutrality, they are often the most opinionated. They are not the ones drawn to science in their youth and their degree programs don’t require it at all. They overwhelmingly vote and donate to a particular political ideology. Idealism is practically a prerequisite.
    As if these conditions were not enough to skew, there exists the absolute necessity for those with an agenda to control the message. Show me a person who disagrees with this and I will show you an ideologue.

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Some additional thoughts, based on a few comments here.

    Sharper00 (4),

    Were the the kinds of thorny questions in the climate change debate were as simple as that of the vaccine debate. In the the latter, as with the former, the science is clear. Global warming is real and humans are contributing to it. But what follows from that-the how bad is going to get, when, where, etc, is not so clear. And so, the policy implications that are based on climate science trigger the caged match atmosphere we’re in with respect to climate science.

    If the two ends of the spectrum didn’t debase the larger dialogue with hyperbole and spin, we could have a more rational discussion about the science. And make no mistake: as in politics, it is the extreme ends of the spectrum that oversimplify and frame the debate.

    Kevin (5)
    I’d much rather be out in the field with you than politely sparring over this stuff. I’ve also previously made a suggestion here, for climate scientists, that might help the public better see the process of science.  

  9. EdG says:

    Interesting. First, if EVERYONE was in the ‘middle’ nothing would progress and the world would be a very dull and totalitarian place. Like the Dark Ages in Europe when the Church defined THE truth and nobody asked questions. Or the Lysenko era in the USSR. That ‘middle’ leads nowhere.

    Does any ‘middle’ lead to “where truth can never be found”? To paraphrase some country singer, ‘what is truth’ in the AGW debate? Let’s assume, for the moment, that AGW will have some significant warming effects. The IPCC et al insist that since that is ‘bad’ it must be somehow halted or at least mitigated at a cost of zillions of dollars that nobody has.  Problem is, no change is ‘bad.’ It depends on the specifics. Warming would be very ‘good’ for farmers in much of the northern northern hemisphere – no, Virginia, warming does not equal drought or floods everywhere – so there is no single ‘truth’ in the middle of this POLITICAL question. There are, as usual, truths which vary with one’s particular perspective and location.

    (Thus I see global mitigation solutions to be an absurd approach to varying local scenarios.)

    As for the more absolute ‘scientific’ truth about AGW effects, who knows? The proper scientific approach to this answering question has not been followed, to put it very mildly, and we are dealing with a baby science (with a troubled childhood) to begin with. Some day we will know more. In the meantime, all I see is another blip on the endless natural climate change rollercoaster and some highly politicized and dubious ‘science’ arguing otherwise – backed by a fearmongering campaign that just makes it less credible for people like me.

    So Keith, it seems to me that this ‘middle’ in this political debate is not where any absolute truth will be found but where the various relative truths could be rationally discussed. For the scientific debate that ‘middle’ should be the peer review process… but we all know that we are not living in that ideal world re AGW.

    I hope that you do move to the middle and think that you already are doing that. When the ratio of commenters mad at you from both sides is about equal, you will be getting close. Unfortunately in this debate, some commenters get very, very nasty towards those who stray from their orthodoxy so best if you thicken your skin and prepare for some serious smearing and ‘shunning.’

  10. Anteros says:

    EdG @ 9
     
    I agree with much of what you say.
     
    I have to say that this –
     
    “Being in “˜The Middle’ has this almost mythic quality to some. In science, it’s often just halfway between a right and a wrong answer”


    – completely misunderstands what is relevant to the climate debate. And FWIW it actually isn’t relevant to much other science either. But specifically for climatology there can be no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when we’re asking for ways to characterise the impacts of climate change on people and societies a hundred years from now. If it makes any kind of meaningful sense at all, we’re going to using qualitative concepts, not quantitative ones.


    Many people here would subscribe to the use of ‘catastrophic’ or ‘disastrous’ as characterisations. I would use ‘interesting’, ‘challenging, and ‘surprising’. There will never be any definitive ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and I think we delude ourselves if we imagine there will ever be a ‘judgement’ on the whole affair.


    Two examples – the population bomb of the late 60’s and the acid rain scare [UK version please..] of the 80’s. Catastrophe was widely predicted for both. Are we in a position to judge quantitatively? I think not. I have a view, which is that both were real phenomena, both exaggerated and in neither case would I say catastrophe occurred. Others have different views..
     
    To be in the ‘middle’ about climate change is certainly not necessarily half way to being wrong or right, it is saying (qualitatively) that neither ‘hoax’ or ‘apocalypse’ seem like appropriate characterisations of AGW.


    There are probably many other ways a journalist (or anyone) could be in the ‘middle’ and again, I don’t think they are ‘mid-way’ between any kind of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
     
    As I said on the previous similar thread, I think if as a journalist you’re provoking ire in both sides, you’re probaqbly doing something right.

  11. thingsbreak says:

    I’m happy to see Kevin’s comments.
     
    I had a comment set to “submit” to one of the previous threads about the puzzling “stickiness” and seemingly imbued-with-inherently-positive-qualities nature of the imagined “middle ground” to some schools of journalism, but I ended up deleting it because I didn’t want to be accused of snark or whatever.
     
    Kevin made basically the same points as I would have and seemingly are being taken at face value to boot! Glad to see such perspectives given a fair hearing.
     
    I’d also add that this:
    Rather, most debate is characterized by hyperbole and spin from opposite ends of the spectrum. In this world, which journalists must navigate, being in the middle is not such a bad place to be.
     
    couldn’t seem more wrong from my perspective. Given that Keith Regularly holds Joe Romm and Anthony Watts up as opposites, believing the “middle” between them is an acceptable position is unfortunate.
     
    That is not to say that Romm is never incorrect, or that he does not have a bias. It is to say, however, that his starting point is at least grounded in something approximating scientific reality, whereas the “opposite” definitely suffers from no such restrictions.
     
    Given the inherently conservative processes (both due to the necessity of unanimity and the time lag), I think it would be an interesting experiment to “split the difference” between Romm vs. the AR4 WG1, and then Romm vs. Watts or Morano, and see which is the more accurate. My hunch is that the former will be, and my fear is that a great number of otherwise good journalists take the AR4 as the upper bound/”alarmist” position. Consciously or not.
     
    I say this all, obviously, not to somehow assign to Romm accuracy or neutrality he does not posses (I disagree profoundly with his unecessarily aggressive attack on the Schmittner et al. paper, as an example), but rather to point out the gulf between what journalism seems to view as the “middle ground” and the trajectory of the last decade or so of research.

  12. Anteros says:

    thingsbreak @ 11
     
    Isn’t it true that where we perceive the middle to be is primarily defined by our own perspective?
     
    There probably will never be a place from which we can be objective, but surely the IPCC is close enough to representing a pro, but not extremist AGW position? It is, after all known as the consensus position. And if Romm’s extremism is closer to the IPCC position it is only to be expected?
     
    Romm and Watts might only be useful in this discussion for letting us know where we ourselves stand vis a vis others here. Thingsbreak – it sounds like barring a couple of minor divergences, you think Romm and yourself share a common understanding? And obviously consider it ‘sensible’ and not ‘extreme’? (!). In comparison I think Romm is beyond reason and sanity – and if Watts is a bit nutty, I don’t find him offensively so, so that places me somewhere else – somewhere between Romm and Watts and therefore also between Watts and the AR4.
     
    Therefore also, we disagree where we think the ‘middle’ is – the place where we might expect Keith or Andy Revkin to inhabit. If we feel they are too far one way or the other, surely that again just tells us something about ourselves. Revkin gets a fair amount of abuse from both sides – when I find myself thinking “Oh Revkin is being alarmist again” it should just remind me that I’m predominantly sceptical. I.e the world is as it should be, and Revkin is doing his job.
     
    If you think a journalist is being unjustly sceptical, maybe it could tell you that you yourself don’t hold a ‘middle’ ground view..

  13. Anteros says:

    Keith Kloor @ 8 –
     
    You say –
     
    Global warming is real and human beings are contributing to it. But what follows from that – the how bad is it going to get, when, where etc is not so clear”

     
    This sounds eminently clear and uncontroversial, but at the risk of over-analysing I think it gives away quite a lot about a world view. Compare that with this –
     
    But what follows from that – how much are humans contributing, whether or not the warming might have any negative effects and if so whether any preventative action might be possible or cost-effective”
     
    The latter obviously hasn’t already made a whole heap of assumptions (which I don’t think the science is at all definitive upon).
    Most significantly and tellingly the first question you ask is ‘how bad is it going to get’? For me that is already at such a distant extreme it would take a month of Sundays to get back to the ‘middle’. But I bet it doesn’t feel that way..
     
    Is that right – that a middle ground position is ready to ask “how bad is climate change going to get?”
     
    If I’m being picky/pedantic, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I think sometimes we give away the assumptions we don’t realise we’ve made.
     


     

  14. thingsbreak says:

    @12 Anteros:
    Isn’t it true that where we perceive the middle to be is primarily defined by our own perspective?
     
    Tautologically true, sure. That’s why I proposed actually trying to assess the validity of such perceptions by an external metric of some kind.
     
    Thingsbreak ““ it sounds like barring a couple of minor divergences, you think Romm and yourself share a common understanding?
     
    No. I think that Romm is an advocate for a certain set of values. I think he is genuine in his advocacy for them, but that does not mean that I share a common understanding with them.
     
    He doesn’t post garbage about CO2 not being increased due to humans, or that we’re not warming, or any of the other idiocy that’s completely detached from reality that you find at “skeptic” sites like WUWT.
     
    He, and I, and the National Science Academies of the developed world, and a large number of people who disagree about many of the specifics (e.g. Nordhaus vs. Stern), all think that emissions stabilization is the most economic and safest endgame. 
     
    surely the IPCC is close enough to representing a pro, but not extremist AGW position?
     
    The IPCC, by design, is a conservative reflection of the state of the science (I am talking about the WG1 here). I don’t understand what people mean when they say things like “pro AGW”. If you think there is a legitimate question about the reality of anthropogenic warming, then we’re not going to have a meaningful discussion about what is and is not the “middle” in terms of science.
     
    In comparison I think Romm is beyond reason and sanity ““ and if Watts is a bit nutty, I don’t find him offensively so
     
    Romm highlights the worst case findings and attacks things that he perceives challange the mainstream. That makes him biased, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s working outside of “sanity”. There is nothing, to my knowledge, that he has posted that is legitimately and unquestionably disconnected from the scientific literature as opposed to merely showing the right hand tail of it. If I am wrong about that, I would love to know about it and will revise my opinion accordingly.
     
    The problem comes, to me, in that I don’t think many self-imagined middle of the roaders understand what the right hand side looks like. Things that were basically inconceivable a decade or two ago (~1m SLR by end of century (under unchecked emissions, obv)) are becoming the new middle of the road. The archaic idea that past extinctions were caused by cooling only have been emphatically and dramatically overturned by the wealth of recent paleo/geological evidence linking carbon cycle perturbations to mass extinctions. The profundity of the impacts of emissions in terms of “irreversibility” on thousand and tens of thousand year timescales has been made apparent. 
     
    if Watts is a bit nutty, I don’t find him offensively so, so that places me somewhere else
     
    It places you in a position where you’re (apparently) willing to excuse an endless number of self-contradictory “alternatives” as long as they say “not IPCC”. I don’t know how you expect to be taken seriously on the subject of what the science says if that’s the case. 
     
    the place where we might expect Keith or Andy Revkin to inhabit. If we feel they are too far one way or the other, surely that again just tells us something about ourselves. Revkin gets a fair amount of abuse from both sides ““ when I find myself thinking “Oh Revkin is being alarmist again” it should just remind me that I’m predominantly sceptical. I.e the world is as it should be, and Revkin is doing his job.
     
    Revkin’s job is not to appease a given faction half the time while annoying the other and vice versa. When he was a science writer explicitly, it was to convey the state of science as accurately as possible. The reason why people were so hard on Andy so often is because we expected better of him than we did a non-science reporter from some backwater town paper. He’s an opinion writer now, so if he wants to do something other than accurately convey the state of the science, he’s free to (for the record, I think he’s still trying to be as accurate as he can).
     
    But here’s the problem. If Andy was a biologist writer, and quoted Ken Hovind or William Dembski as often as he quoted their equivalents in climate, he would be completely mocked by the bio, evo, etc. communities rather than cited as an example of the best in the business. 
     
    If you think a journalist is being unjustly sceptical, maybe it could tell you that you yourself don’t hold a “˜middle’ ground view.
     
    I don’t think that Revkin is/was “unjustly skeptical” so much as he has occasionally been relying on the wrong model of evaluating (or at least presenting the evaluation of) claims about reality. Revkin is not shy about his personal views on climate, and they are largely in accord with the scientific evidence. It’s not wrong to simply and completely ignore people like Pat Michaels when they’re shown to be wrong, lying, or otherwise incorrect about reality at basically every turn over a number of years.
     
    But again, a lot of the criticism Andy got is because he’s supposed to be the (or one of the) best at what he does. High profile criticisms on the few times you screw up and not much praise when you’re just consistently good is the burden that comes with holding that kind of position relative to your peers.
     
    I would rather Andy Revkin relied on people like Gavin Schmidt and Roger Pielke Jr. far, far less than he has a habit of doing.
     
    Keith’s dialog with Kevin here (on twitter) is a good example of the kind of branching out for “sources” that I love to see.

  15. Allatlast says:

    It does seem basing the perception of further events on facts, rather than on interpretations, would be a good place to start. The CO2 effect, considered for well over a century, does, in fact, have some impact. Or not? Let’s settle that Physics works when it comes to Absorbtion Spectra, can’t we? Then let’s proceed. How much extra absorbtion is there? What’s the math on that? And that’s just the CO2.
    How come nobody modeled Methane into the low-ball IPCC climate models? And did any of those models get it right about the AMOUNT of melt we are just now able to measure accurately? Nope, events race ahead of the models. There is a fire in the lakes, up North. IMHO,the planetary temperature stays basically the same BECAUSE the ice is melting (and because the Pacific is tucking warm water under)…how hard is that to understand? Consider how it’s going to climb as the ice melts away…and now that the Arctic is nearing ice-free summers, the albedo of the dark ocean takes over…DaisyWorld.
    The fire the physicists see, the glaciologists, the fellows measuring permafrost temperatures, is an invisible one now. But they know it is coming, sure as night is a condition where our planet itself shadows us from the Sun, so is the blanket of CO2 we are producing warming us each night an extra few watt-hours every square meter of this planet’s surface.. To the tune of, what was it now?…as if we had running 16 x 1500-watt blow-driers each, for every person on planet Earth, daily, on 24/7…
    In a bath where the incoming electromagnetic radiation energy density is 1360 watts/per square meter, the estimated current forcing is 1.5 watts. For 24 hours a day…EVERY DAY. Within 100 days you’ve added another whole day’s sunlight. You keep that up for a few years and get some idea of how hot it might get here.
    To be on the safe side, you might go along with Lovelock and Hansen – they were, after all, the pros on planetary atmospheres – and understand, my dear middle-minded friend, that it makes no difference what you said today or five years in the future, “the planet will turn, and the sun will burn.” The boiling frog analogy is still the best, although it is to be noted that the frogs were not releasing ancient sunlight by burning incompletely combusted organic materials – and thus attaining the highest standard of living in all frog-kind’s history, for an amazing number of frogs all over the planet. And those frogs ain’t going to give up on their power so easily…it feels good to feel good, warm in winter, cool in summer, amazing to be caressed by the technoiogies we have, wonderful to eat the foods we do, and fly for hours a couple of feet above the ground in luxurious vehicles called cars. Feeling good is what it’s all about, as you listen to this, see that, buy this, hear that, the senses run wild in a world full of mind, as the clock of your own being and that of incoming sunlight keeps ticking.
    I personally am amazed at the way we progress into the future – there is such promise in our internet communication, the understanding of the integrity of our Earth’s systems, the potential for a fairly common well-grounded perception of our shared reality and an understanding that dynamic co-operation is key. We are just coming to know ourselves and our position in Space, and the integrated interweaving of all the Earth’s systems. Climate Change understanding requires understanding how a planet works, one in a solar system.
    The Greenhouse Effect is real, and so is Global Heating. Remember, a few years back none of us expected to see real Climate Change evidence until about 2030, knowing that once it kicked in, there would be no turning it off for several centuries. For proponents on both sides of the question, recent weather events really shouldn’t be taken too seriously as proof or denial of global heating…in a lot of ways it is just too early, or so we thought. We shouldn’t be seeing the signal so strongly, so perhaps it is coincidence that recent events (higher global air and sea surface temperatures, Australian and Texan droughts, Mississippi and Thailand floods, etc) tie in so well with a global heating scenario. But to deny what’s coming because you don’t understand it, that’s just plain stupid. That’s HOW we define stupid. If someone who knows says, “Run to high ground, there’s a tsunami coming!”, do you run only half-way off the beach? If someone says, “there is a high speed train coming”, do you get only half-way off the tracks?
    But Climate Change is not a high speed train…so you can do whatever you like, and nobody is going to be adversely affected. Running down the middle of a scientific certainty, while meaning absolutely nothing, is your right. Don’t feel any obligation to understand (or warn others, considering your influence) about just how serious a mess we have got our selves into…it is a few years off yet…
     
     

  16. Nullius in Verba says:

    “Middle ground” is a reasonable way to describe it, but possibly not the most accurate.
    The problem is cognitive bias – confirmation bias in particular. Sometimes the middle ground may be part way between a right answer and a wrong answer, more often it is between two partly wrong answers. If you look at the history of science, you will see that most of the ideas scientists have come up with have been, to a greater or lesser extent, wrong. If you read old books, it’s sometimes startling how much of what was well accepted then is now known to be wrong – even with the famous names, the giants on whose shoulders we stand. The schoolbook history of science has been cleaned up, most of the innumerable wrong turns edited out, and the right turns made into the whole story. But science isn’t like that. Even scientists got things – at least partly – wrong most of the time.
     
    And it is the height of arrogance to think things are any different today.
     
    We always see any controversy we are part of as ranging from a right answer to a wrong answer, and we always know ourselves to be on the right answer end of it. The problem is that both ends think the same! If you was at the wrong end you’d still think you was right. So how can you truly tell?
     
    The “middle ground” is the territory of “I don’t know”. It’s where you say “I may lean towards one end, but I know I’m fallible and I’m not certain”. It’s where you take ideas that you think are probably wrong and discuss them anyway. Why do the other people who think they’re right believe what they do? What are their arguments, their evidence, their reasons, and can you distil the differences down to their essential points? And after having done so, consider again whether the choice is not still an open one after all?
     
    People who do so often find themselves taking some points from one camp, and other points from the other, and both camps think they’ve got it wrong. Camps form and split and spread – they explore the landscape of ideas – and those that survive best in the debate live on to spawn new branches of belief. It’s a genetic algorithm, an evolutionary process. Scientific progress occurs by natural selection, not through some elite committee of the super-intelligent sitting down and designing it. Science does not progress by scientists simply working out the answer and then telling everybody.
     
    That does not mean, though, that the camp with the greatest number within it is necessarily ‘right’. That’s the outcome of the last battle, not the current one. What matters is the arguments and evidence, their fitness to survive, their strength to win the debates. The gazelle does not say to the lion “there are more of us, so we’re obviously the fastest, there’s no point in you even trying it.” The battle has to be fought time and time again. If it wasn’t, gazelles would soon slow down. The competition is the thing.
     
    Ideas that are defended from debate go the way of the dodo. One camp, utterly convinced it is right, sits on an intellectual island free of sceptical predators. It gets fat and lazy. It forgets the details of its founding arguments, it drops its most expensive defences, it assumes, and it reveres history, the authority of the way we’ve always done it, the comfortable beliefs we’ve always held.
     
    In science there always has to be a middle ground, and room for competing camps. It might be between right and wrong, where it is necessary for right to maintain its strengths, and it may be between two wrongs, where the middle ground takes over to become the new ‘right’. The middle ground is what it is all about. Science is never settled.

  17. Dave H says:

    Framing the IPCC as extreme and conributors as tainted by environmental activism has been one of the most successful tactics of those that seek to stall progress.
     
    Here’s the thing – I would suggest that virtually all climate scientists disagree with some aspect of AR4. I would also suggest that by far the majority of those that find some point of disagreement, believe that the assessment is too conservative.
     
    Sure, it cuts both ways, but on balance the IPCC assessments represent a conservative position.
     
    Journalists need to do a better job of resisting the false framing that has been so effective.
     

  18. Dave H says:

    @Nullius in Verba
     
    You say:
     
    > more often it is between two partly wrong answers.
     
    Then you say:
     
    > If you look at the history of science,
     
    I would like you to justify your first statement in the context of the second. In *science* the occasions where truth lay partway between two extremes are vanishingly rare, yet you claim such cases are in the majority.

  19. Nullius in Verba says:

    #16,
    Suggest away. If you count only climate scientists who make a career of it – who manage to get their papers published, who get invited to conferences, who get promoted, who don’t get people within the community calling for them to be sacked, or excluded, or their work revoked or withdrawn – then yes, you’re probably right.
     
    The IPCC reports are more conservative than their authors would like, because they know they’d get crucified by the sceptics’ arguments and evidence if they said what they wanted to say. That doesn’t mean they’re conservative with respect to the evidence.
     
    #17,
    What bit of science would you like to take?
     
    Wave or particle?
    Nature or nurture?
    Quantum mechanics or general relativity?
    Conservation of energy?
    Inverse square laws and instantaneous action at a distance?
    Do the planets move in circles, or epicycles?
    Is disease caused by the will of God, or demons, or bad smells, or imbalanced humours, or microbes, or stress, or diet, or genetics?
    Does evolution happen fast or slow?
    Can you inherit any of your parents’ acquired characteristics?
    Is there an energy source that can power the sun for millions of years?
    Can black holes exist?
    Does cold water freeze faster than hot?
    Can crystals form with five-fold symmetry?
    etc.
     
    Such situations are the norm, not the exception.

  20. OPatrick says:

    Anteros #12

    “I think Romm is beyond reason and sanity ““ and if Watts is a bit nutty, I don’t find him offensively so”

    You are objectively wrong. Perhaps we could play a ‘game’ – for every egregiously misinformative post I can find at Watts Up With That you could find an equivalently egregious post at Climate Progress?

    There are plenty of legitimate crtiticisms that could be levelled at Joe Romm, I’ve no doubt he would accept some of these himself, but just as with the wider ‘sceptical’ arguments these criticisms are lost in the torrent of nonsense. Saying there is an equivalence between Watts and Romm is nonsense.

  21. Dean says:

    @9 EdG
     
    “we are dealing with a baby science”
     
    Sounds like you need to read up. There is new knowledge always, fortunately, but the science of the “greenhouse effect” is not new or a baby science. It has a long history, and one that shows strong consistency.
     
    “Some day we will know more.”
     
    Is this the criteria for taking serious action? Will it ever not be true?

  22. Keith Kloor says:

    Besides regularly stretching the bounds of science to trumpet climate doom in town crier fashion, Romm has written some stuff that boggles the mind and which would earn him the label of ant-science by certain liberals if they were to be intellectually consistent.

    See here, for example, and most recently this head-in-vice post (to borrow from one of his favorite expressions).

    A comment I left on that post didn’t make it through his censor, of course. And other critical comments wouldn’t have made it through, either, had he not been called on it by some of his peers. (See, in particular David Ropeik’s comment on the thread.) Romm subsequently tweaked the post and acknowledged it could have been more complete, but the essential nuclear-scaremongering aspect remained intact.

    Like many liberals, Romm shares an outsized phobia to nuclear power, to the detriment of his cause, ironically. 

  23. John Garrett says:

    If you have not read Duke physics professor Robert Brown’s piece, you may find it an eye-opener.

    It should be placed on the front page of every media outlet in the world ( print, broadcast and electronic ) and it ought to be required reading. 

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/02/foia-is-not-enough-why-not-legally-mandate-transparency-in-climate-research-a-modest-proposal/ 

    Climatology has not been practiced in accord with the tenets of scientific method respecting verification and replication.  If you think what climatology has produced accords with scientific method, you are sadly mistaken. Read what this Duke physics professor has to say about verification and replication for yourself.
     

         

  24. Anteros says:

    Opatrick (and tb) –
     
    I can only disagree. I think if you admit that Romm is in the ‘fat tail’ of alarmism, then to see some kind of equivalence with Watts, you only need to see the latter in the ‘fat tail’ of scepticism. He’s pushing an agenda much in the way that Romm is, and exaggeration characterises them both.
     
    I honestly believe that to say an equivalence is ‘nonsense’ is to not be aware of where the ‘middle’ ground is.
     
    What I mean about Romm being beyond sanity and reason [OK slightly bombastic..] is that his rhetoric has nothing whatsoever to do with evidence or science. Yesterday I was reading him talk about the ‘end of humanity’. You can say it is just exaggeration – it isn’t, it is pure unadulterated imagination-riddled nonsense. Science has nothing whatsoever to say about catastrophe or disaster, let alone humanity’s end. All such things are produced by fear and speculation, not science.
     
    My realism says since the beginning of the satellite era (or even since FAR) warming has been occurring at the rate of about 1.5 degrees per century. And that’s cherry-picking because any other time period (either longer or shorter) produces less. I’m happy to talk about a continuation of such warming and of course I don’t see a great deal of catastrophe.
     
    As a result I don’t see the IPCC as conservative, but much more influenced by ‘team science’. If the IPCC FAR BAU predictions were for 0.3 degrees per decade, then the IPCC is an excessive exaggerator, or merely about 100% wrong. If AR4 is more alarmist than the first report it simply hasn’t changed its methodology, and I’d expect it to be equally poor in matching reality.
     
    To say I am ‘objectively’ wrong to compare Watts to Romm is to simply misunderstand the nature of ‘objectivity’.

  25. Dave H says:

    @Nullius in verba

    Your first response is hilariously delusional – the IPCC is conservative because they fear the response of “skeptics”? Genius 😀
    Moving on from that, your list of examples for the “scientific middle ground” is vapid.

    > Wave or particle?

    Arguably the only example with any merit, and the only example I can come up with myself, due to the confusing dual nature of the current thinking. Even then, the answer – such as we understand it now – is not borne from debate and compromise, but from study. The result? Currently we think *all* particles exhibit both wave and particulate properties. In the end, it is not that truth lies somewhere in between, but that both seemingly incompatible viewpoints are simultaneously true. Do you understand the difference? It is not that the two extremes were exaggerated and a compromise was necessary to resolve the “debate” – its that the extremes turned out to be both simultaneously correct.

    Using this as an example is like saying that temperature measurements over the last 100 years simultaneously show an upward and a downward trend, and that both are correct.

    > Nature or nurture?

    Eh? This is just vague handwaving. Nature v nurture is always a continuum, and specific cases have been about how far along that continuum certain behaviours and traits are.

    > Quantum mechanics or general relativity?

    Eh? When both work? Where’s the “truth is partway between” guff?

    > Conservation of energy?

    Do you even think before typing? You’re supposed to be coming up with examples of specific controviersies in science where the truth lay partway between extremes. This is just a statement.

    > Inverse square laws and instantaneous action at a distance?

    And which part of this vague statement backs up your claim?

    > Do the planets move in circles, or epicycles?

    This is particularly funny, given that epicycles were an attempt to reconcile the religious insistence that God’s perfect universe would always move in perfect circles with observations that contradicted that dogma. Are you saying that elliptical orbits and heliocentrism are in fact the midway point between the same position expressed twice?

    > Is disease caused by the will of God, or demons, or bad smells, or imbalanced humours, or microbes, or stress, or diet, or genetics?

    And… what, disease in general is caused in part by all these factors? Really? Is that your position?

    > Does evolution happen fast or slow?
    > Can you inherit any of your parents’ acquired characteristics?
    > Is there an energy source that can power the sun for millions of years?
    > Can black holes exist?
    > Does cold water freeze faster than hot?
    > Can crystals form with five-fold symmetry?

    You really didn’t understand either your original position or my question did you?

    I’m bored now. You must try harder.

    To reiterate – you’re flat wrong that correctness in science usually lies partway between two opposing views.

  26. OPatrick says:

    As I said Keith, there is plenty of legitimate criticism that can be levelled at Romm and I’d agree with both of those, though even then neither are entirely clear cut. Romm is patchy on nuclear, though he has some perfectly reasonable arguments too and I wish he’d stick to those. My suspicion is that the ‘cell phone’ thing is partly a family favour.

    Do they really compare with, for example, these two posts from WUWT?

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/01/hiding-the-decline-down-under-inconvenient-papers-censored/
    In which Watts links to a tabloid newspaper article as his only obvious source, cherry-picks one tide-guage and includes a graph with a patently false trend.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/01/hockey-stick-falsification-so-easy-a-caveman-kid-can-do-it/
    Of which one of his own commenters writes “Look, I am an out-and-out skeptic, however, even I can’t stomach this simplistic argument.”  

    Incidentally I withdraw my offer to match posts from WUWT with those from CP – it makes me to grumpy and too bad a father. 

  27. harrywr2 says:

    #21
    but the science of the “greenhouse effect” is not new or a baby science
    The science of the greenhouse effect tells us a doubling of CO2 will raise temps 1.2C with 2/3rds of that having already occurred, ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL.
    The science of what may or may not remain equal is a child. We don’t have accurate long term ocean temperature,glacier data, ice cap data or cloud data. We also don’t know with any degree of accuracy whether plant growth rates across the complete range of species will react.
    Even the accuracy of the lousy 30 years worth of satellite data has been occasionally called into question by ‘both sides’
     



  28. Alexander Harvey says:

    I think of the middle as being occupied by those that do not sign up to either of the polar positions. I have stated my view that the pole that supports action on emissions tends to push away those that are not fully signed up.

    I will attempt to structure a question that may illustrate a type of fellow traveller that might be excluded, one that shares the climate goals but has a different world view.

    Given a goal to stabilize the rise in global temperatures at or below an increase of 1.5ºC or 2.0ºC above the pre-industrial level, differing world views could lead to one of the following statements.

    We will achieve the goal by reducing emissions?

    or

    We will achieve the goal by managing emissions?

    While they are both intended to meet the goal, the attitude to the problem may be different due to a differing view of the relationship between mankind and the planet. I have used the word managing to be indicative of a world view with man as the dominant partner in the relationship. A world view with man as master of the Earth’s destiny. The other view may emphasise mankind living in harmony with the planet, as one of many players, participating in a balance of and with nature.

    I think that both views have been held by groups of environmentalists for as long as I can remember. I also think that there was a shift towards an acceptance of the man as master position, albeit perhaps as temporary role. That is the journey I have been on. A journey that seems to put clear water between myself and some, many or most over the environmentalists.

    I should wish to support a simple reduction of emissions but I find I must support managing emissions. A critical distinction is that I find myself bringing the question of geo-engineering to the table. Not because it is a good idea, or even the bad idea whose time has come, but as the de facto state of affairs.

    Perhaps I could be persuaded otherwise, but as best as I can judge from the science as stated by the IPCC ARx WGI, mankind cannot simply reduce emissions and meet the goals.

    If we took an a complete emissions holiday would the temperature trajectory turn down or up?

    I cannot persuade myself of any reading of that report in which the trajectory would not turn up, perhaps sharply so, in a ballistic path that would breech the 1.5ºC threshold and probably the 2.0ºC threshold.

    My reading tells me that the change in the radiative balance due to GHG (well mixed, O3, and stratosheric H20) is currently ~3.3W/m^2 (GISS) due mostly to WMGHGs 2.9W/m^2 (GISS/NOAA-IGGS). Given the 3.3 figure the low end of the IPCC sensitivity range (2ºC) tells me that the 1.5ºC threshold would be breeched and that the the 2ºC threshold corresponds to a sensitivity of ~2.2ºC. Obviously one can argue over the details but I cannot she that these thresholds would not be crossed without some maintainance of a de facto geo-engineered cooling or adopting a deleiberately designed form of engineered cooling.

    I could have more to say as I doubt that two of the solutions are inherently benign. Taken to an extreme or introduced with out care each of the following is double edged in that they have the potential to cause rapid warming.

    Reduction in coal burning, or switching to gas.
    Reduction in the total emissions from coal burning including CCS.

    For certain, such objectives are essential parts of a planned meeting of the goals, but I wonder whether those who might push for the rapid cessation of coal source CO2 have a rounded view. As I understand it, action to reduce sulphate emissions that might find favour in a host of countries including China and India, seems to have the potential to cause rapid warming without any benefit from stemming CO2 emissions. Are we feeling lucky?

    I do think that the full range of uncertainties as presented by the IPCC need to be allowed into the debate. As it happens I cannot any combination of them that makes for cheery reading. I do think they should be taken in the round and I see no reason to argue for the lower or higher ends of the sensitiviy range. At one end I see more hope than at the other which is something to cling on to.

    I do wonder whether my reading of the situation would cause me to be shunned by the majority of those most strongly endorsing emission reductions. Is it enough to try and meet the goals or must one also share the same world view. Perhaps I shall find out.

    Alex

  29. Nullius in Verba says:

    #25,
    “Your first response is hilariously delusional ““ the IPCC is conservative because they fear the response of “skeptics”? Genius”
    It was what they said to one another in their emails.
    Labelling everything outside your own limited pool of knowledge as “delusional” is a lazy argument. It doesn’t require you to think or to provide any argument – you can just affix the label and move on. Unfortunately, it only works on people who already share your worldview. To everyone else, it looks like a big, flashing sign saying “I have no real argument here and I don’t want to discuss it”.
     
    The wave-particle debate goes back to Newton and Huygens. Both were wrong. The ‘truth’ includes elements from both of them.
    For a long time Huygens won the debate following Youn’s interference experiments and Maxwell’s wave equation. This led to belief in and a study of the properties of the luminiferous aether. When Planck first re-introduced particle properties it was as a fudge, that he initially believed to be incorrect. The failure to detect the aether, combined with the particulate properties shown in the photoelectric effect forced a synthesis. The point is not whether the conflict was resolved with pure debate, it was the fact that a long-running debate was held in which neither side was entirely correct, and apparently winning it turned out to be temporary.
     
    The nature-vs-nurture debate has a long history in science – with people firmly taking one side or the other at various times. This was particularly the case in biology and psychology (Larmarckism vs Genetics; instinct, education, and intelligence). It has a large literature in the history of science. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.
     
    I’m not so surprised that you didn’t understand the point about quantum mechanics and general relativity – although it is reasonably well-known to anyone with an interest in physics. The point is the two theories are incompatible. Attempts to develop a quantum theory of gravity have all resulted in failure. We don’t know what the resolution is there, but there are people who think quantum mechanics is the more fundamental and that general relativity will fail to apply exactly at the extremes, and people who think general relativity is the more fundamental. Most people think quantum gravity will have to incorporate elements of both views, as well as new insights. The debate isn’t over. The science is not settled.
     
    With conservation of energy, I was referring to the controversy over the point in general relativity. Do you know about that one? The question is whether energy is conserved or not, something lots of people have argued about. The answer is that it depends what you mean by ‘energy’, and ‘conservation’.
     
    The Geocentric/Heliocentric debate was one of the most famous in science, and I’m astonished that you think Copernicus proposing circles was taking the religious position. Circles were proposed – by everyone – for their simplicity and beauty. Ptolemy had no essentially religious reason for proposing it. Again, the point is that when Copernicus proposed sun-centred circles over the Ptolemaic model, both sides had points in their favour, neither side was perfectly correct.
    And of course neither the Earth nor the sun is at the centre of the universe – the universe has no centre. Geocentric versus Helicentric is fundamentally an argument between ‘wrong’ and ‘wrong’.
     
    I take it from your confusion over the history of our understanding of disease that you don’t even know about that. Whether diseases were an act of God or posession by demons was a subject of debate amongst theologians. Neither side, of course, was correct. The balancing of the four humours as developed by Galen from Hippocrates became the dogma for a long time, after a debate in which both sides were wrong. The Germ theory of disease dates back to 1546 didn’t become seriously considered until the 1800s with the discoveries of microbes. It was initially very controversial, with ‘miasmas’ – bad smells – being the most popular theory of the time. The debate raged back and forth until the germ theory won out. Having won, it became the new dogma, so when Goldberger proposed that the disease Pellagra was not caused by a germ, but by a dietary deficiency, he was laughed at. Goldberger had to eat the filth of sufferers to convince the establishment that he was right. And still the answer is not so simple – we have genetic diseases and genetic susceptibility to disease, some being resistant and others not, so in a sense it is largely about genetics, too.
    The history of medicine is littered with theories about the causes of disease, in most cases, both of the competing claims at any given time being partly or totally wrong. For some medical conditions, the argument over their causes persists to this day.
     
    I see you got bored at this point – evidently out of your depth in a subject of which you apparently know virtually nothing. I won’t bother to bore you with the story of how and why Albert Einstein declared black holes to be physically impossible or how the guy who discovered quasicrystals was persecuted for decades because the consensus (after the debate throughout the 18th/19th centuries) was that the crystallographic groups were all known.
     
    Controversy and error is normal in science. But you do need to know something of its history before you can start telling people how they’re totally wrong about it.

  30. Nullius in Verba says:

    #28,
    I’m not sure why you think an emissions holiday would lead to a particular trajectory of temperature, but I don’t think it would be a problem for other environmentalists.
     
    The basic problem with emissions reduction is that China and India and other developing countries are not going to. The argument is between those who think that if you’re going to limit CO2 emission then you have to limit all of it, unconditionally; and those who see the developed nations as the bad guys and plan for developed nations to be stopped from emitting, developing nations to be allowed to continue, and the wealth of the developed nations to be transferred to the developing ones to compensate them for the damage done.
     
    It’s an entirely different debate, and is basically about politics. The Byrd-Hagel resolution set it all out over a decade ago.

  31. EdG says:

    #21 dean writes:

    “@9 EdG – “we are dealing with a baby science”
     
    You: “Sounds like you need to read up. There is new knowledge always, fortunately, but the science of the “greenhouse effect” is not new or a baby science. It has a long history, and one that shows strong consistency.”

    The physical properties of the CO2 molecule and its ‘greenhouse’ effects have been understood for a long time but the study of the whole global climate system is indeed a “baby science.” Big difference.

    ———
     
    “Some day we will know more.”
     
    You: “Is this the criteria for taking serious action? Will it ever not be true?”

    The criteria for taking any action is the weight of evidence and probabilities and the criteria for taking the kind of drastic actions suggested by the UN AGW project require far more CREDIBLE evidence than has been produced.

    Aluminum tubes in Iraq.   

    And it would help if the actions they suggested at least made sense in terms of actual global CO2 emissions – the alleged bogeyman – but they don’t. That is obvious in the rapidly increasing emissions from China and India since Kyoto was signed, a trend that is only going to continue. This project is nothing more than a global welfare scheme masquerading as an environmental issue.

    I can think of endless ways to spend that money more wisely to address real environmental and social issues and, in case you haven’t noticed, we are already broke and cannot afford to waste scarce resources. 

    In the meantime, since Climategate the censorship doors have been pried open and now we are gettuing an increasing flood of research on the global climate outside of the IPCC’s CO2 box, and it certainly is becoming more interesting. Seems every day we are learning more and, not surprisingly, it is not strengthening the profoundly simplistic CO2 tale. Nor is the actual climate.  

  32. laursaurus says:

    John Garrett,
    That is an awesome essay!
    So many cynical responses, though. 
    How can anyone legitimately disagree with his well-supported arguments for transparency and accuracy? 

  33. Dave H says:

    @Nullius

    Patronising, and still hilariously wrong.

    > I’m astonished that you think Copernicus proposing circles was taking the religious position

    Ptolemy and Copernicus were both proposing circles because the heavens were deemed “perfect” for philosophical/religious reasons. This was doctrine. You said epicycles vs circles – that’s flat wrong. Both models are circular, the only difference is Copernicus proposed heliocentrism. Ellipses came later.

    I find it hilarious to be talked down to by you, when you are so flat wrong about something as simple as that. *Learn your history* before presuming to educate someone else.

    As an example of the middle being correct, it falls on its face. Where is the middle? We’re not talking about the gradual progression of science, or degrees of wrongness – we’re talking abotu the fallacy that the centrist position between two extremes is generally correct. *You* have claimed (incorrectly) that this applies to science in the majority of cases.

    Are you *seriously* suggesting that the mid point between a Copernican circular heliocentric model, and a Ptolemeic geocentric one with epicycles leads to elliptical orbits, let alone general relativity? Of course not, because that would be laughably insane.

    *They were both wrong* – but Ptolemy was *more* wrong. It is a textbook example of why your claim is utter bunk. There is no correct midpoint between the two – in the argument “are there epicycles” Ptolemy was flat wrong. Once you accept that you get to argue orbital shape – and then in the question “are they circular or elliptical”, circular 100% loses. And so on, and so on.

    *This* is the progression of science. Small steps where each one is found to be correct before moving on to better understanding. There is the occasional retread and branch, but I can think of no obvious example where such an argument was settled by taking a balanced middle.
    > you do need to know something of its history before you can start telling people how they’re totally wrong about it.
    Yes. I do. You’re still wrong. And condescending.

  34. Dave H says:

    @Nullius
    Oh and your school-level retread of really basic pop-science history still doesn’t answer any actual points.
    Stop stating the obvious, and instead concentrate on actually answering the dangling and obvious question – in what way (precisely now, please, people are reading, and bluster and handwaving is not getting you very far) does, say, your example of QM and GR lead one inevitably to demonstrate that both were wrong, and that the balanced middle has prevailed?
    Talk me through it now, by increments, if you try hard I’m sure you can manage it.
    When I asked the question I was after specificity, not handwaving over large topics spanning decades and centuries. That’s not pertinent, you need to give me individual cases (does Vulcan exist, or doesn’t it? well, according to the middle, maybe there’s a small bit of Vulcan there). Surely that should be easier for you, there’s millions of examples to choose from, right? And the majority ended up with a balance between two extremes, right?
    Because, see, all you’ve actually argued is that science is – by its nature – incomplete, and moves from a position of less understanding, to one of more. Indeed, if you follow the history of the science behind your over-broad examples, they all consist of a series of small steps answering specific questions, every one of which neatly rebuts your original outlandish claim.

  35. Nullius in Verba says:

    #32,
    Ah! I see the source of the misunderstanding. I have not, at any point, claimed that the centrist position between two extremes is generally correct. I claimed that the two extremes are generally both wrong.
     
    This is an entirely different proposition. As for being amusingly patronising, you started it. 🙂
     
    Circles were preferred on philosophical grounds by the Greeks, not religious ones. Neat switch, though.

  36. Dave H says:

    @Nullius
    Oh and you provide a perfect example of why your original argument is incorrect.
    > Geocentric versus Helicentric is fundamentally an argument between “˜wrong’ and “˜wrong’.
    Not quite fair, it is more an argument between “wrong” and “less wrong”. However, precisely which one is less wrong is only apparent with hindsight, because once we reach agreement on the “less wrong” position, we move beyond it.
    What we *categorically do not do* is split the difference between “wrong” and “less wrong”, give up on trying to determine which is which and call the halfway point “right”.
    That’s what the media does, repeatedly. That is what you have claimed science does. And you are wrong. Your own examples show it, plainly.

  37. Nullius in Verba says:

    #36,
    “That is what you have claimed science does.”
    No I haven’t.
    I haven’t said it. I specifically said I wasn’t saying it. I’ve told you since that I haven’t said it.
     
    I said “Sometimes the middle ground may be part way between a right answer and a wrong answer, more often it is between two partly wrong answers.” Now you say “Not quite fair, it is more an argument between “wrong” and “less wrong”.” Unless you are arguing that “less wrong” is the same thing as “right”, you are agreeing with me.

  38. Dean says:

    @27
     
    Does this contradict what I said? That the study of the greenhouse process is 200 years old doesn’t mean that you agree with it. It does mean that it is not a baby science. I am assuming here that that usage implied youthful, young. And that is objectively false. We’ve known that the greenhouse existed longer than we’ve know about the dinosaurs.

  39. Nullius in Verba says:

    #38,
    The mechanism of the greenhouse effect as it was understood 200 years ago was incorrect. The actual mechanism by which it works was only understood/used in the 1950s-60s, and has mostly not yet propagated out to the general public. (Or even most scientists.)
     
    And as people keep on saying, the greenhouse effect itself is not the issue. It’s all the other stuff that leads to the controversy, and which is “baby science”.

  40. EdG says:

    #38 Dean. I thought I was clear enough but I’ll try again. While the ‘greenhouse’ properties of CO2 have been understood for a long time, the study of the whole global climate system is indeed a baby science.

    That system involves more than CO2 and the greenhouse effect.

    Similarly, gravity has been well understood for a long time but rocket science is much more recent. And I’m not calling ‘rocket science’ a ‘baby science’ now but I hope you get the point.

    I suppose people who actually believe that the physical properties of CO2 is the only factor driving our always changing climate might find this concept difficult to understand, so I hope you are not one of them.

    In the meantime, as this baby science gradually emerges from its troubled childhood we are learning more all the time, and it is endlessly interesting. Much better than simple baby stories.

  41. Lewis Deane says:

    What is the ‘middle’? A metaphor pointing to a metaphor, that of a ‘location’? Such uses as in the ‘man in the middle’ or the ‘middle ground’ are ambiguous and double edged. And those who profess to be in the ‘middle’ are often bullied into a marginalised and one sided position. It takes great clarity, honesty and strength of will to stay in the ‘middle’, whatever it means. Look at, for instance, the case of Judith Curry or, indeed, Andy Revkin. The middle is possibly a place of negotiation and the ‘middle man’ an honest actor who tries to hear all sides. It’s very old, as a concept, very ’60’s, very unfashionable. It’s about tolerance and humility. It’s about democracy and democratic debate.

  42. Lewis Deane says:

    The ‘middle’, that is to say, is often a ‘no man’s land’ and go out there those who dare!

  43. Anteros says:

    Dean @ 38 –
     
    Doesn’t the consensus ‘estimate’ of climate sensitivity as being somewhere (probably) between 2 and 4.5 degrees give you a clue as to the immaturity of climate science?
     

  44. Lewis Deane says:

    And, often, as this ‘middle man’ ones business becomes elicitation. Because no one ‘trusts’ the ‘middle’, no one will allow themselves to explicitly state what their stances really are. A good negotiator provokes when honesty is not forthcoming. The ways of doing so can often seem eccentric, ‘mad’ and, possibly, ‘drunk’, but without bringing out what has been hidden no debate, no ‘middle’ can be had. ‘Openess’ did not mean and cannot mean being without fear, but acknowledging fear, facing it and overcoming it. Fear cannot leave us and will increase over time but it is precisely because of this that we need this fearless ‘middle’!

  45. Lewis Deane says:

    And a final, I promise, point: I worry about our ‘public spaces’, where the ‘middle ground’ actually exists, how by inaction, fear and hysteria what was truly, for a while, a brief while, ‘open’ is now becoming more and more circumscribed and closed. But it is our cynicism that shuts the park gates and locks away the public garden. It is our increasingly needless fear that sees the street as a very bad and intolerable conduit we must use at our peril. It is our cowardice which would treat the ‘middle man’ as an imposter. It is to our cost that we find it so difficult to listen to him and let him listen to us – him or, of course, her! 

  46. Kevin Anchukaitis says:

    Comments from a few folks above about climatology as a ‘baby science’ are, as I’m fond of putting it, wrong.  Fourier and Tyndall’s work in the early and mid 19th century predates or is contemporaneous with, for instance, Pasteur and work on germ theory.  Walker was in India starting to figure out the Southern Oscillation at the turn of the 19th century, just slightly before Douglass established dendrochronology in Arizona. Paleoclimatology in general has its roots and home in geology (so, at least as far back as Hutton in the 18th century).  

  47. Anteros says:

    Kevin Anchukaitis @ 46 –
     
    I think perhaps ‘baby science’ isn’t the best choice of expression for those of us who wish to underline the uncertainties in climatology, It is in response to the unjustified intimation of some (Michael Mann comes to mind) that there is no place left for skepticism that produces critiques of the maturity of the discipline. And I think for similar reasons that Richard Lindzen called climate science ‘primitive and immature’.
     
    I’m not sure having roots that go back 200 years has anything meaningful to say about the maturity of climatology – or any particular study. Plenty of branches of science have been in existence for millennia without approaching a basic approximation of how the natural world works. How will our present understanding of climate sensitivity look in a couple of hundred years? Fifty years, even. Will it still be a useful or meaningful concept? If we have more than a little knowledge of the climate, why is Trenberth asking “where the heck is Global Warming”?
     
    Many of the people who wish to characterise climate science as ‘grown-up’ have a vested interest either in their predictions, their ideology or their funding.
     
     

  48. Peter J Scott says:

    Keith,

    You say:

    I have a soft spot for tree ring researchers. The development of tree ring chronologies plays a major role (under-appreciated by the public) in the understanding of many ancient cultures and the prehistoric land use and climatic changes of their time.

    I’m surprised you say this so confidentlyThe very existence of the “divergence problem” from the 1950s unfortunately casts doubt over the whole field, especially as regards temperature. A reliable instrumental temperature record against which to compare readings is a very recent phenomenon, and as you know, there is divergence from the 50’s on.
     

  49. Eric S says:

    That seems laudable, noble. To be in the middle. I feel underclassed here with all the intelligent commenters, but, as far as climate change is concerned, I see two basic points: 1. if you believe that the hockey stick depiction is inaccurate, then current temps are not unusual, and 2. ice cores, touted by Gore, actually show only that Co2 is a result (not a cause [or an amplifier]) of temp change.
    Point 1 & 2. Where’s the middle ground? AGW, and gw, are not. Maybe the middle ground is just a little bit of what is not. There’s been a little bit of unusual warming. No. Co2 causes a little bit of temp change. Not based any empirical evidence does it do that.

  50. Kevin Anchukaitis says:

    Anteros (#47),

    > Many of the people who wish to characterise climate science as “˜grown-up’ have a vested interest either in their predictions, their ideology or their funding.

    That’s quite a serious charge. Can you tell me who they (the ‘Many’ in your statement) are and provide evidence for your characterization of them? Thanks!

    I think you are misunderstanding Dr. Trenberth’s statement, which was about the nature of the observing network, not a statement about the physics of planetary energy balance or the sensitivity of the climate system to CO2.  Also, can you point me to where Dr. Mann said there ‘is no room’ for critiques of climate science?  But I think casting this in terms of statements made (or written in stolen emails) merely obscures the fact that we are talking about physical mechanisms, some of which are understood quite well (while others are not).  A few out of context quotes, no matter who they are from, won’t change the properties of CO2.

    But in any event, I actually agree with you that longevity of a discipline need not scale with its success in describing the physical world.  My point was simply to answer the false claims made upthread that climate science is a young science.  This appears to be a commonly held misconception, for some reason, but history says otherwise.  

  51. Kevin Anchukaitis says:

    Peter J Scott (#48),

    This is too simple of a characterization of the ‘Divergence Problem’, which appears to affect some (but not all) tree-ring width chronologies at high latitudes at various points during the last ~50 years.  Moisture-sensitive trees and many other latitudinal tree ring proxies are not so influenced (in fact, I’m off now to talk about one of those very set of sites).  You might find the following review paper interesting, but this is an active area of research and we’re learning more about it all the time:

    Esper J, Frank DC (2009) Divergence pitfalls in tree-ring research. Climatic Change 94, 261-266.
     

  52. BBD says:

    Anteros
     
    I’m interested in your response to Kevin Anchukaitis (#50) where he asks you this:
     
    That’s quite a serious charge. Can you tell me who they (the “˜Many’ in your statement) are and provide evidence for your characterization of them? Thanks!

  53. Anteros says:

    Kevin Anchukaitis @ 50
     
    I understand why you might be sensitive to charges that climatology is a ‘young science’ and as I said, I think it is something of a mistake by those of us who wish merely to emphasise the uncertain or speculative nature of some aspects of climate science. I’ve not heard EdG (above) use ‘baby science’ before. But I’m glad you don’t equate longevity with implying comprehensive understanding.
     
    Perhaps some of it is rhetoric and is a response to the reverse – the over-playing of the certainty of conclusions to suit a particular agenda. I think with Michael Mann, it is as I said, an ‘intimation’ that what is known is more certain than is warranted – the temperature record for the last 1000 years for example. I know his first paper was eminently cautious, but since (for understandable reasons) he has become amazingly trenchant about it.
     
    However ,to be fair, that is perhaps a minor point and on second thoughts my inclusion of funding interests is not relevant – everyone has a vested interest in funding and it doesn’t pertain to the maturity of a science. Apologies for that excess.
     
    When Mann speaks of the science having ‘spoken’ I think the impression he wants to give is that it has spoken definitively and unarguably. I don’t believe that characterises what science has said at all.
     
    The reason I re-iterate what, for you, is perhaps obvious – that there are many unknowns (both known and unknown) in climate science – is because some agendas seek to suggest the opposite. Al Gore, for instance has no desire to stress uncertainty – he frequently says ‘the science says’. This I think is true for all activists, and it is to activists and non-scientists that I wish to stress uncertainty.
     
    It is also true for James Hansen. I think he is an activist first and a scientist second. As I’m sure you know, the abstracts of his papers speak of definite and ‘ineffable’ disasters should temperatures reach 2 degrees above pre-industrial, and that if the tar sands of Canada are tapped it will be ‘game over’ for a stable climate. Well, the proven reserves tar sands equate to at most  1 tenth of a degree temperature rise, using an equilibrium sensitivity of 3 degrees.
     
    So, my contention is that he (not for the first time) is talking utter garbage, but more than that, he is expressing it in terms of certainty. So, those of us who wish to bring some realism to the debate have to counter that with expressions like ‘primitive and immature’ . I give a lot of credence to Judy Curry’s use of the ‘uncertainty monster’.
     
    The only use I would make of the recent email kerfuffle is that there is quite a stark difference in the picture painted by ‘team’ players behind closed doors and that which ends up in the SPRs of the various IPCC assessments. It is to respond to that stark difference that leads to people like myself stressing the publicly less-spoken caveats and uncertainties. 
     
    In a sense, I don’t see that I disagree with you – you mention ‘physical mechanisms, some of which are understood quite well (while others are not). If those distinctions that you see were widely understood by non-climate-scientists, I would have very little to argue about. 
     
    Would you not agree that while the anthropogenic signal is appearing from within the noise, it is still relatively indistinct and could yet take on many forms?

  54. Fred says:

    Garret (#23) points out that climate “science” has not at all been practiced in accordance with standards demanded in areas where scientific investigation has significant impacts on society. The piece by a physicist at the link he posts is well worth reading. 
     
    A “tipping point” has been reached on this issue. Its a little late to position oneself in the “middle” on this issue. The science is clearly against the hypothesis. For a popularized summary, see:
     
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2011/12/01/salvaging-the-mythology-of-man-caused-global-warming/ 
     
    For those who trust the “science” produced by the ClimateGate crowd, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
     
    Its not even worth the time it takes to debate warmists on this issue. I recommend Keith refocus his blogging efforts on a more lively issue he knows something about, like ancient native American archeology.
     
     
     
     

  55. Anteros says:

    Fred @ 54 –
     
    “Its not even worth the time it takes to debate warmists on this issue”


    I certainly understand your feeling about this, but you merely echo what people like Michael Tobis say here once in a while – that it is not worth debating ‘sceptics’ on this issue.


    Well, you both seem to have made up your mind. My take is that it is futile to debate with people who obviously have a completely closed mind on an issue, but do you want that to include yourself?

  56. Nullius in Verba says:

    #50,
    “I think you are misunderstanding Dr. Trenberth’s statement, which was about the nature of the observing network”
    Was what he said not tantamount to the data does not match their theory, therefore the data is wrong?
     
    “Also, can you point me to where Dr. Mann said there “˜is no room’ for critiques of climate science?”
    I believe that is a reference to not inviting certain people to a workshop because they had publicly criticised MBH98. (1125067952.txt)
    “There are some similarly problematic issues w/ Cubasch, who like von Storch, who has engaged in inflammatory and ad hominem public commentary. There is no room for that on any side of the debate.”
     
    “A few out of context quotes, no matter who they are from, won’t change the properties of CO2.”
    How do you know they are out of context?
    But it is the properties of clouds, aerosols, ocean cycles, solar variations, unknowns, etc. that are the real issue. Relatively little of it is about CO2.

  57. BBD says:

    NiV
     
    But it is the properties of clouds, aerosols, ocean cycles, solar variations, unknowns, etc. that are the real issue. Relatively little of it is about CO2.
     
    Rubbish. It’s mainly about CO2, which is why you come out with a constant stream of diversionary waffle like this and why you keep trying to deny that estimates of ECS are converging on 3C. 
     
    What are you so frightened of?

  58. laursaurus says:

    Trees certainly evoke a sense of fascination. Unlike every other living organism (I can think of), they have the potentially indefinite lifespan. Even the most callus individuals, feel a pang of sadness when a magnificent old tree needs to be chopped down (sometimes it has to be done for reasons beyond our control). There’s a closet tree-hugger in most everyone. Anthropomorphism naturally occurs. 
    On the other hand, there must be some troubling cognitive dissonance for environmentalists who champion Michael Mann’s magnum opus. How many of these rare treasures were slaughtered to make just one Hockey Stick? Even worse, they may have died in vain. Could this precious evidence have also been scrapped with the instrumental data? Think of the other trees that also gave their lives to become the paper is was recorded on. 
    Tree growth is impacted by so many variables. Plus we are talking about just a few degrees. Plus trees only grow in particular environments. No trees in the ocean (2/3’s of the planet), in the deserts, prairies, Antarctic continent, above the timberlines, the Arctic Tundra, etc. You can plant 2 same-sized trees from the same batch from the same nursery, side-by-side in your yard. Then 10 years later, they will look very different for no obvious reason. How do you chop them both down 600 years from now, and figure out how hot it was? Or how hot the entire globe was? Or that the MWP was regional if you only have trees in a few select regions? Oh, and surprise! They don’t match up with actual thermometers! Or if they do, no hockey stick.
    But garden variety common sense is considered worthless. Only those endowed with knowledge of climate science, actually no. Only Michael Mann possesses the ability to measure the temperature for the past 1000 years from tree rings?

  59. BBD says:

    On the other hand, there must be some troubling cognitive dissonance for environmentalists who champion Michael Mann’s magnum opus. How many of these rare treasures were slaughtered to make just one Hockey Stick?


    I know you may be joking here, but just in case…
     
    Samples are taken with a coring tool (a bit like the ones used by cheese makers to sample right to the centre of a whole cheese).


    The process does not harm the tree. Or so I have been told, at any rate.


    Kevin Anchukaitis may be able to provide more detail if he revisits the thread.

  60. Nullius in Verba says:

    #57,
    Heh. If only CO2 matters, then the climate sensitivity for CO2 alone is 1.1 C/2xCO2. That’s been “settled” for quite a while.
     
    Why do you keep on going on about me being “frightened”? Do you actually think you frighten me? Or anyone?

  61. BBD says:

    Quoting the no-feedbacks sensitivity is meaningless. Where in the literature are the uncontentious, widely accepted studies that show net feedbacks to be only weakly positive?
     
    Of course I don’t mean ‘do I frighten you’. I mean ‘what is it about the mainstream scientific position on CC that frightens you to such an extent that you have retreated into denial?’

  62. EdG says:

    #46 Kevin Anchukaitis Says:

    “Comments from a few folks above about climatology as a “˜baby science’ are, as I’m fond of putting it, wrong.”

    Only if you CHOOSE to narrow the point to the properties of CO2. In terms of the study of how the whole global climate system actually functions, it is a ‘baby science.’

    That is why there are still so many known and unknown unknowns, and so much new information coming out. That is why there still is a very vigorous debate. That is why the models do not match reality.

    Of course, for those who want to believe that ‘the science is settled’ or anything close to that, it is very convenient to want to believe that the study of global climate is not the baby it obviously is.

    Too bad they spent so much time and resources focused on their chosen CO2 bogeyman. This baby science could have grown up much more quickly and with a much samer personality. Now we have a ‘delinquent teenager’ with some serious personal issues to deal with before progressing. 

  63. Nullius in Verba says:

    #61,
    “Quoting the no-feedbacks sensitivity is meaningless.”
    Of course. But when I said that it was all the other factors (the ones that lead to feedbacks) that were the issue, you told me this was “Rubbish” and it was mainly about CO2. Do please make your mind up.
     
    “what is it about the mainstream scientific position on CC that frightens you to such an extent that you have retreated into denial?”
    The mainstream scientific position doesn’t frighten me, I’m not retreating from anything, and I’m not in denial.


    The mainstream scientific position is that they don’t know, the level of scientific understanding is too low to come to any firm conclusion. The mainstream unscientific opinion of a small subset of scientists is that this doesn’t matter, what they’ve got is good enough to come to a conclusion, it’s better to be a bit overconfident in order to get political action on a ‘just in case’ basis.
    My opinion is that that isn’t good enough, and I’m fairly annoyed about what this has done (and will do) to global economic development and the reputation of science.
     
    I’m not impressed by “peer-reviewed literature” – that’s pure argument from authority – and I know enough about the science by now that they can’t blind me with it. Their sloppy and unscientific methods render their results unreliable, and their defensive attitude and political advocacy is offensive. It’s Cargo Cult science – it follows the outward forms of science, but is mostly empty ritual that misses its essential philosophy.
    Science will self-correct eventually, once the politics gets out of the way. In the meantime, I’m just entertaining myself by picking at it.

  64. EdG says:

    Just to calm the waters… I do use the term ‘baby science’ because that is how I see it, but that is arguably a slight exaggeration which seems to raise the hackles of some.

    So, from now on, in the spirit of middle seeking, I’ll try to remember to call it an ‘immature’ science. (In the same spirit, I will avoid using a much more blunt label for IPCC Climatology.)

    Kevin’s post, which I responded to, doesn’t seem to understand that just although some of the basic elements of modern climate science were recognized and identified long ago, that is not the same as understanding how all those elements work together in the global system. That is my point.

  65. EdG says:

    Kevin Anchukaitis

    Since you are a tree ring guy, I am wondering if you knew what was going on in the background on this? Looks to me like lots of people did, and said nothing.

    “From: Tim Barnett [[2]mailto:XXXXXXXXXXX@ucsd.edu]
    Sent: 11 October 2004 16:42
    To: Gabi Hegerl; Klaus Hasselmann
    Cc: Prof.Dr. Hans von Storch; Myles Allen; francis; Reiner Schnur; Phil Jones; Tom Crowley; Nathan Gillett; David Karoly; Jesse Kenyon; christopher.d.miller@noaa.gov; Pennell, William T; Tett, Simon; Ben Santer; Karl Taylor; Stott, Peter; Bamzai, Anjuli
    Subject: Re: spring meeting
    not to be a trouble maker but……if we are going to really get into the paleo stuff, maybe someone(s) ought to have another look at Mann’s paper. His statistics were suspect as i remember. for instance, i seem to remember he used, say, 4 EOFs as predictors. But he prescreened them and threw one away because it was not useful. then made a model with the remaining three, ignoring the fact he had originally considered 4 predictors. He never added an artifical skill measure to account for this but based significance on 3 predictors. Might not make any difference. My memory is probably faulty on these issues, but to be completely even handed we ought to be sure we agree with his procedures. best, tim”

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2011/12/2/tim-barnett-on-the-hockey-stick.html

  66. willard says:

    > Trees certainly evoke a sense of fascination.

    Indeed, its fascination is not unprecedented.  See for yourself:

    Glaucon: “But Socrates, a tree didn’t really hit a guy. It’s all shadows.” 
    Socrates: “No shit, Glaucon, but you don’t know that. You think the shadows are real things. Everyone does. Now shut up and let me finish. 

    http://www.philosophybro.com/2010/12/platos-allegory-of-cave-summary.html 

  67. BBD says:

    NiV

    Of course. But when I said that it was all the other factors (the ones that lead to feedbacks) that were the
    issue, you told me this was “Rubbish” and it was mainly about CO2. Do please make your mind up.

    You didn’t answer the question:

    Where in the literature are the widely accepted studies that show net feedbacks to be only weakly positive?

    You need them to support your argument. Although you might have sawn off the twig you were perching on:

    I’m not impressed by “peer-reviewed literature” ““ that’s pure argument from authority ““ and I know enough about the science by now that they can’t blind me with it. Their sloppy and unscientific methods render their results unreliable, and their defensive attitude and political advocacy is offensive. It’s Cargo Cult science ““ it follows the outward forms of science, but is mostly empty ritual that misses its essential philosophy.

    So you don’t like models, or empirical studies, or the published literature… you are hard to please.

  68. BBD says:

    Willard @ 66
     
    Amusing. Thank you.

  69. BBD says:

    “Finally you’d want to go down [into the Platonic cave] and tell everyone about everything you’ve discovered. Except, and here’s the hilarious part, they think you’ve gone f-ing crazy. You’d say, ‘Guys, real trees are green!’ and they’d say, ‘What the f- is green? THAT is a tree over there.’ And you’d squint and look at the wall, but you know you’re f-ed because now you’re used to having sunlight, and now you can’t see s-t. So they’d laugh at you, and agree that wherever it was that you went, no one should go there because it turns people into dickheads.

    http://www.philosophybro.com/2010/12/platos-allegory-of-cave-summary.html

  70. Keith,

    I agree with Kevin’s assessment of The Middle. Nevertheless, in communication it is still a very powerful trick to make oneself appear credible by kicking to alleged extremes on either side and position oneself in the middle.

    You write:
    “In this world, which journalists must navigate, being in the middle is not such a bad place to be.”

    That’s not necessarily the case. Especially not if the spectrum of opinion is not normally distributed around ‘The Truth’. If people on one side of the spectrum exaggerate for PR effect and people on the other side put the scientific knowledge through the meat grinder, the middle will turn out quite far on the latter side.

    Far better than relying on ‘the middle fallacy’ is to assess the merits of the arguments, e.g. based on background or specialized knowledge (which is necessarily limited), or (supplemented by) shortcuts to assess the credibility of the argument.  

  71. Alexander Harvey says:

    Niv #30,
     
    Regrding an emission holiday.
     
    Based on the IPCC AR4 their estimate is that the sulphate cooling is around 1.2 W/m^2 with some pretty large uncertainties, the warming effect due to black carbon they put at around 0.1W/m^2. The GISS forcings give a value as of 2010 of 2.4 W/m^2 for sulphate cooling and 0.6W/m^2 for black carbon warming.
     
    My understanding is that the cessation of fosil fuel burning would lead to a rapid (weeks to months) reduction in the environmental loads of both sulphates and black carbon. Reduction in CO2 concentrations would be much slower by comparison. I do not know the full extent of the effects of fossil fuel burning but I believe any other changes in the forcings would be small by comparison.
     
    Based on the NOAA IGGS data the rate of increase in radiative forcing from well mixed gases is ~1/30 W/m^2/yr. A fossil fuel emissions holiday seems to have the potential for a ~1W/m^2 increase in overall forcing in the short term, say within a year. One might achieve in 1 year what the current trajectory for WMGHGs would achieve in 30 years.
     
    In the short term, a cessation of fossil fuel burning, or a curtailment of sulphate and black carbon emissions seems to indicate a period of warming above whatever changes would have happened otherwise.
     
    As far as I can establish there are no significant non-fossil fuel combustion sources for sulphate emissions, in that case a holiday would reduce sulphate concentrations back to the preindustrial levels, the same does not seem to be true for black carbon and only a partial reduction would occur.
     
    If one were to take the GISS figures, the effect would be 1.8W/m^2 and then only if the black carbon went to zero.
     
    It would be misleading only to compare these values with the annual increase in WMGHG forcing.
     
    It would perhaps be better to compare them to the suspected level of flux imbalance averaged over the last 20 years or so. Again this is a bit vague, but figures in the range 0.5 to 1.0 W/m^2 seem to be in the ballpark.
     
    This indicates to me that a holiday would have the capacity to commence a short term (years not decades) rate of warming similar to what has occurred during the last 20 years or a small multiple (2-4) thereof above whatever would occur otherwise. This presumes that the IPCC, GISS, NOAA, are broadly correct. If they are I am led to believe that a holiday would give rise to a initial period of warming.
     
    Alex

  72. BBD says:

    As far as I can establish there are no significant non-fossil fuel combustion sources for sulphate emissions, in that case a holiday would reduce sulphate concentrations back to the preindustrial levels, the same does not seem to be true for black carbon and only a partial reduction would occur.
     
    Don’t forget volcanism. Which seems to be offsetting warming over the last decade quite effectively (along with the three La Ninas and the quiescent Solar Cycle 24).
     
    Have a look at Vernier et al. (2011): Major influence of tropical volcanic eruptions on the stratospheric aerosol layer during the last decade
     
    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 38, L12807, 8 PP., 2011
    doi:10.1029/2011GL047563 
     

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL047563.shtml

  73. EdG says:

    “Don’t forget volcanism. Which seems to be offsetting warming over the last decade quite effectively (along with the three La Ninas and the quiescent Solar Cycle 24).”

    So, natural factors matter when it is not warming and CO2 matters when it is. And natural variation dominated before 1900 but CO2 dominated after 1900, except when it didn’t.

    I love your logic BBD.

  74. EdG says:

    # 70 Would you mind answering my #65? Thanks.

  75. Alexander Harvey says:

    BBD #72:
     
    I hope it would be clear that I meant anthroprogenic sulphate emissions. If that is the case the levels would fall to background levels and that would include volcanic. It would have been clearer if I had said troposhperic sulphates.
     
    I do not doubt you are correct, but I do not see that it is relevant given my clarification.
     
    Alex

  76. BBD says:

    Isn’t the current view that the role of Chinese sulphate aerosols from coal burning has been over-estimated vs that of equatorial volcanism? Which has proved more effective in lofting SAs into the stratosphere, where they have the largest cooling effect.
     
    Hence the idea that (for the last decade) natural sources of SAs over-print the anthropogenic influence offsetting warming from CO2.

  77. Alexander Harvey says:

    BBD #74
     
    I do find it very mysterious. On one hand there are some e.g. GISS that believe that the stratospheric sulphate effect is very great, and evidence from actual emission accounting that says that it simply can’t be. That later view was heavily contested some years ago. As I understood it the argument was that the accounting which, I guess is some multiple like the sulphate/tonne and tonnes/annum, simply had to be wrong.
     
    My understanding is that the models cannot reproduce the 20th Century without a sizable sulphate cooling effect. Further it is not just the amount of warming but accounting for the 1950s-1970(ish) standstill. That is accounted for by a variant of the effect I was discussing. That a sizable upturn in the rate of emissions from sulphur/carbon fossil fuel stocks suppresses the warming or produces an initial cooling. The flipside being that a sizable downturn in such emissions or simply reducing the sulphur content in the flue gasses should lead to an initial additional warming on the decadal scale.
     
    Now I said it was mysterious because it seems that this should be something that we ought to have figured out by know but haven’t.
     
    Not knowing whether combustion sulphates have led to a little or 2.4W/m^2 of cooling seems bizarre or at least unacceptable.
     
    GISS updated their forcing assumptions out to 2010 (was 2003) and those figures indicate that the combined direct and indirect effect of the sulphates 2.4W/m^2 (2010) is larger than the NOAA IGGS figure of 1.8W/m^2 for warming from CO2 in isolation (not including the other WMGHGs). At face value that indicates that burning fossil fuels has been havinf a net cooling effect. In their view (if I have interpreted Hansen correctly) without the increases in the lesser GHGs, (methane, CFCs, NOx) plus black carbon and perhaps some other bits and bobs including solar, there would have been little or no warming.
     
    Those GISS figures also contain estimates for the volcanic forcing to date (2010) and give a maximum figure of <0.2W/m^2 of cooling so is not really comparable. FWIW I am not sure the degree whereby the GISS sulphate figures are based on observations as opposed to what can be deduced from the requirements of the models. I simply don’t know but I am cautious for now.
     
    The IPCC gives a best estimate of 1.2W/m^2 with +/- errors of the same magnitude for the cooling at the time of AR4.
     
    I wish I knew better. I do not intend to argue my main point dogmatically beyond saying that the science as represented by AR4 and which is I think included in the emission/scenario/stablilization schemes has this sulphate reduction dilemma.
     
    I should like to write more about this and the latest thread here concerning the Grist piece which resulted from the Kevin Anderson presentation is perhaps the better place as both discuss issues concerning emission/scenario/stablilization schemes and the relative timing of the emission reductions.
     
    Thanks for listening.
     
    Alex

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