On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal publishes call to wait and do nothing

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In a new Wall Street Journal piece former BP scientist and DOE Undersecretary of Science Steven Koonin delivers a paradoxical case for climate change inaction. Koonin mis-states a number of scientific details, and ultimately lures readers toward the conclusion that climate change isn’t an urgent problem. His choice of emphasis doesn’t hold up when confronted with all of the available evidence.

[We will be on travel from September 23-28 so comment moderation is likely to be even slower than usual — apologies in advance.]

[UPDATED September 21 with statements by scientists Michael Mann, Michael MacCracken, and Howard Frumkin, added below.]

The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus:

On eve of climate march, WSJ publishes call to wait and do nothing

In a new Wall Street Journal piece (Climate Science Is Not Settled, September 19) former BP scientist and DOE Undersecretary of Science Steven Koonin delivers a paradoxical case for climate change inaction. In a testament to just how strong the science is, he acknowledges the basic facts that humans are causing harmful warming, never flat-out stating that action isn’t needed. But Koonin mis-states a number of scientific details, and ultimately lures readers toward the conclusion that climate change isn’t an urgent problem. His choice of emphasis doesn’t hold up when confronted with all of the available evidence.

  • We know that humans have warmed the climate
  • Future projections run from bad to worse
  • Uncertainty is a central concern of climate science, far from being covered up
  • The IPCC is transparent and clear on uncertainty
  • Reducing emissions is practical, achievable, and necessary now – and the status quo poses huge risks

We know that humans have warmed the climate. Koonin is clear on this point, saying there’s “no hoax” and “little doubt” that humans are influencing the climate. But he subtly understates the amount of human influence, by saying that it is “comparable” to natural influences. This implies that human and natural influences are equal, but the IPCC states that their best estimate is that all recent warming is due to human activity. Like all of Koonin’s points here, this is a common delayer argument that simply does not stand up to even the mildest scrutiny.

The only uncertainty in climate projections concerns the difference between harmful warming and catastrophic warming. Koonin manages to conduct a lengthy discussion of uncertainty without giving any clue as to what range of outcomes the “unsettled science” encompasses. He doesn’t mention that the potential range runs from bad to worse. Climate change is already harming us through extreme weather, health, and other impacts. Without concerted emissions reductions, even the best-case future warming scenario escalates these harms, while the worst case poses grave threats to all humans. Models are designed for long-term projections: asking them to predict short-term variability is like confusing a calendar and a clock. Through Koonin’s choice of emphasis, he encourages the reader to jump to the inaccurate conclusion that warming might end up being negligible, but never actually states this because the science doesn’t support it.

Scientific uncertainty has not been covered up. Koonin implies that he is raising issues which otherwise would be relegated to “hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.” But (to use the example of one of the largest and most influential scientific conferences) at last year’s AGU meeting one of the six primary lecture series specifically focused on the difficulties of characterizing uncertainty. Scientists have been working closely on this, yet even with an intimate knowledge of climate uncertainties, the overall warming trend could not be clearer and they overwhelmingly support action now.

The IPCC treats uncertainty appropriately. Koonin complains that the IPCC summaries do not feature his questions, but this is entirely appropriate. The purpose of a summary is to provide a readable overview of what we DO know about the climate system, not to provide an accounting of every gap and thorny detail. As Koonin acknowledges, the underlying IPCC chapters discuss uncertainties and questions in detail. The summaries conclude that action now would be cheaper, safer, and more effective than delay, not because they pretend uncertainty doesn’t exist, but because that is where the balance of evidence rests.

Reducing emissions is practical, achievable, and necessary now. One recent report found that in the next 15 years, the world will need to spend $90 trillion on infrastructure upgrades regardless of whether we pursue a low-carbon pathway. Investing in low-carbon technology would add less than 5% to this cost, and would deliver a cascade of other savings in the form of health co-benefits and averted climate impacts. Another MIT study found that the health benefits from a variety of policies could deliver a tenfold return on the investment.

As a reliable anchor of denial and delay, it’s notable that the Wall Street Journal published a piece that essentially acknowledges the reality of global warming and the huge risks it poses to national and global stability. On the topic of action, Koonin states, “Society’s choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction.” But unsurprisingly for the WSJ, he then completely overwhelms this very accurate statement by giving a one-sided presentation of the science, and emphasizing the uncertainties and costs of action throughout the piece.

This paradoxical approach encourages a dangerous “do-nothing” attitude, employing self-defeating platitudes like “the climate is always changing” and (paraphrasing) “we mustn’t suppress scientific debate.” Both are technically true, but neither is relevant to the current situation. We need climate action for a safe future. Many observed changes and impacts are outpacing projections, and the risks of the worse-case scenarios are too much for society to bear.

Climate scientists respond:

Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State:

Koonin mentions that this climate is always changing. This is a standard line in the WSJ because it sounds reasonable at first blush, but of course it conveys a deep falsehood. The fact is that the actual peer-reviewed scientific research shows that (a) the rate of warming over the past century is unprecedented as far back as the 20,000 years paleoclimate scientists are able to extend the record and (b) that warming can ONLY be explained by human influences.

Indeed, it is the RATE of warming that presents such risk to human civilization and our environment. There is no doubt that there were geological periods that were warmer than today due to long-term changes in greenhouse gas concentrations driven by natural factors like plate tectonics. But consider the early Cretaceous 100 million years ago when CO2 concentrations were even higher than today, and there were dinosaurs roaming the ice-free poles. Over the last 100 million years, nature slowly buried all of that additional CO2 beneath Earth’s surface in the form of fossil fuels. We are now unburying that carbon a *MILLION* times faster than it was buried, leading to unprecedented rates of increase in greenhouse concentrations and resulting climate changes. To claim that this is just part of a natural cycle is to be either deeply naive or disingenuous.

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Policy at the Climate Institute:

Of the many points to be made, here are a few:

Koonin’s analysis totally fails to consider the significant risk of very serious impacts on marine life of ocean acidification from the rising CO2 concentration. Impacts are already affecting those growing oysters and other shelled organisms in the Pacific Northwest, and coral atolls around the world are at risk over coming decades—and that is pure chemistry totally independent of climate models.

Koonin’s point that the climate has changed so much in the past is actually one of the key reasons to be worried about human-induced climate change. Were the past climate stable even as the various natural forcings were changing, then there would be less reason for concern that human-induced forcings could change the climate. But reality is that past natural forcings caused significant changes in the climate—and now human activities are leading to forcings that are comparable to or even larger than natural ones in the past. In addition, the forcings being created will change climate more rapidly than have natural factors, making this unprecedented except for the catastrophic changes that have followed the impacts of large asteroids. Thus, contrary to Koonin’s assertion that past climate change suggests a policy of caution, a more appropriate conclusion would be that insights gained from past climate change should be leading to much more aggressive policy action than is now underway.

Yes, there is lots more to be learned, but the basic physics of the climate change issue have been clear since the 1960s when the President’s Science Advisory Council sent their report to President Johnson and Congress in 1965. Except for refrigerants of various types, human activities are adding increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (and other substances) to the atmosphere that are amplifying the natural warming effect of these substances in the atmosphere—it is not that we are not familiar with the substances we are adding to the atmosphere and have dealt with for decades. That these gases will cause warming has been recognized since the mid-19th century and adding more will surely cause more warming. Certainly, there are more questions to be investigated and resolved, and they do affect how best to adapt and other policies—but they do not alter at all the fundamental reality that human activities have become the primary driver of changes in climate, overwhelming the cycling changes in solar radiation and being much longer lasting than the occasional volcanic eruptions.

On sea level rise, Koonin’s comments are again mistaken and misleading. The present rate of sea level rise is well above the rate for the first half of the 20th century. The relatively stable climate that has allowed civilization to expand over the last several thousand years has kept sea level quite constant—you can still visit the coast of Sicily and find the remains of salt flats constructed in ancient times. That climate change can cause sea level to change is a key lesson from past changes in the climate that Koonin fails to mention. Since the peak of the last glacial cycle, sea level rose about 20 meters for each one degree Celsius increase in global average temperature (equivalent to a sea level rise of about 30 feet per degree Fahrenheit!!) While it took centuries or more for the full effect to be felt in the past when natural forcings were changing slowly, the adjustment will likely be much more rapid with the faster increase in forcing due to human activities. While the rate of rise will likely decrease slowly with warming because there is less ice on land to be melted, there are still about 75 meters (near 250 feet) of potential sea level rise in the ice tied up in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which have been experiencing accelerated loss of mass.

 Dr. Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington:

From a health perspective, there are two very important points to be made: about the tail risks involved, and about the concept of “no regrets.”

Tail risks: Koonin states that it is crucial to know just how changes in climate will play out, suggesting that unless we know for sure we shouldn’t do anything big. In practical terms, if our goal is to protect people then that’s not the crucial question. It’s more important to ask “What worst-case outcomes might be expected (even if they’re unlikely) and how can we reduce that risk?” This is what economists call tail risk—but it’s not just an economic issue. If you come to my emergency room with high fever, stiff neck, and photophobia, I’m going to treat you for meningitis even before the diagnosis is confirmed, because the downside risk of not acting is enormous—you could die. Koonin would instead have us dither about the details of the diagnostic test.

“No regrets” policy: Koonin supports certain policies, such as those encouraging efficiency, research and development, even in the face of uncertainty.  That’s very sensible.  But when he goes on to say that “climate strategies beyond such ‘no regrets’ efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness…” things become muddied.  “No regrets” is not a clear and simple attribute of climate strategies. We’re learning that many more interventions are cost-effective than opponents would have us believe, especially when we consider externalities and do full-benefit accounting (including health benefits.)  And we need to ask “Whose regrets”?  What is “no regrets” for most of us might still be regrettable for an influential few (such as the coal industry); there are important questions of fairness embedded in Koonin’s approach of only endorsing “no regrets” solutions.

*    *    *

See also: BP/DOE’s Koonin: Anthropogenic Global Warming is Real, Important, and Must Be Addressed

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47 Responses to On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal publishes call to wait and do nothing

  1. Greg Laden says:

    Very good summary. And maybe the worst part of the piece, though not by much is the title. It could be characterized as a call for more research, which is always good, but paragraph after paragraph will find their way into the rhetoric of those who think AGW is not real, or that we should do nothing about it.

    • An inconvenient truth says:

      As a keen observer of climate change science, my position has slowly changed over the last decade.

      Among other things, the major dynamic climate models have failed to aligned with observations – if current average global surface temp trends continue for the next 3 to 5 years, they will fall outside the lower range of all the major models, effectively making them all but redundant.

      Koonin’s piece captures the limitations of climate change science succinctly.

      It’s a brave scientist indeed who dares question climate change orthodoxy: The personal attacks and ridicule fly thick and fast.

    • An inconvenient truth says:

      “…those who think AGW is not real, or that we should do nothing about it.”

      …or believe the case for climate change has been systematically overstated at the expense of science and other pressing environmental concerns.

    • joe says:

      This is debunking? Seems like a commercial in the WSJ for climate change. Sounds like koonin is more on your side than you would like to admit. If koonin denies “climate change” any more Obama will hire him to advise him on climate change. Couldn’t you find an actual “denier” to debunk?

      “he acknowledges the basic facts that humans are causing harmful warming, never flat-out stating that action isn’t needed. ”

      “Koonin is clear on this point, saying there’s “no hoax” and “little doubt” that humans are influencing the climate.”

      “it’s notable that the Wall Street Journal published a piece that essentially acknowledges the reality of global warming and the huge risks it poses to national and global stability.”

      “Society’s choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction.”

      “the climate is always changing” and (paraphrasing) “we mustn’t suppress scientific debate.” Both are technically true,

  2. Why did you fail to mention Dr. Koonin is also chair of the APS subcommittee on the APS climate statement?

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      We put up a guest post that was relevant to the WSJ article. The APS subcommittee, which hasn’t produced anything and is considered problematic by some serious climate scientists, is not relevant to this piece. (And, re the missing link, we don’t promote the kind of blogs that refer to mainstream scientists as “rabid warmists” — that just doesn’t cut it.)

      • The fact is Dr. Koonin’s piece shows how a true scientist, as opposed to a political advocate scientist, approaches the science of climate, with full recognition of the inherent uncertainties, and the limitations & falsifications of climate models.

        • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

          The many scientists who develop the major climate science assessment reports, the scientists who write reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, and the climate modeling community are “true scientists”. In line with a point made in the post, the IPCC works carefully to take uncertainties into account and to carefully characterize levels of confidence in statements. You want to throw everything you don’t like overboard by calling it “political advocacy”. That’s pushing a view that is being increasingly marginalized, I think. The WSJ (look at who owns it) can publish misleading pieces, but the corporate elite know what’s in the science reports (as does the Pentagon). They haven’t decided what they’re willing to do about it, but as far as the science goes, I think the system is moving on. There are some big issues of economics, business, technology, and policy to be dealt with.

        • Mark A. York says:

          There is no “falsification of climate models.” This canard has been documented for years. The models under predict the perils if anything. See http://www.skepticalscience.org.

  3. PhysicistDave says:

    I am a physicist — Ph.D. from Stanford, 1983. I have followed Steve Koonin’s career as a highly respected computational physicist for four decades.

    It is relevant that Prof. Koonin was “undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term [emphasis added].” He is not some crazy anti-science right-wing kook. (Indeed, I suspect the wing-nuts will soon be attacking him as a left-winger who has failed to reveal the true secrets behind the climate-change conspiracy!)

    Those of us in the scientific community who are by no means “denialists” are going to take seriously Koonin’s analysis that the global-climate models are not as definitive as often claimed.

    You may not care what actual scientists think, but Koonin’s column is going to have a significant impact among working scientists.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      We’ll let the insult pass this one time — you are obviously ignorant of how much support this website has given to “real scientists” during the past 8 years, or else you just don’t get it. Let’s just say for now that I think you will find that scientists who really understand this material on a deep level, people who have a publication record far more advanced than Koonin, will find his arguments misleading, ignoring of important points, readily refutable, and quite disappointing. I will let them speak for themselves as they respond, but will hope to post some of that here.

      • PhysicistDave says:

        Rick wrote to me:
        >We’ll let the insult pass this one time…

        And what insult would that be, young man? (No, “young man” is not an insult — I wish I were still young!! Alas, I am pretty certain that you are much younger than I. I am in my seventh decade.)

        Rick also wrote:
        >Let’s just say for now that I think you will find that scientists who really understand this material on a deep level, people who have a publication record far more advanced than Koonin, will find his arguments misleading…

        Rick, Steve Koonin raised detailed technical points that any competent scientist would expect to see addressed in any scientific research project. Until those technical points have been dealt with — not by verbal “refutuations” but by the actual work Koonin insists upon — real scientists are going to share Steve’s concerns.

        By the way, Rick, what is your own background in science? This is not a rhetorical question; I would honestly like to know.

        Dave

        • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

          The insult I was referring to was when you said: “You may not care what actual scientists think…” There’s no need to be snarky with me. We just have a difference of viewpoint.
          As for my age, I am older than you are. Do you remember Truman, young man?
          I’ll leave to “real scientists” the task of responding to Koonin and not try to do it for them.
          As for my background, I did my graduate study in political science and my undergraduate in experimental psychology, at Michigan, long ago. I listen to leading climate scientists, I know leading climate scientists. I would never pass myself off as one. I have been focused first and foremost on the problem of global warming and climatic disruption since Jim Hansen testified in 1988. I came to that interest, as with other environmental, natural resource, and energy issues I have worked on for the past 35 years, primarily from the policy side. I spent four years on the professional staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and 10 years in a senior staff position in the U.S. Global Change Research Program Coordination Office here in Washington (that’s the $2 billion multiagency program that supports the research and observing systems on climate and global change). During those years I became very attuned to what I came to refer to as the “collision” between the world of climate science and the realities of Washington politics. I saw how politicians in Washington used, misused, and denied what scientists were telling them, and how difficult it was to make this essential communication channel function productively. So at this point I know considerably more science than most people in the arena of policy and politics, and more about the latter than most scientists. My project, and whatever contribution it makes, is primarily aimed at government accountability in national policymaking. I have an analysis and an approach for doing that, and Climate Science Watch is the vehicle via which I and various collaborators express that. At this point, I think the discourse about climate change, certainly at the power elite level, is shifting, or has shifted, from what we might call the science-policy nexus, toward questions about economics, business, politics, energy policy, national security planning, and so forth. I can deal with that and that’s where our attention is moving, I think. Of course there are many important scientific questions about the physical climate system to research, and I spent quite a few years doing what I could to encourage bipartisan support for a strong research program, regardless of people’s policy disagreements. But this is not a science education and debate site, and the discourse about unresolved research issues on the physical climate system are well-argued in many other venues by people with serious qualifications. But when Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal put out a piece with a “take no action” slant on the eve of a big UN climate summit and climate movement rally, I take what the WSJ is doing as essentially a political gesture. They print only ‘skeptic’ or ‘contrarian’ pieces, there’s no real balance in their coverage, they are trying to frame a political narrative for the corporate elite. When there’s an opportunity to post something with an alternative view, that raises questions about what they’ve published, I can do that. I don’t have to be able to resolve the science issues in order to do it.

          • joe says:

            “that’s the $2 billion multiagency program that supports the research and observing systems on climate and global change)”. How much did they dole out to the “deniers”?

          • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

            Most of that money goes to NASA, mostly to support the world’s premiere space-based satellite global observing system and the associated data systems. That’s a bit pricey but sort of lost in the noise compared to what we’ve spent on the wars. Those data provide essential coverage of the entire globe (which was never possible before), with data on Earth’s atmospheric radiation budget, solar irradiance, sea level height (very precisely), changing ice mass balance in the polar regions, and on and on. The next biggest piece goes to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs technologically sophisticated global ocean observing systems, and also supports a number of the leading research labs. Another very big piece goes to the National Science Foundation, which supports university-based researchers who submit proposals to NSF-convened peer-review panels — very competitive. The other big piece goes to the Department of Energy, which has long had a research program to study the issue of carbon emissions from fossil fuels — which DOE has given a lot of R&D support to over the years. A piece, not all that large, of these agency budgets supports climate modeling capabilities. The Defense Department also studies climate change seriously and supports their own scientific research within their defense missions — the budget numbers are not so easy to see. It’s a great research program, our ongoing national intelligence capability to advance understanding of the Earth system and how human activity is influencing it. Other ‘advanced’ countries, from Europe to Japan to Australia and I think China have significant programs to research climate and the Earth system.

    • A real working scientist might recognize the shortcomings of their specialization, and pay attention to what other working scientists – in the relevant field – are actually doing.
      http://climatecrocks.com/2014/09/08/study-climate-models-replicate-temperature-pause/

      • PhysicistDave says:

        Pete, there are certain rules of scientific method — you take your theory, you make detailed, statistically significant predictions ahead of time, and then you let the observations come in, and your theory dies if the observations do not confirm the theory.

        If “what other working scientists – in the relevant field – are actually doing” does not obey those rules, then they lose. Game over. End of their theories.

        No honest scientist trusts the experts in any field — that was the basic point I learned from my own teacher, Richard Feynman — unless those “experts” are willing to rigorously subject their claims to refutation by future observations. And, almost all theories will be shot down by observations: the progress of science is built upon the graves of countless beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts.

        Unfortunately, too many people involved in the climate wars — both catastrophists and denialists — have no desire to have their precious theories held hostage to rigorous predictions and observations.

        That is not science; it is religion.

        Dave

        • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

          Well, it sounds like you are trying to demand an approach that applies to the standards of theory and experimentation in particular physical science disciplines. I think that what has emerged with what is now called Earth System Science, and the mountain of scientific research that has been done that pertains in various ways to the climate problem (as reflected in the bibliographies of all the chapters of the IPCC assessment reports), is something different. “Climate science,” or whatever we call it, is now a very multidisciplinary endeavor. It includes atmospheric science, physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, a rage of ecological science fields, Earth observing systems (space-based, land-based, ocean-based), climate modeling, paleoclimatology, and so forth. What they have developed is ever-advancing multiple lines of evidence that lead the leading credentialed experts (you can reject them but I don’t) to the conclusions they have been reaching about anthropogenic climate change, and its observed and projected impacts. The assessment doesn’t depend on any single specific prediction as though it were a physics experiment. It is a body of what could be called strong circumstantial evidence. On the other hand, if you read the technical papers by James Hansen and his colleagues, I think maybe he comes pretty close to what you’re asking for, i.e., he looks at the observable, quantifiable human-caused energy imbalance in the Earth system and draws conclusions about how this will warm the planet over time, especially if we keep increasing the imbalance. He looks at the long paleoclimate record, analyzes fast feedbacks and slow feedbacks in the system, and draws conclusions about polar icecap melting, sea level rise, and so forth. By the time the implications of that analysis are clear, and consequences are fully played out, Hansen and many other scientists believe we will have done irreparable damage to civilization as we know it. I think policymakers are doing a great disservice when they fail to acknowledge or act on this kind of scientific work.

    • Larry Z says:

      Hi Dave,

      At least you and the WSJ are consistent. From your blog (http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com/) in 2009:

      “It was therefore with some glee that I saw that, on the same day that I initially published my own views here on the Climategate scandal, Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT (and a member of the National Academy of Sciences), published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Climategate.

      What makes me rather gleeful is that Professor Lindzen’s views so nicely confirm my own conclusions.

      Lindzen’s key point is:

      At this point, few scientists would argue that the science is settled. In particular, the question remains as to whether water vapor and clouds have positive or negative feedbacks.

      Exactly. As I have said again and again, it is true that CO2 produced by humans has made the globe at least slightly warmer than it otherwise would have been. But how much warmer? Will it be enough to be a real problem?”

      Got confirmation bias?

      Of course the science isn’t settled. I don’t think science ever is. But that doesn’t mean science can’t be accurate enough to take action. Unless, of course, you already don’t want to do something.

      Regards,

      Larry

      PS: I never did think Romney would win, I knew the government would play a crucial role in preventing a deeper recession, I don’t believe the “New Deal” should be dismantled, nor do I agree with much of your observations about economics, but I do believe some of the other things you say are true and correct.

      • PhysicistDave says:

        Larry,

        Thank you for showing with your quotes from quite a while ago from my blog that I have long been consistent in demanding that the same level of rigor be applied to climate science as to any other area of physical science:

        Make clear, substantive, statistically significant predictions about future observations, and then, when those observations come in, if they do not confirm your predictions, throw away your theory or model and admit that you were wrong.

        Any climate scientist who claims that his models can accurately predict future climate will earn my respect if and only if he follows those rules of the scientific method.

        This is precisely the criteria I applied to “cold fusion” and “faster-than-light” neutrinos and that I still apply to current issues in physics such as superstring theory, the multiverse scenoario, eternal inflation, etc.

        No one has ever explained why it is unfair to apply the same criteria to climate science as to all other areas of physical science.

        Dave

        P.S. I expect that for making these points about the actual practice of legitimate science, Rick will soon ban me from this site. That, in itself, will say a lot.

        • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

          I basically replied to this in a different comment on this thread.
          I don’t intend to “ban” you for making this point, but I also don’t intend to keep posting essentially the same comment or argument over and over again. You’ve made your point, I have responded to it, and I’m not really into extending this difference in views into an ongoing debate. Climate Science Watch has a point of view and if you want to keep taking this back to square one, we’re not going to do that.

          • luminous beauty says:

            Dave,

            Correct me if I am wrong, but your critique of climate modeling appears to be based on comparing the variability of the sum of multiple runs of multiple models to the single realization of real world observations. Considering that the process of summation removes much of the variability of climate models, wouldn’t a more rigorous critique involve comparing the variability of observations and single runs of climate models?

  4. JC says:

    With 60 BILLION food animals on the planet, this should be our first step in the Climate March!
    http://meatonomics.com/

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    There is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other. But no one wants to talk about it… http://cowspiracy.com

    Step by Step Guide: How to Transition to a Vegan Diet http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/step-by-step-guide-how-to-transition-to-vegan-diet/

  5. This site is a fraud & pure propaganda, deleting my comment, which was entirely civil, and simply linked to a paper published in Nature Climate Change, in reply to a comment directed to me.

    I’ve got screenshots of these comments before you deleted them, so will publicize this on my blog and elsewhere.

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      We posted your link to the Nature Climate Change paper, Hockey Schtick, but we’re not taking this where you want to take it. You can cite research papers, we can cite research papers. You cherry-pick the ones you find congenial, for whatever reason, to making the point you want to make. We try to deal with the findings and conclusions of the well-vetted climate assessments, multiply-authored by leading scientists, which draw on a wide range of scientific literature. And we pay attention to the views shared by leading climate science experts. That’s what we think public officials should do.

      This is not a science education or science debate site. There are plenty of other places for that. It is not our role here to argue the science, with either leading experts or nonscientists. We posted on the piece by Koonin, as we have on numerous other pieces published in the WSJ, because they are generally misleading in somewhat complex ways and are pretty clearly teed up to be used for political purposes, and we provide a vehicle for some pushback.

      This is a government accountability project. We aim to hold political leaders and public officials, especially in Washington, DC, accountable for using climate science appropriately in policymaking. That does not include the global warming denialists on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, who hide behind their cherry-picked talking points while pushing the interests of the fossil fuel companies.

      You are trying to divert us to a debate about science issues about which we think enough is known to support a stronger climate change mitigation and preparedness policy than we have now. You’re free to disagree, and you have your own website, but here you’re trolling. Enough.

      • PhysicistDave says:

        Rick wrote:
        >And we pay attention to the views shared by leading climate science experts. That’s what we think public officials should do.

        And, that is the problem – that you believe that science is based on “the views shared by leading climate science experts.”

        That approach is wrong. Always. No one, scientist or not, should ever view science as a matter of counting the leading experts.

        The Nazis once published a book with numerous German scientists “refuting” Einstein. Einstein replied that if they had had a legitimate point, one would have been enough.

        Einstein was right.

        Science is not settled by counting noses. It is settled by evidence.

        To “pay attention to the views shared by leading… science experts” would mean the death of science.

        Or to quote Galileo, “’In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” That is science, not counting noses.

        Dave

        P.S. Yes, I know you will ban me shortly from this site. But, in your heart, you know I am telling the truth.

        • StanfordN says:

          Is it as simple as “nose counting”? And using your (and Galileo’s) logic, why would the nose of one outweigh the noses of many?

          The answer is evidence.

          But don’t the “leading scientists” hold their views because of the evidence, Dave? What makes you think they don’t? Why is your one more important than their many?

          Studied philosophy of science and paradigm shift at your alma mater,
          N

        • But, in your heart, you know I am telling the truth.

          That very succinctly sums up Dave’s very Christian approach to scientific methods and scientific evidence. He can’t possibly hide that from anybody.

      • Joe says:

        I guess you forgot to allow me to reply above, so I am doing so here. I am disappointed in your response. The political response to climate change is MOST CERTAINLY about the models. Your argument, remember, is that CO2 is causing global warming by initially warming the globe just enough to increase cloud cover (water is the worst greenhouse gas, as you know), which starts a negative feedback loop of runaway global temperatures. The climate and humanity is forever ruined as a result. Problem is, simplistically listing things changing in the environment without establishing a linkage to rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, which the models were supposed to have done, completely undermines the Global Warming argument. If you want to win over folks who disagree with you, you need to somehow establish CO2′ role. Otherwise, your argument has no foundation, and all the web-links in the world won’t do you any good. If it were not about the models, then there is no reason to focus on CO2, and lets let the poor countries burn coal for electricity, and get off our moral high horse. BTW, check out the UAH MSU Lower Troposphere temps for S Pol, S Ext, Trop, N Ext and N Pol. Flat to negative for more than a decade.

      • joe says:

        ” It is not our role here to argue the science, with either leading experts or nonscientists.”

        Really. Seems like all you do. What else is there to argue on the climatesciencewatch? I mean, the whole problem is the science being argued about, isn’t it. Oh, wait, the science is settled. Never mind.

        • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

          Scientific research goes on forever (hopefully), as does the policy and societal management process. Climate change calls for an ongoing interplay between the science community, which develops ‘risk assessments’, and policymakers and managers, who are responsible for using scientifically based risk and vulnerability assessments to develop ‘risk management’ responses, which also includes questions of economics, technology, and (hopefully productive) politics. This is the way it works on a whole range of issues in which science and technology R&D provides an essential underpinning for decisionmaking by public officials. Climate Science Watch actually spends a pretty small overall proportion of our time “arguing the science” — if you look at the more than 1,400 entries on the website since 2006 you will see a whole lot of content covering a lot of angles.

  6. Dan Giacomini says:

    Thank you for a great read. We need more thoughtful discussions like this in the climate debate. Like most major political issues it’s become little more than a shouting match, and I think both sides do their part to keep the quality of conversation pretty low. More mainstream groups like LCV and many advocates for climate action could learn from the civility and maturity of this discourse.

  7. Constant Gardener says:

    Whatever you do, don’t ban Dave. The world needs imperious cranks and they don’t come any more imperious than Dave.

  8. robert says:

    Once again, we have science by OpEd. What Mr. Koonin has done is publish his own assessment — not in the scientific literature, but in the WSJ.

    What he hasn’t done, is to publish anything in the literature supporting his dissent from the IPCC assessment. The IPCC (Working Group I) is a thousand-page analysis, drawing upon thousands of studies. A whole scientific community agrees, and this guy — who doesn’t actually to this science — dissents. It’s politics, but it’s not science.

  9. Michael says:

    As a professional economist who worked on climate change economics and policy for 5 years I am amazed and appalled at how many armchair science experts there are. I wouldn’t dare offer an opinion on serious earth science or theoretical physics controversies (despite a qood quant and science background) but the possession of expert knowledge in one or another field is seen as adequate for comment on climate change science. That said, I’d love to see somebody like physicistdave be sent to a climate change modelling unit for 6 months, be fully exposed to what is happening, and then offer an opinion.

  10. Conor says:

    After reading Koonin’s op-ed I searched online for responses to his ideas and came across this website. After reading the responses here from leading climate scientists and many comments by others, my lingering concern is that the editors here still don’t understand the problems raised by Koonin or the bigger problem of science policy discussion.

    First, the problems with climate science are not minor distractions from the consensus talking points. There are real gaps in our knowledge, and some of what we think we know will probably turn out to be wrong. Yes, its important to have a discussion that moves on from “is there a problem?” to “what do we do about it?”, but too much of that type of discussion seems to occur with the assumption that “the science is settled”. With fairness to Koonin, I read his op-ed as suggesting we continue to work on answers to both questions.

    Second, I’m dismayed when so-called defenders of science and informed public discourse resort to easy slander (Koonin worked for BP!) and appeals to authority (Koonin and Dave aren’t credentialed climate scientists!). Why is the knee-jerk reaction here to try to discredit opposing voices? Strategically, its never made sense to me to try and shut down a debate and pretend (believe?) that there isn’t a debate.

    Whether or not you agree with Koonin’s perspective, his arguments are reasonable and logical. Denying the legitimacy of his (or my!) ideas is the real Denialism.

  11. Thanks to Zite, an iPad app, I came across this discussion started on basis of the OpEd of Mr. Koonin. The discussion touched upon the conundrum of the consensus among scientists on the various issues surrounding climate change. The argument against it is that science is not done by counting noses, but is based on evidence. Hence, those that argue against the current stark warnings of climate change – ranging from talking down the risks to flat out denial – refer also in this discussion, as has been done elsewhere, to Galileo, and in this case also to Einstein. It’s not consensus they say that should direct policy, but evidence. Galileo and Einstein are the heroes, because they based themselves on evidence against mainstream opinion and convictions. I can add another scientist to this illustrious group. Charles Darwin, just ahead of Alfred Russell Wallace, published his studies and findings on evolution. He kept to it, despite the ridicule he and the theory of evolution had to endure.

    To me, using this argument in the debate on climate change is a red herring. As far as I’m aware, the discussions and conclusions, with identification of uncertainties and risks, is all within scientific debate. The scientists supporting the IPCC conclusions, do that on basis of the evidence, discussed, perused, debated and evaluated.

    This is different from the situation that Galileo found himself in, or, for that matter, Darwin. Theories, evidence based, were not accepted by groups who did not advance scientific arguments. Certainly the christian church which denounced Galileo did not do that. While Darwin’s theories were scientifically debated, society was not prepared to just accept it on basis of non-scientific arguments, fed again, mainly, by religious arguments. Galileo’s theories were over time accepted based on ongoing scientific observations, debate and advancements. Similarly, evolutionary theory was accepted over time as the scientific arguments of the day against it did not hold up in view of the evidence produced. The arguments nowadays levelled against evolution are non-scientific.

    I would therefore rather turn the Galileo argument on it’s head. When the risks and hazards of greenhouse gases emissions led to the warnings of dramatic climate change, they were not generally accepted. The current high number of scientific noses counted among those who accept the conclusions (inclusive of description of risks and uncertainties) is gained on basis of a similar ongoing process of scientific observations and debate as with Galileo’s and Darwin’s theories, and, presumably, with Einstein’s theories (who is every once in while again proven correct). The examples of Galileo and Darwin support, rather than run counter, against acceptance of the IPCC conclusions.

    I agree with the arguments made at the beginning of this discussion on basis of Mr. Koonin’s OpEd. Mr. Koonin warns against taking actions, because according to him the science is not settled. The inaccuracies in his article have already been pointed out. I would like to add two other points.
    The first are the observations done in the field. One can always argue that a single storm is not evidence of climate change in action. A single Blackbird breeding a month earlier is not evidence of climate change in action. However, a series of increasing storm intensity, and the advance of spring across the board with two to four weeks is pretty supportive. So are field reports and investigations among residents in for instance in the area where I live, Quang Binh, Vietnam, with climate patterns that are changing, certainly when put into time perspective, which is a crucial difference between the current man-made climate change and natural climatic shifts.

    The second is the risk factor. Changing the way energy is produced and consumed does not harm the economy, as a number of recent news articles suggest. Such changes have beneficial side effects that go beyond addressing climate change. Even if you don’t accept the the risks and dangers currently projected, the benefits of energy changes in other fields are compelling enough to effect them. If you put that against the risks that downplaying the risks and dangers of climate carries – land degradation, diminished agricultural output, biodiversity loss, health problems, to name a few – it doesn’t seem sensible to delay actions.

  12. Please find, under apology, a small correction of the post I just sent in. I’d meant the last sentence to read: “If you put that against the risks that downplaying the risks and dangers of climate carries if it still happens to be true – land degradation, diminished agricultural output, biodiversity loss, health problems, to name a few – it doesn’t seem sensible to delay actions.”

  13. Longtooth says:

    It’s unfortunate that the debate is about the science when in reality it’s about political belief systems and ideology couched in terms of a science debate. Those who believe there’s a credible risk that anthropogenic effects on climate will have adverse life and economic effects desire society spend the resources on mitigating and / or preventing the effects as much as possible. That costs money in a big way. Those that don’t like big government or high taxes or social spending, or who have a vested economic interest in maintaining the status quo, must refute the science that supports the anthropogenic adverse effects to oppose the spending and changes required to mitigate or prevent the adverse climate effects. So it’s elementary that they must refute the science since otherwise they have to submit to the spending necessary to mitigate and prevent the adverse effects.

    The debate isn’t really about whether there are adverse effects of anthropogenic warming on climate or even about the science that supports it. It’s a political debate made to look like it’s a science debate to give the owners of capital and proponents of small government and low taxes and anti-social spending a “credible” basis to oppose any public spending, and thus also take more from private capital sources for spending to mitigate and prevent the effects caused by humans.

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      Yes, I think this framing is on the mark.

      • I also agree. Unfortunately, whenever such debate pops up, some of these arguments need to be countered. I have been coming across this argument against using 95% of scientists agreeing with the IPCC conclusions, because of Look at Galileo et al. a number of times. One must be brave nowadays to reason against mainstream science, so the argument goes. Those who call for prudence and delay are in this way framed as Galilean Heroes, whereas mainstream scientists are the ”villains”. This allows the 95% to be put in the dock so to speak, preventing, as you note, the discussion on how to go forward to take place.

        That’s why I find that that narrative must be put right. The Galilean Heroes were the ones who early in the climate change debate clarified the dangers and hazards and established the framework of climate change acceptance. That framework is over time accepted by most climate-related scientists because of the science behind it, just as in these days no-one disputes that the earth is a globe, with more than 95% of scientists agreeing with that. Nonetheless if a true scientific argument can be made against the concept of the earth being a globe, it will be accepted if found true. But most scientists will not accept non-sense or non-scientific (not the same) arguments against the notion that the earth is a globe.

        The ones who in the climate change issue keep on going back to the science using improper arguments and shielding off the necessary discussion on what to do next, should not be presented or accepted as wearing Galileo’s mantle, but as those who field non-sense or non-scientific arguments against the notion that the earth is a globe, in order that that necessary discussion can go forward.

  14. David W. Hancock says:

    I am a Dentist with no credentials of relevance to this discussion. I found this debate to be the most interesting exchange I have ever encountered on this most important subject.. Thank you climatesciencewatch for providing this public forum.

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