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Straw Mann

Pre-Post UPDATE: Since I last posted about Climate Change and the Consensus, I actually forgot to add one more element that is strangely NOT part of the consensus (it’s not important as far as I am concerned, but relevant given the marketing of the stuff you will read about down below). What is that? It is that there is not an “overwhelming consensus” about the hockey stick. You can read A.W. Montford (he’s a journalist, not a paid lackey of the Kochs) who tallied the blow-by-blow of the history of the development of paleo-climatology, the difficulty with using temperature proxies and the “political” aspect of the journals that publish this stuff. Mann mentions casually in the lecture below that warming is unprecedented, but again if pressed it is sure that he would not include this.

In any case, these two recent papers illustrate (there are others) the non-consensus:

  1. ““The level of warmth during the peak of the MWP (Medieval Warm Period) in the second half of the 10th century, equaling or slightly exceeding the mid-20th century warming, is in agreement with the results from other more recent large-scale multi-proxy temperature reconstructions.” Here is the paper. Maybe “Climate of the Past” is a “skeptic journal” (A term used by the alarmists). If so, what does that mean? That other journals are alarmist journals? Then what does that mean about the consensus?
  2.  “The record provides evidence for substantial warmth during Roman and Medieval times, larger in extent and longer in duration than 20th century warmth.” Here is that paper. Maybe “Global and Planetary Change” is, too, a “skeptic journal.” If so, what does that mean? That other journals are alarmist journals? Then what does that mean about the consensus?


Michael Mann came to campus last Friday to talk about the “Hockey Stick” and the Climate Wars. Now, we all knew what was coming, but I went to see if I might actually learn something new, or to perhaps learn about some aspect of Climate Change that I had not been exposed to before. But that was a stupid thing to expect. We held a religious revival here on campus last Friday, and it went exactly as expected.

The last discussion question began with the audience member proudly exclaiming, “I Am A Believer!” What a fitting end. Here is a link to the audio of the talk that I recorded from my iPhone.

You can imagine that I was not surprised by the talk, and it was easy to predict the tact. I tried to ask a question about exactly, what the “consensus” is and what the actual “skepticism” is, but more pressing comments were solicited. The event was one giant burning straw man. It sure is easy to torch a straw man of Senator Inhofe who doesn’t understand basic chemistry, but that just takes us further away from having the real conversation that he claimed to be clamoring for. I, too, happen to love my children and care about the next generation (who, invariably, are sure to be richer than we are despite climate change  – the implication by the speaker AND audience was that any skeptics don’t love their children), but my skepticism has nothing at all to do with a single thing Professor Mann said today.
And to buttress his case that climate change is something to be terrified about, Mann decided to use several worn out ideas that he probably ought not have – such as the extent of the Acid Rain problem (4% of lakes seemed to have been affected in ADKs, not 50% as the fear was) and other past environmental issues like the flaming river in Ohio. My favorite tactic was his smearing of oil companies as being just like the tobacco companies. The irony in all of that is that it was Rachel Carson’s mentor Dr. Heuper who was seriously arguing in the 1950s that there was NOT a link between tobacco and cancer. Why? Because it just HAD to be the case that agricultural chemicals were causing major problems. How come Dr. Heuper didn’t come in for a beating at the talk? Or how about a comment about the ultimate irony of all – that “Big Tobacco” itself pushed for and was the major beneficiary of the “tobacco settlement” in the 1990s. No small irony there. I am sure that fossil fuel companies cannot figure out that element of the playbook either. In fact, Duke Energy is among the supporters of strict carbon caps or taxes … can anyone guess why?
Here is essentially what my question to him would have been, and I’ve asked you about it in the past. Mann essentially said what I write in (1) through (3) below verbatim … and then quickly went onto to talking about 6-degree warming without ever mentioning the word “feedback” a single time if I recall correctly. There is absolutely no scientific consensus on the size (and in fact the direction) of the feedback.  And he surely said nothing about the economics or worst case impacts and what tools are at our disposal to mitigate them. At least he did say something about natural gas even existing. He also seemed to be terrified by the climate McCarthyists, as I would be … but I remain puzzled about why he then thinks this same institution can be relied upon to honestly execute climate policy, promote “green” energy, etc. and the like. I also wonder whether he thinks that only old Republican white men have the capability of being evil, and no one else. His talk today in fact almost made me join the Republican party just so he can call a younger person a McCarthyite, or perhaps he awakened me to the fact that they need some serious leadership over there. I’m going to GOP meeting this week and show them some video. I am sure it represents the popular view of Republicans – I have no idea how they think they’ll ever get anyone elected if that is the perception of the party.
Finally, Mann missed the chance to tell the audience a little more about famous climate alarmist James Hansen. My favorite story is the circus surrounding the first climate hearings, where he and Senator Wirth picked the warmest day of the year to hold them on, and even went so far as to make sure the air conditioner was not working. It’s too bad, because that’s the sort of stuff that fuels the fire of people like Inhofe – who can use this to stir up crazy ideas among people like Palin and others who seem to outright deny that the concept of a GHG even exists. Which then allows Mann to spend an entire lecture telling us about how stupid and evil these people are. I don’t see what value was had by this.
No “true believer” learned anything during that event to appreciate what the skeptic worries are about (for example, I sure don’t want to empower ANYONE to centrally plan an economy, that should be a defensible position to take given the record of central planning over time – or is somehow that science actually not acceptable?). Certainly no skeptic was given any reason today to respect or appreciate “the other side” either. I learned much about human beings though.
Perhaps sadly or not, there were remarkably few young people in the room last Friday – maybe they are all too tired of this stuff. It was pretty striking to notice that, and then reflect on this week’s Presidential debate where two guys almost came to blows over who can produce more gas and oil. Where was the discussion that Global Warming is the gravest threat mankind has ever faced? Some grave threat, if it cannot even make its way into an energy discussion during a Presidential debate. And it’s not for lack of media attention either folks.
Here is my old post.

Who’s the Denier?

Feb 24th, 2012 by  Edit |

Here are some facts are about the climate that are part of the consensus:

  1. The planet has warmed about at about 0.7 degrees centigrade over the past century. Who is denying that? It ain’t me.
  2. Carbon dioxide has been demonstrated to be a greenhouse gas. Who is denying that? It ain’t me.
  3. Our basic climate understanding (i.e. the models) indicate that if we doubled CO2 from pre-industrial levels (which were close to 280 ppm, we are very near 400 right now) then temperatures, knowing what we know about carbon dioxide, should double. The 0.7 increase does seem to be in line with that (mostly, I have seen, even among alarmists, “concern” that this number ought to have been larger). Hence if we continue to double CO2 over the next century, the planet will warm by 1 degree centigrade, all else equal. Who is denying that? It ain’t me.

But that’s about where the real scientific consensus ends, and certainly where the major disagreements begin. Because as others have pointed out countless times, only to be slandered as anti-science lunatics, in order for us to need to roll back industrial civilization, in order for us to rapidly impose decarbonization, in order for us to retreat to the pre-civilization gift economies that so many folks seem to long for, one would have to demonstrate that:

  1. When CO2 concentrations increase, the planet will warm by much more than the basic greenhouse gas theory indicates. So, the climate models believe that there are positive feedback loops which will amplify the impacts of 1 degree of warming into something closer to 6 degrees of warming. There is absolutely no settled science here.
  2. Call this step 1a: we have to assume that even with our limited knowledge that we have any capability at all of modeling something as complex as climate – with really only 100+ years of data using measurements (even if all of those measurements are correct) and at best another 1000 years or so using temperature proxies (assuming no problems with those things). We’ve discussed this in the past in terms of how it compares to macroeconometric modeling. Let’s just say this is little more than a guessing game.
  3. Then we are going to have to assume that all of the warming that we have observed (and model) comes from humans. Of course it is almost surely true that humans are the reason why CO2 concentrations are higher today (there are some legitimate folks who do not think this is necessarily true, but ignore them). And by extension we’d have to argue that all of the potential future catastrophically bad warming will be solely because of human activities.
  4. Then we have to know, with some degree of certainty, exactly what will happen to the Earth as it warms. And we will have to argue that as this happens over the course of decades or perhaps a century-long time scale that the challenges will prove un-over-comeable. So, we’d have to draw linkages between warmer climate to rising seas (easy enough), expanding malarial ranges (almost as easy), changes in farm productivity (sort of easy) and so on.
  5. But not only that, we have to know with some degree of certainty that these changes caused by warming, are not only tough to deal with, but are catastrophically bad.
  6. But not only that, we have to know with more than some degree of certainty that rolling back industrial civilization is the way to best deal with (5).
  7. All of this is assuming of course that in nowhere along the way is anyone motivated by political or ideological reasons either on the science or policy side, so that we actually could be having a serious entertainment of the inquiry. But I’m a 9 foot tall Nobel Prize winner if that is true. I keep coming back to this thought.

I am skipping many steps, but this is neither a climate site nor an environmental economics site. The reason for today’s post is not all of that, it has been said by smarter and more thoughtful people than me many times and they still have been dismissed as cooks, cranks, anti-science deniers. One need not disagree at all with what the scientists truly understand yet vigorously reject the conclusions drawn by folks who hold themselves as the paragons of science, truth and reason. Here is the latest illustration. One of the most serious potential climate threats is the expansion of malaria around the globe. Already a horrific threat (after a conference we held, which included several scientists, I reported on the expected costs here), a warmer planet is expected to make this problem worse. No one I know of denies any of this. But few people I know realize that it doesn’t follow that we eliminate industrial civilization to fix the problem, assuming it is going to manifest. Here is a new paper from a UK scientific journal called the Lancet:

Global malaria deaths increased from 995 000 (95% uncertainty interval 711 000—1 412 000) in 1980 to a peak of 1 817 000 (1 430 000—2 366 000) in 2004, decreasing to 1 238 000 (929 000—1 685 000) in 2010. In Africa, malaria deaths increased from 493 000 (290 000—747 000) in 1980 to 1 613 000 (1 243 000—2 145 000) in 2004, decreasing by about 30% to 1 133 000 (848 000—1 591 000) in 2010. … Our findings show that the malaria mortality burden is larger than previously estimated, especially in adults. There has been a rapid decrease in malaria mortality in Africa because of the scaling up of control activities supported by international donors.

In other words, in just a six year period, the number of malaria deaths around the world decreased from 1.8 million to 1.2 million. You read that correctly. Malaria deaths fell by roughly a third. And remember folks, not only did these deaths fall by a third, they fell by a third during a time when the consensus agrees that global temperatures are at record highs (at least during the instrumental record) and showed no signs of tapering off to lower levels. In other words, in the presence of global warming the malaria problem has been considerably improved. Note that this does not mean that the warmer planet did not expand the population at risk for exposure to malaria. That may or may not be an interesting fact. But it does mean that something else, aside from ending industrial civilization as we know it, had a hand in reducing global malaria death, and those trends are not just gains in rich places, the biggest gains have again been happily in Africa – which continues (it appears) its run of a decade of very impressive economic growth. The point of all of this? One of the most fundamental reasons for being alarmed about a warming planet, disease spread, has no business at all (in a real model of human behavior) being included among the unique problems of global warming. Or if it does, then somehow someone ought to model what has just happened in the last decade around the globe – because that sure ain’t what you see in the IPCC’s 4th assessment report, and I’ll bet more than a cup of coffee that it ain’t what you’ll see in the forthcoming 5th assessment report. And the fact remains is that this sort of observation and understanding need not be limited to malaria spread. The impact of the consensus/agreed upon problems that are likely to be caused by a warming planet may not be large enough as compared to our human ingenuity at dealing with it. I’ve told my students for years that regardless of the temperature record or CO2 concentrations (which at best are markers for potential damage) I’ll convert myself to a “true believer” when I see measures of human well-being obviously suffering. Yet despite the warming planet, and continued expectation of warming, infant mortality rates continue to fall, life expectancy continues to increase, crop-yields (though their rate of increase has slowed – sort of like how we think of government budget “cuts”) continue to increase, air pollution continues to fall (including ozone) and mortality related to factors like heat seems to be on the decline too (uh oh, that link was from a “free-market” energy blog, I am sure the Kochs paid the guy to make all of that up). So no one I know who is serious denies anything about what the consensus is about global warming. But then again I know of virtually no one in the alarmist community who recognizes anything about what I’ve written here today. Maybe I don’t go to enough cocktail parties. Sure. But who, I ask, really is the denier here?

One Response to “Straw Mann”

  1. […] is complete and total bullshit and they need to be called out on it far and wide. And tell me again why I am supposed to be charitable to this sort of nonsense? […]

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