The war against science while Rome is burning

Guest post by Andrew Glikson (Andrew is an Earth and paleo-climate scientist, Australian National University who has contributed regularly to Brave New Climate).

The state of the terrestrial atmosphere over the last ~10,000 years (Holocene), when conditions became amenable for agriculture and civilization, and over the preceding ~5 million years (Pliocene-Pleistocene) when prehistoric humans evolved, was constrained by a CO2 range of 180 to 300 ppm, developed some 34 million years ago (end-Eocene) when atmospheric CO2 levels declined below 500 ppm. A rise of CO2 to 400 ppm at ~3.0 million years ago resulted in 2 – 3 degrees C temperature rise, melting of large parts of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea levels of +25+/-12 metres higher than the present.

Toward the end-20th and early 21st century Homo “sapiens” is realizing its carbon emissions, totaling over 300 billion tons (GtC) since 1750, and other forms of interference with the global natural system, are leading to sharp departure from the conditions which allowed its success on the planet, including rapid warming of the atmosphere to near +1.3 degrees C (partly masked by emitted aerosols) above pre-industrial levels and acidification of the oceans (decrease in pH by near-0.1), endangering the marine food chain.

Human inertia is paramount. Politics-as-usual and economics-as-usual can not argue with the laws of physics and chemistry, nor can they stop the climate from tracking toward increasingly dangerous states, likely approaching a tipping point of no return.

With Obama’s carbon cap-and-trade legislation now on Washington’s agenda and the upcoming vote in congress, following eight “good years” under Bush’s “climate skeptic” presidency a well funded wake up call has been issued by an army of vested interests, companies and conservative think tanks. Hiring no fewer than 2,340 lobbyists on behalf of some 700 companies, four for every one congressmen, these people hope to water down, or even derail, effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, threatening a Senate filibuster.

These efforts are backed by the pro-carbon emission ideology of the recent (8-10 March, 09) Heartland Institute conference in New York, titled “Global Warming: Was it Ever a Crisis”, linked to 50 or so think tanks which between them received $47 million in funds over the years from Exxon and the Koch and Scaife families, which made their first fortunes in the oil business

A principal think tank is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), more than 20 of whose staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. The AEI has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil and is offering scientists cash grants of $10,000 if they were prepared to dispute reports by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

The “skeptics” case is being bolstered by the new “Climate Skeptics Handbook” published by Joanne Nova, provided to every participant in the New York conference, and published to the tune of 150,000 copies funded by an anonymous donor. The book repeats long-discarded misconceptions inconsistent with either direct observations of the climate or with the basic laws of physics and chemistry.

Blurring the boundaries with science fiction, climate “skeptics” have included the late Michael Crichton, author of the “State of Fear” and a friend of George W. Bush. Currently they include luminaries such as Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who regards environmentalism as the new face of communism, stating “I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism”, presumably defining “freedom” as the right to use the atmosphere as open sewer for carbon gases.
 
The scientific “star” of the Heartland conference is Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist who regards Exxon as “the only principled oil and gas company I know in the US”, and whose opinions are cited throughout the ExxonMobil funded groups and conferences organized by the company. Lindzen accuses school teachers asking questions about global warming as being “straight out of Hitlerjugen”. Moving from denial to an attack on the scientific community, Lindzen stated: “endorsing global warming just makes their lives easier”.

Oblivious to physics, chemistry and climate science, the principal weapon of climate “skeptics” remains ad-hominem slur (“Gore lied”), conspiracy theories and ad-infinitum use of terms such as “alarmism” and even “ecofascism”.

Some “skeptics” appear to confuse, or pretend to confuse, the weather with the climate, misunderstand meaning of terms such as “average” or “trend”, hinging their arguments on transient cooling events. Lately, based on the La Nina cooling phase since 2007, some claim global cooling (would have been nice).

Some “skeptics” continue to claim climate change does not exist, or is caused by the sun (precise measurements of solar radiation disprove this theory), or by cosmic rays (which enhance clouding).

There are skeptics who argue that, since climate has always changed in the past, in particular during the glacial-interglacial cycles, 20th – 21st global warming is also of natural origin. They deny that warming since the outset of the industrial age, accelerating since about 1975 – 1976, represents the consequence of the emission of some 300 gigatons of carbon since about 1750. Some skeptics invoke the effects of solar radiation. However, whereas solar irradiance accounts for a rise by about 0.3 – 0.4 degrees C during the first half of the 20th century, it stabilized from about 1970, following the 11 years sun-spot cycle which fluctuates within the range of +/-0.1 degrees C, while greenhouse-driven forcing rose by about +0.6 degrees C. Since 1750 the total rise in atmosphere energy due to solar radiation is estimated at 0.12 Watt/m2 while the anthropogenic factor, due to emissions and land clearing, is estimated at 1.6 Watt/m2 (IPCC-AR4-2007 figure SPM-2).

Some “skeptics” invoke water vapor as a cause of global warming (evaporation is but a feedback effect, and vapor levels iare very low over the fast warming poles and desert regions).  Others point to the lag of CO2 rise behind temperatures during glacial age terminations (which is due to the delay in the release of CO2 from the oceans and biosphere, which lags behind the rapid warming induced by the ice-water albedo flip, namely the change from reflecting ice sheets to infrared-absorbing open water). Still others claim global warming occurs on other planets and is thus of extraterrestrial origin (no inter-planetary connection is known), or even due to geothermal rise (the main connection of internal Earth processes is via volcanic eruptions). 

Publishing in politically friendly media provides a golden opportunity to gain public exposure and air grudges against science and scientists. A hallmark of climate change skeptics is the dissemination of doubt (“doubt is our product”) and a reluctance to engage in direct public discussions with climate scientists.

Attempts have been made to delete critical data sets, as in the film ”The Great Global Climate Swindle”, where mean global temperature data from the 1980s onward are not shown.

The skeptics ignore the severe deterioration of the atmosphere-ocean system, as stated by the UK Hadley-Met in 19 December, 2008, the consequences of 5.5°C warming by 2100, which are “likely” on our current emissions path, are all but “unimaginable ­mass extinction, devastating ocean acidification, brutal summer-long heat waves, rapidly rising sea levels, widespread desertification”.

As indicated by Clive Hamilton in New Matilda there is little evidence the “climate change skeptics” worry their misunderstanding of climate science may lead to the death of billions and the likely demise of civilization. 

The legal status of disinformation campaigns aimed at the promotion of substances of proven fatal consequences, such as ozone-destroying CFCs, or the release of CO2 to levels over 350 ppm, may yet prove to be the Achilles heel of global civilization.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Advertisements

30 Comments

  1. Andrew,
    Thanks for a remarkably concise and direct response to the main claims of the denial lobby. You might want to correct the clause “one for every four congressmen”, as I think you meant to say the reverse the numbers, something like “four lobbyists for every Representative and Senator”
    Regards.

    [Ed: Fixed — thanks]

    Like

  2. Climate “realists” are not at all reluctant to engage in debate with practioners of the global warmenist religion. Many have publiclly challanged Al Gore and James Hansen to a debate. The Heartland Institute conference was held only a few blocks from James Hansen’s office and he was invited. Gore, of course, is notorious for not debating. Could this be because the warmenists have, over the last decade, received billions of dollars from governments and foundations to ignore the fact that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would raise temperatures one degree centigrade? Your graph showing the rise of CO2, temperatures, and sunspots is a good example of what I, as a former Russian/Sovietr studies major, called a “type II Pravda lie.” You have removed your graph from the context necessary to understand what it says, thus allowing you to pull the wool over your readers’s eyes. What you should do is show a temperature map going back to 500 BC, with the Roman and later Medieval Warm Periods being several degrees Centigrade warmer than today.

    Like

  3. I have to extend my compliments on this article. As disturbing as it’s message is, it’s also convenient to have all these issues so well summed up on one place.

    The opening mentions the holocene as when “conditions became amenable for agriculture”. Does your paleoclimate work reveal strong examples of warmer climates that were clearly not amenable to our current agriculture?

    thank you,
    John G

    Like

  4. Andrew – follow you on Crikey. This is a FANTASTIC post – can you seed to Crikey (I’d love to see Tamas Calderwoods riposte!). I will add it to my eco-snowboarding blog as a must read. I’ve attempted to post like this also, but it’s great to have something from a qualified scientist (as opposed to telco engineer and concerned snowboarder/human).

    All the links are excellent too. It’s also great that it’s not hysterial like some other blogs.

    Sincere congrats and thanks!!

    Tim M
    Heresy Snowboarding

    Like

  5. Hi John,

    Small scale agriculture and animal domestication was practiced even before the Holocene in isolated places in Africa and the Middle East, but conditions favorable for larger-scale irrigation developed along the Nile, Euphrates, Indus and Yellow River after 8000 years ago, once relatively stable equilibrium was reached, whereby mountain snow melt fed the rivers the year around.

    Conversely, warmer periods (the early Holocene Maximum) were expressed by either droughts (no mountain snow) or floods (removing the fertile river terraces).

    Even minor – fraction of a degree C climate changes, resulted in the collapse of agriculture, as in the 4000 BC Egyptian drought and the related fall of the Pharaoh.

    Like

  6. Thank you Tim,

    Having tried to debate with the so-called “skeptics” (*) for several years in a technical sense, I have come across the following (which will be no surprise to you):

    (1) They have a standard set of long-refuted arguments (about 10)which they repeat ad-infinitum. No matter the extent to which one tries to explain, or refer them to the peer-reviewed science literature, its obvious they are not interested in the science, only in refuting the reality of CC under any pretext. In this respect they live in a “parallel universe” reading each other recycled arguments.

    (2) Its a litmus test: As soon as you come across standard abuses such as “alarmist”, “warmist”, “Gore lied”, “scaremongers”, “eco-fascists”, you know what arguments follow. Such language, apart from being unethical, renders any pertinent discussion of technical points near-impossible. Such style is used not only by amateur instant-climatologists, but even by “skeptics” with academic qualifications.

    (3) The self-ordained term “skeptic” does not apply. Skepticism is inherent in the scientific method, where datasets are examined with open mind from a variety of view poihts. When it comes to climate change, I would have been more than delighted to be able to find evidence it is not occurring or, at least, humans are not responsible. By contrast the so-called “skeptics” make a prior assumption, i.e. “no global warming”, or “no anthropogenic warming”, or the laws of physics and chemistry are not valid, or that climate scientists are not fair-dincum because they are getting paid.

    Oh well …

    Like

  7. Andrew,

    Thanks for the post.

    I would like to know why do the denialists do it? What is it about global warming, the science, the efforts to try and do something to avoid disaster that gets them going so?

    Is it ideology? With organisations such as the IPA, Heartland etc you would think so but there are also some left wingers who are denialists as well.

    Is it ego? A lot of them seem to have extraordinary egos (d’you remember how some denialists used to compare their stance with that of Galileo – I used to find that amazingly funny and so did many other people and so perhaps the collective laughter did penetrate such vanity so that they stopped it).

    They do seem to exhibit common characteristics, as you have pointed out, and mainly exhibited around how they both frame and engage over the issues e.g. always challenging Gore, Hansen et al to debates knowing they won’t and then crowing about it, or else putting it in terms of control and ideology which perhaps mirrors how they see life.

    I would really like to know what drives them especially over such a serious matter or is it just that there have always been such groups in society and the difference here is its a world circling concern. Or is it that they are just, and I hate to use this term, fanatics. I’m willing for other posters to call me on using this term if I am using it unjustly.

    But why do they do this?

    Like

  8. Jeremy,

    Consider what the core function of the IPA and Hartland Institute is. They preach small government and “free market” (wink, wink). Despite supporting governments and policies enforce monopoly protection, barriers to entry, and deliver hobsian choices to the consumers.

    These institutes are funded by entrenched concentrated power. They provide the arguments to serve the interests entrenched consolidated power. The current vested interests would be divested of market value if coal and existing energy assets were devalued.

    This might seem quite mercenary (and it is) but we live in system where maximising profits in the enforced priority. If an organisation fails to maximise profits, it risks getting bought out, assets stripped, or it directors get replaced or prosecuted for failing to serve the interest of shareholders.

    Like

  9. John Costello,
    As usual massive claims and not a shred of evidence. You can cheat and cherry-pick all you like, science has to be taken as a whole.

    Cite your peer-reviewed evidence. Full citations are required in detail, including page numbers and paragraphs. No books with hundreds of pages without a hint as to where the supporting reference is [assuming it exists], (this was the ploy recently used by Gerlich and Tscheuschner). There had also better be a lot of evidence, because of the accumulated mountain of P/R evidence that already exists.
    Note that sources like ‘Energy & Environment’ and WUWT don’t cut the mustard.

    Just because the science isn’t perfect [it never will be], that doesn’t mean that we should see that as a reason to ignore the science.

    Like Gareth, I also consider that you are talking b*ll*cks.

    Note, your failure to respond substantively, will be taken as a full admission of your deceit.

    Like

  10. Two steps forward…one step back? The US Environmental Protection Agency has just been authorised to regard CO2 as a potential pollutant under their air quality legislation which is said to open the way for President Obama to take a tougher AGW stance forward to Copenhagen. A Federal response toward cleaner air, particularly from motor vehicles is said to be likely, along the lines of Californian legislation.
    Prof Ian Plimer will no doubt be ‘stoked’ to even greater skepticism but for the rest of us perhaps another step forward.

    Like

  11. “I would like to know why do the denialists do it?”

    It’s politics pure and simple Jeremy C and your side of the argument is fortunately losing traction.

    The sad references to ‘Crikey’ and ‘Web Diary’ nail the colours of the AGW cause firmly to the unconscionable left’s mast.

    And if you want to give me a real belly laugh just say ‘peer review’.

    It’s also amusing that Glikson quotes a ‘stoic’ in his web diary harangue – stoics after all took great pleasure in advocating views which are contrary to common sense.

    Like

  12. Peter,

    Left-leaning publications and online spaces like webdiary and bravenewclimate provide a reasonably good forum for people like Andrew, just as Online Opinion these days provides a protected space for denialists. People with opposing views are not excluded from either place, just in a minority.

    Hanging out in places where you’re in the majority is more comfortable, and it can certainly assist you in ignoring evidence that globally, the positions are far and away the other way around.

    Like

  13. 300 GtC? We’re putting out 8.4GtC per year at the moment (2006 figure), and that number is rapidly climbing with no decrease in sight. Which means we could put out another 300 GtC in just the next 30 years.

    It’s insane.

    If we don’t stop now, we’re in for a world of hurt.

    Like

  14. PeterW

    You clearly deride objective science in favour of the superior type of ignorance touted by your favoured political ideologues – how does your computer work? All that peer-reviewed scientific mumbo-jumbo A.K.A. Quantum physics must be some kind of left-wing / communist conspiracy.

    Perhaps you might inform yourself of the science before forming a strong opinion concerning the climate.

    Or as Confucius put it:

    Knowledge without thought is futile; thought without knowledge is perilous.

    Like

  15. I thought it was because aliens had assumed control of their minds. These aliens originated from a world of oceans which are quite like ours except that they are slightly warmer (~4 – 6 degrees C) and slightly more acidic. Their objective is the transformation of our oceans so that their ruling class can continue their domination of habitable planets galaxy wide. They are known throughout the galaxy as boltandrewians. They are particularly ugly and deceitful little creatures.

    Like

  16. LOL… a ‘quoter’.

    Chris appears to like Confucius. Well here’s another one for him:

    “Knowledge is merely brilliance in organization of ideas and not wisdom. The truly wise person goes beyond knowledge.”

    Confucius

    Chris writes:

    “You clearly deride objective science …”

    Science is not objective. It is influenced by ‘directionality’, purpose and funding.

    However, here is an association dedicated to the pursuit of ‘objectivity in science’ http://www.objectivityinscience.org/ – I’m sure Chris will support its goals.

    Chris writes:

    “…how does your computer work? All that peer-reviewed scientific …”

    I’ve long found the lauding of peer-reviewed publishing comical especially in the context of ‘blog’ discussions.

    Some seem (Chris perhaps) to believe the mere fact a paper has been peer-reviewed is a guarantee of its veracity and the quality of the work therein.

    Such is their faith in the system of peer-reviewed publishing they are compelled to speak of it in hushed and reverential tones and never question its ‘new truths’.

    However, to many others who are not members of the cosy little academic publishing ‘club’, peer-review is merely a superficial technical edit of papers submitted for publication in ‘journals’.

    Journals which can no longer be considered anything more than ‘information laundering operations’ for vested interests, be they promoters of AGW or other dodgy ‘discoveries’.

    Peer-review does little to prevent the publication of mediocrity and relies on information submitted by the authors of the papers being reviewed no matter how shoddy.

    In the vast majority of cases no attempt is made to audit the authors’ research or repeat their experiments.

    Some naively believe reviewers to be impartial independent experts, but they are in reality often either competitors or colleagues of the authors of the papers they review.

    This cosy “I’ll scratch your back” incestuous relationship leads to the promulgation of so called ‘science’ based on flimsy and at times fraudulent evidence and the rejection of other papers because they don’t suit a reviewer’s ideology.

    There are few (if any) journals that require authors to archive and make publicly available the primary data, methods and code used to support the contents of papers published under the pretentious banner of ‘peer review’.

    So I couldn’t care less whether the technology used in my shiny black box is as a result of research published in a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal or not.

    Chris wrote:

    “Perhaps you might inform yourself of the science before forming a strong opinion concerning the climate.”

    Here, let me direct Chris to another quote from Glikson’s Seneca:

    “Shun no toil to make yourself remarkable by some talent or other; yet do not devote yourself to one branch exclusively. Strive to get clear notions about all. Give up no science entirely; for science is but one.”

    Seneca

    Like

  17. Jonathon – a most reasonable distillation of the role webdiary and other sites play.

    It’s why I ‘lurk’ about on both sides of the many ‘arguments’ that interest me.

    There is no sport in permanent agreement.

    For example; Barry’s attitude towards nuclear power is almost indistinguishable from mine, however much of his other written opinion is the antithesis of my long held views.

    It doesn’t stop me from visiting this site regularly and reading his work though – life’s rich tapestry and all…

    Like

  18. You seem very impressed by your own words.

    I never said that peer-review is a guarantee of scientific quality, it is the bare minimum of the quality of science. After the pre-publication peer-review, there is the extended review by scientists working in the same field who assess it and choose whether or not to cite it as a reference in their own work.

    First of all one has to see where it was published. A bad sign is where a work is published in a journal where the focus is far outside the specialty concerned and where the available reviewers are operating outside their own specialism.

    A very recent example of this is the error-strewn “Falsification of the atmospheric CO2 greenhouse effects within the frame of physics”; Gerlich and Tscheuschner. Published in the International Journal of Modern Physics.

    A laughable example is the deceitful ‘Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide’ ARTHUR B. ROBINSON, NOAH E. ROBINSON, AND WILLIE SOON. Witness the cherry-picked science, errors, pseudoscientific sleight of hand and sheer garbage.
    Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.
    Published in the Journal of the American Physicians and Surgeons.

    Like

  19. “You seem very impressed by your own words.”

    And you quote a long dead Chinese philosopher for what reason?

    “I never said that peer-review is a guarantee of scientific quality…”

    Really?

    One can easily be forgiven for taking that to be your implication.

    “A very recent example of this is the error-strewn …”

    “A laughable example is the deceitful…”

    Rather makes my point, thanks.

    Like

  20. If you really want to know why there are so many sceptics simply ask yourself why you didn’t entitle this article “The war against science while Rome enjoys balmy weather”.
    For most people, notwithstanding the current economic turndown, they have never had it so good. Even people on average income have fine homes, good food and interesting work. They can afford to travel or at least watch exotic places on their plasma TVs. And in the developing countries hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and are leading lives well beyond their parent’s dreams. The experience in their daily lives isn’t of Rome in flames – but good times.
    And then comes along some people saying you are living in a fool’s paradise and your all going to die.
    First it was the greens in hair shirts saying what they have always said -you are destroying the planet and you have to live simply and consume less and of children thou shall have none at all.
    Then along came the self loathing lefties – and they too were saying what they have always said. You are irresponsible and immoral and you must give us power to control you and decide what you shall eat and what you shall buy and of children you may have 0.5 but we will educate them
    And then the scientists came along saying what they have always said – trust us.
    But the people weren’t listening so all three groups started to make outlandish claims and scare the people. And what credibility was left was squandered.
    The reason why there are so many sceptics is because there are too many people with agendas pushing the barrow and too many true believers exaggerating both the reliability of the science and the likely outcomes

    Like

  21. So – if you want us all to continue living a comfortable life(and who doesn’t) and allow the developing economies to do the same- why aren’t you out there spruiking the solutions, such as the introducion of IFR technology, given on this blog? We are living in a fool’s paradise if we think we can go on burning fossil fuels without causing massive global upheaval – but – we don’t have to! Stop espousing your loathing of anyone who doesn’t think and behave like you – and put all that vitriol into persuading the coal industry to convert to new nuclear. If the scientists are wrong (I don’t think so) and the pseudo-sceptics right, what does it matter? We will all be better off without the pollution of coal fired electricity generation and will still be able to advance technology and civilisation.

    Like

  22. Perps,
    If you think IFR technology is so wonderful, then you go and spruik it. Mind you, if its so wonderful why do you need to spruik it – Just get some investors together and go compete in the market place.

    Or Pehaps IFR is like many of the wonderful renewable technologies that my green friends tell me are viable here and now.

    Good, I say, stop whingeing and start selling the stuff. Oh, they say, but I need you to hobble my competion with punitive taxes and give me large subsidies besides – but the technology really is viable.

    So, Perps, do you want to raid the public purse also? Or do you just want big brother to strangle the competition for you.

    Like

  23. Integral Fast Reactors is not a “renewable technology” it is a new form of nuclear power which provides all sorts of benefits and can provide baseload power, without the renewables, if necessary. Industry would love to be involved.In fact the IFR can basically be attached to our current power stations so why would they continue with an old technology, which will eventually run out of fuel.
    It is very much on the agenda with the Obama administration and should be running within 5 -15 years. We are all on the same side here Chris – we want a clean environment, vibrant economy, healthy people and a comfortable existence. So put aside your old prejudices and read the parts of this blog which deal with the IFR technology, including the latest post from a former nuclear opponent who has been convinced. Then do as I am doing, and pass the word on to all you encounter, those who deny we have a problem and those who are convinced we do.

    Like

  24. Dear Barry Brook,

    Thanks for all your morally courageous and intellectually honest efforts, even though approaching threats to human wellbeing and environmental health loom ominously before us. Imagine what would immediately occur if everyone followed your good example. In the face of such daunting global challenges as humanity confronts in our time, it is so easy to curse the darkness and, by so doing, choose NOT to light candles, as you are doing. Keep lighting candles.

    Always,

    Steve

    Like

Comments are closed.