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Nov 30th 2006

steve: “there is no debate in the scientific community about global warming”

steve writes:

[the global warming] debate is over in the scientific community. Period.

as a non-scientist, i’ll defer to someone else to respond to steve. i have chosen a professor of atmospheric science from MIT. the following is reprinted without permission from the wall street journal. i have bolded key portions. notice where steve, the scientist and scholar’s independent thoughts directly mirror those of al gore:
= = = = =
Sunday, July 2, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

According to Al Gore’s new film “An Inconvenient Truth,” we’re in for “a planetary emergency”: melting ice sheets, huge increases in sea levels, more and stronger hurricanes, and invasions of tropical disease, among other cataclysms–unless we change the way we live now.

Bill Clinton has become the latest evangelist for Mr. Gore’s gospel, proclaiming that current weather events show that he and Mr. Gore were right about global warming, and we are all suffering the consequences of President Bush’s obtuseness on the matter. And why not? Mr. Gore assures [along with steve] us that “the debate in the scientific community is over.”

That statement, which Mr. Gore made in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, ought to have been followed by an asterisk. What exactly is this debate that Mr. Gore is referring to? Is there really a scientific community that is debating all these issues and then somehow agreeing in unison? Far from such a thing being over, it has never been clear to me what this “debate” actually is in the first place.

The media rarely help, of course. When Newsweek featured global warming in a 1988 issue, it was claimed that all scientists agreed. Periodically thereafter it was revealed that although there had been lingering doubts beforehand, now all scientists did indeed agree. Even Mr. Gore qualified his statement on ABC only a few minutes after he made it, clarifying things in an important way. When Mr. Stephanopoulos confronted Mr. Gore with the fact that the best estimates of rising sea levels are far less dire than he suggests in his movie, Mr. Gore defended his claims by noting that scientists “don’t have any models that give them a high level of confidence” one way or the other and went on to claim–in his defense–that scientists “don’t know. . . . They just don’t know.”

So, presumably, those scientists do not belong to the “consensus.” Yet their research is forced, whether the evidence supports it or not, into Mr. Gore’s preferred global-warming template–namely, shrill alarmism. To believe it requires that one ignore the truly inconvenient facts. To take the issue of rising sea levels, these include: that the Arctic was as warm or warmer in 1940; that icebergs have been known since time immemorial; that the evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average. A likely result of all this is increased pressure pushing ice off the coastal perimeter of that country, which is depicted so ominously in Mr. Gore’s movie. In the absence of factual context, these images are perhaps dire or alarming.

They are less so otherwise. Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don’t know why.

The other elements of the global-warming scare scenario are predicated on similar oversights. Malaria, claimed as a byproduct of warming, was once common in Michigan and Siberia and remains common in Siberia–mosquitoes don’t require tropical warmth. Hurricanes, too, vary on multidecadal time scales; sea-surface temperature is likely to be an important factor. This temperature, itself, varies on multidecadal time scales. However, questions concerning the origin of the relevant sea-surface temperatures and the nature of trends in hurricane intensity are being hotly argued within the profession.

Even among those arguing, there is general agreement that we can’t attribute any particular hurricane to global warming. To be sure, there is one exception, Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who argues that it must be global warming because he can’t think of anything else. While arguments like these, based on lassitude, are becoming rather common in climate assessments, such claims, given the primitive state of weather and climate science, are hardly compelling.

A general characteristic of Mr. Gore’s [and steve’s closed-minded] approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse. Regardless, these items are clearly not issues over which debate is ended–at least not in terms of the actual science.

A clearer claim as to what debate has ended is provided by the environmental journalist Gregg Easterbrook. He concludes that the scientific community now agrees that significant warming is occurring, and that there is clear evidence of human influences on the climate system. This is still a most peculiar claim. At some level, it has never been widely contested. Most of the climate community has agreed since 1988 that global mean temperatures have increased on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, having risen significantly from about 1919 to 1940, decreased between 1940 and the early ’70s, increased again until the ’90s, and remaining essentially flat since 1998.

There is also little disagreement that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen from about 280 parts per million by volume in the 19th century to about 387 ppmv today. Finally, there has been no question whatever that carbon dioxide is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse gas–albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming. Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in carbon dioxide should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed, assuming that the small observed increase was in fact due to increasing carbon dioxide rather than a natural fluctuation in the climate system. Although no cause for alarm rests on this issue, there has been an intense effort to claim that the theoretically expected contribution from additional carbon dioxide has actually been detected.

Given that we do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change, this task is currently impossible. Nevertheless there has been a persistent effort to suggest otherwise, and with surprising impact. Thus, although the conflicted state of the affair was accurately presented in the 1996 text of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the infamous “summary for policy makers” reported ambiguously that “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” This sufficed as the smoking gun for Kyoto.

The next IPCC report again described the problems surrounding what has become known as the attribution issue: that is, to explain what mechanisms are responsible for observed changes in climate. Some deployed the lassitude argument–e.g., we can’t think of an alternative–to support human attribution. But the “summary for policy makers” claimed in a manner largely unrelated to the actual text of the report that “In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

In a similar vein, the National Academy of Sciences issued a brief (15-page) report responding to questions from the White House. It again enumerated the difficulties with attribution, but again the report was preceded by a front end that ambiguously claimed that “The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.” This was sufficient for CNN’s Michelle Mitchell to presciently declare that the report represented a “unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.” Well, no.

More recently, a study in the journal Science by the social scientist Nancy Oreskes claimed that a search of the ISI Web of Knowledge Database for the years 1993 to 2003 under the key words “global climate change” produced 928 articles, all of whose abstracts supported what she referred to as the consensus view. A British social scientist, Benny Peiser, checked her procedure and found that only 913 of the 928 articles had abstracts at all, and that only 13 of the remaining 913 explicitly endorsed the so-called consensus view. Several actually opposed it.

Even more recently, the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush administration’s coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared it had found “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.” This, for Mr. Easterbrook, meant: “Case closed.” What exactly was this evidence? The models imply that greenhouse warming should impact atmospheric temperatures more than surface temperatures, and yet satellite data showed no warming in the atmosphere since 1979. The report showed that selective corrections to the atmospheric data could lead to some warming, thus reducing the conflict between observations and models descriptions of what greenhouse warming should look like. That, to me, means the case is still very much open.

So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at least three points.

First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists–especially those outside the area of climate dynamics.

Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a “moral” crusade.

Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce–if we’re lucky.

Mr. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.

14 Responses to “steve: “there is no debate in the scientific community about global warming””

  1. Steve

    Travis again puts words into my mouth. I did not say there were no voices of dissent in the scientific community. I said the overwhelming majority of the scientific community believe that we are contributing to global warming. Thus for me and many other scientists the debate is over. There will always be dissenters. Sort of like Peter Duesberg and the HIV theory. We ignore the scientific majority at our own peril. I hate it that right wing nut jobs are willing to risk the well being of my children because of scientific dissenters (actually their own selfishness).

    Wake up Travis and be a little more critical in your thinking. Why does 80 to 90% of the scientific community believe global warming is caused by humans? Why does the National Academy attribute global warming to human activity? Quit trying to discredit it. You can’t even talk in the terms of the MIT scientist you cite.

  2. doug

    Travis again puts words into my mouth. I did not say there were no voices of dissent in the scientific community.

    Indeed. Especially considering that the first mention of “dissent”, “dissention”, or “dissenter” was in your comment, not Travis’ post.

    There will always be dissenters. Sort of like Peter Duesberg and the HIV theory.

    Travis is actually a member of another fine organization you may have heard of.

    We ignore the scientific majority at our own peril.

    Yes, luckily by heeding solid science a few decades ago we were able to narrowly avoid an ice age.

    I hate it that right wing nut jobs are willing to risk the well being of my children because of scientific dissenters (actually their own selfishness).

    Steve, just to clue you in:

    Travis enjoys eating small children for breakfast. He doesn’t care about your children. So, this sort of shrill “it’s for the children” line of argument will hold little water with him. FYI.

  3. briant

    You offer a disturbing argument: since 80% of scientists believe that humans are causing global warming, they must be right and the debate is over. Since when does that make something true or right? Are you suggesting that whenever 80% of scientists believe in something, there should be no more debate about the issue?

    BTW Steve, I think you are missing the point of Travis’s dissent concerning global warming. To me it seems that he is shying away from the gloom and doom approach that Al Gore has taken use humor to show that global warming isn’t going to cause the earth to spontaneously combust due to America’s SUV craze. While he is not fanatic about stopping global warming, I doubt Travis believes we can do whatever we want to the earth without any side effects on the environment. I know Travis to be a person who recycles (trash and used books), eats tofu, drives a hatchback, and who generally likes to keep things clean, so let’s not talk about how he is a right-wing nut job who cares nothing for future generations.

    In closing, how does debating the cause of global warming put your kids at risk? Wouldn’t it be better if we had multiple approaches to environmental problems and allowed states and countries to experiment which approach works the best? To illustrate, wouldn’t it be awful if we put all of are eggs in one basket and tried to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when there were other, more effective means to achieving our end? I mean, what if focusing on forests, fisheries and land use was a better path to establishing a healthier earth? I say we go with a wide range of approaches to determine which of them (if any) works the best before discrediting 20% or even 10% of the scientific world.

  4. briant

    the previous comment was directed towards steve, although i must say that doug is very disturbing as well.

  5. doug

    BTW Steve, I think you are missing the point of Travis’s dissent concerning global warming. To me it seems that he is shying away from the gloom and doom approach that Al Gore has taken use humor to show that global warming isn’t going to cause the earth to spontaneously combust due to America’s SUV craze.

    Nail. on. the. head.

    Thank you, Briant.

  6. Steve

    Doug, you really do show your scientific ignorance. Travis does as well. Notice how he cherry picks the article. He doesn’t highlight the sections where the clear warming trend is indicated. He ignores the statement by the IPCC and the National Academy that there is consensus (what I’ve been saying all along) among the scientific community that humans are contributing to global warming. Remember according to Webster consensus also means “the judgement arrived at by most of those concerned”. This is what I have said.

    I will also point out that the article has ignored the fact that six of the hottest 8 years on record have occured since 1998. The article also fails to mention the evidence for mass extinction with high levels of CO2. The article further does not discuss the evidence for extinction right now because of global warming. I think it is because this guy is not a biologist (however I wouldn’t rule out a VRWC). He doesn’t have an appreciation for biodiversity (just as you guys do not). You don’t have the foggiest clue what you are talking about. Why don’t you guys give up? Any luck on those calculations? I really do want to know what the potential energy is.

    Travis stop cherry picking. Look where it got tricky Dick Cheney.

  7. Steve


    No I am not. It means that since 80% agree, Travis and Doug should finally say, humans do contribute to global warming. They have been denying it all along.

    I have said in previous posts that the debate is about how much we contribute and what should be done. I like some of your ideas. I mean I’ve even seen cases where people have argued we should pollute more (a la China and India) so that global dimming will outpace global warming.

    I like your idea of exploring multiple other sources (other than the burning of fossil fuels). At least we should try and mandate the making of more efficient vehicles. I like the idea of the US being on the cutting edge of alternative energy sources. What’s wrong with that? Why do we have to wait until oil is not cost effective? Why not lead the world and bring home those technological breakthroughs that will provide supremacy and jobs? All the while we may be avoiding a catastrophe that many have predicted. Notice I said “may” Travis and Doug since you like to put words in my mouth. These things just make sense to me.

  8. doug

    Notice I said “may” Travis and Doug since you like to put words in my mouth.

    Here are some more I would like to shove in:


  9. Steve

    Boy that was hilarious Doug. As Calvin used to say, you’re slipping in the comedy polls.

  10. MIke

    I just enjoyed a week of 70 degree temperatures in KY in November. And no one (of whom I am aware) died from it–In fact, most people thought it was great. If this is the future, sign me up!

  11. John

    Per Wikipedia:

    According to a former Boston Globe reporter and author, Ross Gelbspan, Lindzen has accepted money from oil and coals interests for consulting services, expert testimony, and speech writing. In a 1995 article in Harper’s Magazine, Gelbsan asserted that Lindzen charged “oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; [and] his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels and a speech he wrote, entitled ‘Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,’ was underwritten by OPEC.”

    Here’s a interesting blog post from an LDS researcher on the topic of global warming:

  12. Steve, so you did find someone with the patience to deal with you, boy they must have iron constitutions! There is an obvious explanation for your tenacity over global warming. What you are suffering from is a twofold problem. First (due to your chemistry degree I’m sure) you feel you are better (smarter) than any of the people you try to interface with, it’s called an intolerable ego and until you knock that chip off your shoulder, you are not going to be able to converse, reasonable. Secondly, you seem to have been personally enlightened by your master, IGOR, (I think Master Kerry is now onboard too). What this means is that you are arguing from a political science viewpoint, not from a climatological science one. I hope you are used to being alone.
    Look, none of the comments that I could see said that there wasn’t such a thing as global warming. And no one has said that man wasn’t influencing it. But this just goes over your head, like you have blinders on, and you are only interested in pounding everyone into believing what you seem to believe. None of us are climatologists, are we, and none of us are in any way active in acquiring data on our own, are we? That means all we can do is argue this with secondhand information. This requires us to accurately interoperate the available information and hope that the sources didn’t have agendas of their own. It’s the old cliché, is the glass half full or half empty. You can argue the same point with the exact same data and come to completely different conclusions … and both be 100% right. It depends more on your own slant than it does on the data itself.
    Steve, if you look back at all the different posts and comments on this site alone (Heaven knows how many others, besides myself, you tried to browbeat into acceptance), you will find that everyone who disagreed with you, no matter how minor the disagreement was, you pounded them, calling them names, impugning their education and intelligence and for what … because they had the audacity to disagreed with you. No one (not even you) can be so stupid as to believe that there is only one conclusion that can be made from the limited amount of available data. Just as I experienced in dealing with your pigheadedness, nothing good can come from hotheaded hate speech, particularly if you are trying to constructively engage others in conversation.
    But therein is the real problem. For whatever reason, this is your baby and you are obviously passionate about it, to the point of blindness. You don’t carry on discourse with people, you bicker and fight … and you accomplish absolutely nothing. You achieve only frustration for yourself and for those that interface with you. If you really want to be an expert and not pretend to be one, then take a trip to Antarctica and start analyzing your own core samples. Sadly enough though, this still wouldn’t help you because you are so hopelessly biased that you cannot even have a scientific opinion. It will always just be a political one. Lots of luck, you are going to need it.

  13. Lindzen has accepted money from oil and coals interests for consulting services, expert testimony, and speech writing.

    i’m sure the oil companies were the ones that hired him on at MIT, too.

    you’d be hard-pressed to find a scholar in such a hot field as atmospheric science who doesn’t have other income. i’m sure lots of global warming fanatics / enviro-nazis have been paid experts, written or given speeches for money, or done consulting work for enviromental activist concerns.

    so to your comment, i say “big whoop,” john.

    nice response, michelle. because your comment provides such a good ending point, and because steve has to worry about his studies and grants, i’m going to save him some time by closing comments on this post.

  14. […] Steve, Nov 2006 [link] disturbing…disproportionate [coverage]. The [blog is intensely] partisan [and discredited]. just plain wrong. [Your blog is] dedicated to mischaracterizations and discontent with the left….you can recommend some good 12 step program since you’ve been there. You….emulate Coultergeist! […]