Tag Archives: Denialism

Lamar Smith: Nothing more than a hippie puncher

Congressman Lamar Smith is a well known science denier, especially a climate science denier.

Recently, he admitted that the House committee he runs is a tool of the anti-science forces.

At a recent conference at the pro-Tobacco anti-Science Koch (and others) funded fake think tank Heartland, this happened:

Smith: Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.

Audience Member: I applaud you for saying you’ll be using the term climate studies, not climate science. But I also urge you to use the term politically correct science.

Smith: Good point. And I’ll start using those words if you’ll start using two words for me. The first is never, ever use the word progressive. Instead, use the word liberal. The second is never use the word ‘mainstream’ media, because they aren’t. Use ‘liberal’ media. Is that a deal? I’ll give you a bonus. When we talk about changing the Senate rules on ending filibusters, don’t use the word ‘nuclear’ option. That has a negative connotation. Use ‘democratic’ option.

Smith agreed with an audience member that the EPA should not be regulating air quality, and that there is no limit to how far he would go in dismantling the last 8 years of environmental regulation.

Smith (a Republican, but you already knew that) also noted that Trump (a Republican as well) would pretty much do whatever Smith and the Heartland Institute want him do to: Dismantle environmental regulations generally.

Smith’s top contributor last year was an energy company, and the top industry that funds his campaign is the Oil and Gas industry.

Source of the dialog.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt’s Epic Response to Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, the once funny but now highly repetitive cartoon about a nerd who has a job in an office.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt is high up in the top ten list of world class climate scientists. He is Director of the currently under siege GISS Unit of NASA, where much of the climate science done by that agency is carried out. If you read my blog, you’ve read his work, because you also read RealClimate, where GS writes about climate science in a manner designed to be understandable to the intelligent, honestly interested, thoughtful individual.

Adams has a history of going after core science concepts, often substituting scientific reality with his own. He has done so with climate science.

And, he’s done it again. In a recent blog post (of yesterday) Adams tries to “convince skeptics that climate change is a problem”

This is a re-hash of earlier posts he’s written, in which he does the old denial two step. Of course climate change is real, he says. I’m not a scientist, he says. I don’t know jack about climate science in particular, he says. Then, he uses up piles of ink telling climate scientists how they’ve got all the science wrong.

His objective, I assume, is to spread and nurture doubt about climate science and science in general.

Dr Schmidt caught a tweet of Adams’, pointing to his absurd blog post, and responded with a series of tweets addressing all the things.

I wanted to preserve this excellent, well documented and richly illustrated TweetTextBook, and it occurred to me that you might want to see it too. So, here are the tweets.

Feel free to add additional relevant tweets to the comments, if you like. I hope this doesn’t break the Internet.

Ben Santer on Seth Myers

Via Media Matters of America. Very interesting segment.

Santer talks about what is is like to be a rogue scientist in a Donald Trump administration.

The words referred to here the twelve words, were part of the 1995 Second Assessment report of the IPCC. That report is regularly updated, and forms the scientific and policy basis for our thinking about climate change at the national and international level. I highly recommend that you have handy at all times what I like to think of as the human-readable version of the most current IPCC report: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

An excellent resource for debunking and learning about the sort of junk Ted Cruz is seen to be spilling on this segment is Dana Nuccitelli’s book Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics.

Here’s a little more on Ted Cruz:

Who thinks what about climate change and science?

Two items of interest.

1) A new poll looks at conservative and liberal views of science. The findings are not especially unexpected, but the details are interesting. The image above is from this infographic, and the details are given here.

Yes, the detail are quite interesting.

2) If you care, there is some information on what the 2016 GOP candidates stand on climate change.

This is put together by CBS and is here.

Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community

The title of this post is also the title of a new peer reviewed paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, Naomi Orskes, James Risbey, Ben Newell and Michael Smithson, published in Global Environmental Change. The article is Open Access, available here. Stephan Lewandosky has a blog post on it, in which he notes,

… we examine the effect of contrarian talking points that arise out of uncertainty on the scientific community itself. We show that although scientists are trained in dealing with uncertainty, there are several psychological and cognitive reasons why scientists may nevertheless be susceptible to uncertainty-based argumentation, even when scientists recognize those arguments as false and are actively rebutting them….

We highlight three well-known psychological mechanisms that may facilitate the seepage of contrarian memes into scientific discourse and thinking: ‘stereotype threat’, ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and the ‘third-person effect’.

Stereotype threat refers to the emotional and behavioural responses when a person is reminded of an adverse stereotype against a group to which they belong. Thus, when scientists are stereotyped as ‘alarmists’, a predicted response would be for them to try to avoid seeming alarmist by downplaying the degree of threat. There are now several studies that highlight this tendency by scientists to avoid highlighting risks, lest they be seen as ‘alarmist.’

Pluralistic ignorance describes the phenomenon which arises when a minority opinion is given disproportionate prominence in public debate, resulting in the majority of people incorrectly assuming their opinion is marginalized. Thus, a public discourse that asserts that the IPCC has exaggerated the threat of climate change may cause scientists who disagree to think their views are in the minority, and they may therefore feel inhibited from speaking out in public.

Finally, research shows that people generally believe that persuasive communications exert a stronger effect on others than on themselves: this is known as the third-person effect. However, in actual fact, people tend to be more affected by persuasive messages than they think. This suggests the scientific community may be susceptible to arguments against climate change even when they know them to be false.

I have little to add beyond Stephan’s overview (Sou has this, go check it out), and you can read the paper itself. I do think these questions are part of an even larger issue, of the influence of systematic well funded constant denialism on both the science and the implementation of science as public policy. Imagine if all the effort spent addressing contrarian claims was spent on doing more science or the translation of science into policy? One could argue that questioning the science strengthens it, and in many cases that may be true. But the denialism about climate science does not play that role. Contrarian arguments are not valid questions about the science, but rather, little more than self indulgent contrived nefarious sophistic yammering. That is not helpful; It does not strengthen the science. Rather, denialism has served to slow down the implementation of sensible energy policies, and has probably slowed down our collective effort to the extent that were the denialism ignored, or didn’t exist to begin with, we would be decades ahead of where we are now in addressing the existential issue of our time.

Bjorn Lomborg’s WSJ Response to Nixing of Australian Project

Bjorn Lomborg has written an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the decision of the University of Western Australia (UWA) to nix previously developed plans to accept a $4 million dollar payment from the conservative Australian government, to be matched by university money, to implement a version of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Institute there, to be known as Australia Consensus.

See: Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

See: Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

See: Are electric cars any good? Lomborg says no, but he’s wrong.

Lomborg’s scholarship in the area of climate and energy related policy has been repeatedly criticized and often described as far less than adequate. A typical Bjorn Lomborg missive on climate or energy policy seems to include instance after instance of inaccuracies, often taking the form of a statement of fact with a citation, where that fact or assertion is not to be found in the citation. Many regard his policies as “luke warm.” From the highly regarded Sketpical Science web site:

…examples of Luckwarmers include Matt Ridley, Nic Lewis, and Bjorn Lomborg. The University of Western Australia has been caught up in a major Luckwarmer controversy, having taken federal funds to set up a center from which Lomborg was expected to argue that the government’s money would be better spent on issues other than curbing global warming. In a sign that even Stage 3 climate denial is starting to become untenable, the resulting uproar forced the university to cancel plans for the center.

The UWA project received a great deal of critisim, and was seen by many as a move by Big Fossil to water down academic and government response to the critical issue of climate change. Graham Readfearn, writing for The Guardian, notes:

Danish political scientist and climate change contrarian Bjørn Lomborg says the poorest countries in the world need coal and climate change just isn’t as big a problem as some people make out.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says “coal is good for humanity” and there are more pressing problems in the world than climate change, which he once described as “crap” but now says he accepts.

So it’s not surprising then that the latter should furnish the former with $4 million of taxpayer funds to start an Australian arm of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC) at the University of Western Australia’s business school.

The Australian project was shut down after severe criticism from the global academic community as well as students and faculty within UWA. Predictably, Lombog had characterized this as an attack on free debate. From the Op Ed, “Opponents of free debate are celebrating. Last week…the University of Western Australia canceled its contract to host a planned research center, Australia Consensus, intended to apply economic cost-benefit analysis to development projects—giving policy makers a tool to ensure their aid budgets are spent wisely.

While Lomborg blames “activists” for shutting down the center, it is more widely believed that the project was criticized because, based on prior work done by Lomborg, any ensuing “cost-benefit analyses” would be academically weak and policy-irrelevant.

Central to the difference in overall approach (aside from allegations of poor scholarship) between Lomborg and many others is how poor or developing nations should proceed over coming decades. Lomborg seems to advocate that these nations go through the same economic and technological evolution as developed nations, building an energy infrastructure based mainly on fossil fuels, in order to industrialize and reach the standard of living presumed desired by those who live in those nations. The alternative, of course, is that development in these regions be done with lessons learned from the industrialized and developed world. We don’t ask rural Kenyans to install a wire-based analog phone system before using modern digital cell phone systems. With respect to energy, developing regions should implement clean energy with smart distribution rather than building hulking coal plants and committing for centuries to come to expensive and extensive electric grid systems that are now generally regarded as outdated.

Lomborg says enough about mitigating climate change effects, and developing green energy technologies, to be able to suggest that he supports these ideas when he is pushed up against the wall, as with the nixing of the Australian project. But his regular statements on specific policy points, frequent and well documented, tell a different story.

Lomborg claims that much of the policy development of the Copenhagen Institute is not even about climate change. To the extent that this is true, it may be part of the problem. As development occurs, energy is key. With development of energy technologies, climate change is key. Lomborg’s approach that the Copenhagen projects are mostly not about climate change is not an argument that he is doing something right. It is evidence that he is doing something wrong, and at the same time, is apparently unaware of this.

It is very important to remember, as this conversation unfolds, that the objections to Lomborg’s work, and to spending vast sums of money to support it, are only partly because of differences in approach. These objections also come from two other things. One is a sense that Lomborg is detached from scholarship and good analysis.

Graham Readfearn has documented academic response to Lomborg’s work. Here is one example:

Dr Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Ecnomics and Policy at the Australian National University, was once invited to write a paper for Lomborg’s centre in 2008, which was sharply critical of how the cost of the impacts of climate change were treated.

He told me:

Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.

And, regarding energy policy vis-a-vis the Big Fossil,

…we had a look at Lomborg’s claims that the world’s poorest were crying out for more fossil fuels which, Lomborg argued, were the only real way they could drag themselves out of poverty…the positions Lomborg takes on these issues are underpinned by a nasty habit of picking the lowest available estimates of the costs of climate change impacts.

Last year, when Lomborg spoke to a coal company-sponsored event in Brisbane in the shadow of the G20 talks, Lomborg suggested that because the International Energy Agency (IEA) had developed one future scenario that saw growth in the burning of coal in poor countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, that this somehow meant that fossil fuels were just what they needed.

Yet Lomborg ignored an important rejoinder to that assessment, which had come from the IEA itself, and which I pointed out at the time.

The IEA said its assessment for Africa was consistent with global warming of between 3C and 6C for the continent by the end of this century.

Lomborg’s prior written works could be, and actually have been (I am told), used in coursework on analytical approaches to policy as bad, not good, examples. And, although Lomborg often associates himself with Nobel Prize Winners (and rarely fails to note that) he is not known as a high powered, influential scholar in his area. A recent citation analysis of Lomborg’s work backs up that concern:

…I combed through his Google Scholar entries and dumped all the duplicates, I ignored all the magazine and newspaper articles (e.g., you can’t count opinion editorials in The Wall Street Journal as evidence of an academic track record), I cut out all non-articles (things Lomborg hadn’t actually written), omitted any website diatribes (e.g., blog posts and the like) and calculated his citation profile.

Based on my analysis, Lomborg’s Google Scholar h-index is 4 for his peer-reviewed articles. If I was being particularly generous and included all of Lomborg’s books, which have by far the most citations, then his h-index climbs to 9. However, none of his books is peer-reviewed, and in the case of his most infamous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, it has been entirely discredited. As such, any reasonable academic selection committee would omit any metrics based on opinion-based books.

So, the best-case scenario is that Lomborg’s h-index is no more than 4. Given his appointment to Level D (Associate Professor) at a world-class university, the suggestion that he earned it on academic merit is not only laughable, it’s completely fraudulent. There is no way that his academic credentials had anything to do with the appointment.

Even a fresh-out-of-the-PhD postdoc with an h-index of only 3 or 4 would have trouble finding a job. As a rule of thumb, the h-index of a Level D appointment should be in the 20–30 range (this would vary among disciplines). Despite this variation, Lomborg’s h-index is so far off the mark that even accounting for uncertainty and difference of opinion, it’s nowhere near a senior academic appointment.

The other problem people see with Lomborg’s efforts is the sense that the Copenhagen Institute is a bit of a sham, and that Lomborg is not selling informed expertise, but rather, snake oil. From a recent analysis of the status of the Copenhagen Consensus Center:

Copenhagen Consensus Center is a textbook example of what the IRS calls a “foreign conduit” and it frowns strongly on such things. It may also frown on governance and money flows like this…

CCCMoney2

…more than 60% went directly to Lomborg, travel and $853K promotion of his movie. According to Wikipedia it grossed $63K…

Even in a simple US charity, poor governance and obvious conflicts of interest are troublesome, but the foreign element invokes stringent extra rules. Legitimate US charities can send money to foreign charities, but from personal experience, even clearly reasonable cases like foreign universities require careful handling. It is unclear that Lomborg himself is a legitimate charity anywhere, but most of the money seems under his control. One might also wonder where income taxes are paid.

CCC seems to break many rules. Foreign citizen Lomborg is simultaneously CCC founder, president, and highest-paid employee. Most people are a little more subtle when trying to create conduits…

This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
Both the flow of money and sources matter when thinking about a non profit research or policy institution. From DeSmog Blog:

A billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party is a major funder of the think tank of Danish climate science contrarian and fossil fuels advocate Bjørn Lomborg, DeSmogBlog has found.

New York-based hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s charitable foundation gave $200,000 to Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) in 2013, latest US tax disclosures reveal.

That was about a third of the CCC’s donations for the year 2013.

Lomborg, who claims to not be a climate skeptic, is the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and the book and movie “Cool It

Finally, TV Meteorologists On Board with Climate Change

There was a time when I picked which local TV news station to watch based on the way the TV meteorologist addressed global warming. There were two stations in the running. One of them had a guy who frequently disparaged climate science, and the other had Paul Douglas, who no longer does TV meteorology (I no longer watch local TV news) but who has become a major spokesperson for reason and science (see: Paul Douglas on Climate Change and A Q&A with Paul Douglas, the evangelical Christian Republican poster boy for climate change). Paul and I have become colleagues and friends.

In 2011, George Mason University produced a survey of TV meteorologists demonstrating that more than 50% did not understand or accept that climate change was happening as a result of human caused greenhouse gas pollution. Just now, George Mason University has looked at this again and their results demonstrate a dramatic shift. Today, something close to 9 in 10 TV meteorologists in the US are on board with the science.

The dismal results of the 2011 survey resulted in the development of the Forecast the Facts project. Today, Forecast the Facts’ Deputy Director Emily Southard released the following statement:

Forecast the Facts is excited to learn that the number of meteorologists who accept that humans plays a role in climate change has increased from 50% to nearly 90% according to a recent GMU study. With viewers facing unprecedented climate-change induced heat waves, droughts, and flooding – it’s more important than ever that meteorologists, as some of the most trusted communicators on climate, accept the facts and present them to their audiences accordingly. We hope all meteorologists will follow suit and commit to broadcasting the truth on climate change.

The 2011 study is here (PDF), and this graph summarizes the results:
2011GMU_Study_Meteorlogists_Climate_Change

I’ve not seen the new study yet, just the press release, but if I get a copy of it I’ll post a link or show some pretty pictures or something …

ADDED: I’m still trying to get a copy of the report (there are technical problems at the site) but I did find this graphic summarizing it:

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 11.16.01 AM

Meanwhile, here is an interview I did with Paul Douglas a while back, demonstrating that TV meteorologists can have some very important things to say about climate change!

The rise of Skeptical Science

The site, not the thing. From the YouTube site:

Everyone at Skeptical Science spends a lot of their time reading the scientific literature and listening to experts. Without that we wouldn’t be able to write all the material that’s published on Skeptical Science. It’s a lot of work, especially when you do this with a critical eye. Our goal, after all, is to ensure that what we write reflects the scientific literature on the subject as accurately as possible.

The materials created by Skeptical Science are used by teachers, politicians, and of course by users on the internet to rebut climate myths. Thanks to this a lot of people have seen materials produced by us, even though they might not know that they have.

The website Skeptical Science wasn’t created overnight, nor was the team behind it assembled instantly. It started small with John Cook starting the website and publishing the first rebuttals to climate myths. As I wasn’t familiar with the story of how Skeptical Science evolved to the website it is today I had the idea to interview John about this. Despite John constantly saying “I’m just not that interesting” I eventually managed to get him in front of the camera to tell the story behind Skeptical Science.

The article released with this video can be found here:

The transcript, used resources, and citations for this video can be found here:

You can support me and the content that I create through Patreon.
https://www.patreon.com/collinmaessen

Interviews filmed in collaboration with University of Queensland, Skeptical Science, and Peter Sinclair. Full interviews available April 2015 in ‘Making Sense of Climate Science Denial‘.

Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics

Dana Nuccitelli is a key communicator in the climate change conversation. He is co-writer with John Abraham at the Climate Consensus – the 97% blog at the Guardian, and has contributed hundreds of entries to John Cook’s famous site SkepticalScience.com. He has measurably helped people to understand climate change science and the nuances of the false debate based over climate manufactured by science deniers.

And, he’s written a book!

Graphic from Cook, Nuccitelli, Et Al 2013 paper quantifying the consensus on climate change.  This figure also appears in "Climatology and Pseudoscience"
Graphic from Cook, Nuccitelli, Et Al 2013 paper quantifying the consensus on climate change. This figure also appears in “Climatology and Pseudoscience”
Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics fills a wide open niche in the climate science discussion. Dana powers through the literature on climate science, identifying and describing instances of the predictions, projections, or assertions made by climate science and compares these with assertions made by climate science contrarians, also known as deniers. (Though the distinction between denier and non-denier emerged later in the full time frame addressed in the book.) Simply put, Dana compares the two at several points to see which is correct: the projection that human generated greenhouse gas pollution warms the Earth and changes the climate, or the projection that it does not.

It turns out it does! But you knew that. But what you might not have realized is the overall time frame of how this situation has developed. Dana skillfully documents the deeply disturbing fact that the issue of global warming (and related things) has been settled for a very long time. Were it not for mainly fossil fuel industry funded anti-science activists, we would not be having this discussion today, and Dana would not have had to write his book. Rather, science would be focused on figuring out the remaining and important details of how the Earth’s climate system responds to human pollution as well as natural changes, and policy makers would be busy working out how to keep the Carbon in the ground. We probably would have had a price on Carbon years ago, and we’d probably be running our civilizations off of a very high and ever increasing percentage of clean (non fossil carbon) energy. But no, those denialists had to ruin it for everyone with their fake skepticism.

I asked Dana Nuccitelli, “What surprised you most while researching and writing this book?” and he told me,

I was surprised at how accurate mainstream climate scientists’ predictions about global warming have been, even using the earliest global climate models as early as 43 years ago. The earliest model predictions were based mainly on the warming expected from the increasing greenhouse effect, so it goes to show what a dominant factor carbon pollution has played on global temperature changes over the past half century.

Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics is engagingly written, clear, accurate, non-technical but not watered down. If you know the stuff in this book you can be more confident than ever having those conversations with with your friends Denialist Dan and Warmest Willie. In fact, I would recommend Climatology Versus Pseudoscience along side Michael Mann’s book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines for a comprehensive treatment of the history of both denialism and the science itself.

I asked Dana who he had in mind as the most likely audience for this book. I’m sure it is for general readership, but I also felt it could be used in classes.

I wrote the book with the general public as my intended audience. I wanted to make explanations about some basic climate science concepts accessible to everyone. My publisher told me that they anticipate that universities and libraries will be the main purchasers of the book though, so they may have had class use in mind more than I did!

Dana covers the early days of climate science, discusses the “Astounding Accuracy of Early Climate Models (Chapter 3), discusses the development of the scientific consensus on climate change, and provides an excellent overview of the current situation with greenhouse gas pollution caused climate change.

Over the last year or so, it seems that the climate conversation is starting to shift. Major media outlets are changing their approach, not following the dictum of false balance. Climate change is starting to become a bigger factor in elections, in a good way. The President of the United States has openly called on Americans to reject science denialism. I asked Dana where he thought the climate change conversation might be going over the next couple of years, and if we might see addressing climate change as more routine rather than highly controversial in the future.

I think much of the media is starting to shift towards more accurate, responsible, and truly balanced coverage on climate change. The Washington Post has been doing a great job since they hired Chris Mooney. The Guardian’s climate coverage is excellent. TV media coverage has been improving, and some great shows like Years of Living Dangerously and Cosmos have tackled climate change.

I think journalists and producers are starting to understand the difference between false balance and actual balance in climate reporting, and that media shift will be critically important in accurately informing the public on this critical issue. Most people vastly underestimate the level of scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, and I think that can mostly be blamed on media false balance. If you regularly see one-on-one debates, it’s natural to assume the experts are divided and debating the issue at hand.

With human-caused global warming, that’s obviously no longer true, but that perceived debate explains why people still don’t view climate change as a top priority. That needs to change, but that won’t happen until we have truly balanced media coverage accurately informing the public. That was one of my key motivations in writing this book – to hold the climate contrarians accountable for their bad science and failed predictions, because so far the media has failed to do that.

Dana’s final chapter talks about the future, about what can and should happen. He notes that we have the technology in hand to solve the climate crisis, and that we are starting to apply it.

I strongly recommend this book for the general reader, but I would also suggest it for use in certain classes, either in high school or college. If you are a teacher and want to thoroughly cover the “Debate” over climate science, get this book.

Published by Praeger; 214 pages; copious notes; index; cool graphic.

And now, for a little video fun related to Dana’s book, climate science, and the scientific consensus on greenhouse gas pollution and its effects:

Dana on Typhoon Haiyan and Climate Change:

The Climate Consensus Project (John Cook, Dana “Nutelli” Nuccitelli, and others):

A typical climate science denier, John Spencer, talking about the Consensus Project. on “Andrew Neil vs Dana Nuccitelli”

What climate scientists and communicators do when they are not being challenged by climate contrarians:

Dana’s Ice environmentally thoughtful Ice Bucket Challenge:

Science Denialists Have Delayed Action On Climate Change: Soon vs. the Hockey Stick

If you have not been living in a cave, and had you been, I’d respect that, you know about Willie Soon Gate. Willie soon is a researcher on soft money at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon is well known for producing research of questionable quality that anemically attempts to buck the scientific consensus that human caused greenhouse gas pollution is rapidly raising the Earth’s temperature. Soon’s links to the fossil fuel industry have been known for some time, but recently, he has gotten into even more hot water over having published papers without properly disclosing that the work was funded by Big Fossil. The story is complex and I will not recite it here. What I want to do instead is to place the story in a larger context.
Soon did not arrive on the horizon recently. His involvement with anti-climate change science activism goes back over ten years. The rise of Willie Soon and the early effects of his ‘research’ on policy have been well documented in Michael Mann’s book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Let me give you the short version first, followed by elaboration using a handful of quotes from Mann’s book. Really, though, you should just go read the book. (By the way, if you do read it, consider leaving a review at Amazon; there has been a concerted effort by science denialists to leave bogus one star and otherwise horrid, inaccurate reviews on that site!)

The following graphic shows the march of global surface temperatures over the period we call the “Instrumental record,” which is the period of time best measured by thermometers and, later, satellites. The inset is a version of the famous “Hockey Stick Graph produced by Michael Mann and colleagues, showing recent warming in the context of previous natural variation. The inset shows both the “Hockey Stick” (in blue) and an independent reconstruction by the PAGES2k group (in green) which is an independent validation of the original Hockey Stick result.
GlobalWarming_Since_1880_in_context
This shows a the very end of period of mainly “natural variation” followed by a dramatic increase in surface temperatures owing to increased greenhouse gas pollution.

Here is a closeup of the same graph showing just the period of time over which the surface temperature variation, which amounts to an average increase, that is unambiguously anomalous compared to the past. This increase is pretty much entirely due to the effects of humans.

GlobalWarmingSince1960_The_Damage_Done_By_Willie_Soon_And_Others

I’ve marked off a section of this graph that shows just the data since about 2003. This is the year that these two things happened: 1) Willie Soon co-authored two papers arguing that global warming wasn’t really happening, or was not human caused; and 2) Senator Jim Inhofe held Congressional hearings on climate change at which Soon, Mann, and others, testified.
There is no doubt whatsoever that action to reduce climate change has been slowed or even simply stopped in some cases by Big Fossil funded anti-science activism, which generally has involved an unholy marriage between crappy science and political maneuvering in Congress and elsewhere, a marriage involving a big dowery from fossil fuel interests. Willie Soon’s papers and Inhofe’s use of bad science is only part of the picture, but a key part, and at least, illustrative of the process. The following are brief quotes from Mann’s book describing part of the story. Again, read the book to get the full context and all of the details.

Soon after Mann and his colleagues published the Hockey Stick research, there was a range of reactions among which were attacks from the denialist community. One of these was a non peer reviewed piece put on a web site.

“The Summer of Our Discontent” (August 1998), had been invited from Sally Baliunas and Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. [Suggesting] that we had extended the MBH98 hockey stick no further back in time than A.D. 1400 for fear of encountering the warmer temperatures of the medieval warm period—a charge that … is nonsensical, since the stopping point was entirely determined by objective statistical criteria. Second, they claimed that our reconstruction suffered from an issue known as the “divergence problem”…

(I’ve discussed the divergence problem at length elsewhere on this blog.)

In a section of his book called “The Paper That Launched a Half-Dozen Resignations,” Mann talks about the Soon and Baliunas paper. Both Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon were at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Soon being a protege of Baliunas’. She had previously worked on the role of the sun in the Earth’s climate system.

The two went on to publish a number of articles analyzing the relationships between records of past solar variability and climate. … the Soon and Baliunas article took the form of two nearly identical papers published simultaneously in two different journals in spring 2003. One version of the paper appeared in the journal Climate Research while the other (which, it turns out, was simply a longer, unedited version of the first, but with three more coauthors added) was published in the journal Energy and Environment. Duplicate publication of a paper is highly unusual, and in fact is strictly forbidden by most academic journals. That both the authors and the study had been supported by the American Petroleum Institute—each of the authors had a long history of fossil fuel industry funding—combined with the highly unusual dual publication of the paper raised some eyebrows. Questions had been raised, moreover, about the two journals that jointly published the paper. Climate Research had in the recent past published a spate of contrarian papers of questionable scientific merit. Some members of the editorial board had already expressed concern that one editor at the journal known for his advocacy for the fossil fuel industry.

[One of the journal’s editors,] Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen … quite remarkably confessed in an interview … “I’m following my political agenda—a bit, anyway. But isn’t that the right of the editor?” The Soon and Baliunas study claimed to contradict previous work—including our own—that suggested that the average warmth of the Northern Hemisphere in recent decades was unprecedented over a time frame of at least the past millennium.

Mann goes on to explain in detail why the papers were scientifically flawed, and notes that …

The authors in many cases had mischaracterized or misrepresented the past studies they claimed to be assessing in their meta-analysis … Paleoclimatologist Peter de Menocal of Columbia University/LDEO, for example, who had developed a proxy record of ocean surface temperature from sediments off the coast of Africa, indicated that “Mr. Soon and his colleagues could not justify their conclusions that the African record showed the 20th century as being unexceptional … My record has no business being used to address that question.”

In response to Soon and Baliunas,

A group of twelve leading climate scientists joined me in authoring a rebuttal to Soon and Baliunas in Eos, the official newsletter of the American Geophysical Union. … The American Geophysical Union considered our rejoinder important enough to issue a press release entitled “Leading Climate Scientists Reaffirm View That Late 20th Century Warming Was Unusual and Resulted from Human Activity” in early July 2003, just prior to the article’s publication. Nevertheless, the Soon and Baliunas study was immediately taken up by the U.S. Senate’s leading climate change denier, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

This brings us to the use of Soon’s and other denialist work as a tool to develop a contrarian argument in a Senate Hearing. Senator James Inhofe, famous for claiming that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public, chaired the hearing which was held in July 2003. Again, you should read Mann’s account for all the amazing details; it is a rousing story! In essence, Soon and his work were being used to argue against the importance of Global Warming, and Mann represented the scientific view. The story also involves Hillary Clinton (in case you were wondering about her position on climate change). Here’s the part of Mann’s recounting I want you to see:

Midway through the hearing, [ranking member] Jeffords dropped a bombshell. He announced that his staff had received a note from Hans Von Storch announcing his resignation as chief editor of the journal Climate Research, in protest over the publication of the Soon and Baliunas paper. Von Storch was no scientific ally of mine. Indeed … he and I had had disputes in the past regarding the relative merits of statistical climate reconstruction methods. But ally or not, Von Storch was outraged that such a transparently flawed paper had been published in his journal. His note, which Jeffords read aloud, was to the point: “My view … is that the review of the Soon et al. paper failed to detect significant methodological flaws … The paper should not have been published in this forum, not because of the eventual conclusion, but because of the insufficient evidence to draw this conclusion.” Von Storch’s resignation had been precipitated by the refusal of the journal’s publisher, Otto Kinne, to allow him to publish an editorial expressing his view that the peer review process had clearly failed with the Soon and Baliunas paper. Several other editors quit as well (ultimately six editors—half the editorial board—would quit in protest over the incident)….

Perhaps the single most troubling issue to arise from the Soon and Baliunas affair was that of apparent editorial malpractice. At the two journals that published versions of the paper, the peer review process appears to have been compromised to produce a study in the scientific literature that could be seized upon by those with a contrarian policy agenda. … It is particularly pernicious when that process is compromised or co-opted for political ends.

Funded, I’ll add, by Big Fossil.

I asked Michael Mann how much damage he reckons Soon and Baliunas, and others like them, have done to the process of developing good policies to combat climate change. He told me, “Well, they are the hired hands of the “Merchants of Doubt”, the ones who do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by muddying the waters and confusing the public into thinking that there is still a scientific debate about whether climate change is happening, whether it is due to human activity, and whether it is a problem. There is none. It is hard to know just how much damage these deniers-for-hire have done to our civilization and our planet by needlessly delaying the action necessary to avert dangerous climate change.

As a follow-up, I wondered if he thought the recent exposure of climate science denials tactics would change the nature of future Senate hearings for the better. “I do—in my dreams,” he said. “Sadly, we are not there yet. While there is a worthy debate to be had about how we confront the challenge of averting the climate change threat, there is no legitimate debate to be had about whether or not the problem exists. Currently we have a congress that is committed to keeping that fake debate alive, as we have seen all too recently in the antics of folks like Senator James “climate change is a hoax” Inhofe, who now controls the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We have to get past that.”

Finally, I asked Mann if he saw evidence that the peer review process has ultimately been improved as a result of clear abuses by denialist authors, or the reaction of publishers to those abuses. He told me, “Well, I certainly think that the scientific community is now far more aware of some of the bad faith efforts that have been made by industry-funded climate change deniers to pollute the peer-reviewed literature with antiscientific, agenda-driven screeds. Cracks still exist in the system, but slowly they are being repaired as scientists and editors increasingly learn more about the forces of antiscience that are still very much at play today.”


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

More Willie Soon

The Willie Soon Story broke on Saturday night, having cloned off the front page of the Sunday New York Times into a few secondary sources. But we all saw it coming. Since then there has been quite a bit more written and there will be quite a bit more.

The main thing I want to add to the discussion is this. It is clear that Willie Soon was taking piles of Big Fossil money for his climate research. It is clear that his research was widely discredited in the mainstream scientific community. It should have been easy to check to see if he was using the money properly (mainly, with respect to disclosure on publication) and to discover that he was not. So, why did it take an article in the New York Times to alert the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics of a problem going on under their roof for over a decade? Was the administration of HSCA compliant? Ignorant? In short, what did they know and when did they know it? And, will there be any effort by the Smithsonian, or Harvard for that matter, to address this?

Worth thinking about.

The image in the above meme is Senator Jim Inhofe referring to a list of some 58 “climate scientists” who oppose the global warming consensus. One of them is Soon. Many of the others are not climate scientists, or even scientists. Many are well known deniers. This list was provided by the discredited Heartland Institute. Expect new scrutiny into each of those individuals over the next few days, to see if there are any other Willie Soons on the list.

Anyway, here are a few more items of interest that came across my desk this morning.

The venerable journal Nature has weighed in on #WillieSoonGate: Documents spur investigation of climate sceptic: Questions raised about conflict-of-interest disclosures by Willie Soon.

Davies drew attention to Soon’s funding disclosures last month after Soon and three colleagues published a paper in the Chinese journal Science Bulletin2 that presented results from a simple climate model to argue that burning all recoverable fossil fuel reserves would result in little more than 2.2°C warming. By comparison, models assessed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on average project around 4° of warming with unabated fossil fuel use by 2100 and further warming beyond that time. The paper was appended with the statement: “The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.” Davies wrote to the journal insisting that Soon’s past funding sources do constitute a conflict of interest that should have been reported.

Science Bulletin’s conflict of interest policy states that authors must disclose “all relationships or interests that could influence or bias the work,” including “professional interests or personal beliefs that may influence your research.” The policy also gives a series of example disclosures. The first reads, “Author A has received research grants from Company A.”

The Willie Soon-Ken Cuccinelli Link: Blue Virginia has Cooch Cited Fossil-Fuel-Funded Climate Science Denier Willie Soon in Witchhunt vs. Michael Mann

…as it turns out, our old pal Ken Cuccinelli, when he was (appallingly) Attorney General of Virginia and waging a witch-hunt against climate science (and specifically against leading climate scientist Michael Mann), was busy citing some of those fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers. That includes, as you can see below (from Cooch’s “Civil Investigative Demand” against the University of Virginia, none other than…that’s right, Willie Soon, who was falsely smearing the meticulous research of Michael Mann and many other scientists on the famous “hockey stick” graph. Not that Cuccinelli acting like this comes as a big surprise, but still, it’s yet more evidence of how “in bed” with fossil fuel interests Cuccinelli was when he was Attorney General of Virginia. Now, can someone please explain to me why THAT is legal, even as Bob and Maureen McDonnell face possible jail time for their corrupt (but arguably, FAR less severe and damaging than Cooch’s) behavior?

The Daily Climate points out the high frequency with which climate deniers denounce the funding of climate science by legitimate means, and contrasts those staw arguments to what appears to be Willie Soon’s prostitution to Big Fossil: At last, proof of a climate scientist getting rich pedaling science.

Inside Climate News has “A Guide To Willie Soon’s Climate Research Funded by Fossil Fuel Companies

A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.

More of that here.

Eli Rabett has two items on the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks1

“…Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon’s sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication…”
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks2
“…Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon’s support network. As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things. Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes. …”

Brian Angliss takes on Tom Harris

Regular readers of this blog will know Tom Harris, as he is an occasional commenter here. Tom is a climate science denier who wears an Invisibility Cloak of Concern. However, this particular Invisibilty Cloak was never worn by Ignotus Peverell; you can see right though it.

Isaac Asomov
“Demanding and unreasonable and absurd level of proof from scientists is not Harris’ only dishonest expectation … Harris is trying to make science appear to be mere opinion, presumably no better or worse than any other opinion. [But] some opinions matter more than others, and opinions based on knowledge matter more than those based on ignorance. Isaac Asimov noted this point, writing … “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” represented a “cult of ignorance” that was fundamentally anti-intellectual.”
Brian Angliss, a journalist and engineer, is the science editor and climate and energy writer for the blog Scholars and Rogues. Brian has written an epic six part (five parts done so far, the sixth part will be an epilog) expose of Tom Harris’s previous commentary on climate science, prompted by a recent spate of Op Eds by Harris. I recommend visiting Brian’s posts not just to find out about Tom Harris, but to get a sense of how this particular brand of denialism works. You won’t be disappointed.

Here are links to the posts:

Tom Harris – hypocritical peddler of deceitful climate change editorials: Eight related commentaries written by Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition since mid-December are packed them with distortions, errors, hypocrisy, and more.

Tom Harris’ recent commentaries rife with errors and illogic: If you’re going to attack climate realists for making supposedly illogical arguments, you’d best be sure that your own arguments are logically flawless.

Tom Harris places absurd limits on scientific truths and elevates ignorance to equal knowledge: Tom Harris asks his readers to put aside their common sense and reject knowledge and expertise in favor of ignorance and inexperience.

Tom Harris distorts the maturity of global warming science and imagines expertise where little exists: The science supporting global warming theory has a history going back almost 200 years, but readers of Tom Harris commentaries might come away thinking that it’s all brand new science.

Tom Harris’ commentaries intended to impede, not advance, public understanding of climate science: Tom Harris’ stated goal in his commentaries is to advance the public discussion on industrial climate disruption, yet his language and arguments say exactly the opposite.

Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

Bjørn Lomborg wrote an opinion piece that is offensively wrong

Bjørn Lomborg is the director of the conservative Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is author of two books that seem to recommend inaction in the face of climate change, Cool It, which appears to be both a book and a movie, and “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
He is well known as a climate contrarian, though I don’t subscribe to the subcategories that are often used to divide up the denialists. Let’s just say that if governments followed Lomborg’s suggestions for addressing climate change, civilization would not do well. If you think anthropogenic global warming is for real, important, and something we can address, then you won’t like Lomborg’s ideas much. Same with energy. He gets that wrong too.

Lomborg is or was funded by the Kochtopus and its various associates.

Get the facts on climate change straight

Lomborg’s blog is titled “Get the facts straight,” so when I saw him use that phrase in a recent Op Ed at the Wall Street Journal, I spit coffee all over my keyboard. Why? Because Bjørn Lomborg did not get the facts straight. In fact, he got the facts related to the topic of his Op Ed, titled “The Alarming Thing About Climate Alarmism: Exaggerated, worst-case claims result in bad policy and they ignore a wealth of encouraging data” so wrong we are left wondering how he could be so wrong. Is Lomborg very badly informed, or is he making stuff up? And, if the latter, why would he do that?

Anyway, I saw his Op Ed as an opportunity to Fisk, and so Fisk I did.

Climate change models have done a good job estimating future climate change

Lomborg writes:

It is an indisputable fact that carbon emissions are rising—and faster than most scientists predicted.

No they aren’t. They are rising fast, and that is really annoying, and maybe if you go back far enough in time you can find predictions that are way off, but CO2 emissions are rising, unfortunately, pretty much as fast as the very people someone like Bjorn Lomborg might call “alarmists” have been claiming they would. The following graph is from here.

1_IEAvsSRES_2011

Lomborg continues …

But many climate-change alarmists seem to claim that all climate change is worse than expected.

Dog_Whistle_Dog_Is_AlarmedI love the term “alarmist.” It is a dog whistle. If someone calls a mainstream scientists an “alarmist” you better check your wallet. Anyway, yes, mainstream science, in many areas, has been discovering of late that certain areas of climate change are perhaps worse than expected or happening faster. However, I can’t think of anyone who thinks that “all climate change is worse.”

This ignores …

No, it doesn’t ignore anything because it did’t happen. The premise is false. Anyway…

…that much of the data are actually encouraging. The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.

This is incorrect. The rise in temperature over the last 15 years has been within the expected range. The rate of increase over any given 15 year period of time varies, as expected, but there is nothing like the ten to one ratio of predicted to observed Lomborg claims. According to a Climate Nexus post, responding to Lomborg’s assertion,

The difference between model estimates and observations is completely accounted for by natural variability and fits within the range of modelled uncertainty. The reality is that there is no inherent bias in climate models that make them over-estimate the effects of human activity. A recent study that combined 114 possible 15-year trends since 1900 found there was nothing statistically biased in the way that model data differed from observed global mean surface temperature measurements. According to the study’s co-author, Piers Forster, “cherry picking” the most recent 15-year interval to refute climate change modeling is misleading and obscures the long-term agreement between the models and measurements.

What’s more, short-term variation does nothing to change the fact that we are experiencing a dangerous rate of global warming, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002 and NOAA and NASA officially declaring 2014 the warmest on record. So Lomborg’s insistence that we not worry about climate flies in the face of the record temperatures we’re experiencing.

Bjorn Lomborg, get your facts straight!

Now, returning to Lomborg…

Facts like this are important …

No they aren’t because they are not facts. They are thing you made up. Anyway…

The effects of climate change in the Arctic are more rapid than expected; The Antarctic is also warming faster than the rest of the planet

…because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.

As would be a one sided focus on fabricated best case scenarios, or even a manufactured balance between to sides of a non debate.

Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing.

That is misleading. It seems reasonable to guess that with global warming change would happen in a similar way in both polar regions, but the two ends of the earth are very different from each other. To a person who does not know much about climate or sea ice it makes sense that both poles will experience reduced summer sea ice. But there are many factors that determine sea ice distribution, including factors that might be changed as a result of global warming that increase sea ice as well as those that decrease it. Also, the often cited increase in Antarctic sea ice is often stated without quantification next to a statement about Arctic sea ice decrease, leading to the impression that there is a balance, where the total global sea ice is constant. This is not true, though by omission of proper context, Lomborg’s statement might allow some to think it is. The amount of sea ice added to the Antarctic is smaller than the loss in the Arctic.

Antarctic sea ice increase does not indicate cooling at that end of the earth. Rather, the Southern Continent and the sea and air around it have been warming, rather dramatically, faster than the global rate of warming, as is the case with the Arctic. Yet, the sea ice maximum has increased. From Skeptical Science:

If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). A side-effect is a strengthening of the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).

Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007).

Antarctic sea ice is complex and counter-intuitive. Despite warming waters, complicated factors unique to the Antarctic region have combined to increase sea ice production. The simplistic interpretation that it’s caused by cooling is false.

Recent research has made an even more direct link between Antarctic warming and Antarctic sea ice expansion. “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”” – read this for all the details.

So, Bjorn Lomborg, do try to get your fact straight, which in some cases requires knowing more about the science you are referring to so you don’t make middle-school level mistakes.

The rate of sea level rise is going up

Back to Bjørn…

Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue ofCoastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.

No, the vast majority of research on glacial ice melt shows an increase in rate. Other research shows that there are areas in Antarctic previously thought to be essentially unmeltable to be meltable, eventually.

The first paper Lomborg refers to tries to understand the details of short term variability in sea level rise. It does not say that there is a decline in rate of sea level rise. The paper looks only at changes between 1993 and 2003, not long term trends, so it really couldn’t address that issue. The paper shows rapid changes in the rate of sea level rise over short periods of time. Recently, there was a stark drop in rate because thermal expansion temporarily slowed. There was also a recent stark increase because Australia stopped drinking in rain (an effect of huge global warming induced drought) so the ocean got bigger. Very recently, according to the paper Lomborg cites, there has been “rapid recovery of the rising [sea level] from its dramatic drop during the 2011 La Niña [which] introduced a large uncertainty in the estimation of the sea level trend…” source

The second paper Lomborg refers to states, “Whether the increased sea level trend of approximately 3 mm/year measured by the satellites since the 1990’s is a long-term increase from the 20th Century value of approximately 1.7 mm/year or part of a cycle will require longer records; however, the negative accelerations support some cyclic character.”

Not only is it important to get your facts straight, Bjørn, but also, if you cite a source as saying something, please don’t misrepresent it.

Droughts are more likely, or more severe, with global warming

Back to Bjørn…

We are often being told that we’re seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world’s surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.

Check your wallet. First, the study Lomborg cites does not examine changes in drought over time, so it can’t say what he says it says. The study, rather, looks to develop a “global integrated drought monitoring and prediction system” because, as the authors state, “Each year droughts result in significant socioeconomic losses and ecological damage across the globe. Given the growing population and climate change, water and food security are major challenges facing humanity.”

One can understand that someone who does not know much about drought would make the mistake Lomborg made. The drought situation is complex. The vast majority of the land surface of the earth has not, and probably can not, experience drought, so talking about percentages of the Earth in drought or not in drought is misleading at best. Places like the American Southwest and California are always dry, so when drought occurs in such an area it is very real but hard to identify against the backdrop of large scale and long term climate. If the surface area of the earth in drought is less since 1982, that would be nice. The study Lomborg cites primarily examines data beginning in 1982, so he probably didn’t get that idea there.

Recent papers published in a compendium of the American Meteorological Society included research linking drought to climate change. Climate change has probably had effects that predate the 1980s, so looking at droughts since 1980 may not be valid. Finally, much of the concern we have about drought is about a handful of current problems (i.e, Australia and California) and about future drought. In February 2014, the science advisor to the President of the United States, John Holdren, wrote:

In my recent comments about observed and projected increases in drought in the American West, I mentioned four relatively well understood mechanisms by which climate change can play a role in drought…

The four mechanisms are:
1. In a warming world, a larger fraction of total precipitation falls in downpours, which means a larger fraction is lost to storm runoff (as opposed to being absorbed in soil).
2. In mountain regions that are warming, as most are, a larger fraction of precipitation falls as rain rather than as snow, which means lower stream flows in spring and summer.
3. What snowpack there is melts earlier in a warming world, further reducing flows later in the year.
4. Where temperatures are higher, losses of water from soil and reservoirs due to evaporation are likewise higher than they would otherwise be.

<

h2>Hurricanes are not decreasing in frequency, and may be increasing in frequency and/or intensity, with global warming

And, back to Bjørn…

Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the “ever worse” trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing—but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900–2013 decreased slightly.

Here Bjorn is referring to the widely discredited work of Roger Pielke Jr. In this case, Pielke has looked only at land falling hurricanes, which is egregious cherry picking. It might seem to make sense to do so, because they are the ones that matter, but in fact, land falling Atlantic Hurricanes are rare so they make for lousy statistics. Also, with climate change, we expect changes in the tropics to involve frequent years with fewer than average Atlantic hurricanes. Globally we generally expect more hurricanes, more energy in storms generally in the tropics and elsewhere, and possibly a greater occurrence of really powerful hurricanes fed by extraordinary ocean heat on surface and within the top 100 meters or so of the surface. Much more research is needed in this area, but to suggest that major storms are less of a problem now or in the future is wrong.

Got to get the facts straight, Bjørn. And Roger.

At the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December, attendees were told that their countries should cut carbon emissions to avoid future damage from storms like typhoon Hagupit, which hit the Philippines during the conference, killing at least 21 people and forcing more than a million into shelters. Yet the trend for landfalling typhoons around the Philippines has actually declined since 1950, according to a study published in 2012 by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Again, we’re told that things are worse than ever, but the facts don’t support this.

Again, Lomborg is cherry picking and using a discredited study.

There are several hurricane basins, several in the Pacific, the Indian ocean, and the Atlantic. One can look at data over several time scales: paleo covering hundreds or thousands of years, historic covering a century or so, and instrumental or recent, covering a century, or decades. One can count the number of hurricanes, use the limited “category” scale to divide up the number or use an overall measurement of energy in hurricanes. Then, these things can be studied by many researchers at various times. If you look across all of those studies examining various basins, time scales, and measures, you will see a range of studies showing increases or decreases in “how much hurricane” there is over time. The studies that take the longer time scales and that look at total energy rather than number of storms (or number of landfalling storms) almost always show increases. Here, Lomborg has picked a specific study that seems to meet his requirements, and ignored a vast literature. In this case, he has gone back to Pielke, whose work on hurricanes and other storm related issues has been widely discreted by actual climate scientists (like Lomborg, Pielke is not a climate scientist).

This is important because if we want to help the poor people who are most threatened by natural disasters, we have to recognize that it is less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.

Oh the poor poor people. If Bjorn Lomborg really cared about poor people why did he mention Hagiput and not mention Hayian/Yolanda, which killed 6,300 people? No. For Bjorn Lomborg seems more about selling oil and coal or serving the 1% or something. For the rest of us, it should be about keeping the Carbon in the ground.

The best way to see this is to look at the world’s deaths from natural disasters over time. In the Oxford University database for death rates from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms, the average in the first part of last century was more than 13 dead every year per 100,000 people. Since then the death rates have dropped 97% to a new low in the 2010s of 0.38 per 100,000 people.

No, that is absolutely incorrect. Morbidity is the wagging tail of the much larger dog of underlying causes. The exact number of people who die because of phenomenon is usually a highly variable and unreliable number. This is the Pielke strategy: identify variables that are likely to have a lot of uncontrolled variation, and see if any of those happen to go the way you want the data to go. Instead of the number of tropical cyclones, look only at the ones that become hurricanes. Instead of hurricanes, look only at the ones that strike land. Instead of looking at land falling hurricanes, look only at the number of people killed per hurricane, and ignore all the other data. Haiyan vs. Hagiput provide an example. The former was a much more severe storm but the latter was not a walk in the park, maybe only half as strong. But the number killed in the two storms, 6,300 vs. a couple of dozen, is dramatically different. No Bjorn, the best way to track the effects of climate change is not to look at deaths over time. That is the worst way to do it.

Also, the preparation and mitigation argument is a red herring. Disasters get less disastrous over time because we either move out of the way (as the coasts of much of New England have been abandoned since the 1970s because of the storms), predict bad events more accurately, implement evacuation plans, or but extra nails in the roof so it is less likely to blow off. We spend enormous amounts of money and expend considerable effort in reducing deaths through storms. See this for an example of the difference between the deadly effects of storms in New England and how that changed over time with the ability to predict bad storms and close roads and require people to go home and chill rather than stay out and die. That has nothing to do with changes in storm frequency or intensity under global warming. Bjorn Lomborg is asking you to believe that these investments will solve any climate crisis that develops in the future.

The dramatic decline is mostly due to economic development that helps nations withstand catastrophes. If you’re rich like Florida, a major hurricane might cause plenty of damage to expensive buildings, but it kills few people and causes a temporary dent in economic output. If a similar hurricane hits a poorer country like the Philippines or Guatemala, it kills many more and can devastate the economy.

Rich like Florida? When a hurricane hits the US coast it is far more likely to hit an area in poverty than one that is wealthy. With the US south largely in the grip of conservative politicians who are put in place to preserve or increase wealth disparity, that situation is only going to get worse. We are experiencing rapid climate change. There is no chance that preparation for disaster will keep up, there is no change that we can gentrify the world’s poor regions at a rate sufficient that they are living in the equivalent of the rich part of Miami. The coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is very vulnerable to severe hurricanes, and is in a major “First World” country, but is just loaded with poor people living in inadequate housing with crumbling infrastructure. So, no. We should certainly do what we can do to spread the wealth and bring people out of poverty but it won’t be enough and it won’t be quick.

In short, climate change is not worse than we thought. Some indicators are worse, but some are better. That doesn’t mean global warming is not a reality or not a problem. It definitely is. But the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism, which prevents us from focusing on smart solutions.

Yes, generally, it is. And may effects may be coming faster than thought. Is “narrative” becoming another dog whistle?

A well-meaning environmentalist might argue that, because climate change is a reality, why not ramp up the rhetoric and focus on the bad news to make sure the public understands its importance.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 2.52.33 AMHardly anybody is doing that. All the activists and communicators I know try to be reasonable. The breathless argument that the argument of others is breathless is made of straw.

But isn’t that what has been done for the past 20 years?

A statement with no facts behind it, that one.

The public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines and apocalyptic photos of climate change and its consequences. Yet despite endless successions of climate summits, carbon emissions continue to rise, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, China and many African nations.

Ah, now we are talking about the press, not “environmentalists” and scientists, etc. Nice bait and switch there. The press probably has been bombarding with headlines, but half of those headlines are like the Op Ed Lomborg wrote for the Wall Street Journal; foundation-less appeals to the non existent “other side” of the argument, full of irrelevant citations, facts that are not true, wrapped in a cloak of faux skeptical scholarship, in service of a false balance that probably sells papers.

Alarmism has encouraged the pursuit of a one-sided climate policy of trying to cut carbon emissions by subsidizing wind farms and solar panels. Yet today, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. And even with exceptionally optimistic assumptions about future deployment of wind and solar, the IEA expects that these energy forms will provide a minuscule 2.2% of the world’s energy by 2040.

In other words, for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy, including new battery technology to better store and discharge solar and wind energy and lower its costs. We also need to invest in and promote growth in the world’s poorest nations, which suffer the most from natural disasters.

I see your fossil fuel based entity and raise you one. The American Petroleum Institute says:

Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.

But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.

According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the United States installed an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year — a 42 percent increase over 2013 — making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.

Today, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States — or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey — with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015–2016.

Additionally, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, a report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.

So. Let’s do two things. Start ignoring Bjorn Lomborg (and the Wall Street Journal) and start doing more to keep the Carbon in the ground.