Saturday, April 12, 2008

The sins of the fathers

A hallmark of the modern punditocracy is that those who were wrong are taken to be the great and worthy, invited to pontificate in all venues and called on by the mighty for advice. In fact, they should be clothed in sackcloth and ashes and either sent into the wilderness to repent, or, given the damage they have done, have a final professional Roman bathtub sitdown, but that does not appear to be an option, which accounts for Eli's general outlook.

Rabett Run linked to recent papers on how we got into the climate science corner of the mess. Oreskes, Conway and Shindell (OCS) describe how William Nierenberg, led and distorted a 1983 National Research Council report on the consequences of man made climate change. Here we emphasize the corrosive role that Gary Yohe and William Nordhaus and a later Nobel Economist, Thomas Schelling played in the process and the consequences thereof. Nierenberg was the Director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a member of the National Academy and soon to be a founder of the Marshall Institute, a position from which he, Fred Seitz and William Jastrow threw sand in the face of science till their deaths.

The Nierenberg report followed reports on climate research by a committee headed by Jule Chaney and from the JASON group which established (see papers by Oreskes and Myanna Lahsen) [link updated - thanks to Stoat], even then a consensus that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations were known to be a serious threat. Nierenberg built a jury rigged sandwich with moldy bread.

The physical sciences, in the middle, were pretty much along the lines later filled in by the IPCC process. There was more uncertainty, less was known then, but the broad outlines conformed to the current scientific consensus, however the bread that held the sandwich (and the bottom line conclusions) were from Nierenberg and his band of merry economists, singing don't worry, be happy we can take care of any problems later at lower cost, a song they are still singing as things get worse. Sadly, many are listening.

As OCS point out, they did so by accepting the conclusions of the physical scientists, but then only considering the least threatening of the range of possibilities.

Nierenberg’s principal tactic was to rely on the arguments provided by the two economists. At the first full discussion of the issues facing the committee, both Schelling and Nordhaus introduced the idea that climate change was not necessarily bad, that most likely it would have both negative and positive effects. Nordhaus wanted to evaluate costs and benefits, suggesting that although he “suspected that the impacts of increasing carbon dioxide would be negative,” they might not be, and it would be hard to prove either way, given the complexity of social and economic systems.
The economists provided the necessary cover and continue to do so for the Marshall Institute types, indeed it is the same economists.
Chapter 1, written by Nordhaus, Ausubel, and Gary Yohe, an economics professor at Wesleyan University brought in mid-stream as a consultant, focused on future energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. The long and detailed chapter was perhaps the first serious study of the problem that looked at many variables, and did not assume linear extrapolations. It began by acknowledging the “widespread agreement that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions have been rising steadily, primarily driven by the combustion of fossil fuels.” The emphasis here, however, was not so much on what was known, but on what was not known: the “enormous uncertainty” beyond 2000, and the “even greater uncertainty” about the “social and economic impacts of possible future trajectories of carbon dioxide.” This uncertainty provided the basis for an argument that no meaningful action could be taken now. They used the uncertainty to hide the pea, acknowledging the possibility of rapid and damaging changes, but then only considering far off and lesser threats from climate change. Moving the danger far enough in the future meant that it did not have to be confronted, which is what Nierenberg wanted as a conclusion Nor did Nierenberg attempt to deny the legitimacy of the existing science. Rather, he accepted the scientific facts while adopting a conceptual framework in which those facts were irrelevant. The essence of the report is the reframing of climate change as something that policymakers and politicians should ignore, which in the United States at least, for the next two decades, they largely did The actions of William Nierenberg belie that assumption. Nierenberg did not engage his scientific colleagues over the technical basis of their scientific views. He did not produce new or competing claims about how the Earth would respond to increased CO2. In short, he did not try to construct knowledge about the Earth. Rather, while accepting his colleagues’ technical conclusions, he dismissed the interferences that they (and others) had drawn from those conclusions, substituting an alternative framework that insisted that those inferences were wrong. Rather than constructing knowledge, William Nierenberg de-constructed it.
This fits well with current threads on grist and inkstain, where the protagonists walk right past what could have been done ten and twenty years ago if clear scientific conclusions had been honestly accepted and well into the postmodernist framing debate. Indeed OCS write 70+ pages on how Nierenberg was able to reframe the question of what was happening to climate, to that of should we bother doing anything about it. Which leads to the serious question of why Nordhaus and Yohe have any remaining credibility given that they played a knowing and crucial role in making us miss the opportunity to deal with climate change at low cost, at a crucial time. You and your children will pay the price.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

The physical sciences, in the middle, were pretty much along the lines later filled in by the IPCC process. There was more uncertainty, less was known then, but the broad outlines conformed to the current scientific consensus,"

Indeed.

I took general college Chemistry back in 1977 and the book I used (Brown and LeMay) had a chapter on chemistry of the atmosphere (including the greenhouse effect) that is still pretty accurate. Even the CO2 sensitivity given was not far off from the 3C "best" value given by IPCC. If I recall correctly, the value Brown and LeMay gave was about 2.5C, but I don't have the book in front of me.

The scientists have known what is going on for a very long time.

Unfortunately, a chorus of "the dishonest and the deluded" has taken over and has nearly drowned them out in recent years.

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says: So where does the peer reviewed authority for: "Even the CO2 sensitivity given was not far off from the 3C", come from. Do let us have Chapter and Verse.

TimC said...

Commenter 1, don't pay MarkeyMouse too much attention -- he is just feeling a little bitter right now as he just realized that all the science is on one side -- and has been -- for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I managed to locate my copy of Brown and LeMay and it was Chapter 10, Section 5, page 302 (no verse provided, but maybe they added that to a later edition?) -- Brown and LeMay: "Chemistry: The Central Science" (1977)

The sensitivity given was 2.3C for doubling of CO2, slightly less than the 2.5C I remembered but still consistent with the IPCC range (2 - 4.5C) -- and hey, I took the course over thirty years ago, so cut me a little slack.

Brown and LeMay also understood all too well the essential problem involved in getting people to act:

"Because so many factors go into determining climate, it is not possible to predict with certainty precisely what changes will occur. It is clear, however, that humanity has acquired the potential, by changing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, for substantially altering th climate of the planet. Unfortunately, if it should turn out for th worst, as seems altogether likely, there is little or nothing we can presently visualize that could be done about it. The continued high rate of combustion of fossil fuels is therefore a matter for long-range concern." -- Chapter 10, Section 5, page 303

PS Markey: I know you were referring to the "IPCC verse", but the way you wrote your sentence leaves it open to interpretation (mine) and ridicule (also mine).

You may want to be a little more careful next time with your wording.

bi said...

"Indeed OCS write 70+ pages on how Nierenberg was able to reframe the question of what was happening to climate, to that of should we bother doing anything about it."

I once asked a reasonably honest (but misguided) skeptic, "since you don't trust any sort of projections or computer models, and you don't want to simply try it out -- then what, exactly, will you accept as reasonable proof that we can indeed change the climate?" He didn't know.

And the inactivists are still pumping out the same old talking point, that the very idea that humans can change the climate is self-evidently absurd and wrong, a priori.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

Mouse with no name, don't you feel a bit embarrassed that there is no Peer Reviewed authority for your CO2 assertion, in either your textbook, or the IPCC reports?

If you can't answer properly, don't worry, it's expected. Warmers always dodge the hard questions.

bi said...

MarkeyMouse is so well-read that he's not heard of Skeptical Science already? Denialism thrives on ignorance.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity.htm

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Anonymous said...

The mistake Markey (or is it McI?)Mouse makes, of course, is actually believing even a tenth of the BS he reads on CA (dished out by McI, who has trouble getting his "science" published in anything better than E&E, hardly the paragon of "peer reviewed journals".)

bi said...

Meanwhile, over at The Register (or should it be The Ostricher), pundit Tim Worstall argues that creating jobs is actually a bad thing.

The inactivists live in upside-down-land.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

So no Peer Reviewed authority. It's just been made up hasn't it?

Anonymous said...

One could question whether economics is even the right approach to this. When reading Nordhaus I feel that his theory is valid all right under the assumptions it is based on, but he is seriously underestimating the potential for very bad outcomes.

Compare this to how the Cold War was approached: did anybody ever analyse the economic cost of Soviet world dominance? Of course not. It was seen to be unacceptable, the means to block it expensive but affordable, and then it was just done. Arguably we should do the same with climate change.

Another limitation of economics is how it treats economic capability as a generic blob. But does having smarter computers, genetic technology, spacefaring capability really help us to move our coastal cities to dry land? Are economic resources fully substitutable also in this extreme situation?

Just some thoughts.

:wq

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse is obviously a member of Anonymouse 5:03 am's "chorus of 'the dishonest and the deluded'" and is trolling.

One wonders why bother to try to illuminate, since it will change nothing about this particular ignoramus's outlook, nor any of bi's International Journal of Inactivism subscribers in general.

However, he/she could, for instance, consult the references in Andronova, Schlesinger, Dessai, Hulme and Li's Chapter 1 "The concept of climate sensitivity: history and development", in Human-Induced Climate Change by Schlesinger, Kheshgi, Smith, de la Chesnaye, Reilly, Wilson, Kolstad (eds), in which the first line reads:

"The climate sensitivity concept (CSC) has more than a century of history."

And later it says:

"Almost a century later, Budyko (1972) and Sellers (1969) repeated Arrhenius’s calculations using more comprehensive energy balance models (North, 1981), and strongly supported the concept of the greenhouse effect. As a result, the climate sensitivity concept was promulgated."

An excerpt from this chapter can be located here; sadly, the actual reference page isn't listed in the extract, so the troll will have to do a bit of digging his-/her-self, but the Sellers (1969) and Budyko (1972) references are easily located in Google.

One could also consult the 1979 Charney report.

And one could also consult BPL's reference list on the matter.

Cymraeg llygoden

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

So still no Peer Reviewed proof. Only reference to an obscure 100 year old book. Everything since is refering to "models". No mention of the acual proof, or evidence in the IPCC reviews. This really isn't good enough. Where is the Earth atmospheric experimental data? Where are the Peer Reviews of Arrhenius? Did you know that he can't add up?

Boris said...

Hell, Gilbert Plass was trying to get people to listen in the 1950s.

half a century of inaction and denial brought to you by the itty bitty shitty government comittee.

Anonymous said...

I was right then:

"...why bother to try to illuminate, since it will change nothing about this particular ignoramus's outlook..."

... which all highlights perfectly that Markey belongs to the right tit mouse brigade.

Cymraeg llygoden

bi said...

Well, this is MarkeyMouse we're talking about.

MarkeyMouse the CIA (or FBI) agent can discover a communist plot by examining patterns formed by cereal flakes (well, something close)...

...but present him something that's available in plain sight -- like, say, a link to Skeptical Science which in turn has direct links to papers on empirical climate sensitivity -- and he'll totally fail to see it. Perhaps Skeptical Science is just too pinko for his computer's network packet filters.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

Go on. Just one Peer Reviewed Reference for 2 * CO2 sensitivity. You can do it. The future of the planet depends.....

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

J. M. Gregory, R. J. Stouffer, S. C. B. Raper, P. A. Stott, and N. A. Rayner. 2002. An observationally based estimate of the climate sensitivity. Journal of Climate, 31(22):3117--3121.

Abstract: A probability distribution for values of the effective climate sensitivity, with a lower bound of 1.6 K (5th percentile), is obtained on the basis of the increase in ocean heat content in recent decades from analyses of observed interior-ocean temperature changes, surface temperature changes measured since 1860, and estimates of anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing of the climate system. Radiative forcing is the greatest source of uncertainty in the calculation; the result also depends somewhat on the rate of ocean heat uptake in the late nineteenth century, for which an assumption is needed as there is no obser vational estimate. Because the method does not use the climate sensitivity simulated by a general circulation model, it provides an independent observationally based constraint on this important parameter of the climate system.

- - -

Dollars to doughnuts MarkeyMouse will totally fail to see the above while continuing in his intrepid investigation of communist plots from cereal flakes.

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

C. Lorius, J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, J. Hansen, and H. Le Treut. 1990. The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming. Nature, 347:139--145.

Abstract: The prediction of future greenhouse-gas-induced warming depends critically on the sensitivity of Earth's climate to increasing atmospheric concentrations of these gases. Data from cores drilled in polar ice sheets show a remarkable correlation between past glacial–interglacial temperature changes and the inferred atmospheric concentration of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These and other palaeoclimate data are used to assess the role of greenhouse gases in explaining past global climate change, and the validity of models predicting the effect of increasing concentrations of such gases in the atmosphere.

- - -

From the second last section:

Analysis of ice-core results and paleodata over a full glacial-interglacial cycle suggests that a warming induced by doubled CO2 concentration of 3--4°C (f ≈ 3) may be a realistic value which, although being in the middle of the range of values inferred from the GCM experiments (Box 1), corresponds to a relatively high climate sensitivity.

- - -

Dollars to doughnuts MarkeyMouse will totally fail to see this too. Probably he's too busy uncovering Bolshevist conspiracies by cracking Bible Codes, to notice stuff that's right there in plain sight.

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

Puhleeze.

Lorius says CO2 is a positive forcing based on temperature changes which precede CO2 growth. Nonsense.

Gregory et al. I lost interest after the multiple instances of climate model, assumption, estimate, calculated, derived, if's. All tosh.

Is that it? There is no proven theretical justification for 2 x CO2 here, no experimental one?

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

MarkeyMouse scripsit:

"Lorius says CO2 is a positive forcing based on temperature changes which precede CO2 growth. Nonsense."

Oh, that's your totally rigorous disproof?

"Gregory et al. I lost interest after the multiple instances of climate model, assumption, estimate, calculated, derived, if's. All tosh."

Oh, so that's the way you read abstracts -- by spotting for trigger words, instead of (horrors!) actually parsing and understanding them.

While you're spotting for trigger words, here's a word you might want to look out for in Gregory et al.'s abstract:

"Not".

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

Tell you what, MarkeyMouse... why don't you just go back to your day job of uncovering Bolshevist plots using crossword puzzle methodologies. It'll be a lot easier for you, and a lot more entertaining for us.

Boris said...

"Lorius says CO2 is a positive forcing based on temperature changes which precede CO2 growth."

Rarely do you get such a concise proof that someone has no physical understanding. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says:

Boris, I'll sell you one of my new kettles that boils before you put it on the hob.

Boris said...

Ignorance is cute in children, but only because they actually want to learn.

stevesadlov said...

You should seek professional help for your paranoia.

cce said...

Here's BPL's frequency plot of climate sensitivity from 61 papers:

http://members.aol.com/bpl1960/ClimateSens03.bmp

List of papers here:
http://members.aol.com/bpl1960/ClimateSensitivity.html

Here's James Annan's plot of climate sensitivity combining three independent methods and their uncertainties (20th Century warming, volcanic cooling, and Last Glacial Maximum cooling).
http://cce.890m.com/attribution/images/climate-sensitivity.jpg

From:
http://www.jamstec.go.jp/frcgc/research/d5/jdannan/GRL_sensitivity.pdf

Hank Roberts said...

Argh, "BPL's reference" is to the dead AOL site.

Someone needs to tidy up the Internet. It's getting crusty.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, never mind. Google has already taken care of it.
First hit searching for "ClimateSensitivity.html" is:
http://bartonpaullevenson.com/ClimateSensitivity.html