Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Patience wears thing. It's time to move on

Eli is visiting his atmospheric and volcanic cousins in San Francisco. Yesterday there was an important meeting to report to the AGU Community on the results of the US Climate Change Research Program report on Impacts. Among the presenters (and there was an outstanding crew, Thomas Karl, Don Wuebbles, Roger Pulwarty and others who do equally cool stuff- Eli is a science bunny) Using the new improved technology (darts and a wall) the AGU managed to schedule this directly against Richard Alley's Bjerknes Lecture, The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth's Climate History, which has been commented on by others friends and will, someday real soon be available as a webcast.

UPDATE: David Petley writes about Alley's lecture, and his and Alley's introduction captures the mood of the community (The lecture is here, a large download)

After lunch I went to the Bjerknes Lecture - one of the big set pieces - which was given by Richard Alley from Penn State. He brought a geological perspective to the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature. He started the lecture by noting the ongoing harassment of climate scientists by the denialist camp - giving an example of a demand made to his university that he be fired for continuing to claim that carbon dioxide causes temperature change. He presented this with great humour and grace, but the underlying message about the way that scientists are being treated was clear, and was a great concern. At a time when the denialist scientist de jour, Iam Plimer, has been embarrassed in a debate with a journalist, and the high profile campaigner Christopher Monckton has been caught on video calling campaigners "The Hitler Youth", and then has brazenly denied it, the sense that the science community is under siege is clear.
The entire denialist camp is not innocent of this, in fact they are guilty. Their strategy is to harrass the climate scienctists who don't knuckle under using the few who are with them. There has been a distressing tendency to underestimate the organization of the denialist effort. It is a mistake to assume that this effort is without purpose, and that that purpose is innocent. The answer is the effort is an expertly guided one, and that it is pursued to stop any action on a major and global threat to civilization. Denial yields banker scale profits to a few, and political power to some others. The rest of us are road kill.

There is much more there, but to pick two points, one of which is useful in dealing with the denialists, Alley
ridiculed the idea that because CO2 sometimes lags temperature it cannot be the cause of warming. He compared this to debt associated with credit cards, saying that if he went out and spent a modest amount on his card he would end up owing the credit card company money. If he didn't pay this off then punitive interest rates would mean that his debt rapidly spiraled out of control. In the end his bankruptcy would be the result of the debt increasing due to the interest rates. The application of the interest rates lagged behind the spend, but still caused the insolvency. He likened the orbital cycle to the initial spend but the carbon dioxide to the interest.
The second deals with the Baskerville dog argument of the cosmic ray fans. Alley pointed out that
the geological record globally demonstrated a huge spike in cosmic ray flux at 40,000 years BP, but that temperature did not respond at all.

At the USCCRP session, Ben Santer issued a personal statment before speaking which has been posted at Rabett Run, and received long and heartfelt applause. He accurately summarized the sense of the meeting,
  1. the physical basis of climate change is more than well enough understood to require immediate action and in fact such action is years overdue,
  2. the consequences of not taking immediate action are dire.
  3. we know that the costs of not taking immediate action range between really bad and catastrophic
  4. research should be concentrated on providing guidance to policy makers for amelioration, adapting to and mitigating damage in the near and long term
These are strongly held views based on an enormous and consistent body of research involving those who actually do the research. Patience with the delayers and deniers is running out. In the past, the opinion was that, ok, so and so published this obviously wrong paper because his buddy was an editor, the policy of the journal was to let a thousand flowers bloom, or just stuff happens and occasionally it happens in printed form. It will sink without a trace, why waste energy getting a comment into print.

As Rick Trebbino found out, getting a comment into print is hard work. Journals HATE to print them because a critical comment on a really bad paper is a statement that the editorial process failed.

Today, when these holes in the literature appear the can't simply be allowed to find their natural level in the fish and chips shop, because there is an organized propaganda machine greased to slide them into the public debate. Increasingly formal comments are being written and some are appearing, but this is not enough. Eli would suggest a dose of sunlight, that peer reviewing can both remain anonymous and become public, that others should be allowed to comment, in short, the open review process of the European geophysical journals should become the rule rather than the exception. This will require fairly strong editorial control of the comment sections by the editors for controversial papers but that will be what they get the big bucks for.

Eli finds the open discussion and reviews quite useful when he reads a paper where he is informed but not expert. The comments express where the issues are, providing a guide to where the rocks are that will sink the ship while the authors are pulling a Lorelei, distracting the mariner surfing the literature with visions of bliss and funding.

More later


Steve Bloom said...

This sounds very good. Now, is there any indication at all that AGU might be willing to take the first steps on this?

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse says: So sad. You are in the ClimateGate pockets of Santer and Karl. They are going down. The question is, will you?

skanky said...

This one's also relevant, this time from Copenhagen:

TBH I see very similar here in the UK to what he laments in the US. Maybe less an extent (maybe not), but we're smaller, we count less (despite the fact that we don't like to admit it).

Anonymous said...

It's no good lumping the delayers in with the deniers as if it's obvious what needs to be done.

Should we aim for 350, 450, 550 or 650ppm eq? limit warming to 2 degrees, 3 degrees, or as little as we can get away with? How do we do it?

We need a grown up discussion now. Expressing frustration with the deniers is easy. But we need to recognise there are real and important disagreements that need to be resolved without the discussion being sidetracked by the deniers.


TheChemistryOfBeer said...

Poor JK the delayer. The denier's goal is delay, so JK is saddled with them. What have you done to reduce the impact of the noise machine?

I bet it is diddly-squat.

Anne van der Bom said...

I have another metaphor for to explain the apparent 'CO2 lags temperature yet CO2 causes warming' paradox.

When the economy starts a downturn, for example due to a crisis in the financial world, the uncertainty and lack of credit will make people spend less. As a consequence industrial output falls. If this persists, workers will get laid off. The unemployed will have less money to spend and those still in a job will become more reluctant to spend. Thus industrial output falls futher as a consequence of increased unemployment.

So unemployment is both cause and effect of lower industrial output.

Anonymous said...

Garymouse said...

A simple analogy for CO2 lag, at least to those in wildland fire zones:

Are burning embers floating in the air the cause or result of a house fire?

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