An excellent presentation was given by atmospheric scientist Scott Denning at the Heartland Institute gathering (ICCC 2010), amidst much ‘skeptical’ talk, which is the expected staple over there (h/t Michael Tobis). Both to Denning’s and Heartland’s credit, he was invited to speak there and his talk was apparently well received. How the audience will resolve their inevitable cognitive dissonance remains to be seen.
He makes a number of important points, which are especially apt for a ‘skeptical’ audience:
- The expectation of global warming to result from greenhouse gases is based on common sense and basic physics:
[It is] based on the idea that when we add energy to the surface, it will warm up
- Be skeptical of the claim that this extra energy will somehow magically be negated.
- Climate sensitivity is around 3 degree for a doubling of CO2 concentrations. This is based on e.g. observations from the Last Glacial Maximum, when the climate forcing was 4.1 W/m2 from greenhouse gases and 3.4 W/m2 from the difference in surface albedo (snow and ice are brighter, and thus more reflective, than water and land surfaces), and the temperature difference with the interglacial that followed was about 6 degrees C.
“No climate models required … just based on observations
(modern calculations agree … coincidence?)”
- About a quarter of today’s emissions will stay in the air [semi-] permanently! So when we reduce or stop the burning of fossil fuel, things will not go back to normal for a very long time.
- Historically, 3 degrees C warming is a big deal (e.g. for sea level rise).
- And on how (not) to frame the mitigation challenge:
Then making the obvious point that society didn’t go broke building that very system. To the contrary…
- The worst media myth of all: Without the subsidy of cheap fossil energy, civilization will crumble!
Be skeptical… be very skeptical!
He’s not afraid of sarcasm:
You’d think those un-American naysayers had never heard of capitalism …
of the magic of markets …
of the creative genius of a free people!
… or to call a spade a spade:
Alarmist politicians and pundits say:
“(…) If we stop burning coal we’ll freeze in the dark!”
He very effectively changed the frame of the debate:
- The science is about common sense and basic physics
- Who is being ‘alarmist’?
- Being so ‘alarmist’ about the consequences of mitigation efforts is antithetical to having faith in the ‘magic of markets’, entrepeneurship and the power of innovation.
Come to think of it, it is quite surprising that his talk was well received, as there were quite a few digs towards the common way of thinking of undoubtedly many members of the audience. I guess it was delivered with style, respect and humor, and towards the end, he provides his audience with both a mirror and a carrot. There are communications lessons to be learned here. Also, Heartland was clearly happy to have a mainstream scientist present at their party. After all, they crave being taken seriously. The real question however is, did it sink in?
A point of critique could be that he glossed over the mitigation challenge a bit easily, apparently trusting that “the magic of markets” will take care of new energy technologies being invented and implemented. Such a frame may encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach, which I deem risky. I guess a bit of skepticism is at its place whether it will happen so effortless. A lot may depend on how long we keep postponing meaningful emission reductions.
Those who most strongly oppose government intervention would be wise to call for strong early action to avoid really stringent measures becoming necessary later on.