The documentairy “Thin Ice“, with spectacular images and interviews with a few dozen of well-known and lesser well-known climate scientists, is available for viewing tonight on their website (which features lots of other interesting content btw). At the same time, various public screenings are being organized all over the world (unfortunately not in the Netherlands, mea culpa). The free viewing via their website is probably temporary, though I don’t know for how long (my guess is a few days). The premiere has of course been timed to coincide with Earth Day.
Posts Tagged ‘climate scientists’
In the spring of 2012, a large scale climate science survey was held amongst 6500 scientists studying various aspects of global warming. The survey was spearheaded by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), where I was responsible for the execution and analysis during the first half of 2012.
The objective of this study is to gain insight into how climate scientists perceive the public debate on the physical scientific aspects of climate change. More info about the survey was posted on the PBL website at the time, which has recently been updated to include a link to the survey questionnaire. Please note that the survey is no longer active.
Some confusion has arisen over the status of this survey. I responded at WUWT in an attempt to clarify:
We undertook a survey in March/April of this year (which, as Hans Labohm mentioned in a comment on WUWT, had been previewed by a variety of people with different viewpoints). Some respondents, e.g. Timothy Ball, asked to see the questions again. After internal consultation, we decided to publish the survey questions on the institute’s website, so that they are viewable to all. We contacted the survey respondents to inform them of the questions being available to view. I informed Dr Ball of this as well, to follow-up on my earlier email to him.
Our email to all respondents, informing them of the fact that the survey questions are available on the web, was apparently misunderstood to mean that we were again soliciting responses to a survey; this is however not the case. Roger Pielke Sr had already put a notice about the survey on his blog, which he has since updated after an email clarifying that this is an inactive survey, to which he had previously responded.
Below we (Bart Verheggen and Bart Strengers) reply to some of the more substantive questions regarding the survey questions raised on WUWT. However, we will not discuss results or the survey sample at this point in time. We will do so when our manuscript has been accepted.
It is mind boggling that some people without any expertise in climate are given megaphones to spout their strong but wrong beliefs about climate change.
Internationally, Christopher Monckton is a prime example (even giving congressional testimony in the US), while in Holland Hans Labohm immediately comes to mind (frequently seen in news media and invited by the Dutch ministry of environment).
Scientists are starting to turn the tide on this kind of sophistry.
From the press release, via Barry Bickmore:
A group of five scientists solicited responses from more than twenty world-class climate scientists to the May 6th testimony by Christopher Monckton to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. These climate scientists “…have thoroughly refuted all of Mr. Monckton’s major assertions, clearly demonstrating a number of obvious and elementary errors,” the report says. “We encourage the U.S. Congress to give careful consideration to the implications this document has for the care that should be exercised in choosing expert witnesses to inform the legislative process.”
The rest of the press release is available at the same link.
John Abraham, who thoroughly debunked Monckton’s claims, and was treated with venomous language and threat of legal action by the ‘potty peer’ as a result, put a lot of work in this as well.
The complete report: “Climate scientists respond”.
Apparently, Monckton responded in his typical fashion, calling the scientist’s response “prolix, turgid, repetitive, erroneous and inadequate”.
Well, being repetitive is hard to avoid when responding to Monckton’s long debunked talking points. This guy is a real piece of work. I hope the day is near that the public, politicians and the media (as the providers of the megaphone) stop paying attention to the likes of him. Then scientists can turn their energy to more productive things again rather than slamming down zombie arguments.
On a somewhat related note, George Monbiot has a nice column (h/t Stoat) in which he cites how some of these characters (Christopher Booker in this case) view science:
“I spent a fascinating few days in a villa opposite Cap Ferrat, taking part in a seminar with a dozen very bright scientists, some world authorities in their field. Although most had never met before, they had two things in common. Each had come to question one of the most universally accepted scientific orthodoxies of our age: the Darwinian belief that life on earth evolved simply through the changes brought about by an infinite series of minute variations. The other was that, on arriving at these conclusions, they had come up against a wall of hostility from the scientific establishment.” (…)
“We have seen a remarkably similar response from the scientific establishment to anyone dissenting from that other dominating theory of our time, that rising CO2 levels caused by human activity are leading to runaway global warming.”
To dismiss an entire canon of science on the basis of either no evidence or evidence that has already been debunked is to evince an astonishing level of self-belief. It suggests that, by instinct or by birth, you know more about this subject (even if you show no sign of ever having studied it) than the thousands of intelligent people who have spent their lives working on it. Once you have taken that leap of self-belief, once you have arrogated to yourself the authority otherwise vested in science, any faith is then possible. Your own views (and those of the small coterie who share them) become your sole reference points, and are therefore unchallengeable and immutable. You must believe yourself capable of anything. And, in a sense, you probably are.
Robert Grumbine explains how people’s (mis-)perception of science can feed these kinds of strange beliefs:
I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works. While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don’t. The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture. If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work. And so on through a very, very long list. Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2′s radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that’d be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.
Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling. Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there’s any particular evidence in favor of it. The “It’s a liberal conspiracy”, or “They only say this because they want to impose one world government” responses are part of this. The he said — she said journlistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between. They think the scientists are doing the same thing. (How would they know differently?)
55 of the top Dutch climate scientists have published an open letter about the IPCC and the mistakes in the latest climate report. They put the mistakes in the context of what we know, and show that the mainframe of our knowledge of the climate system is not adversely affected by these errors.
I’m glad for this highly needed voice of reason in the popular debate, which has recently been overshadowed by far reaching claims of fraud and conspiracies.
An English version of the open letter is available here. It’s well worth reading.
Dutch version here.
Update: It’s now possible to support this open letter by signing it (PhD holders only). Go to
To what extent should scientists differentiate in their role as ‘pure’ scientists and their role as public educator, advocate, activist, or whatever other public role they may want to assume? James Hansen is not afraid to voice his political opinion. As expected, he is viciously attacked for that by political opponents, but others, even if not in agreement on everything he sais, give him credit for differentiating clearly between talking science and providing a personal opinion. I definitely do.
Roger Pielke Jr frequently takes issue with how scientists blur these roles. He often charges that scientists (especially those from RealClimate are a frequent target) “argue politics through science”, i.e. pretending to talk only science, but in the meantime providing a value-laden political stance. Now that all depends on what he means by “politics”.
Climate scientists more and more speak out about the need to (drastically) reduce emissions. IMHO, they do so based on an understanding of the science. Of course, it is also based on a value judgement, that the risks posed by unmitigated climate change are undesirable. Roger’s point (I think) is that this value judgement is not widely shared. He may be right in that, but I think that the vast majority of people opposing the need to curb emissions do so for reasons other than science, and then rationalize that decision by twisting the science around so that it fits their pre-conceived wish not to curb emissions. There are preciously few people who really accept the science, and still strongly argue against emission reduction.
Consider the analogy of a lifelong smoker who goes to see his doctor for breathing problems. The doctor may say: “All the indications point towards your lung function deteriorating. This is very likely related to you having smoked for X decades. In order to minimize the risk to your health, I urge you to quit smoking.”
That is what I see Gavin Schmidt and many other climate scientists doing. And I find it perfectly legitimate, even desirable, that scientists (as well as doctors) share their knowledge about risks with those who need to know.
If the doctor were to say as the last sentence instead “(…) I urge you to take these nicotine patches” he would act as a stealth advocate, since there are many more options to quit smoking that the patient may want to chose from.
If the patient is so hooked to his cigarettes, and would rather continue smoking than extend his statistical life expectancy by X months, he is free to do so. If however he rationalizes that decision by claiming “smoking isn’t bad for your health at all. My dad was 96 when he died in a car accident, and he chain-smoked his whole life!”, the doctor would be right to reply: “You’re mistaken. Smoking is definitely bad for your health. If you keep smoking, your life expectancy will be X month less than if you quit smoking, and you will have more breathing problems. It is your choice whether or not to quit smoking, but you should make your choice in the full knowledge of these consequences”.
This highlights a different problem. One could argue that by continuing to smoke, the patient really only impacts his own health negatively (and those who breath the second hand smoke; likely not the doctor). If the majority of people, and especially the people in power, decide to ignore the problem and not change the trajectory society is on, it is everybody who suffers. Even worse, those in different parts of the world, and those who have yet to be born, will suffer the most. That makes it much more difficult to just say “I don’t care if you quit smoking, as long as you realize the risks”.
So climate scientists could perhaps be more specific about this, by saying e.g.: “You’re mistaken. Unabated CO2 emissions will very likely cause substantial climate change, with serious consequences. So you should decide your course of action based on this knowledge. If you don’t care about these risks, that is your perogative. However I do. Please find yourself another planet to experiment on.”
Roger Pielke Jr invites comments “from his loudest critics” on his views regarding climate change and response strategies. I’m not even close to being his loudest critic (e.g. he’s often got interesting analyses on the policy), allthough the occasional badmouthing of scientists gets on my nerve. Anyway, here are my replies, each directly following Pielke’s point in italics.
1. There is no greenhouse gas signal in the economic or human toll record of disasters.(Pielke)
I don’t know; his work in this area appears quite robust at first sight, though many conflicting results have also been reported. The PDI (power dissipation index, a measure of hurricane power) has increased though, at least in the North Atlantic. Overall, the jury is still out on the hurricane question it seems like. It’s however not an area that I’ve looked at in detail.
2. The IPCC has dramatically underestimated the scale of the stabilization challenge. (Pielke)
I don’t know, but see also 8.
3. Geoengineering via stratospheric injection or marine cloud whitening is a bad idea. (Pielke)
At this point in time, intentionally cooling the Earth via large scale intervention is definitely a bad idea, because of the risks involved. But we may reach a point where the climate risks start to outweigh the geoengineering risks. So I think it prudent to investigate geoengineering schemes in case of climate emergencies. I agree with Ken Caldeira: “I hope I never need a parachute, but if my plane is going down in flames, I sure hope I have a parachute handy,” Caldeira said. “I hope we’ll never need geoengineering schemes, but if a climate catastrophe occurs, I sure hope we will have thought through our options carefully.” I contributed to an assessment of “other” climate reduction possibilities, for which I wrote chapter 6 on geo-engineering and air capture. In Section 6.4 the context and associated risks are discussed. In short, geoengineering should absolutely not be considered as an *alternative* to emission reduction, since the long term risks would increase to intolerable levels in such a case, and problems such as ocean acidification would continue unabated. I plan to write more about geoengineering here in the near future.
4. Air capture research is a very good idea. (Pielke)
Agreed (though it’s not a holy grail; it’s not even close to large scale implementation). I would perhaps single out biochar application as especially promising, since it appears to have numerous co-benefits. Its global scale climate mitigation effects seem to be limited though.
5. Adaptation is very important and not a trade off with mitigation. (Pielke)
Both adaptation and mitigation (emission reduction) are important, but I would emphasize the latter, since it dominates the long-term risk we expose future generations to (CO2 has a very long lifetime). Over-emphasizing the former risks de-emphasizing the latter, so it’s a tricky balance. The four basic response strategies (emission reduction – air capture – geoengineering – adaptation) are not mutually exclusive, but each of them lowers the (perceived) necessity for the other measures to be implemented (if the long lifetime of CO2 is ignored, which is well beyond the average political radarscreen).
Roger claims that ”adaptation is a trade-off with mitigation just as mitigation is a trade off with military spending.” I think that a Euro spent on adaptation competes more strongly with spending it on mitigation than that it competes with spending it on the military. If anything, adaptation and mitigation are decided upon by the same department, with one overall budget. The military budget is separate (unfortunately, I may add).
It may be worthwhile to investigate potential win-win situations: Adaptation measures that simultaneously mitigate climate change, and vice versa (see chapter 4 of the same document as mentioned above for some examples, e.g. green/white roofs, reforestation, spatial planning, etc). Black carbon (soot) reduction is an example of a measure with both health and climate benefits. Those may be the politically speaking low hanging fruit.
6. Current mitigation policies, at national and international levels, are inevitably doomed to fail. (Pielke)
It all comes down to what is being decided in the political process. I am however pessimistic about the politics coming up to speed with what is known scientifically (short version) and what is possible technologically (which is a lot more than what is on the political table, see also 8). But let’s try to avoid self fulfilling prophecies.
David Keith made some pertinent comments to this:
However when people and the political community hear technical people say “can’t be done” they assume we mean that technically can’t be done and that is untrue and destructive.
It’s destructive because it hides the central moral choice: we could cut emissions if we want to, we could have started decades ago when the scientific warnings about climate change were first raised, but we decided not to. It was a choice, implicit or not. A choice that, in effect, we cared more about current consumption than we did about preserving our grandchildren’s chances to enjoy a climate like the one in which our civilization developed.
Nothing is “doomed to fail”; we have the choice.
7. An alternative approach to mitigation from that of the FCCC has better prospects for success. (Pielke)
I don’t know. Depends what the proposed alternative is I guess.
8. Current technologies are not sufficient to reach mitigation goals. (Pielke)
Perhaps that is the case for the long term, but I think it bears stressing that current technologies are hopelessly underused. David Keith, Joe Romm and others have pointed out that even with current technology we could decarbonize the entire electricity production for a few % of GDP. The per capita emissions in the US are double those in the EU. The per capita electricity use in California is a bit over half of that of the rest of the US. There’s clearly a lot more we can do with current technology and other (efficiency) measures than we are currently doing. That doesn’t negate the importance of R&D, but it’s the point I would like to stress. R&D is still needed to make emission reductions cheaper, and to make bigger and faster reductions possible. But it shouldn’t be an excuse for not doing more with the possibilities we currently have. See for a longer argument somewhat along these lines (rebutting Lomborg) here.
9. In their political enthusiasm, some leading scientists have behaved badly. (Pielke)
Without specifics, this is impossible to answer, and is bound to lead to even more misunderstanding. I could try reading your mind of course. You probably have some of your critics in mind, notably some RealClimate scientists as well as Hansen, who you have criticized. I find this very problematic. In most instances that I followed (involving Gavin Schmidt, Michael Tobis, Eric Steig, Hansen, Briffa at different occasions), I have found your and others’ criticisms off base, besides the point, largely irrelevant to the bigger picture and having the smell of a smear campaign (science-bashing). As I commented regarding the latest McIntyre affair (see my review here): “A lot of scientists are getting understandably frustrated with self-proclaimed auditors of science (and their supporters) who cast doubt about a whole scientific field by blowing minor flaws out of proportion and insinuate accusations of scientific misconduct”. Against this backdrop of a lot of people ready to embrace any little nitpicked criticism as if it overthrows the whole scientific consensus, and ignore the mountain of evidence in favour of this consensus, I can perfectly well understand that a lot of scientists (and their supporters) are getting frustrated having to deal with this behavior and (mostly) fake arguments. In the grand scheme of things, the big problem as I see it is the contempt of science and its practitioners by a sizeable segment of the general public and some high profile bloggers; if a scientist responds to faux criticism in a frustrated tone, I find that a minor flaw in comparison. Granted, they (climate scientists) are your subject of study, so you naturally focus on their behaviour, but at the same time, please consider the context in which they operate, as well as the main message they are trying to convey. In light of this, your claim that “bad behavior by the folks at Real Climate does more to hurt the cause for action than the political actions of the skeptics” is preposterous. William Connolley brought up Fred Singer as the most obvious example.
10. Leading scientific assessments have botched major issues (like disasters). (Pielke)
I don’t know.
The bottom line is that I don’t strongly disagree with Pielke Jr on many points, but that I find his choice of ‘problem areas’ to focus on peculiar and often unhelpful in light of the much bigger problems just adjacent to them (e.g. 9, 8, 5). Excluding that context risks giving a false impression of what’s going on, especially to those who are not in the loop and to those wishing to see their pre-conceived notions confirmed.