Global Warming Deniers

Sunday's New York Times magazine features Freeman Dyson, a scientist who questions the research on global warming. Today's paper has a full page ad from the Cato Institute; the ad says that the findings regarding global warming are greatly exaggerated and a list of scientist endorse the message. My dad forwarded me a link to Power Line post gloating about all this.

Global warming is one of those topics (and there are many) that I will never have the expertise to judge the data for myself. In these cases, I have to rely on people who are smarter than I am. Dyson's his main objections to global warming, at least how they are portrayed in the NYT, seemed to be political. Coal has enabled millions to make the transition from poverty to a middle class life style in Indian and China, he says, and therefore we should not eliminate its use. People in Greenland are happy with the melting snow. This blog post completely trashes his credibility.

It was impossible to judge the credibility of the scientists who signed the Cato advertisement, because many were from foreign colleges, local schools that I had never heard of before, or workers at companies that I have never heard of. Oddly, a number of them were retired or emeritus professors. I don't want to bash old people, but… well… The studies that are cited in the advertisement are authored by those who signed the ad. And this ad came from the Cato Institute and not an independent organization. The credibility here is very low.

It is possible that the numbers for global warming are wrong. It is possible (probable) that Al Gore is a moron. However, I would need much more credible experts to convince me of that fact. In the meantime, I'm going to keep recycling.

30 thoughts on “Global Warming Deniers

  1. Dyson, not Tyson.
    As for global warming, I’m not saying I understand the arguments, but I’m becoming ever more dubious of experts for obvious, current-events related reasons.

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  2. The following conditions all have to hold for it to be reasonable to make major lifestyle changes:
    1. Global warming is happening
    2. It is caused by human activity.
    3. Global warming is a bad thing.
    4. Continuing with a carbon-based economy will cause more human suffering than a rapid switch to a non-carbon based economy.
    3. Global warming can be stopped (at least in theoretically).
    4. Enough countries will get on board that #3 is possible in practice, not just theory. (I would love to be a fly on the wall during a global warming discussion between Al Gore and the top Chinese leadership.)

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  3. In just slightly more than the time it took to read that horrible NYTimes profile, and certain less than the amount of time to watch Inconvenent Truth, an educated person could read you could have read most of the 18 pages of the IPCC executive summary:

    Click to access ar4-wg1-spm.pdf


    Please ignore the “balance” of journalism and get the incontrovertible facts and synthesis. Your kids will thank you for educating yourself and trying something.

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  4. Excellent link, learner. Thanks. That report answers your first three conditions, Amy. The other three conditions are dwarfed and made irrelevant by the first three conditions.

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  5. Here’s the thing, and I know this will sound like I’m jesting, but truly– isn’t it good to recycle and reduce and reuse even if global warming doesn’t exist (which I highly doubt)?

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  6. I read learner’s links, but it’s not as if I can evaluate the science behind it without weeks of study (months?, years?). I’m not inclined to spend the time as I’m not aware of any reason that climatologists are going to be any better at predicting the future than, say, economists. I’m further disinclined because the most public proponents of global warming don’t seem to be acting as if changing their personal behavior could possibly have any impact (i.e. Al Gore has more square footage in his bathrooms than I do in my whole house). The general public didn’t quit smoking until most of the doctors did and that seems like a perfectly reasonable type of heuristic.
    I’m all for taking steps to reduce oil use, but for reasons of trade balances and doing less business with dubious nations.

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  7. “I’m not inclined to spend the time as I’m not aware of any reason that climatologists are going to be any better at predicting the future than, say, economists.”
    See, this is a terribly false premise. Are you going to similarly discount the expertise of your surgeon and oncologist and endocrinologist? and of the engineers who design the planes you fly in? The fact is that our world is full of things that we cannot, understand and for which we must rely on others expertise. Global warming is one of them, as is the underlying mechanism behind the financial crisis. Choosing to bury our heads in the sand and pretending the world is simpler than it is just isn’t an option (Jen said that, right? as did McCartle).
    (and, incidentally, even Freeman Dyson, who also believes in the possibility of psy forces believes 1&2 of Amy’s list).

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  8. BJ, I also believe 1 and 2 on Amy’s list if you re-cast point 1 as ‘human activity is mucking up the climate somehow’.
    And, in general I trust doctors, thought I see specialists as rarely as possible. But, the evidence for global warming certainly a long way away from the types of evidence you need to get consensus in the medical field. We’ve only got one planet and the process of global warming is occurring on a much longer time scale than anything studied in medicine. Studying climates precludes any experiment done on the same scale as the problem, any randomization, and any controlled trial (i.e. any of the tools that doctors will actually accept to settle a question).
    And, even in medicine, lots of health studies reported in the paper get contradicted by later studies.

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  9. “I’m all for taking steps to reduce oil use, but for reasons of trade balances and doing less business with dubious nations.”
    Or because the stuff is running out, not because CO2 is a dangerous pollutant like its sinister cousin dihydrogen monoxide.
    I’m concerned that average people are being stampeded into major purchases that will turn into expensive white elephants. Back in the early eighties (under the impression of the last big energy crisis), my parents designed and built a 1500 square foot house with lots of windows, southern exposure, soaring ceilings, a wood-burning stove, and one single tiny electric heater. It would have been perfect in Northern California, but in the Pacific Northwest, even June offers bone-chilling damp. Fortunately, it’s nothing a couple of electric space heaters can’t fix, but I’ve since learned that a lot of similar mistakes got made during that era.
    I don’t think solar panels or hybrid cars are things that the average person should seriously consider right now. They’re expensive, and one runs the risk of buying into a technology that will be obsolete before they pay off. On the other hand, if it’s a cash purchase, knock yourself out. Given our local conditions (lots of over 100 degree temperatures), I’m more interested in rooftop solar water heating systems. Unlike conventional solar panels, solar water heating systems are supposed to pay off in about 10 years, which is pretty reasonable.

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  10. I’m pretty sure our new washer and dishwasher will pay for themselves pretty quickly. Our water company really screwed-up, so our rates are high. I don’t think the new dryer is much more efficient, but the old one was making big sparks.

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  11. ” But, the evidence for global warming certainly a long way away from the types of evidence you need to get consensus in the medical field”
    Not true — I’d set the evidence as rather similar for a lot of decision making in medicine (not all — vaccines are pretty well justified as a public good. PSA screening and mammograms? much more complicated; read the consensus papers on those subjects — or as we’ve done recently, on breastfeeding, they’re no more (or less) evidence based than global warming). And, they pose similar problems in setting public policy, that we are forced to make big decisions on evidence that won’t be fully comfortable to those who want certainty.
    I do, on the other hand, have a beef against the global warming *ideologues* who use it as an excuse to stop human development. Nuclear power may have its problems, but it doesn’t cause global warming. Clean coal might have been a long standing lie, but carbon sequestration would prevent the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, even if it doesn’t prevent strip mining. Hydropower may kill salmon, but it doesn’t cause global warming. And wind and solar and geothermal are no more “clean” on a larger scale than any other source of power (though they don’t cause global warming). If the problem we’re fighting is global warming, we need to tailor our solution to include all the energy sources that don’t cause it, not just a subset whose environmental costs we have yet to determine.
    We need people who accept the underlying science and the potential consequences, but discuss the policy questions openly, justifying the choices.

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  12. BJ, first, I don’t think we’re actually that far apart (on this issue). But, if I knew the type of medical research you were talking about, I’d have given a slightly different answer. I’m not saying I ignore them completely, but, if there is a consensus paper, I’m always a little leery. You know the old saying “The number of cures is inversely proportional to the odds that any of them will work.” (Sorry, I completely failed to find the exact quote in 10 minutes of googling.)

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  13. Look, many climate scientists think that the IPCC is a joke. You don’t hear about them as much because in today’s political climate they prefer to keep their heads down and do science, and not be sneered at by every housewife who thinks she understands climate change because she saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and read a really great! article about the whole thing in Science.
    The trouble is that the phrase “climate skeptic” is over-loaded: it encompasses everything from climate scientists who suspect that climate change is real and anthropogenic but whose stomach turns to see how shoddy the science undergirding political theater like the IPCC is to fans of talk radio hosts who hate the idea on principle.
    I’ve said it here before, but a good rule of thumb is this: if you don’t have a decent rebuttal to the claim that the NAO is just over-fitting white noise, you are unequipped to lecture people on climate change (especially if you’re response is “Uh, let me Google the NAO.”) You don’t need to have several PhD in many major aspects of the climate change debate, but you do need to know the basic vocabulary and disagreements.
    Are you going to similarly discount the expertise of your surgeon and oncologist and endocrinologist? and of the engineers who design the planes you fly in?
    I would distrust them if their conclusions were not based on science. This is why we worry about COI in drug trials.

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  14. Yes, I read ADB, but I’m not him and don’t know him. However, I am the same MH who comments there occassionally.

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  15. Speaking of climate issues, whatever happened to the hole in the ozone layer? I never hear anything about that anymore–just 15 years ago, it was a very big deal. And 30 years ago, wasn’t pollution supposed to be bringing a disastrous global cooling (I forget the term)? That was science, too. This is a big part of why it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to jump on the global warming bandwagon–these manias come along as often as buses. Miss one and another one just as good will come out in 15 years.

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  16. The ozone hole will slowly repair itself. We eliminated production of harmful CFCs, but the ones we already made are still drifting around. Trust me, if you lived in Australia you’d still be hearing about it, because the need to Slip, Slap, Slop is still there. (Slip on long sleeves, Slap on a hat, Slop on sunscreen.)
    “Full recovery to 1980 levels will occur around 2068 and the area will very slowly decline between 2001 and 2017. Detection of a statistically significant decrease of area will not occur until about 2024.”
    Citation: Newman, P. A., E. R. Nash, S. R. Kawa, S. A. Montzka, and S. M. Schauffler (2006), When will the Antarctic ozone hole recover?, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, L12814, doi:10.1029/2005GL025232.
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2006/2005GL025232.shtml

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  17. Hey, we’re going a little acronym happy. COI (Conflict of interest, I guess?). NAO (I’m guessing North Atlantic Oscillation, and not the National Academy of Opticianry (which might harm my computer?) or Never Accept Ordinary Makeup. Yes, I Googled.
    Re the ozone/global warming/global cooling (well, and I’d add ID to that, but I guess I should wait until Amy, Siobhan or MH actually add team) conflation. You know that we of the vast left-wing conspiracy have been told that the conflation of different scientific topics (and the subsequent raising of doubt) is part of the war against science by the vast right wing conspiracy?
    The feature that the global warming/global cooling alarmists share in common is the extrapolation of information into the future, always dangerous, and potentially prone to error. But, the science about each of them is pretty different.
    Again, harking back to our other debate about breastfeeding, the problem I see is that the skeptics use doubt about features of the scientific consensus to attach a bigger question than the individual doubts justify. On the other hand, I also agree that the alarmists sometimes exaggerate the depth and breadth and certainty of what we know — though usually I blame this on the politicians, trying to solve the political problem. A scientist might be both, but they should be careful to differentiate between their political and scientific certainty, as best they can. Dyson didn’t, in the article about his views in the NY times.

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  18. That’s great about the ozone. What an interesting example of the way that good news gets ignored, even when it’s actually pretty important.
    bj,
    I suspect that there are probably not that many differences between our actual lifestyles (although I suspect that my carbon footprint is at least somewhat smaller than yours). I think “war against science” is a pretty strong term for what is essentially just a refusal to be panicked. Think of it as a very distant cousin of the refusal to believe that waging war on Iraq needed to be done RIGHT NOW! As MH has suggested, if the public faces of the anti-global warming movement truly believed that it was a do-or-die thing, buying a hybrid or carbon credits or bamboo flooring (!!!) wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of their list of things to do. Instead, they’d have to do unsexy (but effective) stuff like ceasing all air travel and eliminating all discretionary travel. Also, they’d be pushing hard for nuclear power (just like they have in France), since as I believe you would agree, “clean power” just means a source that we haven’t figured out the downside of yet.

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  19. Re the ozone/global warming/global cooling (well, and I’d add ID to that, but I guess I should wait until Amy, Siobhan or MH actually add team) conflation. You know that we of the vast left-wing conspiracy have been told that the conflation of different scientific topics (and the subsequent raising of doubt) is part of the war against science by the vast right wing conspiracy?
    bj! If only you had included a link to Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias in that post, I could have won $10 in mommyblog bingo. Try harder next time and I’ll split the profits with you…

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  20. I see a lot of folks exercised about global warming who don’t know enough to be certain about it: they are following opinion leaders like Al Gore and Prince Charles, both of whom are entirely too familiar with the insides of private jets. I am skeptical about folks who are very eager for other people to don hair shirts.
    On the other hand, we seem to be at the end of a remarkable period of relative climate stability and humans have burned a huge amount of fossil fuel in the last fifty years, it’s reasonable to think these things are related. I’m with MH – Al Gore uses too much energy, personally, for anyone to take him seriously as an advisor.

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  21. I don’t really give a sh*t what Al Gore has to say. I do care what the vast majority of American scientists at top universities have to say (as opposed to the wingnuts who signed that Cato advertisement or the pea brains at PowerLine). I am never going to be able to the science behind the global warming models and I’m not going to try. So, I have to go with what the Harvard scientists have to say.

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  22. “So, I have to go with what the Harvard scientists have to say.”
    But you’d also need to (at the very least) have a consensus among ag professors and economists in order to get a handle on whether the cure might not be worse than the disease, whether attempting to stop global warming might not ultimately cause far more human misery.

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  23. No I don’t, Amy. Those are very different matters. Right now, the main issue is that some people say that global warming is a myth. Let’s not muck it up with other questions.

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  24. First, remember: Al Gore is neither a climate scientist nor a savior. He’s a Democratic politician. So is Barack Obama.
    Sadly, very few people bother to learn about the evidence for *anything* from the scholarship, rather than through the filter of the traditional media or blogs. That this is particularly acute with respect to the sciences is something that I take responsibility for. Isn’t this why we send kids to liberal arts colleges, and require them to take science courses (among others) while they are there. Then, it’s our responsibility to do a better job communicating and teaching. As I see it, Al Gore *is* exceptional as a liberally educated American. He was one of the few non-science majors who took undergraduate sciences courses and enjoyed them when he was in college. I credit both him and his professor.
    In defense of self and ecologists and climate scientists, and based on personal experience (and I could find data if you like), we tend to have many conservation-minded habits: low consumerism, vegetarianism, local food consumption, driving efficient cars, using public transport, avoiding unnecessary air travel, small families, recycling, pressing for new construction to be “green” and sustainable. Also, important is fairly active involvement in political activism and charitable giving.
    With that, I’d better go prepare for a lecture for non-majors on global ecology.

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  25. and not be sneered at by every housewife who thinks she understands climate change because she saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and read a really great! article about the whole thing in Science.
    “Housewives” (Oh, and “mommybloggers”) are stupid. Charming.

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  26. Laura, AmyP – I think there are several issues. One is, is global warming happening? A second: is it happening because of what people are doing? A third: if it’s happening, how far is it likely to go? And, with the AmyP, is warmer, worse?
    There are a lot of assumptions – being embraced by greens – that (1) yes and (2) yes and (3) Perth Amboy is gonna be underwater!!!! Oh NOES!!!
    (3)- The Inconvenient Truth answer – depends a lot on assumptions of positive feedback – once it gets warmer a little, the effects of warmer make it more warmer, and the Greenland ice sheet is gone. Maybe this is right, maybe not. The world has been a lot hotter before, millions of years ago, and has cooled off again. There was a big cooling described in the Wikipedia article The Little Ice Age, with colder winters in Europe and North America. In the mid-17th century, glaciers in the Swiss Alps advanced, gradually engulfing farms and crushing entire villages, 1816 was the Year Without a Summer (also known as the Poverty Year, Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death).
    We tend to assume constancy from the Sun. Some researchers doubt this. The history of climate is clearly one of change, and not resulting from human intervention. We are doing something new and big by burning a lot of fossil fuels, so it’s certainly plausible that we’re having an effect. I sometimes go to http://www.climate-skeptic.com/ and recommend it: it’s a valuable corrective for the assumption that IPCC science is disinterested and based on reliable measurements in all cases.

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