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Climate Change and the Media, Reality and the Future
Alex Steffen, 10 Apr 06

We are of course deeply heartened by the sudden clamor over climate change. 2006 may just be the year in which climate change will finally break through into the popular consciousness, and people (especially mainstream Americans) will finally get it that this global warming stuff is really, really serious. With glossy magazines, television shows, feature films and multiple online campaigns pouring forth the climate change stories, it would appear that we are finally reaching the climate politics tipping point. This is our Climate Spring.

Except for one thing: the solutions. By and large, the solutions being offered by many of these newly-minted climate allies are quite simply out of whack with the magnitude of the crisis we face. Take the Vanity Fair green issue, in which associate editor Heather Halberstadt offers this prescription for action: "Turn off the faucet while you're brushing your teeth or recycle your Sunday newspaper. Little things can have an impact on a global scale; it doesn't necessarily mean buying a hybrid vehicle."

A few years ago, this would have been unobjectionable, if trite. The problem is, we know more now. We know, for instance, that the climate models scientists have been using to predict the effects of climate change (which have usually been dismissed as alarmist by much of the Washington, D.C. power structure) seem to have been too conservative in their assumptions, and that we may already be seeing the beginning of effects we were told not to expect for another decade or two. We know that the more we find out about climate, the tighter the horizon for effective action starts to look (on the extreme, ten years before we're over the ledge, according to NASA's James Hansen), and the more certain some of the drastic effects, like sea-level rise become.

We cannot "stop global warming" at this point. We are committed to a certain degree of climate disruption already. What we can do is stave off the truly catastrophic levels of climate change which will be our fate if we do not act. Unfortunately, there is a ridiculously large disconnect between what we must do to reduce our climate footprint and what we have so far been willing to even discuss. As Katherine Ellison puts it in the recent issue of Conservation in Practice

"Top scientists warn that for the world to have a fighting chance of slowing climate change global emissions will have to be reduced by as much as 70 percent—and the sooner, the better. The longer we wait, the more weather disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and the like will compound. But the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s most advanced response, currently calls for only a 5.5-percent reduction from 1990 levels in global emissions by industrial countries—leaving a huge gap between the best we think we can do and what scientists say we must do."

We're having similar problems matching the boldness of the response to the magnitude of the known challenge in other environmental arenas as well, of course. Take for instance London's City Limits study, which found that Londoners would have to use 80% fewer resources and nonrenewable energy by 2050 in order to live a globally sustainable lifestyle. Indeed, in study after study, model after model, what we are learning is that our society is not a little out of alignment with sustainability, it is massively and nearly completely unsustainable.

With an increasingly well-documented and articulated global ecological crisis on our hands, turning off the faucet and recycling the newspaper (while fine things to do) are pretty meaningless. The 21st Century does demand that we buy hybrids -- indeed, it demands much more: it demands that we imagine, build and buy cars which ecologically make hybrids look like hummers. It demands a complete redesign of our industrial civilization, from the chemicals we use to the energy we create to the cities we design to the way we deal with water and waste to the buildings in which we live. We are way, way beyond tinkering at the margins here.

So how is it that, in the very same issue which describes Manhattan disappearing beneath the rising waters of a warming world, we also find comments like Halberstadt's?

I think it has to do with vision. Even those of us who get it (who recognize that our civilization is impelled to change itself utterly or be utterly changed by forces beyond our control), and who believe that we can create instead a bright, green future (one which is both more prosperous and far more sustainable than our own) have a damn hard time telling people what such a future will look like. We can't build what we can't imagine, but very, very little good work is being done on imagining and portraying a future exciting and inspiring enough to fight for.

In the absence of such visions, the necessary magnitude of changes to our status quo are simply unimaginable to most people. And if those changes are unimaginable, then can we really fault people (like Ms. Halberstadt, who I've really been unfairly picking on) who still honestly believe that little things will somehow add up to the kind of response we need? I don't think we can. The fault is not theirs, if they have never been shown a better way. We have work to do, I think.

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This is a great post, Alex, and poses a great (and deeply disquieting) question. We have to figure out how to answer the question the right way (an empowering vision that invites participation) because there are only two alternatives to it: an authoritarian response that does the right things at the right scale (imagine, perversely, a green George Bush), but is morally and spiritually soul-killing, or no effective response and very rapid capitulation to the climate catastrophe. These are not pretty alternatives.

Posted by: Ted on 10 Apr 06

Yes, the changes required are huge, but they're clearly doable - and they involve spending less money - on driving around, on flying, etc - not more.

When does living sustainably become fashionable

Posted by: David Gladstone on 10 Apr 06

To say the huge changes are doable is like saying there are treatments for pancreatic cancer. Yes, there are. They are sometimes radical, from kemo to homeopathy practiced in Mexican clinics. They are not cures. I say this as an environmentalist who lobbied Congress for three decades on coal mine regulations, acid rain, synfuels, utility dereg...I know something about America's electric demand. It is a super tanker turning around in the Hudson river.

Denial of frightening events is how we are wired. It is those with the capacity to put fear aside who rush into burning buildings or defuse a bomb in Bagdad. The rest of us struggle to focus on today and turn the channel when the news makes us anxious.

RealClimate, Dr. Hansen, Dr. Correll, a legion of other dedicated scientists have given us the bad news and, yes, it is cancer. Now, we have some time to prepare for its worst effects while we plow into any and all of the hopeful remedies, treatments, diets and whatever will prolong our lives.

I speak of pancreatic cancer as a family member of a victim. We never lost hope there was a something we hadn't tried that would save him but we knew the doctors knew we found it too late. Maybe one day there will be a cure.

Now, apply that to where we are with the oceans having banked a great deal of heat yet to be given up to the atmosphere and the arctic melt back acclerating warming thus releasing the trapped methane and CO2 in the permafrost and tunda. Then take all of that into one breath and look our children in the eyes and tell them we are doing everything we can to prepare them for inevitable drying of the US midwest and North Central Canada grain fields and the rest of the certain impacts.

Adaptation does not mean we stop working on mitigation. It means we are facing the truth of what we already know and, by the way, scientists now suspect the models set to spell out impacts in 2040 and 2050 have to be set back 20 years because those impacats are now being observed.

Eileen Clausen and Environmental Defense and other groups are chasing paper while the Arctic melts. They back away from any discussion about anything aside from Kyoto or something like it. McCain-Lieberman is a broken rudder in a big storm.

Please, let us face the frightening future with a plan for how we can buy our children some time to sort this out when we are gone. Windmills and bicycles are not in their future. And, if you believe ethanol is a apart of the solution, you are not doing your reading and critical thinking.

We'd better find some smart and brave voices who will go to the Kyoto advocates in Congress and tell them that won't get us across the street and we have to cross the mountain.

National Academy of Science did the Abrupt Climate Change report in 2002. The change went abrupt in 1967 when the US went coal and cars. Now, China and India will put the abrupt change into overdrive yet we are chasing a return to 1990 CO2 levels.

Enough with the denial and safe political position. Its time to research more heat and drought resistant seeds and the hundred other tools our children will need to survive the dimming future we are carving for them.

John McCormick

Posted by: John McCormick on 10 Apr 06

Speaking of solutions, when is the book coming out?

Who else is working on making the solutions concrete?

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 10 Apr 06

John, David and Ted: thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Daniel: funny you should ask

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 10 Apr 06

That our styles of living must change radically is not in question. The real issue is getting people to change and, now that the realisation is beginning to sink in, the real danger is a stall in any popular commitment to change.

It may stall if the challenge is seen as just too big (ten years to switch to green tech before the climate changes irrevocably? Ah, hell! Eat drink and be merry; for tommorrow, we die!)

It may stall if the challenge isn't taken seriously enough (ie we've followed Halberstad's advice, now all will be well)

And it will certainly stall if the issue gets taken over by big government, and the impetus for everyone to own the problem is lost!

Where I really feel like sailing into Ms Halberstad is when she ends with "... it doesn't necessarily mean buying a hybrid vehicle.". That closing remark, to me, suggests that turning off the hot water is *all* we have to do. It clearly isn't.

Yet, as ineffectual as they may be, the little things are all that most people know how to do at the moment (I include myself in that group).

That's not necessarily a bad thing because, paradoxically, I think it is awareness of the little things, coupled with an awareness that there (*always*) needs to be more done, that is most likely to get us changing effectively. Little things done by a lot of people.

The 'Participation Wedges' discussed here a while ago (, illustrate the point I'm making.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 10 Apr 06

Hey, speaking of "concrete"... does anyone else find it in order that climate change models should predict accurately future temperatures before we go spending billions more that might well be used to provide a supper and shelter to a starving child? "Credible" climate change models have yet to accurately predict future temperatures: indeed, they've been off by 300%, and more. Further, they tend to overestimate the potential rise in temperatures, not underestimate. Inaccurate, unreliable guesswork such as this is hardly concrete footing on which to base policy.

Posted by: J. Millan on 11 Apr 06

Well, J. if you have any credible scientific evidence to cite that temperature rises have been overestimated, we'd be glad to see it: all the literature I've seen says the opposite.

As for poverty, the evidence is pretty clear-cut that its the poor who are being hit hardest by climate change:

In addition, the idea that we can get precise predictions for a system as complex and rapidly changing as global climate is rather silly, and the idea that we should wait for 100% certainty about precisely what the effects will be before we act is irresponsible, frankly.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 11 Apr 06

re: global emissions will have to be reduced by as much as 70 percent—and the sooner, the better.

The difficulty of doing that depends mostly on 2 factors: 1) how fast do we do it. 2) how much opposition there is to nuclear power.

re: 1) Existing infrastructure has a lifetime of decades before replacement or major renovation. The cheap way to cut emmisions is to replace with non-fossil energy where practical & very high efficiency machinery where non-fossil isn't practical. So doing this on the cheap means cutting emmisions by a few % every year for decades.

re: 2) Non-fossil energy for the most part means nuclear. No to nuclear means yes to coal.

Posted by: Jim Baerg on 11 Apr 06

Jim: I think your first point is spot-on. Your second point, however, I tend to disagree with. I'm not convinced nuclear is at all necessary, or even a sensible climate-fighting tool.

More about that soon.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 11 Apr 06

Temperatures would seem to have fallen just ever so slightly since 1998 -- statistically it is no drop at all, but the important matter is that they do not seem to have risen. This was quite unexpected news, and any model that predicted a rise during this period of time (and every single one I've seen has) is inaccurate. Even if the models are inaccurate by predicting temperatures lower than those eventually observed, the reliability of the models must be called into question: they are either accurate or they are not.

I disagree, respectfully, with the notion that climate change had anything at all to do with Katrina. I have yet to see any evidence at all of this. So does Chris Landsea, it would seem. The number and intensity of hurricanes has been on a general downward trend since the mid-1940s. There are light years and heavy years, and there have been since before we drove cars and fully industrialized: the mid-1940s and mid-1890s being particularly active for hurricanes. It would seem we were due for a heavy year. Please remember that for a brief moment after Katrina passed New Orleans, there was actually a quiet sense of relief that it was not worse -- it was only after the failure of the levees that things became as bad as history books will record.

I am not advocating that we do nothing at all, and am certainly not advocating the we remain on a course of simply using up fossil fuels just because they are there and we can. I rather liked the portion of your post about innovation, as I think innovation is ultimately going to be the key in finding and executing a solution to the problem us using up non-renewable resources (unfortuantely, for now "innovation" is rather nebulous and something of an X-factor). But if one is to remain committed to a scientific view of things -- observable phenomena -- one is ill-served to disregard evidence that perhaps man's responsibility for global warming is negligible, if extant at all. We need to know what's going on, but I think it is a bit hasty to say the debate is settled. And, frankly I have a lack of trust that the IPCC or Dr. Mann are going to point us in the right direction.

What we do know is that climate change happens and has happened several times, irrespective of mankind's influence. It is not exactly a stretch of the imagination that this could happen again.

Posted by: J. Millan on 11 Apr 06

There are some individuals working on wonderfully relevant solutions to climate change. Example: Interstate Traveler

Whether we have it in us to embrace these solutions, on the merit of avoiding climate change, I'm less hopeful about. Work for any energy company and you will discover the disconnect between what people say and their willingness to pay even a penny more for their electricity bill.

Posted by: T. McIvor on 11 Apr 06


Since the vast majority of the world's scientists disagree with you about temperatures, I'd love to see any actual credible scientific citations you have to back your arguments up.

While most climate scientists woulld be cautious about the degree to which one can reasonably assign any causal link between climate change and specific storms, the vast majority believe precisely what I said in that piece, which is that whether or not climate change caused Katrina to be as bad as it was, Katrina is precisely what the models suggest we can expect to see more of: more, more powerful, more destructive storms (again, if you have credible data to back up what your claim that storms are lessening in severity, I'd love to see the citations).

Finally, nearly every credible scientist in the world now agrees that the climate change we're seeing is at least primarily human-made.

Unless you can produce some data which has missed the notice of the world's scientific community, your arguments, J., simply don't seem to coincide with the truth. Indeed, they are more or less precisely the arguments made most commonly by those in pay of oil, coal and car companies.

So again, feel free to present any evidence you think you have which will overturn the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is here, that it's measurable, that its human-caused, that it is worsening and that the impacts are likely to be dire.

In the lack of any such evidence, though, your statements tie you to positions which are ethically questionable at best.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 11 Apr 06

in 2007 a hydrogen powered railway is announced to get japanese public transport customers cleen nuclear free lifts ....with the „ZEMSHIPS“ Zero Emissions Ships
european initiative, a hydrogen passenger river boat will transport silently passengers on the alster river in the german town hamburg ... announced for summer 2007 .... tests for aeroplanes powered by hydrogen are in progresse...

meanwhile ... there is a growing demand of people wanting to use biofuels for their
ethanol or biodiesel powered cars

crops grown for biodiesel capture greenhouse gases ...

the co2 to algae idea was allready presented here with the article at
"capturing CO2 from smokestack emissions using algae, and turning the result into biofuels"
"captures more than 40% of emitted CO2 (on sunny days, up to 80%) along with over 80% of NOx emissions; in turn, it produces biodiesel at rates-per-acre that could make a full conversion to biofuel for transportation readily achievable."

there are some clever people exchanging openly how to get oil / biodiesel from algae at



there are more concepts out there to sequester co2 gases in the atmosphere in plants like salicornia.

it can grow in saltwater in coastal deserts ... will green thereby deserted land and can be harvested to extract oil and or eaten as salad/vegetable

The estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of the project result from carbon accumulation and storage in the sandy soil.

starting at coastal regions, and then going more and more deeper into the desert with photovoltaic solar pumping seawater onto salicornia ... possible to use money from carbon traders

( )

it is time for greening the desert NOW


also Jatropha may be a weed which could help a lot to get us away of petrol and towards biofuel... and help regreen arid zones:

"...Jatropha isn't a well known biofuel, like corn or sugar cane, but when it comes to producing bio-diesel, Jatropha may be have the highest energy payback of any biofuel. Moreover, unlike corn or sugar cane, Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive."

shown within this article is a simple but effective manual operated seed press ... see more about it at

imagine millions of small scale farmers growing weeds in their backyard and pressing it byself to oil for be used for consumption, to be processed into skin care products or biofuel ... decentralised, local, simple, low cost


so there are the algae, there are the oil bearing weeds, there are known concepts to green deserts, there are millions of people in the southern hemisphere willing to get involved in such "desert greening with biofuel crops"
and there are co2 emissive industries in the northern hemisphere who are willing to finance green projects within carbon trade schemes


more co2 capturing methods:


New Class of Materials Can Store Vast Amounts of Carbon Dioxide


The star performer in Yaghi's cast of MOFs is one dubbed MOF-177, which sops up 140 percent of its weight in CO2 at room temperature and reasonable pressure (32 bar).

Put another way, "if you have a tank filled with MOFs, you can store in that tank as much carbon dioxide as would be stored in nine tanks that do not contain MOFs," Yaghi said. By comparison, a tank filled with porous carbon---one of the current state-of-the-art materials for capturing CO2 in power plant flues---would hold only four tanks worth of CO2.


"The carbon dioxide comes to the facility on its own," Dubey said. "And because treated air is discharged, the overall concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gradually decreases over time. Using this method on a large enough scale, it may be possible to return atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to pre-Industrial-Age concentrations. Given the possibility our climate system can change abruptly, this possibility is very exciting."

Cost of the entire process is equivalent to about 20 cents per gallon of gasoline — a nominal cost when one considers the recent price fluctuations at gasoline pumps across the nation, Dubey said.

A typical extraction facility that could extract all current carbon dioxide emissions would require only an area of one square yard per person in the developed world. A facility of sufficient size could be located in arid regions, since discharged air that is deficient in carbon dioxide could have consequences on nearby plant life.


Using TecEco kiln technology it is possible to run a sequestration cycle based on the magnesium thermodynamic cycle whereby MgO scrubbs CO2 out of the air and becomes a carbonate and then what is not used in the built environment as bricks, blocks pavers etc. is re-calcined back to MgO in a closed system so no CO2 is returned to the atmosphere. The kiln has the following features:

* Grinds and calcines at the same time.
* Runs 25% to 30% more efficiency.
* Can be powered by solar energy or waste heat.
* Brings mineral sequestration and geological sequestration together.
* Captures CO2 for bottling and sale to the oil industry (geological sequestration).
* The products – CaO &/or MgO can be used to sequester more CO2 and then be re-calcined. This cycle can then be repeated.
* Suitable for making reactive reactive MgO.


Eco-Cement Removes CO2 from the Air!

In eco-cement blocks concretes and and mortars the binder is carbonate and the aggregates are preferably wastes. Sequestering carbon in magnesium binders and aggregates in the built environment mimics nature in that carbon is used in the homes or skeletal structures of most plants and animals.

Posted by: andreas buechel on 11 Apr 06

American journalists have a serious responsability. They must for once write against the deepest feelings of Americans and tell them they should support State Intervention, Pay High Taxes and work with Global Institutions which will implement Top-Down Policies. All things Americans fundamentally hate.
Climate Change has been top of the agenda in Europe for a decade and a half, and we have done everything we can to bring Americans to reason, but we failed. It is now the time of the American media and intelligentsia (not sure if there is such a thing), to change the mindset of the Americans. American people must leave everything they hold dear behind, and turn to Reason.
They hold the key.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 11 Apr 06

J. Millan,

My instinct tells me to write you off as the skeptics' favorite parrot. But, I also feel a duty to point some facts to you with the hope you profit.

Yes, temperature dropped considerably after 1998 and a few free wheelers used that to prove global warming came to an end in 1998.

Please, link to

and study that graph carefully. 1997 and 1998 were El Nino years. And, it was a 'super El Nino' according to the surviving villagers on the Pacific side of the Andes.

El Nino is the global climate show stopper with its massive plume of very warm water shifting from the West Pacific to the East Pacific and dumping heat onto US and Central and South America. Temperatures went up and all hell broke loose.

When the El Nino subsided, what as left of the warm water began to make its way back to the Western Pacific. Temperatures fell.

Now, eliminate the 1997 and 1998 bars and what do you see? Through years 1995 to 2004 the temperature went up. Didn't it?

These measurements must be accurate because you and others have used them to convince us the earth's temperature dropped since 1998. Clever isn't it: to know just enough to see that the magician really didn't saw the pretty blond in half. It was an illusion and we enjoyed watching.

Now, please contribute what you know to be fact or at least substantiated by those who have no earthly reason to make statements, in public and for all the world to judge, that, in fact, the earth's temperature is rising.

There is more to the El Nino story and it is fascinating and eventually easily understood. Please, do yourself a favor.

John McCormick

Posted by: John McCormick on 11 Apr 06

What is the image of a possible future that we can work concretely towards today? What restorative "green" products and practices can I adopt now that will improve my quality of life and add or at least keep money in my pocket?

With the poorest in mind, recycled solar is an extremely viable possibility. Plastic 2 liter bottles and dark roof tiles make a low/no cost water sterilization system ( I use them as a solar coldframe that adds at least a month to the growing season (, and have even seen a 2 liter bottle Savonius rotor wind machine ( Solar air heaters and coolers can be made from cans and scrap metal. We have to begin to think on a survival level, a refugee camp level on up.

We should be working for bare maximums, as Buckminster Fuller called them.

We should design them open source. Cameron Sinclair (editor: please add link) is only one person talking about constructing a Net presence for this effort.

We need to think of this as a New World barn-raising.

"Quite clearly, our task is predoninantly metaphysical, for it is how to get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous behavior that will avoid extinction."
R. Buckminster Fuller

My particular vision is explained at

Video of my current solar experiments are available at and through

If you are interested in Buckminster Fuller's synergetic geometry, view

Solar is civil defense

Posted by: gmoke on 11 Apr 06

Alex, friends:

As always, I enjoy your posts and glimpsing your thoughts. As I sit here, drink in hand, mulling over the days events I can't help but think of what my unique role is in the world. I work in a large and well respected science education institution and, incredibly, still need to fight to include things like 'systems thinking' and to really talk about climate change without using words like might, could contribute to blah, blah, blah. So much emphasis on tests!

It is up to each of us to uncover and discover what we can and PUT IT INTO PRACTICE. The uncertain masses will come around, likely in a panic, and will be seeking answers. It is then that we'll need to show them what we've been up to.

Keep going friends, and do send me a note if you feel strongly about a particular concept you think important for 5th graders to start thinking about.

Posted by: Daniel N Smith Jr on 11 Apr 06

One more on recent global warming:

It looks like a steady rise in global temperature to me.

Posted by: Rob Rickey on 12 Apr 06

That temperatures have levelled out since 1998:

That the models are unrelaible:

On models overstating the threat, I quote from James Hansen, in "Natural Science" in 2003: "However, are the IPCC scenarios necessary or even plausible? There are reasons to believe that the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic. First, they ignore changes in emissions, some already underway, due to concerns about global warming. Second, they assume that true air pollution will continue to get worse, with O3 and CH4 and black carbon all greater in 2050 than in 2000. Third, they give short shrift to technology advances that can reduce emissions in the next 50 years…[The] 'current trends' growth rate of climate forcings…is at the low end of the IPCC range of 2-4W/m2. The IPCC scenario of 4 W/m2 requires a 4% per year exponential growth rate of CO2 emissions for 50 years and large growth of air pollution. The 4 W/m2 scenario yields dramatic climate change for the media to fixate upon, but it is implausible." We currently are squarely at the low end of IPCC predicitons.

That hurricanes have had their ups and downs in number and in severity, but generally declined since a 1940s peak: (raw data) and and

I cannot, in good faith, agree with the notion that "nearly every credible scientist in the world now agrees" on this. Certainly, the vast majority that work for the IPCC are in a concensus; but the more I read about the IPCC the more problems I see with it, many of which are brought up by... scientists, some of whom were themselves IPCC members. There are, in fact, a great many that do not agree. 17,000 (over 19,000 by some sources) scientists, including a great many climatologists, signed onto the Oregon Petition, the contents of which I'm sure you are aware, in particular: "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate."

What my arguments do not coincide with is conventional wisdom. I would love to see an actual, credible, scientific explanation as to why, despite a steady -- almost linear -- climb of CO2 levels in the 1970s, global temperatures actually dropped. If there is a causal relationahip between CO2 level increases and global temperature increases, this would seem to at least mitigage that link; even so, this temperature drop has not been explained satisfactorily. I am aware of one model that has accounted for it, but alas, that model took several runs to produce a result similar to what actually happened. Hardly a display of scientific integrity.

And finally, the point of my arguments -- and thus, me -- being ethically questionable. Well, I have to appreciate your candor. Let me just say that I am not advocating for this or that side of the issue. I am asking questions, playing devil's advocate, and gathering perspectives of you folks, who seem to be knowledgable. This is rather an important issue, and it ought to be examined in a scientific manner, which to me means double-blind data gathering and analysis. This standard is not followed today, not has it ever been. I also would like to see politicians removed from the issue completely (thus far, the opposite is true within the IPCC).



Posted by: J. Millan on 12 Apr 06


Not a parrot, not a plant, not in the pocket of an oil company. That's more intrigue than I could handle, so I'll stay satisfied as a safety manager for a transport company, and as a guy who has a strong and growing interest in the issue of climate change (among a great many others).

Which is part of why I am here, sponging information from all sides, including yours, Alex's, etc. You may write me off if you wish, but I am here to ask questions and learn. Thank you for the data, which are instructive. The rub is that El Nino is naturally occurring and has been around for far longer than we've been burning fossil fuels. El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon, so why should its effects on climate change be written out? As I understand it, methane levels increase naturally over time, but we do not factor out methane and re-evaluate the temperature data in its absence.

Now please understand I'm not satisfied in any conclusion except that climate changes naturally over time -- we know that. Effects of man? Certainly possible, but I am still reading and studying all sides, as with most of the rest of this issue. Am I ready to say that climate change ceased in 1998? Well, no. The analysis is interesting, but hardly definitive, and it certainly does not close the book.



Posted by: J. Millan on 12 Apr 06

Please, J., certainly you can do better than that!

The "research" you cite on temperature is a mere opinion piece by an obscure Australian scientist, Bob Carter, connected to ExxonMobil-funded TCS (see ).

The National Center for Policy Analysis is an anti-environmental thinktank -- climate denialists -- funded in part by ExxonMobil (see )

The Hansen quote you cite is primarily used by professional climate skeptics (i.e., paid shills for the oil, coal and car industries) to muddy the waters around the IPCC. Note first of all that Hansen has said in numerous interviews that the actual models themselves are too conservative in their scientific assumptions. Note here that he's saying something else altogether: the the IPCC is being "pessimistic" about its future political assumptions and that Hansen thinks we can change our climate-destroying behaviors more quickly in the future. Hansen has never said that the threat of climate change itself is overstated.

Tropical storms: the raw data you yourself cite shows that there have been an average of 17 a decade since we started measuring and we had nine in the period 2001-2004 alone, while 2005 was the stormiest year on record. Citing "journalism" from two of the world's least credible climate sources, the Washington Times and TCS doesn't change the facts.

The science is overwhelmingly agreed upon by essentially all credible climate scientists.

And as for your last point, it is the most disingenuous of the lot. You're not presenting anything like balance. You're presenting arguments which have been carefully selected (by questionable people in the employ of industries which stand to lose money if we move rapidly to check climate change) to produce doubt in the minds of average members of the American public where no such doubt exists in the scientific community, and thus stall essential action needed to address a giant global problem. In this context, that's not adding perspective, that's lying.

Because I don't have the time to keep countering the lies you're repeating here, I'll cut to the chase. What you're saying is false and it's part of a larger deliberate and very well documented strategy of falsehood.

You seem like a smart guy. If you're really interested in accessing the validity of the various claims, follow the money, but in any case, stop repeating these falsehoods here.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 12 Apr 06


I suppose I probably could, but I'm not really inclined to try. As I said, I'm gathering perspectives and playing devil's advocate. Also, on the matter of climate change, I am not part of a larger anything: I'm a guy (an American one) -- with no association with any organization on any side of the issue -- who happens to be interested in a topic. I am not here to change your mind, or anybody else's. I read your stuff, liked it, and asked questions and raised counterpoints.

As far as I'm concerned, science is science, and the scientific study of somebody "in the pocket" of Exxon is no more or less suspect than the scientific study of somebody in the pocket of a Kyoto-sponsoring government. The important thing to consider is the validity of the facts. Are Bob Carter's conclusions incorrect?

Hansen's words on high-end IPCC climate model overestimations are quite clear. I don't see much of any other way to read them.

"The science is overwhelmingly agreed upon by essentially all credible climate scientists." I never thought that in a forum that welcomes challenge and open discussion an implicit requirement of being considered a "credible" climate scientist would be cohesion to a consensus. The great majority of scientists that we consider great are great because they broke with and defied the consensus of their respective times.

I never said I was trying to present balance. I want to know how you folks react to certain data and ideas. Further, I don't have to produce doubt in the minds of the American public: over here, an overwhelming number of people buy into the notion of anthropogenic global warming. You really think I -- one guy -- am going to try to change their minds? Certainly, you can do better than that.

I think I've seen what I came here to see.


Posted by: J. Millan on 12 Apr 06


Cohesion to a concensus is not necessary: a vague acknowledgement of the facts is.

If you brought forward any data that'd be one thing. But so far all you've done is repeat old arguments crafted by compromised sources.

Climate denialists are rapidly approaching about the same level of scientific credibility as "intelligent design" proponents (and are indeed sometimes funded by the same people). Given that their arguments are being paid for for political reasons -- to delay action which all but a handful of climate scientists say is needed, and immediately -- repeating them doesn't make you a maverick, it makes you culpable.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 12 Apr 06


You just might be right about that first point. Some facts that one might consider acknowledging vaguely:

1: The earth has warmed and cooled several times on its own before mankind was putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
2: Some of both has happened during the time mankind was putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
3: Plenty of scientists disagree with the notion that the effects of man's doing so can be measured -- enough to cast doubt on the notion itself
4: The scientific basis of AGW has been overstated by various "credible" scientists since 1988, from James Hansen's dire warnings before the US Congress to Michael Mann's utterly laughable "hockey stick"

I have yet to see a decent explanation for why temperatures, subject to mankind's meddling (I think some Pink Floyd is in order for this afternoon), decreased during a period of rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions. I haven't seen it here, and I haven't seen it anywhere else. I also have yet to see a decent explanation for why temperatures increasing during a time of absolutely negligible greenhouse gas output (first portion of the 20th century) should be blamed on mankind. These observations -- real life things that happened -- fly in the face of the notion that there is a causal relationship between greenhouse gasses and rising temperatures. None of the climate change advocates I've met like to talk about these things. And believe me, having attended American universities and taken classes at one of the leading public/environmental policy schools, I've met plenty of such advocates both in faculty (Princeton-educated) and in student body, nearly all of whom are extremely intelligent and quite credible.

I don't find it constructive to dismiss these points out of hand, saying they don't matter, or they're just aberrations. By that metric, the weak warming trend might be an aberration. Nor do I find it constructive to dismiss as bought-off reactionaries the people who bring them up. They, like you, seek a better understanding of what's going on in our world. We know of a temperature increase of roughly one-third of one degree in roughly the last 150 years (or is it a century?; my data are not here). My friend, the earth was warming well before we were driving cars and making quite so much steel.

Asking questions about, and pointing out inconsistencies within, a theory are not nearly on the level of culpability for this problem, if indeed it is one. I will not cast such personal aspersions.

Compromised sources and the involvement of politics? Scientists who get funding from energy companies are not necessarily going to produce compromised data any more than will scientists who get funding from the IPCC. Both have agendas, and both have an interest in the outcome of whatever research they fund. If there's no AGW, Royal Dutch Shell is in the clear. If there is AGW, the IPCC gets another round of funding for themselves. The climate change movement has transcended the status of a movement: it is now an industry with its own official bureaucracy.


Posted by: J. Millan on 12 Apr 06

I strongly recommend putting RealClimate on your reading list, since they refute (of at great detailed length) essentially every point you raise.

You are of course welcome to your opinion, but it is an opinion nowhere near the scientific mainstream.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 12 Apr 06


We all have lots more enriching things to do and say than to continue piling on you. This is my last attempt to point you out into the open and away from your theories and -now quite evident-misunderstandings of the science of atmospherics and the workings of peer-reviewed scientists.

Look again at the graph and google El Nino years; then link to the Mauna Loa records of monthly readings of CO2 since 1959 and mark the annual average against thoe El Nino years. A bit high aren't they. Finally, read up on the multiple papers that attribute increased global temperatures with El Nino events. That is about all I have the energy to offer you.

And, if you really meant to say "Compromised sources and the involvement of politics? Scientists who get funding from energy companies are not necessarily going to produce compromised data any more than will scientists who get funding from the IPCC." Firstly, IPCC is not the source of climate change research dollars and research is only as good as the community of scientists who review the results say it is.

Publishing the piece by Lindzen in the Wall Street Journal is not the way an honest scientist invites his/her work to be reviewed. The WSJ does not/would not/could not post a science debate on his paper. Its not the role of the WSJ to be a science referee.

And, Mr. Carter cannot subject newspaper readers to his massive pronouncement that global warming stopped in 1998. It is fraud calling itself science because he is not willing to subject his opinion to the court of scientific excellence...peer review hosted by a science journal. Heck, if we went that route, Rush L. could be the mouthpiece of the Micheals, Carters and Lindzens.


John McCormick

Posted by: John McCormick on 12 Apr 06

Wonderful post, Alex. It occurs to me that a few decades from now, anyone who holds the attitudes of the current average citizen will be regarded as criminal or insane.

About the climate change skeptic. I just spent way too much time on another forum arguing with someone who had the same set of arguments. Who are these people? I don't want to seem paranoid, but they certainly can hijack a discussion.

Posted by: Bart Anderson on 13 Apr 06


By all means, go forth and enrich. I will say, with all sincerity, that I wish you and the rest of the good people here the best of luck. No punchline. You folks are intelligent and dedicated to your cuase, and I think that's quite admirable. I wish i knew more people here in the US who were more dedicated to this or that cause -- or generally more knowledgable about policy issues -- with more gusto.

What I find surprising, by people who say up fron that that are champions of science, is that here -- like in many other places -- the theory of AGW is taken as absolute fact and there is little or no room for debate on the matter. When it is questioned in good faith, as I have done, aspersions are cast. That's hardly scientific. After all, there are scientists who disagree with this notion, and I don't believe anyone here has been elected as qualified to decide who is "credible" and who is not.


Criminal or insane? This is rather like Alex's indication that, because I'm asking questions about an important issue, I'm "culpable" for that issue's existence. "Who are these people?" I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm an American ("Oh, that's why...") who has taken ecology and public policy courses -- oh, so many public policy courses at universities both liberal and moderately conservative. I drive a very fuel-efficient car, and my longest drive of the day is typically 4.5 miles. I heat my home as little as I can stand. I throw away a little as I can. I recycle. I oppose oil drilling in Alaska and cutting down the jungles. I'm a huge fan of nature, which I think we have no business trying to manage, partly because when we do we invariably fail. I oppose Kyoto but support reducing pollution, and yes, you can do that and be intellectually honest (the US is doing better with emissions than Canada, a Kyoto signatory). I think AGW should be studied carefully in a double-blind fashion because it is an important issue even if there is an outside chance that it could be a problem; but, I an not yet convinced of a causal link (slight warming over less than .00000004% of the age of the earth does not alarm me).

That is hardly criminal, hardly insane, and it hardly makes me guilty of a crusade against people trying to save us from ourselves.


Posted by: J. Millan on 13 Apr 06

J - re: criminal or insane. I was making two completely different points.

1. A few decades in the future, attitudes will change so dramatically that what is normal today will be considered criminal or insane 20 years from now. This is not such a stretch, since even within our lifetimes, similar changes in social norms have taken place, for example in matters of race and gender.

2. I have noticed sophisticated trolls on various boards with a similar set of arguments as yours. Are you willing to point to a personal website or reveal your identity and background?

Two completely different points. No accusation of criminality or insanity. Sorry if it was confusing.

Posted by: Bart Anderson on 13 Apr 06


No problem.

Sorry to say I don't have a personal website. Closest thing is my Photos on Yahoo (user: bonzomillan, and I'm the ugly one who is usually behind the camera for a reason), where you can see I'm just a guy who is working on his house and having a beer with friends.

I work as a safety manager for a transport company, the parent of which is headquartered in the UK. In college, I studied politics and public policy, hence my eventual interest in things discussed here. I belong to no party and no political organization, and the company I work for as a safety guy is the only organization that I get a paycheck from. I donate money to the Marine Corps Scholarhsip Fund and I adopt a poor family for Christmas. These are my only charity expenses.

I like Pink Floyd, Rachmaninov, Franz Kline, cigars, Guinness, and single-malt Scotch. If I did not have a barbeque grill, I would starve.

Really, that's it. I'm not too intriguing.

And again, I am not here to change minds -- I am here to gain knowledge. I thought Alex's stuff was well-written and thought out. I was simply playing devil's advocate. Further, I relish a good discussion, all my friends -- the great majority of whom are liberal, some socialist -- will back me up on this. I happen to fall to the Right usually; my group of friends is proof that I have respect for the Left.

Lastly, I sincerely wish you all the best of luck. I'm glad to see this stuff is getting talked about. (By the way, I don't know too many other people who know what Gazprom is, so: cheers.) I think a robust debate on just about everything is needed, so I applaud you guys. There's not enough of that in my neck of the woods.


Posted by: J. Millan on 13 Apr 06

Sorry for the paranoia, J. As you may know, there is a disinformation campaign by Exxon and the usual anti-science activities by the right. Also, the Bush administration has been regularly censoring scientists. This discussion is not happening in a vacuum.

A lay forum such as this may not be the best place for a start-from-zero debate about the science of climate change. I've been attending lectures by scientists about climate and reading their books (lately, "The Weathermakers" by Tim Flannery). In those venues, one gets the technical debates and specifics of the research. There's no shortage of critical thinking and skepticism there.

If you like talking about Gazprom, could I recommend two sites for energy junkies: The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin? (disclaimer - I'm co-editor for EB). Best wishes to all.

Posted by: Bart Anderson on 13 Apr 06

No big deal, Bart, my life is simply not exciting enough to get paranoid about! I am most certainly not a part of Exxon or of any campaign. I like stirring the pot too much to be a part of any establishment, and I have more than a couple points of disagreement with President Bush.

I know this is not the first and last place to look around for info on this issue, but it's a good site -- I've gone everywhere from NASA to Real Climate (good call, Alex). It's a hell of a lot of information to sort through. I might check out the Flannery book at a later date, and would appreciate suggestions on others.

Gazprom... They're in my sights at the moment because their swallong up private energy companies is anything but a sign of the free-market liberalism that Putin appears to champion openly. I've more to read on Gazprom, but this is off-topic.


Posted by: J. Millan on 14 Apr 06



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