17 May 2010

He's Baaack

Joe Romm is back on the attack. After he turned down a debate with me that would have raised $20,000 for Doctors Without Borders, he was quiet for a while. But it didn't last long.

What has Romm's knickers in a twist this time?

Apparently it is the following quote of mine which appeared in an interesting Boston Globe article profiling the many-decades relationship of Kerry Emanuel and Richard Lindzen.
“If these two guys can’t agree on the basic conclusions of the social significance of [climate change science], how can we expect 6.5 billion people to?’’ said Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado at Boulder professor who writes a climate blog.
The point here should be obvious -- not everyone will come to agreement on the social significance of climate science, and it is not simply because they have different views on the science, as the Globe article well explains. Action on climate change will have to be based upon a broad agenda of common interests beyond carbon and climate, a key point of our recently issued Hartwell Paper. Agreement on climate science or what it signifies is unnecessary for action to occur.

In classic Romm fashion he starts with an outright lie -- "Lindzen apparently doesn’t want any meaningful action at all — much like Pielke." He then decides apparently that because agrees with me, he needs to pretend that I said the opposite of what I said, so he can then impeach that view that I don't hold. Twisted, I know.

He writes (emphasis in original):

Since when do we have to wait until 6.5 billion people agree before we act on a global problem of massive social significance? Somehow we managed to eradicate small pox without the entire planet adjudicating the risks.

More to the point, we managed to save the ozone layer without the entire planet agreeing on the basic conclusions of the social significance of [ozone science]. And yes, the climate change problem is a quantum leap difference in scale and difficulty than the ozone problem.
Right, Joe. This is exactly my point. I'm glad you agree. But really, is this the best you can do? No wonder you declined to debate!

I fear that Romm is going to explode when The Climate Fix comes out. It won't be a pretty sight.


  1. Roger, you and Joe deserve each other.

  2. Roger,

    To get past Romm's ad hominem and address some substance, is your comment about, "If these two guys can't agree..." substantively different from juxtaposing Peter Duesberg and Robert Gallo on the connection between HIV and AIDS and saying, "If these two guys can't agree on the social significance of antiretroviral therapy, how can we expect 6.5 billion people to?"

    You have made other arguments for the irrelevance of climate science to climate policy, but I don't get this particular one: How does Lindzen---a real outlier in the distribution of scientific opinion---have any relevance to what 6.5 billion people should think about mainstream climate science?

    The Boston Globe article also says that "Lindzen ... smokes Marlboro Lights and doesn’t worry much about dying from them," but no sensible person would conclude that 6.5 billion people should therefore reject the relevance of cancer research to tobacco policy.

  3. -2-Jonathan Gilligan

    Thanks for the comment and question.

    The comment quoted in the Globe was not related to the irrelevance of climate science to policy. It was made in the context of noting that KE and RL have so much in common -- disciplinary background, live in the same community, presumably similar socio-economic status, within a half-generation in age, a common political outlook, both are acknowledged experts in what they do, etc.

    And yet, even with these many points in common, they do not come close to agreeing on climate.

    Thus, my statement, if these people with so much in common can't come to agreement, then it puts the prospects for getting people more broadly around the world to reach agreement on what to think about climate change into context.

    The point is that of course that agreement on facts or significance of those facts is not a precondition for political action to occur. As Walter Lippmann once suggested, the goal of politics is not to make people think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.

    Finally, I think that AIDS is a particularly bad analogy for climate change. The issues are nothing alike. Mike Hulme is excellent on the many meanings of climate change.

  4. You're right, Roger. Strawman? I think they call it.
    Even amongst experts who agree that we are putting our planet at risk, getting the world to agree about what to do about is an even bigger problem.Especially when what is proposed has potentially economic implications. People have legitimate skepticism and reluctance when the solutions automatically involve money. Coming up with a win-win situation or reasonable compromise that 6.5 billion people are willing to accept is a monumental task.
    If anything, your comment implies that we ought to work harder to create policies that are perceived as the most effective and beneficial for the greatest number of people. Here you are explaining how stubborn people are in their views on CC. Joe Romm and some of the commenters here are clearly demonstating your point!

  5. Roger,

    I'm probably being thick here, or inarticulate, or both; but there's something I still don't understand about what you're saying.

    To condense what I'm saying: Regardless whether scientific consensus is important to policy, Lindzen's dissent from mainstream climate science is irrelevant to the public's ability to trust the scientific consensus as represented by the IPCC WG1 reports.

    I fail to see why Lindzen is remotely relevant to anything. The fact that Lindzen disagrees with Emanuel tells me nothing. My point with HIV/AIDS is not that they're remotely alike in the policy realm, but that in the scientific realm Gallo and Duesberg are also of similar age, education, socioeconomic status, and are both acknowledged experts on viruses, yet they can't agree about the science of HIV.

    The fact that two similar experts disagree wildly is irrelevant to the public's ability to judge the scientific certainty of the HIV-AIDS connection because even though these two people with so much in common can't come to agreement, there is an incredibly broad consensus that Gallo is right and Duesberg is wrong.

    While there is not so strong a consensus on AGW science, there is a strong enough one that Lindzen's dissent seems a red herring.

  6. -5-Jonathan Gilligan

    I'm sorry, but I don't understand your point, so let me try again.

    My comment was not simply about their scientific disagreements, which as you say, can be found in any academic department among any two academics.

    Maybe if I had said that if 2 faculty members in an atmospheric sciences department at MIT can't reach agreement on what to do about climate change, it should tell us something about the limits of trying to get a larger consensus on the societal implications of climate science more generally.

    It does not seem like this would be a controversial claim. Just look at opinion polls to see that not everyone agrees on this subject. And yet, considerable effort is being spent trying to convince everyone of this or that. Such efforts are mostly wasted in my view.

    I do know that there are some people who believe that certain views on climate science necessarily compel certain actions (what I call tornado politics in The Honest Broker) -- and there are probably some for whom this is true. But more generally, agreement on climate science or its implications is neither necessary nor sufficient for reaching a political agreement on actions that result in an accelerated decarbonization of the economy and improved adaptation

    The simple reason that I focused on Lindzen and Emanuel is because I was having a conversation with a reporter about their relationship and what it might tell us about the broader debate over climate.

    The public largely sides with Emanuel, not Lindzen, so for those wanting action, that battle has been won.

  7. Here is another way that I made the same point a while back:

    "A simple thought experiment illustrates the logic of this argument. Imagine that Congress were to be composed of 535 global change scientists, instead of its current members.
    Each scientist has a doctoral degree in a relevant scientific field such as climatology or
    biogeochemistry, and thus has the ability to understand in great detail the sciences of global change. In this imaginary Congress there would be no need for communication between scientists and policymakers because the scientists would be the policymakers. What would
    debate on policy responses to global change look like in this Congress? It would probably look a lot like the very public and rancorous debate over "global warming" between global change scientists of the last several years: often misleading, sometimes personal, unresolved, with a subtext of value differences -- much like debate in the real Congress!"


  8. Roger,

    "The public largely sides with Emanuel, not Lindzen, so for those wanting action, that battle has been won."

    This sentence of yours shows me that we agree, but are somehow talking past one another. I may have misunderstood your comment to the Globe.

    The only point I was trying to make was a slightly different one---something mostly about pure science, not policy: "The public and the scientific community largely side with Emanuel, not Lindzen, so for those interested in the purely scientific aspects, that battle has been won."

    Whether or not my statement is correct is not directly relevant to policy because consensus on the purely scientific aspects is neither necessary nor sufficient for action.

    We don't need to debate fine points about the weight different actors might put on scientific certainty in making their policy choices because we agree that it is possible to make policy without scientific consensus and that scientific consensus does not automatically produce policy consensus.

    If you disagree with my assertion that Lindzen's disagreement with Emanuel says nothing useful about the state of a purely scientific consensus, then let's agree to disagree; that question is probably not worth belaboring further, since it's less important to policy than it's often made out to be.

  9. Here's a thought experiment.

    Requirements. Presenter, 4 questions, 10 climate scientists, a lie detector and 100 British citizens who have no personal stake in the energy debate.

    After the questions to scientists, the audience would be asked. “Do agree with the British government's targets of a 30% cut in Co2 by 2020 and 80% by 2050 ?”

    Questions to scientists :-

    1) Do you believe the British government's targets of a 30% cut in Co2 emissions by 2020 and 80% by 2050 are necessary ?

    2) Why ?

    3) Please explain exactly why you believe human emissions are largely responsible for increases (if any) in global temperatures over the last 10 years.

    4) Have you told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ?

    I would be absolutely shocked to get less than a 90% negative response. That's what matters, not Lindzen or other sceptics.

  10. Laura said... 4

    "Even amongst experts who agree that we are putting our planet at risk, getting the world to agree about what to do about is an even bigger problem."

    IMHO The world will never agree, nor does it need to.

    Each country/person has their own motivations for choosing this or that energy.

    Trying to agree on a common motivation, common goal, common solution is improbable.

    The only place I will 'happily' agree to go shopping with my Mrs's is Sears. I get to look at tools, she gets to look at housewares.

    If we had to agree the purpose of going to Sears before leaving the house, we would never leave the house.

    The climate debate adds a further complication.

    Not only do the proponents insist on agreement on why we are going to Sears, they also want to insist that once we get there, we will buy a new refrigerator regardless of it's cost.

  11. -10-Harrywr2

    Excellent, much better said than what I said in response to Jonathan. Thanks!

  12. "The public largely sides with Emanuel, not Lindzen, so for those wanting action, that battle has been won."

    With respect, that's not the popular landscape where I am, at all. Since the advent of Climategate, presumptions of the dispassionate and apolitical nature of climate sciences have evaporated. Popular understanding of the existence of uncertainties associated with catastrophic projections has exploded and the perception of the UEA/CRU, including the two reporting enquiries, have provided a fresh and seemingly inexhaustible source of mockery and jocularity.

    Even non-environmental sciences UEA students that I've spoken to are miserable at the prospect of receiving UEA degrees in a couple of years, because they're acutely aware of the popular perception of their university - and its arm-waving chancellor, of course.

    I don't discuss climatology and my opinions of its key players, its advocacy or its political pollutants with my friends. They're not interested like I am. But I do listen. What I hear, across a broad political, demographical base, fits tightly with Lindzen's position and not Emmanuel's.

    I would not describe the AGW fight as won by the AGW crowd. Many of those that previously embraced it did so in well-meaning acts of perceived virtue. They rejected their religions in favour of science, not in favour of a replacement faith. The faithful may well dissipate more rapidly into the crowd as this new religion of doom demands increasing demonstrations of faith through acts of self-flagellation - inevitable, as the church of climatology influences social policy in the ways it perceivably desires.

  13. The shot of Nicholson would be even funnier and more appropriate if Nicholson weren't so good looking and generally identifiable as a fine actor with a world-class personality.

  14. Roger,
    Just a thank you for your great blog

    thanks for link to pdf (The Development of the U.S. Global Change Research Program: 1987 to 1994), your early detection and analysis of the issues of the connection b/w science and policy is noteworthy

    great doghouse cartoon too - I admire the way you combat the slings and arrows of your critics with calm detachment and humour

    your blog is a great model of those who advocate (1) transparency (2) open engagement, including engagement with critics (the judith curry principles)

  15. "Each country/person has their own motivations for choosing this or that energy."

    The market says that virtually everyone chooses their energy based on cost.

    If nuclear, wind, or photovoltaics could deliver retail electricity at 5 cents a kilowatt-hour or less, there would be no need to "choose" an energy source.

  16. So did someone with $20,000 to donate to Medecin sans Frontieres, who actually WANTED to donate money, decide not to donate based on two medium profile climate bloggers not debating. If so that is really stupid!!!

    If that person wants to donate money they should just donate.

    Donation = a good thing
    Subtle blackmail* = not a good thing

    *(if you don't do 'x' I won't do something good is not that far removed from - I'll do something bad if you don't do 'x')

  17. Anyone who thinks that beyond a small group of loud mouthed hyperventilating extremists most people side with the claims of catastrophic AGW is kidding themselves.
    By the way, in regards to the ozone hole, do we not still have ozone holes forming every year?

  18. I had naively thought that the current financial crisis would have put paid to any idea that the majority of academics, pundits or self-proclaimed experts could be assumed to be correct on anything. I had thought the basics of any argument that seemed to be based largely on closed-minded opinion and iffy unvalidated models would be considered more carefully by academia than before. Alas no.

  19. markbahner said... 15

    "The market says that virtually everyone chooses their energy based on cost."

    I think one has to add 'intangible costs' to 'market cost'

    Country A is going think long and hard before becoming dependent on an energy source provided by country B if they have a long history of animosity.

    At the end of WWII France had 3 potential suppliers of coal. The US, UK or Germany.
    The shipping costs from the US were prohibitive.

    The French added an 'intangible cost' to the market cost of coal. They would rather pay more for their energy then be dependent on the English or Germans.

    If I go back to my shopping trips with my wife. My wife and I place a high value on 'marital harmony'. Sears offers us both an enjoyable shopping experience. JC Penney doesn't offer us both an enjoyable shopping experience. Hence, we'll shop at Sears even if the prices are a little lower at JC Penney's

    The 'climate debate' for the most part is a debate over what intangible 'environmental costs' should be added to fossil fuel use.

    I don't care about drowning polar bears. The cost I'm willing to assign is zero.

    I commute to work on a moped. It is my primary means of transportation. I care about not sending money to nasty dictators.

    Others may have different intangible costs they assign to the price of fossil fuels.

    If I look at Chinese Coal reserves, a substantial portion of it is lignite.
    Lignite has a tendency towards spontaneous combustion.
    The deeper one goes in a mine the more methane seepage becomes a problem.

    Mining lignite in a methane rich environment is pretty close to suicidal. What is a reasonable intangible cost to assign to thousands of coal miners in China being killed in mine accidents every year?

    If I look at the various 'Global Decarbonisation' justifications they all use a global average market fossil fuel cost and then add a large(many would say inflated) environmental cost in order to make fossil fuel energy the least desirable energy option.

    If I localize fossil fuel costs by assigning shipping costs, add a modest intangible for energy security and a modest intangible for the lives of coal miners I don't need a huge environmental cost to justify decarbonizing the vast majority of the world.

    IMHO 'Climate Science' has harmed itself because it falsely believed it needed to justify a huge environmental cost in order to compel decarbonization.