May 3, 2013

Climate Science 1

Naomi Oreskes: Merchants of Doubt

[As] one leading scientist said about [Bill Nierenberg's 1983 National Academy of Science report, Changing Climate: Report of the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee],
Edward Frieman:
We knew it was garbage, so we just ignored it. …
(16 March 2007)
Unfortunately, garbage doesn't just go away.
Someone has to deal with it, and that someone is all of us:
  • journalists who report scientific findings,
  • specialist professional bodies who represent the scientific fields, and
  • all of us as citizens. …

Global warming is a big problem, and to solve it we have to stop listening to disinformation. …
We all need a better understanding of
  • what science really is,
  • how to recognize real science when we see it, and
  • how to separate it from the garbage.

(Merchants of Doubt, 2010, p 265)



Organized Delay

The White House Effect


Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

  • Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, New York, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway.


    The Pew Center for the People and the Press gave the number believing that there is "solid evidence the Earth is warming" as 71% in 2008, but in 2009, the answer to that same question was only 57%.
    (p 169)

    [Scientific] research on carbon dioxide and climate has been going on for 150 years.
    • In the mid-nineteenth century … John Tyndall first established that CO2 [in the atmosphere] traps heat and keeps it from escaping to outer space. …
    • [In] the early twentieth century … Svante Arrhenius realized that CO2 released to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels could alter the Earth's climate, and … Guy Callendar compiled the first empirical evidence that the "greenhouse effect" might already be detectable.
    • In the 1960s, American scientists started to warn our political leaders that this could be a real problem …
      Yet they failed to act on it.
    There are many reasons why the United States has failed to act on global warming, but at least one is the confusion [orchestrated] by Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer.

    1979: A Seminal Year for Climate

    [In] the late 1950s [Roger Revelle] had obtained funding for … Charles David Keeling, to measure C02 systematically. …
    Roger Revelle [Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography]
    By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more C02 in our atmosphere than at present [and] this will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate … could occur.
    (Restoring the Quality of Our Environment: Report of the Panel on Environmental Pollution, The White House, Washington DC, 1965)

    Lyndon Johnson:
    This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
    (Special Message to Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty, 8 February 1965)

    [In] the 1970s … drought-related famines in Africa and Asia drew attention to the vulnerability of world food supplies. The famines were … noticed by the Jasons, a committee of elite scientists, mostly physicists, first gathered in the early 1960s to advise the US government on national security issues. …
    Gordon MacDonald et al:
    The Sahelian drought and the Soviet grain failure … illustrate the fragility of the world's crop producing capacity, particularly in those marginal areas where small alterations in temperature and precipitation can bring about major changes in total productivity.
    (The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, Jason Technical Report JSR-78-07, SRI International, Arlington, Virginia, 1979)
    [They] developed a climate model, which showed that doubling the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere … would result in:
    [An] increase of average surface temperature of 2.4 C.
    [And a warming of the poles by 10°C to 12°C.]
    (p 171)

    None of this was new.
    Professional climate modelers had already published papers that said pretty much the same thing …
    Robert White [Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]
    We now understand that industrial wastes, such as carbon dioxide released during the burning of fossil fuels, can have consequences for climate that pose a considerable threat to future society …
    The scientific problems are formidable, the technological problems, unprecedented, and the potential economic and social impacts, ominous.
    (Oceans and Climate-Introduction, Oceanus, 21:2-3, 1978)
    [But] while the Jason study found nothing new, the fact that it was a Jason study:
    [Stimulated] some excitement in White House circles.
    [However, since] the Jasons were mostly physicists, not climate scientists … President Carter's science advisor, asked the National Academy of Sciences … to empanel a review of the Jason study.

    [The NAS] turned to MIT professor Jule Charney. …
    Charney [invited] leading climate modelers Syukuro Manabe from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and James E Hansen at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies ‒ to present the results of their new three-dimensional climate models. …
    Only two sets of models were available; one, due to Syukuro Manabe, exhibited a climate sensitivity of 2 °C, the other, due to James E Hansen, exhibited a climate sensitivity of 4 °C.
    Richard Kerr:
    According to Manabe, Charney chose 0.5 °C as a not-unreasonable margin of error, subtracted it from Manabe’s number, and added it to Hansen’s.
    Thus was born the 1.5 °C-to-4.5 °C range of likely climate sensitivity …
    (Three Degrees of Consensus, Science 305 (5686): 932–4, 13 August 2004)
    (1 April 2013)
    (p 172)

    Jule Charney et al:
    We have examined with care all known negative feedback mechanisms, such as increase in low or middle cloud amount, and have concluded that the oversimplifications and inaccuracies in the models are not likely to have vitiated the principal conclusions that there will be appreciable warming. …
    (Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment, Report of an Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, July 23-27, 1979, to the Climate Research Board, National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington DC, 1979)
    [Clouds,] winds, and ocean circulation did complicate matters — but those complications were "second-order effects" — things that make a difference in the second decimal place, but not the first. …

    [The question was:
    How soon would these changes occur? …
    [It was known] that the oceans have a huge "thermal inertia" …
    The available evidence suggested that ocean mixing was sufficient to delay the Earth's atmospheric warming for several decades.
    (p 173)
    Verner Suomi [Chairman, NAS Climate Research Board]:
    The ocean, the great and ponderous flywheel of the global climate system, may be expected to slow the course of observable climatic change.
    A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.
    (Carbon Dioxide and Climate, 1979)

    Organizing Delay: The Second and Third Academy Assessments

    The next Academy study to address the anthropogenic warming problem [was a] letter report was submitted in April 1980.
    Chaired by [Nobel prize winning] economist Thomas Schelling … the committee included Roger Revelle, Bill Nierenberg, and McGeorge Bundy [—] national security advisor to presidents Kennedy and Johnson. …
    Thomas Schelling:
    The credible range of effects is extremely broad …
    By the middle of the next century, we may have a climate almost as different from today's as today's is from the peak of the last major glaciation.
    At the other extreme, we may only experience noticeable but not necessarily unfavorable effects around mid-century or later. …
    (p 174)

    [Schelling argued climate] change wouldn't produce new kinds of climate [— it] would simply change the distribution of climatic zones on Earth.
    [This suggested] that we could continue to burn fossil fuels without restriction and deal with the consequences through migration and adaptation.
    Thomas Schelling:
    [Past human migrations] to and throughout the New World subjected large numbers of people — together with their livestock, food crops, and culture — to drastically changed climate.
    Schelling acknowledged that these historic migrations occurred in eras with few or no national boundaries …
    [Nevertheless, he] suggested that adaptation would be the best response.

    [Charney's group had suggested that climate impacts would be delayed by the thermal inertia of the oceans for several decades.]
    [During] that time [according to Schelling the price] of fossil fuel would probably go up, and so usage would go down.
    Thomas Schelling:
    [This] will make adaptation to climate change easier and may permit more absorption of carbon into non-atmospheric sinks.
    It will also permit conversion to alternative energy sources at a lower cumulative carbon dioxide concentration …
    [It] is likely that the sooner we begin the transition from fossil fuels the easier the transition will be. …

    {In view of the uncertainties, controversies, and complex linkages surrounding the carbon dioxide issue, and the possibility that some of the greatest uncertainties will be reduced within the decade …
    [It] seems to most of us that the near-term emphasis should be on research, with as low a political profile as possible …}
    [The problem would be dealt with naturally by market forces; therefore,] there was no need for regulation now.

    Considering all the other [scientific] uncertainties that Schelling emphasized, his faith in the free market [was remarkable.]
    [In any case,] his predictions … turned out to be entirely wrong …
    [Fossil fuel] use has risen dramatically over the past three decades even as global warming has accelerated.
    (p 175)
    Thomas Schelling:
    We do not know enough to address most of these questions right now.
    We believe that we can learn faster than the problem can develop.

    John Perry [Meteorologist and Chief Staff Officer, NAS Climate Research Board]:
    Physically, a doubling of carbon dioxide is no magic threshold …
    If we have good reason to believe that a 100% increase in carbon dioxide will produce significant impacts on climate, then we must have equally good reason to suspect that even the small increase we have already produced may have subtly altered our climate …
    Climate change is not a matter for the next century …
    [We] are most probably doing it right now. …

    The problem is already upon us …
    [We] must learn very quickly indeed.
    (Energy and Climate: Today's Problem, Not Tomorrow's, Climatic Change, September 1981)
    Perry would be proven right, but Schelling's view would prevail politically. …
    (p 176)

    {The [Congressional] Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee — chaired by Bill Nierenberg [was in place by October, 1980.]
    [It included Thomas] Schelling, and [other economists] who would support his views … William Nordhaus [and Gary Yohe].}

    Most National Academy reports are written collectively, reviewed by all the committee members, and then reviewed again by outside reviewers.
    Changes are made by the authors of the various sections and by the chairperson, and the report is accepted and signed by all the authors.
    An Executive Summary, or synthesis, sometimes written by the chairperson, sometimes by Academy staff, is also reviewed to ensure that it accurately reflects the contents of the study.
    That didn't happen here. …
    The Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee — chaired by Bill Nierenberg — could not agree on an integrated assessment, so they settled for chapters that were individually authored and signed.
    The result, Changing Climate: Report of the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee, was really two reports —
    • five chapters detailing the likelihood of anthropogenic climate change written by natural scientists, and
    • two chapters on emissions and climate impacts by economists …
    [With a synthesis which] sided with the economists, not the natural scientists. …
    (p 177)

    The physical scientists allowed that many details were unclear … but they broadly agreed that the issue was very serious. …
    None of the physical scientists suggested that accumulating C02 was not a problem, or that we should simply wait and see.
    But that's precisely what the economists' chapters, as well as the synthesis, argued. …

    The report's first chapter … focused on future energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. …
    [The economists] considered [that: while] the most likely scenario [was a doubling of C02] by 2065 …
    [It is] unwise to dismiss the possibility that a doubling may occur in the first half of the twenty-first century.
    Yet they did just that.

    What could be done to stop climate change?
    According to Nordhaus, not much.
    (p 178)

    The most effective action would be to impose a large permanent carbon tax, but that would be hard to implement and enforce.
    William Nordhaus and Gary Yohe:
    A significant reduction in the concentration of C02 will require very stringent policies, such as hefty taxes on fossil fuels …
    The strategies suggested later [in this report] by Schelling — climate modification or simply adaptation [—] are likely to be more economical ways of adjusting …
    Whether the imponderable side effects on society on coastlines and agriculture, on life in high latitudes, on human health, and simply the unforeseen — will in the end prove more costly than a stringent abatement of greenhouse gases, we do not … know.
    (Changing Climate, p 131)
    Rather than confront their own caveat that changes might happen much sooner than their model predicted — and thus be much more costly than prevention — the economists assumed that serious changes were so far off as to be essentially discountable. …

    [The natural] scientists were … worried about … about rapid, unidirectional [climate] change forced by carbon dioxide.
    Such change would seriously challenge ecosystems that couldn't adapt in only a few decades, as well as human infrastructure.
    But Schelling rejected this view, insisting that the real issue was climate change and that the impact of carbon dioxide needed to be assessed together with "other climate-changing activities," such as dust, land use changes, and natural variability.
    [That is, the effects of human activities on the climate were more important the individual causes of those effects.]
    It was wrong to single out C02 for special consideration.

    Common sense might suggest that if carbon dioxide is the cause of climate change, then controlling it is the obvious solution …
    [But no …]
    Thomas Schelling:
    It would be wrong to commit ourselves to the principle that if fossil fuels and carbon dioxide are where the problem arises, that must also be where the solution lies.
    [Instead it] might be best … to treat the symptoms [of rising GHGs] through [adaptation or] deliberate weather modification …
    (p 179)

    [This is] equivalent to arguing that medical researchers shouldn't try to cure cancer, because that would be too expensive, and in any case people in the future might decide that dying from cancer is not so bad.
    [It is] based on [a standard] economic principle — the same principle invoked by Fred Singer when discussing acid rain — namely, discounting.
    A dollar today is worth more to us than a dollar tomorrow and a lot more than a dollar a century from now, so we can "discount" faraway costs. …
    [The question is: do environmental goods and services depreciate with inflation in the same way as normal physical and financial capital?
    Or is their real value maintained over time — or even increased with due to increasing scarcity?]
    Schelling had a point: if changes were a century away, then it would be impossible to predict how troubling they would be.
    Perhaps by 2100 everyone would be living indoors, with agriculture pursued in controlled hydroponic environments.
    The [problem was that most of the] physical scientists on the panel … thought that significant changes were much closer, and that carbon dioxide was the problem.

    So Nierenberg's committee had produced a report with two quite different views:
    • the physical scientists viewed accumulating C02 as a serious problem;
    • the economists argued that it wasn't.
    [Yet it was the economists view that bracketed] the report — providing its first and last chapters.

    A fair synthesis might have laid out the conflicting views and tried to reconcile them or at least account for the differences.
    [Instead, it sided with] the position advocated by Nordhaus and Schelling. …
    [If viewed] in terms of energy, global pollution, and worldwide environmental damage, the 'C02 problem' appears intractable …
    [But if] viewed as a problem of changes in local environmental factors — rainfall, river flow, sea level — the myriad of individual incremental problems take their place among the other stresses to which nations and individuals adapt.
    [Serious] sea level rise — [such as] might make some areas of the world uninhabitable … could be addressed through migration. …
    William Nierenberg:
    Not only have people moved [in the past] but they have taken with them their horses, dogs, children, technologies, crops, livestock, and hobbies.
    It is extraordinary how adaptable people can be.
    {[In fact,] historical mass migrations had been accompanied by massive suffering, and typically people moved under duress and threat of violence.}
    (p 180)

    … Nierenberg's argument was the same as Schelling's had been in 1980:
    • research, not policy action, was necessary, and …
    • that research should take the lowest possible political profile. …
    The report flew in the face of virtually every other scientific analysis of the issue, yet presented almost no evidence to support its radical recommendation to do nothing.
    (p 181)

    [Nevertheless, it did provide] the White House [with ammunition] to counter scientific work being done by the Environmental Protection Agency [advocating] immediate action to reduce coal use. …
    New York Times:
    The Academy [has] found that since there is no politically or economically realistic way of heading off the greenhouse effect, strategies must be prepared to adapt to a 'high temperature world.'
    [Except] it wasn't the Academy [—] it was Bill Nierenberg and a handful of economists.

    [It was no coincidence … that Nierenberg gave the White House just what it wanted …
    … Energy Department officials [had made it clear to the committee that:]
    [The department] did not approve of … speculative, alarmist, 'wolf-crying' scenarios.

    Tom Pestorius [Senior Policy Analyst, White House Office of Science and Technology]:
    [It is] technology [that] will ultimately be the answer to the problems of providing energy and protecting the environment.
    Nierenberg's … report pioneered all the major themes behind later efforts to block greenhouse gas regulation [bar] one.
    [He] didn't deny the legitimacy of climate science.
    (p 182)

    He simply ignored it in favor of the claims [made by economists] that:
    • treating symptoms rather than causes would be less expensive …
    • new technology would solve [any] problems that might appear [so long as government didn't interfere] and
    • [failing this], we could [always] migrate. …

    A handful of economists in the late 1960s had realized that free market economics … was inherently destructive to the natural environment …
    [That the Earth had neither:] infinite resources [nor an unlimited capacity] to withstand pollution.
    [But] Nierenberg hadn't put any of these economists on his panel.
    [Just as he] had built his Executive Summary around a one-sided view of climate change, he'd built it around a one-sided view of economics.
    Nierenberg gave the administration everything it wanted …
    (p 183)

    Meeting the "Greenhouse Effect" with the "White House Effect"

    [In June, 1988, James Hansen testified before Congress:]
    • that there had been a warming since 1980 of just about half a degree Celsius — or one degree Fahrenheit — relative to the 1950-1980 average.
    • [that the] probability that this could be explained by natural events [alone] was only 1% [and]
    • [that within twenty years, global mean temperature would likely be higher that it had been for the last 120,000 years.]
    Some colleagues … attacked Hansen for going too far, thinking he had discounted the significant uncertainties that still remained.
    On the other hand … most of the scientific community did believe that one could not endlessly raise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases without [eliciting] a climatic response.
    (p 184)

    Certain scientists … began to think that something like the Ozone Trends Panel was needed for global warming, too.
    This became the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Bert Bolin, [who] thought that Hansen's temperature data hadn't been "scrutinized well enough," and accepted the task.
    He divided the panel into three working groups.
    • The first would produce a report reflecting the state of climate science.
    • The second would assess the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
    • The third would formulate a set of possible responses.
    The scientists set themselves a deadline of 1990 for their first assessment [—] a very short time given their [intention was] to involve more than three hundred scientists from twenty-five nations.

    [Under political pressure, then] vice president, George HW Bush [promised] to counter the "greenhouse effect with the White House effect" …
    [Following] his inauguration as forty-first president of the United States in January 1989 … the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology's Committee on Earth Sciences [outlined] a proposed US Global Climate Change Research initiative for the fiscal year 1990 budget.
    [This] was welcomed in the US Senate, where the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation had prepared a bill proposing the same thing: the National Global Change Research Act of 1989.
    The United States, it seemed, was preparing to deal with anthropogenic climate change.
    (p 185)

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