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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Global Warming Debate

The Reference Frame has links to audio and transcript of a debate held on NPR radio. Check it out.

Update: I'm reading the transcript of the debate right now, and will provide running commentary.

Brownie points for Richard Lindzen, for mentioning that temperatures have been stable for nearly a decade. Since 2001, specifically - refer to this chart (source: Wikipedia).

Demerits for Richard Somerville, for ad hominem attacks against global warming skeptics, equating them with people who challenge plate tectonics and the HIV hypothesis.

Michael Crichton's main contribution is pointing out the repeated re-estimations of future warming. If they didn't get the estimates right the first two or three times, why should we trust the current estimate?

Gavin Schmidt launches into ad-hominem attacks against the skeptics, too - they're just like creationists and ozone depletion skeptics. Oh, and tobacco companies' claims that tobacco inhibits Alzheimers.

(Was the ozone depletion debate ever settled?)

Philip Stott: mentions the conventional wisdom of the 70s that we were headed for another Ice Age - it would be more useful if he could demonstrate similar flawed methodologies behind the new-ice-age and human-caused-global-warming hypotheses.

Brenda Ekwurzel: doesn't say a bloody thing about evidence in her opening remarks - she launches into a fire-and-brimstone sermon about the need to cut down carbon emissions. She pulls that "Earth is fragile" nonsense, says it's even more fragile than the human body.

First question: "Richard Lindzen, you seemed to say that warming could make the climate more stable. Brenda, you seemed to suggest, that it would make it less stable. Richard Lindzen, I'll start with you, and talk to each other. Are you arguing that global warming could be good for the earth?"

This is in reference to the debate over whether increased warming at the poles (where the warming is greatest) will make increase or decrease storm severity. That's really off-topic - it doesn't prove or disprove anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Patrick Michaels challenges the hurricanes/warming connection here.

Second question: "A question for the anti side if I might, these 1970s headlines about global cooling. That always comes up as an inconvenient fact. I've almost got a title there. [LAUGHTER] How do you explain that?"

Somerville counters that there was no scientific consensus on cooling, but that there was media hype. Whatever the case, this question is a distraction from discussing actual AGW evidence.

Third question: "Um, this debate is set up three on three, as if everything were even. But in the real world out there, we just had the big inter-governmental panel on climate change report in which 90% of the world's governments and 90% of their atmospheric sciences declared with 90% certainty, that global warming is real and human beings are causing it. Why would you three be more credible to the non-scientists in our audience, than all of them?"

Now we're getting somewhere, I hope. Crichton and Schmidt argue about the revelance of consensus - ugh. Get to the evidence! Stott tries to do just that, by citing the cosmic radiation theory. After repeated interruptions from Schmidt he says this: "There are some very eminent scientists, Professor Yanvesa [PH] for example, uh, uh, Nir Sh—Professor Nir Shaviv who won the Young Scientist of the Year in Israel two years ago, who are in fact arguing that 70% of, of climate change is primarily driven by cosmic rays working through water vapor and clouds. I'm not saying they're right or wrong, they're pointing however at the edge, to new research. You cannot dismiss that, because it's a consensus for CO2." Schmidt says the research is "bogus," but doesn't say why.

A side argument erupts between two panelists. Lindzen asks Schmidt about the latter's alleged claim that "the earth has been warmer - is warmer now than it has been for 1300 years." There isn't enough information on this episode to offer any comment.

The debate's moderator Brian Lehrer tries to get clarification on the "bogus" remarks. "But Gavin Schmidt, you seem to suggest that the other side does not have a real scientific argument, but a culturally or politically constructed one. You don't think they're sincere?" Here is what follows (emphasis added):

GAVIN SCHMIDT That's a very difficult question. I think—I— no, I, I do think that they're sincere-

BRIAN LEHRER You as much as said it.

GAVIN SCHMIDT I don't think that they are completely…doing this on a level playing field that the people here will understand. And, there are…


BRIAN LEHRER Well… [OVERLAPPING VOICES] explain yourself, because—wait a minute—

GAVIN SCHMIDT No, let me—let me explain, explain that—

BRIAN LEHRER Because they have larger cultural or political agendas?

GAVIN SCHMIDT No, um, I have no idea what their political or cultural agendas are, and to be frank I'm not very interested.

PHILIP STOTT I'm left-wing and have no money whatsoever from any oil company—


PHILIP STOTT —and I wouldn't.

GAVIN SCHMIDT That's fine. [LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE] That's fine. But I'm, I'm—


GAVIN SCHMIDT —I'm not interested in your motivations—



PHILIP STOTT —[INAUDIBLE] has interests.

This is where Team Schmidt lost the debate; to the audience the emphasized quote gives the message, "This is too complex for you to understand. We are professionals. Trust us."

Audience question one: "Hi, my name is Linda Caro, um, it kind of surprises me that, uh, the emphasis is on CO2 which is about one-third of 1% of the total atmosphere, whereas global—uh, water vapor is the vast bulk of it all. Uh, is it possible that we are, um…are not accounting properly for, uh, the giving off of heat such as nuclear power plants which are several thousand degrees Centi—uh, Fahrenheit, that we're cooling with water and air, every day, every week, every month, every year, that can't—"

Ugh. The first half should have been phrased "CO2 is X% of greenouse gases, of which water vapor is the vast bulk." The nuke plant theory of global warming is just plain silly.

Somerville responds to the second part appropriately: "The, the direct heating from sources like power plants is negligible, uh, compared to these, these other factors, solar radiation, greenhouse effect." He also notes that CO2 humidifies the air - more CO2 creates more water vapor. Schmidt, Stott and Lindzen argue, but they never get to what shoudl be the obvious followup question: does an increase in CO2 plus an increase in water vaopr directly attributable to that increase constitute a significant portion of greenhouse gases?

Audience question two: Andrew Revkin from the New York Times asks this one. "So my question is, uh, one about the hedging, managing risk came up a hedging exercise, if it weren't costly to slow the pace, beyond the Jesse Ausubel very slow [LAUGHS] decarbonization, if we could find a new way that didn't cost a lot, that actually could give energy for those developing countries that crave it, and limit emissions at the same time, would anyone on the pro side think that it's a bad idea to stop emitting greenhouse gases, if there were a solution."

Crichton objects to environmentalist plans that "Bjorn Lomberg thinks which is $558 trillion." This is evidently a reference to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, about which Stott rambles. This is a distraction from global warming evidence.

Audience question three: "Thank you, my name is Heather Higgins, I'm not a scientist, so, pardon my ignorance when I hear the scientistic—scientific establishment believes in something I immediately think of flat-earth consensus, and the fact that there's no geography that should be admitted as science and that women are all hysterics and ought to be bled."

Schmidt now pays for his rhetorical misstep. [Update: Actually, there's some reflection of the earlier ad hominem attacks in her snark as well. - AKH]

The question continues: "My question is address particularly to Brenda, as well as to anyone else. Um, I was fascinated by your statement that the earth is more fragile than human beings are. Uh, I am not a scientist so maybe you can explain to me how we managed to get through the Ice Age and the Middle Ages when Greenland was actually green and people were a foot taller and there was farming there, uh, and nobody was digging up coal to warm the earth. Um, and, I'm curious as to why you think that this is an optimal period of climate, uh, certainly for far less money we could move everybody out of Battery Park City. And I am curious, if you believe that CO2 is actually the, the—the particular problem is actually the issue, the degree to which you are willing to, to become like France, where instead of having 20% of their power from nuclear, they have 86%."

Ekwurzel's initial response is that humans are irrationally building "unsustainable" communities in locations such as coastlands where climate change strikes hardest. Stott says Earth isn't fragile, but doesn't explain why. Another distraction from the central issue.

Audience question four: "Hi, Van Greenfield, just following up a little bit on the, uh…question two minutes ago on what we could do, um… Philip, you had said in another article, ―My own instinct is that our ability to change reflectivity on the earth's surface will in the end prove to have been far more important. In terms of the concept of reflectivity could you expand on that and its possible…less expensive method for dealing with this?"

Stott had theorized that changes in surface reflectivity have an effect on climate. He says, "However, we can't model it very well. And the problem is it's one of those big gaps like many others things in the models that we're talking—and that is a human factor. So in other words I agree with that, exactly how we cope with it though is another issue, because we know so little about it."

His next sentence is worth noting: "And can I remind everybody that IPCC that we keep talking about, very honestly admits that we know very little about 80% of the factors behind climate change." Riddle me this, Batman - how can we model the climate if we're in the dark about 80 percent of its driving factors? Schmidt cites factors we do know about and calls the 80% number a "meaningless statistic."

The host throws out another question, straying from the central topic once again: "For the anti side…they say…the real crises today include poverty, dirty water, and a lack of modern energy supply to 4 billion poor people on earth. So if this is a crisis, how do you prioritize it, compared to those other things, and assuming that it takes tremendous amounts of resources to solve any of them."

Somerville says we can attack several problems at the same time. Crichton agrees, with a caveat: "[T]the reality is that we don't. And the reality is, that, we are failing and have continuously failed to address the issues of the third world even though, everyone knows that if you were to, to look at it for bangs for the buck, if you were to look at it from a humanitarian standpoint, if you were to look at it from the easiest way to do the most for environmental degradation as it's created around the world, you would address global poverty. But we're not." The chief cause of poverty is economic tyranny, so a solution has to start there.

Closing statements: Somerville calls for action. Stott cites "some very reputable groups in Denmark and in Russia and in other countries, which are predicting actually that we will enter a global cooling phase between 2012 and 2015." Schmidt gives general examples of reliable climate predictions from the AGW camp. Lindzen makes a reference to repeatedly changing climate data, and asks why his opponents "don't explain why there's global warming on Mars, Jupiter, Triton and Pluto." Ekwurzel calls for action. Crichton rambles about AGW hysteria and takes a swipe at environmentalists who fly in private jets.

All in all an underwhelming debate. Very little effort went into discussing specific evidence. Ekwurzel was useless; her lines could have been delivered by Cameron Diaz (and probably have been on a few occasions).


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