Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Warms your heart, Part Four

Last for this round of global warming posts.

The evidence for a significant human fingerprint on global warming has become sufficiently compelling that even some former skeptics have come around. (Note I refer to "skeptics," who I define as people who had honest doubts on the matter. The nanny-nanny naysayers, even those who pretend to a scientific interest, deny global warming for other, usually ideological, reasons. They will never change their minds, they will just eventually die off. Or drown in a melting ice cap.)

Significant among the defectors from the ranks of the skeptics in the opinion of a good number of commentators came in August in the person of Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. That volume, published in 2001 to the utter delight of the right wing and the general run of environmental naysayers, argued that things really were pretty good on the environmental front and that concerns about matters
including pollution control and biodiversity, were either overblown as threats or amenable to relatively simple technological fixes.
Lomborg agreed that global warming was real and caused by human activity, but
argued that the governments spending billions to curb carbon emissions would be better off diverting those resources to initiatives such as AIDS research, anti-malaria programs and other kinds of humanitarian aid.
The two things that always irritated me about Lomborg were first his condescending aloofness, his "hey, BFD" attitude about environmental issues while parading his supposed street cred on the environment, and second and more importantly, his utterly incomprehensible contention that it was an either/or: either work on global climate or (for example) malaria prevention, it being impossible, he essentially argued, to do both.

Now the one-time vociferous opponent of the Kyoto protocol is calling for an investment of $100-150 billion a year to combat global warming and mitigate its impacts, writing in a soon-to-be published book:
If we care about the environment and about leaving this planet and its inhabitants with the best possible future, we actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.
Some have dismissed his change of heart, either regarding him as a Bjørn-come-lately or a self-promoter who wants to get on the bandwagon. To the first group, I say he's here now and it's a really dumb idea to make it more difficult for people to admit they were wrong. To the second group, I say that even if that's true, it's good news because it shows which way that bandwagon is traveling.

The more serious problem I have with Lomborg is that he is still hung up on technological quick-fixes such as "climate engineering" where, having screwed with the climate, we screw with it some more to try to negate what we already did with our previous screwing. He considers it a matter of a cost-benefit analysis - but proposes to apply it to technologies some of which exist only in hypotheses and whose net benefit (benefit minus unintended consequences) are unknown. Meanwhile, he continues to dismiss out of hand the necessity of reducing CO2 emissions on the grounds that it's too expensive - without regard, it seems, to what not controlling those emissions would cost.

But leave that aside for the moment and just realize that his change of heart (which he would insist is merely a change of emphasis) is a blow to the nanny-nanny naysayers. Unfortunately, that, however, will not stop them from rehashing refuted arguments or engaging in witchhunts. Indeed, I suspect we can expect more of the latter because increasingly, that's all they have: distortion, innuendo, and character assassination.

A good example of a recent witchhunt was the so-called "Climategate" non-scandal. I had some initial comments on this when it first happened, which came down to, in a single-phrase summation, there's nothing there.

And there wasn't, it was all "Ooh, look at THIS! Evil!" and when that one got shot down it was "Ooh, look at THAT! Evil!" and so on until they reverted to the first one again. Which delighted our Entertainment Tonight news media, which loves conflict and despises resolution and eagerly adopted the "Climategate" meme right along with the name. Even today, a year later, you will still find articles about global warming including references to the "credibility" of the science having being "damaged" by the emails stolen from the server of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.

That continues despite the fact - all but invariably not mentioned in those articles - that there were six separate investigations into the matter and every one of them cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing. Two of them were done by PennState (because one of the scientists whose work was questioned, Dr. Michael Mann, is on staff there), one by an international committee organized by the University of East Anglia and the Royal Society, one by the university itself, one by the UK's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and one by the UK government responding the the Committee's report. (Links to all the reports at the above link.)

The most comprehensive was likely the international committee one. It criticized the scientists involved for "failing to display the proper degree of openness" in response to Freedom of Information requests but also said
we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.
[Emphasis in original.]

In other words, despite any personal failings they may have displayed, the science remains sound and robust.

(In addition to these, AP did its own review of the emails and concluded that "they didn't support claims that the science of global warming was being faked." So did Popular Mechanics, which concluded pretty much the same thing as many of the others: The scientists did not act well on a personal level in the emails but the professional honesty in their work was not in doubt.)

Another example of a witchhunt would be the campaign of the Sunday Telegraph (UK) against Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the IPCC. In December 2009, the paper printed an article claiming that Pachauri had made millions of dollars in consulting work obtained as the result of his position with the IPCC. A month later, it published another article by the same two authors about a group Pachauri headed which was designed to raise questions about its financing and his income, referring to "secretive" arrangements and the "mysterious" nature of the group's finances.
[O]ur investigations pose some questions which Dr Pachauri may not find easy to answer,
they insisted.

Apparently answering wasn't what was hard, it was getting the paper to acknowledge the answer. But in late August, faced with both the results of an independent audit of Pachauri's finances and a threat of a libel suit in the wake of its consistent refusal to make corrections, the Telegraph pulled the first story from its website and issued a half-assed apology to Pachauri, saying the article
was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC.
Which of course is exactly what it was intended to suggest with its allegations of his "making a fortune from his links with 'carbon trading' companies" and the "conflict of interest" with his role in the IPCC. And the apology, of course, will do no good. Nanny-nanny naysayers still cite the smear even as the authors real their true colors: In September, one of the authors, to the giggling delight of the other - wrote an article published (of course) in the Telegraph, describing a UN-ordered inquiry into the procedures of the IPCC as "A cunning bid to shore up the ruins" of the agency.

Both authors, it turns out, are just nanny-nanny naysayers convinced the whole IPCC and the thousands of scientists around the world and over the years that have been involved with it are engaged in a "corrupt" enterprise to - well, it's not clear exactly what but it undoubtedly has something to do with SOCIALISM! and besides, global warming doesn't exist.

The reason this remains important is two-fold: One is the obvious one that the media's continued perpetration of the "damaged credibility" routine despite the evidence to the contrary is itself damaging to hopes for combating global warming.

Two, more importantly, there is every reason to fear the witchhunts will not only continue, they are about to increase in intensity.

An article in Mother Jones ran down three of the clowns - er, clouds - on the horizon:

- Rep. Darrell Issa will be chairing the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He's pledged to hold hearings on the "Politicization of Science," the purpose of which can be seen in the fact that
he's argued that it's "very clear that [climate scientists] played fast and loose with both the truth and our money."
He also wants to go after the EPA's coming regulation of greenhouse gases.
With Issa in charge, the oversight committee will devote a good deal of time to hauling government and university climate scientists before Congress.
- Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who stands to become chair of the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming,
has said he wants to use the panel to probe what he has called a "massive international scientific fraud." ...

"There's increasing evidence of scientific fascism that's going on," Sensenbrenner declared during a hearing last year.
- Rep. Joe Barton, who could chair the Energy and Commerce Committee thinks global warming is "absolute nonsense," and in his previous round as chairman launched an investigation into Mann and other scientists.

MJ also notes that fully half of the GOPper caucus openly denies that global warming is real and only four of them openly accept the science.
Scientists are bracing for what is likely to be at least two years of renewed attacks,
MJ says.

It could be even worse, if you can believe it: Competing with Barton to head up the Energy and Commerce Committee is one John Shimkus, who at a Committee hearing a year and a-half back picked up a Bible and read from Genesis and Matthew to argue that by the "infallible, unchanging, perfect" word of God (as recorded in the, I take it, "infallible, unchanging, perfect" words of the Bible and never mind all those different translations) that "the Earth will end only when God decides it's time to be over" and therefore, apparently, humanity is incapable of damaging the environment or the biosphere.

Nice separation of church and state there, Johnny and by the way, who among the most radical environmentalists has claimed that global warming will "destroy all living creatures" or put an end to "summer and winter, day and night?"

It's going to a long at least two years, which makes it more incumbent on us to aggressively defend not only the science of global warming, but science itself.

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