Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Having at it with folks at

Sometimes my judgement deserts me and I comment on other sites. Usually the results are not pretty but this discussion with what seem to be pretty knowledgeable people on was very productive. I've been becoming less of a skeptic about global warming for some time. The net of this discussion is that I think I've now moved all the way over subject to a review of the material on the "start here" page on

We need to do something serious about CO2 in the short to mid-term. Now the question becomes what to do and how fast.

The following discussion started with my reaction to a political post on which irritated me.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 7:53 am
I thought science was supposed to be predictive. Hanson put out predictions of future temperatures. Unless I’m reading it wrong the temperatures have not followed his predictions for several years. I understand that the system is very complex and hence prediction is difficult, but why should I be willing to change my already relatively green lifestyle based on a predictive system that has failed?
And this notion of so called environmentalists living like pigs while buying indulgences in the form of carbon credits does not build confidence.
And T.Boone Pickens is a businessman ready to jump onto the environmental bandwagon for subsidies and special favors, just like those who jumped on environmentalism for ethanol subsidies, although I can’t help but like the man for answering honestly when asked why he doesn’t have windmills on his ranch. ‘They’re ugly,’ is basicly what he said.
And Phil Plait, I like your site for the astronomy but I think you’re acting more than a little like the Allah in the gristle folks on this topic.

MartinM Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:31 am
Unless I’m reading it wrong the temperatures have not followed his predictions for several years.
‘Several years’ is too short to establish meaningful trends. The observed long-term trends fit nicely with model predictions, however.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:35 am
Sully,I think you meant to type Dr. James Hansen rather than Hanson. What have you read about his predictions and where? Is the notion of “so called environmentalists living like pigs” true? How do you know this?

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 10:17 am
“Several years’ is too short to establish meaningful trends. The observed long-term trends fit nicely with model predictions, however.”
Was there a model before the “observed long term trends” that predicted them?
It’s been said that predictions, especially about the future, are hard. Back in a younger day I spent some time going back in the history of the stock market and discovering “models” that “predicted” some aspect of it. Since I’m not rich I have to assume that making models about complex systems to predict past events does not necessarily mean one can make a model that predicts future events.
As an aside I’ll mention that I’m not a total doubter just from the simple fact that we must at some point get big enough in our activities to have effect on the overall environment. I thought and said in the 1970’s that we should start a small tax on imported oil and increase that tax gradually and predictably every year until no more oil was imported. I think we should do the same thing now on all fossil fuels, but doing that cleanly and openly and gradually is a lot different from what I think we’re going to get out of the sausage factory down in Washington if we let this train run through that place at high speed.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 10:55 am
Mark - thanks for the correction. I read the the Hansen stuff on a link from Climate Debate daily on the environmentalist side of the list. What struck me was that the answer to the question about why his predictions had not panned out was defensive and scornful of the doubters rather than honest and illuminating. When I commented (respectfully I thought) to that effect, my comment was censored as judgemental even though I was commenting on the judgementalism of the article and some of the comments.
As to living like pigs anyone who owns a home larger than about 1000 square feet per person in his family, or who uses, even one time, a private jet on a route served by a regular flight is a pig in my personal measuring system, and he or she is a hypocritical pig if he or she purports to be an “environmentalist.” Al Gore is the archetype. What really surprises me is that he’s so dumb as to provide his enemies with the easy ammunition his life style provides. Sort of like a fat doctor smoking and drinking while he tries to convince a patient to live healthy.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:18 am
Why would you consider Climate Debate authoritative on Hansen? Please post the link to the actual discussion you are referencing.What if the house is doubling as office with employees? Does this not alter your perception or are you immune to complexity on this? Since you are obviously referring to Al Gore have you read how he is offsetting his carbon energy use?Your analogy is really poor, or good depending on point of view. Since the health effects of being overweight, smoking, and, I assume you meant excessive, drinking are blindingly obvious, than it is irrelevant that the doctor is not practicing what he tells the patient. This is, as if I should have to point this out, because the health benefits still exist for losing weight, quiting smoking, and moderating or stopping all alcohol consumption. So your argument fails to convince as the evidence is that changing our carbon consumption habits will bring many benefits whether public speakers are perfect or not. QED.

Chip Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:30 am
Sully -Ha! Get real. You probably also believe Al Gore said he invented the internet and that the Nobel Prize he earned is worthless. At least those are the Limbaugh-Hannity inspired goofy talking points. Yet no mention of Republican supporter T. Boone Pickens having to give up his wealth and live in a house less than 1000 square feet in order to legitimately promote his energy independence plans? Give me a break. The truth is neither of them should and both of them support energy efficiency. Your arguments are made of straw. Have a nice day. For change try tuning in to Air America sometime.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 11:52 am
Mark - Climate Debate links to sites arguing both sides - for the record I think the environmentalist side sites are generally more convincing than the doubter side sites, but I don’t keep a list of links, and, frankly, I’m not qualified to judge the more complex arguments.
However, I’ve read sites on both sides of the debate about the issue of Hansen’s predictions and their recent innacuracy. When a theory fails to predict I expect folks to at least be open to the possibility that the theory is flawed. Folks who merely cite dogma don’t impress me, and a lot of the environmentals seem to spout dogma.
As to “Since you are obviously referring to Al Gore have you read how he is offsetting his carbon energy use?”
Here’s another analogy for you. If a murderer feeds the poor and contributes to orphanages it doesn’t absolve him of murder. Generating CO2 is either bad or good. If it’s bad one shouldn’t capriciously generate it no matter how many trees one plants. Private jet travel capriciously and unnecessarily generates CO2, as does living in a 10,000 square foot house.
Good point about him possibly having staff in the house. If Gore has staff in the house and it’s his office he should publicize that but then I will want to know how much office and living space he rents or owns elsewhere for himself and his staff.
Subject to more info I have to assume that Al Gore wants to live like a king while he preaches like a prophet and pushes for laws to circumscribe the lives of others. He’s not the only one who wants to do that, but it still makes him a hypocrite. And, I saw the hockey stick graph he pointed to and later noted that it was statistically falsified. I don’t know he was aware that it was cooked up when he showed it, but. . . now I have to doubt his other “evidence” especially in light of the recent turnaround of the temperatures. Why I should have been surprised that a lifelong politician would play fast and loose with facts is another question.

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 12:05 pm
Chip,You apparently don’t read or analyze very well.
I mentioned T. Boone Pickens earlier and my comment wasn’t flattering although I gave him some credit for honesty.
Also, I never said that anyone has to live in 1000 square feet or give up his wealth as you allege. I said that anyone who poses as an environmentalist is a hypocritical pig if he flies in private jets or lives in more than 1000 square feet. There are excellent sources on logic and usage out there for you to study if you have trouble understanding the difference between the two concepts.

UPDATE (not posted on - 4:26 PM - it was hailing a few minutes ago here in Collegeville, and it's now raining cats and dogs. Well, it's not literally raining cats and dogs, but you get the idea. We need the rain.

Mark Schaffer Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 12:34 pm
Try this regarding Dr. Hansen’s original model:

Brant D Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 2:46 pm
Sully: Saying that the models are failing currently because of a temporary decrease in observed global average temperature is silly in the long term view. If you look at the GISS data that were presented earlier in this discussion, you would see that according to your definition of a model failing or being inaccurate - predicting a warming trend when the obs show cooling - since the year 1980 the models failed in predicting 1982, 1984-1985, 1989, 1991-1992, 1996, 1999-2000, 2003-2004, and 2006. Yes, not every year is warmer than the last. Not every year has a monster El Nino event like 1998 did. Natural variability does not disappear even with GW. The models have problems, yes, but replicating a very fundamental property in our atmosphere, the relationship between greenhouse gas concentration and global average temperature, is not one of them. I find your position silly and unrepresentative of both the observations and the state of the science currently.
You mentioned that good science should have predictive power. So here is a prediction for you: the next time Earth experiences an El Nino event with an order of magnitude comparable to the 1998 event, the temporary rise in global average temperature will swamp any temporary cooling Earth may have experienced in the years beforehand. It will stick out in the temperature record just as strongly as the 1998 anomaly currently does. I also predict that the response from TeeVee talking heads will be hysterical, and well worth the popcorn and cola consumed watching them making ridiculous excuses.
Also, please don’t confuse what environmentalists say with what climate scientists and other professionals say. Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace might mean well, but scientists generally many of their claims to be questionable at best.

Ragutis Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 6:53 pm
Ah… I think I figured it out. His critics are hoping Al Gore will begin living the hermit lifestyle in a cave so he’ll stop being in the public eye, raising awareness, and persuading governments to change energy policy.
He doesn’t have much choice in terms of security and travel decisions. The Secret Service pretty much dictates that. I doubt Nancy Reagan can get her hair done without a dude with sunglasses and an earpiece tagging along. And anyone with any experience in business or politics knows the value of face-to-face meetings. Teleconferencing and video-meetings are useful, but limited. A look in the eye and a firm handshake can be invaluable.
He runs offices out of his house, with a staff. So, yeah, the electric bill is sorta high. Especially since he pays 3 times the regular rate to get green power. And he’s also extensively renovated recently to improve the efficiency significantly beyond what one would expect of the typical 80+ year old home.
And you know what? Even if he was the biggest hypocrite in his lifestyle, that wouldn’t change a damn thing about the fact that AGW is real and happening. And who the hell ever said we need to adopt some ascetic lifestyle in the first place? There may be some radicals saying we should tear down the cities and return to the wild, but just about every rational person is looking at solutions for us to keep our way of life, as well as improve that of others in undeveloped nations only without releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the environment.
“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!”

Sully Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 8:16 pm
Mark S - Thanks for the patience and the link but unfortunately I don’t understand it a lot better today than I did the last time I read it last fall or so. Now that I’ve seen that site again I do recall that it was on that site that I observed a bunch of judgemental and downright nasty comments about doubters or questioners who posted but where my comment questioning some of the premises of the judgemental posters was censored by the monitor. Maybe it was just one monitor and maybe he had seen enough of back and forth on the questions, but since then I’ve been suspicious of RealClimate as at least as much a quasi-religious site as a scientific one.
Brant D. - “Also, please don’t confuse what environmentalists say with what climate scientists and other professionals say. Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace might mean well, but scientists generally many of their claims to be questionable at best.”
The problem is that non-climatologists like me have to depend on popularizers, so naturally we judge the debate based on the pronouncements of the popularizers for each side. The doubters say we can continue with our lifestyles and relax so they start with a natural advantage since no one wants to be taxed or forced to sacrifice if that isn’t necessary. The burden of scientific proof and the burden of effectively selling that proof are with those who want us to act.
And, re your prediction about the effects of an el nino. The prediction that matters is what the average global temperature is going to be in 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050 etc. if we do nothing. Hansen was (trusting reasonably predictive between 1988 and 2005 but that’s only 17 years. And I understand (from other reading) that he was not so predictive re 2006 and 2007. It’s all well and good to say that data from a couple or a few years can be anomalous but not when you only have only 17 years of successful prediction behind you.
So what is a voter to do?

Brant D Says: July 23rd, 2008 at 9:15 pm
Sully: I agree that climatologists do not do a good job of communicating the science to the public, hence the overreliance on popularizers. Naturally most climatologists have the public relations ability of a bookworm, and training for this kind of work is not emphasized at all in the profession. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The “burden of proof” has been met, in fact was met at least a decade ago, but this point is not well communicated.
However, I also infer from your words that you expect the general public to be passive participants in this topic, receiving their information only from the TeeVee from designated media outlets. I am highly critical of this opinion. Democracy depends on active participation from the public in order to succeed. As a nation we are going to crash and burn if we make no effort to doublecheck the official sources. And that includes questions where the answers may not be particularly comforting. I understand that unfortunately many people actually do operate as passive participants currently, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. And if you think that this is the way things were, are, and always will be, then I can’t find much hope or a reason to care about the future.
Also, “sacrifice” is what religious people offer to deities. The word you are looking for is “investment”. It takes money to make money.
As for the prediction, I offered a prediction that could be likely be verified within the next decade or two. You keep pushing the interval of prediction back further into the future, so that it would be impossible to meet the obligation you set up. It might warm from 2010 to 2040, but what if it cools from 2040 to 2050? That’s the silliness that the AGW contrarians pull (not that you are a contrarian), and sadly it convinces people. As as for prediction, the first prediction for AGW was made in the late 19th century. It was not taken seriously back then, and rightly so (no known way to verify), but the math that predicts AGW is over a century old. And while global climate models are only three decades old, and the best ones one decade old, they have succesfully “retrodicted” the long-term warming trend over the past century. It is impossible to explain what happened in the 20th century without considering the influence of CO2. So the timespan in which we can check the theory with the observations is longer than 17 years.

Sully Says: July 24th, 2008 at 7:25 am
Brant - Very good points and thanks for the patience. I’ll review the “start here” material on again, more carefully this time.

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