Friday, April 25, 2008

Why Is There A RealSkeptic?

I will answer all of your questions here. Just ask them.

The simple answer is that I do not know of a site which focuses on AGW in the way that I do, nor do I see any self-policing at pro-AGW sites with regard to their treatment of those with whom they disagree. In short, there is too much condescension, too little respect for those who do not toe the line.

My position on AGW is that it is real, verifiable and happening now. Most people have no appreciation for how rapidly the warming will escalate, so that, for example, we will have as much warming in the next fifteen years as we had in the previous 30 years. Most people fail to grasp the power of acceleration.

This includes climate scientists themselves, including Dr. James Hansen of NASA-GISS, one of my absolute heroes for his pioneering work in bridging the gap between scientific and public understanding of AGW. Unfortunately, Dr. Hansen consistently underestimates the power of acceleration, causing him to keep refining his estimates for safe levels of CO2 downward. This give the appearance that he is not sure of the science. Perhaps he is not.

However, these ever-downward projections for the line of catastrophic consequences does lead to one other concern: there is no way we are going to avoid reaching that point. Dr. Hansen wants the world to stop burning coal, but the world is going to keep burning coal. IPCC and others want the world to start burning less oil each year. The world is going to continue burning more oil each year. Governments want to stop cutting down forest. They are failing to achieve that, no matter what incentives they try.

In other words, we are in a bad place right now. Too many people are just simply confused about the science of AGW, and too many who do "get it" with regard to the science, are blind as bats when it comes to what can be achieved through policy.

So, welcome to the place where we are all skeptics. I'm not looking for people to tell me AGW isn't real; there are plenty of places you can go to kick that around. I'm happy to debate the rate of acceleration with you, and I'm happy to debate the likely outcomes of various social policies with you.

I want to inject rationality back into this discussion. No matter where I go: RealClimate, Rabbett Run, Climate Change Debate, I encounter not only irrationality but a sense of entitlement to mock and disdain those with whom they disagree.

I'm not smart enough to know who has a point and who doesn't; not until I have heard them through and given fair consideration to their view. You'll get that here. If you make a claim, you'll get the chance to back it up - and you'll be expected to. There are no sacred cows here, and there is no intellectual hierarchy.

As I said, one restriction: you cannot deny AGW itself. Beyond that, we are all skeptics, and we have some important things to discuss.

25 April 2008


Anonymous said...

Good for you Walt!

Sue said...

I was really impressed with your comment to EliRabbet. I think that you are quite right that when scientists mock the obfuscaters that does play right into their denial.

Glen said...

okay, I'll bite: Why do you expect an accelerating trend or as much warming in the next 15 years as the last 30?

Walt Bennett said...

Glen, sorry it took so long to get back to you.

The more warming, the more feedbacks, from albedo flip to methane release and so on. The smooth 30 year trend line is an arc, and I expect the arc to continue to point more and more "up", as it has been doing, which basically indicates that future warming builds on past warming.

The relatively slow pace of early change is what allowed the denialists to dig in their heels.

Twenty years from now, it will all seem so senseless.

Glen said...

My contrary intuition is that feedbacks don't accumulate that way because each feedback mechanism - whether positive or negative - has an effective range of operation. As the temperature warms, some of the feedbacks currently in effect will drop out of the mix as significant sources of further incremental warming and other new feedbacks - possibly more negative than positive on net - will kick in.

To illustrate what I mean by effective range, consider the ice albedo effect. Once all the ice has melted, "melting ice" stops being a factor, right? You don't even need to melt all the ice for that one to run out of steam - the less ice you have, the less ice melting is an accelerating factor. There was a peak to that effect and we've probably passed it long ago.

If some of the new feedbacks we encounter as the planet warms will be negative and we expect some of the current positive ones we know about to become less positive as warming increases, that weakens the case for expecting a steadily accelerating trend.

Walt Bennett said...

Glen, I concur that there are more unknowns than knowns, and that these render predictions shaky at best.

Having said that, there is little question in my mind that there are strong positive feedbacks in the short term. A lot of sequestered carbon is near the surface, waiting to be thawed, and methane has already been observed bubbling to the surface of Alaskan lakes and ponds.

One of the strongest AGW predictions is that there will be incremental release of CO2 and methane in the near term. That's already happening and easily observed.

Yes, we agree that there is a limit to this feedback. However, that limit is some ways off, and the increase in CO2 during the lifetime of this feedback is not insignificant.

wmanny said...

"I want to inject rationality back into this discussion. No matter where I go: RealClimate, Rabbett Run, Climate Change Debate, I encounter not only irrationality but a sense of entitlement to mock and disdain those with whom they disagree."

You forgot Tamino. My take is much the same as yours, I suspect. While I am not a big believer in the high-end AGW predictions and won't be until we see some new movement and/or better understanding of the other factors (such as whatever is responsible for the momentary 7-year pause), I do agree that the arrogance of the clergy at the Climate Audits and RealClimates alike do get in the way of progress. I have found that if I am exceedingly polite, ignore the comments of the more vitriolic posters, and ignore the temptation to be ironic, I can get into some short-lived, constructive discussion with the Gavins and Rays of the world. I had hoped for a while that McIntyre, in his crusade to inject transparency into some of the science and in his refusal to jump on the “denier” bandwagon, might prove to be a dispassionate blog, but, alas, his readers have taken over, treating dissenters snidely, and he has not tried hard enough or is unable to stop them.

Walt Bennett said...

Walter, yes we can include Tamino. There are simply no good places to discuss things rationally and (good word) dispassionately.

I must disagree with you regarding the seven year pause. 2005 and 2006 came very close to matching 1998, which was a huge leap over the previous recorded hottest year. I believe that the numbers say that the 7 hottest years on record have all been in the last decade, and no matter how you crunch the numbers, the previous ten years were much hotter on average than the previous ten years.

Beware variability masquerading as a trend. I will buy the theory that there is cooling if we have even a five year average which is cooler than the previous five year average.

Rather, I expect either 2009 or 2010 to surpass 1998, perhaps significantly, and establish a new high.

As I like to point out, the news is that the spike (1998) became the norm. Just look at average temps prior to 1998 and since 1998, and then try to say there's been no warming.

wmanny said...

Walt, to the variability, the last seven years are very warm, yes, but not warming. Of course the pause means nothing in a geological context and little in a half-century's, but if we get to eight and ten and fifteen years, eyebrows will begin trending upwards. I appreciate you ('09 or '10) and Gavin ('09) being straightforward enough to make an upward prediction, and I hope I will be around long enough to see if either occurs!

It was water-torture, though, for me -- and I'm hardly the first -- to try to get a straight answer on RC to: How much longer do we wait before we modify the theory? (Thread: "With all due respect...") It was as though the question were not hypothetical! RC expects the temps to begin to rise again, but is so loath to consider what it will mean if they do not that the non-response becomes as interesting as anything else.

It is silly to argue that because we can't predict the weather, we therefore can't predict the climate. But it is a decreasingly silly argument as we push the weather out to seven years, fifteen years, thirty years... At some point somebody needs to determine what is responsible for the pause.

Walt Bennett said...

Walter, when the past ten years is significantly warmer than the previous ten years, there is no pause.

However, to your question: there will be all sorts of panic in the climate science community if we don't see a new record temp soon. The public is already sold on the idea that the last several years have been "cooling" and as you correctly point out, if that continues the AGW argument as sold to the public of relentless warming will unravel.

From a practical standpoint, it would also reveal that the models are not good at allowing for this sort of variability. Models are already hammered at mercilessly. If they "miss" a decade-long cooling, there will be little integrity left to salvage.

All of which adds up to: the solutions currently being proposed are dead on arrival politically, unless the world suddenly warms a whole lot real soon and stays that way.

In order to sell the case for eventual intolerable warming, the AGW side really needs a few hot years to happen as soon as possible.

Humans are much better at responding to immediate threats than future threats, and with good reason: a lot can happen between now and then.

wmanny said...


The reason I think at least part of the public is sold on the idea that the last seven years have been cooling is because they have been taught how to read a graph. Some can even draw a trend line through it, and it goes down, slightly. When they hear counterarguments that it’s not cooling because every year is hot, it insults their sense of algebra, and no amount of temporizing about long-term trends is going to alter that sense, because the AGW community, in my opinion, has lost its credibility by overselling every bit of weather that points up (heat wave), or that points bad (hurricane). I’ll grant that many will believe that it’s been cooling for ten because that’s what they want to believe from the cherry-pickers who proclaim it, and that group has more than its counterweight in the AGWers who believe the earth is a greenhouse like the one out back or that polar bears are crying.

Anyway, nobody knows what’s actually going on up there (I mean “knows” in the literal sense), and for me it’s only a curiosity in any event because, as you point out, the likelihood of societies curtailing carbon use borders on nil. When Holdren talks about the intersection between energy and the economy, for example, I read that as, “Oh, yeah, and the climate thing”, no matter how hard he is forced by the zealots to backtrack on his geo-engineering trial balloon. So while I am not as concerned as you are that it’s going to become drastically hot before we have time to prepare for it – I don’t see the compelling evidence for Gore-style vertical temperature slopes – I do believe that we need to get out of the oil biz over time, for other reasons, and that we should constantly modernize plans for how to adjust to quickly rising or falling temperatures should they come our way. That’s where the interesting stuff is going to happen. At least I hope it is!