Further to the recent Dog Bites Man Headlines on AGW

Via Christopher Mims at Grist, Gavin Schmidt{thanks, Ha Nguyen] Eric Steig (does a victory dance on the heads of those who thought a “real” scientist would sort out all that climate change nonsense:

Anybody expecting earthshaking news from Berkeley, now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group being led by Richard Muller has released its results, had to be content with a barely perceptible quiver. As far as the basic science goes, the results could not have been less surprising if the press release had said “Man Finds Sun Rises At Dawn.” This must have been something of a disappointment for anyone hoping for something else.

For those not familiar with it, the purpose of Berkeley Earth was to create a new, independent compilation and assessment of global land surface temperature trends using new statistical methods and a wider range of source data. Expectations that the work would put teeth in accusations against CRU and GISTEMP led to a lot of early press, and an invitation to Muller to testify before Congress. However, the big news this week (e.g. this article by the BBC’s Richard Black) is that there is no discernible difference between the new results and those of CRU.

Of course, there was no real surprise about any of this — especially not for those who’ve been paying attention to climate science for the last several decades.  It was most notable, perhaps, for the  commendable bluntness with which Muller acknowledged the error of his own prior belief, that mainstream climate scientists may have fallen prey to unexamined bias, perhaps, or maybe much worse.

Instead, he found every major study got the basic picture of anthropogenic global warming correct.  He said so, and acknowledged the need to correct his prior belief.

That said, it is worth noting that Steig does not give Muller a complete pass.  He points out, fairly IMHO, the bumptious hubris with which Muller launched into his project — and then he pointed out what is to my mind the key idea in all of this.  Global warming is a focus of concern not because of any one set of temperature measurements or another, but because the underlying theory provides the framework with which to interpret the data that so many have labored so long to acquire:

In a talk at AGU last Fall, Naomi Oreskes criticized the climate science community for being reluctant to take credit for their many successful predictions, so here we are shouting it from the rooftops: The warming trend is something that climate physicists saw coming many decades before it was observed. The reason for interest in the details of the observed trend is to get a better idea of the things we don’t know the magnitude of (e.g. cloud feedbacks), not as a test of the basic theory. If we didn’t know about the CO2-climate connection from physics, then no observation of a warming trend, however accurate, would by itself tell us that anthropogenic global warming is “real,” or (more importantly) that it is going to persist and probably increase.

Give Steig and the broad community of climate researchers their due:  it must be unbelievably galling to see “last honest man” praise heaped on some bumptious newcomer who’s signal contribution to the field is to discover that perhaps the objects of his suspicion actually knew what they were doing.  At the same time, such high profile crow fressing is itself praise, deserved and, I hope, gratifying.

The predictable footnote to this clear success of scientific practice (a good result, even if, as Steig correctly points out, one that’s much less significant scientifically than politically) is that it seems to have made not a dent in the professional denialist’s carapace.  Again, no surprise here, just a reminder of how much work is to be done to get the US (and elsewhere) back into the business of taking expert knowledge seriously.

Image: Gioachino Assereto, Isaac Blessing Jacob, c. 1640.

 






47 replies
  1. 1
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    So, Muller pulls a John Cole (albeit for different reasons) and admits he was wrong.

    Good.

    Not that this will convince any of the serious shitheads out there (Lord Monckton, Art Robinson, Rush Limbaugh, Fucker Fuckerson, you and your fellow morons feel free to take a bow) but I predict that the utter idiots of the Village, in a totally unsurprising manner, will claim that there’s still honest skepticism out there about anthropogenic global climate change, some people say, both sides do it, fill in your cretinous lamestream media trope here.

  2. 2
    Martin says:

    The true ‘error of his own prior belief’ was that in the pantheon of rigorous science exist only physicists. Not that this is likely to change anything. I’m sure all of those other so-called scientists merely got lucky this time.

  3. 3
    JPL says:

    Did they consider the effect that cow farts are having on the climate? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. 4
    Calouste says:

    I think a picture of Gallileo would have been more appropriate to this article. In his day the idea that not everything revolved around the Earth, and thus humans, was a major threat to the existing religious dogma, just as now the idea of anthropogenic global climate change is a major threat to the existing economic dogma that humans should do whatever the f@#$ they want.

  5. 5
    Quicksand says:

    This post exhibits excessive bumptiousness.

  6. 6
    slag says:

    bumptious newcomer who’s signal contribution to the field is to discover that perhaps the objects of his suspicion actually knew what they were doing.

    Whose on first?

  7. 7
    Zifnab says:

    The predictable footnote to this clear success of scientific practice (a good result, even if, as Schmidt correctly points out, one that’s much less significant scientifically than politically) is that it seems to have made not a dent in the professional denialist’s carapace. Again, no surprise here, just a reminder of how much work is to be done to get the US (and elsewhere) back into the business of taking expert knowledge seriously.

    I’m not sure why it would. As you already pointed out, the study got no media traction. The moment Mueller pointed out Global Warming predictions were accurate, cameras were switched off and the news people went home.

    Meanwhile, the film “An Inconvenient Truth” made a much bigger splash five years ago, not because the evidence was more compelling or because Al Gore was so damn charismatic but because it got top media billing for months.

    The professional denialists will start caving when they realize they have more to lose lying than by hedging or conceding certain points. That’s not going to happen in the wake of evidence. It’s going to happen in the wake of sustained public scrutiny and financial pressure. Let me know when some denialist think tank gets its funding pulled. Then the mercenaries at that joint will happily jump ship and say anything you want for the right paycheck. But not a moment before.

  8. 8
    JCT says:

    And his Republican supporters are now shrieking “run away, run away” and disappearing into the sunset.

    What a surprise.

  9. 9
    Baud says:

    Oh, well. The Republicans still have Michael Creighton.

  10. 10
    Redshift says:

    And for the amateur denialists, the fundamental characteristic of a conspiracy theory is that it expands to compensate for new evidence. Evidence cannot disprove it, it can only prove that the sources of that evidence are in on the conspiracy.

  11. 11
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Redshift:

    Obviously they* got to Muller

    *they being the government grant dependent climate scientists out to make a fucking fortune on climate change hysteria.

    (The projection…it’s so intense that it burns an afterimage onto the screen of the octoplex…)

  12. 12
    Stooleo says:

    Facts, we don’t need no stinking facts.

  13. 13
    kindness says:

    Jon Stewart covered this one this week. It was funny but not one of his best.

  14. 14
    Cat Lady says:

    I wish I could live long enough to see all the denialists drowning in their attics.

  15. 15
    Joel says:

    @Baud: Snark, right?

  16. 16
    Ha Nguyen says:

    Actually, it wasn’t Gavin Schmidt. It was Eric Steig who wrote that post. I really like Gavin, but the other posters at RealClimate also deserve some love.

  17. 17
    Baud says:

    @Joel: In what sense? If I’m remembering correctly, MC is a denier.

  18. 18
    JPL says:

    @Cat Lady: As they take their last breath, they will spout it wasn’t man made.

  19. 19
    Prometheus Shrugged says:

    To be totally fair, it should be mentioned that the Berkeley project team wasn’t only Muller–he just served as the front man. Judy Curry is perhaps the best known of the group, and she has considerable credibility in the climate science community. And even Muller himself isn’t exactly a bumptious newcomer–though never really embraced by the field, he did publish a theory on the origin and evolution of the ice ages more than 20 years ago.

    That said, I agree that this is much more a story about communication and public perception of science than it is about the actual science issues or, for that matter, the scientific process.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    Baud says:

    @Mark S.: Ah. That I missed.

  22. 22
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Baud:

    Michael Crichton died in 2008, so he doesn’t really have a current opinion on global warming.

  23. 23
    Baud says:

    @Mnemosyne: Yep. Missed that somehow. Oops.

  24. 24
    JPL says:

    A while ago, I read that Fox News had on 4 deniers for every 1 scientist that accepted global warming. News Hour always gave equal time to deniers. It was never presented in a way that could be considered balanced.

  25. 25
    chopper says:

    maybe now that he has some free time muller can hit the lab and verify that things do indeed fall down instead of up.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @chopper:

    You mean the Theory of Intelligent Falling?

  27. 27
    Mark S. says:

    @JPL:

    You need a guy who denies warming exists, a guy who says it’s not man-made, a glibertarian who says CO2 is good for plants, and a guy who makes fart noises everytime the actual climate scientist talks. That’s how balance works.

  28. 28
    MeDrewNotYou says:

    I think I ought to come clean. The other day, I read a climate change* post (I forget where, but I think it was one from Tom here at BJ). One of the more interesting bits to me was that denialists have moved from:
    1)Not happening
    2)Happening but it isn’t us
    3)Happening and may be us but nothing we can do/too late to fix.

    I accept the science and am by no means a denier, but I belong in group 3. I’m willing to try measures to try and improve the situation, but I’m pessimistic about it. Any encouragement or good place to learn about plausible fixes?

    *-Whenever I talk about it, I always use ‘climate change,’ not global warming. For the uninformed, calling it global warming then seeing record winters makes it easy to dismiss. Its more important to get the point across that we’re generally fucking the climate up without giving the detailed explanation.

  29. 29
    Cermet says:

    @Mnemosyne: No lost for that hack (except for his first, most the rest really stank) but his being dead doesn’t change denialist in any way since these loonies will continue to use his works – they deny reality anyway – this just means you can’t argue with the corpse since it is buried so the ass can’t be shown to be wrong.

    @Calouste: Galileo would be a bad example for he believed that all objects uneffected by any outside force will travel in a circle; that was very poor thinking but worse, he refused to acknowledge Kelper and his brilliant work in determining the planetary motions – now that is the guy that desires a painting.

    @Villago Delenda Est: Muller does not yet or in any way acknowledge human induced global warming so he still can be Coke brothers bitch a little longer (yes, I am playing on the drug for their name – but ass wipe F’ers is their proper name.)

  30. 30
    Mark S. says:

    @MeDrewNotYou:

    My understanding is that there isn’t anything to prevent the temperature going up 1-2 degrees over the next century, but there are steps we can take to prevent it from going up a catastrophic 5-8 degrees.

    Here’s a link.

  31. 31
    Katie5 says:

    @MeDrewNotYou: well, there’s the geoengineering crowd, who research things like burying/sequestering CO2 or throwing particles in the atmosphere.

    A lot of climate change research has moved to adaptation. It’s sort of “we can’t fix it but we can do research on fixing the impacts.”

  32. 32
    Cermet says:

    @MeDrewNotYou: Your last point makes sense but isn’t fully correct; while parts of the Earth can cool – the Earth’s average will continue to warm so the correct statement IS global warming.

    As for reversing AGW, you are correct – can’t be done in our lives now – the triping point was some time ago. Yet, the max. degree of warming can be affected and even the rate. In that sense a lot can be done but your are partly correct in your belief number three. The election of that asswipe bush – besides murdering a few hundred thousand people directly, was our last chance (and a fat chance that Gore could have pulled a real limit off) to avoid the worse aspects of AGW.

  33. 33

    @MeDrewNotYou:
    I think that we’re going to get to stage 4 soon: it’s too late to do anything by reducing CO2 emissions, so we need a massive crony capitalist geoengineering program to fix it.

  34. 34
    Cermet says:

    @Katie5: Very sorry to say that burying/sequestering CO2 can not work – the volume of CO2 JUST the US produces in one year would fill all empty oil fields; first, that wouldn’t do much to stop current build rate and second, then stop all further attempts since we’d have nowhere to put any more. As for aerosol reflection that has been looked into and has a lot of possible problems. Best bet (long shot) is to get algae to ‘eat’ it. Of course, thermo-nuclear fusion CAN be done and in twenty years come on line in a big way but of course, the 1 to 2 C will be a pipe dream by then and 4 to 5 C will be the norm facing us by then (note the ‘c’ and not F; big difference since 1c = 1.8 F and this is the change in world average – that means REALLY big temps during the summer.)

  35. 35
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “Very sorry to say that burying/sequestering CO2 can not work – the volume of CO2 JUST the US produces in one year would fill all empty oil fields”

    Umm, I work with geophysicists looking at this professionally, and beg to differ.

    Also, you’re not just confined to Enhanced Oil Recovery and injection into depleted oil fields. The current interest is in CO2 for EOR because that’s got the most monetary value for the CO2, but that’s not the only option.

    You can inject into saline aquifers, which underly about 85% of the US. Recent work by Research Triangle Institute indicates that when you alternate CO2 with injections of brackish water (such as brines from so-called Zero Liquid Discharge processes), you get much better rates of dispersion and mineralization of injected CO2.

  36. 36
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “well, there’s the geoengineering crowd, who research things like burying/sequestering CO2”

    Burying/sequestering CO2 ain’t in the geoengineering sphere. It’s a CO2 reduction strategy. Stick the CO2 into saline aquifers with no impact to the biosphere.

  37. 37
    Cermet says:

    @Sock Puppet of the Great Satan: My statement is taken from peer reviewed work and stands as valid – I referenced empty oil fields not all possible places like what you are saying (salt domes) which are vast but a rather big unknown for access and volume (unlike existing fields)

    So, that approach might work using these places if those issues are addressed (rather easy) AND also, and only IF, a cheaper way could be developed to take the dirty gases from coal plants, clean them, get the CO2 out and liquefy the stuff (currently, all full scale efforts have failed miserably and that tells me a lot.)

    Only then would I buy this approach but so far, those are issues that no one has solved to date and in a cost-effective manner.

  38. 38
    MeDrewNotYou says:

    @Roger Moore: I figure we all read pretty similar blogs, so does anyone recall where the stages of denial came from?

    Also, to everyone else, thanks for the links and info.

  39. 39
    MeDrewNotYou says:

    @Cermet: I think with the climate change vs global warming wording that since the former is still correct and doesn’t obscure the truth it works better. If they ask, certainly you can explain the details. This is my strategy for the people I deal with, mostly Baby Boomers ignorant of the issue like my parents. Of course YMMV depending on who you’re educating.

    ETA-Reworded a little

  40. 40
    MeDrewNotYou says:

    @Mark S.: Sorry for taking so long to read the link. (Blame addictive Enix games.) The ‘business as usual’ projections are flat-out terrifying. Nearly 1/3 of the year over 100F in the American SW, with this picture showing US temps. Rather than being encouraged, I more scared now than before, mostly because I didn’t realize things were that bad.

    But doing something so only people with one floor houses die, while two-story homeowners live is far preferable. From this image, I’m praying like mad to FSM that we get the yellow arrow.

  41. 41
    Peggy says:

    @Calouste:
    Isaac was blind and he blessed Jacob as a result of trickery. This forms an appropriate metaphor for the blindness of Richard Muller and the trickery of AGW deniers.

    My interpretation is very blasphemous, since Jacob is the progenitor of Israel. His brother Esau, who was supposed to receive the blessing, was not as beloved by the Lord.

  42. 42
    Peggy says:

    @MeDrewNotYou:
    Adaptation, geo-engineering, and decreasing carbon dioxide production are being researched furiously. For example, the President of MIT said that one third of the faculty is working on energy issues. I don’t know if that high a percentage was involved during WWII.

  43. 43
    Prometheus Shrugged says:

    @Cermet: Check out Klaus Lackner’s strategy, which is very nearly cost effective already. (Google “Lackner” and “sequestion”–I’m too lazy to figure out how to embed links). The key point with this method of sequestration is that it completely separates the sources from the sink. There’s no need to figure out how to scrub the emissions from coal fired plants in situ.

    Also, MeDrewNotYou: sequestration can take several forms, including the development of algal biofuels (not a pipe dream anymore). The combination of direct removal and burial of CO2, with biofuels and other renewables offers considerable hope. This does, however, require that everyone be willing to pay a little extra, or, alternatively, be willing to pay for this as opposed to Afghanistan or Iraq-type “projects”.

  44. 44
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @MeDrewNotYou:

    Both terms are equally valid; it’s just that “global warming” is easier to say than “more energy being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans”.

    Put another way, climate change is the result of global warming.

    The other thing to get out there, forcefully and often, is that global warming does not mean that the surface of the Earth is going to get uniformly warmer, or that temperatures are going to increase monotonically from year to year.

  45. 45
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “My statement is taken from peer reviewed work and stands as valid”

    Valid but misleading. Who in Carbon Capture & Sequestration has been saying that EOR can take the CO2 inventory? Almost all the research work on CCS has been saline aquifers.

    However, EOR will lead to rapid rollout of CCS, once we get a price on carbon, as energy companies race to get contracts to supply CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery so they get some positive price for the CO2 they have to get rid of.

    “So, that approach might work using these places if those issues are addressed (rather easy) AND also, and only IF, a cheaper way could be developed to take the dirty gases from coal plants, clean them, get the CO2 out”

    Oh Bollocks. Gasification of coal is almost as old as the industrial revolution, and we’ve been removing CO2 from gas streams since the Haber process was invented.

    “and liquefy the stuff (currently, all full scale efforts have failed miserably and that tells me a lot.)”

    Huangeng Coal are capturing & liquefying CO2 from coal plants at the 100Ktonne/yr level, and have plans to go up two orders of magnitude in the next few years. CO2 for EOR has been used for thirty feckin’ years. Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle is probably not a runner in the US, but that’s because of the big slug of shale gas that has come online in the past few years. We’re already seeing full-scale IGCC plants which are carbon-capture ready being built in China. If you’re just focused on pilot-scale stuff in the US, you’re missing a huge part of the picture.

  46. 46
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “Check out Klaus Lackner’s strategy, which is very nearly cost effective already. (Google “Lackner” and “sequestion”—I’m too lazy to figure out how to embed links).” “The key point with this method of sequestration is that it completely separates the sources from the sink.”

    And the problem with that is that thermodynamically it takes a lot more energy to remove CO2 at the ppm level than the 3-13% you find in flue gas. Lackner’s strategy is good if we’re in the “oh f**k, we gotta get the CO2 out of the atmosphere any way possible”, and so it’s an alternative or supplement to geoengineering, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense right now. Costs I’ve seen for Lackner’s strategy are in the $500/tonne CO2 range, which is not laughably implausible but is a lot more expensive than the $30-50/tonne for carbon capture & sequestration from flue gas.

    “There’s no need to figure out how to scrub the emissions from coal fired plants in situ.

    “Also, MeDrewNotYou: sequestration can take several forms, including the development of algal biofuels (not a pipe dream anymore).”

    Why is every algal biofuel company using glucose or starch to feed their algae, then? The energy inefficiency of photosynthesis (creating a heating/cooling problem), the large areas needed because of self-shading, and the water demand mean algal biofuels are real problems for scale-up of the technology. I’d have more faith in the long-term in artificial photosynthesis.

    “The combination of direct removal and burial of CO2, with biofuels and other renewables offers considerable hope.”

  47. 47
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “IF, a cheaper way could be developed to take the dirty gases from coal plants”

    Almost all coal plants in the US have a flue gas desulfurizer, which takes out the NOx, SOx, and any particulates not caught by yer upstream cyclone, ESP, and baghouse. Tacking on a CO2 capture plant on the end of those does not require any further preprocessing of the gas.

    It sounds like whatever peer reviewed literature you’re looking at is a bit out of date.

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