Archive for the 'global warming' Category

Kaminsky, Curry, Me on Gleick and the Fake Heartland Strategy Memo

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Continuing the previous discussion, there are some interesting developments in the Gleick controversy. I previously mentioned that Ross Kaminsky of Heartland had been very prescient in his speculation in a blog post at The American Spectator on Friday that Gleick might be the leaker. I commented at the end of a long discussion thread there to point out my logical problems with Gleick being both smart enough to obtain the real documents from Heartland via trickery, but dumb enough to forge and leak an easily debunked strategy memo along with them.

There was no comment in response to mine, but a couple of hours later Kaminsky added a comment pointing to a New York Times article on Gleick’s confession. Kaminsky wrote in that comment:

To those whose alarmist religion has caused them to excoriate me for this blog note, the politest thing I can think of to say to you is “I told you so.”

I added a response to that comment that read as follows:

Yeah, you did. Good call by you, obviously.

I’m impressed by your ability to deduce that Gleick was the leaker. I don’t actually know the personalities of any of the principals in this whole thing, and it sounds like you do, so maybe you can help me figure out something that’s troubling me: Where did the original faked strategy memo come from? Andy Revkin has said that suspicion will now fall on Gleick of having forged it himself. But if Gleick did forge the strategy memo, why would he have included it in the document release after he got the legitimate documents from Heartland? From my reading, there really isn’t anything substantive in the fake strategy memo that isn’t in the legitimate documents. If Gleick was the one who forged the strategy memo, why risk including it in the release? It just seems like he’d be asking for Heartland to disown it as fake, thereby discrediting the entire release (as actually happened).

It bugs me, because it just doesn’t seem to make sense. The scenario as Gleick has described it (he received the fake memo anonymously, verified it by obtaining the legitimate documents, then released them all together) sounds more credible to me, at least in terms of explaining Gleick’s actions. But in that case, who created the forged memo, and for what purpose?

The forged strategy memo is similar enough to the legitimate documents that it seems clear that whoever forged it had detailed knowledge of Heartland’s internal budget and planning. But if the person who created the strategy document and leaked it to Gleick had that knowledge, why bother leaking him the forgery? Why not just leak him the legitimate documents in the first place?

As I say, I don’t really know the personalities involved here; I’m just looking at the known facts and trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Can you help?

There was no reply to that comment, but (interestingly) the comment thread on that item has either been closed, or my IP address or user account has been disabled from further commenting. (Update: And I now can post again. I now think I was too quick to infer active blocking of my commenting, and that it’s likely that it was just that my comment was too long, or there was some glitch on the server side.) Also, I’m unable to comment (Update: again, I now can, and have, commented on the item) on a newer blog entry, in which Kaminsky writes:

On his Huffington Post blog (but notably not, or at least not yet, on his Forbes blog), Peter Gleick admitted to using another’s identity to steal Heartland Institute documents, although he still has not admitted to being the author of the forged document that has caused most of the controversy.

If those climate alarmists who went after me (for what I said explicitly in my note was “my speculation”) had any honor, they would not just apologize, but feel some guilt for being associated with the religion of climate change whose high priests could sink to identity theft because they feel “frustration” at not being able to get the rest of the country to join their rent-seeking, anti-human cult.

In the meantime, I take some satisfaction in believing, though I’ll never know for sure, that my article gave Mr. Gleick some incentive to confess, before the FBI agent came to his door. Or perhaps he just didn’t want to spend the money on a new (non-Epson) scanner.

Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has posted a wonderful note talking about the depth of Peter Gleick’s hypocrisy: “The irony of it all, this coming from a scientist that has made a particular point about integrity and written many essays and even testified to congress on the subject.”

I’m still able to comment on the linked-to item by Dr. Curry, where I wrote the following. (My inadvertent use of “Ms.” from the original comment replaced here by the more-correct “Dr.”)

[Dr.] Curry writes, “I seem to have gotten his goat to have been mentioned in the fake Heartland strategy doc (hard to believe that he didn’t write this).”

This is the part I’m having a hard time figuring out.

In Gleick’s confession, he says he first received the strategy memo anonymously, then obtained the legitimate documents by deceiving Heartland. Then, since they seemed to be more or less consistent, he leaked them all. It sounds like [Dr.] Curry favors a different explanation, in which Gleick obtained the legitimate documents, then forged the strategy document using the information obtained from them.

This doesn’t make sense to me, though. If he already had the legitimate documents, why would he risk undercutting their impact by also releasing the forged strategy memo? There’s nothing substantive in the strategy memo that isn’t also in the legitimate documents. So why add the forged document to the mix? It would just be handing Heartland a convenient way to take the moral high ground (since they would immediately know the document was fake and identify it as such, as actually happened).

If Gleick is telling the truth about the sequence of events, though, his inclusion of the forged memo makes more sense: He included it in the release because he didn’t know it was fake. The legitimate documents he had obtained from Heartland seemed to confirm the details in the strategy memo, so he assumed that it was legitimate. But this scenario has a problem that bothers me, too: Who forged the strategy memo and supplied it to Gleick?

The details in the strategy memo show that whoever forged it had access to internal Heartland budget and planning information. So I guess we can go back to the original speculation from last week about a disgruntled insider, former employee, or Heartland board member. But here again, something doesn’t match up. If someone with access to the real budget and planning documents inside Heartland wanted to discredit the organization, why not leak those documents to Gleick? Instead, this hypothetical insider appears to have used the information in the real documents to forge a credible-sounding, but demonstrably fake, summary, and supplied that to Gleick. Why would the forger do that? What purpose could be served by leaking Gleick a document that could be easily denounced as a fake by Heartland, when the insider could just as easily leak the real thing?

Ross Kaminsky of Heartland was quite prescient in a blog post at The American Spectator last Friday in which he singled out Gleick as a likely source of the leaked documents. In that piece he pointed out the similarity of this incident to that of the forged “Killian documents” that brought down Dan Rather. I agree with him that the similarities between the two cases are striking. Many people said at the time of that earlier incident that Rather (or his producer Mary Mapes) must have forged the Killiam memos, just as [Dr.] Curry appears to be saying that Gleick may have forged the Heartland strategy memo. To me, though, that’s reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s phrase about giving the accused “credit for having too much imagination and too little.”

It’s all very curious.

So, the fun continues…

Update: More commentary:

Gleick Outs Himself As (Intermediate) Source of Leaked Heartland Memos

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Whoa. From climate scientist Peter Gleick, whose writing on water issues I’ve been following for a while, comes this bombshell: The Origin of the Heartland Documents.

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

This is kind of huge, at least for me personally as a follower of gossipy climate-change science-vs.-denialism stuff. And it’s a fascinating twist on the previous speculation regarding the two sets of documents. If I’m following this correctly, the alleged sequence of events went like this:

  • Someone sends Gleick a document purporting to be a Heartland strategy memo. It contains a number of facts that turn out to be correct, though it also has some things that look indicative of a fake.
  • Gleick, attempting to get confirmation, tricks Heartland into sending him a batch of real documents.
  • Gleick anonymously releases both sets of documents.
  • Hilarity ensues.
  • Gleick comes clean.

It’s that last “comes clean” part that really sets me back on my heels. I’m used to these sorts of things just sputtering out into claims and counter-claims, with no real certainty as to what actually happened. (Think the O.J. trial aftermath.) But this sounds like the real deal.

It’s also kind of shocking, and I’m sure will be complete catnip for all the spy-vs.-spy conspirators on both sides of the issue. Yee ha.

The question I can’t stop wondering about is this: Who sent Gleick the original memo? Whoever it was apparently had at least some degree of access to confidential information at Heartland. So, a disgruntled former employee? But why send Gleick the deniable (and apparently fake) strategy document? Why not send him the real stuff (i.e., the stuff he obtained later)?

Some people are speculating that Gleick may have faked the strategy document himself. (See Andy Revkin doing so here, for example: Peter Gleick Admits to Deception in Obtaining Heartland Climate Files.) But why release it, once he had the legitimate documents? The strategy memo doesn’t really have anything significant that isn’t in the legitimate ones. If Gleick faked the strategy document, why would he risk including it along with the legitimate documents that he actually got from Heartland? The risk-reward ratio doesn’t make sense.

Consider this alternate scenario: Maybe the folks at Heartland themselves sent Gleick the strategy document, on purpose, hoping he would publish it. Then they could deny it as fake and discredit him. I confess that this was one of the first things I wondered when the story first broke (see the mention in this comment I made on Michael Tobis’ Planet 3.0 blog last Tuesday). But I abandoned the idea because it didn’t seem to make sense: The real documents in the larger batch were the sort of thing Heartland would never have released on purpose.

But the timeline according to Gleick makes the “Heartland dirty trick” theory seem more credible. Heartland could have faked the strategy memo, including enough true-ish information to be credible, but not so much detail as to be actually damaging to them. They could have sent it to Gleick, hoping he would publish it, after which they could discredit him for releasing the fake. But they didn’t count on his being crafty enough to get the other documents via the social-engineering attack. Confronted by the release of the full batch, they scratch their heads a bit, then settle on attacking the leak of the faked memo, as per the original plan, while blustering and hand-waving as to the other documents.

One thing I like about this scenario is that it provides an explanation for Gleick’s now coming clean: Heartland would have actually known he was the source (since they provided him the memo). So they could have been pressuring him with being exposed as the source (which in this scenario would have been their real objective all along). So Gleick was left between a rock and a hard place: be exposed by Heartland, or just admit what he’d done and take the heat.

And here I thought the best soap opera I’d see this week would be Downton.

Update: See this item by Heartland boardmember Ross Kaminsky from last Friday in The American Spectator: Theft and Apparent Forgery of Heartland Institute Documents:

One obvious suspect in the Heartland document theft — and this is just my speculation — is Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security and a true enemy of the Heartland Institute. Gleick is a committed alarmist rent-seeker who seems quite bitter that he shares Forbes magazine’s pages with Heartland’s James Taylor.

The document which the alarmists have been trying to make the most of is called “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” It appears to be of a similar nature to the forged “Rathergate” documents which ended Dan Rather’s long career promoting leftist views disguised as news.

I hadn’t previously seen this posting, but now that I have, it contributes to my sense that Heartland could have been responsible for leaking the fake strategy memo to Gleick. In that scenario, this posting by Kaminsky was part of ramping up the pressure on Gleick, leading to the (planned) eventual revelation of him as the source of the leak. Reading it after the fact, Kaminsky’s post certainly sounds prescient. It’s a remarkably strong statement (and again, a bit of a head-scratcher from a risk-reward standpoint) for someone to be making if he doesn’t already know that Gleick is the leaker.

Kaminsky is definitely right about the similarity of this case to that of the Killian documents that ended Dan Rather’s career. In that case, as in this one, you had an enemy of political conservatives receiving a really juicy document (in hindsight, one too good to be true). In each case, when the liberal recipient took the bait and publicized the document, he was quickly exposed, with resulting damage to his reputation.

Clever stuff.

The Heartland Institute Memos

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I haven’t posted about this yet, though I’ve been following it from the get-go (obviously). But at this point it’s made the jump to mainstream news, so here goes. From the the NYT: Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science:

Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.

The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.

The documents first appeared on anti-denialist blogs after reportedly being emailed to the blogs’ operators by someone going by the name of “Heartland Insider”. The Heartland Institute itself, after taking a day to prepare a response, is now saying that the documents were obtained by a social-engineering hack in which someone phoned them, identified himself or herself as a donor with a recently-changed email address, and requested that the documents be emailed to the new address. For myself, I think it’s quite credible both that someone would have used that approach and that Heartland would have fallen for it. That’s social engineering 101.

One of the documents, a two-page memo headed “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy, has been described by Heartland as “a total fake”, though presumably the rest of the 100-page release is legitimate.

The question of whether the strategy memo is, in fact, a fake, is interesting to me. It certainly seems possible. The document has PDF metadata that differs from that of the other documents, indicating that it was created via a different process and at a different time. Of course, that information was visible to Heartland as well as everyone else once the documents were published, which means Heartland had time to notice and (perhaps) craft the “total fake” line as a way of trying to muddy the waters. Or it could be true that that document was indeed a fake, added to the mix by the leaker in an effort to distill some of the juicier tidbits from the rest of the documents (with which the strategy memo is more or less consistent) into a more readily-digestible format.

I think I’m inclined to go with Heartland on this part of the story, mostly because the claim that the memo is a fake raises the stakes. If the memo is legitimate, then presumably others among Heartland’s board and donors have copies of it as well, which means it would only take one of them to blow the whistle on the Institute’s lie. I wouldn’t put it past Heartland to take that risk, but the benefits of disowning that one document don’t really seem worth it to me. It’s easier for me to think that the malicious hacker who leaked the memos (who was already running a significant criminal risk as a result of the social engineering, assuming that part of Heartland’s story is true), was willing to try to juice the news value of the story via the additional fabrication.

That still leaves the rest of the damning information untouched, though. It’s not like it’s really news that prominent voices in the denialist community have been quietly getting money from Heartland (Craig Idso, $11,600 per month; Fred Singer, $5,000 per month, etc.), but it still puts the discussion on a different level to have the numbers from Heartland’s own budget. And there’s this (from the NYT article):

Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

I loved the Times’ response:

It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.

This is from a straight news story, people. Damn those pesky facts, with their well-known liberal bias. Kudos to the Times and its reporters for resisting the journalistically lazy practice of granting false equivalence to both “sides” of a scientific “controversy” that is not, in fact, scientifically controversial.

Moving on, I suspect this is the part that is most worrisome for Heartland:

The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.

Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.

For them to lose their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity would definitely hurt them (while helping the rest of humanity). So I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that part.

More commentary:

On to the comments. Unleash the hounds!

Update: Megan McCardle in The Atlantic makes a fairly convincing case for the strategy memo being, in fact, fake: Leaked Docs From Heartland Institute Cause a Stir—but Is One a Fake? She points out several things I hadn’t noticed in my quick read-through of the whole packet, but which seem in hindsight to be strongly suggestive of fakery by an ideological opponent of Heartland. Also, she updates the posting with an observation that comes close to being a smoking gun: The mischaracterization of Koch’s funding in the strategy memo (but only in the strategy memo), as being for anti-global-warming advocacy, rather than for healthcare advocacy, as seems to be the case based on the legitimate documents.

Skeptical Science on Vahrenholt’s Interview in Spiegel

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Craig seems to have fallen in with the anti-global-warming tinfoil-hat crowd, which is kind of disappointing; I’d always thought he was smarter than that. I guess it’s an indication that as long as you’re willing to consume garbage as input, your output will suffer accordingly.

Craig describes Fritz Vahrenholt as “a significant German warmist-turned-skeptic”; later Craig comments that “a warmist representative who has seen an advance copy of the book, says a ‘number’ of the issues brought up have been ‘refuted’.”

Digression: This term “warmist” bugs me. The implication is that there’s an unreasoning element advancing a nefarious global warming conspiracy. I’ll accept that there’s room for legitimate debate in terms of the policy response to global warming, and I think it’s likely that the actually-criminal tactics of the conspirators on the anti-science side (and, admittedly, the success of those tactics in influencing the public debate) have induced a bunker mentality and more rigid positions from those arguing for warming-aware policies. But to characterize those who accept reality on climate science as “warmists” is to engage in a false equivalence. Setting policy responses to one side, there’s an objective reality in terms of the underlying facts of the matter as determined by science, and the denialism worthy of an “ist” suffix is almost entirely on the anti-warming side. Also, putting “number” and “refuted” in scare quotes is misleading; there are indeed a number of obvious problems with Vahrenholt’s arguments, and those arguments have indeed been refuted.

Anyway, in response to hype that the Spiegel item apparently has been getting recently from the anti-warming conspiracists, Skeptical Science pointed to a previous debunking they did: Fritz Vahrenholt – Duped on Climate Change.

Let’s begin with the book’s authors. Who are they, what expertise do they have, and what possible motive might they have to distort the science?

German electric utility executive Fritz Vahrenholt is co-author (along with geologist Sebastian Lüning) of a book expressing “skepticism” regarding the human contribution to global warming, which predictably has been trumpeted by the usual climate denial enablers. Why should we particularly care what Vahrenholt thinks about climate science? That is something of a mystery – he has a PhD in chemistry and has worked in the energy sector for Shell Oil and wind turbine maker RePower. Vahrenholt and Lüning both currently work for RWE Innogy, Germany’s second-largest energy company (Vahrenholt as a manager, Lüning as a scientist in its oil and gas division).

Vahrenholt admits he has no expertise in climate science, but apparently his status as “Germany’s Top Environmentalist” (a title which Vahrenholt appears to have been awarded just recently by anti-climate think tanks and denialists) and his climate “skepticism” are sufficient for some people to take his climate claims seriously.

Sigh. The credentials of the authors suggest what we’re in for: a Gish gallop of misleading claims about what climate science says from people whose livelihoods depend on getting the science wrong. SkS does the dirty work of going through Vahrenholt’s claims from the interview, knocking them down one by one:

  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “The long version of the IPCC report does mention natural causes of climate change, like the sun and oscillating ocean currents. But they no longer appear in the summary for politicians. They were simply edited out.” In fact, as SkS points out, there are many prominent mentions of natural causes of climate change in the report’s summary for politicians. They quote five passages and reprint two prominent figures as examples.
  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “It hasn’t gotten any warmer on this planet in almost 14 years, despite continued increases in CO2 emissions. Established climate science has to come up with an answer to that.” Except that it has gotten warmer, though on short time scales that warming is hidden in land-based measurements by the noisy oscillations resulting from land-ocean heat exchange. “And of course,” continues SkS, “there’s the fact that the odd timeframe choice of 14 years conveniently begins at the peak of the strongest El Niño in a century (a.k.a. cherrypicking of short-term data).” See the “down the up escalator” graphic I ran recently, or any of numerous “hockey stick” graphs produced using various methods by various independent research teams over the last few decades, demonstrating that recent warming is an anomaly unrivaled in the past 800,000 years.

The SkS piece goes on to point out Vahrenholt misstatements on solar radiation, galactic cosmic rays, and research on cloud formation at CERN. In each case, SkS gives links to supporting information on the actual science that refutes Vahrenholt’s claims.

I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Vahrenholt is a hack, someone willing to blatantly distort and mislead as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at confusing the public about the facts uncovered by scientists.

Kloor on Roberts on Option 2b (Planned Economic Contraction)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Since I’m turning away from fantasyland discussions with the deeply ignorant and/or dishonest and/or unconcerned with truth, we can all look forward to a corresponding embracing of reality. So to kick that off, here’s an interesting commentary by Keith Kloor on a scary-but-rock-solid, as far as I can tell, post by Dave Roberts: A Climate Hawk Gets Real.

Gleick on Cherrypicked Climate Trends

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Not to beat a dead horse, but here’s a nice piece from Peter Gleick in Forbes about how deniers cherrypick data in their effort to show that the climate isn’t warming: “Global Warming Has Stopped”? How to Fool People Using “Cherry-Picked” Climate Data.

The current favorite argument of those who argue that climate changes isn’t happening, or a problem, or worth dealing with, is that global warming has stopped. Therefore (they conclude) scientists must be wrong when they say that climate change is caused by humans, worsening, and ultimately a serious environmental problem that must be addressed by policy makers.

The problem with this argument is that it is false: global warming has not stopped and those who repeat this claim over and over are either lying, ignorant, or exhibiting a blatant disregard for the truth.

So, deniers, which is it: Are you lying, ignorant, or exhibiting a blatant disregard for the truth? There really aren’t any other options.

Masters on Climate vs. Weather

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Christine Shearer (another one of those educated youngsters who happen to be female; doubtless this will elicit a virtual chuckle and condescending head-pat from you-know-who in the comments) has a really good interview with Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground: “Expect the Unprecedented”: Weather Underground Meteorologist Jeff Masters On Our Shifting Climate.

The whole interview is highly recommended, but here were a few of my favorite parts. On TV weathermen:

Christine Shearer: Despite these shifting parameters, many meteorologists do not consider climate change when offering their reports, even when it comes to events where it seems it would at least deserve a mention. Why do you think that is – is there something fundamentally different about how meteorologists and climatologists are trained?

Jeff Masters: TV meteorologists are not required to have training in climate change in order to get their AMS [American Meteorological Society] seal of approval, and most do not have any formal training in climate science. In a subject as complicated and politically charged as climate change, I would expect most of them would be reluctant to offer their views on the subject if they have little training.

And this, on what we should be most concerned about:

Jeff Masters: Stronger hurricanes, bigger floods, more intense heat waves, and sea level rise have been getting many of the headlines with regards to potential climate change impacts, but drought should be our main concern. Drought is capable of crashing a civilization. To illustrate, drought has been implicated in the demise of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, the Anasazis of the Southwest U.S., and the Akkadians of Syria in 2200 B.C. The Russian heat wave and drought of 2010 led to a spike in global food prices that helped cause unrest in Africa and the Middle East that led to the overthrow of several governments. It’s likely that global-warming intensified droughts will cause far more serious impacts in the coming decades, and drought is capable of crashing our global civilization in a worst-case scenario, particularly if we do nothing to slow down emissions of carbon dioxide.

Extreme weather years like 2010 and 2011 are very likely to increase in frequency, since there is a delay of several decades between when we put heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and when the climate fully responds. This is because Earth’s oceans take so long to heat up when extra heat is added to the atmosphere (think about how long it takes it takes for a lake to heat up during summer.) Due to this lag, we are just now experiencing the full effect of CO2 emitted by the late 1980s; since CO2 has been increasing by 1 – 3% per year since then, there is a lot more climate change “in the pipeline” we cannot avoid.

We’ve set in motion a dangerous boulder of climate change that is rolling downhill, and it is too late to avoid major damage when it hits full-force several decades from now. However, we can reduce the ultimate severity of the damage with strong and rapid action. A boulder rolling downhill can be deflected in its path more readily early in its course, before it gains too much momentum in its downward rush. For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that every dollar we invest in alternative energy before 2020 will save $4.30 later. There are many talented and dedicated people working very hard to deflect the downhill-rolling boulder of climate change–but they need a lot more help very soon.

Wormtongues and Gandalfs

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

But when I escaped and warned you, then the mask was torn, for those who would see. After that Wormtongue played dangerously, always seeking to delay you, to prevent your full strength being gathered. He was crafty: dulling men’s wariness, or working on their fears, as served the occasion.

— Tolkien’s Gandalf, The Two Towers

The fossil fuel industry, along with its witting and unwitting stooges, continues to play the part of Wormtongue in trying to keep the US public from understanding and responding to global warming. Besides the Wall Street Journal editorial from a week ago, there was another [WARNING: BULLSHIT!] raft of denialist hokum in the Daily Mail [END BULLSHIT].

And there was this: Coal-Powered PAC Runs Harassment Campaign Against Climate Scientist Michael Mann.

A coal-industry astroturf group is running a public campaign to harass Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann for his “radical agenda” of climate science. The Common Sense Movement/Secure Energy for America Political Action Committee (CSM/SEAPAC) has established a website asking people to criticize the Penn State Speakers Forum for allowing Michael Mann to speak about the climate change challenge. “Join us in calling on the administration to disinvite the disgraced academic,” the group says on its Facebook page.

That really bugs me. Frankly, it pisses me off.

Some good resources to fight back against the B.S.:

  • Global warming battles on the blogs – A good round-up by Greg Laden of the various outrageous lies and outraged rebuttals that have appeared over the last few weeks.
  • Still going down the up escalator – An excellent response to the dishonest attack on Phil Plait’s use of the “escalator graph” (the same one I posted atop the item last week that led to the interminable thread in which shcb was too chicken to provide sourcing for his contrarian views on climate change).

We’re totally dealing with Wormtongue here, and the scientific consensus that has emerged in the last few years has moved us firmly into the “mask is torn” phase. People like Michael Mann are our Gandalf, letting a shaft of sunlight through.

Update: According to the Guardian (yeah, I know), Penn State (yeah, I know) is doing the right thing by Mann: Penn State defies Facebook campaign calling for it to drop climate lecture. Yay. Go, Gandalf.

BS and Anti-BS

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Kevin Drum talks today about the inherent silliness of people spouting bullshit economic theories, and other people debunking it, and how the whole process just goes on forever without actually getting anywhere. But he thinks it’s still necessary: Fighting the bullshit.

So sure, it’s kabuki. All of us who write about politics for a living understand that 90% (at least) of what we do is just shadow boxing. Controversies are invented, then debunked, then invented all over again, and debunked. Sometimes the inventors know perfectly well what they’re doing, while other times they’ve talked themselves into actually believing their own nonsense. In either case, these things are mostly just proxies for the issues that really matter.

But so what? The Reichstag fire was wholly invented too, and look what happened after that. As demeaning as it is, fighting back against bullshit is every bit as important as fighting back against the real stuff.

I think I was on-board with Mr. Drum all the way up to the last sentence, at which point I balked. “Every bit as important”? Really? I’m not convinced of that.

Which isn’t to say that fighting back against bullshit isn’t important. Case in point, the recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece claiming global warming is a sham. It’s exceedingly dishonest, and worthy of being fought back against. But is fighting back against it as important as fighting against the real stuff? I think maybe it’s only 38% as important. The real stuff, after all, is real.

Anyway, I know from The Debunking Handbook that I’m at risk of reinforcing the bullshit in your minds just by mentioning it, but so be it. I think that ship has already sailed, as least as far as is concerned. I’ll try to prominently flag it, at least, as they recommend.

For what it’s worth, then, here’s the (WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS BULLSHIT!!) original WSJ opinion piece:

And here is the first in an ongoing batch of reasonable, well-informed, honest debunkings to fill the hole in your brain left by the removal of the previous bullshit. NOTE: NON-BULLSHIT:

Kate on Climate Models

Friday, January 20th, 2012

More interesting stuff that shcb will not read (Update: That he says he did read. Though he also says the planet isn’t warming, so take that for what it’s worth.): How do climate models work? This is by Kate at ClimateSight. It’s a very readable explanation of a subject she knows very, very well.

Roberts Interviews Hayhoe

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

David Roberts did an interview recently with Katherine Hayhoe, the Texan evangelical Christian and climate scientist. Hayhoe contributed a key chapter on climate change to Newt Gingrich’s forthcoming book on environmental entrepreneurship, only to have Gingrich reverse course and dump the chapter from the book. She has some really interesting insights into what’s going on with climate scientists and their interactions with those who have been misled by climate change denialists: Chatting with the climate scientist Newt dissed.

Communicating About (Climate) Science

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), who have fought the long fight to keep creationism out of public school science classes, are expanding their focus to include climate change denialism. See this article in the LA Times: Climate change skepticism seeps into science classrooms, and this blog post from NCSE’s Josh Rosenau: NCSE takes on climate change.

Lately I’ve been reading Randy Olson’s Don’t Be Such a Scientist. Olson was a tenured science professor who left academia to attend USC Film School, and has since made a career of helping scientists do a better job of communicating. One of the things he talks about is the need to move beyond listeners’ heads, to try to engage their hearts, guts, and (if possible) sex organs. He mentions NCSE, and how the organization eventually just made a blanket recommendation that scientists not debate creationists publicly. They came to that position reluctantly, after realizing that in almost every case, the cerebral, fact-based presentations favored by scientists were losing to the emotional, intuitive, sexy presentations of their creationist opponents.

It’s very hard, Olson writes, for scientists to give up the idea that being right, having more and better facts on their side, should convince a lay audience. He talks about the years he spent attending science presentations, then coming back to them after film school and realizing how incredibly boring and ineffectual they were.

Most of the time. There are the occasional exceptions, though. Olson’s bloggish site recently had an item that I really loved, and meant to share, but then forgot about until Boing Boing reminded me. Anyway, here it is, as published in the British Journal of Urology: How (not) to communicate new scientific information: A memoir of the famous Brindley lecture.

This lecture was unique, dramatic, paradigm-shifting, and unexpected. It is difficult to imagine that a similar scenario could ever take place again. Professor Brindley belongs in the pantheon of famous British eccentrics who have made spectacular contributions to science. The story of his lecture deserves a place in the urological history books.

As someone who has sometimes struggled to communicate complex technical information in a way that is compelling and memorable, I’m in awe of Professor Brindley. I’ll never be in his league, but I’m inspired by his example.

Republicans (!) in New Hampshire Talk about Climate Change

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

What it sounds like when Republicans talk sanely about the climate:

Alexander on Why COP17 Was Depressing

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Kaitlin Alexander writes in her ClimateSight blog about just why the result that came out of the recent COP17 meeting in Durban was so depressing: What Happened At Durban?

At COP15 in Copenhagen, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The German Advisory Council on Global Change crunched the numbers and discovered that the sooner we start reducing emissions, the easier it will be to attain this goal. This graph shows that if emissions peak in 2011 we have a “bunny slope” to ride, whereas if emissions peak in 2020 we have a “triple black diamond” that’s almost impossible, economically. (Thanks to Richard Sommerville for this analogy).

The thing is, even the early-peak slope isn’t exactly the sort of thing you want to try to negotiate your first time on skis. A 3.7% annual reduction in global carbon output would be unprecedented and difficult. 9% per year just isn’t going to happen, as far as I can see.

That’s why the Durban outcome was so depressing: It represents an agreement to collectively close our eyes and repeat fervently, “I do believe in fairies. I do! I do!”

I do not believe in fairies. I do believe, however, that by pretending to enable collective action that can limit warming to 2C, Durban helped to ensure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a world with 4C warming and beyond.

Mann on the Hockey Stick Graph

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Michael Mann has taken a lot of abuse (some of it hosted on this site) over his original “hockey stick” graph showing that the recent (and ongoing) rise in global temperature is an anomaly.

If you’re going to trash someone, you probably owe it to him to trash what he’s actually saying, rather than simply knocking down straw-man caricatures of what he’s said. So, in that spirit, here’s 16 minutes of Michael Mann speaking for himself:

People like Michael Mann and James Hansen didn’t ask to be public figures. They were just perfectly ordinary scientists drawn by their own curiosity to dig into what was, at the time, the obscure field of using computer models to investigate long-term changes in climate. But these ordinary guys just happened to come across a truth that made them targets for people who are selfish and evil enough to sacrifice the welfare of the entire human race (literally) in pursuit of their own short-term economic gain.

To their credit, scientists like Mann and Hansen have continued to speak the truth despite the persecution it has brought them. If you think your competing truth is more compelling than theirs, go ahead and bash them. You’ll be wrong, and an objective observer will quickly realize that you’re either dishonest or ignorant or both, but hey, that’s what blog comments are for. So go ahead and put yourself on the record, and let history be the judge.

Shearer on Fossil Fuel Companies’ Liability for Disinformation

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Christina Shearer asks an interesting question: Will fossil fuel companies face liability for climate change? She’s not looking at the question of whether they’re liable for selling fossil fuels, but rather at the question of whether, by funding and disseminating research that they know to be false, they’re guilty of a tort, and can be held liable for damages.

…while people and companies enjoy the First Amendment right to free speech, legal scholars have argued that right does not extend to influencing people under false pretenses. According to former tobacco industry lawyer Stephen Susman, when it comes to fossil fuel companies and supporters funding their own research on climate change, if “they knew the information they were spreading was false and being used to deliberately influence public opinion — that would override their First Amendment rights.”

This question may soon be playing out in the courts.

Roberts on Anderson and Bows on Climate Change Mitigation

Friday, December 9th, 2011

David Roberts has been producing some of the best writing on climate change I’ve been reading lately. This piece in particular really impressed (and depressed) me: The brutal logic of climate change mitigation. In it, he talks about the implications of a recent paper by climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows (original: Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world).

The whole Roberts piece is very much worth reading, but here’s what he ends with:

This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: “The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

I know what you’re thinking. It’ll never happen. It’s political suicide to bring it up. Conservatives will use it against us. Very Serious People will take to fainting couches across the land. I’ll address those questions in my next post.

But for now, it’s enough to say: It is what it is. As Anderson says, we’re currently mitigating for 4 degrees C and planning for 2 degrees C. That is ass backwards. It is, almost clinically, insane. We need to be doing the opposite — mitigating for 2, planning for 4 — as soon as possible.

Like Copenhagen, the current Durban talks are challenging my sense of what’s possible, and this Roberts piece (and the paper it’s based on) really get to the heart of the matter. For people like shcb, climate change really is very nearly impossible to accept, no matter how much evidence exists for it, because if you accept that it’s real, and an existential threat to civilization, the only reasonable way to deal with it is through cooperative, collaborative global government action. Which is anathema to the current US conservative worldview. What is increasingly clear, also, is that it’s not enough to spur “green jobs” and “restore America’s place as the pre-eminent power in the 21st century”. We’re not going to be able to sustain economic growth along the same lines we’ve come to take for granted. We’ve binged our way through a huge fossil fuel energy expenditure, but we can’t continue, and the harder we squeeze our eyes and pretend we can, just a little longer, the worse a future we bequeath to our descendants.

It’s really quite spectacularly selfish. There’s a moral component to the crisis that really affects me on an emotional level. Climate change denialism isn’t just stupid. It’s evil. I’m not sure getting upset about that is conducive to true understanding or wise decision-making, but sometimes that happens.

Revkin and Klein on the Way Forward on Climate

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Andrew Revkin shares an email discussion he had with Naomi Klein (and bookends the discussion with his own additional observations) about the big picture on climate change: Naomi Klein’s Inconvenient Climate Conclusions. A short excerpt:

Q. Your examination of liberals’ views appropriately reveals the unwillingness – at least of “mainstream” liberals? – to acknowledge the full scope of what would need to happen on a world heading toward 9 billion people seeking decent lives. Certainly others — e.g., Growthbusters and the Post Carbon Institute — have not.

But you also seem to presume that the only strategy that can work is “radical government intervention,” when there are other approaches that have gained some traction — including no-brainers like strengthening standards and incentives for energy efficiency and conservation (which surveys show have very wide support, including among Republicans outside the obstructionist fringe, see p.5 here) while reviving long-eroded basic research and development in basic energy-related sciences. (Even George Will has warned the new Republican power brokers against neglecting science.)

A. I agree that some market incentives and R&D investments are part of the solution, and I say so in the piece. But do I think they can get us to 80 per cent emissions reduction by mid-century? No. Not everything is win-win, some very powerful players are going to have to lose if we ever decide to get serious about climate change, which is why the denial movement is so well funded.

It’s interesting to me (and kind of refreshing, if also depressing) to listen to some smart non-denialists arguing over what needs to happen. They’re describing an elephant based on divergent notions of the trunk’s importance versus the tail’s, which leads me to think they’re both right (and both wrong). But at least they’re not wrong in the same sense that the denialists are wrong. Yes, it’s an elephant, not a trunk or a tail. But it’s more a trunk or tail than it is a tortilla.

Moran on the Stages of Climate Change Denialism

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Daniel Keys Moran (heh) on the stages of climate change denialism.

I enjoyed the comment thread, too. +1 your favorites!

The GOP’s Uncomfortable Position on Climate-Change Science

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Here’s a nice article by Coral Davenport from the National Journal: Heads in the Sand.

Two days later, the reporter tried again. Approached in the Capitol, Barrasso smiled and appeared poised to answer questions, inviting the reporter into an elevator with him. As the door slid shut, the reporter asked, “Do you believe that climate change is causing the Earth to warm?” A long silence ensued. The senator eventually let out a slow laugh and said, “This isn’t the time to have that conversation.” As soon as the elevator opened, he clapped his phone to his ear and walked briskly toward the Capitol subway.

I realize our election cycles are all about the next year or two. But on the timescale of decades, the Republican Party’s current approach to climate change is a loser. This is going to cut across all demographics, all socio-economic categories. Race, taxation, civil rights; it doesn’t matter. Whatever your hot button issues are, they are predictably going to be trumped by climate change. The Republican Party is placing a red bet on a roulette wheel that only has black slots.

It will be interesting (painful, but interesting) to see how that works out for them.