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The Wall Street Journal vs. Scientific Consensus
The Wall Street Journal "has chosen to yet again distort the science behind human-caused climate change and global warming in their recent editorial 'Kyoto By Degrees' (6/21/05)" (subscription required), write the climate scientists blogging at Real Climate:

Last week, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 10 other leading world bodies expressed the consensus view that "there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring" and that "It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities". And just last week, USA Today editorialized that "not only is the science in, it is also overwhelming".

It is puzzling then that the WSJ editors could claim that "the scientific case....looks weaker all the time".

While we resist commenting on policy matters (e.g. the relative merits of the Kyoto Protocol or the various bills before the US Senate), we will staunchly defend the science against distortions and misrepresentations, be they intentional or not. In this spirit, we respond here to the scientifically inaccurate or incorrect assertions made in the editorial.

Since that Byrd-Hagel vote eight years ago, the case for linking fossil fuels to global warming has, if anything, become even more doubtful.

This statement stands in stark opposition to the actual findings of the world scientific community (e.g. the various National Academies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)), and the vast majority of actual peer-reviewed scientific studies.

The Earth currently does seem to be in a warming period, though how warm and for how long no one knows.

If we interpret to "know" as "is judged to be the case based on the available evidence", the statement is patently false. As detailed in previous discussions at RealClimate (see here and here and here) it is the concensus of the scientific community, based on more than a dozen independent studies using both empirical data and theoretical models (including the most recent studies in Nature and Science), that average surface temperatures over the Northern Hemisphere during the past few decades appear to be unprecedented in a very long term context, probably over at least the past 2000 years.

In particular, no one knows whether this is unusual or merely something that happens periodically for natural reasons.

This is incorrect. The natural causes of past climate variations are increasingly well-understood, and they cannot explain the recent global warming. As discussed elsewhere on this site, modeling studies indicate that the modest cooling of hemispheric or global mean temperatures during the 15th-19th centuries (relative to the warmer temperatures of the 11th-14th centuries) appears to have been associated with a combination of lowered solar irradiance and a particularly intense period of explosive volcanic activity. When these same models are forced with only natural radiative forcing during the 20th century [see e.g. Crowley (2000)] they actually exhibit a modest cooling trend. In other words, the same natural forcings that appear responsible for the modest large-scale cooling of the "Little Ice Age" should have lead to a cooling trend during the 20th century (some warming during the early 20th century arises from a modest apparent increase in solar irradiance at that time, but the increase in volcanism during the late 20th century leads to a net negative 20th century trend in natural radiative forcing). In short, given natural forcing factors alone, we should have basically remained in the "Little Ice Age". The only way to explain the upturn in temperatures during the 20th century, as shown by Crowley (2000) and many others, is indeed through the additional impact of anthropogenic (i.e., human) factors, on top of the natural factors.

Most global warming alarms are based on computer simulations that are largely speculative and depend on a multitude of debatable assumptions.

This is not correct. Concern about global warming is not based primarily on models, but rather on an understanding of the basic physics of the greenhouse effect and on observed data. We know from data that we have caused the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to rise sharply during the past century: it is now much higher than any time during the past 650,000 years (which is as far back as reliable ice core data exist). And we know that this rise in CO2-concentration changes the radiation balance of the planet and leads to a warming of global surface temperature. This is scientifically undisputed and well-established physics, which has been known since in the year 1896 the Swedish Nobel prize winner Svante Arrhenius calculated the climatic effect of a rise in CO2.

Since there is a continued increase in emissions of (in particular) CO2, continued greenhouse warming is highly likely to continue. The models serve merely to quantify these basic facts more accurately, calculate the regional climate response, and compute effects (such as the expected increase in ocean heat content or sea level) which can be tested against observed data from the real world.

There's much more at the Real Climate link above.

Posted by aalkon at June 25, 2005 8:14 AM

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The most viable alternative to the "evil" fossil fuels is nuclear power, yet so called environmentalists are the primary opponents to nuclear energy. Perhaps if we had pursued nuclear technology like France did then we wouldn't be facing this problem, assuming that one really exists. Thanks a lot, liberals!

Increases in temperature and CO2 levels aren't necessarily bad, by the way. North American forests have been growing bigger than ever, thanks to higher CO2 levels. And the planet has a much greater ability resist changes and adapt than you give it credit. To think that we can destroy the earth is just hubris.

Posted by: nash at June 25, 2005 5:24 AM

I would call myself an "environmentalist" and I don't oppose nuclear power. I'm not sure Rad would call himself an environmentalist, but I know he's with me. Don't generalize, Nash.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at June 25, 2005 8:57 AM

I'm so tired of people playing seventh grade politics. "Liberal," the way it's said above, really means "turd." And all conservatives aren't evil. I'm fiscally conservative -- against paying for NPR via taxes and for any children but the very poor to attend school. And socially (and in other ways) libertarian. See, not everybody can be pigeonholed as a piece of shit so easily!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at June 25, 2005 9:00 AM

I find it strange that the arguments about warming have resulted in the use of flagwords. Many people use the term "global warming", blurting it out like a shorthand phrase for "we need to go back to the good old days" - or some other unspecified senselessness - and they seem to use it as an accusation, as if a particular political party is responsible.

Yes, the USA does have the highest energy-per-capita usage on Earth, but nobody is interested in making serious reductions in that number. Why?

I can make the case that part of it is ignorance, part is wishful thinking, and part of is spite.

Consumers don't know how a decent house looks, buying cheap and inefficient structures; they still have as their model home a 1-story ranch far from work, requiring lots of gas to get back and forth. The public can look at market fluctuations and convince themselves that gas prices will go back down. Then, I can see people thinking that "Chinese consumption is going up; why do I have to cut back because of something someone else is doing?"

There isn't any public leadership on the issue. Government fleets don't get cut back, and gee, look at all those hundreds of millions of street lights, burning all night on the theory that Joe Citizen can't figure out how to drive in the dark!

In short there are more excuses for a person to ignore this then there presently is motivation to change anything. After all, Ice Ages and other climatic fluctuations have happened with no people at all around. That this Age of Oil can't last is just too far-out an idea for people to realize that the gallon of gas they burn today is gone forever - so they go to Wal-Mart for entertainment, never having allowed thought to bother their conscience.

Posted by: Radwaste at June 25, 2005 10:06 AM

> That this Age of Oil can't last is just too
> far-out an idea...

The 'age of oil' is going to go on for a very long time. The age of CHEAP oil is what's drawing to a close, possibly in our lifetimes.

It's not the end of life, or of safety, or of progress. There will be many economic changes, some of the hurtful. But people will continue to be rewarded for innovations that improve things. Globally, more brains than ever before are being nourished with political freedom, literacy, and ambition. We'll deal.

I'm more cynical than anyone in California about human nature. But personal cynicism can't make up the whole of one's outlook. Individual human hearts ARE shits, Amy, but the race as a whole is tremendously adaptive.

Posted by: Crid at June 25, 2005 11:51 AM

"The 'age of oil' is going to go on for a very long time. The age of CHEAP oil is what's drawing to a close, possibly in our lifetimes."

Well, there's one of the excuses, pop!, right there. Crid, the consumption can't double its present rate, period, and that's what you're looking at if a big chunk of China and India want to live like we do now. We drove 3% more than we did last year, despite gas being up 15-or-so cents per gallon, and no matter what I drive, I still get passed every minute by somebody in a Tahoe doing 80+.

I'm just anxious that we figure out how not to crap in the house before we get our noses rubbed in it.

Posted by: Radwaste at June 25, 2005 7:17 PM

Then by all means, kitten, panic. It'll make you feel better.

Posted by: Crid at June 25, 2005 7:52 PM

There's a big difference between planning and living day-to-day. When you can see it, Crid, you'll understand -- despite your penchant for denial and excuses today. The ignorant have killed the intelligent among them for millennia, and this will probably happen when, not if, the current global population is forcibly shrunk from its current 6-billion-plus.

Ask yourself this: "How much better can my standard of living be?" When your current status depends on oil, it's time to think about whether the distributors of oil will keep your standard of living high on their priority list. It's not, now, BTW; you are just a consumer like everyone else, considered en masse rather than individually.

Posted by: Radwaste at June 26, 2005 12:40 PM

>The age of CHEAP oil is what's drawing to a close, possibly in our lifetimes

That oil's the cheapest effective fuel source for vehicles is the only thing that (successfully) perpetuates the age of oil. The minute oil costs more than say, Jack Daniels, we'll be driving cars that drink what we do.

Posted by: little ted at June 26, 2005 3:19 PM

> The ignorant have killed the intelligent among
> them for millennia, and this will probably
> happen when, not if, the current global
> population is forcibly shrunk from its current
> 6-billion-plus.

Are you in the mountains in Utah, with canned goods and semi-automatics and three wives? Enjoy!

> There's a big difference between planning and
> living day-to-day.

Planning's another word for control. Read this woman's book from 1999.

Meanwhile, Panic! Panic! Panic!


Posted by: Crid at June 27, 2005 4:54 PM

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