Saturday, November 17, 2007

Global Warming Hype

From today's news story on the IPCC report:

"The report produced by the Nobel prize-winning panel warns of the devastating impact for developing countries and the threat of species extinction posed by the climate crisis."

...

" The report also predicts a rise in global warming of around 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade."

Two points are worth noting. The first is that "Nobel prize-winning" makes it sound as though it is evidence of the scientific expertise of the panel. But although the IPCC surely includes a lot of highly qualified scientists, the fact that the commission got the Nobel peace prize tells us very little about its scientific qualifications. Al Gore got the prize too, and he is a politician not a scientist.

The second is that the fuzzy and emotive part of the story--"crisis" "species extinction" "devastating impact"--comes first and gets the attention. The actual prediction--an increase of less than two degrees by the end of the century, which isn't what most people imagine when they talk about global climate change--is buried down in "also predicts."

It would be an interesting experiment to ask people who have read that, or similar, stories, how much they think global temperature is predicted to rise by 2100.

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27 Comments:

At 5:45 PM, November 17, 2007, Blogger McQ said...

How can anyone say what the temperature will be in 2100 when my weatherman can't get Friday's temperature right?

 
At 6:16 PM, November 17, 2007, Anonymous Poptech said...

NO 'Consensus' on "Man-Made" Global Warming

 
At 8:00 PM, November 17, 2007, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their scientific contributions. The previous time that the Peace Prize was awarded for science was Norman Borlaug in 1970, so it seems reasonable to mention it.

The reason why warming matters is because of the impacts, not the number of degrees of warming averaged over the planet, so I don't think you should fault the story for mentioning the more important stuff first.

 
At 8:20 PM, November 17, 2007, Blogger McQ said...

The Nobel Peace Prize? Hasn't everybody come to realize what a joke that award is yet?

 
At 9:26 PM, November 17, 2007, Anonymous Oog said...

"The reason why warming matters is because of the impacts, not the number of degrees of warming averaged over the planet, so I don't think you should fault the story for mentioning the more important stuff first."

I sincerely doubt that the "crisis", "species extinction", or "devastating impact" supposedly resulting from global warming is as imminent as it is made out to be.

Furthermore, given our present technology, it is very difficult to reduce CO2 enough to have any meaningful impact in recent decades. Almost certainly, any measures we enact now will cost us more than global warming would.

 
At 5:51 AM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Simon Andersson said...

Tim,

"Nobel prize-winning scientist" normally means a winner of a Nobel prize in science. The peace prize is awarded by the Norwegian parliament. The information that the CNN chooses not to convey is that the IPCC won a political award rather than a scientific one.

 
At 7:40 AM, November 18, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Typical global warming denialism.

Two degrees change is plenty to exterminate stenothermic organisms (adapted to a narrow range of temperatures) that cannot easily migrate AND their commensals. Corals, for example.

But "two degrees change" underplays much larger changes such as snow/ice cover, sea levels, changing weather patterns, etc. that are critical to many species.

It's easy to deny the importance when you know nothing about ecology.

 
At 8:25 AM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous gregg said...

I know I invite comments but every time I wear my green tee shirt it no doubt generates comments. I think they are about 50/50 pro environment and anti-environment.

 
At 9:01 AM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Simon Andersson said...

I found Mike Huben's attempt to brand Dave Friedman's remarks as 'denialism' rather interesting.

The post is about media spin. All Dave says about global warming is the suggestion that the extinction/crisis/devastation part is less certain than the temperature prediction. Is that unreasonable?

There are a lot of people who are happy to believe everything the IPCC says on climate science, but who are still concerned about the way it's spun in the media or critical of the policies proposed. The global warming enthusiasts routinely compare such people to holocaust deniers and want them silenced.

 
At 9:39 AM, November 18, 2007, Blogger John Fast said...

If I understand correctly, the IPCC as a whole was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but none of its members has ever won a Nobel Prize for science.

Am I mistaken about that? Are there any Nobel Prize-winners who are members of the IPCC?

BTW, for the record, I am one of those who is "happy to believe everything the IPCC says on climate science, but who is still concerned about the way it's spun in the media and critical of the policies proposed."

Also for the record, I support a carbon tax or cap-and-trade permits; I would like to see a requirement that the revenues be used only for environmental mitigation and/or reducing the deficit, and I would like to see the permits sold at auction rather than grandfathered in.

 
At 11:09 AM, November 18, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike writes:

"But "two degrees change" underplays much larger changes such as snow/ice cover, sea levels, changing weather patterns, etc. that are critical to many species."

Presumably you know that the current IPCC prediction for sea level change is under two feet by the end of the century--I think that one was left out of the news story I linked to entirely.

It's easy to do hand waving on possible but vague catastrophes, but misleading when the actual numbers predicted are omitted--and are a lot smaller than the hand waving and associated arguments suggest.

 
At 1:00 PM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, didn't the story say "0.2 degrees celsius," or about 0.36 degrees Farenheit? Isn't this much less than 2 degrees?

 
At 1:41 PM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooops! I re-read the part where it says 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. Never mind.

 
At 7:40 PM, November 18, 2007, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

What the IPCC report says about their sea level rise estimates:

Because understanding of some important effects driving sea level rise is too limited, this report does not assess the likelihood, nor provide a best estimate or an upper bound for sea level rise. Table SPM.1 shows model-based projections of global average sea level rise for 2090-2099. The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.


and

Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands. Such changes are projected to occur over millennial time scales, but more rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded.

 
At 7:55 PM, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Steve B. said...

... the fuzzy and emotive part of the story--"crisis" "species extinction" "devastating impact"--comes first and gets the attention. The actual prediction--an increase of less than two degrees by the end of the century, which isn't what most people imagine when they talk about global climate change--is buried down in "also predicts."


True: they put the emotion-laden words up front, with less-sensational details later. That's pretty common in journalism on all subjects, not just climate change.

I wouldn't sneeze at 2 degrees C, averaged over the globe; the climate models I've heard of also predict a large variance from place to place, so some areas will see much larger changes than that, and even 2 degrees could drive into extinction species that are geographically trapped (e.g. on mountaintops or islands) or can't migrate as fast as the temperature lines move.

There remains the unspoken question: if the scientists and/or the media are going out of their way to accentuate the "crisis", do they have a good justification for doing so? One argument is that there are lots of rich and powerful people with a financial interest in not changing the economy, while anybody with a financial interest in changing the economy is almost by definition not already rich and powerful; this suggests there will be a bias in favor of doing nothing. (By similar reasoning, legislatures seldom substantially change the procedures that elected them.) The scientists and/or media could claim they're trying to counter that predicted bias. It is left as an exercise for the reader how strong each of these biases is, and whether they actually balance one another.

 
At 8:24 AM, November 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Friedman wrote:

The actual prediction--an increase of less than two degrees by the end of the century, which isn't what most people imagine when they talk about global climate change--is buried down in "also predicts."


I would say that most people (in the US) would assume you were using Fahrenheit degrees when you make that statement, too.

Two degrees over a century doesn't sound like a lot, until you state it in common units...

Two degrees Celsius converts to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

 
At 9:45 AM, November 19, 2007, Blogger Chuck said...

anonymous wrote:
>Two degrees Celsius converts to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ok, I can't honestly tell if this guy is being serious.

Anon, we're talking about differences here. If the temp is my room goes up by 2 degree Celcius (from 10 to 12, for instance), then it's gone up by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

 
At 12:44 PM, November 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The report produced by the Nobel prize-winning panel warns of the devastating impact for developing countries...."

Humanity is disserved if, in one hundred years, today's developing countries are anything like as poor as they are now. One of the strongest arguments against a possible climate catastrophe -- or any catastrophe -- is that it is very good medicine to have a rich world and flexible economies. Any serious restrictions on CO2 will cause us to have a much poorer world, barring some technological miracle.

Thus, I find it curious to hold up undeveloped countries as a reason to go for CO2 restrictions. Undeveloped countries are the ones that will be screwed the most if we hold progress at 1990's levels.


-Daublin

 
At 2:34 PM, November 19, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steve B suggests that there is a bias in favor of the status quo, so perhaps a bias in the other direction is needed to balance it.

My suspicion is just the opposite. Governments want money and power. Fifty years ago, they could plausibly claim that, according to the best economic advice then available, they needed money and power to manage their economies, create economic growth, prevent unemployment, and the like.

Since then, there has been a large shift in the views of economists, driven in part by real world evidence--"planned economies" were much less successful than less planned ones, government attempts to manage their economies managed to produce simultaneous inflation and unemployment, the USSR, once viewed as an example of the success of planning, turned out to have been an economic flop.

The major arguments in favor of big government had vanished, and been replaced by arguments on the other side.

One solution, of course, was to bring up threats of foreign enemies, always a good way of persuading people to support strong government. That got a little more difficult when the major enemy collapsed, but that problem has now been solved.

The other solution was to use environmentalism, an emotionally powerful movement with substantial religious overtones, as the new replacement for socialism. Frighten people enough with tales of drowned cities and parched fields and they will vote new taxes, new regulatory authority, all the things governments used to be able to get with the arguments now out of favor.

Hence my suspicion when I observe what seem to me to be blatantly dishonest attempts to turn a serious scientific issue into political propaganda.

 
At 10:11 PM, November 19, 2007, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

But if you look at the negotations over the IPCC reports, you'll see that it was government representatives watering down the language. For instance:

There was disagreement on whether to maintain text in the section in bold font comparing the anthropogenic contribution with the solar contribution to radiative forcing. The UK, France, Germany, New Zealand and others proposed keeping the explicit comparison, while China and Saudi Arabia proposed deleting it. A contact group was convened. The original bold text included language stating that the change in radiative forcing from human activities is likely to have been at least five times greater than that due to solar forcing. The issues under discussion were whether to include the comparison in the bold text and how to reflect the level of uncertainty associated with the affirmation. China and Saudi Arabia said the levels of confidence could not be compared. The US and others noted that data on solar radiative forcing was extremely good after the satellite era. Japan asked why it was five times and not ten times, given the respective best estimates of 1.6 and 0.12 W m-2. The Coordinating Lead Authors explained that the factor was chosen because of the error bars. Agreement was not reached and the matter was referred back to Co-Chair Solomon. With no agreement reached by late Thursday night, Co-Chair Solomon proposed, and participants agreed, to remove the text on the comparison.

The US government is notorious for its attempts to censor scientists and scientific reports in order to downplay global warming.

 
At 7:46 AM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Steve B. said...

Daublin writes:
Undeveloped countries are the ones that will be screwed the most if we hold progress at 1990's levels.

Then why are the vast majority of signatories to the Kyoto Protocol undeveloped countries? The holdouts are basically the US and Australia, which have among the most developed economies and the most per-capita consumption on the planet. Which at least suggests that those sorts of countries will be screwed the most.

(Yes, I know almost nobody is actually meeting their targets under Kyoto, but it's useful to notice which countries at least stated an intention to do so.)

 
At 7:47 AM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Steve B. said...

David writes:
Governments want money and power.... The major arguments in favor of big government had vanished, and been replaced by arguments on the other side....
One solution, of course, was to bring up threats of foreign enemies....
The other solution was to use environmentalism... as the new replacement for socialism....


I won't dispute that governments want money and power, but I don't think much of the push for greenhouse-gas control is coming from governments, at least not the ones with the most global money and power. Indeed, those are precisely the governments that have been watering down and/or refusing to join international agreements like Kyoto. (The Bush administration, for example, has grabbed more government power than any since FDR, and it's consistently opposed doing anything about global warming.)

So if governments are in this for power, they're doing an uncharacteristically good job of acting disinterested and letting the academics do the work.

 
At 10:17 AM, November 21, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steve writes:

"The Bush administration, for example, has grabbed more government power than any since FDR, and it's consistently opposed doing anything about global warming."

The Bush administration has been following plan A--foreign enemies--with considerable success, unfortunately. You will note that their rivals for control over the U.S. government are the ones, lead by Al Gore, pushing plan B.

You will also note that the bulk of rich developed countries--i.e. Canada and western Europe (and, I think, Japan) are signatories to the treaty--the U.S. and Australia are the outliers. The two countries that seem to be most strongly opposed to holding down their carbon emissions are China and India, both poor countries in the process of becoming rich countries.

The involvement of academics in such movements is an interesting issue. It was true last time around as well, with academics making arguments for the need for expanded government power on (I think mistaken) economic grounds.

 
At 1:00 PM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Simon Andersson said...

I suspect Tim and Steve have a point - the global warming movement is not just a government or economic thing.

It seems to me that the rise of Global Warming as a progressive crusade parallels the fall of communism and the rise of Political Correctness.

Like other social movements, it is animated by
(1) the psychological needs of the activists, and
(2) the need of the movement, once established, to spread memes that perpetuate the movement.

 
At 8:54 AM, November 22, 2007, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

The trouble with your theory, David, is that we can look at the drafts and edits made to the the IPCC report and see the changes that were made. And they weren't in the direction of hyping the threat, but of downplaying it.

The reason is, I think, that while the costs of measures to limit emissions aren't particularly large, they would be bad for the coal and oil industries, and those industries have a strong motivation to influence government policy.

 
At 4:28 AM, December 10, 2007, Blogger BHUVAN CHAND JUYAL said...

Today global warming news is very danger news for earth life. Now this global warming issues takes big picture for this world. Now we are aware about this issue.

 
At 9:22 AM, April 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mcq, sorry if someone already said this, but climate and weather predictions are not the same thing.

 

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