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NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover

Posted on 29 April 2017 by dana1981

Yesterday, New York Times subscribers were treated to an email alert announcing the first opinion column from Bret Stephens, who they hired away from the Wall Street Journal. Like all Journal opinion columnists who write about climate change, Stephens has said a lot of things on the subject that could charitably be described as ignorant and wrong. Thus many Times subscribers voiced bewilderment and concern about his hiring, to which the paper’s public editor issued a rather offensive response.

Justifying the critics, here’s how the paper announced Stephens’ first opinion column in an email alert (usually reserved for important breaking news):


In his debut as a Times Op-Ed columnist, Bret Stephens says reasonable people can be skeptical about the dangers of climate change

Stephens gets his few facts wrong

In his column, Stephens pooh-poohed climate change as a “modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880,” citing the 2014 IPCC report. However, Stephens packed three big mistakes into that single sentence. Here’s what the IPCC said (emphasis added):

The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C over the period 1880 to 2012

The northern hemisphere warms faster than the global average because it has more land and less ocean than the southern hemisphere (water warms slowly), so this is an important mistake that underestimates the global temperature rise. On top of that, since 2012 we’ve seen the three hottest years on record (2014, 2015, and 2016), so even the 0.85°C warming figure is outdated (it’s now right around 1°C).

Stephens doesn’t understand the rapid pace or urgency of the problem

Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.” We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years. The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 10,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on how much carbon pollution we dump into the atmosphere. If we take serious immediate action to cut those emissions, as the international community pledged to do under the Paris agreement, we can limit global warming to perhaps 2°C, and the climate consequences that come along with it.

But this is where Stephens’ opinions are particularly unhelpful:

Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts … Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.

In other words, the people obstructing climate policies are justified because climate “advocates” are too mean to them, and claim too much certainty about the future.

This is of course nonsense. There is uncertainty about how much global warming and climate change we’ll see in the coming decades (climate scientists are crystal clear about this), but the biggest factor contributing to that uncertainty is human behavior – how much carbon pollution we end up dumping into the atmosphere. This is apparent from looking at the IPCC global temperature projections:


Global average surface temperature projections. Illustration: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.

In the red ‘burn lots of fossil fuels’ (RCP8.5) scenario, we’ll see a further 3.0–5.5°C warming between now and 2100. In the blue ‘take immediate serious climate action’ (RCP2.6) scenario, we’ll see a further 0.5–1.5°C global warming by 2100. Those ranges represent uncertainties in the climate modeling, but the difference between them – which is based on how much carbon pollution we release – is bigger than the uncertainty in each scenario.

Stephens needs a lesson in risk management

Smoking provides an apt analogy. Each time we smoke, we increase the odds of developing cancer a little bit more. The future outcome is uncertain – we don’t know exactly if or when the disaster of cancer will hit – but we know we’re making it more likely every time we smoke, and the smart move is to mitigate that risk by cutting down on the cigarettes as quickly as possible. With climate change, each time we add more carbon pollution to the atmosphere, we increase the odds of a climate catastrophe a little bit more. The smart move is to mitigate that risk by cutting down on our burning of fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Stephens’ piece is akin to criticizing doctors and anti-smoking groups for being too mean to the tobacco industry, and for not focusing on the uncertainty about exactly when the chain-smoking patient will develop cancer.

So far, climate change may be humanity’s greatest-ever risk management failure. The Paris climate agreement was a major step to remedy that failure, but now the Trump administration is debating whether to withdraw from it, or simply refuse to honor America’s pledges. 

There have been bipartisan bills in Congress to implement market-based solutionsto the problem, but each has been blocked by the Republican Party at the behest of its fossil fuel donors. Democrats have even proposed small government, revenue-neutral solutions that would benefit the economy, but while some Republican elder statesmen support the policy, Republicans in Congress have refused to even vote on it.

Stephens punches the hippies

In short, on climate science and policy it’s clear where the problem lies, and it’s not with the advocates. Not only does Stephens get basic facts wrong and gloss over the tremendous risks posed by climate change, but he blames partisan policy obstruction on the people who are desperately trying every possible avenue to solve the problem. The New York Times is publishing and promoting textbook hippie punching, and its readers are rightly appalled. 

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Comments 1 to 42:

  1. After Trump was elected I wanted to support some of the great American insitutions of journalism.  I bought a subscription to the NY Times. 

    I cancelled it when they decided to feature this Stephens clown. 

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  2. Is there a way to write to the NYT if you are not a subscriber?

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  3. Recommended supplemtal reading:

    Some thoughts on Bret Stephens’ misleading climate take by Brian L Kahn, Medium, Apr 29, 2017

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  4. If you want an overview of the New York Times, get Stone's book, The untold History of the United States.  Look in the back under New York Times and then go to the text and read the articles referred to.  Quite an eye opener.

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  5. NY Times, you are brainless. You have just alienated many of your establised readers and will loose plenty, and your obvious scheme to attract Donald Trump's supporters just wont work. You deserve a medal in stupidity.

    I think Bret Stevens has strikingly similar views to Dr Vincent Gray. These people are in complete denial not just about climate change, but a whole range of historical environmental issues and other progressive style issues. They also appear to have very strong libertarian leanings, and come across as having an almost visceral hatred of environmentalism, almost a paranoia. That's not to say scepticsm is always bad, but their version is unusual and might be some form of personality disorder.

    You cannot have them in the media and then claim you are balanced, responsible media.

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  6. Another critique of Bret Stevens' Op-ed by a fellow journalist...

    NYT: Climate change impact is happening now. NYT: Eh, maybe not that big a deal., Opinion by Erik Wemple, Washington Post, Apr 28, 2017

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  7. In the red ‘burn lots of fossil fuels’ (RCP8.5) scenario, we’ll see a further 3.0–5.5°C warming between now and 2100.


    That projected rate of warming is 4x-5x the current rate of warming.  Is that even reasonable.  

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  8. We need a better way to explain to the public the dangers of a small increase in global temperature.  Here is an analogy everyone can understand:

    Climate Change Analogy:  Why is global warming so bad? Can't we just migrate to cooler areas over the next few decades? If some areas get too warm for comfort, won't there be some cold areas that get a little more comfortable?

    The problem with this argument is, of course, that a small change in average temperature can have large, sudden, and seemingly random effects on local climates. Yes, it all averages to just a few degrees warming, but that is little consolation to the millions of people living in California, Arizona, and much of the Southwest, if the result is a near-permanent drought, or the millions who may face flood levels not seen in hundreds of years. Even if we could move big cities over a period of twenty years, climate changes could reverse just as we are completing the planned move.

    Here is an analogy to help understand the problem of climate change. Model the Earth's climate as a one-mile section of river with lots of rocks and white-water rapids. At the top of this river run we are going to dump 100 ping-pong balls, each with number, and each number relating to one problem, like "temperature rises 10 degrees C", or "rainfall drops to 1000-year low". At the bottom of this river section, we will pick a point and let it represent an area of the planet we are worried about, maybe Southern California. We will place a fishing net there and capture the first ball into the net. If you repeat this experiment hundreds of times, the problems will average out to just a small amount of warming, but in the real world, the experiment will run only once.

    The problem of predicting climate change based on known global warming and imperfect modeling of the earth's surface, atmosphere, and oceans is much like trying to calculate the course of one floating ball as it runs through the turbulence down the river.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please provide documentation to support the sweeping assertion you included in your concluding paragraph.

  9. This fellow is so disigenuous, there's only one reason for climate change denial and that's to protect the interests of the people who gain the greatest benefit from the continued burning of billions of tons a year of fossil fuels.

    And the "uncertainty" we're facing with climate change is how fast we bring on a catastrophe that if allowed to go far enough has the potential to wipe out most life on Earth as was detailed in the study that found we are entering the same scale of global climate forcing as events like the Permian extinction.

    People like this are effectively advocting for a game of global Russian Roulette with a gun with all six chambers loaded. Nothing they say or do will change the horror of massive releases of methane ices in coming decades which as an too real possibility. And that's just one aspect of the unfolding disaster, how to even quantify the loss of the Great Barrier Reef system alone?

    The only reason that commentators like this have a platform at all is the huge amount of resources that have been dedicated for decades to create the illusion of real doubt on the presense and almost certain catastrophic consequences of human forced climate change.

    We live in a world where the Canadian city most closely connected with the tar sands bitumen projects mostly burned up due to an April heat wave in a region that can see -20 C at the time of year. I've lived near there, if people don't get that North Central Alberta baking in the early spring is a sign of looming disaster then I'm not sure what will make them wake up.

    Having someone posing as an authority on this subject when he is in fact the end point of a very long and expensive campaign to defraud the genuine science is itself fraud. We should be able to take legal action against people who wilfully place us all in jeopardy this way. If not to protect people then what is the point of the law?

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  10. macquigg 

    In addition to the moderation comment from JH, consider your last paragraph because it is instructive:

    "The problem of predicting climate change based on known global warming and imperfect modeling of the earth's surface, atmosphere, and oceans is much like trying to calculate the course of one floating ball as it runs through the turbulence down the river."

    Climate prediction. The floating ball will go down the river and end up miles away.

    Weather prediction. We aren't sure where the ball will go in the next 30 seconds due to turbulence.

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  11. ño

    Michael Sweet: you can contact the New York Times public editor at:

    joe: current rate of warming is 1.7 C/century, but that rate is accelerating because the rate of release of CO2 is accelerating (and will continue to do so in the RCP8.5 scenario.

    Glenn: That really is impressive that macquigg's ridiculously inaccurate penultimate paragraph then led accidentally into their reasonably accurate last paragraph. The ball is going to go down the river, however the turbulence may bounce it up and down along the way.

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  12. Charles

    joe: current rate of warming is 1.7 C/century, but that rate is accelerating because the rate of release of CO2 is accelerating (and will continue to do so in the RCP8.5 scenario.

    Charles - 1.7C ? Nasa Shows the current warming rate 1.7f which is .9444c per century.  Accelerating ?  Yes if you include the el nino 2016 spike.  The ncep cfsr global cfv2, HadSSt3 , UAH satellite for global lower atmosphere, the met office, all show 2017 temp trends reverting to pre el nino levels. So where is the acceleration?

    Back to my original question - That projected rate of warming is 4x-5x the current rate of warming [in rcp8.5]. Is that even reasonable?

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  13. Glenn @10: I'm using "climate" to mean local climate, not some global average.  I'm not referring to weather at all.

    JH @8: I'm offering an analogy, not an assertion needing proof, like the analogies I've seen in other parts of this forum.  It is intended to help explain our worries to skeptics like Bret Stephens, who may have the same misconception I had until about a year ago, that the benefits of warming in Northern states would offset the warming in states that are already too hot. I was never a denier of science, just not paying enough attention to worry about "global warming".  Al Gore's argument didn't satisfy my skepticism.

    The change for me came when I realized that the problem was not the average warming, but the unpredictable change to local climates, hot or cold, wet or dry, that we should expect from a small amount of warming.

    Consider the alternative, a world where our models were perfect, and we could predict local climates ten or twenty years out.  In that case, it might be possible to plan on moving my company from Arizona to Wisconsin.  We could even have social programs to help poor people make the move.

    I'm sorry that my analogy didn't help.  It makes a lot of sense to me.

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  14. joe @12, the IPCC AR5 projects warming of 2.0 +/- 0.4 C from the 1986-2005 average to the 2046-2065 average, and 3.7 +/- 0.7 C from the 1986-2005 average to the 2081-2100 average.  That represents a warming rate of the 20 year average of 0.333 +/- 0.067 C/decade averaged from 1986-2005 to 2046-2065, and of 0.486 +/- 0.121 C/decade averaged from 2046-2065 to 2081-2100.  For comparison, the trend from 1996-current is 0.189 +/- 0.089 C/decade (Berkeley Earth LOTI), ie, 56.8% of the average for the first trend period, and 39.9%  of the projected trend for the later period.  That is, the IPCC AR5 projects warming that is to 1.76 to 2.57 times the current warming rate.  In other words, you overstate the increase in the warming rate by a factor or 2.

    I notice you object to using the current warming trend due to the existence of "the el nino 2016 spike", but you don't object to the inclusion of the 2011/2012 La Nina at the end of the series (which was larger than the 2016 El Nino), nor in the inclusion of the 1997/98 El Nino at the start of the series.  That smacks of special pleading to me.  You only want included those features which reduce the measured current trend, but want excluded any that will increase it.

    You also claim that the "...2017 temp trends [are] reverting to pre el nino levels...", but the 1996- End 2016 trend is 0.183 +/- 0.089 C/decade, ie, less than the trend incorporating the first few months of 2017.  That should be no surprise given that the average of the first three months of 2017 was warmer than the annual average of 2016, and that without El Nino conditions (although El Nino conditions are a 50% chance of reforming later this year).

    You should note that the 1996-current trend in UAH 6.0 is also warmer than the trend from 1996 to end 2016, contrary to your direct claim.

    In any event, the issue you raise is, can temerature trends increase to match those of RCP 8.5 at the end of the century, ie, by nearly a factor of 2.6.  Given that radiative forcing increases by nearly a factor of 4 in RCP 8.5 over the same period, I do not see how that is a problem. 


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  15. Joe @12

    "Accelerating ? Yes if you include the el nino 2016 spike."

    The trend is accelerating. We are almost certainly looking at three very hot years in a row from 2015 - 2017. This at least strongly suggests an acceleration is more than simply the effects of one el nino year. This is just obvious, I dont know how you cant see this.

    "2015 was remarkable even in the context of the ongoing El Niño,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “Last year’s temperatures had an assist from El Niño, but it is the cumulative effect of the long-term trend that has resulted in the record warming that we are seeing.”

    "Back to my original question - That projected rate of warming is 4x-5x the current rate of warming [in rcp8.5]. Is that even reasonable?"

    I don't think reasonable is a term we generally apply to science. It's more a term applied to political policies or human behaviour. We don't ask whether quantum physics is a reasonable theory.

    This is more a case of whether the science is valid on the basis of maths and physics. I have no reason to doubt the projections. You have to prove the projections wrong in specific and impeccable detail, not just make rhetorical style assertions.

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  16. nigelj: I think you are mistaken about interpreting the spike in the last 3 years as an increase in rate. Just as the 'hiatus' didn't tell us anything meaningful, there is as yet no sign that the last 3 years are anything other than an El Niño driven spike (indeed, the paper referenced in "Climate keeps on keeping on", (Rahmstorf, 2017) a few posts before this one, demonstrates that).

    The increase in rate is inferred (and predicted) from the more than geometric increase in CO2 production predicted in RCP8.5, as discussed in the Skeptical Science article I linked to. A steady rate of doubling of CO2 drives a linear temperature increase, but if the time between CO2 doubling decreases over time, then the temperature increase will be more than linear.

    joe: I think you are mistaking the amount of warming over the last century, which NASA lists, with the current estimated linear rate of warming per century. Cahill et al, 2015 confirmed that the rate of global warming changed in ~1970 (as is obvious from just looking at any plot of global average temperature over the last 135 years), so the rate from 1970 onward is the relavent rate, not the rate from 1916- 2016. Under RCP8.5, we aren't going back to the rates from 1916-1970 any time soon. That 1970-present rate is ~1.7C/century.

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  17. macquigg @13

    It also took me a long time to realize the significance of small changes in average global temperatures, but this was looking at it from a different perspective.  From what I read initially I could distill the essence as follows:

    Two degrees please; four degrees and you're dead.

    This was likening the temperature change to someone with a fever — but I didn't know why the analogy was apt.  Then I discovered that a drop of five degrees would put us back in an Ice Age.  Later still I discovered that an increase of just two or three degrees would put us back over three million years on a rather different planet from the one we prefer today.

    In other words, it doesn't take much of a change either way to result in drastic changes to the planet.  (My degrees are all Celsius, by the way.)

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  18. Charles S @16, yes I hear you, and quite true. Two or three years is too short to draw conclusions about the basic underlying global warming trend. 

    However its such a sharp increase, with nothing else like it in the graph above, so it makes me suspicios that something has fundamentally changed. Time will tell.

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  19. Thanks for the clarification macquigg.

    Yes predicting more local climate is harder but one aspect of climate change, globally, that I think is under-appreciated, is that possibly all local climates will change. Each may not look like a bad change although many will be.

    But any change is still bad to some degree since it is a disruption. Our agriculture, infrastructure, design of our houses, medical services, many things, are built around the local climate. Potentially everything will need to change.

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  20. JH@8, glenn@10, macquigg@13, digby@17, glenn@19

    I'm happy to see there is at least some agreement after my clarification, and I appreciate Digby's suggestion of using a different analogy, a person with a 4 degree fever.  I think that analogy is too remote from climate science to be persuasive, however.

    Analogy #1 Speed Kills was excellent, because it emphasizes the orders of magnitude increase in climate rate of change we are facing.  I like my turbulent river analogy because I think it will work with people who are skeptics, like Stephens.  It is not intended for people who are deniers, or completely ignorant of science and won't appreciate the computational difficulties in trying to predict local climate.

    I know what won't work with Stephens, and that is this article and some of the comments.  He will see these as name-calling, speculation over his evil motives, argument over insignificant details, and exaggeration of the certainty of "alarmist" predictions.  If we want to engage with people like Stephens, and I think that is a worthy endeavor, we need to start from common ground.  He accepts that the climate is warming and that it is the result of man-made CO2.  That puts a huge distance between him and the idiots we see in political power and in the news.  He just doesn't accept that the results of warming will be as bad as most climate scientists believe.

    We need an analogy that will make sense to people who accept the basic science, but are still skeptical of the coming disaster.  We cannot just say that any climate change is bad.  I live in Benson Arizona, and it looks like the hot summers are getting a little cooler.  I undersand that trend could reverse, however, and it is the uncertainty that has me worried.

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  21. macquigg @20, I think you are being all together too generous to Bret Stephens.  As recently as 2010 he was writing:

    "So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we're going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place."

    and reffering to environmentalists as making "quasi-totalitarian demands".

    In 2011 he was writing:

    "Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.

    As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate."

    In 2015 he referred to global warming as:

    "The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880—as if the trend is bound to continue forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except by drastic policy interventions."

    And finished, the article by writing:

    "Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same."

    On that evidence he has consistently considered global warming to be based on hyped and fabricated studies, with what actual warming exists being due to natural variation, a view he is sufficiently confident in as to predict effectively no temperature change over the coming century.

    Three record annual temperatures in a row have made that view untenable for anybody who wants to pretend they are a serious commentator; but I have no doubt he was not convinced by the science (which has not changed over the two years) and hence that come the next La Nina he will revert back to what is essentially AGW denialism.

    Further, it is plain from the articles that he is very happy to insult those pressing for action on AGW, and indeed insult working climate scientists who take no role in the policy debate as well.  Given the liberality with which he insults, he would be a precious petal indeed if he took offense at the comments here.

    In short, I think the evidence shows you are wrong in thinking Stephens is open to persuasion on any terms.  He is prepared to run up and down the levels of denial as suits the circumstance, but nothing will persuade him that AGW represents a serious threat that merits any policy response.

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  22. Tom @21, I was not aware of Stephens' prior writings on this topic, but if his first two op-eds in the NY Times (April 28 and May 1) are what he currently thinks, it looks like his position has changed.  He now seems very reasonable: "The climate is an intensely complex system. Seemingly tiny differences in terms of inputs can make dramatic differences in terms of results. We should be humble about what we can know a year into the future, never mind a century, and we should be refining our assumptions continuously. That calls for more investment in science, not less."

    A fair criticsim, which appears in the comments to the April 28 column, is that he is not treating the uncertainty with enough urgency.  One of the commenters gave a perfect analogy:  We would not get on a plane if technical experts told us there was a 10 to 20% chance of disaster.  Let's work on refining that estimate and getting better models that will help us know the specifics of what is likely to happen.

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  23. macquigg #20: You wrote:

    I live in Benson Arizona, and it looks like the hot summers are getting a little cooler.

    You could easily verify whether your impression is correct or not by analyzing the temperature records for Benson and/or nearby Tuscon. 

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  24. The state of Arizona as a whole has had significantly warmer summers:

    Arizona TMAC

    Perceptions certainly do not overrule reality.

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  25. John@23, Daniel@24: Arizona as a whole is getting warmer, and Tucson is part of the region that is impacted by the drought we've seen for the last few years.  Tucson gets its water from the Colorado River, and will be the first city to be cut off if the water levels fall a little further.  The climate in Benson is much different.  We have no problem with water, but if I understand climate science correctly, that could all change with a small shift in the jet stream, which could happen with the predicted global warming.  My point in using Benson as an example is not to argue that global warming is good for Benson, but rather that the problem lies in the uncertainty, even with local climates that seem to be moving in good direction.

    Will more research be helpful in predicting local climates?  Or is this more like the floating balls in the river - no chance of ever predicting which ball will end up where.

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  26. macquigg @25: You ask:

    Will more research be helpful in predicting local climates?

    I am by no means an expert on this matter, but, based on what I know about GCMs, they probably will never be refined to the point they can produce a forecast of what the climate of Benson, Arizona will be in the year 2100 under a given scenario of input variables. Some of the GCMs can currently produce forecasts for mult-state regions such as the Southeast US. Assuming that an adequate stream of funding is avaialble to do so, I suspect that some GCMs will be refined to make forecasts for smaller areas such as states. 

    A couple of follow-up questions for you:

    What is the current population of Benson?

    What is Benson's source of potable water?

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  27. What what I have read, the issues with local climate are not due to chaos (your floating ball) but with sub-scaling in GCMs and the difficulty predicting how warming will affect structural elements in the earth weather system (eg behaviour of jet streams - which influence local storm tracks - and particularly the ENSO system). Will the Hadley cells expand etc. Time and research is likely to improve prediction. Improving computer grunt will smaller cell size as well.

    However, I think it is also useful to remember that you can say with confidence that practically all local climates will get warmer. Wetter or dryer is harder. Some places are easier to predict that others as well.

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  28. Macquigg @22, I'm in agreement with many of your comments on agw, but  a little mystified by your comments in this post on Stephens. You claim Stephens is taking a more reasonable position, but the material you quote Included:

    "Seemingly tiny differences in terms of inputs can make dramatic differences in terms of results. We should be humble about what we can know a year into the future, never mind a century, and we should be refining our assumptions continuously. That calls for more"

    This is just more delay and denislism. I have heard the same claim in different forms for 20 years and it subtly suggests we need far more research. Dont you see he will still be saying the same thing when sea level has risen 3 metres? 

    Sure modelling is complex and small things have big implications, but this doesn't make it just guesswork. He words this in a way to try to undermine peoples faith in the modelling. It's all just sophistry.

    Climate models are doing just fine. Predictive ability is the best way to ascertain if modelling works. I know very little about climate modelling, but enough to know its based around clusters of differential equations that calculate atmospheric changes. Equations are still equations across all fields of science, they make predications and are tested by results of those predictions. The more important thing is that temperatures over the last 50 years are tracking close enough to models predictions which shows the models have value in terms of at least global scale changes.

    I get your ping pong ball analogy by the way. I just think your wording was a little unfortunate, and created an impression that you felt 'all' climate modelling was hopeless, when I think you meant it's just hard to calculate what happens on a city by city basis? (I think that would actually always be pretty hard but scientists can only try I suppose).

    Regarding Brett Stephens, I based my comments on what I have read, and I did read the links in the original article. I don't think its helpful calling people names or swearing, but if somebody makes certain pronouncements we are entitled to draw conclusions on their mental state and must tell it as we genuinely see things and sometimes this means being critical.  Yes we should try and politely reason with people, and I do this most of the time. I think you are  generally right to promote this as you generally have. The trouble is some people are just obviously beyond reason, and with them its a waste of time trying and you need to be a bit blunter. 

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  29. The temperature record for the Apache Powder Company, which according to Berkely Earth is the nearest station to Benson carrying a temperature record after 1973:

    The BEST record for Tucson, Arizona - which according to them is the nearest major city:

    With the qualification that both show annual temperatures, rather than summer temperatures, they are quite similar.  In particular the increase in temperature since the 1960s is approximately the same in both cases.  The variations from the trend seem to last longer in Benson, however, than in Tucson.  Part of the reason for that may be that Tucson temperatures are stabilized by being more open to air from the Gulf of California and/or the Colorad River valley.  I do note that warming in summer in Arizona has been less than for the other three seasons. 

    What that means for Benson in 80 years time with BAU is that like the rest of Arizona, it will be much hotter and much drier.  It will likely continue to have more persistent short term variation.  Any idea that Benson will retain a late twentieth century 30 year mean temperature or precipitation 80 years from now is unwarranted.  Its changes in both will be very close to those for Arizona as a whole.

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  30. macquiqq @22, that quote just looks like more denial to me.  He is equating uncertainty in predicting climate (changes a century from now) with changes in weather (changes in a year).  

    Nor, despite his rhetoric, is he taking uncertainty seriously at all. Uncertainty cuts both ways.  Temperatures may be cooler than the IPCC median projections, but they also be warmer.  Indeed, it is more probable that they will be 50% greater than median than 50% less than the median increase.  Consequently, we should be more cautious in the face of uncertainty - ie, do more to prevent the potential changes. 

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  31. I could be wrong about Stephens, and I know that some people are beyond reason.  I have debated a self-proclaimed "atmospheric science" expert in a public forum az-2-forum, and I relied heavily on material from to counter his arguments.  I was seriously tempted to call him a crackpot, but I held off, and I think that was the most effective way to demonstrate his irrationality.

    So that's what I would do with Bret Stephens, especially since he has an influential forum, the NY Times.  Let's engage him on this topic.  Start with an op-ed counter to his April 28th piece.  Resist the temptation to call him dishonest.  Acknowledge that there is plenty of uncertainty even after we accept the basic facts that the globe is getting warmer because of man-made CO2.  Show why this uncertainty should be a call for action not delay. Use the airplane analogy.

    As for further study, maybe some statistical simulations would help.  We can't predict local climates, but if we run our best models with random inputs, and we see that in 98 out of 100 simulations, the results are disastrous in some part of the world - a drought in California, flooding in Missouri, etc., maybe that will help convince people who read the NY Times, that with near certainty, we have a serious problem in a few decades.

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  32. macquigg @31: You wrote:

    So that's what I would do with Bret Stephens, especially since he has an influential forum, the NY Times. Let's engage him on this topic. Start with an op-ed counter to his April 28th piece.

    Doesn't Dana's article (OP) qualify as such? 

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  33. The problem with Dana's article is that is too easily dismissed as unfair advocacy (see #20 above), and it is here in an obscure website, rather than in the NY Times.  I would write the op-ed myself, but I have no expertise in climate science.  Even if Stephens is as far beyond reason as you believe, his readers are not.  Let's assume these readers are where I was a year ago. They accept that climate change is real, and it is us.  The next step is to convince them it is bad, very likely really bad, more than just an increment in their summer electric bill.  That is where my floating ball analogy might be helpful.  We need to counter the argument that a 1 degree rise is no big deal, and even if that is the result of averaging larger changes, there will be almost as many cooler areas we can move to.

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  34. Macquigg,

    There are many real scientists who would be willing to write your op-ed but the NYT will probalby not print them.

    There is another op-ed from Bret Stephens today.  I only read the title, but it appears to argue that if we take action to control climate change it may cause economic damage.  Presumably he does not care about the damage that will certainly be caused by climate change if we do nothing.

    Bret Stephens is simply a denier who has changed his tune because the data has proven his previous position incorrect.  Now he says he thinks the climate is changing but his message is the same: take no action.

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  35. macquigg @33, there have been a number of responses to Brett Stephen's opinion piece, some of which are listed by Greg Craven and some by And Then There's Physics.  Dana's piece was an opinion piece for the Guardian, and others have also been in prominent forums.  Had the NYT been interested in a debate, they would easilly have found a suitable columnist to counter Stephen's nonsense.  That they chose not to is itself telling.

    As an aside, it turns out that climate science is not the only area in which Stephen's thinks the role of intellectual argument devolves to that of trolling.  Sarah Jones notes (in yet another OP in response to Stephens):

    "At this point the case against the New York Times’s decision to give Bret Stephens an op-ed column is well-known. His comments on race—he has warned of “the disease of the Arab mind” and believes Black Lives Matter contains “thuggish elements”—are atrocious. He doubts the validity of campus rape statistics, and is a climate change skeptic. In an interview with Vox’s Jeff Stein, he insisted that it’s “not true” that one in seven Americans experience hunger. (He’s wrong.)"

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  36. Two of the better critiques of the Stephens Affair...

    The New York Times should not have hired climate change bullshitter Bret Stephens by David Roberts, Energy & Enviornment, Vox, May 1, 2017

    Could making climate change a 'pro-life' issue bring conservatives on board? by Ben Rosen, Energy/Environment, Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2017

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  37. Yesterday, Liz Spayd, the Public Editor of the NY Times, posted a rather insipid defense of the Times decision to hire to hire Bret Stephens. She also weakly defends his first op-ed. Needless to say, her article has attracted numerous comments (445) — including one fom me. 

    Bret Stephens Takes On Climate Change. Readers Unleash by Liz Spayd, New York Times, May 3, 2017

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  38. Michael@34,  I disagree with your assessment of the NY Times.  They have been a great source of factual information on climate change, presented with excellent visualizations that non-scientists can understand.  Here are two of my favorites: 1) 2016-hottest-year-on-record   2) how-much-warmer-was-your-city-in-2016 

    Tom@35, I like the piece at And Then There's Physics.  It doesn't dwell on attacking Stephens, but offers the best counter argument I've seen so far.  Maybe that could be the basis for an opposing op-ed in the NY Times.

    John@36, I don't think conservatives will buy that climate change is a "pro-life" issue.  Pro-life is about punishing women for having sex, not minimizing abortions, or anything to do with promoting life.

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  39. We seem to have this debate about should we politely reason with climate denialists, or be tougher on them, for example call their thinking idiotic?

    (I'm ruling out really nasty vicious insults, as it's unproductive and inappropriate)

    I think we are fooled into thinking its an either / or answer. I think maybe it requires a mix both polite reason and a few harsher words or assessments at times, depending on the individual sceptic.

    It's basic psychological operant conditioning, or carrot and stick. Trump is actually quite good at using these techniques, moving rapidly from praise to harsh criticism, even though I disagree with virtually all his policies.

    The police do a good cop bad cop routine, which is based on the same psychology.

    Frankly Stephens has such a wide range of dubious views on so many things, that you have to say theres a pattern there, and it looks irrational and cranky. He has to be called out on this. You can't just ignore it.

    Yes the NY Times has done some good articles on climate change and this needs praise, but they have made a mistake appointing Stephens in this particular role. It would be equally inappropriate to appoint Al Gore. You want someone respected for their balance, and as neutral as possible. 

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  40. nigelj @30, over time I have come to the conclusion that treating the majority of active climate change deniers who make a point of public commentary as reasonable people is a mistake.  That is partly because long experience has shown that they are in fact completely unwilling to be persuaded - as evidenced by their epistemic hypocrissy, their accepting as valid critisms of AGW where they do not accept the parellel argument as a valid criticism of their beliefs, even when those beliefs are far more vulnerable to the criticism.

    Keeping the discussion on topic, a classic example of the later is the "do not acknowledge the uncertainty argument" as mounted by Stephens and Curry.  When you look closer, you find the IPCC make statements qualified for uncertainty in two dimensions, ie, how certain it is given what we know, and how robust it is, ie, how likely is it that future knowledge will change our view on the topic.  There uncertainty margins are also quite large, ranging, for climate sensitivity, from 1 to more than 6 C 95% confidence interval for a doubling of CO2.  Their critics who insist the proponents of climate science are too dogmatic, in contrast do not give any indication of how robust they consider their views, and typically have much narrower confidence intervals for climate sensitivity (tending to range from 1-4.5 or less).  Simple logic tells us that if the IPCC is too dogmatic, those critics are also too dogmatic - an argument they will not even consider.

    This has focussed on the more "reasonable" critics of AGW.  As you know, there are many more far less reasonable critics out there.

    In any event, I have come to realize that dispassionate debate with those critics merely serves as a false marker that their criticisms are reasonable. An unknowledgable person viewing a debate between a climate scientist and one of these disengenuous (or at least, hypocritical) critics will assume that they represent the range of rational debate.  Instead, however, it is an example of political necessity forcing a debate of thoroughly irrational views which have no impact on research because they are, typically, unable to be framed in a way that is not transparently nonsense to those most informed about the issues.

    In that situation, the greatest service we can provide to our reader is to clearly mark the views we are criticizing as, in fact, irrational.  Where the person we are arguing against has a repeated history of mounting irrational arguments, and not accepting rational criticism, we owe it to our readers to indicate that also.

    This strategy has to vary with circumstances.  First, if we are dealing with somebody for the first time, we should indicate the argument is irrational, but not the person.  They may have been merely grossly misguided.  Further, when somebody is given a clear institutional marker of irrationality (Professor at a major university; columnist at a major newspaper), unless you clearly set the context you will come of as irrational if you relly to heavilly on this strategy.  In rebutting such people, you need to show why they are irrational.  But, you still need also to make the case that they are betraying the readers trust by presenting views that are actually irrational, cloaked with rhetoric, and rellying on the readers ignorance to make them plausible.

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  41. Tom Curtis @40, yeah I agree with pretty much all that, especially your points about most of the dominant climate change deniers being unreasonable people, and your strategies to deal with them (and the general public) in your last paragraph.

    I think it's definitely a combination of exposing logical flaws in rhetoric as much as it is about science, and that the first approach should be polite and reasoned. If they still dont "get it" then shaming some of these people for their misleading rhetoric a little might work.

    But what do you do with people with no shame, conscience or sense of public duty? Christopher Moncton? Some media "personalities"?

    Its a rhetorical question. Maybe some people are beyond hope. There is still a flat earth society.

    Just as an aside, personalities also differ. I did some basic  psychology at university and have to also deal with clients in my work. One thing I have noticed (learning the hard way) is different people respond to different techniques of people management. Some respond to diplomacy, or praise, some need to actually be bossed around, some to humour, and its important to find out which way they are, and reaslise people are different. It seems obvious, but many managers and professionals just don't get it, and assume one approach will work for everyone.

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  42. Bret Stephens most recent op-ed piece was rerun in my local paper.  Stephens claims that environmentalists incorrectly supported the corn ethanol biofuel business.  He cites a memo released by the Clinton Energy Department in support of his claim.  He claims that incorrect support shows that we have to proceed slowly on any changes we make to deal with AGW.

    I recall that environmentalists never supported corn ethanol.  Corn ethanol has always been supported by industrial farmers to use up excess corn they raise.  Perhaps someone here has better recall than I do.

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