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NASA Retirees Appeal to their Own Lack of Climate Authority

Posted on 24 January 2013 by dana1981

In April of 2012, 49 former NASA employees sent a letter to the current NASA administrator requesting that he effectively muzzle the climate scientists at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).  None of those former NASA employees have conducted any climate science research, but based on their own lack of understanding of the subject, they objected to the conclusions drawn by the climate experts at NASA GISS.  This letter drew media attention because folks who have worked at NASA are well-respected (and rightly so), but there was really no substance to it, or any particular reason to lend it credence.  Astronauts and engineers are not climate experts.

Now in January of 2013, a group of 20 "Apollo era NASA retirees" has put together a rudimentary climate "report" and issued a press release declaring that they have decided human-caused global warming is not "settled" and is nothing to worry about.  This time around they have not listed the 20 individuals who contributed to this project, but have simply described the group as being:

"...comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds"

The project seems to be headed by H. Leighton Steward, a 77-year-old former oil and gas executive.  The press release also links the NASA group to his website, "co2isgreen", which also has an extensive history of receiving fossil fuel industry funding.

This story can be summed up very simply: a group of retired NASA scientists with no climate science research experience listened to a few climate scientists and a few fossil fuel-funded contrarian scientists, read a few climate blogs, asked a few relatively simple questions, decided that those questions cannot be answered (though we will answer them in this post), put together a very rudimentary report, and now expect people to listen to them because they used to work at NASA.  It's purely an appeal to authority, except that the participants have no authority or expertise in climate science.

Answering the NASA Retirees' Questions

Most of the group's report is devoted to summarizing some basic aspects of climate science, such as the greenhouse effect.  At the end it lists seven "conclusions", most of which are questions they claim "are still to be resolved", but in reality are generally simple to answer.

1) How really well known is the global temperature of the earth over the past century?

Quite really well known.  The accuracy of the surface temperature record has been confirmed by many different studies using a variety of different approaches, including by natural thermometers and satellites.  There is very little difference between the results of different groups analyzing the surface temperature data (Figure 1).

difference

Figure 1: The four main global surface temperature measurement datasets (Source)

Ocean measurements also show an immense amount of heat accumulation in the world's oceans, well outside the margin of error (Figure 2).

levitus OHC

Figure 2: Time series for the World Ocean of ocean heat content (1022 J) for the 0-2000m (red) and 700-2000m (black) layers based on running pentadal (five-year) analyses. Reference period is 1955-2006. Each pentadal estimate is plotted at the midpoint of the 5-year period. The vertical bars represent +/- 2 times the standard error of the mean (S.E.) about the pentadal estimate for the 0-2000m estimates and the grey-shaded area represent +/- 2*S.E. about the pentadal estimate for the 700-2000m estimates. The blue bar chart at the bottom represents the percentage of one-degree squares (globally) that have at least four pentadal one-degree square anomaly values used in their computation at 700m depth. Blue line is the same as for the bar chart but for 2000m depth.  From Levitus et al. (2012)

2) How important to the factors that determine the surface temperature of the earth are the human related increases of CO2?

Human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of global warming (Figure 3).  The science is entirely settled on this question, which simply boils down to physics.  Long-term global warming is caused by a global energy imbalance.  Human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for by far the largest such energy imbalance over the past century.

attribution 50 yr

Figure 3: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), and Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green).

3) What exactly are the true feedback effects and how do they vary?

There are a number of different climate feedbacks which amplify or dampen global warming.  The NASA document accurately summarizes their net effect.

"The net effect, which includes feedbacks) on the temperature anomaly from the IPCC (AR4) was ... 2.0 - 4.5 K"

By itself, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will cause an energy imbalance sufficient to ultimately warm global surface temperatures about 1.2°C.  Through a variety of different types of studies, climate scientists have concluded that the net effect of the various temperature feedbacks will amplify that warming to somewhere in the range of 2 to 4.5°C in response to doubled CO2.

4) Since the 1988 Hansen paper and presentation to Congress, through the IPCC 2000 and subsequent projections of the global temperature anomaly, the models have consistently over-projected the actual measured temperature anomalies in the subsequent years.

This statement, derived from a blog post, is simply incorrect.  As we at Skeptical Science have shown several times, the IPCC temperature projections have been exceptionally accurate (Figure 4).

Predictions Comparison

Figure 4: IPCC temperature projections (red, pink, orange, green) and contrarian projections (blue and purple) vs. observed surface temperature changes (average of NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4; black and red) for 1990 through 2012.

Conclusion 4 in the document also incorrectly states that "the IPCC projections are intended to represent the worst-case scenario."  The IPCC projections are based on a wide variety of human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, not simply a single worst-case scenario.  Given that many climate variables are changing faster than the IPCC anticipated, it would make for a pretty terrible worst case scenario.

5) What accounts for some of the observed differences between the steady increase in CO2 concentrations over the last century and the more erratic changes in estimated global temperature anomaly?

Cooling from human aerosol emissions offset warming from human greenhouse gas emissions in the mid-20th century, and on top of that there is natural internal variability in the climate system, as Kevin C's video illustrates.

6) What are the relative effects of natural climate oscillations such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, (ENSO), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) on the earth’s temperature trends? Are they compensating for the radiative forcing of CO2 (and other GHG) increases?

These are some of the contributors to the short-term natural internal variability mentioned in the answer to the last question.  No, natural variability is not 'compensating' for the radiative forcing (global energy imbalance) caused by greenhouse gases.  Recent research by Sedláček & Knutti (2012) found that warming caused by internal variability creates a very patchy pattern, whereas we observe a very smooth pattern of warming, consistent with an external forcing like an increased greenhouse effect.  However, the ocean cycles mentioned in this question have caused a short-term dampening of global surface warming over the past decade or so.

7) Why is it assumed that, aside from the more obvious impacts of significant sea level rise on existing infrastructure, that the net effect of more CO2 is negative? After all, CO2 is often added to commercial greenhouses to promote plant growth

This is not an assumption, it is the result of a wide body of scientific research.  More CO2 means more global warming, which means more climate change, which means more extreme weather, like more heat waves and droughts, which does not bode well for plant growth or for most other life on the planet.  Species are already going extinct at a relatively rapid rate.  And on top of climate change, there's the damage CO2 causes via ocean acidification, global warming's evil twin.

These are not difficult questions, in fact we have answered them all here on Skeptical Science.

Risk Management - Uncertainty is not Your Friend

After failing to do more than the most rudimentary climate research, the NASA retirees wrongly conclude that uncertainty can be used to justify inaction.

"Despite claims of consensus and other appeals to authority, no one knows these answers. Once politics is removed, the evidence so far (2011) is that the actual net effect is low or uncertain (considering multiple known and potential feedbacks). As such, aggressive and extraordinarily far-reaching steps by governments to reduce production of CO2 is not warranted."

This conclusion illustrates a risk management failure which is very common amongst climate contrarians.  It's no different than saying "I don't think that I'll be in a car accident, so I won't purchase auto insurance."  The average American has a 30% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in his or her lifetime, and the odds of very dangerous and damaging climate change are even higher if we continue on a business-as-usual path – in fact that is the most likely scenario

Climate contrarians like these NASA retirees essentially believe that the best case scenario will occur, that the net climate feedback and sensitivity will be near the low end of the possible range, and that we will be able to cope with future climate change.  That is a possibility, but the best case scenario is only one possible outcome, and thus represents a very low overall probability of occurring.  And when we fail to prepare for or prevent the worst case scenario, or even the most probable scenario, bad things happen.

Appealing to Authority Requires Actually Having Authority

Ultimately the NASA Apollo-era retirees expect the public to defer to their opinions on climate change, despite the fact that they have failed to do more than the most basic climate research and do not understand the most fundamental aspects of risk management (which is rather strange, since Apollo 13 was a good lesson in preparing for the worst case scenario).

In reality many of the questions they believe nobody has answered are actually settled science.  We know humans are causing global warming, we know there is also natural variability in the climate system, and we know the climate consequences will be bad if we continue on our present course.  Just how bad is an open question, which depends in large part on how quickly we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  However, these NASA retirees are asking us to delay action in the hopes that the best case scenario will occur.  This is a total risk management failure, because if they are wrong and the best case does not come to fruition, we will face some nasty consequences, and there will be very little that we can do about it.

As with the last NASA retiree letter, there is no reason why we should pay heed to this document, and very good reasons why we should reject its conclusions.  We are again left wishing that these retirees would leave the climate science to the real climate experts at NASA, who are some of the best in the world.

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Comments 51 to 79 out of 79:

  1. DSL, dana1981 and others interested in this discussion,

    I know enough about your fears of a global climate disaster, and I think most of you must believe that CO2 emissions into the atmosphere will cause it; but I am not convinced.  Why?  I have read the IPCC arguments and interacted with climate scientists who have your same concerns.....but, the evidence to pin most of the recent global warming since 1850 AD on CO2 emissions is very weak, compared to the kind of empirical evidence I have been taught to look for, if I want to prove true root cause of a deviation from normal behavior.  I believe that significant warming since 1850 AD could be due to natural climate cycles that we do not understand and don't know how to control. 

    There is lots of controversy about whether global average temperature is deviating from normal behavior of the last 10,000 years or not.  However, it is much more straight forward to measure temperature at a given location on the planet and determine if temperature variations we are experiencing now are really that different from temperature variations that occurred at that location before CO2 became an issue.  The specifics of what we find out about temperature variation at that one location will let us know whether we have a tempertature PROBLEM (deviation from the last 10,000 years of normal range) at that location for which we need to nail down true root cause with high confidence. I believe, from my experiences, that failure to prove true root cause before taking action that one believes will rectify the PROBLEM, is  not rational thinking and can lead to disasterous, perhaps fatal, unintended consequences.

    I'm still waiting for the simple answer from my initial simple question to all of you.  At what location on earth is current temperature trend out of bounds, or headed out of bounds, of the last 10,000 years of temperature behavior?  Then, with this location identified, we can start to look for true cause of that deviation from normal.  If the global average temperature (a calculated value) is really behaving so differently to cause us such concern, surely there must be at least one location on earth that you could identify that has a temperature PROBLEM.

    I can't identify true root cause of the disasterous climate changes you are worried about, because the data from the future are not available to examine to determine true root cause of the deviation that hasn't occurred yet.  However, I do know how to proceed to define true root cause of any current temperature PROBLEM you have good empirical data for to define.  I believe available temperature data from a single location has much better and more reliable information to work with than a computed global average metric whose historical value keeps changing with every new release of a temperature database.

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    Moderator Response: [Albatross] Harold, the basis for your argument appears to be based on two claims, a) that the current warming is natural or mostly natural, and b) current temperatures are not unusual for a specific time window. The former is essentially the number #1 myth on the left-hand side panel of the blog. Please take further discussion of (a) to this thread. As for the latter argument, one can play that game going back to about 4.5 billion years. It is a red herring, a strawman-- the reason being is that we are primarily concerned about where temperatures are heading as we will likely go on to quadruple CO2 levels in very short order in geological terms. This is how fake skeptics play the game. First it is year X (say 1998) is declared to have been warmer, then year X in the 1930s for a particular region (say the USA) is declared to have been warmer, then the claim is made that the medieval climate anomaly was warmer, then it is claimed that the early part of the Holocene was warmer. Please take that discussion to this thread. Thank you for your cooperation.
  2. It is amazing how this blog attracts “ad-hominem” commentary at extraordinary high levels, even to the point where moderators must step in to keep the unruly at bay.

    The CPAC presentation is available on the Media page of http://www.colderside.com. A look at the CO2 page there might be helpful too. If your readers take issue with the DATA or INFORMATION presented, that is a good place to start. I even show how the Arctic is melting, courtesy of Fowler/Maslanik NSIDC UCol and our friends at ESSA. The time was too short to get into the physics of cloud vs snow albedo – show up at one of my presentations and ask sensible questions.

    Walt Cunningham and Hal Doiron have achieved great things for this country, and have their Hard Data and Observational acts together. Your ad-hom messenger shooters don’t even come close.

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    Moderator Response: [Albatross] Please refrain from using all caps.
  3. That's a fine strawman you got there, Dr. Doiron. 10kiloyr ago we had deglaciation response to orbitally forced NH spring/summer insolation, amplified by various feedbacks. Today, we have radiative imbalance driven by GHG which is also triggering feedbacks. The situations are not the same. The good doctor demands that we find a single location for which the _trend_ today significantly exceeds trends over the last 10Kyr. And the good doctor knows that instrumental record does not extend for 10Kyr, error bars on trendlines are larger as we go deeper into proxy records from the past, so the  strawman cannot be disproved. Nice try.

    And why a single location ? because the good doctor is aware that forcings do not act at one location or a small set of locations, thus the signal at one location will be, in general, lost in the noise.

    Instead of 10Kyr, lets use 60 yr. as in the Hansen climate dice paper. And instead of one location. look at all of them. An analysis of _every_ grid cell on earth shows the entire (approximately Gaussian) temperature distribution shifting to the right by one standard deviation. What used to be 3 sigma events now occur 10 times as frequently. That is the appropriate comparison,

    Analyses of precipitation records also show extremes increasing. But that is a separate discussion, albeit much more interesting than dissecting strawmen from the deniers. In fact I can't believe I am wasting time on this piece of specious garbage. I have trees to plant, and solar hot water projects galore to implement, both of which give me much more pleasure than arguing with deniers on blogs.  I leave it to those with stronger stomachs to carry on this particular conversation, and I again extend my thanks to the hosts here, for their patience and endurance.


    sidd

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  4. Harold @51:

    "the evidence to pin most of the recent global warming since 1850 AD on CO2 emissions is very weak, compared to the kind of empirical evidence I have been taught to look for, if I want to prove true root cause of a deviation from normal behavior. I believe that significant warming since 1850 AD could be due to natural climate cycles that we do not understand and don't know how to control."

    Sorry, but if you believe that, you either haven't been talking to or haven't been listening to real climate scientists.  Even the 'skeptics' don't dispute that humans are causing global warming.  See here for a summary of the evidence.

    You're also asking the wrong questions.  The less data you consider (i.e. one location rather than global averages), the more uncertainty you introduce.  If you want examples of specific areas that are clearly being adversely impacted by climate change, aside from the coastal areas I already mentioned, look at the Arctic and low-elevation islands like Tuvalu, for starters.

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  5. Harold

    It might help if you explain why the question you ask, in the specific form you have asked it, is a meaningful question. Why is looking for specific locations etc the best way to explore the issue?

    "...However, I do know how to proceed to define true root cause of any current temperature PROBLEM you have good empirical data for to define. I believe available temperature data from a single location has much better and more reliable information to work with than a computed global average metric whose historical value keeps changing with every new release of a temperature database."


    Some issues with this statement. Use of the word PROBLEM is conflating two separate things. That there is a temperature change. And that such a change is detrimental. Also importantly, that such a detrimental now, rather than likely to be in the future. Those things need to be unpacked. The science of climate is about addressing the first part of this. One needs to look to biology, economics and even values and ethics to consider the second part.

    There is a fundamental problem, conceptually, with wanting to look at specific locations. Any changes that one might observe there may not arise solely as a result of the cause you are investigating. They may have several causes.

    Consider an example. I have a swimming pool and the water level is low so I turn on the tap to start filling the pool. This may take many hours. If I wish to monitor whether the pool is rising or not, what should I look at as a measure of this? I could use a ruler at one point in the pool to look at how the measurement is changing.

    However the pool is in use by my family. So there are waves moving around the pool, level changes are happening as they get in and out of the pool. So my readings at one location will be a mixture of the underlying rise in water level due to the tap being on, conflated with all the other factors that I have mentioned. The 'signal' I am trying to detect may well be drowned out by all the other 'noise'.

    If I could somehow measure the water height across many locations in the pool simultaneously and average these results then the variability due to waves on the water would cancel out and I would have a more reliable measure of my target 'signal' - although the effect of people getting in and out of the pool hasn't been removed by this approach.

    This is the fundamental issue with trying to detect an underlying signal when there is also noise - the more we focus on the individual data points, the more we are end up looking at the noise, not the signal.

    Here you need to consider the difference between Proximate and Ultimate causes. Is the CO2 rise the Proximate causeof a change at a specific location. Almost certainly not. There will be multiple factors. Is it the Ultimate cause of much of that change? Yes.

    Climate is defined (by the WMO) as the average of weather over a 30 years period. And with AGW we are talking about changes to Climate across all regions of the Earth and that this change will not be uniform at all locations. So seeking to examine individual locations will only be a useful exercise if that is then repeated for a large number of locations and points in time.

    So let me put it to you that the way you are framing your question is wrong. Seeking to look at specific locations is the approach least likely to give you the correct answer. Or even a useful answer.

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  6. Harold

    Here is a line of evidence and reasoning you might find interesting. Totally the opposite of your 'specific location' approach.

    Measurement of the change in the total amount of heat in the ocean. This is where around 90% of the added heat in the last 1/2 century has gone so it is a useful measure of what is going on. Total heat accumulation in that time is more than 2 * 1023 joules. And the rate of accumulation is actually faster in the last couple of decades than this longer term value would suggest.

    This is a large number, a bit hard to get our head around. It is however a real number. It is a real quantity of energy. So, applying the 1st law of Thermodynamics, we need to ask where this extra heat can have come from, what was it's source. It can't have appeared by magic.

    If we consider the possible heat sources here on Earth that could have supplied this heat, the largest possible source of heat is geothermal, heat from within the Earth. The total amount of heat that has built up in the worlds oceans is several times greater than could have been supplied by Geothermal heat. In the last decade or so this multiple is closer to 5 times. And all other possible terrestrial heat sources are much smaller than Geothermal.

    So this leaves us with a basic conclusion. The heat acumulation in the oceans cannot have arisen due to any internal heat transfer wuithin the Earth! This warming must have an extra-terrestrial origin. Something has disturbed the Earth's energy balance with Space. Direct consequence of observations.

    Additionally we know that over this period the Sun's heat output hasn't risen. If anything it has declined. We have had the Sun under continuous, 24/7 observation by satellites since the mid 70's so this fact isn't in dispute.

    So if the Eaarth has an energy imbalance causing heat accumulation, and this can't have been caused by an increase in energy flowing into the planet, that means that something mut be causing a reduction in the heat flow out from the planet. Such a conclusion is hard to avoid, based directly on the observations.

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  7. Harold, you claim that there's an unknown natural cycle.  That's easy to say, and perhaps you think it's the kind of claim that one can make without having to provide evidence (indeed, you haven't pointed to any in making your claims).  What happens to the enhanced greenhouse effect in your physical model?  You can't simply discount it and replace it with another mechanism.  Unless, of course, you're arguing that the greenhouse effect doesn't exist.  If that's not the case, where's the evidence that you rely on that tells you that climate sensitivity is low?

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  8. Glenn,

    If I could somehow measure the water height across many locations in the pool simultaneously and average these results then the variability due to waves on the water would cancel out and I would have a more reliable measure of my target 'signal'

    It disturbs me that this needs to be spelt out to someone who has his "hard data" and "observational" acts together, but the fact that he refers to the average, apparently disparagingly, as "a calculated value" suggests it to be the case. Central Limit Theorem, anyone?

    It's probably also worth mentioning that what is usually reported is not the average temperature at all, but rather the average difference in temperature — i.e. anomaly — from some baseline. We don't even need to think about "global average temperature" at all, although it should cause no difficulty to do so. We can say that, on average, the temperature at every location on earth is about 0.8 C higher than it was 150 years ago without calculating the global average temperature either then or now.

    I also note the common misconception that the science of AGW is driven by observations searching for an explanation, completely ignoring 150 years of scientific history that demonstrate a theory that correctly made numerous predictions that have only been observationally verified in the last few decades.

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  9. dana1981,

    It has just come to my attention that your critique of the work of The Right Cimate Stuff research team in your January 24, 2013 post that started all of these comments, did not directly address the one-page summary of findings from our year-long investigation that was the subject of a January 23, 2013 press release that you quoted.  Our investigation findings, concurred with by all of our team members, were published on Jan. 23, 2013 at the link:  http://www.therightclimatestuff.com/SummaryPrelimReport.html

    Your critique was focused on answering questions that were posed in an introductory overview tutorial article written as background for visitors to our website that might not be familiar with the basic issues in question and that is found at the link:

    http://www.therightclimatestuff.com/CurrentOverview.html

    To the extent that any of the questions posed in that introductory article were addressed by conclusions of our investigation, those conclusions can be found at: 

    http://www.therightclimatestuff.com/SummaryPrelimReport.html

    The introductory overview assessment article that you criticized was written by one of our members as a starting point situational description for our investigation.  By accident, I now see that the Oct. 2012 introductory overview article title appears like it might be "the report" for which the one-page summary is published at the first link provided above.  The " investigation findings" or conclusions in the one-page summary at the first link provided above were not derived from the Oct 2012 article posted at the 2nd link provided above.

    I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.  My CPAC 2013 presentation that Tom Wysmuller provided links for in comments above, was focused on the one-page summary conclusions of our investigation.

     

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  10. Harold, regarding your group's contention #3 "Computer models need to be validated before being used in critical decision-making. Our manned aerospace backgrounds in dealing with models of complex phenomena have convinced us that this rule must be followed to avoid decisions with serious unintended consequences":

    Of course the models need to be validated.  But your implication that they have not been validated is incorrect.  For details, read Steve Easterbrook's postings on model validation. Steve is a computer scientist who used to work on software validation at NASA.  So you should respect his opinion on this topic since your group is touting their own experience at NASA as a reason everybody should trust them despite their lack of background specifically in climatology.  If you disagree with his opinion, you should comment on his posts there, where he can directly address them.

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  11. Harold, your prelim report has some serious problems.  The claim that climate sensitivity estimates are based exclusively on climate models is just wrong - see here.  The risk management discussion I've already addressed in this post.  Your argument is no different than saying "I don't think I'm going to get into a car accident, so I'm going to drive around without auto insurance."  Except it's worse, because the odds of very damaging climate change are even higher than the odds that you'll get into a car accident.

    I keep wondering what you would think if a group of climate scientists spent a few months reading about the space shuttle program, decided that we could not have reached the moon with the technology available in the '60s and '70s, wrote a preliminary report saying so, and then went around to political conferences saying that the moon landing must have been faked.

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  12. @JasonB #36

    If 20 unknown people got together and issued a report saying that they aren't convinced that global warming is a problem then nobody would pay it any attention at all. But when those same people attempt to draw attention to their report by pretending that their credentials, and therefore opinion, matter, then they are inviting people to examine those credentials to see whether their opinion really does matter.

    How does one decide whether someone's opinion matters or not? It seems to me that this is far from a trivial problem.

    Here are some possible criteria:
    1. Their opinion matters if it is in agreement with your own.
    2. Their opinion matters if their society or government has deemed them as an "expert".
    3. Their opinion matters if wikipedia says that they're credible.
    4. Their opinion matters if popular opinion says their opinion matters.

    And there are infinite other possible solutions. These ones I've outlined are actually commonly observed in practice, for better or for worse. They are all based on logical fallacies, but it's realistically not possible to hear every opinion, so we some way to be selective.

    Personally, I think you've been far too harsh in your assessment of these NASA retirees. First of all, they explained in their introduction why they feel that their opinion should matter, and I tend to agree with them. As distinguished people with related skills and education who have attempted to conduct a non-biased and in-depth examination of the evidence, why should they not at least be heard? It's plausible that they could have something of value to say that hasn't been heard before, or at least that you could learn something from listening to them.

    In politics, and this issue is highly political in nature, everything goes in terms of getting yourself heard, including appeal to credibility or to your ex-employer's reputation. The climate alarmists are surely guilty of as much with all the disaster scenarios they've come up with. If you're going to complain about it at all, then to be fair you ought to complain about similar behavior by those who lobby for the position that you happen to agree with.

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  13. @Glenn Tamblyn #46

    Since the oceans are the primary source of protein for around a billion people, any decline in the biological productivity of the oceans must unavoidably lead to a reduction in available protein.

    Oh really? What if the decline in biological productivity of the oceans lead to a subsequent, even greater increase in the biological productivity on land and available protein from land sources? That would result in an increase in available protein. Can you prove it impossible?

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  14. In response to the article...

    This conclusion illustrates a risk management failure which is very common amongst climate contrarians. It's no different than saying "I don't think that I'll be in a car accident, so I won't purchase auto insurance." The average American has a 30% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in his or her lifetime, and the odds of very dangerous and damaging climate change are even higher if we continue on a business-as-usual path – in fact that is the most likely scenario.

    That is a very poor analogy. Americans buy insurance for car collisions because they know that car collisions happen, they know how and why they happen, many have been in one before, and they wish to insure themselves against future collisions which they know with a high degree of likelihood will continue to occur.

    Unlike car collisions, humans do not know that anthropomorphic climate change disaster occurs, what effects it can have, or what factors primarily cause it. We haven't seen it happen before, haven't lived through it, and don't know what the best way to deal with it is. We cannot rationally insure against it because it only exists in our imagination.

    A more appropriate analogy would be for Americans to buy hummingbird attack insurance. Theoretically, evolution could change hummingbirds into bloodthirsty killers at any moment. One could argue that anthropomorphic changes to and pressures on our environment cause an increased rate of evolution. Alarmists could claim that the birds are just a couple genes away from devouring us. How many people do you think would buy this type of insurance? None, of course.

    Climate contrarians like these NASA retirees essentially believe that the best case scenario will occur, that the net climate feedback and sensitivity will be near the low end of the possible range, and that we will be able to cope with future climate change.

    This claim is false. As far as I'm aware, NASA retirees have not claimed that they believe the best case scenario will occur. On the contrary, they believe that there's insufficient evidence to determine whether the best or worst case scenario or something in the middle will occur.

    This conclusion illustrates a risk management failure which is very common amongst climate contrarians. It's no different than saying "I don't think that I'll be in a car accident, so I won't purchase auto insurance." The average American has a 30% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in his or her lifetime, and the odds of very dangerous and damaging climate change are even higher if we continue on a business-as-usual path – in fact that is the most likely scenario.

    You, on the other hand, appear to be advocating a strong risk aversion which would literally stop mankind from doing anything, if taken to the extreme, and have us walking around on tip-toes afraid of triggering disasters. You are claiming that when you don't know what will happen or whether the outcome will be positive or negative, or, generally, are afraid of change, that you should not act. Mankind would not have advanced nearly this far following such a principle.

    Unfortunately, your principle is actually useless in this case since we're already in uncharted waters. It would've helped stop the industrial revolution before it began, but there's no going backwards. Sequestering carbon and building millions of windmills could be just as harmful, or even more harmful, than continuing to burn fossil fuels. Do we have enough evidence to pick one course of action over the other? Without sufficient evidence, the only difference between the two would be public perception based on political campaigning and, generally, lies: we've been told that CO2 will cause disaster, without proof, and we've been told that windmills will be good, without proof.

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  15. Zoo58: "Americans buy insurance for car collisions because they know that car collisions happen, they know how and why they happen, many have been in one before, and they wish to insure themselves against future collisions which they know with a high degree of likelihood will continue to occur."

    Zoo58: "Unlike car collisions, humans do not know that anthropomorphic climate change disaster occurs, what effects it can have, or what factors primarily cause it. We haven't seen it happen before, haven't lived through it, and don't know what the best way to deal with it is. We cannot rationally insure against it because it only exists in our imagination."

    The basis of your post is your claim that we don't understand how the climate works, past, present, and future.  We know quite well why climate change happens.  We know that it has happened in the past many times, and we know that it will happen in the future, regardless of what we're doing now.  We know how the climate system works.  We have direct surface measurement of the greenhouse effect.  Indeed, the theory of the greenhouse effect is one of the most well-established theories science has produced. We know how our contributions to that effect are leading to an accumulation of energy within the climate system.

    Just because you don't understand the science, doesn't mean the science isn't there.  Perhaps you'd be more effective in arguing your position if you actually engaged the science.

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  16. "Theoretically, evolution could change hummingbirds into bloodthirsty killers at any moment"

    This is one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever read. One ready to throw around such nonsense and in the same post comment on others' analogies being poor is almost funny. The rest of the post is ripe with straw men, such as "stop humanity from doing anything", and indications of zoo58 lack of knowledge and understanding of the science underpinning the risk analysis he attempts to question. I'm unimpressed.

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  17. I would add that the OP appropriately disputes the fact the individuals mentioned have conducted a true "in depth" assessment of the science. I see nothing in zoo58's showing that their assessment really was in depth. In fact, it is abundantly clear from their declaration that it was not so.

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  18. @DSL #65, @PhilippeChantreau #66

    The analogy in this article is poor because one is a known, routine, predictable event that happens every day in America (a car collision), and the other a theoretical disaster scenario that we have never experienced (a rapid climate change disaster).

    All analogies are limited, but this one is particularly bad because the author uses it to draw a connection between Americans buying collision insurance and Americans dramatically changing their energy sources in an attempt to avoid a theoretical problem. The difference should be obvious.

    Admittedly, I struggled to think up a better analogy and picked a rather absurd one (from a scientific perspective), hastily, to try to demonstrate my point.

    Perhaps a better analogy could be postulated in the area of infectious disease. I'm thinking out loud here... we know that high concentrations of humans in cities and frequent travel between them increases the danger of infectious outbreak and that an infectious outbreak could potentially dramatically harm humanity. Should humans cease to travel or cease building cities in an effort to reduce the risk of a large-scale outbreak?

    You might argue "no" (I would) because we are smart enough that we can deal with infectious disease, get them under control, create vaccines or drugs, etc. Climate skeptics can argue analogously that we know enough about our world to mitigate to effects of and adapt to climate change.

    I'm sure that you get my gist, so would either of you care to help think of strong analogy, rather than cut me down?

     

    @PhilippeChantreau #66

    The rest of the post is ripe with straw men, such as "stop humanity from doing anything", and indications of zoo58 lack of knowledge and understanding of the science underpinning the risk analysis he attempts to question.

    Risk aversion taken to the extreme, as I qualified it, would indeed stop humanity from doing anything. There is unknown risk in every action. Scientific understanding of our world makes humans powerful. That power gives us more confidence that we can identify and deal with problems as they arise.

    The risk analysis involved in something as big as climate change (it truly impacts everything on this planet) is really, truly, extremely complex. It's easy to blame others for not understanding it, but do you? What I perceive as cimate alarmists' penchant for character assassination and political posturing over elevating the discussion certainly does not inspire my confidence.

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  19. Zoo58: "Risk aversion taken to the extreme, as I qualified it, would indeed stop humanity from doing anything."

    Oh, I get it now.  According to your definition of "extreme," anyone who took risk aversion to the "extreme" would be bonkers.  What, pray tell, is your definition of "extreme" risk aversion, and is anyone seriously advocating for it?

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  20. Zoo58,

    I notice a complete absence of scientific references in your diatribes about AGW.  Can you cite a source to support your absurd claim that scientists do not know the damages that AGW will cause if a business as usual case?  Please cite the IPCC report to support your wild, baseless claims.  Please propose a reason for the 1000 year floods last week in the USA if AGW is not influencing weather.  You must account for the increase in flooding rains in the USA and the drought in California at the same time.  Claims of wild coincidence do not hold water, provide a real explaination.  These effects were projected in advance by the scientists who study GW.

    This is a scientific blog.  Posters are required to cite reliable sources to support their claims.  You have completely failed to cite any sources, even unreliable ones. If you want to convince people that your claims have merit you need to start citing data.

    Please no more absurd claims about humming birds.

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  21. @DSL #69

    No, not according to my definition, according to the standard definition of the term that you'll find in the dictionary.

    1
    a : existing in a very high degree
    b : going to great or exaggerated lengths : radical
    c : exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected
    2
    archaic : last
    3
    : situated at the farthest possible point from a center
    4
    a : most advanced or thoroughgoing
    b : maximum
    5
    a : of, relating to, or being an outdoor activity or a form of a sport (as skiing) that involves an unusually high degree of physical risk
    b : involved in an extreme sport

    See: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extreme

    Taken to "the extreme" means taken to the "maximum" or farthest possible extent.

    Comprendes?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] If you persist in lacing your comments with inflamatory remarks, they will be deleted. 

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  22. zoo58 @71, in your comment @68 you write:

    "The risk analysis involved in something as big as climate change (it truly impacts everything on this planet) is really, truly, extremely complex."

    If, as you insist, we shoud interpret your earlier use of "extreme" ("Risk aversion taken to the extreme...") to mean "utter extreme", we must do the same here.  Transparently that is not the case, however.  Climate, while extremely complex, is not so complex as the action of the brain, the interaction of genes to generate life, or even sociology or psychology.  Yet surely your second use emphasises the extremity of the case far more than your first.

    We can take home from this that you are mistaken in claiming that your first usage is "...not according to my definition, according to the standard definition of the term...", as your second usage is valid but does not comply with your interpretation of the definition.  Your inconsistent usage shows that you do not in fact believe your extremist interpretation of the dictionary definition.

    Regardless of your usage, of course, it could simply be pointed out that you have taken one of five senses of the word "extreme" (the fourth sense given) and reified to to be the only usage of the term (at least when it suites your argument).  That is, "Risk aversion taken to the extreme" need only mean risk aversion taken to "great or exaggerated lengths" (sense 1b) or risk aversion "exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected" lengths (sense 1c).  

    In scientific terms the later woud be glossed as "risk aversion in the upper 5%ile of the population" and the amount of risk aversion needed would be dependent on the distribution of risk aversion in the population.  As it is not true that 5% of the population is so risk averse that they never do anything, that also means your original claim is not true.   

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  23. zoo58 @62:

    "How does one decide whether someone's opinion matters or not?"

    1)  Your opinion does not matter if you set unrealizable standards for those whose opinion you disagree with.  Thus when the letter writers write:

    "We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites."

    if by "unproven" they mean lacking deductive proof, they set up an unrealistic standard in that no scientific statement can possibly be proved deductively.  Of course, if they are not setting up so unrealistic a standard, NASA already complies with their request in that their public statements on climate are back by comprehensive evidence.

    2)  Your opinion does not matter if your argument depends essentially on applying a restrictive standard on those you disagree with that you do not accept for yourself.  On this count, the NASA contrarian signatories clearly fail.  They make numerous claims regarding matters of fact in the letter, and provide not even a single refference in support, let alone "proof".  They expect us to take their claim, for example, that NASA's public statements on climate amount to "unbridled advocacy of CO2" on their authority alone.  They do not even cite their qualifications to prove their authority, so that we are expected to accept mere interns (Thomas Wysmuller) as authorative simply because they were employed by NASA.

    In stark contrast, the public statements by NASA are backed be extensive peer reviewed literature - much of which is available free to the public on the NASA website.

    Indeed, it is plain that you also do not accept the standard demanded of NASA.  You write, "As distinguished people with related skills and education who have attempted to conduct a non-biased and in-depth examination of the evidence ..." but offer not evidence that all or any have either or both of "related skills and education", that they are "unbiased", or that they have conducted any review of the evidence.  Nor will you be able to for such a review is not to be found from most (if not all) of the authors of the letter; and description of NASA's statements as "advocacy" and "extreme" shows without doubt that they are biased.

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  24. We are erring on the side of off-topic but since moderators are allowing, I'll follow up. Your humingbird analogy is inappropriate and you qualification of car accident is equally wrong. You don't understand the initial analogy because because you fail to graps the significance of the risk at the scale of an individual vs a population.

    You say car accidents are a routine every day occurrence. They are at the level of a population, but not at that of the individual experiencing the accident. For the immense majority of people involved in accidents, they are an extremely rare occurrence. Some find them rare enough that they are confident that it won't happen to them and dispense of insurance. Most people, however do get insurance, not because of the likelihood of the event, but because of dangers involved. For any given person, car accidents are not routine at all. They cause trauma, physical and psychological. They can have very serious consequences, often life changing, and always put a nasty wrench in people's plans.

    The initial analogy was about the thought process of an individual assessing his risk and need for an insurance. The probability of the occurrence is low but the implications of it are very significant. Furthermore, the probability is not that low if one looks at the actual numbers, and any individual knows the results of accidents. Therefore, purchasing the insurance is a no-brainer.

    At the level of the world population, we need to do the same risk assessment. The people who recently died in floods in the SE US and in France certainly would agree that risk assessment is in order if they could still do so. The fact that most of the New Orleans levees were topped over during Kathrina, the enormous storm surge leading to seawater flooding the NY subway during Sandy, the heat wave in Moscow, the fires in Australia, all these are very real and were either predicted by scientists, or are fully consistent with the theory. We have already reached the level of a continuous background of climate related adverse events. People do die from them and the damages total in the billions.

    This makes your hummingbird analogy even more wrong than its sheer absurdity could. We're not talking about a remote risk, dependent on a far fecthed theory at all. We're talking about risk that has already materialized as predicted. We're talking about occurrences happening on a regular basis. How many 1000 years type of events do we need in a decade year for you to understand? How many in a single year?

    Your "extreme" mumbo jumbo is completely irrelevant. Responding to future risks identical to some that have already materialized does not constitute extreme risk aversion by any stretch of the imagination. Hence the question about what is extreme, which was in fact entirely justified.

    To get back on topic, you still have not come close to demonstrating that the NASA retirees that are the subject of the OP have done a true in-depth examination of the science.

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  25. "Character assassination"? Really? Go read WUWT and see how puny we are in that department. Over there, calls for hanging scientists are routine. Posturing is truly better described by rep. Inhoffe bringing a snow ball in the House to argue that climate change isn't happening. That's posturing. So is passing laws that banned public servants from using certain words that pertain to rising sea level because the legislators don't like these words and it's bad for seaside real estate business. Seems you have your scales skewed.

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  26. zoo58, I know what the qualifier "extreme" means, but it is a qualifier. It only works as a defined noun in well-estabished context. You have not established the context of your use. I have no idea what you think of as "extreme" in the context of climate risk aversion, and I'm still have no idea who you're responding to (these "extremists" you appear to be imagining).

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  27. I know nothing about the climate other than what I see out my windows.  If, in fact, mankind in it's wisdom, is gumming up the environment, I'd not oppose mitigations as long as my life style doesn't plumit to that of the 17 hundreds or less. 

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  28. rbgage, at the rate we're going the not too distant future (a few decades) will be making the 17 hundreds look better all the time.  

    At least in the 1700s our environment was a vibrant healthy promising place, once you got out of the Europe's cities.

    So sad, we never appreciate what we have till it's gone.           : (

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  29. Citizenschallenge @78 , thank you for resurrecting this rather dormant thread.   I hadn't heard of anything recently from "DrPhD" Doiron and his dozen or so of retired NASA engineers & non-climate scientists — who called themselves TRCS (The Right Climate Stuff).

    According to their website, their last "activity" was 11 months ago (Jan. 2017).   A quick read through their website, reveals some highly-selective cherrypicking [ Ljungqvist + one Greenland ice core site + upper troposphere "global temperatures" + one dodgy-looking graph of average once-annual world mean surface temperatures ] . . . all processed through some el basico mathematics plus a bit of curve-fitting with 61-year and 1000-year "natural cycles" . . . to produce a conclusion that there's nothing for humans to worry about because Global Warming from CO2 is only very slight and self-limiting.  And it will be fine to keep burning fossil carbon in an unrestricted way.

    In short, the TRCS presents a fine example of Garbage-In-Garbage-Out.

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