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Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate

Posted on 2 February 2012 by Kevin Trenberth

In response to the latest denialist plea for climate inaction published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the WSJ has published a response letter from a number of actual climate scientists, which is re-printed below.

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.

Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.

The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.

Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D.

Distinguished Senior Scientist

Climate Analysis Section National Center for Atmospheric Research

La Jolla, Calif.

Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Richard Somerville, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University

Rasmus Benestad, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, The Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Gerald Meehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences; Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University

Peter Gleick, Ph.D., co-founder and president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Michael C. MacCracken, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Climate Institute, Washington

Michael Mann, Ph.D., Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University

Steven Running, Ph.D., Professor, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana

Robert Corell, Ph.D., Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; Principal, Global Environment Technology Foundation

Dennis Ojima, Ph.D., Professor, Senior Research Scientist, and Head of the Dept. of Interior's Climate Science Center at Colorado State University

Josh Willis, Ph.D., Climate Scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Matthew England, Ph.D., Professor, Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia

Ken Caldeira, Ph.D., Atmospheric Scientist, Dept. of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution

Warren Washington, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Terry L. Root, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University

David Karoly, Ph.D., ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

Jeffrey Kiehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Donald Wuebbles, Ph.D., Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois

Camille Parmesan, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, University of Texas; Professor of Global Change Biology, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, UK

Simon Donner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada

Barrett N. Rock, Ph.D., Professor, Complex Systems Research Center and Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire

David Griggs, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia

Roger N. Jones, Ph.D., Professor, Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Australia

William L. Chameides, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, School of the Environment, Duke University

Gary Yohe, Ph.D., Professor, Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, CT

Robert Watson, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chair of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Steven Sherwood, Ph.D., Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Chris Rapley, Ph.D., Professor of Climate Science, University College London, UK

Joan Kleypas, Ph.D., Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

James J. McCarthy, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University

Stefan Rahmstorf, Ph.D., Professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany

Julia Cole, Ph.D., Professor, Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

William H. Schlesinger, Ph.D., President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

Eric Rignot, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

Wolfgang Cramer, Professor of Global Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France

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Comments 101 to 119 out of 119:

  1. Ian, that's not really a fair comparison. Trenberth's analogy is one of expertise. In his analogy, Al Gore and Tim Flannery would be the people (nurses or technicians) who call you and tell you what the test results were. Gore would say, "the doctor says we need to continue to run tests to get a better understanding of the disease." A guy like Monckton would say, "The doctor says you need more tests, but he's full of it. I listened to his diagnosis of you through the keyhole, and in my professional opinion, you're going to be fine -- peachy even. Tests cost a lot of money, and so do the drugs that might 'allegedly' cure you. Indeed, someone stole some emails from the doctor, and if you read them in just the right way, they are evidence that the doctor is a fraud! I know! If I were you, I'd ignore the odd aches and pains, and the rapidly declining hair extent. These things are natural."
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  2. Ian, You use of the vague term "climate matters" may be what's making it hard for you to grasp this rather simple point. Dr. Trenberth's analogy more properly has to do with collecting and interpreting data. As "skeptics" demonstrate in these threads almost every day, people who don't understand statistics do a poor job of interpreting and understanding statistical data. Therefore, it's reasonable to expect them to defer to people who actually know what they're talking about -- or failing that, to withhold judgment until they've acquired the knowledge they need to have an informed dissenting opinion. Dr. Trenberth's point isn't that no one but a climate scientists is allowed to discuss AGW; it's that the starting point for the discussion should be what the best available science is telling us. Obviously, climate scientists are in a better position to know this than anyone else. What people like Gore and Flannery are doing is reporting on the scientific consensus and advising people to take it seriously. That's very different from gathering or interpreting data. Of course, not being experts, they may make the occasional error. But if you're capable of looking honestly at these errors, you'll find a) that "skeptics" make far more; and b) that they tend to get corrected much more quickly than the errors of "skeptics."
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  3. Ian: I think my reply to Carbon500 effectively addresses your objection to the Trenberth et al letter, so I will reiterate it here:
    With regards to the two Wall Street Journal letters, what is important is that the letter written by Trenberth et al is in line with the overwhelming body of empirical evidence, and it is this conformance to the evidence which grants Trenberth and company their authority. By contrast, the letter/editorial written by Lindzen et al consists mainly of a series of rehashed, long-refuted contrarian claims which are out of line with what the evidence shows. This lack of evidentiary support negates the implicit claim to authority that Lindzen et al appeal to through highlighting their credentials.
    With regards to non-scientists such as Gore or Flannery, such authority as they possess in communicating climate science comes from the degree to which their claims are based upon the available evidence - just as is the case with Trenberth et al and with the contrarian 16. The more one's statements are based on the evidence, the more authority with which one can make them. By this standard even the likes of Gore come off looking favourable in comparison with the contrarian 16 Wall Street Journal signatories. As such, I feel your suggestion that Trenberth is setting up a double standard is unreasonable.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed html-fu.
  4. My HTML-fu apparently is weak just around midnight.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Your HTML-fu is restored to its former glory.
  5. @Elsa @ 14 As others have said, I don't think Phil Jones qualifications are in doubt and I'm not even sure, relevant. His publication record alone illustrates his background. You can question his methods, data and results, but you can't question his qualifications
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  6. Ian, Al Gore etc. is publicising the work of climate scientists, not doing the work himself. The authority comes from the science that his views are based on. The "dentists" do not have climate science to support their misinformation.
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  7. DSL@96/97 and Moderator: See my theory on this chart.
    The mechanism used by nature to raise the parcel of heated air beyond the 500mb is the turbulent convection which depends on the availability of soil water. Missing soil water, nature seeks to balance the scheme by increasing evaporation from ocean heating it up. This concept is not covered by the "models" because it's occur below 2 meters high in the atmosphere. You can write in English that I understand better than Google.
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  8. Tarcisio: For this apparent mirror imaging to be considered a theory, it needs substantiation with reference to scientific literature. Until you have some body of research to support your idea, it is just that: an idea. It is also off-topic for this thread.
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  9. Thanks for posting this letter, and I appreciate the dedicated scientists taking the time to write it. The dialog in the comments is interesting as always. I think I'll inform my dentist that he should expect to receive an inquiry or two about heart conditions!!! Keep up the good work...
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  10. But muon, SkS doesn't have a thread for "Nature (capital N) assesses soil moisture and causes ocean evaporation to compensate for decreased convection, leading to (not proceeding from) increased latent heating." And I doubt if SkS ever will.
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  11. Ian #100 A very sound point Ian. Other non-expert professionals in the areas of science, engineering etc and any lay persons able to understand the first law of thermodynamics can grasp the essentials of the general AGW case.
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  12. How true, Ken. They should be able to. And yet there are so many who so confidently repeat the most awful, frequently disproved, rhetorical arguments that, if they were not actually designed to mislead, must have been generated by those incapable of fully understanding "the essentials". Furthermore they appear to be also incapable of understanding their errors when they are pointed out - judging by the fact that they keep on endlessly repeating and embellishing them.
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  13. Composer99: Re your comment'With regards to non-scientists such as Gore or Flannery, such authority as they possess in communicating climate science comes from the degree to which their claims are based upon the available evidence' I wouldn't take anything Gore writes or claims at face value. For example, have a look at his book 'An Inconvenient Truth' on page 173 he states 'mosquitoes are profoundly affected by global warming.' No references, of course. Now have a look at this.
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  14. Carbon500, I notice from your link that Reiter states : "It will be interesting to see how the health chapter of the fourth report is written." In that fourth report, for which he is a Reviewer, he is referred to 3 times and has 4 references. Any idea whether he was happy with that, or if he is going to contribute to the next report ? I ask because I assume you are interested in him and his work and wouldn't just rely on 7-year old information ?
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  15. Carbon500, A google of "global warming Kenya mosquitoes" yields thousands of hits. This peer reviewed paper, among many others documents the spread of mosquito born disease. Perhaps Gore thought there were so many references that he did not need to supply one.
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  16. Carbon500: I fail to see how your comment on Gore & mosquitoes affects my point at all. Where anyone speaking on climate science comports to the evidence, they have a certain degree of authority. Where they don't, they don't. One correct statement does not an infallible authority make, nor does one error completely discredit them.
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Let's all avoid being dragged into a discussion that revolves around 'things Al Gore said.' This post's topic is 'what climate scientists say.'
  17. Elsa I know my comment is rather late but I wanted to address your objection to people using ocean heat content as a measure. Try this analogy: Imagine you are sitting outside in the sun and you want a cool drink, so you put ice cubes into your Pimms (or other favourite drink). Over time the ice cubes melt thus cooling the drink, but what is the best way to predict how cold your drink will be in the future? Clearly measuring the temperature directly will not do you much good because the temperature of the drink itself is not changing much while the ice cubes are still melting i.e. most of the energy is going into melting the ice, not warming the drink. There will not be much of a drink warming trend until the ice cubes have fully melted. Most of the additional energy from AGW is currently going into heating the oceans. The temperature of the oceans doesn't change much because water has a very high heat capacity so a lot of energy is needed to get a small amount of temperature rise. The rises we are seeing indicate a large energy increase, even though the absolute temperature has not risen much. If we only look at land temperatures and ignore the heat going into the ocean then we will have a very nasty surprise in the future once the oceans have warmed. Think what happens to your drink when the final ice cube melts...
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  18. The WSJ has now published a 'skeptic' response to the climate scientist letter. Shockingly (ok, no I'm not really shocked), it contains many of the same incorrect arguments as their original op ed, plus some 'new' ones. Can a SkS debunking be far behind?
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    Moderator Response: [JH] Depends on your definition of "far behind."
  19. The WSJ has now published a 'skeptic' response
    432 comments to it already, with the same old ratio of deniers to real sceptics. SkS debunking might amount to repeating much of what has already been said, because I saw nothing new in the letter. It seems that letters such as those from the 16 'concerned scientists' do little but subtract from the sum of human knowledge. I almost wish that the ENSO would reverse right now, so temperatures would resume rising unequivocally and make these disinformers look as wrong as I suspect they are. Almost. The trouble is, it will take unequivocal and widespread extreme, heat-related weather events to get the attention of Mr. Average and gain traction in the MSM. In other words, people are going to have to die before the message can get through and that is going to depend upon the MSM reporting the catastrophes and connecting the dots to AGW. I can only hope the situation becomes bad enough that it cannot be ignored, without involving the loss of the great ice sheets, or too many innocent lives.
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