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Republican witness admits the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is real

Posted on 2 June 2014 by dana1981

The US House of Representatives Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on the IPCC process last Thursday. The Republicans on the committee invited three witnesses to speak (Richard Tol, Daniel Botkin, and Roger Pielke Sr.), while the Democrats were allowed one witness (Michael Oppenheimer). The focus during the hearing shifted several times to the 97% expert consensus on human caused global warming; committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) even included some inaccurate statements denying the consensus in his opening remarks.

The witnesses generally focused on the subject at hand – the IPCC process – during their prepared testimonies, but Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked them in the question and answer session about the 97% expert consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming.

Richard Tol answered first, but his answer probably didn't satisfy Rohrabacher. Tol admitted,

"I mean it's pretty clear that most of the science agrees that climate change is real and most likely human-made"

Tol has also previously acknowledged,

"The consensus is of course in the high nineties"

However, while he admits it's real, Tol quibbles whether the consensus is precisely 97%. Ever since the Skeptical Science team published our consensus study a year ago, Tol has seemed determined to find fault with it. He submitted a critique to the journal that published our paper, Environmental Research Letters. However, the journal rejected Tol's comment twice, finding it unsuitable for publication. The peer-review referee comments are available on Tol's blog, saying for example,

"Rather than contribute to the discussion, the paper instead seems oriented at casting doubt on the Cook paper, which is not appropriate to a peer-reviewed venue, and has a number of important flaws ... Many of the claims in the abstract and conclusion are not supported by the author’s analyses."

These comments are consistent with Tol's own admission that he took a "destructive" approach toward our paper rather than try and replicate our results. We even went as far as to create a public webpage where anybody can review and rate the same abstracts as we did to make replication as easy as possible.

In fact, the Environmental Research Letters reviews included 24 critiques and suggestions regarding how Tol could improve his paper. Tol reports that after two additional rejections, he finally found a journal to publish his paper. It will be interesting to see if he addressed the 24 Environmental Research Letters reviewer critiques, or if he simply shopped a flawed paper around until finding a publisher willing to overlook its shortcomings.

Nevertheless, Tol accepts that the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is real. It was thus a bit of an own-goal for the Republican committee members to invite him and inquire about the consensus, given that they seem determined to deny that it exists.

Based on their post-hearing press release, the Republicans on the committee seem satisfied believing that our study "has been debunked," and Tol made several unfounded claims disparaging our study during the question and answer session. He did however make one accurate statement,

"The 97% estimate is bandied about by basically everybody."

Due to the fact that the general public is largely unaware of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and people are more likely to accept the science and support action to address the problem if they're aware of the consensus, it's a very important fact. Our study is the most comprehensive quantification of this expert consensus to date, so not surprisingly it's been "bandied about" widely:

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. In my own article about the hearing I likened the proceedings to "a pantomime":

    I hope this doesn't sound overly political, but according to the IPCC AR5 WG I SPM “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. In the subsequent press release Lamar Smith said that:

    "A distinguished panel of experts involved in the IPCC and National Climate Assessment process unanimously stated that the science of climate change is “not settled,” as the President and others often state unequivocally."

    I'm from the other side of the Atlantic, but it seems to me that an enterprising US lawyer could make a good case that Rep. Smith is guilty of libeling the President of the United States of America!

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  2. I don't expect "skeptics" to build on previous conclusions or aknowledged evidence. It wouldn't surprise me if Tol claimed that "the science isn't settled" next month. Climate inactivity does not rely on coherence - quite the opposite.

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  3. "The science isn't settled" in much the same way that "the models are wrong." Just as models are by definition not completely accurate, scientific understanding of the climate is incomplete. But both of those statements, on their own, are useless, and both of them could be said about any field of scientific research, no matter how universally accepted. They require quantification to be anything meaningful. Yet, those who trumpet them don't seem interested in quantification, only in spreading that message.

    I don't know much about Richard Tol, but lately he strikes me much like Roger Pielke: stubbornly contrarian yet slipperily vague. If memory serves me correctly, both have a strange habit of pedantically seizing on miniscule points of contention and then trying to use that to justify rejecting much larger parts of the science. When you call them on it, it's almost impossible to get them to admit which part of the conensus they disagree with, yet they will, if unchecked, make pretty denial-ish claims. It's fitting that they were both invited as witnesses.

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  4. Another misdirection. Let's forget 97% and just say "Most" or "almost all" research point to human industrial and agricultural byproducts as being the cause of rising global temperatures. Then the debate moves  to -1) is this bad and 2) if yes what can and should we do about it. 

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  5. Newton's laws of motion aren't settled and Einstein showed.  However, they were accurate enough to get us to the Moon and back, frequently without a mid course correction.

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