Media enable denier spin 2: What if the MSM simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction?

If those who are counseling inaction and delay succeed, billions of humans will suffer unimaginable misery and chaos, while most other species will simply go extinct.

Maybe the best one line description of our current situation that I have read is:

It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.

That’s the final sentence in Elizabeth Kolbert’s fine global warming book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, and as I’ll show in this post, it is entirely accurate.

How can the traditional media cover a story that is almost “impossible to imagine”? I don’t think they can. I’ll be using a bunch of quotes mostly from the NYT’s Revkin, not because he is a bad reporter — to the contrary, he is one of the best climate reporters — but because now that he has a blog, he writes far more than any other journalist on this subject and shares his thinking. A new Revkin post, “The Never-Ending Story,” underscores the media’s central problem with this story:

I stayed up late examining the latest maneuver in the never-ending tussle between opponents of limits on greenhouse gases who are using holes in climate science as ammunition and those trying to raise public concern about a human influence on climate that an enormous body of research indicates, in the worst case, could greatly disrupt human affairs and ecosystems.

This sentence is not factually accurate (the boldface is mine). It would be much closer to accurate if the word “worst case” were replaced by “best case” or, as we’ll see, “best case if the opponents of limits on GHGs fail and fail quickly.” The worst case is beyond imagination. The word “holes” is misleading. And this isn’t a “tussle” — it is much closer to being a “struggle for the future of life as we know it.” And all of us — including Andy — better pray that it ain’t “never-ending. ” Before elaborating, let me quote some more :

One of the unavoidable realities attending global warming — a reality that makes it the perfect problem — is that there is plenty of remaining uncertainty, even as the basics have grown ever firmer (my litany: more CO2 = warmer world = less ice = rising seas and lots of climate shifts).

Some skeptics have long tried to use the uncertainty as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Campaigners for carbon dioxide curbs seem reluctant to acknowledge the gaps for fear that society will tune out. So the story migrates back to the edges: catastrophe, hoax. No doubt.

This last paragraph sums up the problem for the media. As an aside, I don’t know what “gaps” or “holes” Revkin is talking about, but as I will try to make clear, they don’t really exist in the sense that any typical reader would expect from the context.

The “story migrates back to the edges,” not because that is inherent to the story, but because that is inherent to all modern media coverage of every big issue. Let me quote Newsweek editor Jon Meacham from last month:

“I absolutely believe that the media is not ideologically driven, but conflict driven. If we have a bias it’s not that people are socially liberal, fiscally conservative or vice versa. It is that we are engaged in the storytelling business. And if you tell the same story again and again and again – it’s kind of boring.”

The real story doesn’t have much conflict: It is the growing scientific (and technological) understanding that if we don’t sharply restrict greenhouse gas emissions soon, we face catastrophe — that is the right word, the one Kolbert sticks in her title.

The conflict is actually a political one between those who believe in government-led solutions and those who don’t. This is a central point. As Revkin himself notes about the Heartland denier/disinformer conference, “The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases.” As I explain at length in my book, a central reason that conservatives and libertarians reject the scientific understanding of human-caused climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution. So they attack both the solution and the science.

It simply is not accurate to say the real edges of this debate are “catastrophe” or “hoax”. Revkin and every reasonable person knows that this is no “hoax,” no conspiracy of the thousands of top scientists in the world to deceive the public — that is laughable, pure disinformation from the conservatives who hate regulations. It is comparable in credibility to the claim that we never landed on the moon.

Revkin also knows, or he should know, that “catastrophe” is not the edge of the debate. Let me explain why.

The middle of the debate is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. That is the mainstream scientific view. That is the “consensus” among our top scientists (even though that is a terrible word, as I’ve noted). The language is signed off on by 180 governments. You certainly can’t call that the “edge.”

This is especially true IF we actually listen to the deniers/disinformers and don’t act to reduce emissions soon. This is the central point that the media either fails to understand or refuses to communicate.

Let me make two related arguments. First, Revkins writes: “a human influence on climate that an enormous body of research indicates, in the worst case, could greatly disrupt human affairs and ecosystems.” That research, summarized by the IPCC, says, for instance:

Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5°C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.

Now wouldn’t losing 40% to 70% of all species — a 3.5°C rise is a certainty if we lose the “tussle” to opponents of limits on GHGs — be a “catastrophe” by any definition of the word (without even bringing in the hundreds of millions of people whose lives will be ruined by sea level rise, drought and water shortages)?

Let me go further. As I (and others, including the IPCC itself) have repeatedly explained, the “holes” or “gaps” in the IPCC work are almost exclusively omissions of hard-to-model things like carbon-cycle amplifying feedbacks and dynamic ice sheet destruction that would tend to make future impacts much worse than the IPCC models. And the actual observational record clearly shows that the climate is changing faster than the IPCC models project.

An even more important point, one that the media almost completely ignores, is that the other major source of “uncertainty” in the IPCC reports is that nobody knows for sure how much greenhouse gases humans will emit this century. So the IPCC models a wide range of emissions, including some very low emissions/concentrations scenarios with relatively modest, but still severe, impacts. But the longer we listen to the do-nothing crowd, the more certain it is that we will end up with very high emissions and concentrations whose brutal impacts are all too certain.

How high?

We are currently emitting 8 billion tons of carbon a year (8 GtC/yr) and rising more than 3% per year — faster than the most pessimistic IPCC model. There is a little-reported bomb-shell buried in the footnote of the first IPCC report released last year:

Climate-carbon cycle coupling is expected to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the climate system warms, but the magnitude of this feedback is uncertain. This increases the uncertainty in the trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions required to achieve a particular stabilisation level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Based on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilise at 450 ppm carbon dioxide, could require that cumulative emissions over the 21st century be reduced from an average of approximately 670 [630 to 710] GtC to approximately 490 [375 to 600] GtC. Similarly, to stabilise at 1000 ppm this feedback could require that cumulative emissions be reduced from a model average of approximately 1415 [1340 to 1490] GtC to approximately 1100 [980 to 1250] GtC.

The appropriate response to the final sentence, if you oppose greenhouse gas regulations — or if you worry that those who do will maintain enough credibility/influence in the media and in Washington DC that they (continue to) succeed in stalling action — or if you actually are a member of the media who treat those opponents as if they had a scientifically or morally defensible position — is “Oh my dear God!

On our current emissions pace, we will be at 11 GtC/yr around 2020 and still rising! That means, if the “other side” wins — or even if they just partially win [by limiting government controls to ones that lead to average emissions of 11 GtC/yr for the century] — then the planet’s carbon dioxide concentrations, feedbacks including, are headed to 1000 ppm!

Let me repeat, if the other side (as the media labels them) wins, we face 1000 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 — a quadrupling from preindustrial levels — if not higher. That is NOT the worst-case, that isn’t even business as usual if the disinformers win — stabilizing at 1000 ppm still requires a lot of government-led effort that conservatives almost universally disdain.

Scientists rarely even bother modeling the impacts of 1000 ppm because “catastrophe” doesn’t begin to describe the impacts. We are talking average global temperatures some 10° to 14° C higher — yes 18° to 25° F higher (and perhaps 50% higher than that on northern land masses like the continental U.S.) — in any case, far higher than the last time the planet had no ice whatsoever and sea levels were more than 250 feet higher. The ocean would be rendered virtually lifeless. Deserts would engulf vast tracts of the planet. This is not “global warming” or “climate change,” it is Hell and High Water. Few scientists have, perhaps until very recently, seriously considered that humanity would be so mindlessly self-destructive that 1000 ppm would be a possible outcome.

To repeat the bottom line: If those who council inaction and delay win, then there is no uncertainty about our future, no gaps, no holes, nothing but millennia of misery for billions and billions of humans and outright extinction for most other species.

I get that the media treats so-called alarmists with skepticism. I sort of understand why Revkin writes this weekend about the conference of skeptics “trying hard to prove that they had unraveled the established science showing that humans are warming the world in potentially disruptive ways,” as opposed to more accurate statements like “in potentially catastrophic ways” or “in ways that will be catastrophic if we actually listen to the skeptics.”

I understand that much of the traditional media either hasn’t taken the trouble to figure out what’s going to happen to humanity if the anti-government crowd win — or, for those in the media who know, they feel they just can’t keep beating the public over the head with the painful truth [I guess that’s what blogs are for]. But every time they do a story with a different, blander spin, they undermine the urgent need for action. Every time they say there is a middle ground, they push us closer to the certain catastrophe of inaction. I think that qualifies as tragic irony.

So yes, it appears to me that today’s media simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction. When historians write about this time — very, very bitterly, no doubt, if we have forced them to suffer through Hell and High Water — the media will get assigned plenty of blame for sins of omission, though obviously not as much blame as those who were actively working to spread disinformation and block action.

I will end with a quote about the journalism of my father’s time — he was an investigative journalist and then a newspaper editor for four decades — from Edward R. Murrow, See It Now, March 9, 1954:

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.


45 Responses to Media enable denier spin 2: What if the MSM simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction?

  1. Paul K says:

    The blame falls on the Congress.

  2. Lisa G. says:

    climate change is amplifying the impact of carrying capacity overshoot. If we don’t act now, Nuclear Holocaust would be inevitable.

  3. Andy Revkin says:

    Hi Joe,

    I think what you’re really asking above is not “are the mainstream media worthless,” but “Are words worthless in the climate fight?” This is a question I’ve explored for awhile now back at Dot Earth.

    Presumably you’re really saying that the blogosphere is riding to the rescue because the MSM can’t. But what makes you think the intellectual silos in the blogosphere (Huffington over here, Drudge over there…) will somehow break through on this in a way other media can’t? I hope you’re right. But I have deep doubts.

    The reason? The entwined climate/energy/development challenge is the world’s worst problem, with every single facet posing challenges to a species that is mainly “here and now” and with any generation only prodded to powerful action by powerful events. Even Paul Hawken, one of the most skillful green communicators, told me recently that he doesn’t foresee real progress on shifting from non-sustainable energy options etc without a potent jab from nature.

    As for the science, you ask where the holes are. They’re just in every facet of the climate prognosis that relates most directly to people, unfortunately. Just a couple here:

    1) The reality of centuries of eroding ice and rising seas in a warming world is powerfully established, but the rise in the next 100 years is highly uncertain. I personally think the first point is plenty powerful enough to get people’s attention, but unfortunately we care a lot more about the short term. And the Hansen-size projections are the least certain of all (with irreducible uncertainty on relevant time scales, given the complexities of ice-sheet dynamics.)

    2) The IPCC impacts report speaks of rising precipitation in higher latitudes for at least half a century, while near-tropical areas grow dry. So the grain belt gets longer growing seasons and more water… Catastrophe? Depends on where you live, and how rich you are, as we’ve written in the Climate Divide series.

    3) A much closer look at the extinction projections reveals layers of uncertainty on top of layers. I’ve been preparing to dive into this, but haven’t had time yet. And this section of the IPCC reports is constrained to species that have been studied for such risks, not for all the globe’s species. You seem to have a much better line-by-line familiarity with the report. Can you dig out just how many species have been studied, and where they are? (My guess is in places that are already vulnerable, like mountain slopes.) That’d help me get started.

    On the energy/emissions trends, we’re about the only publication I know of that has given sustained, in-depth coverage to the glaring lack of energy research, the limits of current efforts (including the existing renewables markets), and the real-world choices that faces a species heading toward 9 billion people, all of whom would love the gifts that come with ample energy.

    We’re all in this together — blogs, MSM, TV, teachers, poets, neighborhoods — and we’re all at a loss not just for words, but options, until we get busy.

    I think we should have a bloggingheadsTV style conversation on this that we could post on both Dot Earth and here. Let’s chat.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    Extremely well said, Joe.

    Our global warming situation is growing worse by the day, and meaningful action is being stalled by sellouts and myopic ideologues.

    What sickens me even more than the paid deniers is how many of my fellow US citizens look at the “controversy” and shrug and conclude that there’s nothing definitive enough to warrant action.

  5. Joe says:

    Andy — thanks for your comment. I don’t disagree with what you’ve said. I’d just point out the “holes in the science” you cite are questions of whether the impacts of warming will be serious or catastrophic. Whether some people benefit for a few decades is in my mind a side issue compared to whether billions of people will suffer for centuries.

    Again, if we don’t curb emissions sharply, these holes go away and the catastrophe is assured.

    I’d love to have “a bloggingheadsTV style conversation,” though I confess I don’t know exactly what that entails.

  6. John L. McCormick says:

    Joe and Andy,

    There is a consequence to being so well informed on a topic. It becomes difficult and frustrating to repeatedly communicate the essence of the topic to the masses without seeing the desired outcome. Responses come back with all degree of agreement, corrections, additional information or nonsense, insults and hack opinions based on denier propaganda– believes vs. the trolls.

    That makes the authors dig deeper for the more descriptive words and facts they sense were missing in the last blog, news article or commentary.

    An issue as complex as AGW, (science, society, politics, economics) is constantly changing the impressions of readers who come to the article (your words) with all of their psychological strengths and baggage to sort out and comprehend what you are saying and what it means to them personally.

    In a sense, true believers of AGW acting as communicators are like oncologists telling us mass of patients the bad news….it is life-threatening, you are unsure how much time we have, you offer us treatment with no guarantee of success, and, you need our full attention and commitment to cooperate.

    The IPCC provides the lab results and you have to present them to a preoccupied and increasingly distracted and insecure public. How can there be the appropriate words and warnings to get the IPCC message across in this day and time?

    I suggest you and Andy continue your words and style and not carry the burden of achieving the perfect message. There is none–right now.

    Lou Grinzo said it best in his above comment:

    [What sickens me even more than the paid deniers is how many of my fellow US citizens look at the “controversy” and shrug and conclude that there’s nothing definitive enough to warrant action.]

    That is the plight of us AGW believers.

    Blog entries survive for days; newspaper articles forever if they can be preserved and retrieved; radio and television pieces have nanosecond lives and the AGW story changes constantly. No perfect media there but it is all we have.

    We will never have the Oracle of Delphi to rely upon for answers.

    Dating back to 1400 BC, the Oracle of Delphi was the most important shrine in all Greece, and in theory all Greeks respected its independence. Built around a sacred spring, Delphi was considered to be the omphalos – the center (literally navel) of the world.

    People came from all over Greece and beyond to have their questions about the future answered by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. And her answers, usually cryptic, could determine the course of everything from when a farmer planted his seedlings, to when an empire declared war.

    We have only you and honest bloggers, reporters and scientists to go to.

  7. Earl Killian says:

    I recommend Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph A. Tainter as providing background to Elizabeth Kolbert’s observation about societies choosing to destroy themselves. If there has been one recurrent theme to history, it has been the collapse of societies from high levels of complexities to lower levels. I don’t think “choose” is the right verb though. Societies make choices, but they don’t see those choices as leading to a dead-end from which there is no escape but collapse. Sure, there is often a Cassandra to warn of just that, but those warnings are not believed, anymore than warnings of the Trojan Horse or purple carpets were. Understanding why each Cassandra is not believed is what we hope to accomplish. If it only it were as simple as Woody Allen’s modern Cassandra: “I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers!” (If anything, the lawyers are helping at the moment, and as it is the journalists who are the modern villains, working as aides to the devils such as the George C. Marshall Institute.)

    Tainter’s hypothesis/observation is that collapse of complexity occurs when the marginal return on complexity declines to the point that complexity is no longer advantageous. In societies lacking a method to avoid Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, simply reaching a level of technology where it is possible to destroy the Commons makes it inevitable that it will be. (The modern Commons are Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, and they are both being destroyed.) Does the modern world lack the ability to avoid the Hardin’s tragedy? The failure of Kyoto and Bali suggests it does, but Montreal suggests it does sometimes has the capability (but Montreal required only a technological substitute and so was undemanding).

  8. Perhaps…at the cost of billions of lives and whole civilizations…catastrophe will reduce our carbon emissions radically as extreme weather and sea level rise take out our infrastructure and collapse the corporations that support the carbon-based economy.

    Betting on humanity to save itself is, I’m afraid, a very long shot. I agree with Paul Hawken, but I’m not sure just what kind of natural disaster, at what scale, will change peoples’ thinking? It’s not the politicians who need to change, it’s the people who vote them in.

  9. John L. McCormick says:

    Cliff, I agaree the mentality of voters to accept and support AGW mitigation must arrive/change but you would have to agree that leadeship from our next President will make voters heed the warning.

    We can only hope that economic and national security concerns do not push climate change off the table in the 111th Congress and that the President will actually submit a bill to the Hill. Then, Committees will have that mandate to send a bill to the President for signature. That is both a real possibility and a longshot.

    Having the next President take the lead will have required some agreement with India, China, Russia and other major emitters that it will be a cooperative effort because Congress will not accept a unilateral approach by the US. There will not be the votes in the Senate to have the US go it alone.

    AGW will hit civilizations with an endless barrage of natural disasters and some will be unrecognizable (possible disease increase and change of plant phisiology as examples). There will not be a show-stopper event that triggers global or US or averay citizen response—even complete summer meltback of the Arctic sea ice in the next decade. But, Australian farmers see their future coming at them and drought around the planet will be the big canary for all to see.

    John L. McCormick

  10. Dano says:

    Invoking and enacting change in groups requires:

    o realization of problem,
    o galvanization to change,
    o motivation to move, and
    o discussion/agreement for a direction.

    Our complex societies are not good at any of the above bullets. It’s like herding cats. And my profession is directly related to enabling all four bullets (what’s the definition of insanity, you may ask).



  11. Andy says:

    I think it’s simple (is it ever? – yes, sometimes). Most journalists are not biologists or ecologists or climatologists, etc. and like most folks, believe the human being can live decoupled from the rest of the earth’s life. 40-70% of all living species lost is meaningless to them. A 6C rise in temps means what? No big deal? Mr. Revkin espouses a world view no different than that of our president who has never fought in a war, nor has confindants who have, and so of course believes that 150,000 plus dead in Iraq just to see if they could’ve been right about how easy it would be to bring a flowering of democracy into the middle east, is no big deal. It is of course, insanity.

    Andy Revkin: you’re wrong. Your words make it clear you think you’re driving somewhere that you’re not. You’re on the wrong road. You’re statement about moving agricultural regions is just plain silly. That was the kicker. Take a drive up to northern Ontario. Oh, wait, can’t drive there. It’s all rock and lake with a thin veneer of forest. Take a float plane. Take half a day to scramble over rocks and climb up a nice tall hill. And then envision trying to drive a tractor anywhere within sight. You really need to do this. Maybe then a tiny little bit of information that many people other than yourself already know, will perhaps come to you.

  12. chesterdog says:

    Joe —

    To put cold Januarys in terms that Republicans can understand — the market rises and falls, but what counts is long-term trends.

  13. RhapsodyInGlue says:

    Joe, great post. You’ve hit the tragic nail on it’s head with regard to the public perception problem. Unfortunately, our system of public policy education (mainly through main stream media) combined with politics, have evolved into a system that reacts very slowly. Actually, in many circumstances this is a good thing… slowness to react is stability. Tragically, stability in government policy (business as usual) in this case is bringing climate instability with dire consequences.

    I too fear that some very negative jolt will be needed to truly awaken people. Accepting that, I still see whatever near term abatement policies that can be enacted as being very crucial. At least it will get things rolling and put in place the mechanisms and manufacturing infrastructure that can then be ratcheted up as reality sinks in its teeth. Fortunately, the partially overlapping concern of peak oil makes near term partial action more likely.

    Contrary to some environmentalists, I believe that this inherent inability for the public to accept the full scope of the problem until when nature forces it upon them will mean that otherwise undesirable “geoengineering” solutions might be a necessary part of the process of salvation. Even ones that merely cool temperature without addressing CO2 ocean acidification may need to be employed as stop gap measures after the wake up call.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Actually, there is a good living, if not great wealth, to be had by providing bioenergy alternatives. (Maybe also other alternatives, too.)

    Alternative energy sources are not a complete solution. A complete solution requires permanently sequestering about 500 GtC. I don’t see how to convince people to pay $$ to do so unless done through taxation.

    How about a fossil carbon tax?

  15. Paul K says:

    “Are words worthless in the climate fight?”

    The words climate fight are at the root of the problem. Pursuasion is not a fight and those who think it is are the true delayers. The negative impact of the word fight is evident in this thread. There is the need to blame others in harsh tones…”meaningful action is being stalled by sellouts and myopic ideologues”….to find an enemy…”the journalists who are the modern villains, working as aides to the devils such as the George C. Marshall Institute”…to rage at that enemy…Andy’s incomprehensible screed.

  16. danny bloom says:

    Dr Romm,

    Regarding Andrew Revkin’s DOT EARTH question “Do the media fail to give climate its due?” — all the above criticisms are valid, as are the CEO’s and managing editors’ rebuttals, from big papers to small papers, from huge TV networks to radio stations — but one thing a lot of us overlook is this:

    newspapers are just another form of modern entertainment and information dispersal, they are in the business of trying to make a profit by selling advertising (subscription fees don’t amount to a thing in the total income package) to large stores and corporations, and readers, while important, are NOT part of the business model, other than to keep circulation figures up and therefore get high advertising fees from the advertisers.

    Advocacy newspapers belonging to specific advocacy groups, rightwing or leftwing or green or whater, are a different animal altogether. They exist from funding from readers, sponsors and rich benefactors.

    The Times, like the Springfield Union, my old hometown paper, or the Boulder Camera (gotta love that name for a newspaper) are not really “news” papers — they are for-profit business. And they exist to inform, entertain, editorialize, advertise escort services, plug a new TV show, make PR people happy and host of other reasons — none of which have much to do with mitigating global warming.

    That’s our dilemma. We live in a business model world. What other world is there?

    That said, we need better coverage of the climate change crisis. But we won’t get it until the “war” begins, and so far, nobody has shot the archduke on the steps of World War One or bombed “Pearl Harbor” as part of World War Two.

    “World War Three” will not be televised.

  17. Vicky says:


    I am writing to you because I ran into your environmental blog and was wondering if you would be interested in telling your readers about an upcoming youth action event called Massachusetts Power Shift (MAPS).

    MAPS is a three-day global warming and climate change conference to be held at Boston University from April 11-14th. Saturday and Sunday will consist of discussion panels from a variety of topics ranging from alternative fuels to carbon caps. On that Monday, students will lobby their senators to pass the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.
    Passing the GWSA, inclusive of a 20% cut in emissions by 2020, will be a milestone for Massachusetts environmental policy.

    Please consider spreading the word! Just let me know if you will post an entry about it so I can send you more information and web banners/fliers. Our website is

    Thank you for you time.

    Media & Marketing Volunteer
    Massachusetts Power Shift Planning Committee

  18. Danny Bloom says:

    Dr Romm,
    I am using this space, if your moderators will allow me, to announce to your readers and whoever else surfs on by, the start of the international Vaclav Klaus Climate Joke Awards here:

    They honor (sic) people who say stupid things about the climate crisis. The awards are satire. Then again, maybe they aren’t satire. The page is up now and running and we are accepting nominations via the comment section throught the year, anytime you spot a good quote, send it in. Cheers,


  19. Patrick49 says:

    Anyone who thinks the media has been less than positive in covering the ‘global warming now climate change’ mythology must have been in a “Rip van Winkle’ sleep for the past dozen years. Every natural disaster is blamed on some aspect of ‘global warming’ i.e., humans, SUVs, coal plants, El Nino, greenhouse gases, cows, etc., by the ABCCBSNBCCNNNYTWAPOetal globalwarmingpromotors(GWP).
    The GWP have been almost perfect in stifling any scientific studies or climate stories that conflict with the party line:
    -No mention that the British court ruling that Al Gore’s film contained eleven inaccuracies, was a propaganda film and could not be shown in the schools without clarification of these inaccuracies as it might have interfered with his Nobel Prize. Of course Mr. Gore failed to defend his film or assist the Crown in their defense.
    -No mention that the Southern hemisphere experienced one of its coldest winters in 2007.
    -No mention that the Antarctic ice pack is growing while showing the calving of a glacier endlessly as proof of global warming.
    -No mention that the polar bear population is increasing
    -Little or no coverage that Mr. Mann’s “hockey stick” curve was discredited by two scientific reviews after Congress forced Mr. Mann to reveal his methodology.
    Several additional points:
    1-According to many sources over the last 10,000 years the CO2 level has varied, but only within a 40 PPM range, at most. Then 150 years ago or so the industrial age commenced and the CO2 level in the atmosphere increased by roughly 100 PPM.
    The role that a presumed variable plays in any process can be deduced by holding it constant while other variables are allowed to increase or decrease. And then allowing the presumed variable to increase or decrease while observing its effect on the process in this case climate change. If the earth’s climate is considered a process then the effect of CO2 can be studied as follows:
    Assuming that CO2 level effects the climate process then for 10,000 years CO2 had been essentially constant while the earth underwent at least four or possible more major climatic shifts and many minor variations between extreme cold, little ice ages, warming and extreme warm periods. Next during the last few years the CO2 level has increased, approximately 100ppm, while the mean average global temperature has remained relatively constant for the last 10 years, no increase but a recent slight decrease.
    Any scientist or engineer reviewing such results would conclude that the CO2 level has no or very little effect on the earth’s cyclical climate changes.
    2- The computer generated predictions for hurricane activity in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were totally wrong in their six-nine month in advance forecasts for the number, strength and location. If the best assumptions, the best weather information and the best computer programs cannot predict short term climate or weather what is the confidence level for the IPCC’s and others’ long range doom and gloom disaster scenarios? Can these highly sophisticated computer programs predict a cooling period or little ice age as currently configured or does the positive feedback loop always predict an increase in global temperatures?

  20. Ronald says:

    David B. Benson,

    You wrote ‘How about a fossil carbon tax?’

    I think that’s a great idea. That’s the best idea to get us out of the mess we are in. The only reasons against it is that it is hard to get people to agree to it.

    I think it is better than the Cap and Trade that’s been pushed around. But the Cap and Trade gives politicians an out on increasing fossil fuel carbon costs, ‘Hey it’s not me raising your fossil carbon costs, it’s the science, telling us how much we have to reduce carbon emmisions.’

    What I think would be the best system is for the world to agree on a carbon tax system. The first major part would be that the first consumption tax that governments impose on consumption are fossil carbon taxes, before any property, sales, value added or whatever other consumption taxes you could name. The second major part would be that we would have a world wide agreement on what the level of producer carbon taxes should be.

    Even poorer countries could have a fossil fuel consumption tax before they have a consumption sales or property tax if they have any consumption taxes at all.

    Some of the major points against a carbon tax in the United States is that it would increase our producers costs against other producers costs like China and India and we sure don’t need more problems there. But if we had only a carbon consumption tax like the sales tax, that tax wouldn’t affect our producers costs of out product to other countries. It would reduce arguments against acting alone. We could trade the taxes that states have for revenue with a fossil carbon fuel tax that wouldn’t affect our trade with other countries.

    Then having a world wide agreement on what level of tax all the worlds producers should pay would be at the same level. ($ per ton of carbon) But all these taxes would go into each countries general fund. (or however each countries uses their taxes)

    It would also then allow each country to act on global warming greater than the Cap and Trade agreements. The Cap and Trade agreements don’t go fast enough in taxing carbon to reduce it’s use and goes to far to pay people for other energy sources. To much chance for fraud, waste and abuse. Using carbon consumption taxes to pay for general government and then reducing other consumption taxes would allow each country to do more than Cap and Trade.

    We could have both have a world wide Cap and Trade and a world wide Fossil Carbon Fuel Consumption /Production taxes at the same time. It might just require both to do the 80 to 90 reductions by 2050.

  21. A. says:

    Was World War II a tussle?

    Some of this may be a personality issue – I know another science journalist who takes a similar tack. It’s an interest in science for science’s sake, not for informing-the-public-about-what’s-at-stake’s sake.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Patrick49 — Your ‘ several additional points’ appear to be, at best confused.

    1. From the last large stade (massive ice sheets) to the Holocene, CO2 went from about 185ppm or so to about 260ppm. The global temperature increased about 6–8 K. There have been no major climate shifts during the remarkably climate-stable Holocene. Which we have just left for the Antropocene…

    2. Hurricanes are weather and weather is not climate. Or rather climate is not weather, but a, say, 33 year global average of weather events.

  23. Patrick49 says:

    Mr. Benson,
    No confusion,simply check the CO2 level for the last 10,000 years at
    During that period the earth, experienced a warming period from about 950BC to 1400AD with temperatures higher than today’s and Greeenland that was inhabited by Vikings for 500 years until the start of the “Little Ice Age’ which lasted another 500 years or so. If these were not ‘major climate shifts’ why all the alarmist warning today when the global temperature appears to have leveled off for the last 10 years and has not yet exceeded the levels experienced in the 1930s?
    The difference between climate and weather was not the point, it was using computer simulations to predict either. If the most sophiscated computer simulations cannot predict a weather pattern 6-9 months in advance what is the confidence level in climate forcasts for 50-100 years into the future? As you are certainly interested in this subject could you comment on whether or not the IPCC’s or others’ computer simulations which predict increasing temperatures can also predict a cooling period or a coming ‘little ice age’ as presently configured? To date this question has been raised with a number of global warming promoters and none have provided an answer.

  24. Ronald says:

    There are so many references to people who don’t know the difference between weather and climate; I’ll take a stab at answering it. I realize you said you didn’t mean to make the difference between weather and climate, you wanted to make the reference to the difference between weather patterns and long term climate change. I think weather and weather patterns are not that different and can be examined separately from climate.

    Most people know something about baseball and Major League Baseball(MLB); I’ll use that as analogy. Do you know how many homeruns are going to be hit in a baseball game? Sometimes it’s 5 homeruns, sometimes there aren’t any. Does that mean that there is nothing that can be said about how many homeruns are hit in a game over time?

    From this web page we get an average homeruns per game over a number of years.

    From the graph we can see some trends. From 1900-1920 we had homeruns per game of less than 0.5. From 1920 to mid 1940’s, there was about 1 homerun per game. World War II must have taken more homerun hitters into the military than pitchers who didn’t throw a homerun pitch. From 1950 to 1990, the homerun per game average was about 1.5. About 1994, the homerun per game average went up, maybe that was when there was a large increase in steroid use or something else.

    I think it was in 1968 that MLB changed how high to make the pitchers mound (they lowered it) and the size of the strike zone (they decreased it) and we can somewhat see why from the graph. MLB had the feeling that pitchers got an advantage on hitters and changed it. That stuff is from my memory so don’t quote any of it, please.

    But I can’t make comment on any year to year or smaller changes. Things just happen, little things vary and that’s makes small variations in homerun totals. The same with weather and monthly weather patterns.

    The point of all that is that even though we can’t begin to guess on which day the homeruns are going to be hit, we can over time see a pattern or level of homeruns in a years time. The same with weather and climate, we can’t predict the weather more than a week to 10 days time and we have trouble with weather patterns of many months, we still can make climate judgments over years time.

  25. Paul K says:

    Great analogy. 30 years is the accepted minimum for climatology and I believe 10 – 15 years for identifying trends. With climate, as in baseball, the problem is projecting the future. There are hard to predict forcings and feedbacks. Home runs are affected by steroids, mound height, league expansion, ball liveliness, wind direction, altitude, stadium dimensions etc. Climate is affected by aerosols, El Ninos and La Ninas, volcanos, decadal ocean oscillations, diminishing CO2 irradience, planetary tilt, cloud cover, solar brightness and according to one wacked out guy, cosmic dust from the delta quadrant. Go Cubs.

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Patrick49 — Your link is broken for my Firefox 1.5 browser.

    I reiterate, there have been no major climate shifts throughout the Holocene. Only minor ones.

    Regarding the climate models, yes they could predict global cooling, if any was going to occur. To illustrate, a Japanese group modeled the global climate from the Eem (125 kya) to the present, including the three stades (periods of massive ice sheets) inferred to occur during that interval from the proxy records in ice cores.

    Predicting something as minor and regional (only eastern North America, Greenland and Europe) as the so-called Little Ice Age appears to be beyond the current state of the art.

  27. Andy Revkin points to an article where he says there is uncertainty about how fast ocean levels will rise, but this article does not say that there is any uncertainty about these two statements in the original post:

    -CO2 levels of 1000 ppm will cause average global temperatures some 10° to 14° C higher – 18° to 25° F higher – and perhaps 50% higher than that on northern land masses like the continental U.S.

    -CO2 levels will rise to more than 1000 ppm if we do not act and will rise to 1000 ppm even with some government action to limit emissions.

    Regardless of the uncertainty about how much sea level rises in this century and how much of that that rise is deferred until the next century, this large a temperature increase would be a catastrophe.

    Imagine summer temperatures in the United States routinely reaching 125 or 130 degrees – the effect on people, on biodiversity, and on crops!

  28. Mark Bahner says:

    “…a 3.5°C rise is a certainty if we lose the ‘tussle’ to opponents of limits on GHGs…”

    “…a 3.5°C rise is a certainty…”? You’re joking, right?

  29. Patrick49 says:

    Mr. Benson,
    Sorry about the the link, please try this one:
    Defining the “medieval” warm period and the ‘middle ages’ little Ice Age as minor is a matter of semantics, not science. If these are only minor climate variations then today’s climate change is minor as well and a cooling period lies ahead.. The earth warmed and cooled over a period of almost 2000 years as the atmospheric CO2 remained essentially constant. It is telling that you refer to the “current state of the art” since forcasting the climate by man made computer simulations is truly an art and not science, particularly since all of the IPCC simulations, at least those heralded by the global warmig alarmists failed to predict the leveling off of the earth’s global temperature over the last decade. For this reason alone It is doubtful that the IPCC simulations with man made assumptions, best estimates, corrections to past data and a positive feed back loop could predict a future cooling period. Of course Russian scientist that are not bound by the ‘doom and gloom’ forecasters are predicting a cooling period based on reduction in solar activity.

  30. Patrick49 says:

    Could you please explain the logical scientific thought process in the following statement: “The same with weather and climate, we can’t predict the weather more than a week to 10 days time and we have trouble with weather patterns of many months, we still can make climate judgments over years time.”
    The big question is how is this possible? Are long range computer simulations more accurate? Are there fewer variables? Do the variables have a higher confidence level?
    Does it follow that if one cannot predict what or how he will be doing next week, next month or next year one can predict with a believable degree of accuracy what one’s situation will be 10, 20 or 50 years into the future?

  31. Don36 says:

    Patrick 49 makes sense. It appears most have little basic knowledge of statistics and probability in predicting future outcomes. Multiply 10 assumptions ( variables-each with a 95 percent confidence level) times each other and the IPCC model will fall apart with respect to the final probability (of being accurate) . That is why the IPCC refuses to open their computer math formula for scientific scrutiny.
    I for one wish to see how the IPCC model formulation ruled out the effect of solar irradiance over time.
    If any GB aficionado bloggers wish to seriously enlighten the doubters – – they are invited to produce the IPCC computer model math formula, and all its assumptions with confidence levels used for each assumption.

  32. “That is why the IPCC refuses to open their computer math formula for scientific scrutiny.”

    That anyone finds the concept of a “secret IPCC computer math formula” credible is a pretty sad commentary on both the scientific community and the press.

    “Multiply 10 assumptions ( variables-each with a 95 percent confidence level) times each other and the IPCC model will fall apart with respect to the final probability (of being accurate) .” as well, though there’s some underlying truth to it. There isn;t an IPCC formula (the IPCC is a literature review) but there are some cascading uncertainties. As Joe Romm has been saying (along with myself among others for some considerable time) this uncertainty at best cuts both ways.

    The IPCC conclusions are in fact carefully stated in a context of uncertainties, as anyone taking the time to read the reports would plainly see. They do not, however, stress the enormous dangers associated with some of the underconstrained processes. Things could as easily be five times worse than the median prediction as five times better. While five times better amounts to something not out of range of normal natural variation, five times worse amounts to a threat of extinction for humanity itself as well as most other species.

    People who think the science is uncertain should be the ones most eager to control this situation. If the science is solid, the risk is plenty large enough, but if the science is flawed, the risks become unfathomably huge.

    Don36 should be aware that there is nothing secretive about the IPCC. It seems clear from his complaints that he hasn’t read their reports. I suggest he start there.

  33. I’d like to thank Joe for raising the question in this way, and to thank Andy for picking it up in his own way. I side more with Joe here, and with Jeff Huggins who has some very interesting commentary on Andy’s article:

    There’s some further discussion on my own blog here:

    In the end I’m a bit puzzled by Andy Revkin. While I’m grateful for him raising the issues, his response to them seems as uniformly disappointing as anyone’s. Revkin does seem to understand the scale of our problems, and surely he understands the media as well as anyone, yet he doesn’t seem willing or able to acknowledge the extent to which the media are failing to convey the proportions of the problem to the public, and especially to opinion leaders and policy makers.

  34. Paul K says:

    Climate models are based not so much on mathematics as on computer programming code involving data crunching algorithms. Some, depending on age, contain components using varied programming languages. The code runs to hundreds and even thousand of pages. Publishing them here would be meaningless to the non expert and there could be proprietary issues. I suggest anyone truly interested contact the keepers of the individual models. Some may be surprisingly forthcoming. That being said, all should note that the confidence levels cited in the IPCC reports are not based on a mathematical construct, but on the subjective judgment of the chapter authors. Also, models do not predict; they project, a big difference.

  35. Patrick 49 says:

    Mr Tobis wrote “There isn;t an IPCC formula (the IPCC is a literature review) but there are some cascading uncertainties. As Joe Romm has been saying (along with myself among others for some considerable time) this uncertainty at best cuts both ways.”
    One uncertainty is the meaning of “the IPCC is a literature review”? An explanation is in order. since computer generated climate simulations play a major if not the major part of the climate forecasts which are then massaged as to their relative importance. The scientific report presents uncertainities with qualifications. Then comes the summary.
    If the uncertainties cut both ways why does the IPCC summary, which is prepared by government appointed nonscientific bureaucrats with their own political and economic agendas (members of Vice-president’s Al Gore’s staff participated and, in fact, led the preparation of one of the summaries) and which is released weeks before the scientific study, showcase the worst case scenarios promoting the man made global warming theory and minimizes or ignores any uncertainties or qualifications. Contrary to Mr. Romm’s assertion that the media plays down global warming/climate change all media sources trumpet the doom and gloom news in the IPCC summary long before the technical/scientific report is made public.
    In the very first IPCC summary report after the scientists presented their report and departed, the appointed bureaucrats actually changed the scientific report’s most important conclusion, the effect of human activity could not be determined and required further study is required which led to the following:
    The IPCC ignored the devasting criticism of the its own report by Frederick Seitz,
    President Emeritus of Rockefeller University and past President of
    the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Mr Seitz described the IPCC report
    as “I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review
    process than the events that led to this IPCC report”…”If the IPCC is
    incapable of following its most basic procedures, it would be best to
    abandon the entire IPCC process, or at least that part that is concerned
    with the scientific evidence on climate change, and look for more reliable
    sources of advice to governments on this important question.”
    A Major Deception on Global Warming
    by Frederick Seitz Wall Street Journal , June 12, 1996″ ”

    Mr Seitz also cited NAS’ own study which states, “inter alia, the earth
    has been subjected to impressive and abrupt swings in climate during recent
    periods covering thousands of years and that mankind’s role cannot be
    assessed without adequate …. baseline documentation of natural climate

    If as Mr. Tobis asserts”The IPCC conclusions are in fact carefully stated in a context of uncertainties, as anyone taking the time to read the reports would plainly see.” why is the IPCC summary report cited time and again by the UN, the EU, and governmental representatives as the ‘doom and gloom’ document which requires taking drastic actions, increased taxes and spending of billons of dollars, pound and euros which would not resolve and would put an end to the never ending, ever changing climate of planet earth

  36. Patrick49 says:

    Paul K wrote “Climate models are based not so much on mathematics as on computer programming code involving data crunching algorithms.”
    algorithm -A finite set of unambiguous instructions performed in a prescribed sequence to achieve a goal, especially a mathematical rule or procedure used to compute a desired result.
    No mathematics there?

    This also appears;
    “Also, models do not predict; they project, a big difference”
    predict -To state, tell about, or make known in advance, especially on the basis of special knowledge.
    project- To calculate, estimate, or predict (something in the future), based on present data or trends.
    What’s the big difference or any difference?

  37. Club of Rome says:

    > nothing but millenia of misery for billions and billions of humans

    Wrong. Sudden ugly death for billions. Misery for hundreds of millions.

  38. Joe says:

    I don’t see the sudden death/Lovelock scenario. Could happen, I suppose, but not very likely.

  39. Alex J says:

    Interesting point above on agriculture. It’s not just temperature that needs to be considered when suggesting that broad swaths of Northern territory will benefit from moderate warming. Regional water availability, soil conditions (where there is much soil), and maybe even day length could be significant factors. This is the last I’ve seen for North American wheat (how much of the range will be rock?):

  40. Alex J says:

    Image URL was mangled. Trying again:

  41. Bob B says:

    Joe, you must be at a point of cognitive dissonance by now?
    The Oceans are cooling, the Earth hasn’t warmed in 10yrs and you modelers are beginning to hedge their models on glabal coong for the next 10yrs—sounds like a we are at atipping poitn–we’re all gonna die–twits;

  42. Eli Rabett says:

    Adapt, we and our dead children will simply have to adapt, adapt, adapt.

  43. Eli Rabett says:

    The difference between projecting and predicting is that the former assumes some underlying process, such as what future emissions would be, and then projects the future climate. The later, prediction, predicts the emission scenario.

  44. rpauli says:

    Poor Andy Revkin. He works for a newspaper promoting high carbon consumption. He really cannot be too strident and keep his job.

    The very wealthy of the world are well insulated from feeling and knowing much about climate instability. So they really won’t help

    Business aims for quarterly profits, not looking decades out. They’re no help, unless there is a business case (maybe)

    Childless adults over 40 will not really see much change and may not care to put much effort into anything.

    Only families, planning multigenerationally have any motivation for change. But they have fewer resources and less political power than most.

    I really don’t see much hope until more severe climate suffering motivates us.

  45. J4zonian says:

    Meacham said: “I absolutely believe that the media is not ideologically driven, but conflict driven. If we have a bias it’s not that people are socially liberal, fiscally conservative or vice versa. It is that we are engaged in the storytelling business. And if you tell the same story again and again and again – it’s kind of boring.”
    The real story doesn’t have much conflict: It is the growing scientific (and technological) understanding that if we don’t sharply restrict greenhouse gas emissions soon, we face catastrophe ”

    Wull, gosh, I absolutely believe that being conflict-driven and being ideologically-driven are one and the same. The conservative viewpoint is that the world is a dangerous place, full of conflict, and we must trust the father figures in our lives to protect us from it (God, fathers, warlord businessmen, the leader, rich people (who wouldn’t have been given all that if they didn’t deserve it)) and not the democratic voices of upstart scientists who want to upset the apple cart (and our comfortable society). And since we feel so many selfish impulses and are dominated by the feeling of being all alone in the world we know that the world IS just like that, right?

    Wull, maybe not. We literally create ourselves, body and mind, by organizing ourselves around a story that we tell ourselves is our story AND the larger story of the world, and anything that doesn’t fit the story makes us feel nervous, or angry, or disdainful, or maybe makes us dissociate–cut ourselves off from awareness or its details or truth because it is too INTERNALLY conflictual for us tolerate. (Ironic, isnt it?) When we dissociate, we feel unconnected, which not only makes us feel more alone (thus reinforcing our conservativeness) it makes us BORED.

    Thus, if liberals want to change the story in the newspaper, they have to deal with conservatives in a personal and non-threatening enough way to convince them it’s safe to let go of their story, their protective dissociation, and their identity as conservatives. That’s a vastly oversimplified version, but it brings me to 2:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the education, bravery and imagination to, instead of repeating the same basic dumbed-down story of conflict over and over and over and over… we could move in subsequent days, months and years to telling the fascinating, deeply moving and necessary further details of the story? That story would necessarily be one of drawing meanings from things–which is to say, it would be about seeing and understanding connections instead of isolated bits, which is to say, it would be about grokking things ecologically, which is to say, liberally. Or is that what we’re all doing here, instead of in People magazine?