The Washington Post’s Joel Achebach doesn’t understand basic climate science

Repeat after me, Joel: “Global warming makes the weather more extreme.” If even the Bush administration accepts that basic fact of climate science, shouldn’t you?

I used to like Achenbach’s cutesy science pieces, but his knowledge of climate science is about one or two decades old, as evidenced by his major story in the Washington Post today, “Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not.” It is a typical ly uninformed journalistic “backlash” piece, whereby a reporter creates a straw man and then sets it on fire.

Achenbach is trying to seem reasonable by complaining that the next time we get a big hurricane, “some expert will tell us that this storm might be a harbinger of global warming.” Uhh, I hate to break this to you Joel, but global warming doesn’t need a “harbinger.” It has been here for decades.

In that sense, your article is not a harbinger of global warming denial, since deniers have been pushing back against the “global warming causes extreme weather” story for years, browbeating the media into downplaying the connection. You really should read your fellow journalist Ross Gelbspan’s long discussion of this in his great 2004 book, Boiling Point. Achenbach writes:

Weather alarmism” gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They’re happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don’t expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism “leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather.”

You cannot be serious. The best you can do is quoting Tierney, a well-known climate doubter/denier/delayer? And deniers don’t need to look for any ammunition — they just make up stuff. You could waste a lot of time trying to figure out what you should or shouldn’t say based on a fear of how deniers might twist it or take it out of context.

This is simple stuff. As the climate changes because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the weather becomes more extreme. That’s what climate change is. I understand why deniers don’t want the rest of us talking about the connection between global warming and the surge in extreme weather events that has been documented statistically by scientists — including NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center (NCDC). That would shut down most discussion of current climate impacts. But I don’t understand why Achenbach falls for that spin.

Anyway, it is now officially absurd to take the view of the deniers, Achenbach, and Tierney. Back in June, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (aka the Bush Administration) issued Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate that acknowledged the basic climate science:

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

If the Post keeps publishing such uninformed pieces, how will the public ever become informed on this crucial issue?

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43 Responses to The Washington Post’s Joel Achebach doesn’t understand basic climate science

  1. John McCormick says:

    A note to Joel:

    The melt back of the Artic sea ice in 2007 (being repeated at a slower pace in 2008) and increasingly since 1979 when satellite images of Arctic sea ice became available has not been attributed to weather. It is agreed by all who study this phenomenon 24/7 that increasing atmospheric and sea surface temperatures are the cause of the extraordinary melting (i.e., global warming).

    Joel, you missed it on this piece and your investigation was sloppy. Sorry, no pass on this one. You are wrong.

    John McCormick

  2. llewelly says:

    Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

    Isn’t this half wrong? I was under the impression that in the southern hemisphere the storm tracks were shifting southward – that is, the global shift is poleward.

  3. Mick says:

    Repeat after me: Global Warming implies “warming” that is “global”.

    Now this “warming” should be observed in direct correlation with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because according to the consensus carbon dioxide dominates all other silly ideas like volcanoes or the sun.

    Problem is this correlation simply does not exist. Carbon dioxide emmissions are currently soaring yet according to the satellite data the temperature of the earth appears to be declining rapidly. Furthermore, the reverse correlation does exist, the temperature causes C02. This “existing” correlation is, of course, according to the consensus totally dominated by the “non existing” correlation.

    I’m not a retard, don’t give me retarded arguments like the failure of Global Warming to produce “warming” that is “global” can be explained away by “extreme weather”. That just insults my intelligence.

    [JR: Not sure what data you are taking about. The globe is warming. All the data show that. Why do you think all the glaciers around the globe are shrinking.]

  4. John Hollenberg says:

    Mick, I think you are getting confused by short term variation (=weather) vs. long-term trends (=climate). You can educate yourself about this by reading this post on Realclimate:

  5. David B. Benson says:

    llewelly — You are correct.

    The wording reflects northern-hemisphere-centrism. :-)

  6. Joe says:

    If you went to the link, you’d see the “Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands.”

  7. john says:


    I have no idea what you are talking about — but that can’t be too surprising, because neither do you.

    Few correlations have been more intensely studied and more consistently verified than the one between global warming and carbon …

  8. If you’re referring to the connection between CO2 and warming, it’s not a correlation; it’s a matter of thermodynamics, and it’s been well understood for over a century.

  9. I find it odd that you site the CCSP study to refute Achenbach, for the CCSP largely supports Achenbach’s claims (as does the research upon which the CCSP relies).



    [JR: I find it odd that you try to refute me by quoting as discredited a delayer as Roger Pielke, Jr. I try not to waste too much time debunking his selective mis-analysis, since that could easily take all of my time, and many other scientists on the Web have or be done so repeatedly. But I hope you’ll understand if I take the executive summary of the CCSP report — which was written by real climate scientists who are expert on extreme weather — over Pielke’s edited version. I have already shown how Pielke intentionally misleads his readers on the CCSP report here.]

  10. Ronald says:

    what is it that makes people believe one thing and not another.

    Without intensionally getting to controversial, why do some people in the world believe that Christianity is true, others that Islam is true, others Hindu, others Jewish faith, and all the rest.

    It’s the amount of time they spend on it. And is that time spent on only one side of whether it is true or not.

    It’s somewhat clear from people who have questions about Global Warming and others who make statements that AGW is not happening have maybe spent not much time on it or have spent most of their time reading denier (dis)information.

    How someone gets their information and beliefs about the world is the most important thing to understanding it. It takes time. It takes balance. It takes effort. It takes self examination for our own biases. And it is not always easy.

    Which all goes to the question of whether we have given people enough direction on what it would take to understand the Global Warming question. Read the AR4 IPCC report, but how long should we take on that. How much on denier stuff should we go thru. And is the information debunking the denier stuff easy to get to.

    I think this Global Warming thing and how to solve it is the most important question of our age that most humans can affect. Whether we should blow up another countries nuclear capability or not is to complicated to know what goes on behind each countries governments and societies. And I frankly think that people don’t spend enough time on AGW. But then I’m sure everybody feels that about a problem they care about.

  11. Neo says:

    A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.
    To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.

  12. MS says:

    Speaking of delayers/deniers, Fred Singer is teaching a course for Arlington’s Adult Education program. I was considering taking it just to counter his misinformation, but others would be better at that than I.
    Scientific Perspective on Global Warming
    This workshop, facilitated by Dr. Fred Singer, atmospheric physicist and former director of the US weather satellite service, will give participants a scientific perspective on global warming. Better understand the effects of carbon dioxide, manmade versus natural pollutants and policies challenges. Supreme Court and Circuit Court decisions will also be discussed.
    09/27/2008 Saturday: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM

    Cost is $19 for Arlington resident, $15 for Arlington senior, $25 for non-resident, $19 for non-resident senior

  13. DCollins says:

    Joseph, you’re too harsh on Achebach.

    Climate change has included, and will most likely continue to include, increases in frequency and magnitude of extreme events, absolutely. And in my opinion, extreme events are good illustrations of what climate change could bring. But these increases are absolutely not ubiquitous, and nor are all increases in extreme events, nor all extreme events, attributable to AGW.

    In my backyard – Madison, WI – there has been no statistically significant trend in daily precipitation totals since 1976 (the date the climate change signal is believed to start here) – either pooling all seasons, or disaggregating the data into seasons. As for min/max daily temperature, there are significant upward trends, but only in the colder months. AGW doesn’t always mean the weather becomes more extreme.

    Going back to the 30s, the Dust Bowl is an iconic extreme drought, but it resulted from the confluence of extreme non-AGW climate variability and poor land management. Such events will occur again, with or without AGW. And with or without AGW, we should adapt to such controllable processes while mitigating the controllable.

    Now, Achebach was really stressing that there are numerous other key environmental problems that are not attributable to AGW. This is very important. AGW is a big problem, but it’s not the only one by any means. While the carbon cycle is being messed up, so too are the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, leading to eutrophication of coastal and inland waters. In addition, the increase in demand for water is likely going to have a greater impact on the US’s ability to quench itself than any climate change-induced reduction in supply, I expect even in the SW. Demand-driven droughts, not supply-driven.

  14. John Hollenberg says:

    > A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period.

    However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to support such drivel, so I think we can safely ignore it. The 4th report of the IPCC, reviewed by over a thousand scientists, and the National Academy of Sciences of many countries, on the other hand state exactly the opposite. Let’s see… prestigious National Academies or “influential people”… tough decision on who is more likely to be correct.

    You can read the reports for yourself here:

  15. rpauli says:

    “That’s not right. That isn’t even wrong” – Wolfgang Pauli

    He forgot to check the weather report for today… you know for some place other than NYC or DC. TV news says it is pretty hot in widespread areas.

    “…expected to continue to bring stiflingly hot weather Sunday to the middle portion of the country. Widespread temperatures in the 90s and 100s were forecast for the Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley.”

    Yes of course weather is not climate. But the body feels the heat and draws its own conclusions.

  16. redace says:

    I agree with Joel on some points. Global warming is not the only culprit for all disasters, the point of the article from what i understood was not to discredit global warming but use the word cautiously.

    This morning in cnn they were showing a wildfire in wisconsin, one of several i might add. Iam sure many in this comment section along with others would attribute such a phenomenon to global warming. The wildfire was due to an unattended campfire not by years of fossil fuel addiction.

  17. Tom C says:

    This from the guy who linked the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis (one year ago) to global warming, despite the fact that the region had seen no warming for decades.

  18. DR says:

    You are ill informed. Maybe, you should provide some links to back up your statements, and probably they should be more recent than these, which back up what Joel wrote.

    Note in particular the statements from NOAA since you mentioned them. Has your head been in the sand for the last year or two? Or do you just not feel any need to learn new things because you already know it all?

    Klotzbach, 2006, Michaels et al. (2006), Pielke Jr. et al. (2006), Hoyos et al. (2006), Emmanual (2008) or

    From: “NOAA News Releases”
    Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 12:27 PM
    Subject: NOAA: Increased Hurricane Losses Due to More People, Wealth Along Coastlines, Not Stronger Storms

    You’re whole argument is basically “everybody knows AGW causes more severe and more frequent storms so Joel’s a big fat jerk.”

    If the studies and statments I referenced don’t at least cause you to respect Joel’s point, well maybe that’s why he writes for the Post and you don’t.

    Try some [recent] data instead.

  19. Joseph says:

    Problem is this correlation simply does not exist.

    Mick: See this figure. This is a chart of detrended 150-year series of cumulative CO2 emissions and temperatures 10 years later. It’s basically the same if you use atmospheric concentrations of CO2. At the 10-year lag, the association is significant with 99.99999999% confidence.

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Joseph — You link does not work for me. :-(

  21. Joseph says:

    I don’t know what’s going on with that link. The blog ate up the href attribute. It’s this one. Or see this page. I posted a link to the image in the comments there.

  22. Joseph says:

    Increased Hurricane Losses Due to More People, Wealth Along Coastlines, Not Stronger Storms

    That could very well be, but it doesn’t mean that increased temperatures are not associated with an increased number of storms. The link is actually quite evident if you just clean up the data a bit. I don’t know if or why it hasn’t been illustrated like this before. This figure (hope it goes through this time) is a graph of NH sea surface temperatures and the number of named storms, except it’s built by calculating 17-year central moving averages in each series.

  23. DR says:

    “That could very well be, but it doesn’t mean that increased temperatures are not associated with an increased number of storms.”

    With respect to your chart, the most recent papers show that there is no evidence linking AGW to higher storm frequency and in fact it looks as if the number of storms may be dropping. The question of AGW contributing to storm severity is still open, latest studies (Knutson, Emmanuel) state approximately a 2% increase in wind speed.

    The biggest names in the science say “might”, “could be”, “should cause”, and the media says “does”, “is” and “has caused”. It has to stop, the media has to stop, websites like this have to stop blaming everything on AGW. That was the point of the article and your screaming at him because you don’t agree (despite the science) just proves his point.

    Take your fingers out of your ears and stop throwing a tantrum.

  24. Joseph says:

    the most recent papers show that there is no evidence linking AGW to higher storm frequency and in fact it looks as if the number of storms may be dropping

    I ought to stop believing my lying eyes I guess.

    FYI, there is no evidence that the number of storms is dropping. What is true is that the 2005 season was a very unusual season, probably a 50-year one. You’ll note that storm data is very noisy. Obviously, it’s very difficult for seasons that came after 2005 to match up. However, if the temperature anomaly is ever 2C, you have my statistical assurance that the average Atlantic hurricane season will be comparable to the 2005 season. Half the time, they will be worse.

  25. DR says:

    Granted, 2005 was an incredible year for hurricane activity in the United States. That’s regional, think global.

    To quote Emanuel “Overall, the tendency of storm frequency is somewhat indeterminate in the Northern Hemisphere, but declines in the Southern Hemisphere.”

    Bengtasson et al. 1996 – Changes in global TS frequency due to GW minus 36.6% decrease.

    Sugi et al. 2002 – Changes in global TS frequency due to GW minus 33.6%

    Yoshimura et al 2006 – Changes in global TS frequency due to GW minus 9 to 18%

    No doubt we could go back and forth on this forever, but to say “AGW has increased the global frequency of tropical storms” is at best a mis-statement and at worst an outright lie given the studies that show the opposite. Severity? – yes most recent data says there is ‘likely’ an impact.

  26. The Monster says:

    If rising CO2 levels cause rising global temperatures, then why is it that the evidence shows that the temperature changes PRECEDE the CO2 changes by ~800y?

  27. Joe says:

    Honestly, Monster, do you even bother reading this blog or other blogs that explain this basic stuff. The warming triggers a release of greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to more warming, which leads to more emissions.

    Now, instead of orbital changes causing an initial warming that triggers the amplifying feedbacks, we have humans injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere more than 100 times faster than it has ever occurred naturally.

  28. John Hollenberg says:

    Monster, this has been debunked here:

  29. The Monster says:

    Well, that “debunking” link not only confirms the lag, but admits that it’s the Milankovitch cycles that drive the cycles of warming and cooling. CO2 concentrations were higher than they are now, right before the last big Ice Age, and somehow something managed to cause Global Cooling. If high CO2 levels caused warming, that wouldn’t be possible.

    But what we see in those graphs is that when temperatures fall, they fall far faster than the rise, despite the high CO2 levels when each fall begins. In contrast, the warming trends are far slower, taking perhaps 90,000 of the 100,000 years in a typical cycle. What is happening during those rapid cooling periods that suddenly negates the high CO2?

    Of course, the variation in CO2 levels isn’t really all that much; the highest we see is just under 300 ppm. We aren’t exactly talking “Venus” here. What else could be at work? Could it be… The SUN? In addition to Milankovitch, there’s sunspots, which are at an extremely low level right now. The sunspot levels correlate very well to such events as the Little Ice Age (Maunder Minimum).

  30. John Hollenberg says:

    Monster, I don’t think there is anything we can do to help you here. There are a number of people over on who will patiently explain the errors in your “analysis”, even if they are due to trolling rather than genuine ignorance–assuming you haven’t already posted this sort of drivel there.

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Monster — Try reading some history: “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

  32. The Monster says:

    John, I agree that you won’t be able to help me, given that you casually dismiss my concerns as “drivel” and “trolling”. I had hoped that I’d find something different from the usual condescending tone used by Believers when a skeptic asks for explanations. But I was wrong. You’ve got your minds made up, and can’t be bothered by “trolls”.

  33. Ted says:

    The earth warms, due to the Milankovitch cycles. The oceans warm, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, thereby exaggerating the original warming. Are we on the same page up to this point?

    From there, it seems reasonable to assume that the increased warming from the increased CO2 should release still more CO2 from the oceans. The question becomes, what stops the cycle?

    The Milankovitch cycles are zero sum. They can neither warm nor cool, if averaged throughout their run. The cumulative cooling can’t be any more, or less, than the cumulative warming. If the warming is augmented by increased CO2, then the cooling must also be augmented by some other force. The only alternative would be continually rising temperatures, until the contribution due to CO2 reaches it’s maximum potential, at which point the Milankovitch cycles would again dominate.

    As we’re reasonably certain that previous interglacial periods did, in fact reverse themselves, I see only two possibilities. Either the current CO2 concentration is already beyond it’s upper limit for increasing temperatures, or we’ve yet to discover the cooling influences which cancel out that CO2. If the former is true, then increasing CO2 will have a negligible effect on temperatures. If the latter is true, then we need to find out what those influences are.

    I think we can all agree that substantial cooling would be at least as damaging as substantial warming, within the ranges previously observed on earth. Therefore, whatever caused the cooling following previous interglacials, is a very serious concern. Especially in light of the recent study indicating an extremely rapid onset of the Younger Dryas, it seems to me that finding this (these) cooling mechanism(s) should be a top priority for climate science.

  34. David B. Benson says:

    Ted — The Younger Dryas almost certainly was the result of a comet striking the eastern portion of the Lauentide Ice Sheet.

    The current interglacial will continue for at least another 20,000 years (IPCC says 30,000).

    There is no upper limit for CO2 increasing temperatures; this is extremely well established physics. You can begin learning the history by reading “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

  35. Ted says:

    I’m well aware of the comet theory, and I tend to agree with it. But is the implication that ALL cooling periods are the result of similar incidents? Also, the Younger Dryas was merely an irregularity in an already ongoing recovery from a glacial period. As such, it appears to have been eventually overwhelmed by the Milankovitch cycles.

    I’m also aware that the most recent research suggests that our current interglacial period should remain largely stable, outside of human interference, for tens of millennia. But clearly that has not been the pattern for at least the last 3 million years. That projection is merely a statement that one of two possibilities is true. Either this interglacial is substantially unlike any previous one, or we’ve yet to discover the mechanism by which interglacial periods end. If the former is true, we’re in uncharted territory, and all evidence before the Holocene is irrelevant. That, of course, leads to the question of what changed. Either way, we’ve missed a very important climate forcing.

    As to the lack of any upper limit to CO2 forcings, you’re simply incorrect. The energy reaching the earth is finite. CO2 is only capable of reflecting specific wavelengths back to the surface. Beyond that, the additional energy reflected deteriorates exponentially with increasing CO2 concentrations. That’s why we talk of the change associated with a doubling of CO2, as opposed to the change associated with an arithmetic increase. Any doubling, theoretically, will produce the same effect, regardless of the actual concentrations. And of course, at some point, ALL energy in the appropriate wavelengths will be reflected, making any further increase irrelevant to temperature. That’s analogous to the more well known exponential decay, that of radioactive elements. As the amount gets smaller, the radiation decreases. At some point, you eventually get down to the last atom. When that one fisses, there’s nothing left.

    The website you sent me to routinely mentions this saturation, though the authors repeatedly insist that we haven’t reached it. I also didn’t say we’ve reached it, only that a limit exists. I sincerely don’t know if we’re there. But that’s a very different position from stating that there is no such limit.

  36. David B. Benson says:

    Ted — Not all interglacials are the same length. For example, interglacial 5 in MIS 11 was another long one.

    No, there are essentially an unlimited supply of IR sidebands available, for all intensive purposes. (Obviously there is some fintie limit, this being the real world. But it doesn’t matter.) You are correct that the radiative forcing (or response, pre-anthropocene) is logarithmic in the concentration, to first approximation.

    Sometimes Weart’s explainations aren’t as clear ass they should be. I have to send him a e-mail about a flat-out error regarding D-O events and if you’ll direct me to the section which has caused you some confustion, I’ll read it over. [This atmospheric physics aspect of climatology is the part I find the most difficult.]

  37. John Hollenberg says:

    > I had hoped that I’d find something different from the usual condescending tone used by Believers when a skeptic asks for explanations.

    Monster, the only thing I “believe” in here is the scientific method and the huge body of evidence from published, peer-reviewed studies suporting AGW. I would suggest reading the IPCC AR4 summary:

    as well as Joe Romm’s book, “Hell and High Water”

    plus the latest work from James Hansen, one of the top climate researchers in the U.S.:

    This is a good way to educate yourself, assuming you are truly interested. If you want to challenge the findings of the researchers (which I suspect is your true motive), you are certainly free to do your own research and get it published in the same peer-reviewed journals (assuming, of course, that your research meets their standards).

  38. Ted says:


    MIS 11 was unusually long, but nowhere near the the 50,000 years predicted by Oerlemans and Van Der Veen, or the 80,000+ predicted by Ledley. Beyond that, MIS 11 had a very different shape than the Holocene. They both had rapid rises to near present day temperatures, but MIS 11 continued on a long, slower warming, to a considerably higher temperature, then cooled at a similar rate until an eventual rapid drop to glacial conditions. The Holocene, in contrast, has continued for ~10,000 years on an a plateau with apparently unprecedented stability. If that stability maintains itself as predicted, it’ll be the longest such stability since at least the birth of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

    As to IR sidebands, CO2 only affects a few of them. The peak at ~2.7 microns is totally dominated by water, and the peaks at ~2 and 14 microns are greatly diminished by it. The only large section fully open to CO2 absorption is around 4.3 microns. CO2 is basically transparent to all other IR spectra.

    But none of that addresses my actual point. Every previous interglacial period has ended. Additionally, every interglacial has hit roughly the same upper boundary, beyond which the temperature stopped rising. My point is that such an upper boundary seems incredibly unlikely to be mere coincidence. There is very strong circumstantial evidence to support the existence of a cooling influence that is yet to be discovered.

    Any system with net positive feedbacks is inherently unstable. Upon perturbation, such a system will quickly, and invariably, decay to it’s next stable point. Our climatic system appears to have strongly reinforcing feedbacks between 2 points of relative stability. And the upper point appears to be both less traversable, and less sustainable. As the current CO2 dominated climate models would suggest no such upper limit, and an unbalanced warming feedback pushing it, I don’t see how they can be capable of accurate hindcasting. And a model that can’t “predict” the past, is very unconvincing for the future.

    As to me directing you to “the section which has caused (me) some confusion,” I can’t help you with that. I’m not confused. I’m fully aware of the possibility that I may be wrong, but that’s a very different concept. I think I’ve already demonstrated a solid understanding of the subject. That my understanding differs from yours, doesn’t necessarily make either of us confused. And as there are still large gaps in the scientific knowledge on this subject, our differing understandings don’t even necessarily make either of us wrong. The best I can do is ask where YOU think I’m confused. My only question to this point has been about the causative forces required to end the interglacial periods. If you can point me to any research in that area, I’d be happy to read it. And if you can point me to any research that invalidates what I’ve written, I’ll read that too. But of course, specificity would be immensely helpful. The link you provided yesterday is painfully vague, and not really technical enough to change opinions. What I’ve read there so far is basically discussion, as opposed to hard science.

  39. Ted says:


    The phrase “educate yourself” is pointlessly condescending, and doesn’t appear to be based on anything Monster has written in this thread. He asked a valid question, for which you provided him a link to, presumably, an answer. The page at that link clearly agrees with Monster’s premise, but makes no attempt to answer his question. From that point, you could have chosen to have a civil discussion, as David and I have, you could have ignored him, or you could have simply mocked him for not agreeing with you. Having chosen the latter speaks volumes about your character. It also leaves the impression that your understanding of the subject is insufficient to answer his question.

  40. John Hollenberg says:

    Ted, you are free to disagree with me and my approach in posting, but I don’t think there is anything in my reply that warrants an attack on my character. Apparently Joe had the same impression of Monster, as he wrote, “Honestly, Monster, do you even bother reading this blog or other blogs that explain this basic stuff.”

  41. John Hollenberg says:

    Ted, the link I cited has a direct link to this article (1990, I am not qualified to comment on developments since then):

    This gives a much more technical discussion which partially touches on the glacial/interglacial periods and various factors affecting the transition. The fact that the transition was incompletely understood (at that time, probably still the case) in no way negates the known effects forcing effects of CO2. Of course we want to know more about all the factors causing the transitions, but this work suggests that it is a combination of orbital changes, changes in precession, plus amplifying feedbacks from CO2 and methane (to my understanding, anyway).

    I don’t see how not fully understanding these long cycles has a significant effect on our concern about the risks entailed in the rapid changes we are making to the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. In fact, I would argue that it is MORE risky, as we don’t really know the extent of the changes we may cause. Why would we want to risk putting the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at a level that has no precedent (for at least 600,000 years, anyway)? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Being a skeptic from a scientific standpoint (“we don’t really know all of the details”) is fine, but being a skeptic from the standpoint of public policy is sheer lunacy. The probabliity that the climatologists are right is just way too high. Even if there was only a 10-20% chance of catastrophic change, prudent risk management would require taking reasonable steps to avoid that possibility.

  42. Ted says:


    If you can’t see the condescension and open name calling in your comments to Monster, then our definitions of those terms are too far apart to even discuss the concept of character.

    The new link you provided still offers no mechanism for ending an interglacial. It does, however, reiterate the well known assumption that the Milankovitch cycles don’t provide sufficient perturbations to cause glaciation cycles by themselves. Hence, CO2 is offered as an explanation for the missing forcing. But again, this is deemed insufficient, so the CO2 forcing is claimed to be magnified by a factor of at least 3, by largely undetermined “feedbacks.” As the magnitude of those feedbacks is determined primarily by subtracting subtracting delta t(calculated) from delta t(observed), they strike me as little more than a fudge factor. But assuming they have been properly measured, the net heating resulting from increased CO2 and it’s feedbacks, would appear to be several times greater than that directly resulting from the Milankovitch cycles. Such an imbalance would cause, as Hansen has repeatedly stated, a runaway feedback loop. The fact that we exist proves otherwise, though there appears to be no accepted mechanism to counteract those feedbacks.

    Perhaps more importantly, the evidence supporting the idea that CO2 is responsible for the magnitude of glacial cycles, is largely based in the concept of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Even if that were a valid scientific concept, the fact that warming actually was post hoc, has little to no evidence supporting it. The best current evidence, though I’m very skeptical of it as well, is that temperature leads CO2 concentrations, as was Monster’s point. And a mechanism for a causal relationship in that direction is well understood, and entirely uncontroversial.

    I neither stated, nor implied, that we should strive to waste resources. Truth be told, I, as a hard core CLASSICAL liberal, and an obvious “climate denier,” (presumably that means I deny there’s a climate) likely lead a “greener” life than anyone I know. I have no car, no heating/air conditioning, no gas hookups, and a $14 per month electric bill. But that’s because I’m opposed to pointless waste, not because I think we’re all going to die. In actual practice, are you willing to commute 30+ miles a day by bike, as I have for 13 years? Do you think your neighbors are? The simple fact is that our society will never voluntarily make the changes necessary to get anywhere near zero emissions, assuming that’s even desirable. The only practical ways to do it would be an unprecedentedly restrictive police state, or massive population reduction, on the order of several billion people disappearing. Taking such measures on the basis of poorly understood maybes, would be both amoral, and absurd. In either case, I see no reason to believe the worst case global warming scenario would be anywhere near as bad as the “solution.” It’s well known that massive doses of cyanide will kill cancerous tumors. But even after the existence of such a tumor is proven explicitly, no one ever opts for that treatment because it kills the patient. To kill the patient because computer models project that he’ll likely develop a tumor, eventually, is by no means a sound policy, regardless of how many people think those computers are “probably” right. The fact that there are missing variables in those models that are known to be quite large, is vital to assessing the predictive powers of said models, but still has little bearing on the actions that should be taken because of them.