"James Fallows, Physics for Future Presidents, Al Gore, blogging journalists, and what will become of hockey sticks on an ice-free planet?"
A number of people asked me to reply to a blog post by Atlantic monthly columnist James Fallows in which he opines on a variety of climate-related subjects from Al Gore to the “Hockey Stick” graph.
Since I have known Fallows for a long time — we share mutual interests in rhetoric and the late Colonel John Boyd — I decided to zip him an e-mail, which he promptly turned into his first (of several) self-debunkings, “Climate pushback #1.” Let me expand on a few of those dashed off points:
2) The Hockey Stick. I wrote Fallows:
“The ‘hockey stick,’ was essentially vindicated by the National Academy of Sciences, and it is almost certainly correct.” Cite here.
Few things excite the deniers more than the Hockey Stick graph because it allows them to wade deep into the analytical woods and entirely miss the forest [or is that "entirely miss the deforestation"]. I was trying to answer two separate questions quickly. First, was the original analysis defensibly correct? Yes (see NAS Report and RealClimate.org). Second, were the conclusions correct [which could be true even if the analysis had flaws in it] — is the planet now as hot (or hotter) than it has been in a millenium? Try two millennia (see “Sorry deniers, hockey stick gets longer, stronger: Earth hotter now than in past 2,000 years“). See also J. Bradford DeLong commenting on Fallows here.
Perhaps more to the point, the Hockey Stick analysis is just the tiniest piece of our overall understanding of climate science, which is getting increasingly dire by the day. In a few decades, not only will no one remember the Hockey-Stick controversy, many people won’t even be using hockey sticks anymore outdoors- it will just be too darn hot (see “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“).
3) Al Gore. OK, one guy does excite the deniers more than the Hockey Stick. I wrote Fallows:
“Gore’s essential argument is correct and other than a very few technical quibbling with word choice, pretty every one on his major carefully crafted statements is accurate. His Nobel Prize will, sadly, be vindicated by history.”
Gore should not be the centerpiece of any discussion of climate science because he is not a scientist nor does he claim to be. He is, however, filling the role as the country’s leading climate journalist because the status quo media have utterly dropped the ball on the subject with their he-said/she-said stove-piped personality-driven stories, which continue even today (see Must-read (again) study: How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics “” “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.” and countless examples in CP’s media category — and, yes, deniers, I am using the word “countless” figuratively here).
Like any journalist, Gore occasionally makes statements one can quibble with, but compared to 99.9% of the reporters writing on the subject, his careful word choice, his knowledge of the subject, and his basic premises are are dead on. But because deniers like Roger Pielke, Jr. dislike how Gore has elevated this issue, they often misrepresent what he said in order to attack him — and those misrepresentations have then become circulated as fact, and before you know it even serious journalists like the NYT‘s Andy Revkin are repeating them (see Unstaining Al Gore’s good name 2: He is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements” and is owed a correction and apology by the New York Times).
4) Blogging journalists. Now that global warming and clean energy have become a first-tier political issue, every major journalist is writing about it. My unsolicited advice: This is the story of the century, so you should be writing about it, but it has many mine fields so please do your homework before opining on it. If you end up being as technically accurate and strategically correct as Al Gore, you will have distinguished yourself among every other major journalist writing on this subject.
One of the plus sides of blogging, of course, is that you can quickly correct yourself, as Fallows has done. Now that he is back in DC, perhaps I’ll be able to get an interview or post from him on what he learned after his long stay in China.