Smoke gets in your eyes: US News pits me vs. Big Oil on climate science

I of course replied, something here inside, cannot be denied….

You can vote here on another pointless online poll.

Big Oil wants us to remain addicted to oil, a major source of carbon pollution. So it and other special interests have conducted an aggressive disinformation campaign for more than a decade to convince Americans that there’s a major disagreement among scientists on the dangers posed by carbon pollution, just as the tobacco industry disputed the science to keep smokers addicted….

That’s the opening of my op-ed in U.S. News this month, in response to the topic question, “Did Climategate Expose Global Warming Fears as Unfounded?”

Yes, that framing is triply biased, with “Climategate” and “fears” and “unfounded” all crammed into one uber-lame question/push-poll that tries to push people hard to vote “yes.”

I am pitted against Sen. Jim “the last flat-earther” Inhofe (R-OIL).  I only got 680 words, so had to compress the arguments, but let me know what you think:

Yes, the 3,000-page review of the scientific literature by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 has a couple of “trivial mistakes” in it, as the Washington Post put it. But as a physicist who writes on climate issues, I’ve read much of the original literature and talked to dozens of the leading climate scientists. The real story was captured in a recent headline in Scientific American: “Despite Climategate, IPCC Mostly Underestimates Climate Change.”

The British Royal Academy, the oldest scientific body in the world, and the Met Office, part of the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry, noted that “even since the 2007 IPCC Assessment, the evidence for dangerous, long-term, and potentially irreversible climate change has strengthened.”

The basic science is clear. Naturally occurring, heat-trapping gases keep the planet about 60 degrees warmer than it would otherwise be, giving us the livable climate we have today. Since the industrial revolution, humankind has spewed vast quantities of extra greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere, causing more and more heat to be trapped. And so the atmosphere is warming. Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in October, “The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record.” It may have seemed like a cool January in parts of this country, but globally it was the hottest January in the satellite record. And while it may be counterintuitive, we actually get more snowstorms in warm years.

The Bush administration concluded in a 2008 report, “It is well established … that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases.” That study noted that we’re already seeing more extreme weather events.

In the past million years, the climate was primarily driven by natural cycles initiated by changes in Earth’s orbit, which led to emissions of greenhouse gases, an amplifying feedback that caused rapid warming after long ice ages. As pre-eminent climatologist Wallace Broecker wrote in 1995, “The paleoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.”

Now we are punching the beast in the face. If we don’t act quickly, by midcentury carbon dioxide concentrations in the air will reach levels not seen in 15 million years, when it was 5 to 10 degrees warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher, a 2009 study concluded.

The good news is that sea levels don’t rise as fast as temperatures, but the bad news is that everywhere you look around the planet, ice is disappearing much faster than expected. Whereas the IPCC had ignored dynamic effects and predicted sea levels might rise perhaps only 1 to 2 feet in this century if we took no action to reduce emissions, major studies since 2007 put the estimate at 3 to 6 feet, enough to generate 100 million environmental refugees or more. Other studies warn that the U.S. Southwest could become a permanent dust bowl post-2040, with Kansas in the Midwest above 90 degrees some 120 days a year.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said in January: “You’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon.”

We can preserve clean air and a livable climate for our children while slashing the $1 billion a day we send overseas to buy foreign oil and generating millions of good jobs in clean energy industries. But only if the bipartisan effort to pass a comprehensive climate bill led by Graham succeeds. It’s time to blow away the smoke once and for all.

Note, I did not choose my headline or subhed.

Again, you can vote here for the online poll on the question, “Did Climategate Expose Global Warming Fears as Unfounded?”

Finally, my apologies to Kern and Herbach — and the Platters — for the framing of this post.

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41 Responses to Smoke gets in your eyes: US News pits me vs. Big Oil on climate science

  1. Brewster says:

    I voted “No”, Joe.

    (Big Surprise!)

    But the votes are going 2-1 the other way.

    (Big Surprise!)

  2. mike roddy says:

    Good job, as usual, Joe.

    Since you’re a smart and curious guy, having to repeat yourself so often must be the toughest part of your job.

  3. Fire Mountain says:

    Actually votes going 2-1 our way, 2/3rds saying no to, “Are global warming fears overblown?”

  4. wag says:

    The real story here is how in pitting you, a scientist, against Inhofe, a politician with no training in science, US News conflates your opinions as equally valid.

  5. Mark says:

    Let’s say you were in a lifeboat with a scientist and a politician.

    Who would you trust with your life?

  6. Dana says:

    Really nice job pointing out that the IPCC is actually too conservative.

    Currently the votes are 3-to-1 in favor of ‘no’.

  7. Bill R says:

    As of my No vote, its more like. 3 to 1.

    I think you frame this issues wonderfully. It is fitting to have Jim Inhoffe as the advocate for the denialistas.

    I still which more sustainability advocates would explain that FOSSIL FUELS WILL RUN OUT THIS CENTURY…so developing a 100% renewable energy infrastructure is not really a matter of choice. The sooner we begin on a massive scale, the less climate risk we face and the more likely we will not face a traumatic energy collapse.

  8. Bill R says:

    But then again, 680 words does limit one to just a few main points…

  9. ChicagoMike says:

    Inhofe’s piece has to set have set some sort of record, with at least one or two pieces of disinformation per sentence. US News should be ashamed for running it as serious commentary.

  10. Anne says:

    First, I wouldn’t participate in the other sides’ lingo: “climategate” is the deniers’ term of art, better to call it HackerGate, or Swift Hack. I’d even make a declarative statement along these lines. I literally turn red in the face when I hear reasonable scientists adopting the word “skeptic” to refer to disinformers/deniers/delayers — let’s call a spade a spade here. The word “climategate” implies to the unfamiliar that the folks at CRU were up to something surreptitious, which they were clearly NOT.

    In this sentence — “And while it may be counterintuitive, we actually get more snowstorms in warm years.” I might add — “More water evaporates in warmer air, so there’s more water in the atmosphere for larger rain and snowstorms.” (I’m pretty sure this is the 5th grade explanation.)

    In this para —
    “The good news is that sea levels don’t rise as fast as temperatures, but the bad news is that everywhere you look around the planet, ice is disappearing much faster than expected.” You could use the opportunity to somehow ridicule those who say they don’t like ice and we don’t need it, and perhaps refer to the melting permafrost holding up the Alaska oil pipeline….

    And one more thing, can you slam the hackers and disinformers harder, calling stronger attention to their less-than-noble motives? We need to spend time defending the good science, yes, but not enough has been done to discredit the nefarious no-gooders spreading lies and gossip about good science and good scientists that spend their lives just trying to learn the truth.

  11. James Newberry says:

    Nice work Joe, thank you.

    Someday you may want to consider adding: The reason all this carbon contamination, i.e. carbonic acid gas, is occuring is due to a failure of concept. Western ideology equates “energy resource” with a black rock and its associated, buried hydrocarbons. By not understanding the difference between matter and true energy resources, we are reverting the climate/ecosphere to a prehistoric state when ice caps, which contain the equivalent of hundreds of feet of sea level rise as ice, did not exist.

    It is now imperative to change the concept of Energy Resource (from ignorance and corruption to sustaining ecological economics). First step: eliminate one half trillion dollars of global, annual “fuel for fools” subsidies.

  12. Inhofe couldn’t really argue anything since the man himself scarcely capable of anything beyond ranting ideology. Still, the philosopher in me liked seeing the two points next to one another, even though the people who’ve drunk the denier kool-aid are unlikely to be swayed by little things like logic, principles, evidence and facts.

    Per the “voting”: As of this moment (9:55 AM Arizona Whatever Time) the votes are overwhelmingly “no”, that the fears of global warming are NOT overblown.

    What interests me is not just that the votes are going “our” direction (meaning not only we here at CP, but science and humanity in general) but the wording of the question actually struck me as prejudiced to the “yes” answer.

    Well, in any case, the day is young …

  13. Jim Eager says:

    Ahhh, Brewster, you might want to recheck that.
    As of 1:15pm Wednesday the poll was 20.42 Yes to 79.58% No.

    That’s 4:1 for sanity and reality

  14. Leif says:

    There is no doubt that many Corporations consider Climatic Mitigation a battle for their existence. Every change in paradigm produces winners and losers. Such a change of producing billionaires at the expense of the multitudes to enriching the multitudes at the expense of the billionaires will be hard fought by those negatively affected. It is informative to point out the segment of Capitalistic/Corporate, C/C, resistance to C/C acceptance.

    Like wise, the fight against global climatic disruption is not a all out war with capitalism and corporate business. On the contrary, both could prosper beyond their wildest expectations in a WW III approach to humanities long term survivability. (i.e. WW II) Humanity needs, nay requires, the success of both to have a chance in hell of success. However, C/C must acknowledge humanities rights to long term survivability. Humanity cannot survive without C/C, but C/C cannot survive without HUMANITY.
    Define the problem, solutions follow…

    Will the economy look the same after the “Awakening Economy”? Not a chance.

    Will humanity be better for it? I cannot imagine it being any worse…

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo. Great job, Joe!

    If you ever write Part II or if someone ever gives you a higher word limit, you might consider just (or also) listing the names of all the major, bona fide scientific organizations worldwide that agree that global warming is real and primarily driven by human activities.

    Humans are social beings, in the scientific sense, i.e., we are a social species, and most people are most influenced by realizing what other (credible) people think. At this point, listing ALL the organizations will probably be more influential, to many people, than all of the explanation that can possibly be offered, even if well written. Ideally, a great piece of communication would involve both.

    But your piece is GREAT. Bravo!


  16. Fredo says:

    When I first saw this story about 10pm Pacific last night, the poll was 3:1 against us. Now it’s 4:1 in our favor.
    Good work people.

    @Leif— love it. I hope you are adding comments like that to every inane climate story on the Internet.

  17. Giove says:

    Excellent as usual.

    If you allow me to try helping some, I would leave out the first 2 paragraphs and start with:

    “The basic science is clear.. ”

    No point in starting defensively. That makes you appear to have a weak position, which you are not, and is exactly R-OIL game.

  18. Leif says:

    Joe: It might be good to reference “Ocean Acidification” as an equally dire threat to humanity.

  19. Wit's End says:

    Excellent work! The Vorpal Sword snicker snacked again!

    I disagree with Giove though. The IPCC errors needed to be addressed, briefly. The glacier melt was dismissed for too long and that reflected badly, giving ammunition to deniers. I think you gave it just enough attention and then made a powerful case for the science that a non-scientist can understand vividly.

  20. toby says:

    Poll has shifted slightly to 80% – No, 19% – Yes.

    Joe, you’re the champ by a knockout!

  21. PSU Grad says:

    I don’t see the first three paragraphs as defensive, I see them as simply dealing with the obvious denier argument. They’re also a wonderful setup for “The basic science is clear”. It’s similar to saying “first of all, this is all baloney. Now, to get to the point.”

    It’s nice work. Still 4:1 when I voted.

  22. Giove says:

    yes, you are right Wit’s End.. but then address the IPCC errors as a concluding remark imo.

    The strong points are, and must be, that 1) the science is clear 2) predicting precise consequences is hard 3) consequences are guaranteed to range from calamitous to devastating to a good part of the world population 4) science sees proof of this in geological history of earth as well as in (unfortunately and necessarily imperfect) physical simulation

    Once that is said, any homo sapiens (homo homini lupus) can see that IPCC errors were of minor importance, and that can be used to seal the argument.

    .. but probably I am the naif one :).

  23. Andy says:

    Your piece is excellent. It is especially good where you explain the normal greenhouse effect, past climates, sea levels and what we are doing today. Effective use of quotes. You should ship it to newspapers as a Sunday contribution to the opinion pages. Maybe add something about western forests and beetles and mountain glaciers melting.

  24. George Ennis says:


    that was a very succinct op-ed on climate change. Congrats

  25. Brewster says:


    The No’s are winning big time! I AM Surprised!

    WUWT must’ve missed this one!

  26. Richard Brenne says:

    Amazingly succinct Joe, great job!

    Inhofe’s hit for the cycle of denier talking points, with about a 10 to one WTL (words to lie) ratio.

  27. Jim Eager says:

    Brewster, why did you have to mention What the F*ck’s Up?

    It’s now been freeped to 57 yes to 43 no.

  28. Brendan says:

    This is a good response, but sometimes I don’t think it hurts to be more blunt.

    I’d suggest the following framing: Do you believe the unpatriotic crowd that thinks the democratically elected President of the United States is a terrorist loving Muslim foreigner or do you believe in what everyone other rational person does? Climate denial needs to be marginalized and put firmly in the tin-foil hat camp once and for all. The science side needs it’s own talking points, and this (or something similar) should be one of them. You can’t care if you reinforce the tin-foil hat crowd’s embedded opinions, its those in the middle who think it’s valid that is the issue. These people aren’t doing any research, don’t understand the science and won’t take the time to anytime soon, so you need to make it simple. Their eyes glaze over after two sentences of scientifically based material. There needs to be more appeal to emotion. Make it so taking the side of denial is the equivalent of admitting you’re a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Most people like to be seen as being within the range of “normal” and not crazy.

  29. Sam says:

    Great article, Joe, but you should be apologizing to Irene Dunne, who sang the song in the 1935 film or to Jerome Kern himself if, as I am pretty sure, you have been singing this song out loud.

    [JR: It is a great song. And in my basement, no one can hear me!]

  30. Brewster says:

    Sorry, Jim Eager – I’ll shut up in the future…

  31. Gordon Parish says:

    After receiving my morning Google Alert, I read your commentary first thing this morning, Joe – very good, as usual. I didn’t bother to read Inhofe’s. I don’t expect anything useful there.

    Speaking of nothing useful, my Google Alert also seems to have informed me that your buddy Bjorn “one of the world’s leading scholars on climate change” Lomborg was going to speak with editors over at the “The USA Today” site today(?) and they were soliciting questions for him…

    “We’ll pick three to ask. Lomborg, who heads the think tank Copenhagen Consensus, has written many books on climate change including The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide To Global Warming. Audio of his answers may be posted on USA TODAY’s Opinion blog.”

  32. Considering the demographics of US NEWS readers, the poll numbers are actually quite encouraging!


  33. joe1347 says:

    Strong (spectacular) start in the article, but then the message seemed to get lost. I wasn’t sure what point you were trying to get across after the opening paragraphs. Suspect that later part of the article was a victim of trying to condense down too much information.

  34. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — Actually the globe has been in an ice age for the entire Quaternary, cycling in and out of glacials for the past 2.588 million years. But yes, the cycling became rather more dramatic about 1.1 million years ago.

    Five million years of paleotemperatures:

    [JR: Yes. And our data is better over the recent time, too.]

  35. paulm says:

    CO2 gets up your nose…good work Joe. The text and approach was perfect.

  36. Fred Teal says:

    Thanks so much for all you do. It is a pleasure to read this blog every evening. I am spending all of my spare time getting friends and neighbors to sign-up locally for wind energy. I am also currently getting bids for 7kws of solar panels. There is great satisfaction in counting up the tons of co2 avoided every week as I sign folks up. I believe this movement will become a mighty ocean and each of us is a small drop of water moving the wave forward.

    [JR: Thank you!]

  37. Inhofe’s piece has to set have set some sort of record, with at least one or two pieces of disinformation per sentence. US News should be ashamed for running it as serious commentary.

  38. Leif says:

    As of this time “NO” is in the lead ~51% to 49%
    Here in Port Townsend, WA we can opt in for wind energy at $0.0125/ kw. Which costs me a grand total of about $3.25/ month. (1200 sq.ft home @Lat.48+ with 2 people.)

  39. Ross Hunter says:

    I voted. Left a comment over there, to whit:

    Not very good journalism

    I have to agree with those who’ve noted the shamefully low quality of your journalism, US News. Really do we have to point out you’re matching science against celebrity, checkable fact against uninformed opinion?

    The greatest tragedy of our age in the West is the poisoning of the information stream, and the failure of the Fourth Estate to bear accurate and courageous witness to these times. Viewing the sad decline of journals such as yours, I find it no wonder that the blogs have surpassed your integrity, and taken over your readership.

  40. Ronald says:

    I wrote this with NO in the lead 55 percent to 45. Go NO.

    Great article. Keep it up Joe.

    The only slightest addition that I could see would have been in the third paragraph ‘and so the atmosphere is warming.’ Might have been a good time to say ‘and so the atmosphere and oceans are warming.’ ( That most of the warming is hiding in the warming oceans.)

    But I’m sure alot of it had to be edited out for space. Good Job.