Why science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging

Nature’s Matt Kaplan blows the story

Back in November I explained how the media blew the story of UC Berkeley study on climate messaging.   That study found the best message is also the most science-based:  Doing nothing risks “many devastating consequences” but “much of the technology we need already exists.”  We just need to deploy it already!

Brad Johnson also discussed howWinning climate messages combine dire scientific threat with solutions for a just world” — almost the exact opposite of how the media reported it.

Yet Nature‘s Matt Kaplan has just published a piece on the study, “Why dire climate warnings boost scepticism” that again utterly misrepresents (and oversells) the results of this tiny-sample study — even though at least one of the people he talked to explained how the study was being misrepresented.

Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, “an expert on environmental communications,” emailed me “This isn’t a reliable analysis of science-based education. The conclusions drawn from a tiny study don’t support the extravagant claims made in the press.”

As long as the media, especially the science media, is going to keep getting this important story wrong, I will keep setting the record straight.

UPDATE:  An amusing forth between me and blogger Keith Kloor can be found in the comments section starting here.

Regular readers of CP can skip the rest of this post (except the very end).

This study, if it proves anything, finds that the strongest possible science-based messaging is effective.  There is a vast sea of thorough scientific literature that makes the case that we risk multiple catastrophes if we don’t get off our current emissions path.  Climate hawks should feel confident explaining to the public as clearly as possible the dire consequences if we fail to take action to reduce emissions together with the myriad cost-effective solutions available today that make averting catastrophe so damn cheap compared to the alternative.

Let’s look at the study more closely, to find out what conclusions can and can’t be drawn from it.  You can read the study here:  “Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just World Beliefs.”  You can read UCB’s release here.  As the WashPost explains:

While the researchers’ sample is hardly comprehensive or representative of America-the two psychologists conducted one experiment on 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates, and a second with 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist-it raises an intriguing question about how environmentalists’ outreach on climate change.

Uhh, “hardly comprehensive or representative of America” is putting it mildly for such a tiny and unrepresentative sample.  But let’s press on.

In the experiment involving undergraduates, the subjects read a news article that began with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, but had two different endings. Half ended with warnings about the disastrous consequences of climate change, while half offered potential solutions to the problem, such as clean energy innovations.

The results-which will be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science-showed that those who read the upbeat ending were more open to believing in the global warming’s existence and were more confident about science’s ability to solve the problem.

You might imagine that the exact wording of the news article and the different endings would be quite crucial to figuring out just what this study means, if anything.  In fact, I’d say you can’t possibly draw any conclusions about the study without seeing the language.

But that “supporting information” isn’t available online yet, so I asked one of the authors for it.  Here is the “news article” (without either ending) “with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change”:

BOSTON “” “Global warming is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue of our time,” says Professor Jonathan Spencer an expert on global climate change, “yet, few people really understand its causes and consequences.”  Spencer, who has studied global climate change at Harvard University for the past two decades, is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that met last week in Boston for its semi-annual meeting.

Spencer is a co-author of a forthcoming pamphlet, called Understanding Global Warming, which is aimed at educating the average citizen about global warming.  The pamphlet describes the cause of global warming as “excessive and unnatural levels of carbon dioxide that collect to form a ‘pollution blanket’ that traps the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.”  Though carbon dioxide is a natural component of the Earth’s environment, Spencer points out that the current levels of CO2 are much higher than what they should be based on historical patterns.  Worse yet, the amount of CO2 continues to rise at an alarming rate.

The IPCC is made up of hundreds of environmental scientists from countries all around the world.  Together, they recently delivered their annual report to the United Nations which attested that the rise in CO2 levels is directly caused by human activity.  Specifically, the report claimed that much of the precipitous rise in CO2 can be traced to the use of coal-burning power plants and gasoline-powered automobiles.  Coal-burning power plants, the most common type of power plant in the United States, produces 2.5 billion tons of CO2 every year in the U.S..  Not far behind, automobiles in the U.S. emit an estimated 1.5 billion tons of CO2 each year.

The IPCC says many devastating consequences of global warming are possible, some of which we have already begun to feel. In particular, the past decade has seen record breaking heat waves all across the world, including a major heat wave that killed at least 35,000 people in Europe in 2003. Along with heat waves, global warming is also heating up ocean temperatures, which could have a direct impact on the intensity of hurricanes.  As ocean temperatures continually rise, it is predicted that the frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes will also rise.  Furthermore, the rise in global temperatures could also have a significant impact on the number of wildfires occurring across the U.S.. Rising temperatures are believed to lead to increased dryness and drought.  According to the IPCC, frequency of wildfires in California, Nevada, and Arizona has already reached record highs and could continue to rise.  In addition, possibly the most serious consequence is sea-levels rising.  As the earth warms up, the massive sheets of ice that make up the Artic and Greenland are melting at a dramatic pace.  As they melt, the runoff flows into the sea which gradually raises sea levels all around the world.  As the seas rise, the IPCC predicts that current coastlines could start to disappear, including much of Florida, California, Texas, and Hawaii.

Pretty damn dire “” though completely science-based, kind of like An Inconvenient Truth. On our current emissions path we risk devastating heat waves, more superhurricanes, dryness and drought and wildfires, and dangerous sea level rise.  Sounds a lot like Hell and High Water!

Here’s the “positive condition” ending:

However, all that being said, Spencer and the members of the IPCC are optimistic about the future.  They believe that global warming is completely reversible, and it is not too late to act. In fact, Caroline Defoe, Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale University and IPCC member, “The solution is simple: ingenuity.  Human beings can solve most any problem if they put their minds to it.”

Amanda Liu, member of the IPCC and author of the recent book How to Fight Global Warming: What Science and Technology Can Do agrees with Defoe, “A drastic decrease in CO2 emissions would pretty quickly slow the rise in global temperatures, and in the long-run, would even allow the Earth to return to its normal temperature patterns.”  The best way to decrease CO2 emissions, according to IPCC is to switch from an “oil and coal society” to a “wind, solar, and geothermal society.”  Liu adds “Much of the technology we need already exists.  We just have to perfect it and find innovative ways to implement it.  But I am confident that human ingenuity can overcome this mammoth obstacle.”

This is, of course, the core argument of Al Gore, ClimateProgress, Bill McKibben and indeed just about every single one of the climate hawks who communicate regularly on this subject.  Doing nothing risks “many devastating consequences” but “much of the technology we need already exists.”  We just need to deploy it already!

Isn’t it so reassuring to know that the message we all use works!

So what is the “dire condition” ending, the “doom and gloom” message that doesn’t work with this small, unrepresentative sample:

Unfortunately, according to many members of the IPCC, global warming is now at a point where it may be irreversible.  “We fear it may be too late. We may have reached the point of no return,” says Caroline DeFoe, Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale University, “I hate to admit it, but all the numbers and computer models point in the same dire and devastating direction. No one knows for sure how horrible it will get, but we should prepare for world wide chaos and destruction.”

Amanda Liu, member of the IPCC and author of the recent book, Why Science Can’t Help, agrees with Defoe, “The first domino has been pushed over and now the chain reaction is underway and building momentum.  Global warming is going to change everything for the worse.  It is just too big of a problem for science to grapple with.  We don’t even know where to start. Everyday we find out that something entirely new and unexpected is either directly or indirectly adding to the problem and causing more and more destruction.”

Gosh, who ever would have guessed that a message that says “it may be too late” “” that the problem is just too damn big for science to grapple with, so much so that we don’t even know where to start “” might not work so well?

Seriously people, is there anybody on the planet who uses that message “” not counting, James Lovelock, intermittently, the exception that certainly proves the rule (see “Lovelock still makes me look like Paula Abdul, warns climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age“)?

Certainly I don’t believe it is true.  Yes, politics “” not science “” may cause us to delay action beyond the tipping points, but that isn’t the issue here.  Quite the reverse.  We do know where to start.

If people want to draw conclusions from the small sample of this study, then it would seem to be telling us:

  1. The message that does work is we face Hell and High Water if we don’t act but fortunately much of the technology we need to solve this problem already exists.
  2. The message that doesn’t work is that the problem is so hopeless science doesn’t even know where to start.

One final new point, Nature‘s Matt Kaplan completely ignores this ‘larger’ experiment and focuses entirely on a second experiment with a sample size beyond tiny — “45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist.”  Is the sample representative — who knows?  Then you have to believe that unscrambling a few sentences actually does prime people to have different beliefs depending on what sentences they unscramble.  Then you have to believe that two 30-second videos whose goal is not to change the mind of skeptics — and which don’t have time to focus on solutions —  are somehow representative of messaging on climate (they aren’t).  And then you have to believe that relatively modest results — “participants primed to have a stronger belief in a just world reported levels of scepticism that were 29% higher, and a willingness to reduce their carbon footprint that was 21% lower” — prove anything actionable.

Note that this tiny second experiment doesn’t actually prove the people who have “just world” beliefs report higher levels of skepticism when exposed to dire messages.  It just ‘proves’ that in this very tiny sample, people who unscrambled sentences indicative of just-world beliefs had a modest increase in their level of skepticism compared to those who unscrambled sentences contrary to just-world beliefs when they watched these particular videos.

The study also doesn’t prove that the ads in question do not achieve their intended purpose or in fact that they are counterproductive in any way.  They might be, but again this study didn’t actually look at that.

As Brulle wrote for the whole study, “This isn’t a reliable analysis of science-based education. The conclusions drawn from a tiny study don’t support the extravagant claims made in the press.”

Again, I realize that some in the media erroneously believe that the science has been oversold — and they feel ‘vindicated’ by any piece of work that suggests overselling the science is actually counterproductive.  But this study clearly doesn’t vindicate such a mistaken view — and to assert that it does is pure confirmation bias.

As those who follow the scientific literature closely (a group that does not include most journalists), the science has in fact been undersold — the overwhelming majority of the public and policymakers don’t understand just how many simultaneous catastrophes we are risking if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path:

Again, if the Berkeley research shows anything, it shows the importance of accurate science-based messaging on both the problem and the solution, precisely the kind of messaging just about every climate hawk I know does.

UPDATE:  George Marshall,  Director of Projects,  Climate Outreach Information Network writes:

The media has concluded from this [UCB paper] that serious disaster driven messages will fail, but, as ever, the details suggests something more complex. The focus of the research is on people holding ‘a belief in a ‘Just World’ which it explains as

“A need to believe that the world is just, orderly, and stable…..  (Lerner, 1980; Lerner & Miller, 1978). Research shows that many individuals have a strong need to perceive the world as just – believing that future rewards await those who judiciously strive for them, and punishments are meted out to those who deserve them (Dalbert, 2001; Furnham, 2003).”

It draws conclusions based on the effects of climate messaging on people with this worldview. It is not able to conclude that what it calls ‘dire’ messages are less effective overall for all audiences.

I have plenty of causes for caution around this research. The first being the a belief in a Just World is not politically neutral and is likely to align itself with a package of political allegiances and worldviews which, for many other reasons, include climate change denial. I would suggest that negative and disaster messages (especially those couched in environmentalist language) would be more likely to trigger this existing scepticism.

Secondly that both experiments have a small sample size, (97 and 45 respectively) that is further reduced by two levels of testing- for belief in a Just World and then response to climate messaging.

Thirdly, that they are measuring a response to specific pieces of communication  that may be accepted or rejected for many reasons. In the second experiment they use sources from environmental campaigns (I use one of their sources in communications training as an example or dreadful messaging) and I wonder if these might be rejected by those with the Just Worldview because of the environmental activist semantics.

But this does not necessarily mean that messages containing information on very serious impacts will necessarily fail. I observe that people I would assume believe in a Just World are prepared to accept arguments of threats from outside groups or nations and these threats are regularly expressed in extremely ‘dire’ terms. So I see no reason why ‘dire’ climate change messages could not be framed so as to speak directly to a Just Worldview (for example: that climate impacts are a price we pay for damaging the environment or our greed- or that people who accept and adapt to climate change will be rewarded by greater security and protection in a climate change world). It would be very interesting to know whether the rejection is because of the ‘dire’ information, or the cultural packaging.


88 Responses to Why science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging

  1. Mimikatz says:

    What is it with Nature? They seem often to downplay global warming.

    Here are some reasons that the doomsayers are probably wrong. As the bad effects of global warming seeriously kick in, say over the next 10-20 years or so, it is going to cause very serious economic disruptions. Some countries will have their hands full with climate-related disasters, mainly in Asia, and this will slow their economic growth. Commerce will slow down when the seas get even rougher so that we lose two or three bulk carriers a week (or more) instead of a month. And we will very likely have another global recession due to the instability in the financial markets.

    All of these things will cause global growth to decline at the very least, reducing emissions. At some point they will cut growth and especially fuel usage more drastically. If things really unravel, they will further decline, and CO2 emissions with them. Since alternative technologies are available, hopefully they can be produced in countries and scaled up enough to take up some of the slack, and efficiency and less consumerism will take up more. Serious resource wars are possible, but they will be constrained by lack of fuel supplies–they have to be worth it, and Iraq wasn’t in an age of relative plenty. (Water may be the one exception here.) So the stone age seems pretty far out.

    Much better to be in some control of how this all plays out, but it seems almost impossible to me that we could really burn what’s left of the fossil fuels without the bad effects of climate change at the same time drastically cutting growth and consumption. Even here in our splendid isolation we couldn’t pull that off.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for pointing out some of the traps of polling. It was a good illustration of Diderot’s dictum, that language is self referential, something illustrated in all of the questions and results you listed.

    The fact that Ted Nordhaus was quoted should discredit the article all on its own. Like his friend Pielke Jr., he is constantly looking for faux scientific reasons to prod us to do nothing about global warming beyond “more research”, and will find or spin anything he can dig up in order to make that point.

  3. Peter M says:

    Those saying that alarmist messaging is not effective for informing the public about AGW fail to understand that Vast numbers of Americans still seem unaware that a problem exists, let alone understanding the science behind the warnings.

    The media has been remarkably passive in reporting the truth. As the amount of C02 rises well into the red zone- the public seems largely unaware of the dire dangers we are facing.

    The Plutocratic combination of special interests, government inaction/paid off representatives and a right wing controlled media have been effective at suppressing the truth.

    We are on the precipice of falling off a cliff- and Rome just burns. Scary.

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Upton updates climate change views

    During a weekend interview on Fox News, the Michigan Republican was challenged to explain an apparent discrepancy between information on his website describing global warming as “a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions” and a Dec. 28 Wall Street Journal column in which Upton and a co-author wrote that they were “not convinced” that “carbon is a problem in need of regulation.”

    By the afternoon of Jan. 3, the characterization of climate change as a “serious problem” was gone from Upton’s site, along with his previous conclusion that “everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions and promote the development of clean energy.”

    On Tuesday evening, Upton’s environmental views appeared to be a work in progress. There was nothing but the word “environment” and blank space under the Environment heading on the site’s Issues tab.

    An aide said the recent changes were merely an update reflecting Upton’s new role as chairman of the full committee. “The discussion about energy policy that appeared on the site offered a detailed analysis of a whole host of issues that fell under the jurisdiction of the subcommittee Fred was the top Republican on for the last Congress,” spokesman Sean Bonyun said on Tuesday. “While websites are regularly updated, Fred’s positions have not changed.”


  5. Kaplan certainly deserves criticism – but lets remember to shame the editors of Nature too. They damage their reputation badly.

    Nature tries to carefully hold to submission standards:

    “You must not submit any material to the Site that:
    is… is likely to: cause someone alarm, anxiety or distress;”

    That explains why an article about dire messages was so tepid and lame.

  6. I. Snarlalot Thiesedaise says:

    “some in the media erroneously believe that the science has been oversold”

    In the amped out mediasphere, two noisy sneers from “worldly” posers beat ten quiet sincerities from hard working (i.e., boring) professionals.

    Question: If a bunch of disinformers tell a researcher something, will he be gullible enough to swallow it? After all, people can’t be expected to accept global warming as real if Al Gore is fat, can they?

    Gah. And people wonder why I snarl so much

  7. Great blog, great info, but just saw an ad for WestJet in your advertisement box. As you must know, several of the ads are contrary to your emergency message. Surprises me that Climate Progress would allow this.

    [JR: Send me screen captures. I don’t typically look at my own ads so I only know what they are when people tell me. I have nixed some of the worst. I’m not certain I would have trouble with someone advertising an airline. Peak oil is going to take care of air travel.]

  8. fj3 says:


  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Very lame article indeed.

  10. Joan Savage says:

    If the dire warnings are reported along with a recommended course of action, then we have a good public information package.

    The Greek myth that comes to mind is the Minotaur, feared and seemingly inevitable, but finally vanquished by Theseus with the essential aid of Ariadne’s thread.

    Where is Ariadne’s thread for finding our way into and out of the labyrinth of climate change?

  11. rab says:

    This whole issue became a lot clearer to me recently on reading Keith Kloor’s blog. In a recent post, he implicitly equates scientific results that extrapolate to the future, with predictions from religious cults. He, and I think a lot of the general public, cannot distinguish the two.

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Not Enough, and the Berkeley Folks

    Joe, great post, but at this point it’s not enough for CP to point out this sort of problem, when (presumably) responsible parties are also involved on all other fronts. In other words, although it’s vital to point out the problem, the necessary solution should involve the Berkeley folks as well as Nature.

    Given the stakes involved, the Berkeley folks (the original researchers and authors) should do whatever it takes to INSIST that the results of the study be reported clearly, and to facilitate that process. In other words, THEY should contact Nature, complain, and write a clarifying article. Also, although I haven’t seen the Nature piece myself, if it indeed interprets and represents the study inaccurately, and arrives at incorrect and harmful conclusions, it should be immediately retracted and corrected.

    In other words, the Berkeley researchers/authors have a positive responsibility here, and so does Nature. The remedy for this situation should be nothing less than a retraction of the article and a well-considered, well-written, accurate, new article that interprets and represents the study accurately.

    I will be floored, and deeply disappointed, if the Berkeley researchers and authors do not “do whatever it takes” to clean up this mess and to make sure that their study is interpreted accurately and reported accurately.

    And indeed, the researchers and authors ought to write a message here, on CP, to let us know what they plan to do.

    Jeff Huggins
    U.C. Berkeley, Class of 1981

  13. Mimikatz says:

    In the myth, Ariadne’s thread was the thread of human love.

    Perhaps that means that we have to convey a real sense of caring about others to convey our message effectively. Most, if not all of us, care about this issue because we want to avoid the pretty awful human suffering that will come with a 2 degree C world let alone a 4 degree C world–fires, floods, drought, famine, hurricanes, extreme storms and heat waves, insufficient food and potable water, rising sea levels and inadequate to nonexistent emergency services to deal with it all. We want today’s children to have a world in 2060 that is as good for them at 70 as this world is for me and my generation. That is really what it is about, but I think it sometimes gets lost in all the depressing news and dire warnings.

  14. pete best says:

    Well if you are listening to HSBC then the world economy is going to treble in size over the next 40 years at 3% per year. So even if its optimistic and its only 2% per year its still a lot of energy thats going to be used and that means lots of renewables but also lots of fossil fuel to I would suggest regardless.

  15. Nell says:

    Excellent documentary.
    Back in 1984:
    Greenhouse Effect Documentary (in three parts)

    I think we’ve lost a ‘Free’ press.

    Why wouldn’t they want to report on the end of the world as we know it? Seems to me it’d be a very juicy story!

  16. J Bowers says:

    Interview with Cullen, Masters and Trenberth:

    Living on Earth: The Wild Weather of 2010

    “MASTERS: In my 30 plus years of being a meteorologist I can’t ever recall a year like this one as far as extreme weather events go, not only for U.S. but the world at large.

    YOUNG: Countries covering one fifth of the planet’s land saw record high heat. Drought altered the world’s food trade. Floodwaters inundated parts of the U.S. and Asia with frequency that defied statistical expectations.

    TRENBERTH: Isn’t that interesting, we have a one in a thousand year event happening every few years nowadays.
    YOUNG: A closing thought from Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters.

    MASTERS: Two thousand ten could very well be the sign that the climate is beginning to grow unstable. That’s what we’re bequeathing to our kids. I have a 14 year old as well, that I think is going to be looking back fondly on years like 2010 saying, ‘Oh, it wasn’t so bad back then.'”

  17. Read Kaplan’s piece the other day and was puzzled why it was published now when the study came out a while back. And also perplexed at why he didn’t respond to the critique’s of the study cited here and elsewhere. Expected much better from Nature to buy into the mainstream media’s love of contrarianism.

  18. Badgersouth says:

    Speaking about the dire consequences of AGW…

    “New researched published in the most recent edition of the scientific journal PNAS has shown that there have been significant and drastic changes to oceanic currents in the western North Atlantic Ocean since the 1970s.

    “The research found that the influence of the cold water Labrador Current has been decreasing continually since the 1970s, minimizing the impact made by a cold water current interacting with a warm water current. This change has taken place at approximately the same time as the global warming phenomenon and is entirely unique in the past two millennia.

    “The international team of researchers used geochemical methods to prove that a drastic change in the western North Atlantic Ocean took place in the early 1970s, coinciding with changes laid at the feet of global warming.”

    Source: “Ocean Currents Changing due to Global Warming” by Joshua S Hill, Planet Save, Jan 5, 2011

  19. dhogaza says:

    This whole issue became a lot clearer to me recently on reading Keith Kloor’s blog. In a recent post, he implicitly equates scientific results that extrapolate to the future, with predictions from religious cults.

    Kloor was spectacularly dishonest in that post. He quote-mined a post by PZ Meyers about media giving exposure to those who tout the Apocalypse. Kloor uncapitalized the word and left out the bit of the post that made it clear that PZ was talking about THE Apocalypse, thus making it sound as though PZ was talking about dire predictions in general, including those made by scientists…

  20. BB says:

    So… Is this an ‘ends justify the means’ type of thing?

    It didn’t make it through moderation before…but what makes people believe dire predictions (like these and the ones about ‘almost certain’ increases in Cat 4/5 hurricanes) if the predictions in the near-climate term are wrong (under-done or over-done)?

    Jeff Masters himself was predicting record warmth around New Years in the UK (oops, no mea culpa)…The Met office in the UK itself has blown its long-range expectations for an abnormally warm winter (they have even lamer excuses).

    It seems like each time these ‘dire’ predictions are either pushed so far off into the future so they can be forgotten or obscured by the next greatest dire prediction (remember all those ‘if we do nothing we’ll have no drinkable water in 30 years’ from the 1980s?)…Or these dire predictions are so heavily caveat-ed in conditional language and semantics that they are rendered uselessly unfalsifiable.

    I’m going to go with a mix of both. If the goal is to motivate people to action, what’s wrong with a little ‘license’…

    Hopefully you’ll come to appreciate such behavior in all sciences and from all viewpoints.

  21. fj3 says:

    VIDEO: Top Five Extreme Weather Events of 2010 (NRDC)

  22. Donald Brown says:

    Good and important reaction to the Nature Article. However in all of this is lost the idea that as a matter of ethics, those who are responsible for communicating climate change impacts to those who are responsible for causing potential impacts have a responsibility to communicate any scientifically plausible impacts including those above the 95 per cent confidence levels that are often ignored by IPCC and others. This is so because climate change must be understood as essentially an ethical matter because it is problem caused by some people who may be harshly harming others that can do nothing to protect themselves. In such situations, those who are responsible have duties to be very, very careful about the harms they could cause others even if the probabilities are low if the harms are potentially catastrophic and/or irreversible. In order to fulfill their responsibilities to others in this regard they need to consider low probability but potentially catastrophic impacts. Given this, it is ethically problematic to not communicate all dire consequences that are are scientifically plausible. Those who oppose climate change policies often categorize those who talk about dire consequences close to the upper end of the probability range as “alarmists” for mentioning these plausible but lower probability potential impacts. Yet ethics would require that those causing potential harm to others to consider these potential consequences even if they are low probability. The more potentially catastrophic, the greater the duty to be careful, a duty that is not diminished just because it is only 5 per cent probable. Now I am not saying that even the more likely impacts are not catastrophic. It would appear that even 1.5 degrees C temperature rise is much more likely than not to create catastrophic impacts for some people in some parts of the world. My claim is that there is a duty to communicate all scientifically plausible impacts,even if these impacts are low probability. That is, the notion that one should not communicate dire consequences is deeply ethically problematic if the impacts are scientifically plausible. Under such understanding, a scientist is then only rightfully categorized as an “alarmist” if there is no scientific basis for the claim or if they claim that a lower probability impact is highly probable. I don’t think, any of the IPCC’s conclusions can be categorized as alarmist under this understanding of “alarmist.” because they are based upon peer-reviewed possibilities. In fact, a strong criticism of IPCC can be made for not giving more attention to the impacts that are above the 95% probability level. One example of this is how IPCC has dealt with sea level rise in the past. The take home message about all of this, is that one can not talk about communicating science to those who may be causing harm without understanding that decision-making in the face of uncertainty raises ethical questions, not just scientific questions. This is a huge problem in communicating climate change impacts, a problem that is much ignored in public discussions of communicating climate change science. This is just one of many reasons why ethics is the crucial missing element in the climate change debate. Ethics would require communicating all plausible dire consequences by those who have responsibility to inform those who may cause harm.

  23. Ben Lieberman says:

    There’s the little minor problem caused by greenhouse gas emissions. This trend may cause some inconvenience, so we should all dramatically change the way we obtain and use energy–is that the message we’re supposed to employ?

  24. Solar Jim says:

    Perhaps Nature has been bought out just like the BBC and NYTimes. Considering the wholesale purchase of the US T Party and ultra-right by transnational corporatists and their investors, as well as much of the “Left,” this would seem to indicate a type of second order fascism ascending in British and American governance. Of course the fossil/fissile interests would not want the idea of ending their wealth creation due to the need to prevent widespread disasters. Thus, don’t mention disaster.

    Someone really should investigate the money flows, conflicts of interest and other influences of the press. Good luck with that. See the colorful molecules on the front page with zero lead climate stories – no problem with that, right? Hey, it’s a commodity.

    Finished with rant. Thanks Joe for your continued superior analysis. You made Nature seem like Readers Digest.

  25. Michael Tucker says:

    “The best way to decrease CO2 emissions, according to IPCC is to switch from an “oil and coal society” to a “wind, solar, and geothermal society.”

    That is all there is to it; just COMPLETELY change everything. The use of the word ‘switch’ seems to imply a quick and easy transition. However everyone knows that is not true and I wonder how many Americans are comfortable with government regulated society change?

    Or, as Dave Roberts of Grist put it: “you’re talking about a ground-up re-engineering of human culture.” That is of course government regulated cultural re-engineering.

    Are their many Americans who may be troubled by this language? If we are no longer an oil and coal society does that mean no more oil and coal industry?


    I also know that many Americans do not want to hear it. With 10% unemployment you had better temper the message and you will need to constantly fight against the ‘small government’ crowd.

    I really think the deniers DO HEAR the message it is the solution they reject. They want the magic technological fix like Freeman Dyson’s non-existent genetically engineered trees that will eventually same mankind. Kind of like how the green revolution temporarily solved the problem of feeding 6 billion people.

    You have to sell the solution.

  26. dhogaza says:


    Jeff Masters himself was predicting record warmth around New Years in the UK (oops, no mea culpa)

    London did indeed experience a warm spell lasting several days … today’s high is about average, and it’s supposed to rise to several degrees above average in a few days …

  27. Keith Kloor says:

    #10 & 18

    Huh? You guys can’t even quote accurately from my posts, and those two particular ones were super short.

    More to the topic at hand, I predicted that Joe would quickly find fault with the Nature article:

    And as I said in a December post at my site when this study was first discussed (and in a response to Joe’s comment in that thread), there was more to the Berkley study than he let on in his original discussion of it.

    Bottom line: short of Manhattan falling into the East River, or some other obvious, sustained climate cataclysm, the drumbeat of “be afraid, be very afraid,” isn’t going to win the day. And I suspect all it will do is numb people to the very message you’re trying to get across.

    [JR: Wow! Keith, few of your articles are as revealing of your bias against reality than that one. You know very well that your headline is bullsh!t, even if you ascribe it to Nature, but you just can’t resist pushing out the disinformation.

    Indeed, your headline is considerably more inaccurate than Nature‘s headline. At least their headline was only misleading. Yours was an outright falsehood, since Nature ignored the first experiment, which actually tested the main climate message — and showed it worked! The tiny experiment that Nature wrote about never tested the “main climate message.”

    And my commenters in #10 and #18 nailed your dog whistle messaging, I’m afraid:]

  28. turt1es says:

    I haven’t read the nature article in question, but I do think dire predictions tend to increase skepticism. Folk just don’t have geologic perspecctive on life. We build on massive faults, in flood zones, on lahar deposits, etc. We just assume that because we haven’t seen something in our lifetimes it must be unlikely. It seems tgo me that exxpert scientific consensus beccomes more important as messages become more dire. Until the media manage to report consensus accurately, so that folk are very much aware of the > 97% expert consensus, folk will continue to assume dire consequences unlikely, no matter how wrong these assumptions are. It’s not just good science reporting that’s needed; it’s good reporting of consensus. The ‘balance’ given to tghe extreme minorty needs to be in porportion, as that’s what folks assume it is.

  29. Peter M says:

    My response to the Nature article;

    A public as disengaged from this issue as Americans are today- they are hardly going to be scared off by some of the alarmists dire warnings.

    The scientific consensus is actually very startling. C02 has risen by 100ppm; 290- to presently 390 in a mere century. Past Geologic history shows this has taken anywhere from 10-20 thousand years to accomplish.

    So C02 is rising at the rate of 10 times the rate in paleoclimate history climate changes of the past. This is alarming in itself- though the vast majority of Americans do not understand the concepts.

    The ‘science’ is saying that this kind of rise in CO2- if continued, which is very likely caused by humans poses ‘significant risks’ from now into the next 10,20,30,40,50 years and beyond.

    C02 will pass 400ppm in a few years- if we do not reduce C02 it could double from pre industrial levels (290ppm) to 580ppm as early as 2060.

    So, the word ‘significant risks’ as used by the National Academy of Sciences- A highly credible organization; it seems that a common sense reaction would be to listen.

  30. dhogaza says:

    And, BB, quit misrepresenting what Masters said:

    Major atmospheric pattern shift coming

    The unseasonably cold weather over Europe and the Eastern U.S. is due to break between Christmas and New Year’s, as the atmosphere undergoes a major shift in its circulation. The very unusual high pressure region over the Arctic is forecast to break down and be replaced by the typical low pressure region we expect to see in winter. After recording some of its coldest temperatures in 17 years this week, the UK may well see record highs on New Year’s Eve as a result of the pattern shift.

    He wasn’t predicting record high temps, but merely said “may well see” record highs on New Year’s Eve – speculation.

    His prediction was that arctic conditions would return to normal, which is what’s happened, causing the extremely cold arctic air masses over parts of the eastern US and northern Europe to dissipate. Sea ice extent has started growing rapidly in the arctic again (after having actually diminished earlier in December), temps in London are normal to above normal, in Boston MA slightly above normal for January, etc.

    Looks like his *weather* prediction has turned out quite well.

  31. Excellent article hitting an important point, Joe, but I have to disagree on one critical point that I really hope we can have a more serious discussion about in 2011.

    Here’s what I find problematic:

    “…The best way to decrease CO2 emissions, according to IPCC is to switch from an “oil and coal society” to a “wind, solar, and geothermal society.” Liu adds “Much of the technology we need already exists. We just have to perfect it and find innovative ways to implement it. But I am confident that human ingenuity can overcome this mammoth obstacle.”

    This is, of course, the core argument of Al Gore, ClimateProgress, Bill McKibben and indeed just about every single one of the climate hawks who communicate regularly on this subject. Doing nothing risks “many devastating consequences” but “much of the technology we need already exists.” We just need to deploy it already!

    Isn’t it so reassuring to know that the message we all use works!”

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see that as correct. WWS and geothermal are absolutely important, but the underlying biomass economy is going to be the long-term foundation and the sooner we figure that out the better. Now I’m talking about the total biomass economy, everything that is included in that concept, not just biomass electrical generation. The climate hawks haven’t picked up the peak oilers yet, or the energy bears in general, i.e., those who are really concerned about climate change but make really good arguments that green-tech solutions aren’t scalable and we’re going to have to start talking abound fundamental changes in the American lifestyle, i.e., like plant-based diets and the end of happy motoring.

    [JR: I’m not against next-generation biomass, but it is at most one piece of a large puzzle.]

  32. anon says:

    Raise your hand if you believe global climate change “is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue of our time” and you have attended a professional meeting or conference in the last year, or are planning to this year, and have not protested that the conference sessions are not being made available over webex / gotomeeting / dimdim / skype / teleconferencing.

    If you raised your hand, why haven’t you asked the sessions be made available via web conferencing?

    What is it about the personal presence that justifies your global climate change expenditure?

  33. dhogaza says:

    What is it about the personal presence that justifies your global climate change expenditure?

    Because in my experience it is out-of-session communications that build the contacts and networks that is the most valuable outcome of attending such conferences.

    Is it worth the contribution towards global warming? Frankly, I don’t know. I do know that nearly all of my current income has come as a result of personal contacts made through attending professional conferences, and offhand I can’t think of any way my consulting business could come close to replacing that income. I don’t live a particularly materialistic lifestyle by US (or even European) standards, but I have no desire to move to a cardboard box under a bridge, either.

    Insistence that we give up any activity that contributes quickly devolves into the kind of unrealistic “back to the stone age” scenarios that denialists like to toss up as strawmen when they argue for no action whatsoever.

  34. J Bowers says:

    BB — “Jeff Masters himself was predicting record warmth around New Years in the UK (oops, no mea culpa)…The Met office in the UK itself has blown its long-range expectations for an abnormally warm winter (they have even lamer excuses).”

    The Met Office predicted the pre-Christmas conditions last October and warned the authorities.

    Guardian: Met Office knew pre-Christmas freeze was coming but held off telling public

    “It advised Cabinet Office planners in early October that Britain was likely to be in for freezing conditions. Public information came only when the 30-day forecast, the current maximum, kicked in.

    The Met Office may now revise its long-term forecast system. Last year’s decision to drop seasonal forecasts from the national weather service’s website and regular bulletins led to the delay in the public getting the information, although the warning was available through the Cabinet Office for emergency planners, transport networks and other authorities.

    A Met Office spokeswoman said: “We did research at the start of last year and the public said a monthly forecast was far more useful than seasonal forecasts.””
    “”We’ve always said they can be useful for other people – and obviously that includes the Cabinet Office and contingency planners. We advised them earlier in October that the start of winter would be exceptionally cold.”

    One of the reasons for pipes bursting 10 times more than usual is because of the the thaw that took place over the past week, which has been pretty mild for the time of year where I live.

  35. dhogaza says:

    Excellent find, J Bowers, and extremely interesting information.

  36. Rob C. says:

    First point: Raising an alarm in the face of clear and present danger is not “alarmist.” It is sensible.

    Give the bad news about where we are, and where we are heading (somewhere between catastrophic events which put civilization’s survival into open question, and a repeat of the PT mass extinction. Not good.) Then show the low cost and tremendous benefits of a renewable energy economy for the world. And finally, expose the fossil fuel lobby’s cynical disinformation campaign blocking our prosperity and threatening our future.

    The disinformation campaign hinges on the fake narrative that scientists are participating in a grand fraud, or are simply bad at their jobs. Countering that with the truth will engender the outrage needed to spur public action and make global warming denial politically toxic, as opposed to just toxic to our future.

  37. Heraclitus says:

    The ‘alarmism turns people off’ meme is a product of evolution from the ‘sceptic’ scattergun approach. They’ve found that this idea resonates and so have jumped on it to great effect.

    If you were to sit down and plan a tactic that would ensure as much delay as possible what would it be? I suspect scaring people off of presenting a realistic assessment os the situation we are in would come high up on the list.

    Evolution is so much more effective than design.

  38. Solar Jim says:

    Donald Brown:

    “Those who oppose climate change policies often categorize those who talk about dire consequences close to the upper end of the probability range as “alarmists” for mentioning these plausible but lower probability potential impacts.”

    Is not this alarmist position exactly what Bush, Cheney, et al. used to commit thousands of troops and $ trillions of resources for the hubris of Iraq (and Afghanistan)? Are not the forces of war/oil/banking profit simply selecting their “target” based on profit?

    Thank you for your thoughts on ethics, although deck chairs on the Titanic come to mind. Don’t you realize the US is a corrupt plutocracy that loads the climate gun with our perpetual addiction to (unregulated, centralized) corporatism and its commodities? Discussing ethics in American politics today, and public policy, seems a little like Nazis discussing how to murder innocents “efficiently.” The public’s fate from ownership and decision by the wealthy is ascendant. All Americans are guilty of a type of subservience to their transnational banking and corporate government masters, a type of second order fascism, if you will. All of us have given the country away in the pursuit of money, resulting in massive public debt, bad economics and billionaires.

  39. anon says:

    “. I don’t live a particularly materialistic lifestyle by US (or even European) standards, but I have no desire to move to a cardboard box under a bridge, either.

    Insistence that we give up any activity that contributes quickly devolves into the kind of unrealistic “back to the stone age” scenarios that denialists like to toss up as strawmen when they argue for no action whatsoever.”

    Thank you for your response. I agree with you too and have had similar experiences.

    Regardless, I think it is important to:

    a) create software telepresence that better enable you to make those personal contacts (the Black Sun in Snow Crash)

    b) demand/insist/ that as much as possible, conferences/meetings/seminars ARE webcast enabled,

    If you want lay people to take your messages seriously, and not consider it all a bunch of hypocrisy, one big way is to ensure the next Copenhagen IS web-enabled and do away with the shameful parade of limos and private jets. (Google today, you’ll find TMZ shows Snoop riding from Vegas to LA on Southwest.)

    When I click through Romm’s links to one of his prior posts on this study, “the message that works” means:

    “The results …. showed that those who read the upbeat ending were more open to believing in the global warming’s existence and were more confident about science’s ability to solve the problem”

    Regardless of any other criticism of the study and how it is reported, I am not sure I would operationalize “the messaging that works” as people more open to *believe*.

    I think all of this is crap until you can get people to not believe but to make changes, and that requires repeated and consistent messaging, and long term studies.

    But one thing sure to poison that consistent messaging is repeated Copenhagens with stories and video of the disgusting and conspicuous consumption.

    No one is calling for you to be Zen monk, but eh, it’s a cynical world and a cynical public, I’m not going to blame them for divining that for many scientists/environmentalists/eco consultants the conferences and the travel is the real reward, not the planet.

  40. Neven says:

    Focussing too much on AGW is distracting. There are many more global problems that are (potentially) very serious, environmental problems as well as socio-economic problems. The root cause of all these problems is that our Western economic theory – which determines how our economy works – has been dominated for many decades now by a concept that has at its core the belief that growth is always good and therefore can and must be infinite. But nothing can be infinite in a finite system. And growth is good in principle, but not always.

    As long as this concept remains the main driver of our economic engine, global problems (such as the energy problem) will not be solved conclusively and this will become increasingly (and increasingly painfully) obvious as we start bumping into the limits more and more. With the recent recession we have seen how our economic engine deals with limits: in a very primitive and inflexible way, as it knows only how to go forward at ever dizzying speeds. All it took was a subprime fiasco to get the whole thing crashing down, all over the world. This alone should be reason enough to start thinking about a different, more resilient machine.

    So what do you do? What is your message? I believe it should look something like this: Link every individual global problem to this flawed economic concept of infinite growth (no need even for a catastrophe drumbeat, as things start speaking for themselves more and more), explain how there can’t be any conclusive solutions unless this economic concept is replaced by something more in line with biophysical reality, show the benefits of the other economic concept. I currently believe steady state economics point the way to a basis for real solutions, but perhaps there are other alternatives. The point is that people start realizing that an alternative is an absolute prerequisite for things to really change for the better. Which alternative is irrelevant at this point.

    The economic system will not evolve by itself, it has to be a conscious choice, just as it was a conscious choice to make it the way it is. As long as we keep focussing on fragments, we are not consciously looking at the whole.

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that anybody living on this particular planet at this time, who believes in a ‘just world’ probably also believes in the Tooth Fairy and ‘Sanity Clause’. The world that the ruling elite has created is brutally unjust, inegalitarian and its life-support systems are dying. Someone who does not know this is an ignoramus or moron. Somehow who does but denies it is worse. Someone who knows it but doesn’t care because he’s doing OK, and in any case other people are the enemy in the ‘war of all against all’ and life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’, is probably in business, Rightwing politics or the Tea Party or similar ideological gangs.

  42. dhogaza says:


    Funny, my first comment gets through without moderation, the second one plops into the moderation queue. Lay people draw a lot from these sorts of experiences.

    I’ve had plenty of my posts go into moderation, and I nearly always agree with Joe.

    Repeat after me, repeat after me: “spam detection software is imperfect”.

    If your e-mail software incorrectly dumps a legitimate e-mail into your junk folder, do you automatically suspect malice on the part of your computer’s manufacturer?

  43. Keith Kloor says:

    “My bias against reality”?

    Joe, can you even resist being hyperbolic in responses to comments

    [JR: Keith, you have some nerve coming here and complaining about one sentence I wrote about you in the comments section of this blog, when you routinely say far worse about me in the body of your posts.

    While I have almost entirely ignored you since our dust up in 2009, you continue to attack me and ClimateProgress on a routine basis with the most personal attacks imaginable — even on the most innocuous of my posts. Anyone who doubts that can read your response to my “Why I blog” post — which they can find here.]

    Look, you commented at my site last month, taking issue with my post on this study. I pointed out in a follow-up comment that you failed to discuss all the Berkeley methodology in your original post.

    So I think you’ve left out important information with respect to this study.

    [JR: Apparently you haven’t even read this very post that you are commenting on. If you had, you’d have seen that I in fact did do the very thing you asked me to do in that comment! Seriously, dude, if you’re gonna come over and criticize one of my blog posts, do everyone the courtesy of reading it first.]

    Moreover, stop focusing on cheeky headlines and what not. I can play that game too with plenty of your heds. It’s a diversion.

    [JR: Your headline wasn’t ‘cheeky’ — it was just plain wrong and you know it. I see you don’t deny it. And it’s not a diversion. Headlines are very important, as any journalist or blogger knows.]

    Instead, how about responding (or anyone else, for that matter) to what I said at the end of my last comment on this thread:

    (short of Manhattan falling into the East River, or some other obvious, sustained climate cataclysm, the drumbeat of “be afraid, be very afraid,” isn’t going to win the day. And I suspect all it will do is numb people to the very message you’re trying to get across.)

    [JR: Again, since you obviously read this blog regularly so you can attack it, you know I deliver precisely the ‘positive’ message that the UCB study tested in its bigger experiment. You can misrepresent what I say on your blog. But don’t try to do it on my comments section. You will pardon me if I don’t take your advice on messaging, especially when it contradicts the very study you are misrepresenting.]

    Oh, and I have no idea what you or anyone is going on about regarding those “doomsday” posts I wrote. They are not connected and are pretty straightforward. Perhaps the confusion is the use of the same headline? Anyway, taking issue with those posts is really barking up the wrong tree.

    [JR: Your coyness on this matter is not becoming. It was obvious to two of my commenters exactly what you were trying to say with those “doomsday” posts. Why can’t you just admit it?]

  44. anon says:

    “If your e-mail software incorrectly dumps a legitimate e-mail into your junk folder, do you automatically suspect malice on the part of your computer’s manufacturer?”

    Yeah, well, I don’t think that’s happened in over a decade. Didn’t happen when I ran my own servers. Doesn’t happen now.

    However, yes, my experience with various so-called progressive blogs (and sadly, mostly progressive blogs) is that responses are frequently held in moderation for no reason at all. Should it ever come out of moderation, maybe you can tell me what triggered it.

  45. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Heraclitus#38, I think you have it. This is just another delaying tactic, seized upon by the denialist industry. Apart from the dishonesty of not telling people the truth, the denialists win again because they can say, ‘Look there are no great dangers. We can adapt. Think how lovely the warmer weather will be-I might grow some grapes and make some wine’ And, my favourite because it is so stupefyingly disingenuous and hypocritical, the Lomborgian, ‘There are other, greater, more urgent problems that we must address’, when the Right never showed any interest in these problems until feigning concern became useful as a denialist tactic. As for Nature going pear-shaped, as is most of the rest of the media, and a growing number of previously reputable organisations and journals, I put it down to the peer pressure of the global ruling class, who, as we know from the invariable record of history, care only for money and power and despise humanity (including one another and themselves).

  46. Lou Grinzo says:

    I keep coming back to medical analogies.

    A man gets horrible news from his doctor — those worrisome symptoms are not just cancer, but a really bad variant, and it’s advanced enough that it will take very aggressive action to save his life. Surgery, radiation, multiple rounds of chemo, the whole horrible menu of treatments seems to fill his foreseeable future and steal whatever plans and dreams he held dear. The doctor says he has a pretty good chance of completely beating the disease, but only if they begin essentially immediately. In other words, he has to re-orient his entire life, dedicate almost all his energy to simply trying to survive. He cries, he agonizes over the cruel twist of fate, he seeks second and third opinions, but eventually he realizes he has no choice. He is an innocent prisoner of circumstance, forced to choose between certain death or a terrifying and exceedingly unpleasant redefinition of his life.

    If you equate our fictional patient’s life with modern civilization, this is pretty close to how many people see our situation, so they simply refuse to believe it. They are not trapped in a diseased body and the impacts aren’t immediate or as personally dire, so denial is easy. Close your mind, let the defense mechanisms kick in, consider it all a political game and turn on Limbaugh or Fox News, and you’re free from the problem. It’s like wishing away cancer.

    To be clear: I don’t see the cure being nearly as awful as the cancer treatment in my fictional example, but many people do. They see their “lifestyle” (and possibly their livelihood, if they believe the nearest Republican) being taken away in order to remove an uncertain (to them) threat of a far off (to them) event.

    There are times when I’m shocked that the percentage of Americans who are convinced CC is real, a threat, and almost entirely man-made is as high as it is, even at its depressingly low level.

    But this is the challenge: Get people who don’t want to hear the diagnosis, prognosis, and course of treatment to accept the truth and attack the problem instead of running from it.

  47. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    pete best#14, if HSBC really think that the global economy can grow that huge, when already every ecosystem is under strain or collapsing, then they are insane. Not just scientifically ignorant to the point of intellectual imbecility, but morally insane, in that their ambition is suicidal for humanity. It really is as if cancer cells developed the means of communication and put into words just how they viewed existence, right up to that ‘Moment of Truth’ when their Standard Operating Procedure killed their host.

  48. BB says:

    34 & 35

    I know you would like to call it ‘misrepresentation’ when someone like Masters says we ‘may well see’ xyz…but his experience as a meteorologist should tell him that any sort of conditional hedge on something like this renders his ‘forecast’ meaningless and useless. Ever forecast an east coast snow storm and come on the air the next week and say, “Ah, but I said ‘maybe'”? He was clearly indicating more warmth than occurred (which really wasn’t even anything remotely considering a warm spell– as you may well know any pipes would burst because of the cold before it, not the magnitude of the warmth after it). A return to near-normal temperatures (in this case) is well within natural variability, and holding out until 2 weeks later for any sign of warmth to validate an missed forecast is also not the way to go about it.

    And speaking about misrepresentation…if you willing to label my comments as misrepresenting Masters apparently super-hedged any-result-equals-accuracy comments when discussing a ‘record’ event…Then you should also have the fortitude to also label as ‘a little less-than-genuine’ representation of the Met-Office’s performance, and their comments regarding their forecast for winter temperatures. They have a duty and a charge. They want to hide in the cover of telling the public one thing, but then saying they privately informed the government something else. If you’ve seen some of the coverage out there, it’s not a non-story. They indeed did have some of the lamest excuses around, which is one of the reasons why they ‘may change the policy’. Imagine if, say, a Katrina happened where the public was informed one thing, and after the event we hear that the government was informed of something completely different…You’d be eating them for lunch…which is precisely what you should be doing here; and precisely what should be remembered (in addition to the hits) when receiving the next dire prediction– because apparently we’re being encouraged to deliver more of them.

  49. pete best says:

    Re #47- yes I agree but the HSBC along with other make it seem like its an infinite world baby

  50. Aaron Lewis says:

    Re: 20
    The video attributes the February NYC snow to El Nino and ignores the larger Dec 26 snow storm which occurred during La Nina. ENSO does not seem to be the primary factor in the recent US-East Coast extreme precipitation events (summer and winter). That is, we saw such an event in 2006 going into El Nino, during El Nino, going into La Nina, and during La Nina. The common factor is more heat in the ocean. This is AGW, and not natural cycles. (The NAO was negative for most of this period.) However currently, I do not see the strong Labrador Current that should accompany a classic negative NAO.

    Going on about the NOA distracts from the point that with global warming, we have had major changes in the heat content of the Arctic atmosphere. We have had changes in how the Arctic atmosphere interacts with the sea below and with other air masses. This has changed NH circulation patterns.

    AGW has given us a new weather machine. Our old weather paradigms are not going to work any more. I am not sure that NOAA has really grasped how deeply AGW is affecting our weather system. So when folks like the NRDC, look to NOAA, they get the old paradigm. That old paradigm does not help anyone understand what is going to happen tomorrow. And, it is tomorrow’s weather that is important as we plan our communities, do our engineering, and plan our agricultural activities.

  51. Badgersouth says:

    @46 Lou Grinzo:

    Well said!

  52. David B. Benson says:

    For the USA, sudies have shown that only about 25% of electric power production can be wind+solar. So emulate France and havee the rest nuclear.

    Just say no to dirty coal.

  53. Badgersouth says:

    “Good science education and communication can effectively counter the arguments of legitimate climate change “skeptics” who are actually interested in education and discussion. See, for an outstanding example, the Skeptical Science website. In particular, see the site’s “Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says” for rebuttals to 136 skeptic talking points. This is a valuable resource for the great and essential task of public education that lies ahead.

    “But what we face today also includes members of Congress and other politicians, plus an army of lobbyists and political and propaganda operatives, who are essentially acting as agents for corporate interests and right-wing anti-regulatory radicalism. And the blogosphere is awash in science-ignorant attack dogs who appear to take lessons from thugs like Limbaugh and Morano.

    “They’ll hide behind climate science denialism, but most of them really have no interest in science or in learning anything much about it. They are more cynical than that, and pose a problem that is essentially political (and economic, and cultural, and normative), and beyond the reach of science education per se. Climate scientists have diagnosed and continue to characterize a problem that must be addressed in an arena very different from their own — one in which great power is in the hands of people whose agendas are indifferent to science.”

    Source: “Today’s war on climate scientists is worse than under the Bush Administration” by Rick Piltz, Climate Science Watch, Dec 27, 2010

  54. Badgersouth says:

    The scientific, environmental, and progressive communities must work their butts off to make addressing climate change one of the top three issues in 2012 presidential election!

  55. Badgersouth says:

    The book “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming,” offers chapter and verse on the industry groups, scientists for hire, and lazy-ass media that have colluded to leave the public in its current state of ignorance on the most important scientific question of our time. The book isn’t just bloggy ranting either: the authors know how to dig, and they’ve uncovered original documents that prove their case.

    “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming” was written by James Hoggan, Cofounder of and Richard Littlemore.

    To learn more about the book and its authors, go to

  56. Paulm says:

    3 Peter m, I agree. A majority of people tune out global warming. So they vaguely know it’s an issue but it does not penetrate to the next level. Ie we are in deep phoo phoo.

    To get pas this, the dire consequences have to be aired. An inconvineant truth was spot on, but the scientist did not back it up. I guess they were in some denial themselves about the outcome of a 2c warming and human reaction.

    Climate change is big new round here recently. Guess why, all those birds falling out the sky and fish dying has got peoples attention and many are thinking it has a conection to the current weird weather.

  57. David B. Benson says:

    Even a moderate emissions scenario looks very bad for future agriculture:

    Fortunately, there are ways to remove the excess carbon from the atmosphere
    (which I’m not linking to avoid moderation).

  58. Sou says:

    Is it possible to come up with a word or a phrase that can be used to label those who understand global warming, its causes and effects, but who continually downplay it.

    They are not ‘deniers’, who are consistent in their denial, either telling lies that the earth is not warming, being wilfully ignorant, or having a psychological block.

    Nor are these ‘pseudo-whatevers’ advocates for helping to save humanity – in fact their behaviour indicates the reverse. They appear to want to stop or at least slow efforts to shift to sustainable energy sources. Often they act as concern trolls, pretending to care while downplaying the facts, insinuating science / scientists are incompetent – in reality pandering to the denier brigade.

    I’m thinking the Lomborgs, Currys and less-known people like Kloor, etc. Some of the self-labelled ‘luke warmers’ would also fit in this category (although other luke-warmers are more properly labelled ‘deniers’.)

  59. Solar Jim says:

    David Benson:

    “For the USA, sudies have shown that only about 25% of electric power production can be wind+solar. So emulate France and havee the rest nuclear.”

    You are wrong three times.

    Just say no to uranium, coal, petroleum and methane/nat. gas. Take your sudies and havee a nice day.

  60. David B. Benson says:

    Solar Jim — Uranium is just fine, thank you. Fossil carbon is bad, but carbon (also methane and other hydrocarbons) from CO2 is, along with uranium, carbon neutral.

    Did you know that wind turbines use more steel and more concrete (hence produce more CO2 in the production) than a nuclear power plant? Did you know that solar thermal power is about twice as expensive as that from nuclear power plants?

  61. Sou says:

    #45 @anon – FYI, as someone else pointed out, it is very common for posts on this blog to ‘await moderation’. Nothing to do with you personally. No-one is singled out for attention – it happens to all of us. I see your other posts have got through, which should have proved the point to you.

    (Blogs such as WUWT, RealClimate, WottsUpWithThat consistently hold my posts for moderation. WUWT is the only one that hasn’t released a couple of my posts, and I would call that a retarded blog rather than a progressive blog. ClimateProgress only holds some of my posts for moderation and has released all of them.)

  62. Prokaryotes says:

    The island of Samsø erected 11 one-megawatt, land-based wind turbines in 2000, followed by ten offshore 2.3 MW wind turbines completed in 2003. Together with other renewable energy measures, this community of 4,200 achieved fame[30] as the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet.

  63. Prokaryotes says:

    David B. Benson “Did you know that wind turbines use more steel and more concrete (hence produce more CO2 in the production) than a nuclear power plant? Did you know that solar thermal power is about twice as expensive as that from nuclear power plants?”

    Uffff … are you serious?

    Study: Solar power is cheaper than nuclear

    Let alone the cost of handling nuclear waste and the health threats – impacts.

  64. J Bowers says:

    Re. 47 Lou Grinzo

    I really like your medical analogy. Here’s a variation:

    A man is told he has terminal cancer, but because it’s a type of cancer that can be very slow growing he’s certain that he’ll be dead of other causes long before it gets him anyway.

  65. David B. Benson says:

    Prokaryotes — I wrote solar thermal. I’m pleased that the price of solar PV continues to drop, but I have yet to find prices for utility scale solar PV installations — I don’t think there are any yet.

    The pricing studies of new nuclear power plants (NPPs) show that CCGTs, wind and NPPs all have quite similar LCOE.

    Handling the so-called wastes French style is no problem for the French and several other countries; the costs are included in the LCOE. There are no health threats from any running NPP, world-wide.

    All of this is worked out, in several different threads, on
    in which Barry Brook is currently attempting to organize so one can find what is needed.

  66. Prokaryotes says:

    “Lost Girls”: In the vicinity of nuclear sites is changing the sex ratio

    Almost every summer now …

    Heatwave shuts down nuclear power plants
    The European heatwave has forced nuclear power plants to reduce or halt production. The weather, blamed for deaths and disruption across much of the continent, has caused dramatic rises in the temperature of rivers used to cool the reactors, raising fears of mass deaths for fish and other wildlife.
    Spain shut down the Santa Maria de Garona reactor on the River Ebro, one of the country’s eight nuclear plants which generate a fifth of its national electricity. Reactors in Germany are reported to have cut output, and others in Germany and France have been given special permits to dump hot water into rivers to avoid power failures. France, where nuclear power provides more than three quarters of electricity, has also imported power to prevent shortages.

    France imports UK electricity as plants shut
    France is being forced to import electricity from Britain to cope with a summer heatwave that has helped to put a third of its nuclear power stations out of action.

    With temperatures across much of France surging above 30C this week, EDF’s reactors are generating the lowest level of electricity in six years, forcing the state-owned utility to turn to Britain for additional capacity.

    Fourteen of France’s 19 nuclear power stations are located inland and use river water rather than seawater for cooling. When water temperatures rise, EDF is forced to shut down the reactors to prevent their casings from exceeding 50C.

    That’s why france eyes now solar!

    The French capital formed the backdrop for the signing by 21 European partners of the Medgrid initiative, which aims to promote and develop a Euro-Mediterranean electricity network that encourages the transmission of energy produced in the countries on the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea to the European market.

    Medgrid also contemplates the development of a strategic plan to construct electricity lines under the sea in order to connect both sides of the Mediterranean. Currently, there is only one electricity line in operation between Europe and North Africa (Spain-Morocco).

    According to Medgrid partner, Abengoa, the signing of the agreement represents the realisation of a project that began at the start of the year and which has attracted leading international companies to generate, transport and distribute electricity, and to design, construct and to operate networks.

  67. Sou says:

    #65 @J Bowers – yet another variation to the medical analogy: “Your infant child has cancer, but it’s slow growing and won’t cripple her until she’s twenty years old, and won’t kill her till she’s forty. Of course if we took action now it wouldn’t cost much in money terms or treatment terms and she would live a normal life, or close to it. If you wait 10 years there might or might not be a better cure, though it will cost more and her quality of life would not be as good. If you wait 20 years she’ll still be crippled, although the terminal nature might be delayed. If you wait 40 years it will be too late.”

  68. Keith Kloor says:

    My response to inline comments in #44
    JR: “you continue to attack me and ClimateProgress on a routine basis with the most personal attacks imaginable.”

    The post you choose to back this up was an obvious parody I wrote.

    [JR: First off, it your “obvious parody” was so inappropriate that even your own commenters over and over again made that point. Indeed, they noted that you now seem ‘obsessed’ with attacking me. And for the record, whether something is a ‘parody’ or not has nothing to do with whether it is a personal attack or not. My post didn’t mention you — and yet you just wrote the most inappropriate things. But then, that is what you do.]

    Please provide at least one other example to back up the statement that I “attack” you “on a routine basis with the most personal attacks imaginable.”

    [JR: Are you serious? This is just some clever ruse by you to make me go back and read all of those attacks on me. You just have to put my last name into your search engine and you’ll come up with a seemingly endless list of attacks. As but one of many, many, try “” — whose slug alone tells you all you need to know. The only good thing about that post is the amazing first comment by Tim Lambert, “Introducing the Keith Kloor Action Figure!” which ‘parodies’ your incessant attacks on me perfectly.]

    Have I often been critical of some of your posts? Sure. But it’s ironic to me, give your style of blogging, that you would take issue with this. Dude, you dish it out plenty, you should be able to take it in return.

    [JR: Mini-me, you complete me! Thank you for this. For the second time you defend yourself by saying you’re just blogging like me. So please, if that’s your defense, stop criticizing my blogging style. But in any case, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that you don’t incessantly attack me, and then when I point irrefutable proof, you say, ‘hey, Joe Romm does it, so lay off.’]

    JR:”Apparently you haven’t even read this very post that you are commenting on. If you had, you’d have seen that I in fact did do the very thing you asked me to do in that comment!”

    I read your original post multiple times and don’t see any mention of the videos used in the Berkeley study. Am I reading the right post? (Note that I said that Brad’s follow-up post mentions the videos).

    [JR: It is THIS post that deals with the videos. That’s the point. You complained I hadn’t commented on them in the very post in which I commented on them. And for the record I didn’t bother commenting on them in the first post because the sample size was so obviously too small to draw any conclusions from once the slightly larger study’s conclusions were eviscerated.]

    As for headlines, they’re meant to be attention grabbers, as everyone knows. I’ve written a ton of them in my career as an editor. I’m aware that some people take them literally and often find fault with them.

    [JR: Oh, I see, your erroneous headline was really just ‘figurative’. Do tell us the next time so we can tell the difference between your headlines that were supposed to take seriously the ones we’re not.]

    Lastly, I am at an utter loss as to what the issue is with my two doomsday posts cited.

    [JR: Says it all, really.]

  69. Heraclitus says:

    Sou #59 – ‘Delayers’ is a common and appropriate term for such people. It has the problem of naming them after their effect rather than their motivation, but then many of us find their motivation unfathomable.

  70. Sou says:

    @ Heraclitus #69 – Most definitely ‘delayers’ describes the effect of these people, and although I suspect one strong motivation is attention, it’s true that it’s hard to understand all the motives.

    “Delayers” is ambiguous unfortunately. Most people want to delay climate change, so we can’t call this small but vocal group ‘climate change delayers’. I’m finding it hard to think of pithy and meaningful adjectives – maybe it’s better to consider them a more dangerous subset of Joe’s Climate Zombies.

  71. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Heraclitus#69, I’ve always preferred ‘denialist’ simply because it infuriates them. The analogy to deniers of the Nazi Holocaust has them up in arms. I agree that they do not merit comparison to the deniers of the Nazi crimes, if only because the climate change denialists will help cause the death of one, two or three times the order of magnitude of the victims of Nazism, and the victims of climate change denialism are still prospective and might yet be saved, whereas the victims of the Nazis are beyond any human help.

  72. Heraclitus says:

    Sou, I’d think of them as ‘climate action delayers’ rather than ‘climate change delayers’, which would certainly be wrong!

  73. Raul M. says:

    Also picked in TIME as a best blog, a woman
    suggests and reassures that living in harmony
    with the natural world is best.

  74. Heraclitus says:

    Mulga, I tend to avoid ‘denier’ because they have turned this into a sense of false victimisation by associating it with Holocaust denial – but to be honest I think you come close to justifying this sense of victimisation in your post. The motives and effects of climate denalism are fundamentally different from those of Holocaust denial, and I think we need to be consistently clear about that.

  75. J Bowers says:

    Re. 71 Mulga Mumblebrain

    AIDS/HIV deniers is how I think of it within a scientific context, and its use dates back to before 1990 ;)

  76. spiritkas says:


    I find one of the most insideous and often ignored elements of the seemingly monolithic media machine of disinformation is that the deniers and the big money, big oil, bit polluter crowds do nearly as much to control the message from our side as they do from their own side.

    As Joe has noted, the calls for ‘research research research’ and to do nothing now with what we have is also an industry supported position. The people voicing these views may not directly be paid for in the same way the more blatant disinformers are funded…but you have to look at what the media do choose to cover from our side and the continually fund the R&D only and Fuel Cell nonsense and waste so much food and land on growing biofuels and ethanol to pump into our cars that cause LOWER gas mileage! And they continually defund and ignore any and all sensible arguments.

    In my view it doesn’t matter if a ‘thoughtful’ global warming science accepting journno who supports endless R&D and reports exclusively on advanced research from university labs whose breakthroughs are near constant and whose commercialisation is always 10-30+ years away from implementation isn’t directly funded by the Koch bros. They get paid by the media outlet for their work and the money comes from advertisers and the flow of it is directed into the pockets of journos whom the editors and ownership board agree with.

    They’re doing a lot to control our the words that are coming out of our side of the debate! Let’s not forget that or be befunddled by the AGW science accepting journos who get published all the time while we sit and understand and admonish the giant right wing big money big polluter crowd. It is the same crowd.



  77. I. Snarlalot Thiesedaise says:

    74 Heraclitus

    Denialists come with their victimology prefab and already entrenched. Personally, I’m not inclined to let their false sense of victimhood nullify useful and informative nomenclature. It’s just one more way that they end up hijacking discussions.

    The utility of the term has been discussed in various places, but the denialism blog at Seed has been fairly succinct about the common thread that runs through the various forms of denialism:

    “Denialism starts with ideology, which most of us possess to some degree or another, and a conflict between that ideology and reality – at least so far as science allows us to understand it. In order to regain control of one’s beliefs, and protect them from being challenged, one has to prove that the science is wrong. And that requires one to believe in some form of non-parsimonious conspiracy theory, after all, how else could it be that science has come up with such an answer if not for the concerted malfeasance of thousands of individuals, all working together to undermine the TRUTH?”

    “Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship.”

    “They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.”

    The definition is unifying and tight when it comes to describing a certain kind of behavior.

  78. Turboblocke says:

    BB: I guess the Met Office has learnt that the general public and the media don’t understand probabilities. That’s why they don’t do public seasonal forecasts anymore. So although they can advise the government of the odds on the weather in the knowledge (or hope) that they will be understood, it’s their policy to only make relatively short term public forecasts.

  79. BB says:

    Thank you for your post, and I agree with you that government and Emergency Planning agencies are more apt/equipped to handle and understand probabilities. However, the Met Office’s responsibilities is (as you know) more than to goverment, no matter what the product (after all, what’s the price-tag of the agency…100Mil?)

    Furthermore, though dealing in probabilities is wise for the purposes of planning, that ends the moment the reality occurs. This is a larger point that needs to be understood for those who deal in the dire. It’s easy to proclaim just about anything as ‘possible’ ‘probable’ or ‘likely’ in a time-horizon that extends beyond ones lifetime, but the frame of reference people will be using when approaching such predictions, is what they’ve seen validated in their own eyes (and what people say when they hit or miss). When critical agencies or voices call for a ‘highly likely’ scenario that doesn’t hit, they can’t hide in the miniscule hedging that phrase provides. At some point they need to acknowledge their lumps (and these lumps necessarily weigh on future predictions), or else it ruins it for predictors and projectors of longer time-frames.

  80. MapleLeaf says:

    Keith Kloor,

    “The post you choose to back this up was an obvious parody I wrote.”

    What an absolutely pathetic retort. Limbaugh, Morano and other nut jobs also hide behind the “parody” excuse when called on their attempts to incite people to commit violent against climate scientists. It is not parody and they know that, and so do you.

    So please do not try and invoke the transparent “parody” excuse Kloor– it just makes you look disingenuous.

    And last but not least, fiddling headlines as you did is incredibly unprofessional and is the journalistic equivalent of scientific malpractice. Surely your defense is a parody? How the heck are people meant to know a priori whether or not this time the headline is actually accurate and truthful, or whether or not it is meant to be taken literally? They don’t, that is your job. But whatever, if you wish to destroy your own credibility just for fun and cyber hits, then go ahead….your actions betray your true intentions on this file, and they do not appear to be honorable.

    I honestly thought that you were better than this Keith……sad to say I was horribly wrong, and I’ll be sure to spread the word.

  81. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks, Joe and Maple Leaf.

    God, there are a lot of dragons out there like Kloor. In his case you must feel more like grabbing a barf bag after talking to him than looking for a head vise release lever.

    I wish CP were a You Tube station, available for cable syndication, to get this and other stories out to everyone. The visuals will be good, too, with help from Peter Sinclair and Hollywood new media whizzes.

  82. A face in the clouds says:

    I stopped looking on page two or three of the Google results after seeing what appeared to be a personal ad for a Keith Floor trying to sell a trailer in, I think, Georgia. The results then skipped on to Keith Olbermann so I clicked on Mr. Floor’s name here and, well, the trailer ad was more interesting. Sorry, Dude.

  83. I. Snarlalot Thiesedaise says:

    Oh parody. In winger world, that means aping the stale forms of 70’s observational humor which requires the hearer to suspend disbelief and identify with the incredulous misunderstandings of the comedian.

    The intent is to ‘entertain’ people by momentarily making them feel superior as the ‘comedian’ mindlessly demonizes this, that or the other. The problem is that wingers have become so muddled in their extremes that they can’t even tell if they’re actually ranting or just being POE’s of themselves. Oh what a tangled web…

  84. Keith Kloor says:

    Maple leaf writes: “What an absolutely pathetic retort. Limbaugh, Morano and other nut jobs also hide behind the ‘parody’ excuse when called on their attempts to incite people to commit violent against climate scientists. It is not parody and they know that, and so do you.”

    Holy cow, are you saying what I wrote wasn’t a parody? And that I knew this? And that unlike the Onion or Jon Stewart (who do parody way, way better than me), what I did is somehow akin to Limbaugh or nut jobs who incite violence? Jesus, I am going further down the rabbit hole on this thread.

    For the record, it was definitely parody (just look at the opening sentences). You and Joe and anyone else are certainly free to take offense to it, but don’t tell me what I wrote wasn’t parody. I’ve also written parodies of Thomas Friedman, one, which included Joe, that lots of people found funny–including–gasp, Michael Tobis (just read the first comment). I do it every so often to keep myself entertained. Sorry some of you here don’t see the humor in them.

    As for Mike Roddy, this one is a keeper:
    “God, there are a lot of dragons out there like Kloor.”

    That one is definitely going up on my testimonial page, whenever I get around to it.

    [JR: The issue of whether it is at parody or not is a pure red-herring, as I said. The post was so inappropriate that even your own commenters made that point over and over again. Here are a few:

    Well, that’s a real contribution to civil discourse about issues. Do you see yourself as part of the problem or part of the solution, Keith?

    … way to create “a reader-friendly forum where all sides of the climate debate can meet and have a constructive and civil discussion,” Keith!

    … I’m yanking KK’s chain for habitually portraying himself as a champion of civil dialogue, when he’s devoted whole posts to attacking other bloggers and even commenters on his own blog.

    At the end of the day, are you more interested in indulging your pique with Romm or attracting people who want to learn something or subject their ideas to thoughtful criticism?

    [Romm’s] tirades are consistently backed up by facts and references and I certainly can’t think of him ever posting anything as crass as this.

    … I’ve looked again at the recent post on Andy Revkin and I can’t see many points he makes that aren’t justified, whether or not you fully agree with those justifications. What with your latest post above you appear to be becoming slightly obsessed by personality (well, a personality).

    Keith, we get it. You have a hard-on for Joe Romm. Christ on a pogo stick, move on, please.

    Umm, Keith, as someone who has been far more guilty than you wrt Romm and others of his kidney, these guys are making what seem to be pretty valid points….

    ’nuff said, really!]

  85. Keith Kloor says:

    One of the differences between my site and yours is that commenters are permitted to be critical of me. I will always welcome that, as opposed to the echo chamber you’ve created here.

    I can play the quote/link game too, to support why I stay on you:

    [JR: Too funny! So your best defense is to quote folks who routinely spread disinformation about Obama, Al Gore, Congressional leaders, Waxman and Markey, leading climate scientists, Rachel Carson (!), Al Gore again, the entire environmental community and anyone else trying to end our status quo climate/energy policies, including me. Seriously. That was so lame that again, even one of your commenters criticized you for quoting them to defend your obsessive attacks on me.

    But I’m glad to see you finally admit that you feel compelled to ceaselessly attack me and that you quote your fellow serial attackers/misrepresenters to defend your obsession.

    As for my moderation policy, it’s easy for you with little traffic and mostly substance-free posts to let anyone comment. Most of the big science blogs either have a moderation policy or the comments section gets captured by the disinformers who troll the web. Countless folks come here trying to waste my time and my commenters’ time by posting disinformation and/or straw man attacks on me, climate scientists, and the like. I let some of it through from time to time, but as a rule, no, I don’t. They have enough platforms for their disinformation at Fox News and WUWT.

    That said, plenty of folks post comments that disagree with me or are critical of my perspective. Your misrepresentation of that fact is obvious to anybody who actually regularly reads this blog. As long as the comments are substantive and don’t misrepresent what I’ve said, I let them through.

    One of the big differences between my site and yours is that you haven’t changed your ceaseless attacks and misrepresentations of me — and that a large fraction of your posts are devoid of actual substance. I suspect that’s why your readership is so low, but that is your business. I have moved on in spite of your ceaseless, false attacks.

    I’ve let this back-and-forth go on so people could see what you are up to and what your motivation is. But it has gone on long enough. It’s time to go back to covering the actual published climate science and its implications for homo sapiens. You should try that some time.]

  86. MapleLeaf says:

    Keith Kloor @,

    Keep digging. I honestly do not know what I am going to do with all the straw men you argued in the opening paragraph. You know damn well what is going on here, so stop insulting readers by trying to play the clueless and hapless victim– it is unbecoming. You initiated all this with your ‘parody’ and by fiddling a headline.

    A sincere apology to Joe might redeem some of your lost credibility. Why is it so hard for people to back down acknowledge that they were in the wrong and move on?

  87. Sou says:

    Is KK still trying to drum up visitors to his blog? He mustn’t be getting too many hits these days – unsurprisingly. He’s trying the same thing over at RC right now. Waste of cyberspace!