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More proof Holdren is a great choice: Pielke, Tierney, Lomborg, and CEI diss him

By Joe Romm on December 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

"More proof Holdren is a great choice: Pielke, Tierney, Lomborg, and CEI diss him"


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[Please post your response to Tierney's column here.]

Science advisor pick John Holdren gets global warming (see “Obama’s strongest message on climate yet“). Although he is wildly overqualified for the job compared to anybody a GOP President has named in recent memory (see “The sad state of Bush’s science advice“) — heck, Holdren was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — the deniers and delayers have their knives out.

NYT “science writer” John Tierney has assembled critiques from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Bjorn Lomborg, and Roger Pielke, Jr., in one of his classic science articles disinformation screeds, “Flawed Science Advice for Obama?” The first thing to say is that if Tierney, Pielke, Lomborg, and CEI all disagree with you on any point related to climate, energy, or science, you can sleep soundly knowing with 100% certainty you are right.

Lomborg and Pielke are probably the two most debunked non-deniers in the world — though in fact Lomborg is a denier-equivalent and Pielke is a delayer-equivalent, as I’ll discuss below. And it is perhaps telling that Tierney — a non-scientist — did not manage to find a single scientist to quote dissing Holdren.

Tierney is easily the worst science writer at any major media outlet in the country. Pretty much every energy or climate piece he writes is riddled with errors and far-right ideology, including this one.

Amazingly, Tierney quotes CEI attacking Holdren. Now CEI is itself probably one of the top five anti-scientific think tanks in the country. It has taken $2 million of ExxonMobil money in the past decade to run an anti-science disinformation campaign with ads that claim the ice sheets are gaining mass when they are losing it and ending with the absurdist and suicidal tag line, “CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!” And those are only some of their ads aimed at destroying the climate for centuries.

No reputable science journalist would quote CEI’s opinion on science or climate issues. Worse, guess who he quotes?

At OpenMarket.org, the Competitive Enterprise Institute blog, Chris Horner criticizes the reported Holdren appointment and suggests that Dr. Holdren got in to the National Academy of Sciences through a “back door.”

Now I don’t feel so bad that Horner called me a “climate thug.” Asides from his apparently congenital pettiness (“back door”?), Horner is a master of pushing long-debunked denier talking points, stating as recently as April 2005, “the atmosphere inarguably shows no appreciable warming in the 25-year history of satellite and radiosonde measurements (initiated in response to the cooling panic).” Amazing how “inarguable” denier claims turn out not only to be arguable but scientifically disapprovable.

No reputable journalist — indeed, no rational blogger — would quote Chris Horner in support of an argument on science or climate.

But then Tierney himself is hell-bent on using his NYT column to actively push his own brand of climate disinformation whose ultimate end can only be the self-destruction of humanity. He shockingly writes in his column attacking Holdren:

Dr. Holdren is certainly entitled to his views, but what concerns me is his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions. Even if most climate scientists agree on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, that doesn’t imply that the best way to deal with the problem is through drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. There are other ways to cope, and there’s no “scientific consensus” on which path looks best.

No, no, and no. For a detailed discussion of precisely how suicidal this view is, see “Hadley Center study warns of “catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path.”

Yeah, Tierney, we can “cope” with 5-7°C warming — much as the citizens of New Orleans “coped” with Katrina. Although I don’t like the word “consensus” as used here, there is in fact an unbelievably strong agreement among climate scientists and the overwhelming majority of independent energy analysts (such as the IEA) that we must have drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophe.

If he wants to pretend to be a science writer, Tierney should at least read what most people call the scientific consensus on climate change (see “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly“).

Tierney is apparently suggesting that because there is some argument over whether our target should be 350 ppm or 450 ppm or, for a dwindling few, maybe 550 ppm — all of which require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — he can throw up his hands and say nobody knows what the hell we should do.

[Note: Tierney's view here is indistinguishable from CEI's view here, namely that scientists are only allowed to diagnose the problem. If they propose a solution, then they are stepping over the boundary into politics and must be trashed. This is, of course, Roger Pielke's raison d'ªtre, as discussed below.]

The fact that the NYT gives a science column to someone who wrote a paragraph so ignorant of science boggles the mind.

Tierney, of course, has much more nonsense to peddle. He actually open his attack on Holdren saying, “Does being spectacularly wrong about a major issue in your field of expertise hurt your chances of becoming the presidential science advisor?” Yes, Holdren was wrong and made a stupid bet … 28 years ago!!! Tierney is spectacularly wrong every time he writes a column, yet nobody seems to blink over that.

Tierney then cites Holdren’s critique of Lomborg as evidence again Holdren. Seriously. Lomborg is someone who also actively opposes any significant effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now — and thus he is also hell-bent on humanity’s self-destruction. Lomborg pretends that he believes in climate science, but his arguments are indistinguishable from those of climate deniers. I’m going to call him a denier-eq, since he is equivalent to a denier in his messaging, much as other greenhouse gases can be normalized to be equivalent to CO2 in their climate forcing (see “Lomborg skewers the facts, again” and Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part I and Part II and Part III.)

No attack on a scientist in the political realm would be complete without quoting the ever-debunked Pielke:

Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics,” discussed Dr. Holdren’s conflation of science and politics in a post on the Prometheus blog:

“The notion that science tells us what to do leads Holdren to appeal to authority to suggest that not only are his scientific views correct, but because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views.”

Actually if you’ve ever heard or read Holdren, you know that first and foremost he appeals to the actual overwhelming scientific evidence and detailed scientific understanding of the climate system. But Holdren was making a very specific argument in an op-ed that both Pielke and Tierney attacks. Let me reprint it here to show how anti-scientific they both are — and because it is a piece well worth reading even if Holdren were not going to be Obama’s science advisor:

THE FEW climate-change “skeptics” with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.

Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you’re wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, “Climate isn’t changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.”)

Then they tell you you’re right but it doesn’t matter. (“OK, it’s changing and humans are playing a role, but it won’t do much harm.”) Finally, they tell you it matters but it’s too late to do anything about it. (“Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it’s too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we’ll just have to hunker down and suffer.”)

All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun’s output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven’t even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:

  • The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action.
  • This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.
  • All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.

US polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions. (Senator Barack Obama’s position is similar.)

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed – and continues to delay – the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.

Holdren was not, as Pielke spins it, making an “appeal to authority to suggest that not only are his scientific views correct, but because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views.” He was making a scientific argument and then, since this is a short Op-Ed and the public is not in a position to adjudicate scientific arguments, was making a pretty standard argument to show that the theory of human-caused global warming is in the mainstream of scientific views, whereas the deniers are not. But the NYT‘s Revkin did give Holdren the chance to elaborate on his Op-Ed, which he does here (reprinted below)

And what does Pielke mean by saying “because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views”? This op-ed is almost entirely about Holdren’s scientific views. What political views are Holdren pushing — “early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions”?

Is Pielke, like Tierney and CEI, attacking anybody who proposes early and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as pushing their political views on the public?

Pielke has previously taken great umbrage when I have called him a Delayer, but in fact Pielke absolutely refuses to detail the specific policies he would embrace to stabilize at concentrations he says are needed (roughly 450 ppm). Yet he attacks any scientist who does specify those policies as “political” and hence untrustworthy and out of the mainstream — even if they are a widely recognized expert on both climate science and energy technology like Holdren:

If you are a scientist, then you have to figure out what you think about the relation of science in policy and politics. If you think that science compels political outcomes then you will follow the lead of John Holdren. If you think that science does not compel political outcomes, then you’ll follow the lead of Robert Lackey. But you do have to choose.

My advice? See what scholars of science in policy and politics have to say about this question, and make an informed decision. One of these distinguished scientists has views consistent with the consensus view of relevant experts, and one does not.

In other words, all you climate scientists out there who are thinking about telling the public that we need early and deep cuts greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophe — shut the hell up about those “political outcomes” because the consensus of the “scholars of science in policy and politics” (i.e. Pielke) says so.

No, I’m not making this up. Pielke is appealing to consensus while attacking Holdren for doing the same thing!

Pielke is a Delayer-eq, he is equivalent to a Delayer because he attacks any and all scientists who propose not delaying. Indeed, perhaps a better term is Delayer10F-eq, since if all the world’s scientists actually listened to Pielke, then we would certainly stay on our business as usual path on which 10°F warming is “likely” by 2100.

As for Tierney, he trashes Holdren’s op-ed by selectively quoting it:

Dr. Holdren’s resistance to dissenting views was also on display earlier this year in an article asserting that climate skeptics are “dangerous.”

Tierney includes the hyperlink, but his expertise on all matters science apparently does not include the realization that the people might click on the link and read what Holdren actually wrote:

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous.

It is unfounded skepticism about climate disruption that is dangerous. Duh! Tierney’s column itself is proof of that. If we listen to Tierney or any of the non-scientists he quotes that diss Holdren, then we would almost inevitably end up with catastrophic warming of 5°C to 7°C. And if that isn’t dangerous, well, then Tierney is a legitimate science reporter after all.

Here is Holdren’s expanded Op-ed with links:

Climate-Change Skeptics Revisited, by John P. Holdren

I did not expect that my op-ed in Monday’s Boston Globe, to which the editors gave the title “Convincing the Climate-Change Skeptics”, would actually convince many skeptics. It was aimed more at reinforcing the resolve of the majority in the public and the policy-making community who, betting on the scientific consensus, are ready to move forward with a serious approach to dealing with the problem but are being slowed down by the ill-founded skepticism of a minority. That is why my own title for the piece was “Climate-Change Skeptics Are Dangerously Wrong”.

I am being castigated by many respondents for resorting to reference to authority rather then providing substantive responses to the specific arguments of climate-change deniers. I suggest that this criticism is in part based on a misunderstanding of what is possible within the length constraint of an op-ed piece. The “top ten” arguments employed by the relatively few deniers with credentials in any aspect of climate-change science (which arguments include “the sun is doing it”, “Earth’s climate was changing before there were people here”, “climate is changing on Mars but there are no SUVs there”, “the Earth hasn’t been warming since 1998″, “thermometer records showing heating are contaminated by the urban-heat-island effect”, “satellite measurements show cooling rather than warming”) have all been shown in the serious scientific literature to be wrong or irrelevant, but explaining their defects requires at least a paragraph or two for each one.

This cannot be done in the 700 words of an op-ed piece. But there are plenty of other forums where it can be…and has been. Persuasive refutations are readily available not only at a high scientific level in (among others) the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc.ch), the UN Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development (unfoundation.org/SEG/), the US National Academy of Sciences (dels.nas.edu/globalchange), the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (ucar.edu), and the UK Meteorological Office (met-office.gov.uk) — as well as on a myriad of websites run by serious climatologists (e.g., columbia.edu/~jeh1/, stephenschneider.stanford.edu, realclimate.org ) — but also in a form boiled down for the intelligent layperson by organizations skilled in scientific communication, such as the BBC (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/7074601.stm) , the New Scientist magazine (http://environment.newscientist.com/climatemyths), and the promising new Climate Central organization (climatecentral.org) featuring The Weather Channel’s climatologist, Heidi Cullen. Any skeptic who actually wants to know what’s wrong with the standard deniers’ arguments can easily find out.

I provided all the above-mentioned references and more in a longer essay on climate-change skepticism that I wrote in June in response to requests for an explanation of the apparent continuing influence of deniers in the U.S. policy process, and from which I abstracted the op-ed I submitted to The Globe. The references wouldn’t fit within the op-ed word limit without losing too much else that I thought needed to be said.

Even more regrettably, I agreed to a further shortening of what I submitted by the editors at The Globe. I regret agreeing to it because it’s clear (from the responses I’m receiving) that the resulting omission of a sentence about the value of skepticism in science left the impression that I am unaware of the positive role that healthy skepticism has played in the scientific enterprise over the centuries. The omitted sentence was in the middle of a passage that in the original read as follows (omission italicized):

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. We should really call them “deniers” rather than “skeptics”, because they are giving the venerable tradition of skepticism a bad name. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

As my original reference to “the venerable tradition of skepticism” indicates, I am in fact well aware of its valuable and indeed fundamental role in the practice of science. Skeptical views, clearly stated and soundly based, tend to promote healthy re-examination of premises, additional ways to test hypotheses and theories, and refinement of explanations and arguments. And it does happen from time to time — although less often than most casual observers suppose — that views initially held only by skeptics end up overturning and replacing what had been the “mainstream” view.

Appreciation for this positive role of scientific skepticism, however, should not lead to uncritical embrace of the deplorable practices characterizing what much of has been masquerading as appropriate skepticism in the climate-science domain. These practices include refusal to acknowledge the existence of large bodies of relevant evidence (such as the proposition that there is no basis for implicating carbon dioxide in the global-average temperature increases observed over the past century); the relentless recycling of arguments in public forums that have long since been persuasively discredited in the scientific literature (such as the attribution of the observed global temperature trends to urban-heat island effects or artifacts of statistical method); the pernicious suggestion that not knowing everything about a phenomenon (such as the role of cloudiness in a warming world) is the same as knowing nothing about it; and the attribution of the views of thousands of members of the mainstream climate-science community to “mass hysteria” or deliberate propagation of a “hoax”.

The purveying of propositions like these by a few scientists who do or should know better –and their parroting by amateur skeptics who lack the scientific background or the motivation to figure out what’s wrong with them — are what I was inveighing against in the op-ed and will continue to inveigh against. The activities of these folks, whether witting in the case of the scientists or unwitting in the case of their gullible adherents, have nothing to do with respectable scientific skepticism.

It also needs to be understood by publics and policy makers alike that, while it can never be guaranteed that a mainstream scientific position will not be overturned by new data or insight, the likelihood of this occurring gets smaller as the size and coherence of the body of data and analysis supporting the mainstream position get larger. The lines of evidence and analysis supporting the mainstream position on climate change are diverse and robust — embracing a huge body of direct measurements by a variety of methods in a wealth of locations on the Earth’s surface and from space, solid understanding of the basic physics governing how energy flow in the atmosphere interacts with greenhouse gases, insights derived from the reconstruction of causes and consequences of millions of years of natural climatic variations, and the results of computer models that are increasingly capable of reproducing the main features of Earth’s climate with and without human influences.

The public and the policy makers who are supposed to act on the public’s behalf are constantly having to make choices in the absence of complete certainty about threats and outcomes. If they are smart, they make those choices on the basis of judgments about probability: Which position is more likely to be right? On climate change, the probability is high that the scientific mainstream is right about its main conclusions, even if all the details are not yet pinned down. Those main conclusions are that climate is changing in ways unusual against the backdrop of natural variability; that human activities are responsible for most of this unusual change; that significant harm to human well-being is already occurring as a result; and that far larger — perhaps catastrophic — damages will ensue if serious remedial action is not started soon.

The rationale for calling the attention of the public and policy makers — the audiences for an op-ed — to the number, diversity, and distinction of scientists and scientific organizations embracing these conclusions is to inform them of the extent to which this is the view of the most qualified people and groups that have studied the matter. Given the unavoidable fact that most people do not have the training (or the time) to reach an independent conclusion on a scientific matter of this kind, knowing where most of the people who do have the training and who have taken the time come down on the matter is the best guide available on where the public and its policy makers should place their bets.

Hear, hear.

Tierney ends his one-sided, non-scientific and anti-scientific smear, asking disingenuously, “What kind of White House science advisor you think Dr. Holdren would make?” (sic)

That’s easy — he’ll be one of the best of all time.

“What kind of White House science advisor you think Dr. Holdren would make?” Post your answer here.


Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path

Progressivism is pragmatism: Obama says “the facts demand bold action.”

31 Responses to More proof Holdren is a great choice: Pielke, Tierney, Lomborg, and CEI diss him

  1. caerbannog says:

    According to the info Tierney put up about himself, he’s a wannabe scientist turned journalist.

    I know what that means. When I went to college, journalism majors were often academic washouts who had flunked not only courses like freshman chemistry and physics, but classes like English lit as well.

    I wonder what sort of connections Tierney had in order to get a gig at an outfit like the NY Times (as opposed to something along the lines of the Hicksville Gazette, which would be a more likely employer of someone with Tierney’s talent).

  2. “Here. Here.” Where? Where?

    I think you mean “Hear, hear!” (Pronounced “hyuh hyuh”…)

    I agree with you that the Tierney posting is inexcuseably bad, but I think that the semblance of reason in the article will be compelling for some people, and it needs to be engaged with some care and delicacy.

  3. Joe says:

    Michael — Darn. Second time I did that. I’m just amazed you go to the end already.

    I leave “care and delicacy” to others on this one.

  4. Anne says:

    This whole flurry makes for great entertainment, it’s kind of fun (in a twisted way) listening to them squeal, revealing their true nature. This one is a bit over the top… “sticks and stones” is the only sensible rebuttal, with a tongue stuck out for good measure. Grownups really shouldn’t drink and blog. ~ Anne


    21 December 2008
    We Knew Obama Was A Fascist. But Why Did He Have to Go and Be a Luddite Fascist?
    Obama has appointed another total moron — this time as science advisor. John P. Holdren — climate alarmist, carbon hysteric, and global warming orthodoxer — is to be appointed science advisor for the incoming administration of the narcissist-elect. When taken together with other Obama appointments, Holdren’s selection spells total disaster for US industrial competitiveness. How stupid is Holdren?

    In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990. _NYT

    Yep, that’s right. Holdren was part of the “everyone is doomed to die of starvation, peak oil, and resource depletion before the year 2000″ crowd, along with the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, and the other predecessors of carbon hysteric Al Gore. Selecting this merry band of Luddites, dieoff.orgiasts, and all around faux environmentalists casts a dim light on Obama’s judgment and capacity to reason. But then, we all knew that Obama didn’t write his books. And we all knew he wasn’t really the messiah, right? And none of us actually was influenced by Oprah’s endorsement of the narcissist-elect, nicht wahr? Of course not.

    Prepare for the reign of boobs, fools, crooks, and pompous nitwits. Beneath all the media fawning and foaming at the mouth, underneath the death-dealing regulations and choking taxation, and despite the pro-union and pro-trial lawyer stabbing in the back of business enterprise, pockets of competence will survive. Look for those pockets and find ways to expand them. We will need foci of recovery, when US voters eventually come to their senses and force the spiked boots off of the neck of the private sector.

  5. Jonsi says:

    I do agree with Lomberg that if you ONLY have $150 million to spend on world issues, perhaps water and AIDS are better options. I also understand the CEI’s viewpoint that 2% of GDP compounded over 100 years will leave our future vastly more poor. But their arguments FAIL, because abating global warming does not amount to fixed annual costs. Much of that 2% is an investment that can produce a return and create jobs and growth.

    Scientists shouldn’t venture into politics or economics? No, they shouldn’t be the ones proposing detailed plans, but advocating a cap and trade or tax is not the same as implementing a detailed plan, it is called advisement. Economists and political scientists agree those things can work without the economy failing. Could we stabilize at 350 or 450 ppm? Maybe not. But we could make a significant attempt without draconian politics and with only negatively impacting a small segment of the economy over the life cycle of abatement measures. The economics have been worked out. That argument = FAIL.

  6. john says:

    Tierney did a brief stint on th NYT oped page where he was distinguished mostly for his tendency to print talking points from right-wing whack jobs of one kind or another verbatim.

    How bad was he?

    So bad the Times thought Bill Kristol would be a better representative for the right wingers.

    That’s bad!

    And now he takes this ignorant and lazy approach and reproduces it in the science pages.

    Lets see, distinguished scientist with multiple accolades from his peers, or John Tierney with quotes from right-wingers.

    Wow! That’s a toughie, but I’m going to have to go with Dr. Holdren.

    Question is, why is the Times printing Tierney’s druck? Buggers the mind. It is so totally without substance as to be preposterous.

  7. Jay Alt says:

    [response to Tierney’s column ]
    Julian Simon’s track record ? Better find another ‘sage’ –
    JS: “There is no compelling reason to believe that world oil prices will rise in the coming decades. In fact, prices may well fall below current levels“.

    Economists often insist in explaining the whole world through limited economic data-sets. They aren’t that successful. (e.g. 12 months late – Hey, we’re in recession!) In fact, humans cannot withdraw from the Earth’s account with ever-accelerating speed and never diminish the capital.

    John Holdren is an top scientist whose work is widely respected by his colleagues. He is famous throughout the science community (in contrast to the man currently holding the job) Bjorn Lomburg has no scientific training. He is a political scientist (like Pielke) who’s written one science paper – in game theory. Obama made a wise choice to tap John Holdren for science advisor and ignore the pollyannish Pielke.

  8. Alan D. McIntire says:

    Holdren was one of the “experts” in natural resources whom Paul Ehrlich enlisted in his famous bet against the economist Julian Simon during the “energy crisis” of the 1980s. Dr. Simon, who disagreed with environmentalists’ predictions of a new “age of scarcity” of natural resources, offered to bet that any natural resource would be cheaper at any date in the future. Dr. Ehrlich accepted the challenge and asked Dr. Holdren, then the co-director of the graduate program in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, and another Berkeley professor, John Harte, for help in choosing which resources would become scarce.

    In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be [more expensive] ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990.

    As recently as 2006 Holdren was favorably quoting Ehrlich as though he’d ever been accurate about much of anything, which he has not.

    Hopefully, Obama appointed him merely as a sop to the left wing extremists, and his actual advice will be ignored.

  9. crf says:

    So Ehrlich was wrong about his population predictions. And on a silly bet on metal prices.

    Do people who criticise Ehrlich for being wrong know why Ehrlich was wrong, and in what way he was wrong?

  10. jorleh says:

    In Obama´s climate team we have, at last, an iron fist which is not going to hear the ridiculous dirty money blah blah of the “skeptics” (or antiscientic idiots).

    Science has been too often only a martyr. It must now take command and cast the lying criminals in hell, where these monsters belong.

  11. Brad Arnold says:

    Yeah, you got Tierney (as well as Horner, Lomborg and Pielke) pegged. Yet, how much worse are you to advocate unfeasible emissions cuts as the solution?

    [JR: They aren't unfeasible. They would cost maybe 0.11% of GDP per year. You may say they are politically impractical -- but they are no unfeasible.]

    “Processes that would normally regulate climate are being driven to amplify warming. Such feedbacks, as well as the inertia of the Earth system — and that of our response — make it doubtful that any of the well-intentioned technical or social schemes for carbon dieting will (work). What is needed is a fundamental cure.” –Dr James Lovelock

    My email address is dobermantmacleod@aol.com (I’m giving you this because I don’t want to be considered a troll). It is beyond me how you can advocate drastic and rapid emission cuts when it ought to be obvious that such a carbon diet scheme is unfeasible, not the least of which is because of predictably ecosystem and economic collapse before enormously expensive emission cuts can be fully implimented:

    “Japan, like the European Union, hasn’t let its failure so far to meet Kyoto emissions-reductions targets stop it from setting even more ambitious goals, like a 50% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. But how to do that? If getting within shouting distance of Kyoto’s targets could cost Japan $500 billion, how much would it cost to cut emissions twelve-fold more?” –Keith Johnson, WSJ, 19 March 2008

    We underestimated the damage associated with temperature increases, and we underestimated the probability of temperature increases’ –Nick Stern on his own 2006 report on the economics of global warming

    “Peak temperatures may rise twice as fast as average temperatures as climate change hots up.” –”Summer scorchers outpace global warming,” The New Scientist, 20 August 2008

    “Few seem to realise that the present IPCC models predict almost unanimously that by 2040 the average summer in Europe will be as hot as the summer of 2003 when over 30,000 died from heat. By then we may cool ourselves with air conditioning and learn to live in a climate no worse than that of Baghdad now. But without extensive irrigation the plants will die and both farming and natural ecosystems will be replaced by scrub and desert. What will there be to eat? The same dire changes will affect the rest of the world and I can envisage Americans migrating into Canada and the Chinese into Siberia but there may be little food for any of them.” –Dr James Lovelock’s lecture to the Royal Society, 29 Oct. ’07

    ‘Leemans and Eickhout (2004) found that adaptive capacity decreases rapidly with an increasing rate of climate change. Their study finds that five percent of all ecosystems cannot adapt more quickly than 0.1 C per decade over time. Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they are adapted to is limited. If the rate is 0.3 C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming’ –Leemans and Eickhout (2004), ‘Another reason for concern: regional and global impacts on ecosystems for different levels of climate change,’ Global Environmental Change 14, 219–228

    ‘There is no linear predictability in terms of how ecosystems respond. The phenomena of collapse is one that we have under-appreciated, partly because of the feed-back mechanisms that we are still trying to understand.’ –Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, Oct. ’07

    Current climate models don’t take into consideration melting methane hydrate emissions, which will soon overwhelm any cuts we make:

    For instance, there is an area six times the size of Germany containing about 540 billion tons of carbon off the Siberian coast. That submarine permafrost is perilously close to thawing. Three to 12 kilometers from the coast the sea sediment is just below freezing. The permafrost has grown porous, there is a loss of rigor in the frozen sea floor, and the surrounding seawater is highly oversaturated with solute methane.

    “If the Siberian (submarine) permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes, the methane content of the planet’s atmosphere would increase twelve fold. The result would be catastrophic global warming.” –”A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia,” Spiegel, 17 April ’08

    NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, says that the release of methane clathrates from permafrost regions and beneath the seabed will unleash powerful feedback forces that could produce runaway climate change that cannot be controlled – the so-called methane time bomb – a prediction of radical environmental transformation far worse than the worst-case scenarios theorised by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Furthermore, any carbon diet strategy would be dependent upon clean coal:

    “The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not “may be coal-fired”; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence.” –”Breaking the Climate Deadlock,” Tony Blair, June 26, 2008

    But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. “Beware of the scale,” he stressed.”

    In other words, it is doubtful that even the unrealistic cuts President elect Obama committed to support in the campaign will significantly slow global warming.

    Shame on the author of the blog: you are no better than other global warming deniers or delayers.

    [JR: Other? You are one conflicted dude. How is someone who is trying to point out the threat the deniers deny and point out the feasibility of the solution the delayers oppose a denier or delayer? I have written far more than Smil about the practical difficulties. So what? That's the point of the blog post on how dangerous inaction is. Figure out what side you on.]

  12. Bob W says:

    Imhofe, Morano and Dempsey in the Senate are the deniers to watch out for. They actually have quite a bit of power to obstruct progress on global warming. They make their opinions


  13. Bob W says:

    make their opinions sound very authoritative with their who’s who of skeptics.

  14. Bob W says:

    So Brad Arnold, do we just give up?

  15. Dano says:

    Note how RP Jr harrumphs not about the substance of the critique, but how rrrrrude they were and they could have made Bjorn crrrry!

    The fact is, Lomborg is full of it. The way that the critique was worded could have been better, but implying that the tone was wrong, therefore the facts were wrong is simply a joke.

    Pathetic rhetoric and an indicator that the denialist fringe has nothing. Zip. Zero.



  16. Dano says:

    I do agree with Lomberg that if you ONLY have $150 million to spend on world issues, perhaps water and AIDS are better options.

    This is BS. We aren’t going to address these problems anyway – why didn’t we when we “had more money to spend”? Pfffft.

    Do people who criticise Ehrlich for being wrong know why Ehrlich was wrong, and in what way he was wrong?

    Absolutely not.

    Nor do they know that many past civilizations fell for the reasons Ehrlich is criticized for (he has one of them in a book title: Neneveh): Athens, Ur, Maya, Mesopotamia. Where are all the Cedars of Lebanon and the soil that they held back?



  17. steve h says:

    Pielke’s post, especially his attempt to play up his idea’s on cutting GHG emissions, are quite laughable. Pielke, you are a contrarian. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but please accept this and move on. I’ve worked with other scientists that play the role of contrarian, and often its because they aren’t able to advance the science otherwise. Yes, contrarians are necessary, but they must also be restrained when they fail to produce results that are beneficial. So please accept this critique for what it is, and accept Joe’s critiques for what they are. If you are trying to make the science better, then Joe is trying to make you a better scientist. Unfortunately, we are beyond the stage where niceties are the proper decorum. Its call it like we see it time, and if you ain’t helpin’, get the hell out of the way.

  18. Lee says:

    Can’t we all just get along?

    That doesn’t seem to work with you bozos.

  19. David Lewis says:

    Tierney’s bio on his blog says what he’s doing: “John Tierney always wanted to be a scientist but went into journalism because its peer-review process was a great deal easier to sneak through”.

    The President of the National Academy of Sciences says “people have always found [Holdren] to be rational, reasonable, and well versed”, but Tierney dug down until he found someone willing to say the NAS wouldn’t have let him in except, somehow, he got in through a back door.

    The NYTimes doesn’t employ any economics writers who have no respect for any of the mainstream economists of the world or what they believe. It is obvious why.

  20. Nils Simon says:

    From Tierney’s article: “Dr. Holdren is certainly entitled to his views, but what concerns me is his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions.”
    Well, what a world would it be if dentists took the science about how tooth decay comes about and told us to brush our teeth? Just one step away from pure dentaltorship, if you ask me.

  21. caerbannog says:

    Where are all the Cedars of Lebanon and the soil that they held back?

    That reminds me of an old joke that was allegedly popular with the Muslims back in the days of the Crusades:

    Q) Why are there no cedars left in Lebanon?

    A) Because every Frank (Christian) has a piece of the true cross!

  22. John Hollenberg says:

    Just read the response from Pielke and his “Mitigation Plan”. Both are close to fact free, and do not respond to any of the criticisms Joe made. It does appear that a $5 tax on carbon is his entire plan to cut GHG. Obviously, this won’t make a dent in the problem, it is so close to Business As Usual as to be indistinguishable.

    Thanks for sticking with the facts, Joe.

  23. Tierney understands the NYT is in great financial difficulty, so his hatchet-job on Holdren is a way to publicize his skills to potential employers in the Disinformation industry.

    To really stand out from that soon-unemployed crowd of former journalists, watch for Tierney to throw his shoes at Holdren during the Inaugural.

    Holdren allowed his bias favoring the survival of humanity to color his scientific detachment. For shame. That’s *political*.

    Tierney would never allow his bias favoring his own economic survival to color his journalistic objectivity.

    Does anyone know if Tierney attends Grover Norquist’s early morning strategy meetings? The outlines of a new disinformation campaign seem to be forming, to wit: Obama is too popular to attack directly. (RNC’s attempt to smear him with Blagojevich slime failed.)

    So until Obama weakens, they attack the *advice* given him by his evil Science Advisor, Holdren Wormtongue. If nothing sticks, then re-program the dittoheads to attack Carol Browner … repeat as necessary.

    Benefits: Keep provoking an immune response among their base. So dittoheads learn the new players (kinda like the Iraqi-Most-Wanted playing cards issued to US soldiers in Iraq). Also, dittoheads less likely to get distracted by reality-based things like economic collapse.

  24. Jeff B says:

    Steve H : “Yes, contrarians are necessary, but they must also be restrained when they fail to produce results that are beneficial.”

    That’s how you define good science??!? (or any science for that matter). Scientific work should follow the data, the results. NOT only those results that support a previously held theory or agenda. By your definition, climate science would not have gotten very far in its early days.

  25. Dano says:

    Jeff B,

    we must remember that there is no “contrarian” (denialist) body of evidence. There is, perhaps, a handful of papers, none of which have withstood peer review (IR iris included).



  26. David B. Benson says:

    Jeff B — Climate science, part of physics back then, did just fine in the early days. Read about it in “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:


  27. Michael says:

    I am downright scared by the extent to which people refuse to believe the scientific consensus on climate change. Holdren is right — there is room for skepticism, but it needs to be supported by facts.

    Also, please check out Climate Matters, a new blog from the Columbia University Climate Center offering original research and unique commentary, at http://climate.columbia.edu/blog.

  28. Eli Rabett says:

    To quote your quote from Tierney

    Dr. Holdren is certainly entitled to his views, but what concerns me is his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions. Even if most climate scientists agree on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, that doesn’t imply that the best way to deal with the problem is through drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. There are other ways to cope, and there’s no “scientific consensus” on which path looks best.

    This is essentially the “only WGI part of the IPCC exists and is legitimate” fallacy. Two thirds of the reports are on what the damage will be and how to ameliorate it (ameliorate is Eli thinks the better word, capturing both mitigation, which we will have to do, and adaptation, which we will have to do because the denialists have delayed any action for twenty years).

    Some time ago Rabett Run did a search in Google Scholar on the string global climate change” The interesting result was that
    a large majority of the references dealt with the economic and biological consequences of global climate change showing the wide scientific consensus agreeing with the IPCC AR4. Moreover, in the first 200 or so listings there were none that argued against the conclusions of the IPCC AR4.

    While policy plays a vital role in this, science, physical, behavioral and biological informs policymakers about which interventions would have what effect and be effective as well as where the damage from inaction will fall.

  29. Duncan Brown says:

    Dear Eli Rabett
    Another kind of exptertise that will be needed is economists, don’t your think? To help quantify the costs and benefits of different policies?

  30. Eli Babbit says:

    I agree with Robert Kennedy. We need to put Pielke and Lomborg in prison until they rot! Holdren is our man to do just that. A great man indeed. To the barricades!