Memo to Nocera: You really need to issue a retraction and multiple apologies, rather than writing yet another error-riddled smear job on Hansen.
The good news is that I’m home from Johns Hopkins, sans pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumor, with a very good prognosis.
The bad news is NY Times business columnist Joe Nocera took this moment to utterly misrepresent two (!) posts of mine in a shameless effort to smear the nation’s top climatologist, James Hansen.
The ugly news is that, as we’ll see, Nocera’s whole approach to Hansen is like Clint Eastwood’s was to Obama this summer — an incoherent monologue full of misrepresentations, aimed at an invisible (straw) man.
Now, remember, Nocera is still unforgiven for his error-riddled February 19 column that mis-stated Hansen’s position, quoted a private email comment out of context, and made one of the most egregious economic errors ever seen in the NY Times. And Nocera had the gumption to rawhide Hansen’s Keystone tactics, whipping them for being “utterly boneheaded.”
Of course, to be forgiven, Nocera would have to retract all of his errors (not just most egregious one), rather than doubling down with yet another error-riddled column today, “A Scientist’s Misguided Crusade.”
You may wonder how I ended up in the line of fire here, especially since my name never actually appears in the piece. That’s because Nocera pulls a magnum force miscue here, one that is unique in my nearly 7 years of blogging: He hyperlinks to Climate Progress to back up his misguided smears not once, but twice. You might call that utterly boneheaded. Here is the rookie quote:
Yet what people hear from Hansen today is not so much his science but his broad, unscientific views on, say, the evils of oil companies. In 2008, he wrote a paper, the thesis of which was that runaway climate change would occur when carbon in the atmosphere reached 350 parts per million — a point it had already exceeded — unless it were quickly reduced. There are many climate change experts who disagree with this judgment — who believe that the 350 number is arbitrary and even meaningless. Yet an entire movement, 350.org, has been built around Hansen’s line in the sand.
Who are “the many climate change experts who disagree with” Hansen’s judgment? Why, they are just little ‘ole me, Joe Romm. Now, Joe N, you must know flattery will get you nowhere. Yes, I do like to think of myself as a climate change expert. But I am just one solitary person — or rather one person minus about 20% of my pancreas, but let’s give Nocera the benefit of the doubt and round up to one. Not “many,” though.
And the thing is that my post doesn’t say what Nocera says it does. It doesn’t say 350 “is arbitrary and even meaningless.” Here’s how it opens (emphasis added):
To James Hansen (and his fellow 350 ppm-ers):
You make a compelling case we must ultimately return atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic climate impacts (see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al“).
Doh! Say it isn’t so, Joe. This is not exactly a stinging indictment of 350 ppm.
As an aside, it is lame but not unheard of for bloggers to pull the “many experts disagree” trick (i.e. not name specific experts) and use a single link — but at least they usually link to someone who supports their view. But I’d say it is journalistic malpractice for someone writing an article that appears both online and in print to not name one expert — especially when their online column links to a post that actually undercuts what they claim.
As a double aside, it is precisely to avoid this problem that I tend to cite old posts of mine by full name — so you know what the post is about and you can have high confidence it says what I claim it says (because after thousands of blog posts with probably tens of thousands of links, I know all to well that people rarely actually click on those links, which no doubt is what Nocera was counting on).
The point of my post is clear in the very next sentence:
But you have made an uncompelling case about how President-elect Obama should go about achieving 350 ppm in your new draft essay….
The post is primarily about the “how” — the policies needed to achieve 350 ppm and how difficult they would be to enact. I do say (emphasis added), “I am not entirely convinced that 350 ppm is needed this century from a purely scientific perspective.” But as the post makes clear, that was primarily about practicality — and, to repeat, this is hardly much of an indictment of 350.
Oh, but it gets worse. Click on the link for Nocera’s phrase “he wrote a paper” and that is also a link to Climate Progress!!! That had a sudden impact on me, as you can imagine. (I have taken screenshots of the original HTML code for the story, for those who worry about that sort of thing.)
Yes, Nocera doesn’t even link to the original paper — he links to my discussion of it. Flattering, I suppose, but it certainly does entitle me to explain what Hansen et al meant — and it ain’t what Nocera says. It is not about how “runaway climate change would occur when carbon in the atmosphere reached 350 parts per million.” It is about how 450 ppm may be a tipping point “such that change proceeds out of our control.”
As I explain: