Growing up, Newsweek was the weekly news magazine coming into the house. Shows the value of those college discount programs. They caught my father with a great deal when he was 20 and, well, decades later … For the household — and I — well, Time was the second run in the competition for respect as a weekly news source.
This, however, is no longer the case.
While Time‘s cover is The Global Warming Survival Guide with many good articles, Newsweek … time after time … hands over its pages to Global Warming ignoramouses, skeptics, and outright deniers.
With Richard Lindzen’s Why So Gloomy?, Newsweek has sunk to a new low.
Newsweek — and its sister publication, The Washington Post — are notable for demonstrating, too frequently, that they just don’t get it when it comes to Global Warming, especially when it comes to the editorial pages. Most recently, there was Fareed Zakaria … Wrong on Facts, Wrong on Conclusion. Last summer, we could put to another core columnist, Robert Samuelson, who merited the direct calling out as in J’accuse! Distorting reality in “Global Warming’s Real Inconvenient Truth”. (Though, I must admit, that The Washington Post does demonstrate “balance” by giving equal voice, as if this is an equal discussion, as per WashPost published my LTE re Global Warming Skeptics.)
Before getting to this denier’s screed, let us quickly review four steps of Global Warming denial:
- Globe is not warming.
- If warming, it is all natural. (Selective jumping to 3 and 4.)
- If man is contributing to the warming, it doesn’t matter, because warming is good. (And, this can be related back to 2 — CO2 is life, right?)
- Well, if warming is risky, we can’t do anything about it, let’s adapt.
- And, of course, as part of the argument for any/all of these, “we just don’t know enough … the models are inaccurate … we need to study more … etc …”
And, quickly, let us put out on the table that Lindzen is probably the most seriously credentialed of Global Warming Skeptics. It isn’t just MIT, but he has actually studied and published on the fields of study, he isn’t commenting from some other field of study. He is, when writing in the scholarly literature, someone worth looking at and reading. But, that consideration should not … does not extend to his opinion pieces.
So, let’s do a little deconstruction of this key Global Warming Denier’s disingenous foray into America’s homes via Newsweek.
Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over.
Okay, he evidently doesn’t read the same media that I read. Sadly, all too often, journalists seek to present ‘both sides of the story’, as if there are basically two sides rather than something like a 99 to 1 consensus in the relevant scientific communities. (I won’t state that the “1” is absolutely wrong, but the hill to climb to prove that they are correct keeps getting higher faster than they’re climbing it.)
There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true.
This is important. Perhaps the most credentialed scientist favored by the skeptics states that the earth is warming and man is (at least) contributing to that warming. Stages 1 and 2 are passed. Again, that matters.
But, of course, there is that suspect qualifier, ‘at some level’ … keeps the door open for making an argument (that looks to be false) that this is primarily a natural phenomena. (It seems to be in the range of 90+% humanity-driven, it seems, but this is very difficult to calculate and pin down.)
What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we’ve seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe.
Okay. This is where things truly become confusing. Again, the qualifier language. “No compelling …” What does it take to provide compelling evidence? What is the meaning of that word? Compelling to who? What is the threshhold to become compelling?
And, well, what is “anything close to catastrophe”? What is a catastrophe? Is it extinction of species? Are Katrina-like events catastrophic? Disruption of societies due to reductions in glacial flows for water supply? Etc…
What would it take to provide a basis for determining that urgent action is warranted?
What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare.
Perhaps, sort of, yes … he is right. The earth is constantly changing, weather and climate patterns as part of that. The question that Lindzen is avoiding is whether the current trends are driving the global climate into a rapid change pattern, unlike any seen in the 7000 or years of ‘civilization’.
Looking back on the earth’s climate history, it’s apparent that there’s no such thing as an optimal temperature—a climate at which everything is just right. The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman’s forecast for next week.
Well, first off with this section, is it appropriate truly to be talking “earth’s climate history” so casually? For example, 10s of millions of years ago, there were higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere than there are today. In that perspective, that humanity has driven CO2 to the 385 ppm level when, for the past 850,000+ years, it has varied between 180 and 285 (or so) doesn’t seem like that important. Skeptics can argue that there have been higher CO2 levels. They tend to forget to mention that those are millions of years prior to the emergence of homo sapiens. You would believe that might be relevant for consideration.
This commentary does not get into whether we are potentially driving the climate system out-of-whack for sustaining a global civilization and for supporting the every mounting numbers of human beings. The not “false alarm” is based on the extent and speed of existing and foreseen change, not on some concept that the earth is a static system that never sees change.
Finally, Lindzen is smart and quips quite well. Climate scientologists are, evidently, to be trusted as much as the weather man’s report … That is the sort of quip people will (sadly) remember and reuse.
A warmer climate could prove to be more beneficial than the one we have now.
Yes, that is why people move to Miami, right? Duh? Or, perhaps, huh??? This sort of begs the question, to whom? There might be winners and losers (might), although the vast majority of people who examine this see that ‘losers’ will vastly outnumber the winners. (Sure, with ice melting, easier to extract oil in the artic circle … hmmm … winner?)
And, well, the line is simply inaccurate, as the most lethal climate event is not a freeze or winter but the heatwave (with the exception being massive tropical cyclones, like the 1970 and 1991 Bangladesh events).
Much of the alarm over climate change is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate. There is no evidence, for instance, that extreme weather events are increasing in any systematic way, according to scientists at the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which released the second part of this year’s report earlier this month). Indeed, meteorological theory holds that, outside the tropics, weather in a warming world should be less variable, which might be a good thing.
This is misleading. There is evidence … there are discussions … but there is not global scientific consensus about increasing numbers of extreme weather events. There is evidence of it … Global Warming Theory suggests that ever more precipitation will come in ‘extreme weather events’ (more than one inch in a 24-hour period). Oops. Excuse me Professor Lindzen, but isn’t that already happening?
By the way, misleading is too polite. This is false. He says “no evidence”. Why not check out Science Daily video “Harder Rain, More Snow” Meteorologists See Future of Increasingly Extreme Weather Events. Lindzen might disagree with it, but there is “evidence”.
And, as to variable weather patterns, you have to wonder what he means by this. Perhaps it is because regions are far more likely to have drought or flooding … maybe he is arguing that these extreme weather conditions will endure for longer periods, thus reducing variability.
But, Lindzen’s OPED is not just misleading … it is, as noted above, simply false and we can catch the falsehoods.
In many other respects, the ill effects of warming are overblown. Sea levels, for example, have been increasing since the end of the last ice age. When you look at recent centuries in perspective, ignoring short-term fluctuations, the rate of sea-level rise has been relatively uniform (less than a couple of millimeters a year). There’s even some evidence that the rate was higher in the first half of the twentieth century than in the second half. Overall, the risk of sea-level rise from global warming is less at almost any given location than that from other causes, such as tectonic motions of the earth’s surface.
Can I scream now? Are you screaming yet?
- Yes, sea levels have been rising … the coasts in the Mediterranean today are not those sailed to by Phoenicians. But, seas are rising and at an increasing rate. But, so what?
- Sure, a tsunami caused by an earthquake creates far greater risk of ‘sea-level rise’ than global warming … in a short-term temporal and regional perspective. And, so???
- The real concern is some form of catastrophic sea rise. The potential for a melting from Greenland and/or the Antarctic with adding not inches, but feet or meters of sea rise, and within years rather than millenia.
Many of the most alarming studies rely on long-range predictions using inherently untrustworthy climate models, similar to those that cannot accurately forecast the weather a week from now. Interpretations of these studies rarely consider that the impact of carbon on temperature goes down—not up—the more carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Even if emissions were the sole cause of the recent temperature rise—a dubious proposition—future increases wouldn’t be as steep as the climb in emissions.
Okay, here we are. It is the models. And, skeptics who argue this fail, 100% of the time, to discuss that the core models for the IPCC actually almost certainly understate the risks as they don’t account for ‘positive feedback loops’ (for example).
Now, just to make sure we all are on the same page, ‘positive’ in this case is not a good thing. This refers to, for example, the fact that melting of ocean ice accelerates future melting of ice by reducing the Albedo (reflection of solar radiation) by replacing white ice with blue water that will absorb the solar radiation and speed heating, thus accelerating melting ice, which has a further positive feedback. This is also the case, for example, with the permafrost, where the IPCC simply did not deal with the risk of melting releasing methane and thus accelerating Global Warming. (For a discussion of this, see optimists or pessimists — what is it with those IPCC types?)
And, well, there are other paragraphs where Lindzen continues his ‘we can trust those darn models’ song and dance.
But, lets keep going
Is there any point in pretending that CO2 increases will be catastrophic? Or could they be modest and on balance beneficial? India has warmed during the second half of the 20th century, and agricultural output has increased greatly. Infectious diseases like malaria are a matter not so much of temperature as poverty and public-health policies (like eliminating DDT). Exposure to cold is generally found to be both more dangerous and less comfortable.
Remember, Carbon Dioxide … We Call It Life … First, warming is good. Who — other than Eskimos (yes, Inuits) — wants to be cold?
And, as for India warming and agricultural productivity increasing … where is the cause and effect study and analysis? Is there any basis for this confusion of causation vs correlation. Is warming driving agricultural productivity or, perhaps, does it have something to do with the Green Revolution and other agricultural advances?
And, lunatic lefties, if you would only get DDT back into the system, malarial wouldn’t be a problem. …
Well, he accepted that the globe is warming and that mankind has a hand in it. He has stated that we can’t trust the models. And, Lindzen has written that this is all good for us. What is left? Oh, yeah, the argument that there really isn’t anything that can be done.
Moreover, actions taken thus far to reduce emissions have already had negative consequences without improving our ability to adapt to climate change.
This is a statement, that to be polite, is very open to argument. Have all the things to improve energy efficiency in the US economy had a negative consequence other than for those wishing to sell more electricity? And, so on …
An emphasis on ethanol, for instance, has led to angry protests against corn-price increases in Mexico, and forest clearing and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia. Carbon caps are likely to lead to increased prices, as well as corruption associated with permit trading. (Enron was a leading lobbyist for Kyoto because it had hoped to capitalize on emissions trading.)
There are many problems with many proposed “silver bullets”. Personally, I think biofuels are getting overhyped and overemphasized. And, well, I am far from a fan of cap & trade even thought it worked to foster significant drops in, for example, sulphur emissions. I don’t agree with Lindzen’s overall point, even if I have some sympathy with his examples.
The alleged solutions have more potential for catastrophe than the putative problem.
Guess what. This is false on so many levels. To a huge extent, dealing aggressively with global warming issues through energy efficiency in the economy and a fostered move off fossil fuels would greatly (GREATLY) strengthen the US economy and improve US national security by lowering vulnerabilities to and reliance on unstable regions around the world. Lindzen’s statement here is so absurd that responding to it is wasteful of electrons.
The conclusion of the late climate scientist Roger Revelle—Al Gore’s supposed mentor—is worth pondering: the evidence for global warming thus far doesn’t warrant any action unless it is justifiable on grounds that have nothing to do with climate.
Isn’t this amazing? Lindzen is citing Revelle as the reason for not doing anything unless it is done for other than Global Warming reasons. When did Revelle die? 15 July 1991. What has happened since then? Three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. The warmest ten years in the past 150+. Many “500 year” weather events. The mounting levels of CO2. Perhaps Revel would be revisiting this admonition about “evidence for global warming thus far” if he were able to speak from his grave 16 years after his death.
This deceptive argument, using Revelle in this way, is indicative of Lindzen’s entire OPED and his role in Global Warming discussions.
Lindzen is a credentialed scientist, with real acheivements, who seems to not hesitate in distorting and confusing to support his position …
Now, Grist emphasizes that Newsweek doesn’t bother to mention that Lindzen has long financial connections to the oil industry and others who fund Global Warming Deniers. Read Newsweek‘s bio
Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.
Evidently $2500 speaking fees, subsidized travel, and otherwise simply don’t count. (For a contrast, see Wikipedia.)
To put things further in perspective, Lindzen is a “double-denialist”. From a (speak of the Devil) Newsweek interview of 2001, as recounted by John Quiggin:
Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.
Hmmm … double denialist sounds reasonably good to me.
What is Newsweek other than a collaborator to and facilitator of Global Warming Deniers?