Stopping the Worst Environmental Disaster?: An Ethical and Scientific Comparison of the Gulf Oil Spill and Climate Change.

I. The Oil Spill and Climate Change Compared.

Over the last two months the U.S. Congress has been engaged in a great operatic drama over what many have called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history: the BP Gulf oil spill. Last week U.S Congressman angrily grilled BP CEO Tony Hayward about the causes of the disaster and BPs inability to shut off the oil flow. As this took place, the brown and orange slick continued its daily assault on fisheries, birds, and livelihoods.

Although oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform site may in fact be creating the greatest environmental and economic harm in U.S. history so far, there is new evidence that another looming environmental problem is likely to produce far worse environmental and economic impacts not only for the United States but particularly for some of the poorest people around the world. It is also a problem about which the U.S. Congress has done nothing for twenty years: human-induced climate change.

While the US focuses on the Gulf tragedy, climate change causing greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at ever more dangerous rates. This past week the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that by the end of May atmospheric concentrations of the chief greenhouse gas CO2 had reached an all-time high for at least 2.1 million years, 392.94 parts per million (ppm).

NOAA also announced that May continued a streak that is making this year, 2010, the hottest year on record so far from January through the end of May. Globally the May temperatures was 0.99°F above the 20th century average of 61.3° making it the hottest May on record.

As the globe has been experiencing record heat during the spring of 2010, floodwaters that have been predicted by climate change science are wreaking havoc in many locations world-wide. Disastrous flooding was experienced this spring in France where flash floods hit the back hills of the French Riviera and turned streets into rivers of surging, muddy water. The death toll from the flooding has risen to 25. In Myanmar and Bangladesh, floods and landslides triggered by incessant monsoon rains have killed more than 100 people. China has also experienced devastating flooding this year as well as Brazil. In the United States, flooding in Texas, Nebraska and Wyoming has caused massive damage to farms and homes. Although science cant say that all of these flooding events are directly attributable to human-causation, this flooding is predicted by climate change science.

Climate change not only threatens more people, animals, and ecological systems around the world than the Gulf spill; it promises to be a problem that will continually wreck havoc for centuries while harming the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people with drought, floods, killer storms, rising sea levels, and vector borne disease.

BP may shut down the oil gusher in the Gulf by the end of the summer, yet the harms from human-induced climate change will likely plague the world for centuries. While the threat from the BP gusher to the wild life in the Gulf is huge, the threat to people, animals, and ecological systems from climate change is much larger.
While it is proving difficult to shut down the oil flow from the Deepwater Horizon site, the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to prevent dangerous climate change is truly civilization challenging. This is so because the world will need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from current levels by 80% or greater by the middle of this century to prevent catastrophic climate change as greenhouse gas emissions increase world wide increase at 2% per year under current trends.

Yet, some of the members of the U.S. Congress that are outraged at BP have been resisting meaningful action on climate change. In fact the U.S. Congress has been a barrier to responsible U.S. climate change action since the early 1990s.

There are a few things in common about the Gulf spill and climate change. One lesson of the Gulf oil spill that is an ominous warning about climate change is that the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates that what are often initially believed to be low probability, in fact unforeseeable, catastrophic impacts do happen. (See article on unforseeability) Although even more optimistic predictions of climate change impacts are disastrous for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, the upper end of possible human-induced temperature increases in this Century of 5 to 9 o C will be catastrophic and perhaps unimaginable for the world.

Also, some of the U.S. Congressmen who have consistently fought stronger government climate change action have also promoted rapid expansion of deep sea oil drilling. It is also no mere coincidence that most of these Congressmen are also from oil states and are among the greatest recipients of fossil-fuel industry political contributions.

II. Ethical Comparison 0f The Gulf Oil Spill and Climate Change

Although the oil spill raises a few important ethical questions including who should have the burden of proof that a proposed dangerous activity is safe, climate change must be understood essentially as a deep moral global challenge. There are at least three reasons why climate change must be understood as a great, civilization challenging global ethical problem.

First, climate change is a problem caused by some people that adversely affects others. For this reason, as a matter of ethics, those emitting GHGs into the atmosphere may not consider their interests alone in developing policies about their GHG emissions.

Second, the consequences to those who may be most affected by climate change are potentially catastrophic. According to the consensus climate change science view as articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human-induced climate changes is already harming and will continue to harm with greater intensity human life, health, food security, plants, animals, and ecosystems upon which humans depends. Without doubt, climate change threatens not only things that humans value highly but life itself especially to those most vulnerable to climate change including tens of millions of people on small island developing states, in sub-Sahara Africa, and Southeast Asia in particular.

Third, the national governments to which citizens of the world belong are not constituted to protect the interests of non-citizens, yet climate change will often affect non-citizens most harshly. Because people in one nation cannot assume that existing governments will protect those who might be harmed by their behavior, they must consider whether they have ethical obligations to those who are separated from themselves both in time and great distance. In other words, climate change raises with force the question of whether some people have obligations and duties to others that needs to be considered in developing climate change policies as the national, regional, and local level.

Since international climate change negotiations began in 1990, arguments against effective international climate change regimes as well as meaningful national action on climate change have most frequently been of two types: economic arguments about the costs of mitigating climate change and arguments about the scientific evidence for climate change and its impacts.

By far the most frequent arguments made in opposition to climate change policies are economic predictions of various kinds such as claims that proposed climate change legislation will destroy jobs, reduce GDP, damage businesses such as the coal and petroleum industries, increase the cost of fuel, or simply that the proposed legislation can’t be afforded by the public. However, many economists now believe that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh the costs non-action. (See, for example the report of Sir Nicolas Stern that concluded if there is any possibility that there could be unexpected abrupt climate changes, the loss to the global economy could be as much as 20 percent of GDP per year. (Stern 2006, vi)). If cost is an important consideration in any decision to take preventative action, then the cost of non-action must also be considered. In fact, the Gulf spill is demonstrating that the costs of prevention such as drilling another relief well or adding a back-up blowout protector would have been far cheaper than the costs of clean up, remediation, and compensation for damages.

Particularly ethically troubling in the case of climate change is how most costs estimates of the harms of climate change have dealt with these potentially catastrophic climate change impacts. For instance, some climate models predict as much as 6 o C warming by the end of this century and as one economists honestly admits the impacts of 6 o C warming is “located in the terra incognita of what any honest modeler would have to admit is a planet Earth reconfigured as science fiction. ” (Weitzman 2007:716) One commentator has noted that: ” It is simply absurd to attempt to measure these impacts in monetary terms.” (Alred 2009: 479). Yet ethics would require that we seriously consider all possible catastrophic outcomes, a significant of limitation of how most economic analyses have usually quantified the benefits of climate change policies.

The second most frequent argument made by opponents of climate change policies are assertions that governments should not take action on climate change because adverse impacts have not been sufficiently scientifically proven. These arguments range from assertions that what is usually called the “main-stream” scientific climate change view is a complete hoax to milder assertions that the harsh climate change impacts on human health and the environment predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific institutions or individual researchers are unproven
There is new scientific information that is galloping in that indicates huge potential harms of human-induced climate change. Although the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) found that there was discernible human influence on the climate system over 15 years ago, climate skeptics continue to try and convince people that human causation of the warming we are seeing is not supported by the evidence. They argue that there is a real division among climate scientists about human causation. Yet, a 2009 survey found that over 97% of actively publishing climate scientists are convinced humans are significantly changing global temperatures (Doran 2009). An even newer study published in April, 2010 found that 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Anderegg 2010).
If there is any doubt that most scientists agree with the consensus view, The following scientific organizations endorse the consensus position that “most of the global warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities”: (Skeptical Science, 2010):
• American Association for the Advancement of Science
• American Astronomical Society
• American Chemical Society
• American Geophysical Union
• American Institute of Physics
• American Meteorological Society
• American Physical Society
• Australian Coral Reef Society
• Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO
• British Antarctic Survey
• Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
• Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Environmental Protection Agency
• European Federation of Geologists
• European Geosciences Union
• European Physical Society
• Federation of American Scientists
• Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
• Geological Society of America
• Geological Society of Australia
• International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA)
• International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
• National Center for Atmospheric Research
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
• Royal Meteorological Society
• Royal Society of the UK

The Academies of Science from 19 different countries all endorse the consensus. 11 countries have signed a joint statement endorsing the consensus position. They are:
• Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias (Brazil)
• Royal Society of Canada
• Chinese Academy of Sciences
• Academie des Sciences (France)
• Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
• Indian National Science Academy
• Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
• Science Council of Japan
• Russian Academy of Sciences
• Royal Society (United Kingdom)
• National Academy of Sciences (USA):
(Skeptical Science, 2010):
A letter from 18 scientific organizations to the US Congress says:

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. (Letter to US Congress, 2009) (See Skeptical Science, 2010 for links to all of the above)

Without doubt, there is a clear scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and threatening great harm to some of the poorest people around the world. But even one assumes, for the sake of argument, that there is more scientific uncertainty about human causation of climate change impacts than recognized in the above statements of scientists around the world, there is a strong ethical duty to avoid the huge potential harm entailed by human-induced warming. In other words, ethics would not allow non-action on climate change because the potential harms have not been proven. After reaching some level of scientific consensus that serious harms are possible, ethics would shift the burden of proof to those who want to continue risky behavior. This fact about climate change has been lost in the U.S. climate change debate.

The ethical duty to avoid risky behavior is proportional to the magnitude of the potential harm. Because climate change is likely to cause death to many, if not tens of millions of people, through heat stroke, vector borne disease, and flooding, annihilate many island nations by rising seas, cause billions of dollars in property damage in intense storms, and destroy the ability of hundreds of millions to feed themselves in hotter drier climates, the duty to refrain from activities which could cause global warming is extraordinarily strong even in the face of uncertainty about consequences.

Both the economic and scientific arguments against climate change policies implicitly argue that climate change policies should be opposed because they are not in a country’s national interest. The responses of advocates of climate change policies to these arguments are almost always to take issue with the factual economic and scientific conclusions of these arguments by making counter economic and scientific claims. For instance, in response to economic arguments opposing climate change legislation, proponents of climate change action usually argue that climate change policies will create jobs or are necessary to develop new energy technologies that are vital to the health of a national economy in the future. In responses to the lack of scientific proof arguments, climate change advocates usually stress the harsh environmental impacts to people and ecosystems that climate change will cause if action is not taken or argue that climate change science is settled. In other words, advocates of climate change action, respond to claims of opponents to climate change programs by denying the factual basis for the claims of their opponents.

By simply opposing the factual claims of the opponents of climate change, the advocates of climate change policies are implicitly agreeing with the assumptions of the opponents of climate change action that greenhouse gas reduction policies should not be adopted if they are not in national self-interest.

Yet, if climate change raises ethical questions, then strong arguments can be made that nations have not only national interests but also duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others. However, ethical arguments that could counter the national-interest based arguments are rarely heard in the climate change debate and are now virtually absent in the U.S. discussion of proposed domestic climate change legislation. We never hear, for instance in the United States that we should enact climate change legislation because our emissions are harming others.

Although the BP oil spill seriously threatens those who live along the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. intransigence on climate change threatens the entire world; a fact that is causing rising anger around the world. Yet the U.S. Congress continues to resist action on climate change on the basis that it will harm some U.S. economic interests, while ignoring our duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to the U.S. fair share of safe global releases. For this reason, while the BP oil spill can be rightfully be understood as a disaster, U.S. Congressional inaction on climate change must be understood as a huge moral failure that is leading to an even greater disaster. In fact, climate change is leading to potential harsh impacts that we cannot predict with high levels of precision. We can get some vision of what might happen if we have another oil spill in the Gulf and this vision is clearly a nightmare for those living around the Gulf. The potential harms from climate change are potentially much worse, yet the defy accurate description if temperatures increase is experienced at the upper end of the potential range. And even if these impacts are not deadly for the majority of humans, they are a death sentence for some, mostly likely measured in the millions.
Given all of this, a strong case can be made that the preoccupation with the Gulf spill is unfortunately taking focus off the most important, challenging, alarming environmental problem of our time: Big, big, problem, yes but wrong priority for the United States.


Donald A. Brown
Associate Professor,
Environmental Ethics, Science, Law
Penn State University


Doran, P . Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, 2009, Examining the Scientific Consensus
on Climate Change, Climate Change, Volume 90 Number 3 20 January 2009

Academies of Science. Joint Science Academies’ Statement: Global Response To Climate Change, 2009,

Anderegg, William, , James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, (2010) Expert Credibility In Climate Change Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

Letter to US Congress. October 21, 2009,

Skeptical Science, 2010, What The Science Says., .

Stern, Sir Nicolas, 2006. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury,, (viewed, May 31, 2008)

42 thoughts on “Stopping the Worst Environmental Disaster?: An Ethical and Scientific Comparison of the Gulf Oil Spill and Climate Change.

  1. Global warming is by far and away the most important and potentially damaging issue that we face this century, even in the next few decades. It is greed and greed alone that is the barrier to effective change.
    This is a great article, the fear of loss of jobs and damaged economy will be far worse in the future if we continue down this path. I hope people begin to realise the consequences of their actions.

  2. Global warming is by far and away the most important and potentially damaging issue that we face this century, even in the next few decades. It is greed and greed alone that is the barrier to effective change.
    i nice post gallery

  3. As the industrial world continues to expand and the population of the world continues to grow it only makes sense that more and more greed will occur as it is the nature of man. What makes you think that there will EVER be enough people who are concerned enough to actually get something done about the global warming…that is until a disaster that can be directly attributed to this phenomenon occurs? The only way that people are going to become concerned is through the appropriate marketing of this subject; however, marketing on this scale takes a lot of money and political support. This is not occuring because the politics of global phenomena are just like religion in today’s world. If anyone with power gets involved, they expect something in return. This then is the very root of the problem. Find anyone with enough power, integrity and enough unselfishness to be able to get the ball rolling and something will be done about it. Until then, we’ll simply have to wait for the inevitable disaster.

  4. I’m curious as to the metric that may allow the Gulf oil spill to be described as the worst environmental disaster. Are we speaking about financial loss, total near term mortality, long term structural changes to the ecosystem, etc? I would argue the rebound from an oil spill is measured in years to a decade. There is nothing that this spill will cause that will fundamentally change the current state of the Gulf ecosystem. We know that the oil releases from WWII U boat torpedos and Ixtoc rival this spill.
    I would argue that the reduction of the Mississippi flood plain from tens of miles wide on average to about one mile and the disruption of the sediment supply to the Gulf had and continues to have far greater long term consequences. I would argue that the destruction of oyster habitat and the diseases MSX and Dermo have had a greater impact as nothing has replaced this filtering eco-system structural component. I submit that the habitat damage done by the shallow water shrimp fishery has caused more damage. The list can continue. But these disasters are not visible and not understood by the general public.
    The oil spill framed as the worst environmental disaster in American history has enormous value in supporting alternative energy- but is it ethical? And by “teaching” the public that oil is the largest ecosystem threat- how do we ever get around to addressing the more persistent and structurally significant threats of sediment supply, habitat loss, nutrient enrichment and filtration?
    And any ethical discussion of offshore oil drilling must include the cautions cited by Nat’l Academies report Oil in the Sea of the trade off between super tankers and offshore drilling in proximity of refining capacity.

  5. It is worth separating the parts of the climate change argument that are “theory” from those that are essentially fact. It is easily demonstrable that the Earths atmosphere exhibits a greenhouse effect. It is reasonably easy to establish the relative contributions of each greenhouse gas to the total warming effect. It is also obvious that wrapping a heat emitting body in additional insulation will cause it to warm up. This part is provable and understandable to any one with a basic high school science competency. The discussion become more theoretical when the degree of warming or the speed of warming are examined, but anthropogenic global warming is a fact. With that in mind, it seems clear that a potential threat is obvious to anyone willing to pay attention and the important discussion concerns what evasive actions to take. Since the preponderance of all new evidence indicates that the possibility of serious problems,especially for the most vulnerable, is highly likely, the burden of proof is certainly on those advocating for inaction, and their case becomes more absurd with each passing day. It seems to me that to argue against strong action to mitigate the potential effects of CO2 buildup is to place different values on the lives of the affluent and the poor. Indeed, it is almost equating the right of the affluent to accumulate ever increasing levels of creature comforts to the right of the poor to survive. I doubt if we would be so sanguine if we felt we would suffer personally.

  6. You write:
    “First, climate change is a problem caused by some people that adversely affects others. For this reason, as a matter of ethics, those emitting GHGs into the atmosphere may not consider their interests alone in developing policies about their GHG emissions.”
    What does that even mean, “for this reason, as a matter of ethics…”
    You imply a certain obvious ethical standard (“as a matter of ethics…”) but what you don’t want to admit is that this assumption is actually the putting forth of a particular ethical standard, one that is not universal, one that is not necessarily shared by everyone. From where does the authority of this ethical standard come? What set of decisions and by whom have been made to establish this as a norm?
    You conclude:
    “Given all of this, a strong case can be made that the preoccupation with the Gulf spill is unfortunately taking focus off the most important, challenging, alarming environmental problem of our time: Big, big, problem, yes but wrong priority for the United States.”
    Isn’t this almost trite? Painfully obvious? A conclusion for which an ethical argument is completely unnecessary? And worse, aren’t there about 3000 other things about which one could say the same thing? Including climate change?
    For example, we could say “Climate change. Big problem, but wrong priority.” Why? Well, from a certain ethical standpoint one could say the biggest ethical wrong in the world is capitalism itself which is founded on the fundamental theft that is the extraction of surplus values from workers who are clearly not paid their due. And capitalism is the largest promoter of that selfishness that you decry in the first passage I cite above. It promotes “growth” (indeed, growth is endemic to it) it promotes unnecessary consumption, it promotes unnecessary production, it clearly stands in conflict with your basic ethical principle of not doing harm to other, and it is clearly the main “reason” that we have “climate change.”
    So maybe that’s where you should devote some attention.
    And finally: what are the ethical implications of using the term “climate change”? Isn’t this a distraction from the core issue — warming? (I realize the issue is complicated, for it includes all the consequences of warming, as well as things like ocean acidification, acid rain, etc.) Isn’t “change” a bit painfully neutral though? The implication in the term is that this change is bad. But the climate IS change. My local weather woman can’t even get this afternoon’s prediction right. So which change is good? Which bad?
    Don’t get me wrong: I think “climate change” is bad. It’s gonna get uglier than it already is.
    Or maybe you don’t read these comments? I don’t know.

  7. I think you have summarized well why it is absurd not to take strong action on climate change. Well said
    Don Brown

  8. Cp asks what is the support for the claim “that as a matter of ethics people man not consider self interest alone” This is a fair question.
    The justification is that all known major ethical systems including most rule utilitarians and religions have versions of the Golden Rule: “I cant hurt another for my interests.” If there is any principle in ethics that seems to have cross-cultural support, this is it. Particularly when the harm is grave, I cant injure someone else for my profit. Ethics is justified by arguments. Religious people look often to sacred texts for support. Secular ethical systems look to ethical arguments. At the international level there are two principles in international law that have been widely adopted. One is called the “no harm” principle, the other is the “polluter pays” principle. Both principles have been agreed to as normative, meaning they are ethical rules of conduct that should guide national behavior. In other words, although there are many human controversies about which different ethical principles disagree, the no harm principle is widely accepted around the world and by different religions.

  9. Humans are selfish! Many understand the ethical implications of the Climate debate but just don’t care. In a classroom setting or a conference they may appear to care but in everyday life they are focused on their own needs. Is this cynical? I would say no, history has born this out. It’s implications in the climate issue? It means nothing effective will get done. It means we have little chance to not have catastrophic warming events. Not surprisingly it will take a few warming induced catastrophic events to begin to get something done and then it may be too late.
    My guess is that those trigger events are 20 to 30 years in the future. It is not a scientific estimate but just a gut feeling. At that time politicians will be scrambling to “fix it”. They’ll be a lot of finger pointing and a blame game, but it will not matter. It will already be too late for millions, perhaps billions. This is not a hysterical claim. It will take decades to kill that many and many will suffer death slowly. There are serious ethical issues here, but in the end academic pursuits will not change public or political will until those peoples own survival is on the table.
    Despite the present recession Americans are comfortable with their oversize lifestyle. And it appears the rest of the world wants to “biggie” size too. The intersection of population growth, warming and environmental degradation will be awful to see, in part because of the knowledge that if we had done something back in 2010 the effects would have been dramatically less.

  10. Thanks for the reply. (BTW: my comment “i dont’ know if you read these” was not meant snarkily; more a reflection on the odd anonymity of these fora.
    I would say this though: as an ethical principle, if truly universal, the”no harm” principle would only further support a claim that capitalism is in itself utterly unethical.

  11. Do we live in a zero sum world? Ethics will flow from the answer to this question.

  12. Is do no harm more important than try to do good. Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren preached the precautionary warnings of do no harm- claiming billions were about to die from starvation. Both have “won” any number of cash prizes for their work about things that did not happen. Holdren is now our science adviser. Norman Borlaug revolutionized agriculture- ending the mass starvation of the developing world and the increased yields he pioneered has saved untold “wild” acreage from the ravages of agriculture. Borlaug recently passed in quiet public obscurity. What is it about some humans that cheer an Ehrlich and dismiss a Borlaug?
    Is climate change more pressing than the new strain of wheat rust? Is it ethical to turn food into fuel raising the cost of grain to the world’s poor? The UNEP says that agriculture is a leading contributor to greenhouse admissions- if so why don’t we mandate irradiation of the food supply which can significantly reduce the amount of land need for ag production. If climate change is really a human extinction risk why are some so opposed to genetically engineered crops?

  13. The IPCC “consensus view” is an expert opinion that it is very likely that more than half of the warming seen in the past century is the result of anthropgenic forces and that continued warming will occur.
    There is no consensus of which I am aware as to how much warming may or may not occur because the IPCC admitted that many of the critical forcing elements have medium to low understanding. As an example from IPCC AG4 -WG1 Level of Scientific Understanding (LOSU)— Radiative forcing components- low, aerosols med. to low, surface albedo med to low, solar irradiance low etc. Read what was said about our ability to make many of the claims for regional climate impacts based on models etc.
    The anthropogenic climate consensus is based on the assumption that the recent warming is abnormal. If the Medieval Warm Period was as warm or warmer the science would suffer serious disruption in thought. Phil Jones says as much in his recent BBC interview He states there is ample evidence that there is much evidence for a warmer MWP but says there are too few studies in the southern hemisphere. He goes on to say
    “Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.”
    Is it ethical to say before we take the risk to our way of life to answer at least the MWP?
    You claim an ethical obligation to cut emissions by 80% -where is the “consensus” for this statement? Can we do more for the world’s poor by adaptation, infrastructure improvement than by drastically cutting energy. Do you fully understand the risks involved in doing this and is it ethical to push for it if you don’t. You bolster this ethical requirement by saying climate change is the most dangerous issue facing the third world. I cannot find this in the IPCC report.
    Here is what the IPCC says about Africa however IPCC’s AG4 WG2 Chapter 9 pg 457 says it is a marginal (albeit not unimportant) issue. “Although future climate change seems to be marginally important when compared to other development issues (Davidson et al., 2003), it is clear that climate change and variability, and associated increased disaster risks, will seriously hamper future development.” This statement seems to be clearly at odds with your claim that climate is the most pressing issue.
    So ethically shouldn’t we spend most of our resources on the KNOWN developmental issues? And your claims of greater risk of disease vectors is also at serious odds with reality. Most infectious disease is the result of poverty and lack of adequate health infrastructure. (Yellow fever and malaria at one time ravaged the US)
    Your claims of increased floods, storms also has no consensus. (see Pielke Jr) And IPCC cautions against making such claims.

  14. Moffit misunderstands our claim that there is an ethical obligation to take action, although his comment deserves a response. Our position is different then the claim that we know exactly what is going to happen.
    In fact we believe the skeptics have pushed the international community to answer a different question than the one ethics would ask. Ethics would ask us to consider are some people doing something that is dangerous and irreversible for some, not what do we know for sure. Decision-making in the face of uncertainty raises at least two ethical questions when the potential consequences of non-action are severe or irreversible. The questions are; (1) Who should have the burden of proof, and (2) what quantity of proof should satisfy the burden of proof.
    Should the burden of proof, for instance, be satisfied with 95% confidence levels, 51 % confidence levels, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, etc. Ethics would say that the answer to these questions depends upon several things that need to be considered including the magnitude of potential harms, whether victims are represented in the decision and have consented to be put at risk, whether the harm is reversible or whether full compensation can be paid if damages do occur, etc.
    In the case of climate change, we have an ethical obligation to act now because, among other reasons, there is voluminous sound scientific justification for the conclusion that what we are doing under business as usual in emitting ghg is very dangerous.
    Even a few degrees of warming for some people will be catastrophic a fact that is particularly true of some very vulnerable people including hordes of people in Africa that are already suffering grave drought and live in dry places where the climate models predict more drought , millions of people around the world who are vulnerable to loss of glacier fed water supply, etc,etc.
    Our position is that in the face of uncertainty, once some scientific threshold is reached that what we are doing is dangerous (a threshold we believe that was passed 30 years ago for climate change when the US Academy of Sciences predicted climate sensitivity was 3degrees C, notice I did not say proved that climate sensitivity was this level) nations who are emitting at high levels have a duty to act.
    All of this raises the legitimate question of how do we know what we are doing is dangerous. Moffit argues that the “consensus” is based upon the Medieval Warm Period being lower than present. That is just not the case. The consensus is that human activities are largely causing the warming we are undoubtedly seeing and this conclusion is based primarily on several fingerprinting attribution studies (not the hockey stick) that take into account what we know about natural forcings and tries to explain what we are seeing based upon natural these natural forcings
    If climate change is being caused by the sun, then the upper atmosphere should warm in proportion to the lower atmosphere, night time warmth would not be greater than day time warmth, we would not see more and more infrared radiation being trapped and not going back into space. We are simply not seeing this. We also know from the way the oceans are warming that the ocean warming we are now clearly seeing is not likely coming from natural ocean cycles because it is warming a depth. We know that carbon in the atmosphere has been accumulating in direct proportion to human use of fossil fuels. We know that the carbon that is appearing in the atmosphere is older carbon because of carbon isotopes. There is just no likely natural known forcing that can explain all of this. We also know that the models work best when natural forcing is built into the models even though one should be suspicious of models.
    None of this is a claim on our part that we know exactly what is going to happen. There could be, for instance, although it seems extremely unlikely, that there are some negative feedbacks in the system that are not understood and actual warming could be less than projected by IPCC. However the error could be in both directions. IPCC could be underestimating future warming both in magnitude and timing. In fact actual temperatures, ghg atmospheric concentration levels, and ocean rise that we are now experiencing are at or near the IPCC worst case predictions. That is there also may be positive feedbacks in the system we dont yet understand because the historical climate record is full of abrupt shifts and IPCC is underestimating both the magnitude and speed of climate change that will actually be experienced..
    But this is beside t he point from the standpoint of ethics. Dangerous behavior is usually criminal in most cultures. We believe, given what is at stake from this problem for some parts of the world in particular, the skeptics should have the burden of proving in peer-review literature that the IPCC projections are at the very least very unlikely. This is not only a burden that has not been met, to my knowledge even claimed.
    The fact there are universal ethical norms that can be looked to for this can be discovered ,among other ways, by looking at whether nations have agreed to norms in what is called soft and hard international law. When they agree to these norms, nations are stipulating that the norms represent reasonablly moral behavior even in cases where there is weak enforement. The United States Framework Convention on Climate Change to which the US is a signatory requires governments to not use uncertainty as an excuse for refusing to take cost-effective action on climate change. This promise is evidence that there is a universal norm that has been agreed to that requires action on climate change in the face of uncertainty because all nations have agreed it is dangerous to wait until all uncertainties are resolved. At least 180 nations have agreed to this norm. Also there is a principle in International law called the “no harm” principle that the US also agreed to in the UNFCCC when George Bush’s father agreed to the UNFCCC and it was ratified by the US Congress in 1992 . The no-harm principle requires action before all the proof is in once there is reasonable basis for concluding that a nation may harm others beyond tier borders by their action.
    For all of these reason, the duty to act in the face of uncertainty is very, very strong in the case of climate change because if we wait until all the uncertainties to be resolved it may be too late (and is likely already probably too late for some) to protect the most vulnerable, the longer we wait the more difficult it will be to stabilize atmospheric concentraitons of ghg at safe levels (we are already close to 440 ppm CO2e), and the victims of climate change have not consented to be put at risk.
    The arguments about wasting money don’t acknowledge that the cost of non-action are likely to be huge and catastrophic for the world and for many people in particular goven that there is danger of rising military stresses, huge increases in droughts floods, loss of agricultural productivity, etc,etc. None of the economic predictions that we are aware of have seriously considered the costs to the world if climate sensitivity is at the high end of predicted possible range.
    Perhaps if the vulnerable nations agreed to wait if the developed agreed to pay them for all harms caused by human induced climate change, some justification for waiting would be more ethically tolerable. But in fact, the vulnerable nations are demanding action in the strongest terms and those nations causing the problem have not agreed to pay the billions of dollars necessary to protect people, plants, and animals from all adverse climate change impacts. In fact, if climate sensitivity (that is the amount of warming that is experienced if atmospheric concentrations of ghg reach 560 ppm CO2e ( a level that is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid) turns to be at the upper end of the predicted range that is from 6 to 9 degrees C, then the harms from climate change may be unimaginable, a harsh world hard to even envision let alone put a price on now. One writer asserted that climate change may create a “terra incognita” To claim that the costs of taking action exceeds these costs on non-action only is the truly potential catastrophic impacts are ignored.
    The cost arguments also ignore liability for harms caused by the polluting countries, the duties of nations to assure human rights, and many other liability questions.
    Donald Brown, PSU

  15. Thank you for attention to my questions. Your paraphrasing my views on the MWP are not quite correct. First let me state I think climate change is a critically important issue. I must admit to skepticism of some of the more extreme CO2 related claims but I view natural climate variability and land use impacts as requiring significant attention. New York City continues to ignore its unique hurricane risk. Our water supply systems are woefully deficient to handle any of the historic drought return periods. California worries about the rate of sea rise despite the fact that movement along its major fault is ten times this rate (undifferentiated) We grow subsidized rice in a desert that we do not eat and dump it onto the third world disrupting their ag economy. We are not trying to rebuild wet lands that could help mediate flood peaks. We know the MidAtlantic seaboard is sinking 6 to 9in a century due to glacial isostacy and seem not to care. I get offended when climate tries to hijack the infectious disease issues. For me our failure to have controlled malaria is about as unethical as we can get. There must be no malaria in any future world- warm or cold. Our failure to have helped Africa and other developing nations in the area of potable water troubles me. The work being done on a salt tolerant rice may be as important as any current undertaking. I believe we are much better served by solving known problems first given the fact we have no green energy that can replace our fossil plants. And some recent evidence the NGOs will fight the construction of any energy plant. And I come back to the IPCC finding that climate change was not the greatest threat to Africa.
    I do think that the risks of an 80% emission cut far outweighs any risk of climate– and would love to see an indepedent analysis of the economic and social impacts. (As well as where this 80% number came from) It is not so much the loss of money but the tendency for social collapse. I would offer that human economic systems are more complex and less understood than climate. Human actions following the Black Death showed there were things more frightening than festering boils.
    You stated that you would be surprised to see negative feedbacks. I have never seen a natural system that did not have negative feedbacks. And somebody needs to explain why the climate system did not boil the earth during times of much higher CO2 and where that predicted hot spot is. Back to MWP if it was warmer as Jones said the amount of warming we have ascribed to CO2 re-opens the question. Clouds are arguably more important than CO2 and we just don’t know.
    A curious question- the West over the period of increased CO2 emissions (post WWII) has had little population growth while the third world has more than doubled. If we are to live in a zero sum world we have a problem. As the east continues to grow in number must the west continue to forfeit its emission share? And the poor countries are not all poor by the actions of the west- one could argue that the poor are poor because of socialism and communism, ethnic wars, and corrupt governments. Does the US have any offset for the advances it has given the world in medicine and agricultural science or does it only have obligations.
    I have spent a fair amount of time in China and can attest they are not building a green economy.

  16. Mr Moffitt’ With all due respect, and because I am curious what your response would be to the arguments that I made in my last response. I do not think, your latest response deals with the ethical issues I raised, more specifically :
    1. Do you deny that climate change impacts could be worse than the impacts IPCC has identified because there may be rapid non-linear changes from not completely understood positive feedbacks.or that temperature change could be at he higher end of IPCC’s climate sensitivity range .( I admit the potential of not fully understood negative feedbacks to cause temperature change to be toward the lower end or even below IPCC projections.)
    1. What is your response to my claim that we know enough about potential human-induced climate change to require that those who want to continue to emit at high levels demonstrate in peer-reviewed literature that climate change is not dangerous to many vulnerable people around the world who have not consented to be put at risk in light of the fact that the longer we wait if the consensus climate change sensitivity is correct or if it actually turns out to be at the upper end of the range the harms could be catastrophic for some?.
    3. Do you claim that the scientific arguments pushed by some skeptics has proven that IPCC is wrong or are you simply claiming that some remaining uncertainties have not been resolved to your satisfaction?
    4. Can the United States without considering the interests of vulnerable people by itself decide to wait until the uncertainties are resolved if waiting turns out to harm the most vulnerable or if waiting makes it impossible to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at safe levels.
    Donald Brown, Penn State

  17. Mr. Moffitt,
    Phil Jones statements to the BBC concerning the MWP were widely mis-interpreted. He said that if the MWP was a global, and not a hemispheric phenomenon, then current warming would not be unprecedented. However, there is absolutely no evidence that it was anything but a regional occurrence. Moreover, there is no known mechanism that could have produced that kind of warming on a global scale (aside from increased ghg’s) and Jones himself has produced a number of studies that seek to explain how it could have happened in the Northern Hemisphere alone.The MWP does little to counter the physical evidence that the rapid run up in CO2 concentrations has potentially disastrous effects.
    The 80% reduction is widely cited as a reduction target, even if it is arbitrarily chosen. The time to achieve this goal is usually something in the order of fifty years, and may also not have a rock solid mathematical underpinning, but it is a reduction of 80% in fifty years is a reasonable framework that appears to mitigate the worst case scenarios of AGW. While it is typical of skeptics to vastly overstate the economic costs of achieving this target, suggesting that it would cause “social collapse” is by any reasonable measure absurd, unless you subscribe to the static universe theory. New technologies in energy production and storage are being developed all the time. If we put adequate efforts into emission reduction starting right away, the cost is spread out over decades. If we continue to wait until we feel we have sufficient “proof”, the cost may in fact cause the type of problems you mention.
    While I agree that the ethical failings of the developed world are numerous, I don’t see how that in any way implies that we should not take strong action to avoid a possible climate disaster.

  18. I believe the statement of Mr. Jones raises several important points that I overlooked in my past response to Mr. Moffitt. Donald A. Brown

  19. Donald Brown-
    With respect to your questions:
    1.I don’t deny that climate may produce temperature as much as 4Chotter than present. But this range is possible with or without CO2 additions as we see them in the previous interglacials. I have very little faith in models -born of very long experience- whether they were used in natural stream channel design, erosion or acid rain. I am also biased to see strong ocean controls on the environment and I think the PDO and some of the longer ocean cycles play much more of a role in recent warming than allowed for. Bottomline- we are way too over-confidant in our claims of understanding how the climate works. To say we understand the sun borders on hubris. Note the worst case given for the high emission scenarios are built on a series of assumption for which much of the critical information is not known—clouds, aerosols etc. Would love to see the p value for these models if we calculate the uncertainties involved throughout the model run.
    The “greatest threat” requires first to acknowledge all the cognitive illusions at work in ranking, distributive justice, protected values, recency, underestimating uncertainty etc. and beyond this post. I do agree my position is contrary to natural justice concepts as I rank all risks equally- natural and human caused.This is fundamental to my position. And if you are weighting risk and required action higher for harmful omission, commission or intent then we are using different metrics. I reject that position with no other defense than Bacon’s “It is impossible to love and be wise.”
    Sudden catastrophes worry me more than longer term chronic events such as temperature. Volcanically induced cold snaps such as the Year Without a Summer (1816) or the period 1601-1603 are in my estimation far greater risks both in terms of probability and cumulative risk. My first move would be to insure we have adequate food storage for such a future event.
    Any of the major droughts of the last few hundred years worry me more because we are doing nothing to harden our infrastructure and the risk remains whether or not we control CO2.
    And no amount of CO2 controls are going to protect people living in unhardened places subject to hurricane or cyclones. It wasn’t CO2 that killed 500,000 in the 1970 Bhola Cyclone. Why is it there was not outcry to harden our cities or the third world from intense storms until some linked it to CO2 induced climate change. And CO2 reductions do not make these risks go away.
    I believe our focus on CO2 reduction diverts us from hardening our infrastucture necessary to protect us from my fear- natural variability and your fear CO2. I believe that increasing wealth, technology and hardened infrastructure is a better long term strategy for ALL the world’s people. But this goes back to my unanswered question- a first principle if you will- do we live in a zero sum world? I say we do not and in a choice between Ehrlich and Borlaug- I choose Borlaug every time.
    To your question of burden of proof- my answer is no. Again until we can answer some of the more basic issues such as clouds – we have nothing more than guesses. Infrastructure protects us while we get these answers. My biases were formed by the acid rain crisis. Everything was based on models assuming the mineral titration theory. Those that argued for a dominant role of organic acids were subjected to ritual defamation. We now can’t talk about the role of afforestation in declining pH, or the regrowth of bogs, or the loss of nutrients from repeated logging cycles, suppression of the fire cycle, conifers vs deciduous and its impacts on pH, ANC and aquatic productivity. Atlantic salmon were the poster animal for acid rain and their continuing decline is the price they paid. We announce environmental crises first and then fund science to support the initial position. Its not the way science is supposed to work. Many high priority issues are then held hostage to the new paradigm preventing us from solving anything. Ocean acidification is going down this same sad road of making the conclusion first. All humans systems depend on force or trust—I admit to having lost trust in the environmental movement. Using Mark Dowie’s Losing Ground as a quick explanation- why should I? The ethics I would like considered are those that use direct mail marketing as a tool to set environmental priorities.
    3. The IPCC said as a result of EXPERT OPINION that it was very likely that more than half of our current warming was the result of anthropogenic forces. What other consensus are you speaking about. The models showing the temperatures about which you are concerned were scenario runs- nothing more. How am I supposed to have high confidence in a model output when the understanding relative to the model design and inputs are medium to low? And I think Dr. Tetlock’s work on the value of expert opinion is a good precautionary tale.
    4. You again make the assumption that climate change is the greatest risk. I reject that premise and have also given you IPCC citations that would seem to support my view in Africa. There is not another country or people in the world that has done more for the developing world than the US -whether our lead in malaria eradication or improved agriculture and if our wealth continues so will our generosity and goodwill. Perhaps Sir Isiaih Berlin in Two Concepts of Liberty sums up my position best “If the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral. But if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

  20. I take it you agree that :
    (a) increases from human induced warming, not only natural variability, could produce through unquantifiable positive feedbacks more and faster warming than even that that predicted by IPCC. Such an acknowledgment has ethical significance.
    (b) You have not proven that your belief in warming below the lower expected range articulated by IPCC will occur, these are not based upon peer-revied proofs, but only your judgment.
    (c) I dont see you attacking IPCC relied upon fingerprinting attribution studies. IPCC has said that if ocean natural variability is causing warming you will see a different warming profile than what is being observed. If it is not greenhouse studies that are causing the warming, you would not see the differences between day and night temperature. I see no response to the compelling fingerprinting evidence relied upon by IPCC.
    (d) I take it you see no duty to be careful the millions of vulnerable people who are at risk form human-induced climate change nor the duty to consult with them about whether we should wait to do anything until the uncertainties are resolved

  21. Bill Logan-
    Here is exactly what Jones said:
    “There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia. For it to be global in extent the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.
    Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.
    We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.”
    You claim that there is no evidence that the MWP was global. That is ABSOLUTELY not true. Jones says – in his opinion-there are simply too few paleoclimatic records for the southern hemisphere to reach a conclusion. And he acknowledges the MWP in the northern hemisphere. This seems a monstrous backslide from what was sold to the public and in Jones’s earlier papers with Mann. (I admit to a strong bias against any scientist that prevents review of the raw data)
    Papers showing a southern hemisphere warm period include- Cook et al 2002. Grove and Switsur 1994, He et al 2004, Williams et al 2004, Masson etal 2000 and Holmgen et al 2003 and more if you need. Are these papers conclusive evidence? I’m not qualified to say- but I am sufficiently qualified to understand evidence for a global MWP exists.
    The CRU Emails also show there was much concern about the uncertainties of the MWP in the exchanges between Solomina, Overpeck, Jannsen etc. Concerns and uncertainties that did not find their way into the final IPCC report.
    Bottomline-AGW is built on the fact that the MWP was not global-if the MWP was global then the assumptions we have made about recent warming may be incorrect. Sometimes it is not what you see- it is what you don’t see. If science were at work here we would expect to see massive amounts of resources going to answer this question for the southern hemisphere. The fact that we don’t is troubling.
    You claim that there is no known mechanism that could account for a southern synchronous warming. I interpret this statement as “my conclusion as to how climate works do not allow for this- therefore it cannot exist”. I reject that reasoning. If I have interpreted incorrectly please advise.
    You also try to conflate warming from CO2 and the worst case warming scenarios. You claim “The MWP does little to counter the physical evidence that the rapid run up in CO2 concentrations has potentially disastrous effects.”For the sake of argument I’ll give you the 1C from CO2. The higher temperatures all require CO2 to initiate a series of ASSUMED positive feedbacks. The assumptions for these feedbacks rest upon a number of assumptions foremost being that we are in an anomalous period of warming (no MWP), the sun is constant and we have not left anything important out of consideration ( A huge leap in itself). Phil Jones in his Parliament testimony said as much- without CO2 they can’t account for current warming. Unsaid was if the MWP existed in a period of lower CO2 then there are factors at work that create warming we do not understand and have not taken into account.
    You claim the 80% emission reduction is widely cited. By whom? On what basis? To get to what temperature and why? And how do we do this?
    You dismiss me as a skeptic and use this as proof I overstate the economic costs. Show me the costs- I said I was concerned about the impacts of trying to deny energy or drastically increasing its cost. I said that there was risk here. I said I was concerned that law suits would prevent the construction of new energy plants. Show me why I need not be concerned. An economy is a complex adaptive self organizing system that not even a Keynesian claims to completely understand- your dismissal of the possibility of collapse is troubling.(And yeah I’m partial to Hayek and the Austrian school) To me your ability to embrace climate risk and dismiss economic and related social risk smacks of being a cognitive illusion. Perhaps 100 million people died in the 20th century as the result of failed economic experiments. How can you say there is no risk here? The problem with the precautionary principle is too often it is used by one side as a club claiming only its fears have merit. We continue to take on the costs of unfunded social programs- by what logic would make me comfortable that in the face of these increasing tax costs that increasing energy costs and restrictions will not exacerbate the debt problem. And no I don’t think a green economy is a proper replacement for capitalism- so debt to me matters.
    And you fail to appreciate I in no way said do nothing. Quite the opposite. I advocate as a strong first step hardening infrastructure while we try to get some empirical evidence on AGW. I support strong programs to control infectious diseases, provide clean water, efficient agriculture, remove the incentives to over-capitalization of the world’s fishing fleets, food irradiation, GM crops and the elimination of perverse government subsidies in both ag and water supply and the immediately ending the insanity of biofuels. I believe that increasing wealth and moving away from an agrarian based society reduces population pressures. I believe in energy efficiency and new energy sources but that we must insure that the technologies work, are adequate to our needs and that we can afford them. I believe there are always unintended consequences and we must build systems that adapt and react to this reality. I believe we must constantly test our assumptions.I believe that my plan accomplishes more than your plan and importantly I could be wrong.
    Now tell me why your plan is better than mine.
    And as a disclaimer- I’m retired- never had an oil company as a client- own no energy stocks- and unfortunately no-one is paying me to say anything.

  22. Pat Moffitt,
    The evidence of a warming in the Southern Hemisphere that is comparable to the Northern Hemisphere that would in any way indicate that the recent warming is not unprecedented is scant to the point of being non-existent. There is significant research being done in this area, but it has produced nothing of note. The papers you cite fall far short. To suggest that the uncertainty is great enough to relieve us of an obligation to start curbing emissions is simply wrong.
    You misstate the message that Dr. Jones was trying to convey. He does not do interviews well and has tried to clarify his position since. He fundamentally disagrees with your position.
    Your interpretation of my statement that there is no known mechanism that would have produced warming on the scale that would have equaled the current warming shouldn’t be dignified with a response. Since I have yet to hear anyone describe such a mechanism, I don’t ground all my beliefs, and make crucial decisions, based on the idea that there still might be one. When someone produces sufficient evidence that I am wrong, I will change my position.
    Your belief that the current consensus on AGW depends critically on the current warming being unprecedented is ABSOLUTELY false. You seem to believe that if something different caused warming during the MWP, then CO2 isn’t causing it now. That is absurd. It makes as much sense as saying that since increases in CO2 has lagged temperature increases in the past, it can’t precede it now. The mechanism that causes CO2 to warm the climate is basic and straightforward. This is not a theory, unless you want to refer to the “theories” of thermodynamics and heat transfer. To argue against curbing emissions you need to explain why this effect will NOT cause the expected warming. Thirty years ago there were several possibilities, now there are about two, and the evidence for these is weak at best. The last attempt was Lindzen Choi 2009, and that paper was a travesty.1C, incidentally, is warming before any of the “fast feedbacks” are taken into account. Even Richard Lindzen accepts 1.7C as the appropriate expected warming before the slow feedbacks are taken into account.
    You also misunderstand the level of understanding and the sheer volume of data regarding the feedbacks that affect climate sensitivity. At the last count I saw, there were some 28,000 individual datasets, the vast majority of which support the basic premise. You claim that we are stating a problem and then funding research to support the statement. That is nonsense, and is merely a way of avoiding the obvious. You imply that the research can’t be trusted because researchers have been wrong before. That’s just another way of saying that since you don’t like the data, we should ignore it.
    Your economic analysis is also wrong. You describe, without much detail, a need to harden our infrastructure. Specifically which infrastructure and to what extent and at what cost? How does this cost compare with the cost of decarbonising the economy? Infrastructure development is usually done by governments and paid for through taxation and present something of a drag on the economy. You seem to ignore the economic and social costs of climate change. The costs of transitioning to a carbon free economy range from 2% of GDP (Stern report), which I believe is less than we spent bailing out the banks, to a net gain. Most studies see a drag on growth of GDP, but not a contraction. Energy as a percentage of GDP is smaller now than in the 1970’s, and over half of that is wasted. Deforestation accounts for about 17% of CO2 buildup. There is some relatively low hanging fruit here. No one, aside from yourself, that I can find, sees “social collapse” as a consequence. You present no valid reason for avoiding action.
    Ultimately, the question is whether or not the data establishes, to an adequate statistical likelihood the chance of catastrophic outcomes for some parts of the population if we continue down the path we are traveling. That, I submit, has been conclusively established. We are content to seek small cracks in the underlying science to avoid the inconvenience of taking action, because, while we are playing Russian roulette, we are pointing the gun at someone else’s head.

  23. Mr Moffitt,
    Incidentally, I do not “dismiss” you as a skeptic. The skeptical position on climate science is defensible,albeit tenuous. You cite Roger Pielke jr. Dr. Pielke, a skeptic, sees no CO2 signal in current storm data at current concentrations of CO2 and defends his position well. He prefaces his opinion with the statement that it, in no way, argues against decarbonising the economy as soon as possible. This is the responsible position of a climate skeptic.

  24. A path laid by the current industrialized nations has doomed the planet. China has little to no interest in changing it’s ways, and our requesting it to is probably perceived as an attempt to slow or reduce their progress as a nation and superpower.
    We need to think of alternatives that can have desired results in addition to changing operations that increase greenhouse gases. I just don’t see how this problem gets resolved when we aren’t just fighting ourselves but other nations with no intent of complying.

  25. We could go on forever about what the science does or does not say- having spent some 35 yrs in the environmental field I am quite aware it means nothing. (this is not said to disparage you or your position) Environmental issues are political in nature and are adjudicated as such.
    Lets look at this from a more fundamental risk analysis.
    You propose that we throw the entirety of our resources into the 80% carbon cut and to my view the irrational hope that China and India will actually follow our lead. If you believe China will- you have spent no time in the country. (And noone has yet justified or cited the 80% number and how we attain it) This will do nothing to the “natural” droughts, hurricanes, cyclones, floods etc. And if we are wrong we will have spent our way into oblivion for no gain. (Stern is an unbiased fair assessment of costs?- c’mon. And are you saying there is no research that economic collapse leads to social collapse? And tell me why tens of millions starved under Stalin and Mao.) Nor will your plan do anything to the alleviate the “development pressures” that the IPCC sees as being more pressing than climate change. This is fundamental to this entire dialog– IPCC does not say climate is the greatest threat to Africa although that is being assumed by many. It does nothing for infectious disease, clean water etc. In fact the diversion of resources to decarbonization could make these problems worse. And most importantly you do nothing to address what I claim is the most dangerous of all threats- sudden volcanic induced cold– please read the accounts of the 1601-3 event or even those occurring in the late 1700s and in 1816. If we are truly dealing with threats to humanity we need to lay them all on the table not just those that are politically more correct.
    I on the other hand see a possible 4C rise in the paleo record from the previous interglacials. I would use this data to improve water systems, harden coastlines, improve health care infrastructure, both take land out of agriculture and improve food security by irradiation and GM etc. I said remove the incentives of overcapitalized commercial fishing fleet and remove the perverse incentives for ag and water suplies. I said we should continue work on new energy sources (because there is no replacement for fossil fuels other than perhaps nuclear and we all know it won’t be allowed by the same people that say we must act. I find it a bit troubling that groups that deride our carbon energy policy are the same ones that prevented our switching to nuclear in the 60s. Is there no shame?) In 25 years or less we will clearly have some answer to the predictive skill of the AGW model and hopefully technology up to actually replacing a fair share of the fossil fuel use. My plan focuses on on reducing the cost of food, and moving the third world away from an agrarian society as a solution to population growth.
    Your plan allows for 50 year of death and destruction from preventable causes in hopes we fix ONLY the anthro portion of climate variability in the 2nd half of this century.
    Why is adaptation not a viable alternative- and if not who says and why? I submit that my plan is more ethical than yours because it subjects the people you seek to protect to less risk and more “guaranteed” benefit.

  26. Mr Moffitt; First I want to make clear that you should always figure out what you believe about climate change, not what others say including myself. I stress to my students that they should reach their own conclusions, not listen to me if it dosent make sense to them. In fact, I ask them to make the strongest skeptical argument they can find and continually stress that my job is not to tell them what to think, but to help them think. I do this to the best of my ability.
    I tell them that I will tell them what I think, if they want to know, but my job is to encourage them to be good critical thinkers. I say almost in every class if they wind up taking a view that is skeptical, as far as I am is concerned, provided that they surpport with good reasons, this is a very good outcome if i have helped make them think. I would say the same to you. Follow the evidence and draw your own conclusions.
    Having said this, is not without notice that I see some climate changer deniers making claims about climate change without apparently knowing the fingerprinting evidence that is behind the IPCC attribution of human causation. The hockey stick had as far as I can t ell had nothing to do with IPCC’s support for strong conclusions about human attribution that was reached over a decade ago, evidence that gets stronger all the time. There are over, I believe, 100 papers, which have tested,as a hypothesis. given the kind of warming we are seeing, what evidence supports human causation versus natural forcing.
    One of the many lines of evidence in this regard is differences between night time warming and day time warming. You asked for a paper, and here is one. A good site to get traditional references on fingerprinting is the Union of Concerned Sciences keep track of fingerprinting studies. If you do a literature search and actually read the IPCC working group I reports you will find multiple lines of evidence on human attribution including the way oceans are warming, measured differences in traped infrared radiation and energy balance, carbon isotopes showing the carbon that is appearing in the atmosphere is old carbon, differences between lower and upper atmospheric warming and more.
    I like, you am suspicious of models. In fact, I teach my classes to be very, very suspicious of models. However, there are also reasons to consider when models should be given some respect, and in the case of climate change, IPCC lays this out quite nicely. The, models, however, should not be accepted without suspicion. However, the IPCC position is also based on a great deal of basic physics that has nothing to do with the models. The fingerprinting studies are examples of this. If climate change is caused by the sun, then the upper atmosphere should warm up in proportion to the what is happening in the lower atmosphere.
    Believe what you want, dont believe it because I say it, but you have a duty to follow the evidence. It is the evidence that has made 97 % of the scientists that do actual research on climate science support the consensus position.
    I would also agree that nothing in science is ever fully proven. That is why asking when the proof is in is the wrong question as a matter of ethics. Ethics would ask when you are notice that you are doing something which is potentially damaging to others. I believe we were on notice of this 30 years ago.

  27. I find it intriguing that my remedial approach to the climate risk faced by non-adaptive countries is dismissed. It is in fact a mirror image of the Donaldson approach offered in the IPCC Africa section AG4WG1.Here from the Donaldson:
    “This approach has been coined the ‘development first approach’, in which a future climate regime should focus on development strategies with ancillary climate benefits and increase the capability of developing countries to implement these. This is anticipated to offer a possible positive way out of the current deadlock between North and South in the climate negotiations. First, elements are presented for an integrated approach to development and climate; second, the approach is elaborated for food and energy security in sub-Saharan Africa; and third, possibilities are outlined for international mechanisms to support such integrated development and climate strategies.”
    You need to tell me what parts of the IPCC I’m required to believe and which ones I must reject. And in keeping with my position people are making claims with far too much confidence. “Climate scenarios developed from GCMs are very coarse and do not usually capture important regional variations in Africa’s climate.” Meaning we don’t know the winners and losers. Climate change is presented as solely risk —this is certainly not the case and to my mind disingenuous. What must we do if a large part of Africa greens as a result of climate change? Does the Sahel one of the poorest parts of the world have a right to say they do not want any cessation in CO2 emissions?
    I have been given any number of “evidence” for the present examples of climate change. But I must somehow integrate this info with AG4WG1: “Difficulties remain in attributing temperature changes (to anthropogenic and natural forcings) on smaller than continental scales and over time scales of less than 50 years. Attribution at these scales, with limited exceptions, has not yet been established.” (AG4 WG1) Such claims according to the IPCC cannot as yet be made.
    You claim:
    “The evidence of a warming in the Southern Hemisphere that is comparable to the Northern Hemisphere that would in any way indicate that the recent warming is not unprecedented is scant to the point of being non-existent. There is significant research being done in this area, but it has produced nothing of note.”
    I have given you evidence which you dismiss. You have not answered my question as to why this is not a major focus- you claim it is but give no evidence. You also don’t think the MWP is important— if it were not- then the Mann reconstruction would not be the center of a firestorm. And you don’t understand how the forcing values were extracted from the temperature record. Most importantly you should reassure IPCC lead author Olga Solamina about the absolute lack of any evidence who wrote in the infamous CRU Emails to Overpeck July 31, 2006 (725. 1154353922.txt):
    Hello everybody,
    I attach here a version of glacier box and suggestions (in red) how to include there the reference to the new Thompson et al., 2006 paper.
    In this relation – I am getting more and more concern about our statement that the Early Holocene was cool in the tropics – this paper shows that it was, actually, warm – ice core evidences+glaciers were smaller than now in the tropical Andes. The glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere (Porter, 2000, review paper) were also smaller than at least in the Neoglacial. We do not cite Porter’s paper for the reason that we actually do not know how to explain this – orbital reason does not work for the SH, but if we do cite it (which is fair) we have to say that during the Early to Mid Holocene glaciers were smaller than later in both Northen, and Southern Hemisphere, including the tropics, which would contradict to our statement in the Holocene chapter and the bullet. It is probably too late to rise these questions, but still just to draw your attention.
    I am going to Kamchatka tomorrow, but will be avaliable by e-mail from time to time.
    All the best,
    Note Olga’s concern that they would need to propose another warming explanation for the southern hemisphere warming and to avoid this they withheld contrary evidence (Porter). So who do I believe you or the IPCC lead author? And why should this type of behavior not concern me. And please tell me whether the UK using people for the investigation with clear conflicts of interest was ethical.
    You claim “No one, aside from yourself, that I can find, sees “social collapse” as a consequence. You present no valid reason for avoiding action.” Do you just make this stuff up? You may not agree with what I say but to say noone else sees this association is over the top. Lets start with “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects,” by Dimitry Orlov or George Mason’s economist Robin Hanson’s 2007 “Catastrophe, social collapse and human extinction” or Stanislav Andrewski . You should especially read Joseph Tainter’s 1990 “The Collapse of Complex Societies”. Or explain to me what Mao’s economic policies did to China.
    You claim “Ultimately, the question is whether or not the data establishes, to an adequate statistical likelihood the chance of catastrophic outcomes for some parts of the population if we continue down the path we are traveling. That, I submit, has been conclusively established.” Where is this information? I would love to see a statistical analysis of the probabilities. The IPCC conclusions were expert opinion. One cannot assign statistical likelihood to expert opinion There was no statistical verification in the scientific sense to the consensus. If you have statistical evidence you don’t need consensus!!!!!!!! Show me the p from any climate model where the model uncertaintites are iterated with the model. And make sure you understand there is a difference between a model that will give a p for a range of solutions for a given set of assumptions is not the same as the p involved with interating the uncertainty involved with the assumptions throughout the model run.
    You state: “You also misunderstand the level of understanding and the sheer volume of data regarding the feedbacks that affect climate sensitivity. At the last count I saw, there were some 28,000 individual datasets, the vast majority of which support the basic premise.”
    I have showed you the exact reference from IPCC AG4 -WG1 Level of Scientific Understanding (LOSU)— Radiative forcing components- low, aerosols med. to low, surface albedo med to low, solar irradiance low etc. You also tell me that the solar influence has been dismissed as a major unknown—Not according to the IPCC they say the level of scientific understanding is low. So is the IPCC wrong on LOSU. I’m not saying our understanding is low- I’m just telling you what the IPCC says. When did we understand clouds? And do you understand the twisting that had to be done with “reflective” aerosols to make the models work they way they wanted. Lets give the entire benefit of the doubt and make all the forcings known at medium level 50% of understanding-and that we understand all the ocean, orbital, population factors. Now iterate those 50% throughout the model and calculate p.
    You say “You misstate the message that Dr. Jones was trying to convey. He does not do interviews well and has tried to clarify his position since. He fundamentally disagrees with your position.” Did he tell you this? I didn’t misstate anything – I attached a verbatim quote.” Show me the clarification and tell me why I should not pay attention to his sworn testimony?
    You accuse me of throwing away opinions I do not like yet how am I to react to your statement “The last attempt was Lindzen Choi 2009, and that paper was a travesty.” I try to tell you why I agree or don’t- so tell me why this paper is a travesty.
    You reply: “Your economic analysis is also wrong.” And then cite the Stern report. So what is the p that an 80% reduction of CO2 can be realized at a cost of 2% of GDP. I would like to point out that some researchers like Muir-Wood have accused the Stern report of twisting the findings of their research “going far beyond what was an acceptable extrapolation of the evidence”.
    There is no coordinated review of how we achieve 80% CO2 reduction nor is there any comprehensive study on the costs- nor if it is possible without drastic reduction in our standard of living. More importantly are we guaranteed the right to build nukes without delay. And should Sierra Club and NRDC bear responsibility for forcing the world into a carbon economy by shutting down the nuclear industry in the 60s and 70s. I need assurance that we are talking non carbon energy and not no energy.
    You state: “The mechanism that causes CO2 to warm the climate is basic and straightforward. This is not a theory, unless you want to refer to the “theories” of thermodynamics and heat transfer.” Are you a scientist? I can empirically test thermodynamics and heat transfer in a simple static system. Show me the empirical test for clouds. And the interaction of multiple variables in a chaotic system can hardly be called simple- if possible. I keep repeating this- I’ll give you CO2 radiation. Everything else assumes a series of positive feedbacks. To say this is straightforward is just not corect nor is saying it is equivalent to heat transfer from one medium to another. If this is your belief I suggest that you talk to any scientist skeptic or not.
    I entered the environmental field because I was in awe and attracted to the complexity and beauty of complex adaptive ecologies. I have seen our understanding sacrificed to make complex systems simple. I have seen the damage done to science and the environment (acid rain) when complex systems are artificially simplified. I am trained to reject any model that claims it can take a minor player in a system and predict out over a hundred years what the system will do. Remember it is water that is the dominant green house gas- CO2 is but a bit player.
    The mitigation plan I offered is the result of personal experience. We were told that acid rain was killing the Atlantic salmon. A 1987 study done by Canadian fisheries said that the Nova Scotia salmon could be saved by liming the rivers. It was rejected as uneeded because our acid rain controls would “heal’ the rivers. Many researchers had their careers destroyed that cautioned that the regrowth of the forest land, stem flow from conifers and other natural sources of organic acids were equally or more responsible for the pH decline. That acid rain controls would not work. The director of the NAPAP project was fired because the interim report said the claims of acid rain were overstated. Congress forced the new director to promise that the final report would verify the severity of acid rain. (Anyone interested I can give citations for all of this) The case for organic acids however was so strong that the final report could not find a way to say otherwise. As a result EPA refused to release the report until it was sure the votes were there to pass the Clean Air Act changes. EPA then went on a campaign to destroy the man and the career of one of the world’s leading soil scientists- Ed Krug
    We are now 23 years down the road and most of the Atlantic Salmon in Nova Scotia are extinct. The rivers have not healed. NGOs and regulatory agencies continue to prevent liming. Because they now understand two things- that they weren’t wrong the problem was just worse than they thought and we need stricter controls on emissions or two the organic acid influence is the result of climate change. I have lost trust in this system. The depressing joke at the end of NAPAP (the national acid rain assessment)was tthere would be no NAPAP for climate change. There wasn’t- Dr Happer was fired at DOE and the then Vice President warned everyone else the “debate is over.” We gave control of climate science to the organization that said nothing as Pol Pot slaughtered his people, that said nothing as Mao starved his, that turns a blind eye to Darfur, did nothing about malaria, stole money from the oil for food program, that put the worst abusers of humanity on the Human Rights Commissions but we really really have to trust them about climate.
    Just one simple request. Think of all the things in the last 40 years medically that have switched back and forth between being good for you and bad for you. A latest is that we now find that avoiding the sun to avoid skin cancer has increased our risk of more serious pancreatic cancers as a result of vitamin D deficiency. Now name just one environmental truth that has EVER been found to be in error. Just one. In fact lets not be so restricted- any claim once announced by an NGO (Worse than we thought does not count) Now tell me how this is possible.

  28. Donald Brown-
    It is easy to get lost in the discussion of climate. Let me try to sum up my views. I have spent my career and retirement working to improve the environment. I have watched too many solvable environmental problems get hijacked by a larger political and ideological debate. It generally starts with non-scientists using “science” to sell way too much confidence in what we know. Overconfidence- is the theme of some of my admitted rants. As is context–or how does this risk fit within a matrix of both natural and anthropogenic risks? And perhaps I’m most concerned that complex issues adjudicated in a political arena force simple solutions to address complex problems. That all problems must conform to the current paradigm-taken hostage if you will such that everything is caused by acid rain and then all problems are the result of climate change has to stop. There are problems worthy of being problems without acid rain or climate or whatever the next one will be.
    I was attracted to your post by the claim that the Gulf spill was the greatest environmental threat. I reacted because it is claims like this that prevent the less politically important but ecologically more important issues from being addressed. We have lurched for 40 years from one politically attractive issue to another rather than systematically trying to fix our problems. That the media sells this spill as the largest environmental disaster in US history and how readily this postulate is accepted by the public demonstrates to me how poorly the environmental problems we face are understood. Such a system is easily manipulated and the environment rarely benefits. I would truly appreciate someone telling me why this claim for the spill as the greatest threat.
    As an example of my hostage taking concern- I have tried to champion at every possible opportunity the need to fund research into the oyster diseases MSX and Dermo. As well as rehab of the habitat damage from harvest. Oysters are a keystone species- they play a “structural role” in the environment. Oyster prior to collapse once filtered the entire Chesapeake water body every few days. We can never restore this estuary without first addressing this “broken” structural element. But oysters are not sexy and the amount of resources we have devoted is apalling. Now comes along ocean acidification– politically attractive- and the little MSX and Dermo dollars and researchers will be “captured” by ocean acidification. There is a bit of cynicism towards the NGOs that are now concerned by ocean acidification impacts on shellfish—- but could care less about MSX or Dermo.
    Or that people use malaria to sell climate- selling a message that by controlling CO2 we control the spread of malaria. No! Malaria is controlled by public health infrastructure, medicine and pesticide treated bed nets. And hopefully a vaccine. Linking malaria to climate may be good for the climate cause but it is terrible for the malaria cause. To me that is unethical.
    I have seen us because of overconfidence and political/ideological pressures put all of our resource in one simple answer. I have seen it fail spectacularly as described with acid rain among others. I can show you four separate NAS studies decrying the problems in our ocean only to have the new Magnuson Stevens Act fail to include any of the recommendations. And despite this fact be hailed by NGOs as a triumph (it got the climate programs they wanted so I guess it was worth the sacrifice)
    I find it safer- more efficient to attack the symptoms. I think that doing good is a better approach than preventing bad. I have hope and trust in the human race. And I know there are no perfect solutions.
    So with respect to climate. I have said it is vitally important. That natural climate variability alone requires us to act. And I have laid out how we do this. I think the public has been sold too much confidence on the predicted future in an increasing CO2 enriched world. Far more confidence than even the IPCC admits. I have also said I could be wrong as to the amount of warming we may see. I have never ever said it did not exist. I have simply tried to point out there are important unknowns that are used in my risk matrix. Conversely, the public has been led to believe less risk from natural climate variability exists than I believe is ethically responsible. And CO2 controls do not protect us from this risk. I believe that sudden cold (ex volcanically induced) is more dangerous than the risk of CO2.
    I have asked earlier and received no answer as to our ethical obligations. Are we allowed to ignore natural risk? Must we weight an anthropogenic risk differently than a natural one? Ethically to me risks are risks and that the bigger risk should get the bigger resource share. I also believe that it is unethical to downplay natural risks to sell anthropogenic risks. People are owed a proper context.
    Your position supposes that we have an ethical requirement to act AND that the action is an 80% cut in CO2. The first supposition however does logically imply the other without a lot more information. An 80% cut in CO2 emissions opens us to risks that most here cannot or do not allow for. I do not feel the risks warrant this risk. And on a purely emotional level I do not feel giving the UN control over vast sums of resources on the promise that they are trying to save the world in a hundred years when they do nothing to fix what is “fixable” now. That is a trust issue for me.
    I believe my mitigation plan is more adaptive, addresses both natural and anthropogenic risks, saves more lives and opens us to less unintended consequences and overall risk. I know that my plan will produce concrete results. I don’t think my response is unethical- but know others may disagree.

  29. Dear Mr. Moffit; i respect your attempt to keep claims within what we know. I too have worked on environmental problems in many different positions for 30 years. I too have seen some exaggerated environmental threats for some problems and underestimated claims them for others. I share your suspicion of models. In fact, I teach my students to be very suspicious of models. You are encouraged to keep speeking up as you see it.
    I have thought about climate change in a deep way since the mid-s1980s. I think we come to very different conclusions about what we should do about what we know. You are entitled to draw your own conclusions. I too think we should be careful about what we say we know and think I am. . But the question of what we know for sure is not the only question. If we have reasonable knowledge of potential damage (even if it is unproven) we have duties to act particularly in cases where if we wait until the proof is in it is too late.and if other people than ourselves get harmed if we wait too long. There are large parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, that are already suffering from droughts and floods that climate change predicts (notice I made no claim to proof)
    I am not sure you know how difficult it seems to be for the world now to stabilize atmosphere CO2 at levels that would give us confidence that we can limit additional warming to 2 degrees C if the IPCC climate sensitivity range is correct.
    CO2 equivalent is already above 440 ppm when you take into account methane and other ghgs and world energy use is increasing 2% per year I believe change is urgent but dont base my postion on what is proven. Once we exceed 450 ppm CO2 equivalent there is a less then even chance we can limit warming to 2 degrees C if t he IPCC climate change sensitivity range is correct. (Although I admit that climate change sensitivity may be toward the lower end of the projected range, it may also be way above the higher end.. We just dont know) Above 2 degree a host on non-linear changes in the climate system become more probable (notice I did not say proven)
    I think we have known enough since the mid-1980s to begin phasing out activities that produce carbon unnecessarily. If we would have acted 25 years ago, when some of the rest of the world did, our problems would not be as grave now. None of the things we need to do, in my view means a major reduction in life style but that is another long discussion) You apparently disagree. That is your right. I can only tell you why I think we have past a threshold of knowledge that creates duties to stop doing what we are doing. Notice I did not say “proven knowledge”. I think I am very careful to distinguish what I think we know for sure and what is unproven projection (although there is actually quite a lot strongly settled science behind our concerns about climate change including such t hings as the initial forcing of each ghg, how much ghgs are being liberated by fossil fuel combustion around the world, the basic physics of the natural ghg effect, the role the ghg play in the natural ghg effect, the global warming potential of different ghg, the level of ghg in the atmosphere, the amount of infrared radiation being trapped at any time by ghg, the temperatures of the upper and lower atmosphere, change in ice cover, glacier extent, changes in the amount of intense storms, amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, what warming forcing would be in the absence of positive and negative feedbacks, and most, most tellingly fingerprints that allow attribution of human causation based upon how the planet is warming. Notice, I did not say this proves what future temperature change. It is, however, a very strong amount of reliable knowledge that leads to a reasonable conclusion that we are doing something very dangerous with business as usual releases of ghg.
    I do not have time to go on endlessly with this. I must stop now, You are encouraged to tell it like you see it, I will do the same.

  30. “Believe what you want, dont believe it because I say it, but you have a duty to follow the evidence. It is the evidence that has made 97 % of the scientists that do actual research on climate science support the consensus position.”
    I can get the 2004 consensus statement but not the 2007 do you have a link?

  31. I appears that you are comparing the total centralized mismanagement of entire economies to the orderly transition of approximately 8% of our economy from one mode of production to another over the course of decades. Oil is about 2.6% of GDP and coal and NG, I think, are close to 1% each. Renewables, right now, are about 14% of total generation and rapidly increasing. Wind is increasing by double digits. China is installing new turbines at the rate of one per hour. Baseload power problems are not as daunting as they seemed a few years ago. The nuclear industry has only itself to blame for its problems, but GENIV and thorium cycle nuclear plants are part of the mix. A slightly optimistic but interesting article is here: No, total societal collapse will not come about during this transition.
    If you are more concerned with cataclysmic upheavals, what happens if suddenly, one day, our access to middle eastern oil was shut off? Due to our economic need for it, I would suggest total societal collapse might follow. Iran will have a nuclear weapon soon, partly because we don’t dare get too tough with them, they could easily close the Straits of Hormuz. What happens then? Does this present the possibility for sudden, apocalyptic upheaval.
    I disagree with the idea that since there may be winners and loser in the climate change experiment we have the right to run the experiment. I believe that even if you have winners at 450 ppm it is difficult to show that there will be att 1000 ppm.
    Here is a reasonable assessment of Lindzen Choi.
    Even Roy Spencer dismissed the paper and Lindzen himself said the criticisms “have merit”. He claims to be able to correct the flaws in the data and conclusions without altering the basic substance of the paper. The world waits.
    To be sure, I am not a scientist. I have degrees in physics and math, but that is the limits of my expertise. I disagree with your statement that climate is a specifically chaotic system as I believe that is a more accurate description of weather. Climate is more stable, is a boundary values problem and lends itself fairly well to long term modeling.At least, that is my understanding. I have read about the deliberate distortions of the models to produce desired results, but it is usually typical, boilerplate denialist rumormongering. Perhaps you could describe the “twisting of aerosols” that was done to force the models to behave a certain way in more detail.
    I did not find the Muir-Wood response to the Stern Review particularly helpful, but prefer the Nordhaus critique,where he shows that changing a few assumptions can produce different outcomes, but concludes that the Review “informs” but does not resolve the issue. Stern was also as widely praised as criticized. Imagine that, in an economics paper.
    You are right that I should not have used the term “to a statistically significant likelihood” but should have said “by an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence”. I apologize for this but stand by the intent of the statement.
    How is CO2 a “bit player”. It accounts for about 14% of the net greenhouse effect. The concentrations of CO2 are increasing and that will change the total energy budget. That is what I feel is relatively straightforward. CO2 is the star of the show. I think you are too quick to dismiss the effects of feedbacks, as more and more data is accumulated , the feedbacks seem more and more significant.
    I remain convinced that we are obligated to start decarbonizing the economy. I remain convinced that your assessment of the costs are wildly overstated, especially if we begin in earnest now. I absolutely agree with you that there are other compelling moral issues that need to be addressed and that our failure to do so is a travesty, but as long as we we feel the need to spend $750 billion dollars a year on the military, our priorities are misplaced.

  32. Thanks Mr. Logan; I think you make several good points. The notion that costs of taking action are prohibitive and therefore justification fpr non action are, as you point out, full of questionable assumptions. Even though your arguments I believe are sound, assumptions that you dont mention is that costs to high emitters should b:
    a. Calculated from the current moment, ignoring the arguable responsibility to act over 25 years ago when the world was put on notice that there is a serious problem.
    b. Huge potential costs of non-action
    c. The fact that to base non-action on costs to polluters ignores duties to compensate under the well established ‘polluter-pays” principle
    d. multlipue arguments for liability of high emitting polluters.
    Don Brown

  33. Many who oppose action on climate change seem to be at least somewhat unaware of the now large amount of work on human attribution and fingerprinting.
    Here is a reference to the IPCC summary of this in the 4th Assessment, a summary which is now not comprehensive but a good place to start.
    We at ClimateEthics do not take a position that this proves with 100 % probability human causation but by far is sufficient to create a threshold scientific basis for creating the duty to act because it is poor people who are most harmed, it already too late to prevent serious harm if humans are causing climate change and the longer we wait the more difficult, if not impossible, it will be to stabilize ghg at safe levels. Here is the citation
    IOCC Chapter 9: Understanding and Attributing Climate Change

  34. Bill,
    The models are tuned by balancing the radiative forcings of ghgs against the cooling aerosols. As this is a balance – if we assume a high degree of cooling from aerosols we must assign more sensitivity to warming from ghgs. CO2 cannot account for the measured rise in temperature over the last century so we turn to the interaction of CO2 with other climate modifiers. And the aerosols are the fudge factor. The assumption has been that there has been a large aerosol cooling and as such it must be offset by a high ghg temperature input- implying high sensitivity to CO2. If however aerosols do not have a high cooling effect then the sensitivity to CO2 is not as high. (My earlier point these are not being empirically tested- they are being tuned within the model) Remember that IPCC level of Scientific Understanding is low to medium for this critical forcing. However a recent paper by Gunnar Myhre in the July 09 issue of Science that the values used by the IPCC are too high perhaps by 40 for aerosols. The problem arises from the fact we have reflective (scattering) cooling aerosols like sulfate and the absorbing black carbon which causes heating. The problem the paper has found is that the relative amount of these two aerosols has changed over time—a factor we did not account for. And we now must assign a bigger role for black carbon (which also changes our options for stabilizing temperatures. Its what the papers on the 3rd world cook stoves and old diesel engines are about. And my previous comment on tortuing the reflecting aerosols are the attempts not to diminish the sensitivity of CO2.
    We also have new evidence that several other parts of the system do not operate as we thought the microbial CO2 and jelly pumps that move carbon within the ocean in ways we had not thought. We also have found that the Atlantic Meridional Circulation doesn’t work the way we thought and in fact rather than slowing down as the models claimed it si speeding up- significantly (Josh Willis at NASA Jet Propulsion)
    Perhaps the most important thing to watch is the “Where’s the Heat?? We should have had significant heating over the last 7 to 10 years- but the atmosphere is flat and the ocean surface is flat to slightly cooling. Half the heat is missing. Remember the top 3m of the ocean can store the equivalent heat in Joules of the entire atmosphere—-land and air have always been a distraction. There is either a massive amount of heat “hiding” or the sensitivities for CO2 warming are too high. Trenberth has said maybe the heat got down into the deep oceans—but that would have been seen by the Argo system and wasn’t. This is why Trenberth in one of the CRU emails said “The fact is, we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it’s a travesty that we can’t.”
    You say “I disagree with your statement that climate is a specifically chaotic system as I believe that is a more accurate description of weather. Climate is more stable, is a boundary values problem and lends itself fairly well to long term modeling.” The term chaotic is often misunderstood. Interestingly- chaotic systems are bounded- but pertubations within the bound are the sensitve to initial conditions. Climate over the Phanerazoic the last 545MY has ranged between a global temperature average of 10 and 23C. (We are at 12C now)
    Don’t get me wrong – I would go off fossil fuels if I thought we could replace with a reliable cost effective alternative. I don’t like the footprints of both solar and wind as well as the reliability issue. Why do you think it was all the nuclear industry’s fault?
    I am personally sensitive to social collapse having lived through the worst of the 60s riots—things were relatively OK one day and the next all hell broke out. I will remain cautious until I’m sure that we can get the replacement energy and that is affordable.
    I’m not sure why my development first adaptive strategy as outlined by IPCC. It puts in the infrastrucure for both natural and anthro risks, allow us to fine tune the best strategy for ghg reduction and to get at least another decade down the technology road. The missing heat gives me confidence we have time especially as we are pulling out of the warm phase of the PDO
    My comment on CO2 as a bit player is a pet peeve of mine in that in any environmental crisis we seem to select the most politically valuable molecule for study. If you want to understand climate you build your model to focus on water vapor. As an example- just read a horrible paper on the impacts of ocean acidification on clown fish. If you really wanted to look at ocean impact you use the phytoplankton. The only reason you use a clown fish is to release a press release that ocean acidification is killing Nemo!
    I do think the IPCC should have been required to address the benefits of climate change. It would be interestng to see what will happen with the Sahel

  35. Donald Brown,
    When making an analysis of polluter pays (assuming that CO2 is a pollutant) it must be remembered that electric utilities are not your typical free market corporation. They are in effect highly regulated monopolies. In a Regulatory rate making case the costs of any pollution control measures would be passed through to the customer–dollar for dollar. As would any invested capital along with a return for the invested capital.
    People have the right to know that costs to utilities are costs to us. And we need to be careful in our statements lest we give the false impression that someone else will pay.
    I have yet to receive the ethical case for an 80% CO2 cut as opposed to my adaptive measures (or some other plan). Certainly if we are to be ethically bound to act on climate change–a similar ethical responsibility exists to justify the remedy.
    And should the person demanding the ethical obligation be the same party that defines the specific remedy?

  36. I on the other hand see a possible 4C rise in the paleo record from the previous interglacials. I would use this data to improve water systems, harden coastlines, improve health care infrastructure, both take land out of agriculture and improve food security by irradiation and GM etc.

  37. Pat,
    What you describe, once you delete the pejorative terms (like torturing ), is a perfectly valid technique, I believe. You start with some basic assumptions, tweak the parameters, and determine which model has the best predictive power by noting which one most closely matches observables. If you have data that leads you to believe that CO2 sensitivity is in a certain range, you might try varying other parameters while holding CO2 steady just to see what the model provides. No harm done there.
    Is this the paper by Myhre?
    Consistency Between Satellite-Derived and Modeled Estimates of the Direct Aerosol Effect
    Gunnar Myhre
    In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, the direct aerosol effect is reported to have a radiative forcing estimate of –0.5 Watt per square meter (W m–2), offsetting the warming from CO2 by almost one-third. The uncertainty, however, ranges from –0.9 to –0.1 W m–2, which is largely due to differences between estimates from global aerosol models and observation-based estimates, with the latter tending to have stronger (more negative) radiative forcing. This study demonstrates consistency between a global aerosol model and adjustment to an observation-based method, producing a global and annual mean radiative forcing that is weaker than –0.5 W m–2, with a best estimate of –0.3 W m–2. The physical explanation for the earlier discrepancy is that the relative increase in anthropogenic black carbon (absorbing aerosols) is much larger than the overall increase in the anthropogenic abundance of aerosols.
    If it is I am wondering about the number 40 you mentioned. 40 what? How does that match up with the abstract here? I am not particularly comforted by the paper’s conclusions, although I have only read the abstract.
    Your descriptions of certain parts of the ecosphere that are behaving in unexpected ways does not, for me, argue for postponing action. Specifically, the missing heat suggests that things may be worse that we thought. You are correct in saying that if we are right about CO2 the heat must be going somewhere. I think there are a number of ways to get a reasonable estimate of CO2 sensitivity, so my belief is that it is in the ocean, but our heat tracking systems between various resovoirs are inadequate. Trenberth’s paper here is informative.
    I disagree that CO2 is presented because it is the most politically viable molecule. The emphasis on CO2 is because CO2 is the problem. It traps what, about 150 W/m2 at current concentrations. Water vapor is transient. You study water vapor to get a clearer handle on what changing CO2 concentrations is doing. Also, there are many studies underway on several planktonic species, with the thrust apparently on the carbonate dependent ones (pteropods for instance). Maybe one might study the clownfish to see how far up the food chain the effects are already evident.
    All of the accusations you level at climate science and scientists seem to be mostly editorializing. I do not subscribe to the development “first” idea because I believe that the evidence that we need to start decarbonising is sufficient, although concurrent development in vulnerable counties that might mitigate some of the effects of AGW would be important. The only way to avoid a clear moral imperative is to show that the effects of decarbonising would cause the total societal collapse that you suggest it might, but there just isn’t any evidence to support that claim.

  38. Bill,
    I’m glad you agree on the heat in the ocean. No concern on your part that the signature isn’t found by ARGO or that we need to get the heat mysteriously down several thousand meters without seeing it happen or giving a mechanism by which it may happen.
    You don’t seem to think any framing occurs with respect to government science. IPCC’s mission if to assess the risk of anthropogenic warming. Thats not framing? Not assessing the benefits of increased CO2 and warming is somehow not framing. To start a new program on ocean acidification rather than one that focuses on the ocean’s bicarbonate system – isn’t framing.
    This post rested upon a given that human caused climate was the world’s greatest risk. Noone has shown this to be true– it used to be nuclear stockpiles- is that number two now? How is this risk greater than any of the other risks I have mentioned?
    This post claims that 97% of climate scientists believe in global warming. Undefined this is meaningless as I have said I believe in global warming. Do 97% climate scientists believe that we must cut CO2 by 80%— you nor I have any idea because that question has never been posed.
    You continue to claim that we must act to help the less advantaged of the world. Spent any time there? If you did you would understand why the IPCC Africa section was very careful to put climate change in perspective to the litany of problems the developing world faces.
    And you say there is no risk to society– but how do we get this power to replace fossil fuels. Are we allowed nukes? Are we allowed to replace all our energy needs. Will we be guaranteed the right to build replacement energy facilities. What is the reliability of this new energy supply. What are the environmental risks of solar and wind– do we really want to apply that kind of footprint in terms of land to energy production? You believe that only your risks are worthy of consideration. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

  39. Worst ever? Did you even go to school or take history? The Dust Bowl in the 1930’s was 100 times worse. Give me a break.

  40. Wow, it’s obvious that this issue is a very heated and emotional one. I think as a nation, to try to substitute wind or solar for all fossil fuels is unrealistic.
    We can work towards the goal of reducing our dependence, and that’s about all we will achieve in our lifetime.

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