Global Warming – the real debate is about politics, not science @clim8resistance

The Climate Resistance blog, despite its rather odd-sounding name, is one of the better anti-climate-alarmism sites around. Instead of diving into the nuttier depths of the “It’s a UN conspiracy to take over the world and hand it over to the Jews bankers” arguments, it tackles the real issue in the climate debate head on.

A recent post there, “It’s all in the Head…lines” points out the shallowness of the alarmists’ position:

Sachs and Corner, like many alarmists, are continuing to hide behind the idea that the climate debate divides on a single point of difference: “Climate change is happening” versus “climate change isn’t happening”


The argument is really about how climate ‘science’ turns into ethical imperatives and politics. Our argument here is that ‘catastrophe’ is the premise of climate politics, not the conclusion of climate science.

The post also criticsises some people skeptical of the idea that drastic slowing of human activity is the only way to deal with global warming:

With arguments like this emerging from academia, it is no surprise that people sense the snake oil, and head for the science as the object of the debate. We’ve said before that this is a mistake that sceptics make. They mirror their counterparts such as Sachs and Corner, who believe that the debate begins and ends in “the science”. As we point out, probably too often, the politics is prior. It is Sachs and Corner’s politics which stinks. “The science” is an afterthought.

It’s been argued here before that this is the most important factor about the global warming debate. Even if humans are causing the climate to warm – even if that is an undisputed scientific fact – that fact doesn’t mean that the “science” can tell us what political decisions we need to make. The response to global warming is a political one, not a scientific one, and once the scientists have described what is happening, they have no more authority than any other reasonably well-informed citizen.

37 Responses to “Global Warming – the real debate is about politics, not science @clim8resistance”

  1. 1 Dalec

    YM, It’s a long journey you all take, from the strident denialism of “Last Superpower” to the grudging and wussy acceptance that maybe something is happening in the outside world.
    Of course it is political, the growth of human population from 1 million about 10,00 years ago to just under 7 billion right now is bound to have a huge political dimension.
    We have stressed our environment:
    The point of all this is what can (must?) we do to improve our standard of living and at the same time reduce our stress on our environment.
    It’s not about the return to some bucolic nirvana as some greens would have it, equally it’s not about mining the rings of Saturn for chemicals as some nutters would have it.
    The gross stupidity that equates a standard of living to energy consumption is one problem. The gross stupidity that says we must reduce our standard of living by “going back to nature” is another.

    The pointy headed scientists can certainly advise us on the impact of our political decisions,even help shape them. That is of course if your allies such as lord Monckton and co have not taken them all off in train carriages to the concentration camps for the re-education of pointy heads.

  2. 2 youngmarxist

    Just for the benefit of anyone reading this article, there’s a wide range of opinion among the people who post on this blog. Dalec’s usual hysteria shows up in the claim that Lord Monckton is “[our/my] ally”

    Dalec seems to hate us all here so much that he’s incapable of being honest about the fact that some of the regular posters are skeptical that global warming is real, and others think it seems likely to be real.

    Dalec’s claim of “gross stupidity that equates a standard of living to energy consumption” is just him pretending that we say something that we don’t. I assume he’s referring to this argument back in January, where keza pointed out that energy use has continued to rise as standards of living and energy efficiency have risen. This isn’t the same as saying that using more energy automatically means a higher standard of living.

    Please don’t take Dalec’s ranting as being the truth about what we think – it’s much more complex than he says as he spits at us in anger.

  3. 3 Dalec

    Er YM,
    This is a quote from davidmc. (No I was not referring to Keza).
    ” After allowing for the expected population increase over the next 50 years, just bringing the world per capita energy consumption level up to the present rich country average would require something like a sixfold increase. Anyone who opposes this is a total sod.”
    Leave aside the reference to sodomy!!! It is clear that the writer, who is one of your guru’s, seriously believes that per capita energy consumption is a measure of modernism.
    In fact the history of industrialisation demonstrates exactly the opposite. Technologies such as steam power and electricity could not compete with existing technologies; horse power,gas lighting waterwheels and so on, until they cost less per unit of energy than these.
    As I have pointed out, electricity did not begin to compete until the generation efficiency was increased from the first primitive attempts. It then took off and became a mass commodity for the rising global middle class.
    Similarily with motor transport and virtually every mass production technique – the embodied energy falls as the volume rises.
    The fuel efficiency of modern vehicles has risen, not in response to the calls from the “green vermin” but in response to hard economics of supply and demand.
    The rise of the non hybrid pure electric vehicle is being driven by precisely the same forces.
    Reduce the amount of energy required for a given task and the cost of the service goes down.
    An electric vehicle can transport people for less than 20% of the cost per km that can be obtained with present petrol driven vehicles in city traffic.
    The cost of lighting in a per unit energy basis has gone down by a factor of 6 in recent times. Modern kitchen appliances are vastly more energy efficient than they were.
    Per Capita energy consumption as a measure of prosperity? – what a nonsense.

  4. 4 SOWENS

    Dalek the pedant in me leads me to suggest that calling someone a “sod” means that you are comparing them to a type of dirt rather than making some sexual reference.

  5. 5 jim sharp

    sowens. it seeems you weren’t pedant enuff,[lazy sod!]to check afore you partook in some mickey-taking with dalec
    {3 sod n [short for sodomite] (1818) chiefly Brit: bugger ‹if I ever find the ~ I’ll kill him —John Le Carré› ‹he’s not a bad little ~ taken by and large —Noel Coward› from merriam webster & my hand held oxford electronic dictionary says some thing simular

  6. 6 tomb

    youngmarxist, yes one tends to feel obliged to notify people of St. Dalecs lies and complete religious obsession with with bogging down this site with his moronic drivel. electric cars more efficient than petrol cars!!!! the most rabid greeny isn’t that stupid. energy is tied to development need we say more.

    I doubt however if anyone reading these posts reads St Dalecs comments more than once, otherwise they are probably on the wrong site. Would like to see some debate developed and the St Dalecs of the world only slow it down. Perhaps get the religo’s into their own folder or off the site altogether.

    I haven’t and won’t respond to anything ST Dalec writes as there never is anything worth responding to and they don’t have an interest in debate anyway they are just pushing their religious line.

    As for the old sea dog I don’t have an old english dictionary so no idea what they are saying and no interest in returning to colonial days

  7. 7 patrickm

    Just noticed this one david. Nice of her to thank you.

    She has a great site; one to watch as the climategate story rolls on.

  8. 8 SOWENS

    Jim you are correct Im not pedant enough. Ill just sod off then I guess.

  9. 9 Dalec

    Tomb, if you did some research, you would know that EV,s cost about 25% per km of petrol vehicles to drive in city traffic. Not least because they use regenerative braking and have no power loss while standing at the lights.
    It is this factor alone that is driving EV,s to be the replacement for internal combustion powered vehicles in cities.
    You guys need to get with it.

  10. 10 Bill Kerr

    another article from Climate Resistance says:

    Controversy has raged about the IPCC’s range of projections (18-59cm). Critics, such as James Hansen argue that this massively underestimates the likely sea level rise. This raises an interesting problem for alarmists such as Adam. Suddenly, Hansen – a favourite of the Guardian, who publish him regularly – becomes an outlier, as far away from ‘the consensus’ as any ‘denier’. The IPCC are too conservative in their estimations and projections, the argument runs. But this too only serves to undermine the ‘consensus’ argument. Why should one outlier (an unmitigated alarmist) shade our view of the consensus more than another (a mild sceptic, for instance, who would no doubt be called an ‘industry-funded climate denier’)?

    Let us imagine that we face the upper range of sea level rise of 59cm. Would it be catastrophic? Still, it is only as catastrophic as our inability to cope with it. Still, it is a question that is answered by development. People living in such regions have 100 years to walk away from a rise of 69cm, to move inland, to build coastal defences, to find alternative places to produce food, and so on.

    So after using Hansen to show their point that consensus science doesn’t work they then take wha they claim to be the upper IPCC consensus figure (59cm) and ignore Hansen’s more extreme predictions to prove their point that development solves everything independent of what is happening to the climate. It’s a mistake to separate science and politics in such a sloppy way. If they are not going to evaluate the science themselves then they have to look at Hansen’s more extreme predictions as well and factor that into their analysis. Saying politics is always primary is just a way of avoiding both a scientific and politically-scientific analysis. Hansen is a credible scientist.

  11. 11 Dalec

    Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the item below is the assertion that it is the (mostly) conservative climate scientists who get funding.–unless-we-act-now.html
    Even the 590mm rise would be rather serious for Bangladesh for example. Coping with it would be a political question surely. Funding for the “Barry” sea wall would be a major political issue, surely.


  12. 12 Arthur

    patrickm I followed your link but couldn’t find a link from there to either the stuff from Clive Hamilton she was complaining about or the photo from david jackmanson she thanked him for.

  13. 13 Bill Kerr

    I’ve read the key parts of Hansen’s book and am rereading some chapters now. He presents a convincing case based mainly on two lots of paleoclimate evidence (one going back 450,000 years, the other going back 65 million years) that CO2 over 350ppm (we are now already over that) combined with other human changes to the atmosphere will lead eventually and possibly fairly rapidly to huge changes in seas levels (25 metres) – and that once that process starts it will be hard or impossible to reverse. So, yes, his position is more extreme than the official IPCC position so he can’t be criticised for being part of a consensus science mindset. He has criticised the IPCC. He wasn’t sure a few years ago whether to recommend a limit of 450 or 350ppm but paleo-climate evidence he presents show that in previous ages the Antarctic ice sheet was melted at 450ppm plus or minus 100ppm error factor. This explains why he has become more extreme in recent years. He was arrested at a recent demo in Virginia (not mentioned in the book).

    The start of the process would be the complete melting of the Arctic during summer leading to warming in the north which will begin melting of the Greenland ice sheet. He does present this as a certainty in the near future (100+ years) but as a probability that cannot be dismissed.

    Along the way he addresses and seems to refute all of the various objections, philosophical as well as scientific to his thesis. For example, he does address the points about
    (1) only the first 20ppm of CO2 is important for the warming and
    (2) about who knows what the ideal average temperature is anyway, what I meant by the philosophical objection
    (3) why is a small average increase of 1 or 2 degrees celcius important given that overall weather temperatures vary from -50 to +50 Celcius
    (4) Why the Arctic is more sensitive at this time than the Antarctic
    etc. etc.

    He points out that human civilisation has developed over the past 7000 years with relatively stable sea levels and that has provided a huge benefit for the rapid development of civilisation. But that if you look back across the ages such stable sea levels are temporary and that the balance is a delicate one that does not require very much climate forcing to upset.

    The current arguments about whether warming or cooling has happened in the past decade are in there as well but his central argument is based on the paleo-climate data.

    I’m not a good enough scientist to say whether Hansen is right or wrong. But I am a good enough scientist to say that Hansen is a good scientist. I think that to be persuaded he was wrong I would need to hear him debate the issues he raises with other scientists who believe his argument is flawed. Who are they? btw he does address the arguments of Richard Lindzen in his book.

    What I like about the book is that he presents some complex science in an accessible way and puts the overall picture together in a clear and coherent fashion. Maybe others have done this but I haven’t seen it. This does require a book and is not possible in a blog or video clip, which normally present only a small part of the picture.

    There is really only one thing I don’t like about his book and that is the title.

    I can see the reluctance that people who are anxious to see industrial development proceed as rapidly as possible might have with the Hansen analysis. But I would urge others to read the book and think about the arguments he presents and if possible refute them. If you do that I suspect you will come to my conclusion, that Hansen is too good a scientist to easily refute.

  14. 14 Bill Kerr

    correction: “He does present this as a certainty in the near future (100+ years) but as a probability that cannot be dismissed”

    I meant “doesn’t” not “does”

  15. 15 jim sharp

    Lysenkoism and James Hansen by Bob Carter

    March 3, 2010
    [This is the essay Australia’s ABC tried to ban. See story here…]

    Hansenism more dangerous than Lysenkoism?
    now we know ’tis about dogmatic ideology!
    & not about politics
    coz his masters voice as spoken

  16. 16 keza

    I went to the first Melbourne “intelligence Squared” debate last night. The proposition was : Australia should embrace nuclear power. About 1200 people attended

    James Hensen was the lead debater for the pro-nuclear team. The interesting thing was that Hensen’s team refused to hammer the one argument that could have allowed them to defeat the opposition. They made almost no effort to refute claims made by the other team that it’s already possible for our energy requirements to be met by just switching to renewable energy (wind farms, solar etc). I found this rather extraordinary.

    The anti-nuclear team got away with attacking the pro-nuclear position on the basis that fourth generation reactors are still at an early stage of development, that switching to nuclear power is “expensive” (while not offering any cost comparison with renewables!), and that nuclear power is still dangerous and its widespread use would increase the likelihood of proliferation.

    Hensen’s team, largely restricted itself to trying to refute the claims about the dangerousness of nuclear power.

    Given that no attempt was made to launch a serious attack on assertions that it’s already possible to shift from coal to renewables, Henson’s team was easily defeated. In fact, at the beginning of the debate, a pre-vote indicated that around 30% of attendees were undecided on the issue. The majority of those who had an opinion, favoured the nuclear option. However, by the end of the debate, very few people were undecided, and there was a large majority against the nuclear option.

    Presumably, Henson took a tactical decision … preferring to lose the debate than to alienate himself from a large section of the movement of which he is the “grandfather”. Nevertheless, if he really believes that continued use of coal in the short to medium term is highly likely to lead to global catastrophe, one would think that he’d be more prepared to call the other side (really hammer them), on the claims they make about the capacity of renewables to do the job, right now.

    I’m not arguing in support of the nuclear option, just remarking on the strangeness of the debate. In any case, the reality is that global energy use will continue to rise, because that’s the only way that development can occur. And it’s just not an option to try to prevent the use of cheap sources of energy by artificially making them more expensive than either nuclear or renewables.

  17. 17 Barry

    Nuclear will certainly be the big winner from global warming alarmism. This is evidenced already in the decisions by the British and US governments to proceed with new reactors. Not since Richard Nixon has a US President made the decision to build new reactors. Public opinion, long conditioned by green scare-mongering, Hollywood movies, parish priests, various princes and a sympathetic media to oppose or fear the nuclear option, can more easily be persuaded to support it, even if it is more costly, when the alternative is presented as human catastrophe.

    Alarmism is the real issue and problem. There’s the claims, for instance, of a hundred metre sea level rise by the end of the century by people like Al Gore (whose sci-fi documentary has probably been uncritically shown to children in nearly all Australian schools) and by Robin Williams of Radio National’s ‘Science Show’; and then there’s the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, the latest report, that says nothing like that. The images of hundred metre waves smashing into coastal city buildings is iconic to the alarmists.

    And then, there’s also the James Hensens who says the potential catastrophe is underrated and there are some among the skeptics who just say it’s all bunkum anyway.

    Bill, to tackle the science in detail, you’ll need to do a new degree, specializing in one of the climate sciences. But any of us can follow the public presentations by the various contending points of view and we can, as I’m sure Bill and others have done, read what the IPCC’s “Summary for Policy-Makers” actually says. It is here:

    Nowhere does the IPCC suggest catastrophic levels of sea level rise. The Summary shows the scenarios (I think that’s a more appropriate word than ‘predictions’) arising from the six different computer modellings used by the IPCC on sea levels. The worst case scenario from the models is a 59 cms increase by century’s end. The best case is a possible 18 cms rise. (Please, grab a ruler and see what those measurements actually look like).

    Contrary to Gore, Williams, and other alarmists, the IPCC actually says:

    “Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mms (note: milimetres, not centimetres) per year over 1963 to 2003”. Again: please check this against a ruler: 1.8 mms.

    But: IPCC goes on to observe an increased rate for 1993 to 2003, of about 3.1 mm. (Again, check 3.3 mm on your ruler). But, IPCC points out that “Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer-term trend is unclear”.

    The total C20th rise is estimated by IPCC to be 0.17 metres.

    So, let’s do away with the alarmism until someone can prove that the sea level rise of 3.3 mm per year (if it is that high) can only be catastrophic.

    And let’s place observation and theory back at the helm of science, rather than copmuter modelling.

    In the case of Australia and the south-west Pacific Islands, measurements of sea levels are undertaken by the National Tidal Centre (NTC), which is part of the Bureau of Meteorology. Again, for all the hysteria about our eastern coast being threatened, and a government committee being set up to deal with it, headed by ‘Alarmist of the Year’ Tim Flannery, the actual observed increase, measured by the NTC, is 1.7 mm per year for Australia’s east coast. (I can assure readers that while insurers may have an interest in alarmism, real estate agents don’t – and coastal properties ain’t comin’ down in value any time soon!)

    Yes dalec, whacky ol’ me, I actually think that we can adapt to a change of around 3 mms per year, including and especially in low-lying areas like Bangladesh, especially when we have quite a few decades in which to do it. Human ingenuity came up with effective ways of living below sea level centuries ago. About 20 percent of the Dutch population, for one example, live relatively healthy and prosperous lives ‘below sea level’. We’re just much better at it now, and should be looking at ways of improving even more.

    None of the above suggests that we should not actively seek to deal with the eternal reality of climate change. Climate engineering is anathema only to those who believe in the sacredness of Nature. Good left-wingers will no doubt continue to oppose measures that the state seeks to impose on the people that threaten standards of living while simultaneously advocating ways forward, through scientific and technological innovation, and overthrow of the social system and ideology that hold things back, in pursuit of ‘Abundance for all’ and greater human freedom.



    Dalec, just wondering: has that Brisbane suburb that you told us a couple of years ago was being flooded by rising sea water gone under yet? Remember, you saw the water rising in the street, tasted it and – gasp! – it tasted salty! Or is more time needed? And, by the way, which suburb was it?

  18. 18 informally yours

    I heard on the ABC ‘news’ a week ago that the first Australian municipal council (covering the Victorian, Port Fairy area) has rejected a coastal development plan because of rising sea level fears! Apparently, it is a very wet area that also incorporates a river flood plain area.

    As a country kid, I have watched the Mount Barker Council (now one of the fastest growing areas in South Australia)approve the development of housing on areas that are prone to flooding. When the next big wet happens, as it will hundreds of new homes are at risk of becoming swamped. Deflecting responsibility for these development approval mistakes will no doubt come down to current climate change fears.

    The oldies of the town however, know that every decade or so the creek level rises dramatically, and that the new homes approved through subdivision of large town blocks, or small farms adjacent to the creek/water course are an accident waiting to happen. So, on one level the Port Fairy council could be applauded for looking at the geography of the region and saying housing development is inappropriate, but not due to GW alarmism but because of straight forward material conditions.

  19. 19 Bill Kerr

    Hansen might not be a good debater, which is a separate issue to whether he is a good scientist. Darwin preferred to leave the debating up to Huxley, as an illustration of the point that good scientists are not always good at political debate (not suggesting that Hansen is as important as Darwin)

    Hansen argues that sea level rise could be more rapid than IPCC predictions. That is what concerns me since adaptation to a more rapidly rising sea level would be very difficult and would probably interfere more with increasing productivity than a fossil fuel business as usual scenario. If Hansen is right then it would be better to transition rapidly to nuclear power.

    Recent geological time scales show that sea level can rise quite quickly. 14,000 years ago sea levels increased 4-5 metres /century for several consecutive centuries (Hansen, 39). It then slowed to 1 metre per century for several thousand years. It then stabilised and settled coastal human population centres developed only in the past 6-7000 years.

    There is less ice around today so I guess it wouldn’t be as rapid. The key question is whether or not there is a real danger of the ice sheet on Greenland melting rapidly. That would create conditions that haven’t existed on earth for millions of years. Hansen explores what we know about those times in Ch. 8 of his book. I was amazed by the sophistication of the paleo-scientific methods that he describes – ice cores aren’t available since all the ice was melted – but would agree that going back so far makes it harder to be accurate.

    So my position is wrt the arguments presented here so far:
    – don’t mechanically say that politics is always primary over science
    – don’t reject a scientific position on the grounds that the scientist is not a good debater in public
    – don’t reject a scientists position because it an outlier from the IPCC consensus

    You can only reject a scientists position which may have serious political implications by refuting that position scientifically.

  20. 20 Bill Kerr

    You don’t have to go back millions of years for compelling evidence for the Hansen scenario. In the prior interglacial 140,000 years ago the mean temperature was 1 degree Celcius higher and the sea level 4-6 metres higher. (p. 51)

    So, it’s a question of how rapidly that would happen and / or whether we can reverse it if we keep increasing greenhouse gases rapidly. He does argue that the ice sheets melting is not as slow as previously thought. It makes more sense to me to try to prevent this happening than to continue to burn fossil fuels at increasing rates and risk it happening, assuming that Hansen is correct.

    You can download Hansen’s et al “extreme, alarmist” paper in which he recommends returning CO2 values to 350ppm at

    A full list of papers that he refers to in the book are at:

    But I’d recommend the book where he makes more of an effort to explain it to a lay audience. IMO his book is an excellent example of scientific communication to the public, not an easy thing in it’s own right.

    He does have many supporters and collaborators. I stressed his maverick credentials earlier because I realise that people at this site are wary of official science.

    I mentioned I didn’t like the title but forget to mention my main criticism of the book: it isn’t open sourced.

  21. 21 Arthur

    Bill, I haven’t attempted to follow the scientific debates and haven’t read Hansen’s book. But from “general knowledge” I’m puzzled by your description of part of Hansen’s argument:

    …paleo-climate evidence he presents show that in previous ages the Antarctic ice sheet was melted at 450ppm plus or minus 100ppm error factor. This explains why he has become more extreme in recent years.

    My understanding is that it is “uncontroversial” that both paleo-climatic evidence (ice cores etc) and well understand physical theory confirms a high correlation between CO2 leves and average global temperatures with rising CO2 levels lagging thousands of years after temperature rises. This is well understood to be due to various phenomena such as the ocean absorbing less CO2 at higher temperature levels.

    Confusion about this was widespread because alarmists dishonestly showed graphs with scales that emphasized the high correlation and hid the fact that it was a lag not a lead to hammer home the point that there is a high correlation. Denialists seized on this dishonesty to conclude that more recent (century or two) increasing CO2 levels due to human activity cannot be a cause of recent global average temperature rises.

    As I understand it, whereas the paleo-climatic data is about temperature changes resulting from variations in the earth’s orbit etc causing CO2 changes, a quite separate consensus exists that radiative forcing models show recent increasing levels of CO2 can account for recent warming due to a (misnamed) “greenhouse effect” unrelated to longer term variations in the earth’s orbit etc.

    If that’s broadly correct, the quote above simply makes no sense. As far as I know, nobody has suggested that CO2 melts ice.

    The temperatures expected from expected near future (century or two) levels of CO2 emissions are to be calculated from current models, not paleo-climatic data, and those temperatures are expected to result in both rising sea levels (mainly due to thermal expansion) and contracting ice sheets at rates which are still controversial but widely believed to be “alarming”.

    The relevance of paleo-climatic data is in calibrating models to distinguish between other variations in climate and those that might be induced by CO2 emissions, not to claim any causal link between CO2 levels and ice coverage.

    If I’ve got that right and Hansen did put it the way you described, that would seem to be the same dishonesty as the previously mentioned paleo-climatic graphs intentionally conveying a false impression of the causality.

    PS Re the Town Hall debate. It was taken as given that we have to rapidly move from coal. The pro-nuclear case did clearly mention that its well understood that renewables simply cannot meet requirements at lower cost than nuclear power but the pro-renewables loudly claimed it did (and had coloured brochures insisting that this was “proved” by various “forthcoming” publications).

    Since the nuclear lobby is totally dependent on the irrational greenies for achieving a carbon price that would make nuclear a viable replacement for coal they couldn’t emphatically point out that the claims made for renewables were sheer fantasy but had to just say that renewables “have a place” in future energy systems but nuclear also has a place. That enabled the audience to naturally prefer to avoid including the “place” for nuclear (attacked by the greenies for all the well known reasons and also with emphatic assertions that it was actually more expensive than renewables right now). So choosing between the two much of the audience went for renewables.

    Tactically this wouldn’t matter much since all the nuclear lobby needs is acceptance for taxing coal till it costs more than nuclear and they can rely entirely on the FACT of there then being no option but nuclear without needing to worry about the fantasies of people who believed there would be an option to just use renewables.

  22. 22 Bill Kerr

    Forcings initiate the climate change and feedback determines the magnitude. Hansen measures these in watts / metre squared (hereafter watts) over the whole earth’s surface and uses a one watt Christmas tree bulb as a visual aid when explaining to White House officials.

    As you say variations in the earth’s orbit are the natural instigators, the main one being the tug of the bigger planets which alters the angle of the earth’s axis. The instigators are very weak, a small fraction of a watt. Currently the earth’s axis is straightening so without human interference eventually another ice age would commence due to less sunlight hitting the polar regions etc.

    The hundreds or thousands of years lag before CO2 appears does not mean it doesn’t contribute to warming. It just means the process is very slow initially and the CO2 increases is feedback and not an instigator. In the recent interglacial the greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N20) contribute roughly 3 watts and changes to the earth’s surface (ice sheet melting, vegetation increase) contributed roughly 3.5 watts. Earths warms until equilibrium is re-established.

    Hansen et al have an empirically derived figure that doubling CO2 produces a 4 watt forcing which produces a 3 degrees Celcius temperature increase. ie. 1 watt produces 0.75 degrees C.

    The current period is just one where human instigators have overwhelmed the very small natural instigators. If we add 2ppm CO2 each year to the atmosphere then that is 100ppm in 50 years, which is a very significant forcing. CO2 contributes to warming in both cases.

    It’s better explained in the book. The extract you didn’t like is on page 160.

  23. 23 Arthur

    If climate models were as simplistic as Hansen’s “empirically derived figures” they would not be taken seriously at all. The IPCC ARs provide a more adequate account and the actual models studied are far too complex for non-experts to comment on (other than pointing out a tendency to place too much confidence in such models).

  24. 24 Bill Kerr

    Is your evaluation based on my summary or reading of the Hansen et al papers I linked to? From my reading the Hansen figures did not rely on models but on paleo-climate data. Other studies that relied on models came up with similar results but had a much higher uncertainty factor.

  25. 25 Arthur

    Not read Hansen papers. Believe that IPCC predictions are based on detailed models, not simple extrapolations from paleo-climate data.

  26. 26 Bill Kerr

    I mentioned earlier that Hansen was critical of the IPCC report. Although he does use climate models for some things he says several times in his book that they are not very reliable. His order of reliability in general is (p. 75):
    1) paleoclimate data
    2) current observations
    2) models

    I reread his chapter 5 where he describes how his thinking evolved about the danger of greater sea level rise than predicted by IPCC. He doesn’t like the IPCC modelling of ice sheets because they treat them as giant ice cubes. He can’t put a reliable time scale on rate of ice melting because our current situation of human induced forcing is unprecedented. But there are studies from the last interglacial that claim to show that sea levels changed quickly at times (one of them said 2-3 metre rise in 50 years). Not surprisingly in general sea level stability is unusual (we have had it for 7000 years) and sea level fluctuation is normal.

    Something I said earlier did not accurately reflect the Hansen position. The main problem is the melting of ice shelves which are currently below sea level. He sees West Antarctica as a bigger threat than Greenland because of that but is concerned about Greenland too. Some people have mentioned data that shows Antarctica ice sheet is thickening. This is not inconsistent with Hansen’s position. Warming produces increased snow fall which can lead to thickening at the centre and melting of the ice shelves simultaneously in the initial phase. But once the edges melt then further instability of the ice sheet follows. His analysis sounds credible to me but not all scientists (glaciologists) agree with him. He outlines various factors which contribute to ice sheet melting which I won’t go into. The paleoclimate data shows clearly that warming (ice melting is a wet process that accelerates) is a faster process than cooling consistently over the past 450,000 years.

    A central issue is the inertia of the oceans and the ice sheets, with ice being more important. Ice begins to melt slowly but the rate accelerates over time. With oceans the warming process is much slower overall but the quicker part is early rather than late. These combined inertias create the threat that if you go past a tipping point, which we can’t predict, then you can’t recover from it. We may be letting systems which are controllable to an extent slip out of control. With so many people living in coastal regions then anything faster than the IPCC predictions would be a real concern for future generations.

  27. 27 Arthur

    Problem is that Hansen goes from speculations about mechanisms that could result in tipping points, which should be investigated and resolved over time by competent experts, eg glaciologists, to demands for urgently slowing down global economic development by abruptly shifting to more energy technology (nuclear).

    Priorities for 1) paleoclimate data and 2) current observations over 3) models uses the least relevant because it provided less reason to reject his theories.

    As far as I know current understanding of ice sheet dynamics is one of the least satisfactory aspects of current models, but will presumably improve rapidly with the attention focussed on it. We can’t possibly have a good understanding of the dynamics of paleoclimate without better current models – all we have for paleo is fragmentary data plus astronomical extrapolation of orbital dynamics – we just weren’t around at the time to measure it.

    In the (unlikely) event of a tipping point moving faster than we improve our understanding of these issues it would presumably also be moving faster than we could feasibly switch energy sources without massive disruption rather than merely an additional fetter on the productive forces.

    Its hard to sustain panic when current models suggest warming at a fraction of a degree per decade, with corresponding sea level rises of a few mm and are completely dwarfed by decadal variations and actual “weather”. A lot of the panic is really about that difficulty of imagining any kind of action at all concerning such a slow change, unless sufficient alarm is generated by dire claims of tipping points.

    In that event we would presumably have to resort to climate engineering, as a less disruptive option (though unsatisfactory with poor understanding of effects of changes in precipitation and other aspects of weather patterns as a result of measures directed primarily at cooling effect to counter CO2 heading towards a tipping point).

    See Lomborg’s stuff on various climate engineering options such as marine cloud whitening (remember that water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas) and clouds the best understood and most controllable aspect of weather and hence climate). Others include pumping particulate aerosols into the stratosphere (a significant part of currently estimated warming is believed to be due to removal of the cooling effect of pollutants).

    Lets deal with this stuff AFTER world revolution, or at least after the next couple of major economic cycles and when the third world is reasonably developed. Liberating instead of further fettering the productive forces would make it massively easier to deal with such issues, and even the present snail pace of capitalist technological development is obviously much faster than the rate of climate change.

  28. 28 Barry

    Has Hansen addressed the issue of overall expansion of ice in Antarctica over the past three decades? The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) attributes the expansion to the ozone hole. BAS press release (April 2009) here:

    It says: “Satellite images show that since the 1970s the extent of Antarctic sea ice has increased at a rate of 100,000 square kilometres a decade”.

    (That’s equivalent in area to one new ‘Tasmania’ each decade).

    This is significant, given that Antactica has 90% of the world’s ice. And satellite data, being based on observation, trumps computer modelling – don’t you think? What I mean is that if the models aren’t matched by observed fact over time, then there’s something wrong.

    It goes against the alarmism that says the main ice shelves are in retreat due to warming. For example, in 2008, the BBC used the headline “Antarctic Ice Hangs by a Thread” “due to unprecedented warming”. How can this be right, if it’s expanding by 100,000 sq kms per decade?

    The East shelf is declining but West Antarctica, which is four times bigger than the east, is increasing and that gives an overall increase.

    The North Pole, the Arctic, is a different matter, experiencing a decline but over the past few years seems to be regaining lost ice. Maybe this is due to warming, but there are other hypotheses within the science community, including an impact from sub-glacial volcanic activity. (Yes, there are volcanoes under both ‘Poles’! )

    I’ve no intention of doing a degree course into any of this but the British Antarctic Survey is the international scientific body that investigates on the ground, so to speak, with five research bases, plus 400 staff, two ships and five aircraft – plus it engages in international collaborations. It’s been around since the 1940s but became BAS in 1962. When it speaks, I listen. (Is there a more authoritative source on this question of Antarctic ice?)

    As for Hansen, I heard him on Philip Adams’ show last night and was horrified by his answer to Adams’ question about what the global warming crisis should mean for democracy. You know, it’s the Clive Hamilton idea that such is the catastrophic nature of the problem that democracy is not a viable or appropriate system for dealing with it. People, who are empowered by democracy, are too stupid and selfish – we need ‘some other system’. Hansen felt that the ‘authoritarian’ systems were best equipped for the looming catastrophe and cited China, with its huge investment in renewables, as his preferred model. Social-fascism the way to go?

    By the way, I share the view that says there’s good reason for moving beyond fossil fuels regardless of the climate alarmism, and don’t pretend to have specialist scientific expertise – but I can read a BAS media release thanks to the Internet.

  29. 29 Arthur

    BAS attributing Antartic ice expansion to ozone hole implies they accept overall warming trend which will resume contraction of Antartic ice when ozone hole eliminated following elmination of CFCs.

    Accelerating move from fossil fuels seems closely tied to wanting to not have to worry about Middle East same as they dont care much about Africa.

    The link between reactionary green politics and reactionary authoritarian politics is interesting. Another expression of the world view of a moribund class that seeks to fetter the productive forces by force.

  30. 30 Bill Kerr

    hi barry,

    Hansen’s Phillip Adams interview link

    At the end on the Phillip Adams interview Hansen mentions the GRACE system (NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) as an accurate way to measure changes in land or ice mass.

    I googled – GRACE Antarctica – and found this article (Is Antarctica Melting?) about Antarctica which attempts to evaluate the overall picture

    I think in your post you mix up the East and West. The East has far more ice but is above sea level, it rests on the land, and some thickening has occurred there. Much of the West is underwater and the studies seem to show that it is melting. Further studies are being done, the article mentions a more rigorous study planned for 2011 which will measure the thickness of ice shelves directly because satellite data can’t do that.

    All of this is consistent with what Hansen is saying.

    The study you link to measures increases in sea ice which indicates local perhaps temporary cold but is not important for overall rise in sea levels, just as melting in the Arctic is not. I agree that this study is in contradiction to the proposition that the ocean is warming but maybe as arthur pointed out that is due to a local effect, the ozone hole, which will be temporary. As you say to evaluate the contradictory studies would require more expertise.

    I agree that observation trumps computer modelling. I’ve already said that Hansen says that computer modelling is his third string of evidence behind paleoclimate data and observation. Actually, Hansen points out that the best model available in 2003 said that the ice sheets would grow as the world became warmer because a warmer atmosphere increases winter snowfall (p.81). Hansen sees the models as inadequate in many respects.

    I listened to the Adams interview. Adams is a skilled political operator and Hansen is naive politically. Adams didn’t mean to lead Hansen into a denial of democracy statement and in the next question disassociates himself from it. What Hansen did in response to Adams democracy question was use it to say that China would lead the way forward on these questions. That’s probably true, the developing world decisions will lead the way on fossil fuel emissions. I did glean some new information about this wrt China’s sabotage of Copenhagen. Hansen thinks that China would accept a carbon price but not the cap proposed at Copenhagen. Anyway I agree with you that Hansen was stupid to make an anti democracy statement, or, rather go along with one, but if you listen to the interview I think it’s something he blundered into and would need further clarification as to his whether he really believes it. He does have to wear it because he has entered the political arena.

    The whole interview is well worth listening to as an example of how people like Adams will use people like Hansen to promote his wider political agenda and how Hansen will allow that to happen and think he is doing the right thing. Green politics and the science of AGW make a pretty good fit. Not also though that Hansen is pro nuclear because he is a good scientist and takes the science to it’s logical conclusion. It’s a bit much to expect to Hansen to have a super political understanding given that he has spent his whole life on developing a super scientific understanding. If you deny that Hansen is wrong about the science because you correctly disagree with some of the political implications he draws from that then if he turns out the be correct about the science then your political message will not have been as persuasive as it could have been. I think arthur has worked that out but due to his general dislike of discussing the weather has only communicated it by drip feed. I would see this as issue having more importance in terms of teasing out the green from the red, since it is a hot issue in the public domain. To say that anything with a green flavour is BS reflexively is not good politics, it has to be explored more deeply.

  31. 31 barry

    I tried to find a transcript of the Adams/Hansen interview but Radio National only has the audio on-line. To my ear, Hansen was enthusiastic in his endorsement of ‘authoritarian’ responses to the climate change because the people cannot be relied on to make the correct decision about it. His tone was not that of someone considering this political response for the first time. Unfortunately, his scientific qualifications will lend credence to the idea that an undemocratic system like China is the best way to go – for the sake of the future of the planet and us all, etc. By the way, I thought Adams’ response was pathetic – pretending that he would be among those to be lined up and shot, or however he put it. He would probably do well under the type of political system designed to impose solutions upon the people precisely because he has done so much to promote alarmism that ‘justifies’ them.

    Thanks, Bill, for pointing out my mistake in confusing the two shelves.

  32. 32 Bill Kerr

    hi barry,

    I re listened to the tape. You are correct that Hansen didn’t hesitate and immediately and confidently agreed with Adams thought float (Adams: “some of my friends worry that only an authoritarian society can solve this problem”). Hansen’s words were, “That is absolutely right”. Then immediately he went on to talk about China. It’s at 43-44 minutes into the interview. And as you say Adams pathetically backtracked from the suggestion at the first opportunity.

    However, shortly before that Hansen says, “We are going to have to get the public into the streets before politicians will take the steps that are necessary”. He also says it’s a moral issue, “like slavery and like civil rights”. I think his political profile is that of an immature and naive activist, we have seen plenty of “revolutionaries” who believe so strongly in something that they become impatient at the slowness of the democratic process.

    I haven’t read every word of Hansen’s book – I’ve concentrated mainly on the science chapters sometimes rereading certain chapters before finishing the whole thing – but haven’t noticed any anti democracy statements so far.

    In his book he says he normally votes independent but did support Obama in the recent election. He did lobby the Bush administration but became disillusioned for obvious reasons. He mentions a book called Censoring Science which discusses the Bush admin attitude to some of these issues. He does see the funding process in American elections as a huge problem. At one stage Hansen supported McCain because McCain wanted restrictions on corporate political funding – but withdrew his support when McCain backtracked. Adams refers to that in the interview, the rules have recently been changed in the USA to enable unlimited funding. He makes many references to the strength of the fossil fuel lobby just as denialists make many references to the funding that flows from AGW alarmism.

    He might be better off if he just stuck to the science since he’s not very good at the politics – but of course since he’s now an activist he does get more press time which he sees as necessary.

  33. 33 Bill Kerr

    For the interconnection b/w science and politics of global warming I would recommend Pielke jnr’s forthcoming book The Climate Fix. The first 50 pages, with only a couple of pages missing, are available to read at the amazon look inside feature, which is enough to grasp the substance of his argument. Also his blog is excellent, written from the political perspective of a blue dog democrat.

    On reflection, I think the problem with Hansen’s position is not that he is necessarily wrong about the science but that he is not expert about politics and policy matters. ie. he sees the problem as politicians not understanding the science rather than scientists not understanding politics and policy formation. As Pielke points out the matter cannot be resolved by further clarification of scientific facts.

  34. 34 Bill Kerr

    Since his book has not yet been published I asked Roger Pielke jnr which papers he would recommend to explain why he recommends a low carbon tax to fund R&D into energy alternative and not taxation from general revenue for this purpose. On the carbon tax issue he recommends:

    An Analysis of a Technology-led Climate Policy as a Response to Climate Change by Isabel Galiana and Christopher Green (pdf, 68 pp)

    The section (An “ incentiVe-compAtible” technologY rAce) which outlines the reasons for an initially low ($5.00/tCO2) hypothecated carbon tax to fund R&D into energy alternatives is pp. 34-37, extract:

    There are at least three possibilities. Only the last meets the tests of sufficiency, consistency, and relative freedom from political influence. The first is funding out of general funds, which could fail the test on all three grounds. Such funding is inherently subject to political discretion, could be diverted to other uses when tax revenues fall, and may never be sufficient in amount. The second approach is funding with a carbon tax, but if the tax revenue is not isolated from the general budget, it is prey to political interference, diversion to other uses. This approach would fail the consistency criterion.

    The third approach would use a “dedicated” carbon tax, the revenues from which would be placed in a “trust fund” managed by “trustees” independent of Congress and the Administration in power. The “model” might be the US Interstate Highway Trust Fund created during the Eisenhower administration to build and maintain America’s Interstate highways. It is funded by an 18 cents per gallon federal gasoline tax. Because that tax is viewed as providing clear benefits to a large part of the electorate and thus to most taxpayers, it has not generated the hostility that many other taxes have generated. A low carbon tax, dedicated to improving and strengthening the energy system, the funds for which are isolated in a “clean energy” trust fund, could be expected to be similarly welcome or at least not too unwelcome to pass political muster

    The underlying logic is the opposite of “brute force” mitigation policies, the focus is on R&D guaranteed funding which is essential for further technological development into energy alternatives

    For a more general outline of the approach taken by Pielke jnr and his associates he recommends:
    The Hartwell Paper, pdf 42 pp

    This approach is politically realistic and consistent with the aspirations of the Australian people for some action on climate change. It is a superior approach to:
    a) the people have been duped by manipulative scientists
    b) business as usual and lets hope we can fix the problem later with geo engineering or revolution

  35. 35 Arthur

    Yes, that’s pretty much my approach too!

    Mechanism for funding the R&D is a separate issue. Global institutions needed. Not necessarily based on hypothecated carbon tax. (There are well known efficiency and political arguments against such approaches).

    Key point is funds being diverted to “green” idiocies should instead go to R&D.

  36. 36 Bill Kerr

    I’d be interested in hearing more about alternatives to funding R&D arthur.

    Lomborg has written a new book in which he favours a C tax. See Pielke jnr article (the smart ideas behind Lomborg’s new views) and links from that article for more information about Lomborg’s latest. Apparently he gets many of his ideas from Pielke and Richard Tol but does not usually acknowledge their source.

  37. 37 Arthur

    Bill, the objections to funding R&D from general revenue from pp34-37 are separate arguments about how government taxation authority should be controlled. There are good democratic reasons why the power to collect and disburse taxes has been reserved to legislatures accountable to the people and for more specific measures against hypothecation such as the s.81 constitutional requirement in Australia that all taxes be paid into a single “consolidated revenue” fund and disbursements paid out from it.

    The political battles as to how much should be collected and spent for what purposes are what budgets and much of politics are about.

    I agree with an “independent” trust fund and suggest it ought to be part of a global network of such funds. Income of such funds should come from general revenue like any other.

    Can see argument for linking to a (small) carbon tax in order to appease and hopefully confuse advocates of a large carbon tax. But am instinctively inclined towards explicitly confronting them rather than appeasing them.

    An important aspect is it should be public domain research, with no prospect of “commercializing” to recover research costs as royalties adding to cost of eventually deploying technology (and no commercial secrecy inhibitions on cooperation).

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