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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/14/2010

Hot times for climate change science rhetoric

By Jason Samenow

* Rainy day: Full Forecast | Nor'easter to slam New England *

Full of hot air, polarized rhetoric, and scandal - climate change science issues are boiling over - maybe even more than usual - on newspaper editorial pages and the blogosphere.

This is the first edition of Climate Lens, a guided aggregation of recent climate change science news and voices for those interested in the intersection of weather, climate, politics, and the environment. The Climate Lens will be published about every two weeks. I encourage reader participation by posting interesting news and views you've encountered in the comment area below.

Let's get to it...

Journalists & scientists slam skeptic politicians: Republican doubters of climate change science have been taking a beating in the press the last couple of weeks.

In an editorial, the Post ripped Va. attorney general Ken Cuccinelli for his relentless investigation of Michael Mann, a professor of climatology who worked at the University of Virginia (now at Penn State), unpopular among climate skeptics for his methods and findings. The Post said Cuccinelli is "on a fishing expedition designed to intimidate and suppress honest research and the free exchange of ideas upon which science and academia both depend -- all because he does not like what science says about climate change."

Piling on, the Post printed an opinion piece from Mann himself. Mann not only took a shot at Cuccinelli, but also two Republican congressmen:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has threatened that, if he becomes chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he will launch what would be a hostile investigation of climate science. The focus would be on e-mails stolen from scientists at the University of East Anglia in Britain last fall that climate-change deniers have falsely claimed demonstrate wrongdoing by scientists, including me. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) may do the same if he takes over a committee on climate change and energy security.
What could Issa, Sensenbrenner and Cuccinelli possibly think they might uncover now, a year after the e-mails were published?
The truth is that they don't expect to uncover anything. Instead, they want to continue a 20-year assault on climate research, questioning basic science and promoting doubt where there is none.

(On Tuesday, the Post printed a contrary perspective from Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tx, who stated "Mr. Mann's global warming projections were rooted in fundamental errors of methodology." But Mann, in a rebuttal published on the Bad Astronomy blog, wrote that Barton: "... continues to misrepresent my research, insult my character and spread misinformation about climate science.")

In a commentary on related issues, the National Journal's Ron Brownstein came down hard on the Republican stance on climate science. He wrote: "The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones."

Not to be outdone, the New Republic published an essay "Hot Mess: Why are conservatives so radical about the climate?" by climate activist Bill McKibben who wrote:

These people [conservatives] aren't reading the science and thinking, I have some questions about this. They're convinced of a massive conspiracy.
The odd and troubling thing about this stance is not just that it prevents action. It's also profoundly unconservative. If there was ever a radical project, monkeying with the climate would surely qualify.

La Nina takes hold, but it's still globally warm. During El Nino, an episodic warming of the Pacific, the global temperature usually heats up. The opposite tends to occur during La Nina, when the Pacific cools. La Nina conditions developed in August, but the global temperature has yet to dip. University of Alabama's Roy Spencer reported September's global temperature "stubbornly refused" to respond to La Nina, holding about 1 degree F above average.

Colorado State's Roger Pielke Sr. who accepts that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change but cautions they are just one of many factors, posted an interesting reaction: "If this persists while we are in a La Niña pattern (when we expect cooling) it will provide strong support for those who expect a long term warming to occur as a result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere."

Hurricane blogger and Weather Underground founder is a climate change believer: Count Weather Underground chief meteorologist Jeff Masters, among the "those" (referred to by Pielke Sr. above) who expect warming as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate.

Masters, who was profiled at Yale Climate Media Forum was dismissive of the scientific chops of his meteorological brethren who believe otherwise:

Masters considers himself different from most meteorologists, many of whom he says are unreasonably skeptical of climate change science. He says he thinks their skepticism stems in part from bachelors degree meteorology students' not being required to study climatology or climate science as part of their formal degree requirements.
Masters says he believes that the conclusions of the IPCC report are "genuine, valid, and probably understated."

Masters, who holds a Ph.D. in meteorology, told Yale Climate he has received hundreds of "hate e-mails" due to his views on the issue.

Esteemed physicist resigns from professional society over climate stance: The same folks writing hate letters to Masters are probably sending fan mail to skeptic Hal Lewis, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of California Santa Barbara, who submitted a fiery letter of resignation to the American Physical Society. Here's an excerpt:

....I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.
It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare.

Lewis's action was roundly cheered at, a leading skeptics blog. On the other hand, progressive climate blogger Joe Romm wrote a scathing commentary on Lewis, starting with: "A physicist named Hal Lewis who doesn't know the first thing about climate science has resigned from the American Physical Society because he doesn't know the first thing about climate science."

On Tuesday, the American Physical Society denied Lewis's claim that the "organization is benefiting financially from climate change funding" and defended its stance on climate science, stating: "In light of the significant settled aspects of the science, APS totally rejects Dr. Lewis' claim that global warming is a 'scam' and a 'pseudoscientific fraud'." Lewis responded to APS's comments on the blog WattsUpWithThat yesterday.

'Gates' galore: Of late, there's been a rash of scandals in the climate change realm. And, of course, the blogosphere must legitimize each scandal by christening it with some obligatory name ending in "gate" which can be used by whatever side to prove it's right.

CWG's Andrew Freedman wrote extensively about Climategate earlier this year. Then 'Splattergate' exploded onto the scene the week before last when an activist climate group in the United Kingdom released a controversial, gory video in which individuals (including children) who show indifference to global warming get blown up (read about the video at Post Carbon) .

Now there's Skepticgate (originated via Twitter by the NY Times Andy Revkin), or, should it be "Copygate"?

Whatever-'gate', the Post's Rosalind Helderman described the issue as follows:

A leading skeptic of climate change science whose work was cited last week by Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli is himself under investigation on charges that his work contained plagiarism and inaccuracies, a George Mason University [GMU] spokesman confirmed Friday.

Said "leading skeptic"is GMU statistics professor Edward Wegman who criticized Mann's methods in the report (commissioned by a Republican congressional committee in 2006) now under investigation (for plagiarism and inaccuracies).

Prior to news of the GMU investigation, a detailed criticism of the Wegman report by computer scientist John Mashey had been published on the blog Deep Climate.

See the range of reactions:

Dipping Into The Sour Mash, Part 2 (WattsUpWithThat, Thomas Fuller)

Stop the blogs! (Rabett Run, Josh Halpern)

Copygate (Climate Audit, Stephen McIntyre)

Have you read interesting climate science news or perspectives in the last week or two? Post them below and discuss.

By Jason Samenow  | October 14, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: Grading our 2010 summer outlook


My personal opinion, which is worth next to nothing because I have no formal training in the field of climate science, nor experience in research thereon, is that we're experiencing a convergence of factors, both cyclical and man-made that are causing real consequences.

But what I can accurately assess is the fact that the topic has been hijacked and morphed into something the modern day Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians can use as a club to whack one another over the heads.

Another serious issue gets tedious. Sigh...

Here's another. New on Eyewitness Muse: "You can't call it terror if you're not afraid of it (part II)."

Posted by: TheEyewitnessMuse | October 14, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I would call it Gate-Ageddon.

Posted by: eric654 | October 14, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

This is all so very depressing. This crowd of "skeptics" (a misnomer in most cases, as they know damn well what the science is, but they have clients to serve other than the truth) have actually helped give millions of Americans cotton-candy fuel to feed their childish denial.

As for the heinous individuals in Congress, if the Republicans do take the House (and latest projections show an 80% likelihood), we quite literally will be looking at a situation where the rest of the world has to declare war on us (in some way, hopefully just economically) simply to save humankind. This might get very ugly.

Thank you for starting the blog though. It's good to keep track of who humankind's traitors are. For if your allegiance is to your own greed, your own vanity or your industry clients' profits rather than with your species itself, that's precisely what you are. Senators Inhofe and DeMint, Congressmen Issa, Sensenbrenner and Barton and AG Cuccinelli, I'm talking to you. You are disgusting vile creatures who would throw your constituents' children under the bus to maintain your demagoguing power which is based on mistruth.

Posted by: B2O2 | October 14, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Here's some relevant break news:

U.N. Climate-Change Panel Chairman to Stay. (Said chairman is Rajendra Pachauri).

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | October 14, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Great post, Jason, and terrific that you can now write on climate .

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | October 14, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

For my part I am a little encouraged that people in general are starting to wake up to what carbon rationing really means: no effect on climate now or in the future, and a large negative effect on the economy.

But I think winter is depressing. Frost is depressing (fig tree goes dormant = no more figs). I enjoy wood heat, but it is a lot of work just to keep the house from freezing. U.S. politicians are not the biggest problem for the environment, local or global. The title might go to the communist Chinese leaders who don't care the slightest bit about their citizens choking on bad air and poisoned with bad water. Coal mining increases 10% a year there and what happens here politically has no bearing on that. If anything, electing some protectionists (which I do not advocate) would crush China's economy and their subsequent energy usage.

In theory I should be happy that Republicans are winning? I am certainly not, many are sellouts like McCain and many more are just clueless. Some Democrats like the West VA governor running for senator are converts to sensible climate politics. Many in both parties want to subsidize their own energy alternatives that make no sense, like ethanol. Many energy companies also have an interest in rationing energy and raising the price so are on board with the carbon reduction program.

So the politics is much more complicated than "people versus industry" which often is actually reversed: "carbon banking interests versus people who simply want affordable heat". As I have said here before, I am against Cuccinelli's fishing expedition. Politics is bad enough, politics in science is deadly, ask any former Soviets.

Posted by: eric654 | October 14, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Interesting...but Mr. Q. hasn't yet weighed in...

Cuccinelli is well to the right for my tastes...on a lot more issues than climate alone. Occasionally he makes even Gov. McDonnell look like a left winger by comparison.

Anyway, don't blame the output has been constant; the graph looks like a sine wave or cosine wave with period maxima and minima coinciding exactly with the 11.5 year sunspot cycles. If solar output were responsible for any warming effect, the peaks and valleys in the sine wave would be trending upward with each cycle.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 14, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Oh...and I forgot to mention...the minute a significant volcanic eruption at the right latitude puts a bunch of dust and sulfur oxides into the stratosphere, everyone will start yelling about global cooling. Climate change can be a tricky matter.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 14, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Has any1 seen Cuccinelli & Mr.Q in the same room 2gether? I think they might b one & the same.

Posted by: VaTechBob | October 14, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Nice mash up of recent news. What is sad is that people are still having a debate over the legitimacy of climate change. Here I agree with eric654 that politics should not play games with sound science - particularly when the consequences are so significant.

We should be talking more about the policy solutions, and here I will however disagree with the notion that climate policy is bad for the economy. There have been a couple of studies on the effects of AB32 in California that find cap-and-trade legislation will have a long term positive impact on the economy rather than be a big scary job killing economy wrecking piece of legislation the R loves to claim.

Posted by: climatebob | October 14, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

climatebob, long term anything is possible. Short term, killing the economy kills carbon usage and vice versa. See for example. I would support long term policies as long as they really are long term, with no immediate subsidizing of uneconomical energy, etc.

Posted by: eric654 | October 14, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli's persecution of Mann has really gone out of bounds. He is now judging his statistics and saying that if his statistics are wrong, it must be a deliberate hoax.

Is he also going to investigate all Virginia middle schoolers' algebra tests and prosecute them if he thinks there are any mistakes?

He deserves to be laughed out of office.

I read once that the idea of cap and trade was developed by Republicans to deal with acid rain and it seems to have worked for that. Whether it is a good idea for dealing with carbon, I don't know.

Posted by: Dadmeister | October 14, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

How emblematic of the do-it-yourself-everyone's-an-expert-just-get-twitter-account-and-you're-practically-a-PhD-climatologist state of science education in this country that someone like Cuccinelli, with his esteemed background of law school, is pretending to delve into the complex statistical analysis of someone like Michael Mann. Republicans, do you have any IDEA how 15th-century this makes your party look?

And eric654, I agree with you that China and India are a problem. Does that mean the world's (still) #1 emitter of greenhouse gases should just take a pass and pretend nothing is happening? Do you have children?

Posted by: B2O2 | October 14, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

eric654 - when the economy slumps emissions will slump. this was also recorded in Europe. However, the reverse is not necessarily true if cutting GHGs stimulates R&D and investment in low carbon solutions.

Independent analysis of AB32 found it will only have a small impact on California's economy and that "Even the most pessimistic studies find that, under AB 32, California’s economy will experience considerable per capita real income growth over the next few decades at rates very close to the rates that would occur in the absence of AB 32."


I have seen other studies that show a dip in the short term but long term economic benefits

Posted by: climatebob | October 14, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

B202, we are broke so taking a pass or not is really is not up to us, but rather China. How much more money are they going to send our way? Right now they are paying our seniors since SS ran out of money Sep 30th. Politicians want to spend even more than they already have on various boondoggles, some in the name of climate although still wastes of money. Ours in Front Royal is a "solar farm", a complete economic loser for that location. Local politicians and progressives are patting themselves on the back while everyone else will simply pay more for less reliable electricity.

climatebob, thanks for the link. The details are important and have imply a particular intent in the law (AB32). The costs in Table 13 (reproduced from the report) are 3.7B per year. But to offset that, 8.7B will be saved by people driving less. As the appendix points out, the estimated cost for driving less (e.g. new transit, restrictions on land use, etc) is zero (it was apparently ignored). The appendix doesn't mention overall economic costs like increased frictional unemployment and underemployment due to restricted travel.

It is not sufficient to assume that reduced travel will simply mean fewer redundant trips to the grocery store. It would be nice to eliminate waste like that (I see it all the time), but not at the expense of working poor trying to get a better job by commuting farther, etc. It is not very plausible to impose a government policy to reduce the waste while preserving the freedom of mobility granted by the free market.

Posted by: eric654 | October 14, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

I recently discovered a basic climate news aggregator here:

Can we ever be done with Endingeverythingwithgate-gate?

Posted by: imback | October 14, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

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