Jeff Jacoby has taken the Media Nation challenge. On Dec. 24 I asked him to respond to some questions I had over a column he wrote that plays down global warming. Here is his answer, with my original questions to him in bold.
To: Dan Kennedy
From: Jeff Jacoby
Date: January 2, 2007
Thanks for reading my recent column on global warming alarmism. Here are my replies to the challenge you posted at Media Nation.
1. You make much of the fact that scientific predictions about the climate have changed considerably over time. For instance, you note that climatologist Reid Bryson, in the mid-1970s, predicted catastrophic global cooling.
Question: Do you believe science, and our ability to measure climate change, have advanced over the past 32 years? And if you do, don’t think you anything a scientist wrote in 1974 is utterly irrelevant?
Let me turn your question around: Do you really believe that it is never significant when scientists — unlike, say, politicians and journalists — say and do things that sharply contradict their previous statements and claims? It is true, as the mutual-fund disclaimers put it, that past performance is no guarantee of future results. But are they really “utterly irrelevant”? Surely the accuracy of yesterday’s predictions is one indicator of whether today’s new-and-improved prognostications ought to be taken seriously.
I am not a climate scientist, and can’t speak with expertise about the change in climate metrics since 1974. (More on that in a moment.) I agree that as a general rule, scientific understanding tends to advance over time. That doesn’t mean that it advances in every field, and it doesn’t meant that it advances at a uniform rate.
In any case, I didn’t quote Bryson’s alarmist 1974 warnings of the coming global freeze to disprove claims of global warming today; I quoted it to illustrate my point that while conventional wisdom undergoes 180-degree shifts, the gloom-and-doom fear-mongering never seems to change. The science may be more sophisticated now, but the Chicken Little squawking is exactly the same.
For an answer to the specific question of improvements in climate science since the 1970s, I turned to Richard Lindzen, the Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT and a lead author of the Working Group I assessment report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which focused on the science of climate change. He writes:
Actually, there has been almost no progress on crucial matters like climate sensitivity since the 1970s. The range of model results has not changed since Jule Charney’s report for the National Academy of Sciences in 1979. To be sure, the latest version of the IPCC Assessment does cut back the high end, but there is still no basis for relying on the range supplied by current models. The sensitivity of those models depends critically on the impact of the main greenhouse substances, water vapor and clouds. Models can’t account for these directly because they can’t resolve the effect clouds have on climate, and so modelers are forced to rely on formulas that date back to the 1970s.
Moreover, 30 years ago scientists were beginning to realize that major climate changes were characterized more by changes in the temperature difference between the poles and the tropics rather than by changes in the global mean temperature. With the current focus on global mean temperature and on a single global forcing term, it could be argued that the science of climate has actually regressed. As climate scientists in government agencies can tell you, financial support for climate research depends on heightened concern over global warming. This has undoubtedly discouraged attempts to actually understand climate.
Observation is an issue, too. The number of surface observation stations has decreased substantially over the past three decades. Of course, there are now satellite observations of atmospheric (rather than surface) temperatures. But these continue to show less warming than is found at the surface, even though greenhouse theory and the models say we should find more warming in the atmosphere.
These aren’t the only weaknesses in calculating climate sensitivity. For example, the models generate different (and frequently opposite) results for regional climate change. But these should be enough to demonstrate that progress since the 1970s has been pathetic at best.
2. Two words never appear in your column: “carbon dioxide.” Yet according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the level of atmospheric CO2 has risen from 280 parts per million to 370 parts per million since the start of the Industrial Revolution. “The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today, has not been exceeded in the last 420,000 years, and likely not in the last 20 million years,” according to the agency’s Web site.
Question: What evidence can you state for your apparent belief that rising CO2 levels have no effect on the climate?
I make no claim in my column about rising carbon dioxide levels, so I’m not sure how you detect my “apparent belief” that CO2 doesn’t affect climate. I am skeptical of the claim that the impact of human-generated CO2 on the planet’s climate can be determined with precision. And I am aware, as I hope you are, that global temperatures have varied over the centuries. A thousand years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was in the middle of the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures then were high enough that the Vikings could cultivate Greenland — which today is covered with ice. By 1500, the climate pendulum had swung the other way. The next few centuries were so cold that historians call them the Little Ice Age. Oranges stopped growing in China. Glaciers engulfed French villages. Now in the 20th century, the world has started warming up again. In short, climate changes — and there appears to be more to the story than anthropogenic CO2 emissions alone.
Again, from Professor Lindzen:
No one claims that rising levels of carbon dioxide have no effect on climate. In fact, we understand the forcing of climate that arises from CO2 pretty well.
The normal heat balance of the Earth consists in about 200 Watts per square meter (W/m2) coming in as visible light and about 200 W/m2 going out in the form of infrared radiation. Doubling CO2 should produce a 3.5 W/m2 reduction of the latter — a perturbation of just under 2%. That in turn leads to warming of about 1 degree Celsius if everything else remains the same. The more alarming climate claims are based on the belief that water vapor and clouds amplify the warming caused by carbon dioxide. But their impact is not well understood — and may actually be the opposite of what the models assume.
It is also well known that the temperature effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide is logarithmic, not linear. That is, each added unit of CO2 causes less warming than its predecessor. It turns out that the current perturbation to the greenhouse forcing amounts to about 2.5 W/m2 (1.5 from CO2, 0.5 from methane, and the rest from N2O and fluorocarbons). According to the models, we should already have seen much more warming than we have. In order to match observations of global mean surface temperature, models have to cancel more than two-thirds of the greenhouse forcing. Many modelers claim the cancellation is due to aerosols. But scientists who specialize in aerosols maintain that their effect is essentially unknown. Thus, the cancellation is nothing more than an arbitrary adjustment.
A simpler, and more likely, reason for model overestimates is that the model feedbacks are incorrect, and the models are exaggerating the impact of the small CO2 forcing. Twenty years’ worth of satellite observations support this conclusion.
3. Most serious people who’ve looked at global warming believe we need to undertake technological steps ranging from developing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to building a safer generation of nuclear power plants. That was certainly one of the messages Al Gore puts forth in his film “An Inconvenient Truth.” In other words, though there may be a few alternative-lifestyle types who believe global warming can only be reversed by living like the Amish, most of us want to innovate our way out of this mess — a very American approach, I might add.
Question: How did global warming become part of the culture war? And why on earth have conservatives like you adopted the denial of global warming as a pet cause?
Global warming became part of the culture war when it became another topic on which the left decided to stifle free speech and demonize dissenters.
I don’t speak for other conservatives, but global warming seems to me to be the latest weapon in the arsenal of environmental ideologues who warn that the earth and humankind are doomed unless we adopt sweeping policies that will radically change the way we live, generally by reducing freedom, limiting choices, and aggrandizing government. The particular threat they invoke changes over time — pesticides, overpopulation, resource depletion, nuclear winter, global warming — but the we-are-doomed-unless-you-do-what-I-say hysteria remains constant. In Al Gore’s words, “We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.”
Human beings were able to adapt and innovate their way from the Medieval Warming Period to the Little Ice Age and out again. They will probably be able to handle the global temperature increase of a degree or two that may be coming over the next few decades. And they will be able to do it more intelligently and successfully if they don’t shut down debate, discussion, and dissent — or let a Global Warming Czar tell them that the only way to make the world better is to make do with less energy and a lower standard of living.
Last words from Professor Lindzen:
The earth is always warming or cooling a bit. The latest fluctuation can be measured in tenths of a degree. Over the past century, the earth has probably warmed about half a degree Celsius (according to NOAA’s Climate Data Center) or as much as 0.7 degrees (according to other research centers). A jump in temperature was recorded between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s — but that may have been related to the closing of more than 1,000 observation stations in the former USSR during the same period.
The scientific issue is not whether there is warming or not. It is whether the level of warming is unusual, whether the analysis of the data (as well as the data itself) are adequate for the small changes being studied, and whether the change in global temperature is significantly related to increasing CO2. The interesting political question is not about “denial” on the right. Rather, it is this: Why does the left get so excited by what seems to be a natural phenomenon?
Media Nation responds: In the spirit of my invitation to Jacoby, I’m not going to attempt any sort of detailed response. I asked questions, he answered them, and there you have it. But I do find it interesting that he sought out Lindzen for back-up.
I will not engage in the sort of attacks against Lindzen that have become popular among some of his critics. I assume he received consulting money from oil companies in years past because of his views, not the other way around.
But I will say this: Lindzen is one of a very, very few qualified scientists who do not believe that human-caused global warming is a serious danger. Nearly all the evidence is stacked against Lindzen — and Jacoby.
Maybe 50 years from now we’ll learn that Lindzen was right and everyone else was wrong. But on what basis should we act today? That is the issue.
21 thoughts on “Jeff Jacoby responds”
At the risk of over-simplifying this whole thing, and maybe going for a cheap chuckle:It’s 50 degrees outside on January 3, 2007. It’s been cold for approximately 20 minutes since Thanksgiving.Next question.
The reason why he wrote a column on Global Warming in the first place was that he ran out of subjects he won’t be wrong about. Wrong almost every single unfailing time. He is obviously not an expert on climate, nor am I, nor is Dan, nor are ALL of talk show hosts, so I wish most windbags stop talking about a matter they now nothing about but solely feel very passionate and sharply partisan about.The stakes are much higher than who is right and wrong.Before that piece, he talked about Gay Marriage with some <a href="http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/12/20/words_that_can_kill“>arguments I mirror myself. Yet , the tone that comes out of reading him is that he really doesn’t want ANY laws he doesn’t like passed, even if people get to vote and pass such a law. He finishes by quoting from A Man for All Seasons” with argument that he contradicted MANY times in his pieces in dealing with other matters. A total hypocrite.Same in this piece where he chides ‘irresponsible speech’ but again that contradicts his position on a similar item a few months back. In ” Oh Brother ” he rails against banning the oh-to-be-missed-wonderful transfats. A complete hypocritical pandering to his flase image of ‘small government conservative’ mockery he wants to keep up, with complete disregard to health risks to millions of people. A complete windbag. Similar to Feinburg bringing on a Harvard Professor and belittling him like a brainless dope who doesn’t know anything about biology or transfats downsides.So here is a pattern of deception we are accustomed to, and to complete the circle, here is a fellow Globie going after the venerable MIT ha…uh prof.There is an infinite supply of studies by MIT of Global warming issues that squarely contradict the said prof who goes on a tangent here in the WSJ on Gore.Now, it was refreshing to hear some adults finally on WRKO’s airwaves, like Alex Beam+Bailey’s or Avi’s stints. The latter had said professor on last week and he sounded so reasonable and so smart ( He IS smart after all..an MIT prof) and so gentlemanly and I think that offered climate-ignorant Jeff his eureka moment: he couldn’t answer by himself, so the airwaves just provided him with a point guy to help on Dan’s public offer, and all he had to do was turn his car radio during the commute.Another cop out from the ‘esteemed’ Globe columnist.A lot of infamous barkers rail all the time about tenure and how that allows some cooky lefties a powerful perch -there are some little nuts out there indeed- but this is a case for the other side where a prof with obviously a heavy conscience for having cashed that money from fossil industry sources, he can’t climb down from his position that easily and is taking on the role of the devil’s advocate for a prestigious university and department that overflows with work on the proofs and dangers of Global Warming.Or maybe the National Academy of Science…Or this quote from MIT’s Energy Council Head Moniz highlighting the urgency:”And third is environmental, especially climate change. If society gets serious about controlling greenhouse-gas emissions, this would be the most profound challenge to the structure of our energy supply, because that supply is based on fossil fuel. Controlling carbon dioxide, while also doubling energy use, is a rather remarkable challenge to contemplate. …”To be sure, it is a daunting, almost impossible task, to completely tame, predict, decipher, unlock and explain all weather phenomena with vast oceans, water bodies and air streams etc that fluctuate and dictate all the time. We have lived to centuries on earth wtih no statistics being taken AT ALL, so we only have the last couple of centuries’ reliable and more thorough data to go by , if not for folk stories and innacurate distant historical accounts of things that happened before.No one can be pinned exactly on what is right and wrong for definite in climatology, and there is much room for scepticism from Lindzen or MIT’s Harm de Blij or many others.On the other hand, there is no denying that there are some serious changes and unpleasant surprises becoming more and more frequent, how can ANYONE with half a brain argue otherwise, try to impede at the very least scientific investigation or scrub scientific findings???An unreasonable and agenda-driven Jeff can and we all know what he is worth from his past work.We owe it to scientific open-mindedness to let misguided profs like Lindzen go on shows like his recurring stint on the infamous blowhard windbag show of dishonest misinformation and partisan flame throweing of a show called Pundit Review and let out his screed.Until you can prove him wrong, you can’t pin anything down really either way, but don’t go telling that to Europe which is seeing its first snowless winter or New England’s warmest December -off 17 inches in snow and precipitation- or to those massive ice shelves breaking daily.What do we know? We don’t have MIT degrees to talk, so we should shut up and nod to “Professor Jeff.” N.
It’s in his response to question # 3 that Jacoby reveals the ass backwards place he’s coming from. Excerpt:”Global warming seems to me to be the latest weapon in the arsenal of environmental ideologues who warn that the earth and humankind are doomed unless we adopt sweeping policies that will radically change the way we live, generally by reducing freedom, limiting choices, and aggrandizing government. The particular threat they invoke changes over time — pesticides, overpopulation, resource depletion, nuclear winter, global warming — but the we-are-doomed-unless-you-do-what-I-say hysteria remains constant.”_________________Questions about that passage:- Just what “sweeping policies that will radically change the way we live, generally by reducing freedom,” etc., is Jacoby referring to? What I hear is a call to INNOVATE, not go back to the dark ages.- Ok, so, the dangers of pesticides, overpopulation, resource depletion, and nuclear war are all just liberal hysteria, too? Another passage:”And they will be able to do it more intelligently and successfully if they don’t shut down debate, discussion, and dissent — or let a Global Warming Czar tell them that the only way to make the world better is to make do with less energy and a lower standard of living.”_________________- Again, who is saying anything about making do with less energy? The call is to move away from outmoded technologies into new ones. – Just how does one assess “standard of living”? What is the potential longterm impact of the current state of affairs on our standard of living?- Who has been shutting down debate, discussion, and dissent on this issue for the past 6 years? Not liberals.
Edward, I realize your post is meant facetiously, but I hear that “argument” made seriously so many times it drives me nuts.Remember: Weather is not Climate. Weather is not Climate. Weather is not Climate. Say it with me now: Weather is not Climate.As for Jeff Jacoby, it seems that he makes up his mind about an issue, then he does his research. He finds sources that confirm his views and completely ignores sources that contradict him. All he can do here is search for climatologists that support his view. He found one and only one among all the climate scientists in the field, and he is reduced to quoting him alone among all the other scientists in the field.I am not a climate scientist either, so I am reduced to argument from authority, as is Jacoby. All I can do here is note that Lindzen is in the extreme minority on this issue – the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly against him and there have been numerous substantive rebuttals of his views (this thread is an example reaction to Lindzen’s April WSJ opinion piece, for example).
Who knows the answer? However, it does give one pause (especially if you come from a hard math background) when you think back to the Club of Rome tomes, Paul Ehrlich bromides, and general eco gloom and doomers starting in the 70s before completely signing on to the Global Warming crusade. I kind of thought that Jacoby posted a fair response to Dan here. I have a healthy skepticism of journalists in general when it comes to math. I mean, how do you really prove that this was the warmest December ever (and does that really mean anything in context). How do you normalize your readings? Think local effects might be different 100 years ago in what was a field or woods, that now is surrounded by concrete?Consider that 2 years ago, I was driving past a 40 foot pile of snow in the Hanover Mall parking lot (which finally melted in June), I’m not going to put much stock in the anomaly of this past month. Kind of like predicting trends by drawing a straight line between 2 data points…
If Richard Lindzen fell off a melting arctic ice shelf, would Jeff Jacoby jump off with him?
Um, I may be wrong, but I learned in history class that the Vikings gave Greenland its name as a diversionary tactic– so their rivals would mistakenly go to that cold and inhospitable place. The Vikings settled in the very nice, fertile and also surreptitiously named Iceland.
This is an issue I’ve been involved with since the Montreal Protocol was ratified. On all counts, steve is dead-on right.mike from norwell, I would assume — perhaps wrongly — that readings are normed in some fashion. There’s a lot of people who take temp readings really seriously. But you are right: anomalies do occur, and good science means determing what’s a trend and what’s an outlier. For example, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991 changed the Earth’s climate considerably for a couple of years. In Chicago, for instance, it produced record snowfalls that winter and the subsequent (1992) summer was the coldest on record there. It was actually enough to overcome the effects of El Niño, which was taking place at the time.None of this, however, can be taken as a sign that the population’s reliance on aerosols and fossil fuels isn’t having an effect on the Earth’s climate. And what Jacoby (and others) omit from the argument is that the US is spending billions each year subsidizing its farmers (often, by paying them not to farm) and another $2B a day fighting a war over — yes — oil. So in the interest beefing up our own agricultural markets while cutting our dependence on imported energy (and possibly saving the environment), it would be prudent for the next president to make renewable energy a true part of their platform, much like JFK set landing on the moon as a goal in order to drive investment and interest in the sciences.
Dan: I applaud you for letting Jacoby have his say without attempt a rebuttal. As someone whose thinking is aligned with Jacoby’s on this issue, this was my favorite part of his response: I don’t speak for other conservatives, but global warming seems to me to be the latest weapon in the arsenal of environmental ideologues who warn that the earth and humankind are doomed unless we adopt sweeping policies that will radically change the way we live, generally by reducing freedom, limiting choices, and aggrandizing government. The particular threat they invoke changes over time — pesticides, overpopulation, resource depletion, nuclear winter, global warming — but the we-are-doomed-unless-you-do-what-I-say hysteria remains constant.As far as Greenland goes, I thought the same thing: that the Vikings named it that as a ruse. But according to wikipedia, “The fjords of the southern part of the island were lush and had a warmer climate at that time, possibly due to what was called the Medieval Warm Period. These remote communities thrived and lived off farming, hunting and trading with the motherland … [but] after almost five hundred years, the Scandinavian settlements simply vanished, possibly due to famine during the fifteenth century in the Little Ice Age, when climatic conditions deteriorated, and contact with Europe was lost.”
What Jacoby fails to mention is that many more millions of “human beings” live near the coast now, and if indeed global temperatures reach or exceed the level we had in 1000 AD, a lot more people will be affected, and adaptation will be very difficult.
And (as if they’re reading your blog, Dan) the Union of Concerned Scientists “offers the most comprehensive documentation to date of how ExxonMobil has adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics, as well as some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.””Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to “Manufacture Uncertainty” on Climate Change details how the oil company, like the tobacco industry in previous decades, has * raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence * funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings * attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for “sound science” rather than business self-interest * used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming”
I wasn’t going to point out the many flaws of JJ’s “logic,” but after some consideration I can’t let this stand:“Human beings were able to adapt and innovate their way from the Medieval Warming Period to the Little Ice Age and out again. They will probably be able to handle the global temperature increase of a degree or two that may be coming over the next few decades. And they will be able to do it more intelligently and successfully if they don’t shut down debate, discussion, and dissent — or let a Global Warming Czar tell them that the only way to make the world better is to make do with less energy and a lower standard of living.”Those periods to which he referred occured during a time when the Earth’s population was 425 million to 540 million (see the US Census Bureau). Today it’s more than 7 billion. That’s a lot more people taxing the Earth’s mostly nonrenewable resources. It’s easy to adapt when you can pick up and move somewhere else. It’s a lot harder when there are already a few billion people sitting where you need to go.
Mike b1: Talk about a flaw in logic: It’s easy to adapt when you can pick up and move somewhere else. It’s a lot harder when there are already a few billion people sitting where you need to go.Isn’t the issue at hand GLOBAL warming, not “regional hotting” or “contintental discomfort.”
Anon 11:58, if you were doing your homework, you would know the effects so-called “global warming” are different in different regions. For example, the melting of the polar ice leads to elevated ocean levels, which in turn exposes those on the coasts to flooding. Those in Saharan Africa would experience much different phenomena.
mike_b1: Oh, I see now. So I guess everyone who lived on islands like England and Ireland during medieval warming period probably hightailed it inland for a few centures – you know, because they could; there weren’t as many people around back then. Nowadays, of course, they’d be screwed because of the earth is jam-packed with people. Wait a minute! Maybe it’s not. Some cursory research found the following: The total population density of the Earth right now is around 97 people per square mile (not counting Antarctica)-less than 1/90th the population density of Los Angeles, and less than 1/1,120th that of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a country often used as an example of the ultimate nightmare awaiting all of us through overpopulation. To put it into perspective, if everyone on earth were divided into families of four and given a quarter acre of land to live on (a good-sized suburban plot), they could all fit into one-sixth of the land mass in the United States alone.I pity you, Mike. It must be a burden being such a know-it-all.
Must be a pity for you to be reduced to plagiarizing P.J. O’Rourke.So, where in your “calculations” did you account for the massive tracts of uninhabitable land — like, say Alaska, or the mountain ranges of the West, or the deserts of Eastern California, Arizona, N. Mexico, Nevada, etc.? Where did you account for the increasing desertization of the world, for that matter? Perhaps you saw the news that China’s largest lake is being drained at such a pace that it might cease to exist in 30 years?And where did you account for the logistical nightmare of relocating 7 billion people?That’s what I thought. Take off your hat so we can see your point.
anon4:44In a topic full of logical fallacies, yours has got to be the most nonsensical. It’s also almost a complete non sequitur, since Mike’s point is about the overall effects of global warning.Your “one-sixth figure” assumes a 100% habitable land mass with no roads, no farms, no factories, no malls, no mountains, no rivers, no deserts, etc.It’s like the old joke about a bunch of math majors determining how much milk a cow can produce: “let’s start by assuming a perfectly spherical cow.”
Mike b1: Typical Mike b1 – trying to juke and jive. I don’t have to account for the “logistical nightmare of relocating 7 billion people” because I don’t think there’s any need to. Nor do I need to consider a lake in China that is losing water. Why? Because all I was doing was pointing out the pot [you] calling the kettle [Jacoby] black when you talked about the flaws in his logic. To refresh your selective memory, I was specifically referring to your absurd point about “It’s easy to adapt when you can pick up and move somewhere else. It’s a lot harder when there are already a few billion people sitting where you need to go.”Sorry, chump, but we’re not exactly stacked up like cordwood on this planet. Go back to hosting the Shaughnessy blog. You were actually somewhat useful then.
I think both I and bostonph sufficiently rebutted your previous comments and therefore there’s no need to do it again.
A few days late to the debate. This comment captures Jeff Jacoby exactly:”As for Jeff Jacoby, it seems that he makes up his mind about an issue, then he does his research. He finds sources that confirm his views and completely ignores sources that contradict him.”That’s exactly what he’s doing, and it’s exactly the opposite of what scientists do. Jacoby finds it upsetting that scientists take issue with his epistemology:Jacoby said:”Global warming became part of the culture war when it became another topic on which the left decided to stifle free speech and demonize dissenters.”Oh, grow up, Jeff. You are being demonized because you don’t know the first damned thing about climate science, but yet are paid by a newspaper to publish your uninformed opinions as if they were somehow worthwhile. That disjunction between knowledge and visibility tends to piss off people who actually understand the issues.
One thing here has obvious empirical standing: “As for Jeff Jacoby, it seems that he makes up his mind about an issue, then he does his research. He finds sources that confirm his views and completely ignores sources that contradict him.”Worse yet Jeff has also been caught plagiarizing suspect sources, for which he received a suspension. I’m guessing he feels no shame for this or ignoring the facts while wagging his righteous finger at whomever he likes.
Comments are closed.