Climate Denialists in Denial

Debunking the debunkers at The Wall Street Journal

"Climate Science In Denial," reads a Wall Street Journal op-ed headline. "Global warming alarmists have been discredited, but you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric this Earth Day."

Actually, the subhead should be revised: "Global warming denialists have been re-discredited, but you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric in today's Wall Street Journal." Far be it from me, a non-scientist, to dispute the scientific expertise of an MIT professor of meterology, Richard Lindzen, but then again, Lindzen's selective recitation of the litany of arguments against global warming practically begs a rebuttal.

First, he mentions "Climate Gate" -- those e-mails from the Climate Research Unit from the University of East Anglia. He suggests that the e-mails show "unambiguous evidence of the unethical suppression of information and opposing viewpoints, and even data manipulation."

The e-mails were actually quite ambiguous and contained evidence of churlishness and defensiveness from scientists whose data had long been under attack from climate denialists.

For some reason Lindzen presumes that "one might have thought the revelations would discredit the allegedly settled science underlying the currently proposed global warming policy," without specifying what those "revelations" were.

Two investigations, one conducted by the British government and one conducted by the university, as well as methodological reviews by the journals where some of the research mentioned in the e-mails, concluded that no data was manipulated and no legitimate (i.e., scientifically grounded) opposing views were supressed. So, of course, Lindzen finds the investigations "thoroughly lacking in depth" and "whitewashes." You can read the government report here and make up your own mind.

To go into detail on but one point: on the allegation that CRU scientists artifically adjusted (or corrected for) data from tree ring analysis that supposedly showed no warming after 1960, the review found that the corrective mechanisms were NOT, in fact, applied to the data published by CRU and were, instead, an appropriate possible way of dealing with methodological discrepancies that result from measuring tree ring data.

A while later, Lindzen makes this curious claim about the International Panel on Climate Change's conclusions: "For example, [their] observations are consistent with models only if emissions include arbitrary amounts of reflecting aerosols particles (arising, for example, from industrial sulfates) which are used to cancel much of the warming predicted by the models. The observations themselves, without such adjustments, are consistent with there being sufficiently little warming as to not constitute a problem worth worrying very much about."

First, the addition of aerosols to the models aren't arbitrary. As Tim Flannery explains for a lay audience in "The Weather Makers," from 1940 to 1970, aerosol particles in the atmosphere helped to counterbalance the effect of global warming. Once technology advanced to scrub aerosols from emitters, the cooling trend slowed. Numerous natural and man-made experiments have confirmed, and testable hypotheses have been successfully validated, to figure out exactly how aerosol emissions change temperature predictions.

(Prediction: in the absence of jet contrails, daytime temperatures in developed areas will be higher because there will be less "stuff" in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight, thus cooling the earth. Result: check the daytime temperature figures for the days following 9/11 when airplanes were grounded.)

Flannery notes that the two forces would seem to balance out -- but they don't, since we're producing fewer aerosols and more CO2. That would seem to suggest that we should do more to reduce CO2 emissions, not less, if we're worried about future warming. (Iceland's ash may have given us another year or two.)

The discussion of aerosols and CO2 brings us to a larger question: temperature models vary considerably. Interesting how denialists often suggest that scientists rig these models to show warming and THEN use the same models to show how wide the variation in expected temperatures could be. If anything, what evidence there is of actual warming suggests that the less conservative modeling is more accurate.

Then Lindzen writes about how some French academics have published books criticizing global warming advocates for being too alarmist in their predictions. Then he ends the op-ed by suggesting that the matter is settled. One can agree that global warming advocates can be alarmist, that they can hype the negative effects of the less conservative models, and that they can often present their conclusions with more certainty than is warranted.

But the fact remains that the overwhelming body of evidence suggests that the alarmists' fears are grounded in empirical reality.

The science should not dictate policy. But it should be a foundation for policy. Whether that means "cap and trade" or "cap and dividend" or carbon taxes, or whether we should spin the roulette wheel and hope the temperature predictions get it wrong -- those are legitimate questions to debate, and there are many potential answers. Environmentalists have responded to the claims that their carbon emission reduction schemes wouldn't hurt the macro-economy by essentially inventing the idea of a Green Economy. Unfortunately, that invention has yet to be mass marketed. If we're going to deal with the problem, we're probably going to experience some pain, and we're going to have to figure out the best way to distribute that pain so that it can best be tolerated.