Claiming the Middle Ground

Roger Pielke Jr writes:

Andy Revkin has a well-done article on the “middle ground” in the climate change debate. I fully expect that many of the usual suspects on the extremes of the debate (both sides) will respond to this story by saying that they’ve been in the middle all along.

The most prominent of the usual suspects saying that they’ve been in the middle all along is, of course, Roger Pielke Jr. Since he was in the middle, in the Hansen/Michaels dispute, Pielke Jr was critical of both sides. Oops, no. Sorry, that was wrong. Pielke Jr just made some specious criticisms of Hansen’s work.

More discussion at jfleck’s place.

Comments

  1. #1 Roger Pielke, Jr.
    January 2, 2007

    Thanks much Tim for the link. As I wrote and you failed to reproduce in the above quote, “A two-sided debate rarely welcomes a third view, especially one that makes as much sense as that espoused in the NYT article.”

    On my views of Pat Michaels vs. Jim Hansen, nice try, but from I’ve seen of your blogging I am sure that you can do far better than that ;-) Here is what I actually said about Michaels when I was trying to make sense of Hansen’s “prediction”:

    “This analysis provides no support for anyone who would cherry pick one scenario over another to evaluate their accuracy (as Paul Krugman has accused Patrick Michaels and Michael Crichton of doing).”

    Thanks!

  2. #2 Matthew C. Nisbet
    January 2, 2007

    Over at Framing Science I’ve got a lengthy post on what the “invisible middle” actually means, and why it is a useful rule of thumb for journalists. Also, I explain why Gore et al.’s “pending disaster” frame doesn’t working, according to the public opinion data.

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/01/communicating_climate_change_r.php

  3. #3 JB
    January 2, 2007

    When it comes to scientific issues, “being in the middle” has dubious value… just as pursuing “balance” also has dubious value.

    And in common parlance, being in the “middle of” something has negative connotations more often than not.

    …as in “You’re always right smack dab in the middle of it, aren’t you Johnny?” — Johnny’s mom

  4. #4 z
    January 2, 2007

    Depends what you’re in the middle of. If you’re in the middle meaning you have a plot of the estimates from the models and it’s vaguely gaussian and so you say that median estimate is the middle ground, then you’re OK. Sort of like Hansen’s famous 1988 graph. Then the debate rages on about whether the median is correct, or should it be nearer one extreme or the other. As in pretty much every field of science; e.g. is the mean distance to the moon really 238,857 miles, as we were solemnly informed when I was in school, or is it 238,856, which was the revisionist theory which eventually was accepted as more accurate. If anybody would have paid them a buck or two to do so, the Usual Suspects would have argued that this not only disproves the whole concept of there being a moon, but also that the concept of “average distance” is meaningless as it is a “scalar field” or whatever.

    I hate to bring it up, but in fact I can’t find a better analogy than the “Holocaust revisionist” folks, who seize on any debate over whether the number of dead Jews was 6 million or more than 6 million or less than 6 million as positive proof that it never happened, and nobody can prove otherwise. And, similarly, some few get paid nicely for lecturing to that effect, while a larger number of followers string along for free out of a combination of ignorance and/or stupidity, and sheer asshole nihilism.

  5. #5 JB
    January 2, 2007

    There is just one problem.

    The answer in the middle might be the most probable one — as with a gaussian distribution — but then again, it may not be. The normal distribution is the exception rather than the rule in nature.

    In other words, most of the time the answer in the middle is not the correct one.

    In fact, when it comes right down to it, nature cares not one bit whether something lies in the middle or at the extreme.

    If one person claims the earth is round, the other that it’s flat, do we take an average and said it’s flound?

    Of course not. Experiment answers the question.

    The journalistic goal of “balance” has leaked (flooded?) over into science where it has no place.

    I believe that this is largely due to the fact that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally policy wonk/journalist with a weblog is now commenting on scientific matters that in many (if not most) cases they have no clue about.

  6. #6 Rich
    January 2, 2007

    It is important to know what the middle is (unfortunately Pielke in my opinion was a bad example). The middle has to do with policy recommendations and not whether anthropogenic climate change is real or not. The middle by and large accepts the IPCC reports which should not be surprising because the IPCC reports also be characterized as the “middle”. A better example of the middle is the folks who do the realclimate blog. The challenge for us is not to get coopted by either side with the greater danger being coopted by the so-called skeptics. In our opinion, by not overselling the issue we can better change the minds of the real skeptics and not those who will not change their minds regardless of the (ever-growing) evidence. At this point those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change do not have any right to the term middle.

  7. #7 mgr
    January 2, 2007

    Revkin: “They agree that accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases probably pose a momentous environmental challenge, but say the appropriate response is more akin to buying fire insurance and installing sprinklers and new wiring in an old, irreplaceable house (the home planet) than to fighting a fire already raging.”

    This is policy, not science.

    Sounds a little reactive than proactive to me. Interesting, that the other alternative, whistling past the graveyard is not mentioned (so much for those skeptics). It is essentially an invest in infrastructure argument, that needs to be heard whether global warming is in play or not.

    I have to agree with Eli Rabbett, it’s an argument that made sense fifteen years ago, and could have worked. But the refusal to go along with Kyoto, set us all back, and more radical action is needed to catch up. In addition I want to see something concrete, rather than a discussion by poli sci types as to the strategy to sell AGW to the public. If I am alarmist, then so was the ban on CFCs (which may have bought us some time).

    Mike

  8. #8 JB
    January 2, 2007

    “In our opinion, by not overselling the issue we can better change the minds of the real skeptics and not those who will not change their minds regardless of the (ever-growing) evidence.”

    “Not overselling” and “being in the middle” are not necessarily the same thing.

    Take some of the “moderates” in the US Congress, for example. They lie in the “middle”, but that does not mean they are incapable of “overselling.” Indeed on Iraq, it is many of these moderates who have been most guilty of such overselling. (Lieberman immediately coems to mind here).

    Everyone likes to claim they are in the “middle” (ie, not an extremist), but sometimes the exremists are right. Indeed, scientific breakthroughs are often made by “extremists”.

    Imprecise terms like the “middle” have little relevance to science.

  9. #9 Joseph O'Sullivan
    January 2, 2007

    Roger Pielke Jr. can make ome good arguments, but its the tone of his writings on his blog and other blogs that gets in the way.

    He likes to be provocative and this can lead to interesting discussion, but it can be off-putting. RPJr on prometheus took a comment of mine from RealClimate and wrote that it was climate scientist Judith Curry’s comment. I think he was using this as bait to get Judith Curry to comment on prometheus.

    It worked, and Judith Curry pretty quickly entered the discussion on prometheus. However publicly misquoting someone is not the most responsible tactic.

  10. #10 Eli Rabett
    January 2, 2007

    John Fleck had an interesting pointer at the end to the 2004 National Committee on Energy Policy report (it is a self selected, but interesting group). He described it as his version of the policy middle ground. I would recommend everyone reading that. FWIW Fleck is a fair minded observer IMHO.

  11. #11 Rich
    January 2, 2007

    JB reacting to my previous comment:

    >”In our opinion, by not overselling the issue we can better change the minds of the real skeptics and not those who will not change their minds regardless of the (ever-growing) evidence.”

    >”Not overselling” and “being in the middle” are not necessarily the same thing.

    >Take some of the “moderates” in the US Congress, for example. They lie in the “middle”, but that does not mean they are incapable of “overselling.” Indeed on Iraq, it is many of these moderates who have been most guilty of such overselling. (Lieberman immediately coems to mind here).

    >Everyone likes to claim they are in the “middle” (ie, not an extremist), but sometimes the exremists are right. Indeed, scientific breakthroughs are often made by “extremists”.

    >Imprecise terms like the “middle” have little relevance to science.

    OK. More precision. From the standpoint of science, the “middle” is not in the middle. We agree with the standard consensus which is that climate change is real and humans are largely responsible.

  12. #12 John Humphreys
    January 2, 2007

    Ah, the joys of compromise. If one person says 2+2=4 and the other says 2+2=6 then we should just agree on 5. People who insist on 4 are being extreme and are unwilling to compromise. :)

  13. #13 Dano
    January 2, 2007

    “Middle” is policy response, not “empirical evidence supporting a hypothesis or theory”.

    Best,

    D

  14. #14 stewart
    January 2, 2007

    The middle ground as discussed in the NY Times is indeed the IPCC consensus, which is a lot more radical than most of those who claim they ‘are in the middle’ realize, and far beyond the US/AUS/CDN political climate, although just a little beyond the EU focus. I’m happy to be in that middle, which seems to be well beyond the RPjr/ Kevin Vranes version of the middle.

  15. #15 Ian Gould
    January 3, 2007

    Okay, let’s say there’s a 10% chance that there will be little or no increase in average temperatures over the next hundred years; an 80% chance that there will be warming of around 3 degrees Celsius and a 10% chance that it will significantly exceed 3 degrees.

    Should we apply equal weight to both the outliers in policy-making?

    No – because the potential consequences of the two possibilities are not the same.

    If the “no warming” scenario eventuates and we’ve made policy based on 3 degrees warming we’re out of pocket by quite a lot of money.

    On the other hand, if the warming is significantly more than
    than 3 degrees then planning for 3 degrees of warming while inadequate is going to be a lot better than nothing and will probably save far more money than the potential losses from preparing for warming that never eventuates.

  16. #16 Hans Erren
    January 3, 2007

    In the strong emission scenarios 75% of the emissions in 2100 are coming from the currently emerging economies.
    What the developed world will do this century, doesn’t matter at all.

  17. #17 Tim Lambert
    January 3, 2007

    Roger, you again prove my point. No criticism of Michaels, you only criticise Hansen. Michaels extensively quoted you in support of his position.

  18. #18 Ian Gould
    January 3, 2007

    “In the strong emission scenarios 75% of the emissions in 2100 are coming from the currently emerging economies. What the developed world will do this century, doesn’t matter at all.”

    To people living in the 22nd century, that may well be true, although given the lack between emissions and temperature increase perhaps that should read “in the 23rd century”.

    Give my regards to Jim Kirk, Hans.

  19. #19 Eli Rabett
    January 3, 2007

    The short answer for Hans is that with help and luck by 2100 hopefully those economies will have emerged (prefereably earlier than that) and they and their people will have joined the necessary control regimes.

    Hans also neglects to point out that most of the current emissions from the developing countries are from making things for the people in the developed countries. Happy New Year Hans, and a hope that your Christmas was great.

  20. #20 Aaron
    January 3, 2007

    What exactly is Roger Pielke Jr’s scientific background? I tried to figure out from the bio on his website, but there’s no indication of his actual training.

  21. #21 Chris O'Neill
    January 3, 2007

    “In the strong emission scenarios 75% of the emissions in 2100 are coming from the currently emerging economies. What the developed world will do this century, doesn’t matter at all.”

    Currently emerging economies will act to minimize their emissions even if the developed world carries on with business as usual. They will do this because they know the developed world doesn’t matter at all.

    Sure.

  22. #22 mgr
    January 3, 2007

    Eli–got a chance to skim the energy policy paper. What it really appears to be is the old Jimmy Carter domestic energy policy dressed up for global warming. Which is not a bad thing.

    One thing to note is that these solutions require new infrastructure commitments in the West, and the specific challenges will be environmental impacts, and impacts to the native americans.

    Overcoming these issues will require a federal government that acts with transparency, which is going to be something short of miraculous since the DOI has bunged up the job to where it has pissed off the sportsman’s lobbies.

    My concern is that with our delay, we do not have the luxury of misspent time or priorities, and may now have to consider more draconian actions than previously.

    Mike

  23. #23 Hans Erren
    January 4, 2007

    “Currently emerging economies will act to minimize their emissions even if the developed world carries on with business as usual. They will do this because they know the developed world doesn’t matter at all.”

    In that case, there isn’t a problem, as the strong emission scenarios A2 A1FI and A1B don’t materialise. Proof that it doesn’t matter what the developed world does.

  24. #24 Chris O'Neill
    January 4, 2007

    “In that case, there isn’t a problem”

    Irony is such a challenge.

  25. #25 Ian Gould
    January 4, 2007

    It’s interesting how no matter how the data or the projected future course of events change, Hans’ preference for inaction remains the same.

    Similarly, no doubt, if we could prove for a fact that drastic climate change was about to occur in the next twenty years it’d mean it was too late to take action whereas if we knew there was at least twenty years before drastic climate change occurred it would mean we should leave it for people in the future with their more advanced technology to address.

  26. #26 JB
    January 5, 2007

    “it [this fraudster-science-CULT] has reversed the direction of Prudence.’

    How is that possible?

    No one has yet done anything to address global warming — at least not here in the US.

    How can not doing anything have reversed anything?

    Here in the US, we have continued with business as usual over the past 10 years (buying hummers like they are going out of style, building bigger houses, driving more and emitting, emitting, emitting)..
    and my prediction is that 10 years from now, Hans will still be here arguing that global warming is no threat and that DDT was banned and Tim Lambert will still be poking fun at idiotic things that people like Tim Blair say and do.

    … and we (you and I) will still be arguing on this blog about it. (I know, what a waste of a life.)

  27. #27 Ian Gould
    January 5, 2007

    “And since any such delay will lead to an explosion of mosquito populations this was a terrible tragedy that the alarmists caused there as well.”

    Yes, if only DDT weren’t the only pesticide ever discovered.

  28. #28 Dano
    January 5, 2007

    The fraudster-science-CULT has reversed the direction of PRUDENCE since we live on a planet that has a tendency for catastrophic global cooling. And has no tendency for catastrophic global warming at all. [linky added]

    Gee…who do we know who can’t control their all caps? I wonder. I wonderrrrr…

    Nonetheless, putting aside the fact that the denialists can’t show that science is fraudulent, the reason why Peter denialists can’t find evidence for rapid global warming is [aside from the fact they don't want to look] the little bit about the CO2 ppmv hasn’t been this high since the little minkies became Homo, making arguments about natural cycles, well, bullsh*t.

    HTH,

    D

  29. #29 Dano
    January 5, 2007

    Ah. So a positive slope on a temp depiction doesn’t mean warming in your ideology.

    Got it.

    Best,

    D

  30. #30 Chris O'Neill
    January 6, 2007

    “Its a one-way bias. Its quite unlikely that we could overcome this one-way bias no matter what we did, even if we devoted all our resources to the task”

    Sounds like someone has learned that there is a positive feedback effect at temperatures lower than the present but no observed positive feedback at temperatures above the present. Well that’s nice, trouble is, we can generate plenty of warming all on our own with ZERO positive feedback. A world with 3 degrees C of warming will be an “interesting” place.

  31. #31 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    “You wouldn’t also be a DDT-Holocaust-denier would you Gould.

    If you are and you are a bigshot I’ll be spending a lot of time publicising your attitude.”

    Yeah I’m sure the accusations of someone known as “Visigothkhan” will carry a lot of weight.

  32. #32 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    Oh and have fun “publicising” my opinions- which I’ve happily been expressing publicly for years.

    Of coruse, first you’ll need to work out which of the various “bigshot” Ian Goulds I am:

    Am I a british chemistry professor:

    http://www.public.asu.edu/~iangould/

    The former head of MIM Ltd?

    http://www.aims.gov.au/pages/structure.html

    A British cricket player:

    http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/england/content/player/13414.html

    An Irish musician?

    http://www.iangouldtara.com/

    An Australian food scientist?

    http://www.foodscience.afisc.csiro.au/gould.htm

    None of the above?

  33. #33 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    “Better for land-based nature as well as humans if it were CO2-based warming. But it might mean less marine life.”

    Funny, most ecologists ans environmental scientists (including Jeff Harvey who posts here) would disagree on that point.

    But that must mean they’re part of the “fraudster-science-CULT”.

    Now since your understanding of ecology is obviously superior to that of Doctor Harvey (SSenior Fellow in Environmental Science at Eindhoven University; FRS; former asssitant editor of “Nature”) perhaps you’d like ot tell me how the cloud forests of north Queensland and other cold-adapted ecosystems located in high altitude tropical areas will benefit from the low temperature areas they depend on being radically reduced in size or destroyed entirely.

    Then you can tell me how the arctic ecosystems will benefit from having their peak p[redator (the polar bear) wiped out. In doing so, be sure to explain how the transfer of trace elements including phosphorus from the oceans to the land will occur in the absence of bears taking large numbers of fish and seals.

  34. #34 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    “I’d wonder about that. But if thats true they are wrong and I am right.”

    As witnessed no doubt by your total failure to back up the bulk of your assertions be any form of proof.

    As for “don;t hide behind Harvey”, I immediately went on to cite examples of terrestrial ecosystems which most definitely will not benefit from global warming.

    In the case of Queensland, I will confess to a degree of parochialism since I do indeed live there -hence my concern at the likely collapse of the billon dollar a year tourism industry dependant on those forests.

  35. #35 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2007

    You mean evidence that will satisfy someone who has (so far as I know) no qualifications in environmental science but happily announces that if the majority of environmental scientists disagree with you they MUST be wrong?

    “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

  36. #36 Chris O'Neill
    January 7, 2007

    “catastrophic global warming”

    Hmm, having to move tens of millions of people and write-off masses of city infrastructure and agricultural land when the oceans rise 2 metres above present within 200 years.

    What, 200 years is so far off that it’s not a catastrophe? Well, someone said:

    “we live on a planet that has a tendency for catastrophic global cooling”

    The catastrophes generated by global cooling have always taken at least several thousand years to develop. So obviously the person who wrote that believes that a catastrophe that takes a long time to happen (even thousands of years, let alone 200 years) is still a catastrophe.

  37. #37 Tim Curtin
    January 7, 2007

    Chris O’Neill: once again you get it wrong with your “‘catastrophic global warming’ Hmm, having to move tens of millions of people and write-off masses of city infrastructure and agricultural land when the oceans rise 2 metres above present within 200 years”.
    Check out the Netherlands in 1953. Two metres is trivial, there are many suburban gardens around Australia with walls that high. Building such walls around the cities and along the coastlines would provide gainful employment for all the unemployed in Bangladesh India etc. ‘Tis an ill wind…

  38. #38 Ian Gould
    January 7, 2007

    “Building such walls around the cities and along the coastlines would provide gainful employment for all the unemployed in Bangladesh India etc.”

    Not to mention all those lucrative new grave-digging jobs.

  39. #39 z
    January 7, 2007

    “And since any such delay will lead to an explosion of mosquito populations this was a terrible tragedy that the alarmists caused there as well.”

    As witnessed by the horrible resurgence of malaria in the southern US since the US actually did ban DDT, I take it?

  40. #40 guthrie
    January 7, 2007

    I hope Tim Curtin is taking the mickey. I’d hate to think there was someone out there who couldnt tell the difference between a garden wall and a dyke made to hold back the sea.

  41. #41 Chris O'Neill
    January 7, 2007

    “Two metres is trivial”

    Try telling that to the people of New Orleans – and their problem wasn’t even caused in any significant way by global warming.

  42. #42 Tim Curtin
    January 7, 2007

    Chris O’Neill: the people of New Orleans had only themselves to blame by voting for feckless incompetent administrations at every level that failed normal due diligence. Had they been Dutch, Katrina would have caused no more damage than any other cyclone or hurricane. BTW, just as Katrina was indeed seen by Stern and many others as proof of AGW, so the absence of any Katrinas in 2006 has to be conclusive evidence of zero AGW.

  43. #43 z
    January 7, 2007

    “Chris O’Neill: the people of New Orleans had only themselves to blame by voting for feckless incompetent administrations at every level that failed normal due diligence.”

    Particularly that Bush administration.

    Is everyone familiar with the New Orleans flood of 1927, where the federal government decided to deliberately flood the poorer parts of the city to avoid risking the wealthier areas? http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&lr=&safe=off&rls=GGLF%2CGGLF%3A2004-04%2CGGLF%3Aen&q=new+orleans+flood+1927&btnG=Search
    Another bad vote by the residents, I guess.

  44. #44 danny bee
    January 26, 2007

    read my blog link here if you dare

  45. #45 Chris O'Neill
    January 26, 2007

    “the people of New Orleans had only themselves to blame”

    So trivial it’s nothing more than a blame game.

    “the absence of any Katrinas in 2006 has to be conclusive evidence of zero AGW”

    That should be

    “the absence of any Katrinas in 2006 has to be conclusive evidence of zero GW”

    Cyclones don’t care what causes GW.