Middle Muddle

James Annan summarizes the whole non-skeptic middle heresy thing with: “No, I’m in the middle”.

The RealClimate team check the list Revkin gives and find that they also qualify as NSMHs. (See also Revkin’s response.)

Andrew Dessler (who was one of the people Pielke Jr originally labeled as a NSH) writes that:

The problem I have with the article is that it confuses two separate debates, one scientific (is climate change real?) and one value-based (what should we do about it?). By putting these two issues into the blender, the article confuses rather than clarifies. …

The Revkin article would have been a great contribution had it better separated the science from policy debates. There has not been any real debate over the science in several years, perhaps even the last decade. There has been and continues to be broad agreement among scientists about what we know and what we don’t know. The recent evolution is in the political debate. Unfortunately, by combining these questions, the Revkin article does little to clarify the nuances of the debate for the non-expert.

Revkin replied:

the orthodoxy that is in the public mind now is not the IPCC (which IS the orthodoxy for climate scientists, but is largely not what gets thru to the media and into policy realm).

There, the dominant framing now is the far ‘hotter’ notion that climate is a realtime crisis that can be solved with existing technologies and willpower.

The folks I focused this story on say that is NOT a useful approach and is flawed on every side. The building human influence has multi-decadal momentum. There is no quick fix. CO2 persists for generations and that is what creates need for prompt action. But even urgent action would not lessen current climate extremes, etc etc.

For the average American, all of that is news. And that means I’ve got to write about it.

OK, but this dominant framing is not what Gore or Hansen or Stern have been saying, so I don’t think you could call it an orthodoxy. I think the term “non-skeptic heretic” should die a quick death.

Stealers Wheel have the last word:


  1. #1 Mark P
    January 4, 2007

    My argument is that this nonsensical debate has virtually nothing to do with climate scientist but, perhaps, something to do with policy wonks. However, based on my reading of Revkin, there is an implication, perhaps not specifically stated, that there is scientific debate at a much greater level than actually exists on global warming. This sounds a lot like the creationist tactic of stating that there is scientific debate about the validity of evolution. For that reason, I agree that the whole concept should die a quick and mainly painless death.

  2. #2 JB
    January 4, 2007

    I agree that this is mostly an attempt by the policy wonks and their willing partners (journalists like Revkin) to take control of the debate by positioning themselves in the “middle” and painting scientists like Hansen and others like Gore as extremists/alarmists.

    Some of these people clearly don’t like Hansen and have tried in the past — and ended up with egg on their face — for trying to show he was wrong about his temperature projections.

  3. #3 Dano
    January 4, 2007

    Some of these people clearly don’t like Hansen and have tried in the past — and ended up with egg on their face — for trying to show he was wrong about his temperature projections.

    Journalists should be taken – as a rule of thumb – to be scribes and stenographers. Not all. Don’t ascribe ill will here, JB.

    That would be the tactic of ClimateAudit and the howler monkey squad.



  4. #4 JB
    January 5, 2007

    Take another reading of my post, Dano.

    I said “some of these people”. I never said they were journalists.

    I could spell out who the people were, but I thought that was unnecessary.

    Perhaps I was wrong.

  5. #5 JB
    January 5, 2007

    “Journalists should be taken – as a rule of thumb – to be scribes and stenographers.”

    Dano, don’t get me wrong. I agree that there are some good journalists.

    It would be nice if we could assume that journalists, as a rule of thumb, are merely scribes.

    But if that is actually the case why do we hear so many of themsleves speaking of “framing” debates?

    That sounds like more than a scribe or stenographer to me.

  6. #6 guthrie
    January 5, 2007

    Read carefully, I would have thought that ost journalists output has hidden agendas and aims. from reducin gcomplex stories to infotainment (Thats a framing issue in its own right, not to mention bias in information selection) to the phrasing of the headlines, there is a great deal of interpretation going on in journalism.

    Or so I say anyway. Its just my interpretation…

  7. #7 JB
    January 5, 2007

    “there is a great deal of interpretation going on in journalism”

    Amen to that, brother… and could you please pass the alka selzter.

  8. #8 Dano
    January 5, 2007

    JB, I just took exception to the implication that the journalists in any but the best papers were willing conspirators. I don’t think they’re up to the task, personally. I believe we agree on most other issues.



  9. #9 Ender
    January 5, 2007

    After reading the comments in the Real Climate discussion to me it comes down to this quote:

    “The orthodoxy described on TV, in movie theaters, enviro campaigns etc is that AGW is a realtime crisis that is momentous and huge and terrifying, but can be solved with existing technologies. Anyone disagree with that being the general public image of the climate ‘problem’ right now?”

    Climate change CAN be solved or at least mitigated with technology however WILL it? I cannot see the governments of the Earth swapping economic growth for the correct level of action on climate change.

    My position is that it will take some catastrophe of some description to change the priority from wealth creation to climate change action. For instance there should have been a tsanami warming system in the Indian Ocean long before the wave struck killing hundreds of thousands of people. It took at disaster of this magnitude to galvanise people into action. I think something similar has to happen before the real cuts in CO2 are made rather than the token efforts that are being made today.

    Even if today we did over the whole globe cut CO2 emissions by 60% then there would still be some warming as the rise in temperature is lagging. Who knows if this amount of warming that we can do nothing at all about will be dangerous?

  10. #10 Chris O'Neill
    January 6, 2007

    “Even if today we did over the whole globe cut CO2 emissions by 60% then there would still be some warming as the rise in temperature is lagging.”

    At present there’s enough CO2 (about 383 ppm) to produce 1.3-1.4 degrees C of warming. A rule of thumb is that aerosols balance out the warming produced by the other GHGs. With observed warming of 0.7-0.8 degrees C, there is about 0.6 degrees C of warming being absorbed (temporarily) by the oceans.

    “Who knows if this amount of warming that we can do nothing at all about will be dangerous?”

    Yes if the strategy is to do nothing about the problem until damage is observed then we are committed to the consequences of this latent warming virtually nomatter what we do. I hope governments realize they are making that decision.

  11. #11 Eli Rabett
    January 6, 2007

    Doing nothing is doing what some folk want. You don’t think Exxon and Western Coal were paying that money to convince the public, do you?

  12. #12 Hank Roberts
    January 6, 2007

    Well, by their predictions we may know them.
    I’m watching this one:

  13. #13 JB
    January 7, 2007

    Yeah, don’t you just hate it when Hansen is proved correct?

    I know I do.

    Can’t he be wrong (for the Right reason) at least once?

  14. #14 Robert S.
    April 18, 2007

    Why would energy companies want to stop all this? There’s plenty plenty of big bucks in carbon sequestration. Cap-and-Trade can also bring in the money. Heck, the journalists make cash off of reporting the bad news. This is big business.

    So not all is lost in the battle against what people exhale and plants breathe:

    US work on sequestration goes on http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2004/11/65852 (fact check — water vapor is the principal greenhouse gas — they should have qualified what they mean by “principal greenhouse gas” if they meant it a different context (as in AGW only greenhouse gasses only))

    USDA economics of sequestering carbon http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/tb1909/

    Japan plans to bury 200 million tons of CO2 a year by 2020, starting as early as 2010 http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2006-06-26-japan-greenhouse-gas_x.htm?csp=34
    (right now it costs $52 a ton but they hope to bring that price down — I hope so too, that’s over 10 billion dollars a year)

    Costs of taxing carbon to economies  http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/08/16/1092508369366.html?from=moreStories 

    Pro/Con of sequestration

    Los Alamos Nation Laboratory on sequestering carbon

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