The Denial Industrial Complex

Matt Nisbet reports:

A new study by a team of political scientists and sociologists at the journal Environmental Politics concludes that 9 out of 10 books published since 1972 that have disputed the seriousness of environmental problems and mainstream science can be linked to a conservative think tank (CTT). Following on earlier work by co-author Riley Dunlap and colleagues, the study examines the ability of conservative think tanks to use the media and other communication strategies to successfully challenge mainstream expert agreement on environmental problems.

(Clarification: A couple of readers thought Nisbet was saying that one particular CTT was linked to 90% of the books. Nisbet means that 90% of books can be linked to CTTs.)

Some extracts:


A key to the success of CTTs has been their ability to establish themselves
as a true ‘counter-intelligentsia’ that has achieved equal legitimacy with
mainstream science and academia — both of which have been effectively
labelled as ‘leftist’ in order to legitimise CTT’s as providing ‘balance’ (Austin
2002). Beder (2001, p. 129) highlights this, noting that even though ‘think tanks
have more in common with interest groups or pressure groups than academic
institutions’, their representatives ‘are treated by the media as independent
experts and … are often preferred to representatives from universities and
interest groups as a source of expert opinion’. This has been a particularly
notable accomplishment in the realm of scientific and environmental issues
because CTTs are populated primarily by economists, policy analysts and legal
scholars rather than natural scientists (Fischer 1991); the George C. Marshall
Institute is an exception (Lahsen 2005).

The lack of in-house scientific expertise helps explain why CTTs have been
quick to form relationships with the small number of academic scientists who
support their views, as in the case of ‘climate sceptics’ (Lahsen 2005; McCright
and Dunlap 2003). Doing so helps shield the fact that the sceptical position is
strongly aligned with conservatism and the economic interests it represents
(Austin 2002; Mooney 2005b), thus hiding from the public the underlying
source of what appears on the surface to be another ‘policy debate’ among
equally qualified experts (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1996; Lahsen 2005). …

As a result of their ready access to media (Dolny 2003), CTTs were able
to create a situation in which major media outlets portrayed climate science as
an evenly divided debate between sceptics and non-sceptics (Boykoff and
Boykoff 2004) employing what McCright and Dunlap (2003, p. 366) term the
‘duelling scientists’ version of the balancing norm. The result is that US media
have given disproportionate attention to the views of a small number of global
warming sceptics (Antilla 2005; Boykoff 2007), and as a consequence have been
significantly more likely than media in other industrial nations to portray
global warming as a controversial issue characterised by scientific uncertainty
(Dispensa and Brulle 2003; Gelbspan 2004; Grundmann 2007). …

The timing of sceptical books follows a noticeable trend, as illustrated in
Table 2. There is a consistent increase in sceptical literature over time, starting
with only six books in the 1970s and 14 in the 1980s. All save two of these 20
are by US authors. The 1990s saw a five-fold increase in sceptical literature
over the preceding decade. Further, judging by the number of books published
in its first six years, the current decade is on track to surpass the 1990s (see
Table 2). …

Our analyses of the sceptical literature and CTTs indicate an unambiguous
linkage between the two. Over 92 per cent of environmentally sceptical books
are linked to conservative think tanks, and 90 per cent of conservative think
tanks interested in environmental issues espouse scepticism. Environmental
scepticism began in the US, is strongest in the US, and exploded after the end
of the Cold War and the emergence of global environmental concern
stimulated by the 1992 Earth Summit.

Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism,
organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting
scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement
coordinated by CTTs, designed specifically to undermine the environmental
movement’s efforts to legitimise its claims via science. Thus, the notion that
environmental sceptics are unbiased analysts exposing the myths and scare
tactics employed by those they label as practitioners of ‘junk science’ lacks
credibility. Similarly, the self-portrayal of sceptics as marginalised ‘Davids’ battling the powerful ‘Goliath’ of environmentalists and environmental
scientists is a charade, as sceptics are supported by politically powerful CTTs
funded by wealthy foundations and corporations.

Comments

  1. #1 luminous beauty
    June 10, 2008

    Apparently ‘Dr.’ Stephen Wilde is an English solicitor with zero scientific background other than being a ‘weather enthusiast’.

    Like many septics, he gets his CV from a box of crackerjacks.

    The cumulative radiative forcing from well-mixed anthropogenic greenhouse gases is ≈2.7Wm^-2 , steady and growing.

    The variability in TSI insolation is ≈0.18Wm^-2 , fluctuating above a minimal floor over an 11 year period.

    Which is the bigger forcing?

  2. #2 Monsoonevans
    June 10, 2008

    Lee
    Your missing the point. There are always ridges and troughs that will occur. The fact of the matter though is that the bottom of the trough during ’75-’80 is STILL at a higher level than recorded on this ‘graph’. It then continues it upward trend even further lock-step with recorded temps.
    Are you minimizing the effects of TSI? Your ‘duh’ comment seems to indicate as much.

  3. #3 Lee
    June 10, 2008

    “then continues it upward trend even further lock-step with recorded temps. ”

    ok, now you’re just making things up.

  4. #4 Monsoonevans
    June 10, 2008

    luminous beauty
    This doesn’t include a little thing called water vapor. WV contributes significantly more to the GH than the anthropogenic greenhouse gases. You need to present the facts in a relative fashion. When you look at the forcings over the 30yr period that you linked us to, one may draw the same conclusion. However, we have the benefit of looking back much further to see the whats really going on. Would you agree with the graph in terms of changes in TSI over the last 400 years have been much closer in matching temps?

  5. #5 Lee A. Arnold
    June 10, 2008

    Now Monsoonevans, I want you to know, there are some readers of this blog who think you are like an astrologer or one of those people who has seen a space alien — but I am not one of them! In order to prove them wrong, I hope you will follow the ENTIRE chain of reasoning, and comment upon it, AS AN ENTIRETY:

    The reason why carbon dioxide is leading temperatures this time, is in the graph here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_stick_controversy

    Now don’t go jumping onto the validity of the graph; we all know the story. It has even been thoroughly vetted by the boneheads in the U.S. Congress. In fact the Wikipedia article does a very good and fair-handed job of following the controversy — and a logical and judicious reading of the entire story of the controversy on that Wikipedia page, and following all the links at the bottom and reading them all the way to the end too, will end in the conclusion that the picture still holds up pretty well:

    Temperature increase began around the moment of the ramp-up of the Industrial Revolution.

    Now, we know from the older records that CO2 lagged earlier warming episodes by an average of 800 years — and then the warming INCREASED for hundreds or thousands of years more! Why might this happen?

    Well, because CO2 itself is ANOTHER actor upon climate — in addition to changes in solar radiance, earth orbital variance, planetary albedo, etc.

    How do we know that CO2 does this? Because of the simplest physics and chemistry, proven in countless other ways since the 19th century.

    But does the CO2 trap “heat?” Not exactly, and this is important. It makes solar electromagnetic energy from the sun bounce back and forth in the atmosphere a little longer in the infrared part of the spectrum, before it is finally lost to space, as before.

    So: the continuous balance of temporary available energy, called the “flux,” increases.
    What does this do? Part of the bouncing adds energy to air, water and ground. What does that do? It changes wind and water currents. What does that do? It changes the transport of heat energy and moisture to land masses in new and different ways all over the globe.

    And what will that do? It will make some places colder for a while, and some places warmer. Some places will be wetter for a while; some will be drier.

    It is a complex system: so your objections, that temperature increase should be uniform if CO2 buildup is uniform, do NOT apply.

    And this is true even for global mean temperatures, and indeed we know their increase is not uniform. Why? Because some of the energy flux gets temporarily locked into wind and water momentum, not air temperature; because it is a complex system.

    But mean temperature is increasing, even after the spike in ’98, and that must have adverse results. Will it end life on earth? Of course not. But the litany of possible economic and environmental hazards is well known.

    I wish to point out two hazards that didn’t have much salience until some of us started to raise the question rather recently: (1) change in climate seems likely to accelerate the extinction of wildlife species which has been preprogrammed by habitat fragmentation; this would happen because the responding species migration will come up against the barrier of human habitat; and (2) disruption, or curtailment in some places, of “ecosystem services,” such as air and water purification, soil and water retention, freshwater availability, pest and disease control, etc., which is valued at maybe US$40-50 trillion annually for the globe.

    Now, you may find certain new reports that change or clarify some parts of the Big Picture. When they are validated, that is science, and we all benefit. But there are massive amounts of science which are NOT changed, and the big picture is still the IPCC 4th assessment.

    You may hope to claim that the IPCC did not accept contrary opinions — although this appears to be nonsense from cranks; in fact, there was an enormous period of comments and vetting — and you may NOT know that the final conclusions were in fact TONED DOWN at the demands of a few countries with large business interests in the matter, particularly the United States and Saudi Arabia.

    In fact, a majority of climatologists are a bit more alarmed than their official assessment would let on. The recent events with Arctic ice may only be the tip of the iceberg.

    NOW: please respond to the import of the ENTIRE argument, without reference to little bits of science as if they might be conclusive upon these larger matters. I may have gotten things wrong, so please point that out. WE deluded booksmart jerks need to know!

    But please, do not bother saying it is all a socialist conspiracy for a world government. There is no such conspiracy, nobody much likes government, and nobody wants global warming to be happening.

  6. #6 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 10, 2008

    Monsoonevans writes:

    The graph (which this site doesn’t allow me to post)clearly shows the TSI beginning a sharp increase begging around 1910. Another spike in the early 30’s and again in the early 50’s. If you superimpose them with any of the available GST maps you will see a remarkable trend as it relates to GST.
    This is not to say that the sun is the only driver of the earths climate, but most certainly the primary. Human emmissions are laughable as it relates to GST’s.

    Yes, Mon, variations in sunlight affect temperatures on Earth. Very true. But the TSI has been essentially flat for more than 50 years, so it can’t be driving the sharp upturn in global warming that began 30 years ago.

    There are other problems with the solar hypothesis as well.

    1. Increased sunlight would heat the stratosphere first, since that is where ozone absorbs ultraviolet light. Instead, the stratosphere is cooling. Some of this is accounted for by ozone depletion, but not enough. The rest is explained by increased carbon dioxide, since the balance of energy in the stratosphere lies between absorption by ozone and emission by CO2. Climate modelers predicted this would happen.

    2. Increased sunlight would have its greatest effect at the equator, and lessen toward the poles, due to Lambert’s cosine law. Instead, the poles are warming more than the equator. This “polar amplification” was also predicted by the climate modelers. It has to do with the fact that there is less water vapor near the poles, so increases in carbon dioxide have a disproportionate effect. In addition, there is the “ice-albedo” feedback — the more ice that melts, the more dark surface is exposed to the sun.

    3. Increased sunlight would have its greatest effect during the day (duh!). But nighttime temperatures have increased more than daytime temperatures. Again, the climate modelers predicted it, since more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere retard heat release from the ground at night. You may have noticed that a cloudy night is warmer than a clear one; that’s because clouds in darkness are pure greenhouse agents.

    It’s not the sun.

  7. #7 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 10, 2008

    Monsoonevans posts, dishonestly:

    CO2 follows temps. Please SHOW me were I am wrong with both of those points.

    You have been shown where you were wrong repeatedly, by myself as well as others. You show no interest in learning, you just repeat the same garbage over and over again no matter what anybody says in reply. You are a troll pure and simple. Piss off.

  8. #8 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 10, 2008

    Monsoonevans posts:

    luminous beauty This doesn’t include a little thing called water vapor. WV contributes significantly more to the GH than the anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

    Water vapor hasn’t gone way up. Carbon dioxide has. “Bigger” does not mean “rising.”

  9. #9 Lee
    June 10, 2008

    Just to be clear – Lee (me) and Lee A. Arnold are two different people…

  10. #10 Monsoonevans
    June 10, 2008

    Lee Arnold,
    Great post and explanation. I’m going to need some time to digest it but promise to respond back. I certainly don’t consider myself an astrologer and havent seen any aliens (unless you consider Gore an ALF!! Just kidd’n).
    My interest in all of this was by accident. I follow winter storms and have self educated myself on the dynamics that go into the formation of snow storms. I subsequently learned how to track various elements that go into ‘making’ a snow event. It was in this that I came across how the different models/trends/patterns/climatology of our weather systems and how they interacted with each other and how one could predict, or make an educated guess on the what/when/where/and hows’. (sorry for the run-on sentence).
    I work in the financial service industry by the way. I could tell you all you ever wanted to know about mutual funds/annuities/Defined Contribution Plans/ect. But by no means would I ever challenge a client that came to me with information that I simply overlooked. It would be like me saying to my client that ‘insert your dotcom company here’ has all the makings of a great buy and list all of the very valid reasons why it was. But if my client came to me and said that I was missing the boat on something pretty obvious (no earnings/capital/history)I could either chose to ignore it (because thats what our years of education tell us) or I could take a step back and look at through a different lense.
    I kinda think thats what a lot of you guys are doing. You have it so ingrained in your minds that if CO2 reacts this way or that way, than this thing or the other thing HAS to be true. In my profession that is not the case and my experience tells me that it seldom is the case in any walk of life.
    This little diatrabe doesn’t count towards my reply Lee A.

    Monsoon

  11. #11 Monsoonevans
    June 10, 2008

    This is not my promised response yet Lee A. but wanted to expand on my points about TSI real quickly and get your thoughts. This comes to us from http://www.physicstoday.org march 2008 edition. I am posting just a snippet but wanted to get some scientific responses back on it.
    thanks

    Nicola Scafetta is a research associate in the Duke University physics department. Bruce West is chief scientist in the mathematical and
    information science directorate, US Army Research Office, in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

    …Incorporating the influence of solar cycles
    into this thermodynamically closed
    climate modeling strategy reveals coordinated
    variability over even longer
    time scales. Recent heuristic studies indicate
    that the climate time response
    parameter τ, analogous to the Onsager
    relaxation time in statistical physics,
    might be 5-10 years.4,5 By using a climate
    time response τ of 7.5 years and
    the phenomenological 0.1 °C amplitude
    of the 11-year solar cycle (see reference
    1, page 674, for details) as constraints on
    a simple two-parameter model in the
    tradition of the earliest climate models,
    we recently showed that it is possible to
    reconstruct a phenomenological solar
    signature (PSS) of climate for the last
    four centuries.5 In the figure, the interval
    from 1950 to 2010 is displayed with
    two such PSS reconstructions derived
    from two alternative TSI inputs. The
    figure shows excellent agreement between
    the 11-year PSS cycles and the cycles
    observed in the smoothed average
    global temperature data; a 22-year cycle
    component in the temperature also
    matches the 22-year PSS cycle very well.
    In particular, since 2002 the temperature
    data present a global cooling, not a
    warming! This cooling seems to have
    been induced by decreased solar activity
    from the 2001 maximum to the 2007
    minimum as depicted in two distinct
    TSI reconstructions.
    Thus the average global temperature
    record presents secular patterns of 22-
    and 11-year cycles and a short timescale
    fluctuation signature (with apparent
    inverse power-law statistics), both
    of which appear to be induced by solar
    dynamics. The same patterns are poorly
    reproduced by present-day GCMs and
    are dismissively interpreted as internal
    variability (noise) of climate. The nonequilibrium
    thermodynamic models
    we used suggest that the Sun is influencing
    climate significantly more than
    the IPCC report claims. If climate is as
    sensitive to solar changes as the above
    phenomenological findings suggest,
    the current anthropogenic contribution
    to global warming is significantly overestimated.
    We estimate that the Sun
    could account for as much as 69% of the
    increase in Earth’s average temperature,
    depending on the TSI reconstruction
    used.5 Furthermore, if the Sun does
    cool off, as some solar forecasts predict
    will happen over the next few decades,
    that cooling could stabilize Earth’s climate
    and avoid the catastrophic consequences
    predicted in the IPCC report.
    The authors thank the Army Research Office
    for research support and for grant W911NF-
    06-1-0323.
    References
    1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
    Change, Climate Change 2007: The Physical
    Science Basis, Cambridge U. Press, New
    York (2007). Available at http://ipccwg1.
    ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html.
    2. N. Scafetta, B. J. West, Phys. Rev. Lett. 90,
    248701 (2003).
    3. P. Allegrini, M. Bologna, P. Grigolini, B. J.
    West, Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 010603 (2007); G.
    Aquino, P. Grigolini, B. J. West, Europhys.
    Lett. 80, 10002 (2007).
    4. S. E. Schwartz, J. Geophs. Res. 112, D24S05
    (2007).
    5. N. Scafetta, B. J. West, J. Geophys. Res. 112,
    D24S03 (2007).

    If this is all mumbo jumbo let me know and I will post more of the supporting materials from the paper.
    Monsoon

  12. #12 Nick Barnes
    June 10, 2008

    “ect”

    Hahaha.
    Eejit.
    >plonk<

  13. #13 Lee
    June 10, 2008

    Monsoon, the Scaffeta and West paper is tripe as a model of real world climate.

    It is dependent on this:
    “Recent heuristic studies indicate that the climate time response parameter τ, analogous to the Onsager relaxation time in statistical physics, might be 5-10 years.4,5 By using a climate time response τ of 7.5 years and the phenomenological 0.1 °C amplitude of the 11-year solar cycle (see reference 1, page 674, for details) as constraints on a simple two-parameter model in the tradition of the earliest climate models, ”

    First, there is not one climate time constant – there are several, for different systems that interact. A huge system that determines rate off warming from a forcing is ocean het mixing – and the time constant for that is almost certainly on the order of decades, not 5 or 7.5 years. Scwhartz’s determination of a 5 year time constant was for transient responses, which b by definition exclude from his determination any slower time constants. His analysis shows nothing more than that the climate time constant for responses to events that last about 5 years, is about 5 years. It says nothing relevant about the longer time constants. Strike one.

    He uses an 0.1C temp amplitude for temperature response to the 11 year solar cycle. This is FAR from established – it isnt even established that there is ANY detectable temperature response to the solar cycle. Strike two.

    And he uses an archaic 2D model that by definition fails to include heat transport mechanisms – which are at the heart of the climate time constants, which are essential for his conclusion. Strike three.

  14. #14 Lee A. Arnold
    June 10, 2008

    Just to be clear, Lee A. Arnold (me) and Lee are two different people, and he is a lot smarter than I am!

  15. #15 Eli Rabett
    June 10, 2008

    BPL wrote:

    You have been shown where you were wrong repeatedly, by myself as well as others.

    that’s a 9. Protest your convictions in the teeth of obvious and overwhelming objections.

    You show no interest in learning, you just repeat the same garbage over and over again no matter what anybody says in reply.

    That’s an 8 (b) Give the same answer you gave in your 50 previous comments in the same thread. This is very easy using copy and post.

    You are a troll pure and simple. Piss off.

    Monsoon passed the troll test with flying colors he did

  16. #16 Chris O'Neill
    June 10, 2008

    Monsoonevans:

    But if my client came to me and said that I was missing the boat on something pretty obvious (no earnings/capital/history)I could either chose to ignore it (because thats what our years of education tell us) or I could take a step back and look at through a different lense. I kinda think thats what a lot of you guys are doing.

    Actually, that’s what you’re doing. Why don’t you step back and look at it through a different lens?

    You have it so ingrained in your minds that if CO2 reacts this way or that way

    This statement might betray how you’re got it completely round the wrong way because the issue is not how CO2 reacts, but how temperature reacts to CO2.

  17. #17 monsoonevans
    June 10, 2008

    Eli
    I prefer hobbit or even ork, but troll?
    1. I don’t think I’ve made the same post more than once.
    2. Contrary to your ascertion, I am a sponge for learning. I am eagerly awaiting the (don’t want to say proof as I know that gets some people fired up) convincing evidence/rational/theory that humans have done so much ‘bad’ to warm the planet to the point we are all going to die.
    The real problem, IMO, is that unethical individuals have hijacked the science for their own personal gain. I don’t think there is a single ‘denier’ out there that doesn’t believe that humans have had an effect on the atmosphere. I think that’s were we need to begin.
    Perhaps the emotion of trying to prove yourself correct clouds your objectivity and unconsciously intensifys the perceived human induced role.

  18. #18 Lee
    June 10, 2008

    shorter monsoon, in 117:
    “I am a sponge for learning,” but all y’all who disagree with me are deluded and don’t have anything to teach me.

    Oh, there’s a straw man in there, too.

    Monsoon, climate science is not arguing that ‘we’re all going to die.”

  19. #19 Chris O'Neill
    June 10, 2008

    monsoonevans:

    When one looks at the entire 400 yrs on the graph its pretty clear that we would expect the jump in temps that we got.
    To quote Dr. Stephen Wilde: “It is true that since 1961 the average level of TSI has been approximately level if one averages out the peaks and troughs from solar cycles 19 through to 23. However, those solar cycles show substantially higher levels of TSI than have ever previously occurred in the historical record.”

    No-one is denying this. The point you fail to grasp is that it has warmed up a lot over those 50 years while average TSI has not increased.

    If you take a look at the chart you will clearly see what I mean.

    I can clearly see that average TSI has been high AND has not risen in the last 50 years.

    Please look into this folks before you blast this.

    Please take your own advice before you credulously believe that TSI caused the warming of the last 30 years.

    People being closed minded isnt going to help anyone.

    You being closed minded isn’t going to help anyone.

    It takes a very smart and brave man to be able to look himself in the mirror and face his own limitations.
    I recognize mine.

    What would a man who hasn’t recognized his own limitations say?

    I am in a completely unrelated field so I dont try to pretend I am all knowing when it comes to climate.

    You are pretending to know one thing, however.

    However, I am well trained, experienced, accredited in my field and I would still never pretend that I know everything with what I do. It would be foolish to do so. I wish many of you would do the same.

    I just wish you would stop pretending that TSI caused temperature to rise in the last 30 years.

  20. #20 z
    June 10, 2008

    hmmm.. taking another tack, though not one that’s new…if the sun were the cause, wouldn’t there be something other than the earth that is warming? aha, what about Mars!! OK, out of all the objects in the solar system, that’s two…. random chance would suggest that half of them, more or less, would be warming and half cooling, if nothing were happening, though. show me that **every** planet **except** two are warming, and i will begin to suspect the sun. show me that the moon is warming and i will begin to suspect the sun.

  21. #21 Steve Bloom
    June 11, 2008

    Re #111: Actually there’s a funny story relating to that S+W article. Physics Today ran it as an opinion piece, I think as a none-too-subtle message to the authors.

    Re #117: You’re probably right about that last point, monsoon. If you were one of Eli’s students he’d just flunk you and be done with it.

  22. #22 Bernard J.
    June 11, 2008

    Monsoonevans.

    I have developed a habit (although it’s more of a tradition now) of asking this question of climate change deniers.

    So far I have only had one or two feeble attempts at a reply, that were hardly worth even a snigger, let alone a rebuff.

    Perhaps you could turn your razor intellect to the question, and debunk the ‘warmist’ perception of empirical environmental consequences of AGW in the context of geological history.

    The ecologists haunting Deltoid are patiently awaiting the brave denier who thinks that they have the answer…

  23. #23 Lance
    June 11, 2008

    “Monsoon, climate science is not arguing that ‘we’re all going to die.”— Lee.

    Well maybe not “all” but you don’t have to look very hard to find plenty of doom mongering by Hansen (Death Drains, tipping points), Lovelock (“…before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be kept in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”) and others.

  24. #24 dhogaza
    June 11, 2008

    Lovelock…

    is not a climate scientist…

  25. #25 Lance
    June 12, 2008

    Lovelock is one of the most outspoken climate alarmists extant and while he is not specifically a “climate scientist” (he has a BS in Chemistry and PhD in medical research) he was involved in atmospheric research and is credited with first measuring CFC’s in the atmosphere.

    His Gaia Hypothesis is widely accepted by the environmental movement if not by the scientific community as a whole.

  26. #26 Chris O'Neill
    June 12, 2008

    His Gaia Hypothesis is widely accepted by the environmental movement if not by the scientific community as a whole.

    So now it’s “the environmental movement” that’s the perpetrator and not “climate science” as in “climate science is not arguing that ‘we’re all going to die'”. Amazing how easily the point gets transmogrified. Don’t worry Lance, we already know you’re dishonest.

  27. #27 Jeff Harvey
    June 12, 2008

    Lance,

    The Gaia hypothesis is an empirically based theory in which biomes, ecosystems, communities, and individuals are all connected at differing spatial and temporal scales. It argues that processes emerging over large scales – such as nutrient cycling, water purification, and maintenance of a breathable atmosphere as well as many others – are by-and-large the result of literally trillions of interactions that occur amongst individual organisms as they perform their biological activities. The important point is that these emerging properties are not the result of processes that are performed out of intent, but that they occur as a result of the synergized activities of a stupendous array of biota. This is one of the great puzzles in our understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning – that systems work on the basis of the sum of their parts.

    Gaia was essentially hijacked by those who wish to view nature in the purest sense as benign and who want to believe that these processes are driven by some self-fulfilling ‘intent’. Of course this is not true, but nevertheless it is important to recognize that natural systems sustain civilization through the generation of services that occur as a result of a dizzying array biological activities between individuals, populations, species and communities over variable and often vast scales.

  28. #28 Lance
    June 12, 2008

    Chris O’Neil,

    Dishonesty is a very serious accusation. I am often incorrect or mistaken and am glad when these errors are pointed out to me so that I can avoid making those same errors in the future. Dishonesty is a much different claim however. Do you have any evidence that I have been dishonest?

    I merely pointed out that there were scientists willing to make predictions of doom. I don’t believe that is dishonest. To say that I am moving the goal posts because I can’t show that “climate science” itself is making dire predictions is pretty silly.

    You seem to take a rather strident tone in your posts, such rancor and arrogance does little to foster the kind of respect necessary for meaningful dialogue.

    Jeff Harvey,

    Dawkins, and others, are pretty dismissive of even the more restrained version of the Gaia hypothesis that is devoid of the teleological trappings of the more fanciful interpretation. That organisms can affect their environment and then respond to the new environment thereby establishing a new ecological equilibrium needs no over-arching theory that postulates that the system be described as a mega-organism on the planetary scale.

    This sort of theory does however lend itself to the image of the “fragile blue oasis” emotional drivel that is so popular in environmental media pieces.

  29. #29 Jeff Harvey
    June 13, 2008

    Lance,

    Of course I do not go along with the idea of the biosphere as a super-organism, but there’s no question of hierarchies in biological systems across scales that are interconnected. Your point – that organisms can affect their environment and then respond to the new environment thereby establishing a new ecological equilibrium – does not acknowledge the fact that properties emerging from systems – such as the maintenance of biogeochemical and hydrological cycles – are the function of an array of processes generated by individual organisms and the interactions occurring among them. This is where some of the ideas proposed in Gaia come from.

    Moreover, whereas natural systems, for the most part are not ‘fragile’, at least by our definition, the services that emertge from natural systems may be not so robust. Fragility is a purely human concept, and there’s no doubt that natural systems have had to be quite resilient to have mostly (through not entirely) withstood the human assault thus far. But, given that these systems function in quite non-linear ways, it is clear that we may be approaching a tipping point.

  30. #30 Lance
    June 13, 2008

    Jeff,

    If you were to list and prioritize the top five threats to the ecosystems that sustain both biodiversity and human populations what might your list look like?

  31. #31 Bernard J.
    June 13, 2008

    Lance, before Jeff answers, what would your list look like?

    The other non-‘warmists’ here refuse to become engaged in issues relating to ecology, especially if climate is involved, so I am curious to hear your take on this before it is coloured by the opinion of an expert in the field.

  32. #32 Jeff Harvey
    June 13, 2008

    Lance,

    Quite busy now. But in a nutshell the ‘five’ can in actuality all broken down into three. These are all very broad and are not at all mutually exclusive

    1. Habitat loss and/or simplification/fragmentation (due to many anthropogenic factors)
    2. Various types of pollution
    3. Exotic invasive (non-native) species

    Bernard J. hits the nail on the head – the vast majority of sceptics posting here write as if the ecological consequences of global change driven by various human activities are largely irrelevant to human society. The bottom line is that there will be (and already are) ecological consequences to the continued expansion of the human footprint on natural systems. Some of these effects will have significant and negative impacts on our civilization, because they underrmine the ability of these systems to generate services that we depend on.

  33. #33 Lance
    June 13, 2008

    Bernard J.,

    Fair enough. Here goes.

    1. Habitat loss

    2. Water pollution

    3. Water usage (related perhaps to No. 2)

    4. Land usage (related perhaps to No. 1)

    5. Mismanagement of ecological resources (over fishing, poorly planned agriculture, strip mining etc.)

  34. #34 Lance
    June 13, 2008

    Jeff,

    I composed my list before I read yours. It is interesting that we agree that habitat loss is the number one issue.

    Also we agree on the threat of “pollution” though probably not on CO2. That doesn’t mean we can’t work together on all the other pollutants about which we agree.

    I hadn’t considered invasive species as a threat to sustainability. While I yield to your much greater knowledge on the topic, and have seen first hand the large impacts of invasive species in the Great Lakes ecosystem in which I spend most of my time, I think that the inadvertent transport of species due to the high mobility of modern society is going to lead to more and more of these “invaders”.

    I think it will just introduce different selection pressures on the various ecosystems that will eventually reach new equilibriums. I don’t know that this can be avoided or that it is necessarily a long term detriment to sustainability.

  35. #35 Lance
    June 13, 2008

    Another question I have always had about invasive species is why they seem to do so well when transported to ecosystems in which they didn’t evolve? You would think that the species that had specifically adapted to their local environment would have no trouble competing with an organism that evolved to fit a different set of selection pressures.

    Of course in the case of ferrel cats on islands that have animals that had evolved with out predators the answer is obvious but one might wonder why no predators had evolved in that system before? Also perhaps this situation is temporary and once the cats have depleted their food source they will become locally “exinct” and the native species will rebound in the long term. This would explain the lack of land based predators in the first place.

    I know that it is thought that marsupials survived on Australia due to the lack of contact with other terrestrial predatory placental mammals that evolved on the other easily traversed continents but this would also seem to be an extreme case.

    Anyone have any insights on this?

  36. #36 Chris O'Neill
    June 13, 2008

    Lance:

    I merely pointed out that there were scientists willing to make predictions of doom. I don’t believe that is dishonest.

    It was a non-sequitur chosen to attack the original point. Using a non-sequitur in that way is dishonest. Do I need to remind you of your past dishonesty?

  37. #37 Lance
    June 13, 2008

    Look O’Neil, I made a passing remark in response to Lee’s point that not “all of climate science” was saying we were doomed. My point was that prominent scientists involved with AGW were making doomsday statements, hardly a “non-sequitur”.

    If you have specific evidence of my “dishonesty” bring it on. I suspect you would rather just make vague and sleazy statements of innuendo. That is very much in keeping with your previously displayed behavior.

  38. #38 Barton Paul Levenson
    June 14, 2008

    Lance writes:

    Dawkins, and others, are pretty dismissive of even the more restrained version of the Gaia hypothesis that is devoid of the teleological trappings of the more fanciful interpretation.

    I am dismissive of Gaia myself to a large extent, but I’m also dismissive of Dawkins — contrary to popular belief, he is not a mainstream biologist, but advocates some nutty ideas, specifically, gene-level natural selection (as opposed to individual-level) and sociobiology. What’s more, he goes around saying gene selection is now the consensus and he’s been proved right, which strikes me as dishonest.

  39. #39 Ian Gould
    June 14, 2008

    “Another question I have always had about invasive species is why they seem to do so well when transported to ecosystems in which they didn’t evolve? You would think that the species that had specifically adapted to their local environment would have no trouble competing with an organism that evolved to fit a different set of selection pressures.”

    The simple answer seems to be that they manage to leave their most of their pathogens and parasites behind.

    “but one might wonder why no predators had evolved in that system before? ”

    Because we’re talking about small areas most of which are relatively young in geological terms.

    Given enough time, a rat or parrot could probably evolve into a pretty efficient predator – but “sufficient time” here would likely be in the tens of millions of years.

    You also have to remember that evolution doesn’t necessarily
    arrive at the optimal solution to every problem.

    Australian marsupial carnivores have been comprehensively out-competed by humans, dogs and cats despite having had tens of millions of years to specialise in hunting Australian herbivores.

    So long as the Thylacines. Devils and Quolls were the most efficient carnivores around there was little need for them to evolve further.

  40. #40 Ian Gould
    June 14, 2008

    I should also point out that the “top five threats” to ecosystems can’t be treated in isolation.

    Quick example: Many migratory birds don’t eat or eat very little while migrating. This appears to be an evolved trait to be other migrators so as to get first crack at the food supplies and the nesting sites.

    Probably as a result of this, migratory birds show remarkably precise timing in their departures and arrivals. They get to their European summer feeding grounds literally within a day or two of the main food plant species blossoming.

    One already demonstrated, indisputable result of global warming is that plants are blossoming earlier.

    Given time, the migratory species will adapt to this change.

    But for species already under threat of extinction due to feral animals or pollution or ecosystem destruction, that temporary disruption may be enough to push them over the edge.

  41. #41 Bernard J.
    June 14, 2008

    Lance, I’ll give you a hat-tip for a decent effort.

    My list at the time you asked was:

    1) habitat loss/degradation (and Jeff’s fragmentation and simplification points are also vital factors that I did not include at first blush)

    2) invasive/introduced species, and in this I include diseases, which are biologically simply further taxa to be moved around

    3) pollution of all sorts, excluding GHG

    4) over-exploitation of species, through excessive forestry, fishing, hunting, collecting for medicine/pet trade/horticulture/etc, culling for human convenience (such as elimination of species that compete with humans for resources) – I think the point is clear, and the list could go on

    5) climate change.

    Yes, I will be brazen and put climate change in there. It is not quite as immediate in significance as the others in the list, but it has the potential to surpass the first four points if it is sufficiently severe, and it can certainly potentiate the effects of the first four points regardless of its final magnitude.

    And to the consternation of many biologists, a climate change signature is already evident in the recent phenological record, irrespective of any effect of the first four points, and in complete disregard of climate change deniers’ wishes that it were otherwise.

    I would like to say more on the matter, but I am extremely fatigued at the moment and intend to catch more than four hours sleep tonight.

    So, later.

  42. #42 Bernard J.
    June 14, 2008

    “Another question I have always had about invasive species is why they seem to do so well when transported to ecosystems in which they didn’t evolve?”

    Short answer: no or few natural diseases, competitors, or predators.

  43. #43 Bernard J.
    June 14, 2008

    Bugger. I really should read all of the posts before replying – Ian has already answered the introduced species question.

    The success of introduced species is actually quite a complicated collection of phenomena, and perhaps in thousands or millions of years the balances will have shifted again in many different directions. Almost certainly, in fact. It is possible to regard the whole ecological question of translocated species in abstract, philosophical terms (and in a geological context) and argue that such considerations are irrelevant in the greater scheme.

    However, I can think of two pressing counters: the path of contemporary humanity’s survival is critically dependent upon the biosphere’s fate as a whole, so we have an immediate vested interest; and further, if we are to maintain our pretensions to civility in whatever guise we choose to define it, we have certain moral/ethical imperatives to show due regard to other species and their hosting ecosystems.

    It is also important to be circumspect about how we regard introduced species. Whilst they can be devastating pests out of their natural ranges, this does not necessarily imply that they can be cavalierly regarded when managing their home ranges. The casuarina and melaleuca species that are wreaking havoc in the Everglades are regarded as endangered community associations in eastern Australia, where they originate – although each species in isolation is doing OK. And the cane toad, so despised in Australia is having a hard time of it in its natural range. There are numerous other examples, and unfortunately there are deniers of other stripes who like to confuse issues of species management, simply because such species have become problems outside of their natural ranges.

    I could say much more, but it really is time for bed.

  44. #44 Bernard J.
    June 16, 2008

    At last I’ve come across a word that the more paranoid of the denialists can sink their teeth into – courtesy of Gavin at RealClimate.

    I can reveal here, for the first time, that there exists a secret cabal of climate scientists who are nefariously manipulating the innocent CO2 emitters of the world – the Climatati…

  45. #45 Jeff Harvey
    June 16, 2008

    “Another question I have always had about invasive species is why they seem to do so well when transported to ecosystems in which they didn’t evolve”?

    This is an excellent question, Lance.

    There are many possible and not necessarily mutually exclusive factors. We are doing research in an attempt to answer this question in our group (I have a PhD student working on an invasive plant and native insect consumers, for example). One of the main factors appears to be release from natural co-evolved enemies; for example, plants take with them a suite of pehnotypic traits that evolved in their native range in response to a range of selection pressures. In their new range, many of these traits, such as defense chemistry, are often ‘novel’, meaning that native pathogens and insect herbivores are not adapted to them, enabling the new plant to ‘fit’ well ecologically in the new habitat. This brings in the second major hypothesis in explaining the success of invaders: they possess ‘novel weapons’ making them less palatable to enemies (e.g. better defended). A third hypothesis is based on the limited biotic resitance of the recipient (invaded) community where exotic organisms possessing novel traits are superior competitors with native species.

  46. #46 Lance
    June 16, 2008

    Jeff, Bernard and Ian,

    Thanks for the insights into the reasons for the adaptive success of invasive species.

    My local environment (Central Indiana) has been over-run by Asian lady beetles. They seem to be rather benign and I have read that they eat aphids and other harmful pests.

    In the fall they congregate in the thousands on structures and will get in any small crevice or opening. My old Victorian house isn’t very “tight” and the little buggers are all over the place inside my windows and other openings.

    I wonder if they are putting pressure on the local lady bird beetles and other predatory insects?

  47. #47 bi -- IJI
    June 16, 2008

    Bernard J.:

    > I can reveal here, for the first time, that there exists a secret cabal of climate scientists who are nefariously manipulating the innocent CO2 emitters of the world – the Climatati…

    Evidence of the Climatati is growing. Climate scientologist, the days of thy nefarious funding are numbered!

  48. #48 Jeff Harvey
    June 17, 2008

    Hi Lance,

    WShen you write, “Asian lady beetles” I assume you are referring to Harmonia axyridis. Harmonia was intentionally released into France as a bio-control agent about 15 years ago whence they spread rapidly into adjacent countries, including Holland, where I live and work. The larvae are like miniature T-rex’s, are very active and have voracious appetites. The main problem with Harmonia is that they readily attack the larvae of native ladybirds, and there is some concern that they will drive the local extinction of species like the two-spotted and seven spotted ladybirds.

    Interestingly, Harmonia does not appear to do well on aphids like the cabbage woolly aphid that sequester plant allelochemicals (toxins), whereas the native ladybirds do. This suggests that they may be able to co-exist if their niches are divided according to certain ecophysiological characteristics of their prey. I collected Harmonia a few weeks ago and noticed that they were absent on wild cabbage plants where the aphids and the native ladybirds were abundant.

    Because different countries within the EU have different regulations with respect to the release of exotic species, there is much consternation amongst those with rigid laws (like the UK, where Harmonia is now established) where such a species would have to mett many tough criteria to be released. France has much more lax legislation, as do several other EU countries, and herein lies the rub. The aim is to streamline legislation on the release of exotic species, because the ‘winds carry no passports’ and we have huge volumes of evidence that exotic species can create ecological (and economic) havoc in their new ranges.

  49. #49 Lance
    June 17, 2008

    Jeff,

    Yes Harmonia is the species name. It is thought that they were first introduced in the US by arrival on freighters from Asia into the ports of Louisiana. They have since spread north. I wonder if they are affecting the local ladybird beetle populations because I rarely see the native species any more (anecdotal evidence I know).

    The Great Lakes region of the US is highly sensitized to invasive species protection due to the effects of the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Like many invaders the Zebra mussel has had both positive and negative effects. It is estimated that they have caused over 5 billion dollars in damage and treatment costs due to clogging and encrusting industrial and municipal water systems.

    On the positive side since they are highly effective filter feeders they have helped to improve the water quality of the Great Lakes. This has been credited with increasing the populations of fish and countering the effects of eutrophication.

    If you walk the beaches of Lake Michigan their shells are all over the place.

  50. #50 Steve Bloom
    June 21, 2008

    The paper can now be downloaded for free (h/t Nude Scientist climate blog).

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