The Intersection

Via the Progress Report, I see that George W. Bush is sounding more and more like an out-and-out greenhouse skeptic. Perhaps his meeting with Michael Crichton influenced him? From Bush’s recent press conference:

Q From Australia. I’ve got a question about global warming — in the Australian Parliament, Tony Blair called for greater action. And this seems to be something that the U.S. President could make a major difference on. There’s a virtual consensus that the planet is warming. If you addressed issues like emissions, fuel efficiency, issues to do with alternative energy in your last few years as President, it could make a significant difference I think to the —

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate you bringing that up.

Q — and I suppose I want to know, what is your plan?

THE PRESIDENT: Good. We — first of all, there is — the globe is warming. The fundamental debate: Is it manmade or natural.

This may be the president’s most disturbing statement yet on global warming. In the past he has been more cautious and even accepting of the basic scientific consensus. Here, however, Bush calls into question the central scientific finding that today’s global warming is largely human-caused, and suggests there’s a “debate” about that fact. Incredible.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Paris
    March 30, 2006

    My first inclination is to attribute it to stupidity or ignorance (not the same thing) rather than loyalty to his oil-and-other-business friends. However, if his intelligence really is underrated, then it must be the latter.

  2. #2 Lorlee
    March 30, 2006

    I don’t think that we can continue to blame his loyalty to oil friends… they are jumping ship… Richard Rainwater, Boone Pickens all understand the problem and are busy making money off of it. Mr. Pickens made 1.5 BILLION last year (the highest amount ever made by an individual in one year) betting that oil is limited -

    Well, that’s peak oil, I guess, but it is all connected and smart businesspeople (oil included) are betting against the President.

  3. #3 bigdumbchimp
    March 30, 2006

    I really think the issue is the flow of information that gets to him. He’s said publically that he doesn’t read his critics. It’s not too far of a jump to assume this could extend into opposing viewpoints that don’t necessarily attack the president directly. So It could be mixture of stupidity and ignorance.

  4. #4 Mitch
    March 30, 2006

    “I read the report put out by the bureaucracy…”

    …or, then again, maybe he didn’t.

    I just loooove that our president can give more credence to a work of science fiction than to science assessment reports from his own EPA or even the National Academy of Sciences.

  5. #5 David Wilford
    March 30, 2006

    I’m sure President Bush knows about the scientific consensus about human-induced global warming, but he lies about it anyway. It’s the same sort of thing he did regarding the claim about those aluminum tubes purchased by Saddam Hussein being used to build centrifuges to enrich U-235, where he had to know there were other, far more likely, uses for them (to make missles), but he lied about it as part of misleading the country to war in Iraq. It’s all about the “plausible deniability” for President Bush when it comes to obfuscating the truth on global warming and many, many other issues.

  6. #6 John Thomas
    March 30, 2006

    President Bush has never admitted to being wrong about anything and he’s not about to start now.

  7. #7 Steve Reuland
    March 30, 2006

    All global warming denialists go through three phases:

    1. There is no global warming.

    2. There is global warming, but it’s not man-made.

    3. There is global warming and it is man-made, but it will be good for us and/or there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.

    Bush has now entered phase 2. It’s progress, but we still have to get over phase 3 before any carbon mitigation policy actually gets proposed. It ain’t gonna be before 2008, I’ll wager.

  8. #8 Fred Bortz
    March 30, 2006

    Chris, did you really expect more of Bush?

    At this point, most people don’t believe him, and a survey says the most common adjective people use to describe him is “incompetent.”

    He doesn’t seem like a greenhouse skeptic, just behind the curve as usual. I don’t think that statement will affect the ongoing political discussion in any way.

  9. #9 Stefan Jones
    March 30, 2006

    Good news: Someday Bush and his cronies will be the subject of a searing historical drama, perhaps titled “The Men Who Lost Florida” or “True Lives of the Ecocides.” (Academy award to Frankie Muniz as President George W. Bush.)

    Bad news: Even if being a self-serving liar was a crime, the statute of limitations will be long passed, and out of sheer gratitude for windfalls rendered Halliburton will construct climate domes over Kennibunkport and Midland where Bush can live out his dodderhood in blissful ignorant denial that anything is wrong.

  10. #10 Steve Bloom
    March 30, 2006

    So we can see that there’s a clear need for “honest broker” scientists who will provide the president with adaptation options for natural warming.

  11. #11 Dano
    March 30, 2006

    Chrischrischris…sigh…

    Climate denialists must recycle arguments. That’s all they have.

    Once we get past this and recognize the recycled arguments, it lets us easily identify those who wish to put up roadblocks.

    OTOH, not all decision-makers are like this.

    Best,

    D

  12. #12 ekzept
    March 30, 2006

    i don’t get this. whether warming is natural or not, the consequences might be devastating. the logical response is (1) to prepare economy, country, and world to be more resilient to the effects of warming, and (2) to minimize those effects by beginning to reduce the human countribution, however small that might be.

    it seems to me that the claim “the jury is still out” is wholly disingenuous, a delaying tactic for those who don’t want a government or UN role in *anything*, preparatory or not.

  13. #13 natural cynic
    March 30, 2006

    Hey, that’s our preznit leading the Global War on Terra:-/

  14. #14 sourav
    March 30, 2006

    The problem is that if the human contribution is negligible, forcibly shifting energy sources away from carbon will be hugely expensive, and for naught. We would then be in an even worse position.

    I’m not convinced by the evidence for anthropogenic global warming, so I guess I am a global warming skeptic. I am disturbed that a lower standard of scientific certainty is being used to drive costly environmental policy; given how much sacrifice must be made to curtail global warming if it is indeed anthropogenic, I would think that a higher standard is warranted — the bar of “provisional assent” has not been attained.

  15. #15 ekzept
    March 30, 2006

    “The problem is that if the human contribution is negligible, forcibly shifting energy sources away from carbon will be hugely expensive, and for naught.”

    sourav, that’s precisely my point: investment oughtn’t be in shifting energy sources, it ought to be put towards making economies and sources of energy more resilient. that can take many forms, but, surely, overly concentrating processing of fossil fuels in certain regions is foolish if climate changes can disrupt them. one can redistribute refineries geographically (how expensive will *that* be?), or one can find sources of energy that don’t need a concentration of refineries.

    “I am disturbed that a lower standard of scientific certainty is being used to drive costly environmental policy …”

    i am not convinced that such a lower standard is being used, but if the gating criterion for policy is posed as a statistical decision, having a sensitive threshold tending towards a conclusion that suggests major restructuring is required makes sense if the risks of being wrong are considered, even if it has an appreciable false alarm rate.

    no doubt, dramatically changing energy sources is an expensive proposition. but, then, dealing with the consequences of warming might be horribly expensive. the evidence of the markets is that dramatically changing energy sources is going to be a task for the 21st century anyway, because of limited supplies. advancing the task by ten or fifteen years doesn’t incur the whole cost of doing so, simply the cost of that money for ten or fifteen years, a substantially smaller amount.

  16. #16 llewelly
    March 30, 2006

    sourav, please see this article by Coby beck
    Also, see the IPCC TAR’s scientific basis.

  17. #17 sourav
    March 30, 2006

    llewelly:

    I am quite convinced that global warming is occurring, just not that it’s anthropogenic. I guess I’m Phase 2 :) Specifically, I would like to a see a model duplicate the last 100 years of climate a posteriori, given natural and man-made inputs during that stretch. This would demonstrate to me that we have a strong understanding of the heat cycles in the climate; only then would I be convinced that we have a handle on causal factors such as CO2 concentration. The plot of CO2/temperature correlation is suggestive, but not convincing — you can’t tell if CO2 is a leading or lagging indicator, I’d like to see a control for solar input, and I’d like a better explanation of Ice Age-type oscillations and how that fits into the picture.

    The upshot is that this is a beast of a problem and I don’t feel that we understand it through-and-through, or at least well enough to make specific recommendations. Certainly, I do not.

    ***

    ezkept:

    My fear is that we will move away from fossil fuels prematurely, when their extraction and use has no bearing on climate change. If we do make life more expensive by shunning fossil fuels, we will be even more ill-prepared for a warmer world. In other words, the question of how to be prepared for global warming is contingent on, not the same as, the question of what’s causing global warming.

    So I would take a two-pronged strategy: study the effect of warming on strategic interests and make policy recommendations with and without human carbon emissions being the proximate cause, and continue studying the global warming itself. If the cost of shifting energy resources away from carbon pales compared to the cost of realigning our economy for warming, then it is indeed a good bet to accelerate the shift. If it is not (my suspicion), then proceed with carbon as part of the plan and see what the global warming research has to say at a later date.

    Indeed, I expect that economic forces will force the shift away from carbon before climatological considerations. Really, the problem is not so much with energy generation (nuclear is making a comeback), but energy storage and utilization. If fuel cell or battery tech were to make a leap forward, we could all drive electric cars. Or, if heating elements were more efficient, we wouldn’t need natural gas or oil to heat our homes.

  18. #18 Matt McIrvin
    March 31, 2006

    The problem is that if the human contribution is negligible, forcibly shifting energy sources away from carbon will be hugely expensive, and for naught. We would then be in an even worse position.

    I don’t think the human contribution is negligible, but even if it were, how would the effort be for naught? A lot of this will have to be in development of alternative energy sources and advanced technology for more efficient energy use. Much of that is work we’re going to have to do anyway, as oil becomes harder to extract and more politically problematic to control, and coal remains environmentally bad even for reasons having nothing to do with climate. The work could also have scientific and technical spinoffs we can’t even imagine today.

  19. #19 Ed
    March 31, 2006

    So, if I read these last few posts correctly – there is still a debate?? Are we serious?
    The director of my division is a senior scientist from Sweden, and I can tell you that he – like many of his country men and women – are, for what it’s worth, convinced, have been convinced for some time now, and are moving forward to mitigating actions. They are doing something about it (Ok, so they are fortunate to live where some of these options are way too available to ignore). But the Swedes are making an extra effort that others would do well to emulate. He speaks of coal/fossil power with as much contempt as others in the world would would use when speaking of nuclear say five or ten years ago.
    With respect to energy policy and/or emissions, etc. the US is lagging behind the rest of the globe and the President’s comments reflect this.
    Is it even relevant if the current temperature rise is solely or even partially due to human activity? I say no. A more appropriate question to ask may be, “Is there anything humans can do going forward to mitigate the situation?” Or, “Will there be cataclysmic effects due to our collective inaction?” How long will we have to wait to satisfy this need to ‘know’ (and to ‘know’ details that are mostly irrelevant to the needs of the issue) before being compelled to go out and ‘do’?

  20. #20 Jon Winsor
    March 31, 2006

    In terms of the science, there isn’t a debate anywhere that matters. The “debate” is in political circles. Here is the first sentence from the 2001 White House commissioned report from the National Academy of Sciences:

    Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.

    That’s a pretty flat statement from the White House commissioned report. Incidentally, chief skeptic Richard Lindzen served on the committee that produced that report.

    If you’re wondering what kind of science produced this conclusion, Ross Gelbspan has a page of 10 “‘signature’ experiments in which researchers were able to distinguish natural warming from warming due to human burning of fossil fuels”:

    http://www.heatisonline.org/contentserver/objecthandlers/index.cfm?id=3458&method=full

    I think the press should figure out a way to convey this information on an accessible level so that statements such as Bush’s aren’t credible.

  21. #21 ekzept
    March 31, 2006

    the Australians are starting mitigation and preparation, too, per

    http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/impacts/publications/risk-vulnerability.html

  22. #22 Jack
    March 31, 2006

    sourav: Specifically, I would like to a see a model duplicate the last 100 years of climate a posteriori, given natural and man-made inputs during that stretch.

    The consistent claim that this has NOT been done is a fallacy of global warming skepticism. It was addressed here:


    Junkscience is… junk

  23. #23 Chris Mooney
    March 31, 2006

    Yeah, I mean, come on. All the detection and attribution modeling studies show that the best explanation for the temperature trends of the 20th century comes when you consider natural (i.e., volcanic, solar) and human (greenhouse gases, aerosols) forcings together. Natural alone can’t explain it, and anthro alone can’t explain it.

  24. #24 Chris Mooney
    March 31, 2006

    Please note: Real Climate has also now weighed in on this:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/03/bush-on-the-debate/

  25. #25 Ed
    March 31, 2006

    ekzept,
    I would hope the Aussies would get out there and do something. See Australia’s Climate Record.

  26. #26 llewelly
    March 31, 2006

    Sourav, Please see this graph which came from this paper on simulating the historical record with NASA’s GISS model E. Unfortunately the graph is on page 53! .

    Looking in from the outside (I’m not a climatologist) it seems many (all?) climate models are tested and developed primarily by comparing their results to the historical record, and assuming any discrepancy impiles the model needs improvement. If you go to the website for almost any major climate model, and root through the list of publications, you should be able to find regular efforts to simulate the historical record. If you can’t, email the developers of the model and ask.

  27. #27 sourav
    March 31, 2006

    Mr. McIrvin:

    The money could always go elsewhere. Cancer research, money in people’s pockets/the market, and so on.

    ****

    llewelly:

    Thanks for the link, and for not arguing from authority. I have seen the plot, but had not read the paper. Hansen et al. conclude that given their paradigm of linear energetic forcings, they are able to reproduce responses on timescales of several years and the general trend is quite close to observation — I agree.

    I do still have some questions: Is the linear model correct? How sensitive are the dynamics to non-linear effects/abrupt climate change? In this linear model, what are the free parameters, and how sensitive is the model to their values? In other words, how well-constrained are the dynamics, such that we are confident in the predictive power of GISS?

  28. #28 dbpitt
    April 1, 2006

    There is certaintly not a scientific debate, but to quote SEED magazine (which is excelent and I recomend it to anyone interested in science), “What the scientific community is realizing is that scientific knowledge itself is politically vulnerable.”

  29. #29 Laurence Jewett
    April 3, 2006

    It is clear that trying to reason with and “convince” the Bush administration to significantly change their stance toward global warming (in particular, to agree to mandatory CO2 emission reductions) is basically a waste of time — but not because Bush is either too stupid to understand the issue or too incompetent to address it.

    He is neither.

    Despite the anti-intellectual act he regularly puts on, most of the time Bush knows exactly what he is doing and saying — and that is what should frighten people the most.

    Bush’s stance on the matter of global warming is oil-industry-driven — period.

    Science has no role to play, except in its mis-represented, cherry-picked form as a means to an end — to forestall action: “more research is needed before any action is taken because of scientific uncertainty about the cause of global warming.”

  30. #30 SocraticGadfly
    April 7, 2008

    Bush is not a skeptic, he’s a denialist.