The Intersection

Gore’s Weakest Link

As I told you all before, I saw An Inconvenient Truth, and though I am not a scientist, being pretty familiar with much climate science I felt that most of what I saw was accurate. However, I was most troubled by the treatment of the hurricane issue. Not because there isn’t an issue, but because the film–and apparently Gore–did not include the appropriate caveats, such as the following:

1. Global warming doesn’t “cause” storms; though it will surely change the typical environment in which they form.

2. There is considerable debate over the extent to which global warming has already intensified tropical cyclones; though there are strong thermodynamic reasons for thinking that it will do so.

And so on. I believe that in depicting science, it’s always better to include the caveats than to ignore them. And so, I’m glad to say, does Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger, who’s just blogged on the Gore film. Berger has filed stories on the hurricane-climate issue and he too thinks that the Gore film should have been more cautious here. Hmm, could we be reaching journalistic “consensus”?


  1. #1 David Roberts
    June 30, 2006

    If you listen carefully to Gore’s language, he never says that global warming causes hurricanes. He’s very careful about it. He says something like, “this is the kind of thing we can expect.” Which is true, right?

    Let me reproduce a comment I made in an online discussion group:


    I find criticisms like [these] — which I’ve seen lots of — somewhat mystifying. Climate scientists ding the movie for not being more precise with the science, and for wasting time on personality stuff. Political wonks ding the movie for not discussing more policy, and for wasting time on all the personality stuff. Average moviegoers I’ve talked to about the movie generally like it, but thought all the science and policy stuff got boring.

    I don’t think people appreciate the difficulty of what Gore and Guggenheim did. Here’s what they tried to tackle:

    1. Adequately educate someone who knows absolutely nothing about the subject, and whose scientific literacy is as low as the average American’s, from the ground up.
    2. Create a sense of alarm and urgency, to spur political action.
    3. Condense complex science without getting anything wrong, knowing that thousands of people in the scientific and political elites will be combing through it for errors, eager to dismiss and debunk it.
    4. Create an engaging cinematic experience that will get good word of mouth and reach lots of people.

    #4 is difficult for ANY film to do, period. Trying to do it while balancing 1-3 is almost comically ambitious, and as far as I’m concerned it’s nothing short of a miracle that they did as well as they did.

    I understand that everyone brings their own history, knowledge, and opinions to the movie, but really, shouldn’t people reviewing it at least consider whether it succeeds on its own terms rather than theirs?

  2. #2 Chris Mooney
    June 30, 2006

    I think it’s a great movie. I probably should have made that clear. I’m just making a minor criticism.

  3. #3 Lance Harting
    June 30, 2006

    David your post lists the things the movie tried to “takle”. Number two; “Create a sense of alarm and urgency, to spur political action.”

    It should come as no surprise then that the movie has been criticized for being “alarmist”.

    You are correct in pointing out that it’s real goal is to “spur politcal action”.

    I guess the battle lines are being drawn. For those of us who are not convinced that, as Al says, a “planetary emergency” is upon us, we just might try to find a quite place to sit this one out while you political crusaders wage holy war.

    I am in neither “camp” at the moment. But if it comes down to pushing for sweeping economic, governmental and cultural changes to save the planet from an alleged “climate catastrophe” I may have to sign up on the opposite side.

    No offense, you guys seem like nice people and I’m with Chris and the rest of you that the Republicans are pushing a host of other anti-scientific issues to suit their politics.

    I just think you guys are doing a bit of the same thing by pushing the envelope on the actual emperical evidence for an impending “climate crisis”.

  4. #4 odograph
    June 30, 2006

    Lance, I’m an occasional reader, and this is just my second comment here ever … but I feel like you are lumping me in with “you guys.”

    For what it’s worth, I see a carbon tax as a moderate solution, and one that will help us with our energy problems as well. Efficiency is a good thing.

  5. #5 Lance Harting
    June 30, 2006

    Sorry odograph I wasn’t meaning to “lump you in” with anybody. I am also new to the site. I just haven’t heard anyone else make any comments other than being convinced that the “debate is over” and we need to get on with the “solutions”.

    Well I don’t think there is a “consensus” that a “planetary emergency” is at hand. I don’t think a carbon tax is neccessary based on what is known at the current time. But hey that’s just my opinion, which seems to be in the extreme minority ’round these parts. I don’t see scientific evidence requiring draconian measures, but hey I could be wrong.

    I do see an organized political effort to scare people into believing a crisis is looming. Al’s movie being the latest salvo in what is shaping up to be a political battle.

    Actually, I see evidence that the tide has turned. I think republican strategist have seen themselves tarred as the bad guys in this debate and are probably searching for an “exit strategy”. One need look no further than the recent “conversion” of evangelical Christian groups to see that the right realizes that this thing could be spun their way.

    “Responsible stewards of God’s creation” is how the right could make political capital on this one. So long as the interests of industry can be protected the republicans would be happy to take credit for “saving the world”. Certainly even the proponents of major “carbon sequestering” on the left don’t invision a solution that lays waste to corporate America. I’ll bet a deal is probably on the horizon.

    I just wonder if objective truth will be the only one left standing out in the cold (er heat?). Surely some of the folks in here have considered the possibility that just maybe the low end of the climate models predictions (or dare I say a bit lower) will be realized. Are all of you so sure that this couldn’t be a possibility?

    That even then the consequences wouldn’t be “catastrophic”. We are a prety hardy bunch us humans you know. We’ve lived through ice ages and past anomolous warm periods.

    That humanity will not be destroyed and that we will prove to be the clever and adaptable little monkeys we have shown ourselves to be for nearly a million years and slip out of the inferno. That civilization will chug along with nary a missed step.

    I know this may surprise some people in here, but I honestly don’t think there is sufficient scientific evidence to declare an emergency. I also resent what I see as science being used for political purposes. But hey that’s just my honest opinion. I don’t work for an energy company or in indusrtry at all. I’m not even a republican.

    I just want to have my say in an even handed rational debate based on the evidence. Is there no one in here that can concede that I may not be a crank or an evil industrialist stooge?

  6. #6 etbnc
    July 1, 2006

    If we’re driving and we approach a large barricade with a sign that says, “ROAD CLOSED, BRIDGE OUT”, what is our standard of evidence to make a decision? What if we’ve already driven past a warning sign every mile for the last 30 miles?

    Driving off a cliff, pedal to the metal, just to confirm that the bridge is really gone and that 30 miles of warning signs really were there for a reason, strikes me as unwise and unimpressive decision-making behavior.

  7. #7 odograph
    July 1, 2006

    It’s hard for me to encapsulate my story – to describe how sure I am, or how I got that way.

    The capsule version would be that I’ve got an old chemistry degree, and have been watching this debate for 20 years. At first I just thought it was a weird idea, and appealing for its weirdness (“imagine that, we might change the climate!). As evidence and arguments piled up, I actually went through all the stages. Maybe it’s not happening … Maybe it won’t be so bad … Maybe the plants will eat it all up … And so on.

    What cinched it for me, was that 10 years or so ago studies started to fill the gaps, and close off the “maybes” that allowed inaction. And of course visible changes in the earth started to be cataloged.

    Also, working as an engineer (post-chemistry) I’m not really scared by a carbon tax. It’s easy. It will still be a fun world. It’s not a hardship to drive a small car to the beach. Heck, parking is easier.

    You worry about the “catastrophic” spin? I’m not sure how to take it myself, as I wake up this morning. I think the appropriate timescale is “decades” … but I’m not sure our society has a good grip on multidecadal catastrophes.

  8. #8 Dave Howard
    July 1, 2006

    Regarding a point that you seem to gnaw on like a dog with an old bone I ask what evidence can you adduce that supports your statement:

    1. Global warming doesn’t “cause” storms;?

    The reason I ask is because if storms begin to spawn at a certain sea surface temperature, and if average sea surface temperatures are increasing, then surely the geographical area (spatial and temporal) with temperatures conducive to hurricane formation is also increasing and this, it would seem, statistically raises the probability of hurricane formation, ceteris paribus. If there are mitigating factors which would counterbalance this purely statistical argument what are they?
    Please understand that I am not arguing that GW definitly will cause more storms; I am asking where your certainty comes from that it does not.

    Perhaps a more accurate statement might be:

    “1a. The question of whether global warming causes (an increasing number of) storms is presently unresolved.”

    Or am I all wet?

    Quibbling about minor points aside, I do appreciate the fine work you are doing exposing the war on science for what it is.

  9. #9 evolvealready
    July 1, 2006

    Lance says,–“I am in neither “camp” at the moment.”

    Then he goes on to say:

    “For those of us who are not convinced that, as Al says, a “planetary emergency” is upon us, we just might try to find a quite place to sit this one out while you political crusaders wage holy war.”

    “I just think you guys are doing a bit of the same thing by pushing the envelope on the actual emperical evidence for an impending “climate crisis”.”

    “Well I don’t think there is a “consensus” that a “planetary emergency” is at hand.”

    “…but I honestly don’t think there is sufficient scientific evidence to declare an emergency.”

    “I also resent what I see as science being used for political purposes.”

    You’re in neither camp, huh? Hmmmm.

  10. #10 Chris Mooney
    July 1, 2006

    Good question…changes in statistical probabilities are one thing, and that’s not what I’m disputing. But even if global warming is changing all of the things you mention, and this in turn changes the statistial probability of storm formation, does that suddenly mean that one particular storm is the direct result of global warming? No, I would submit that it doesn’t.

    Global warming can certainly load the dice; it’s just not clear to me that it determines what comes up on any single roll. That’s the only point I was trying to make.

  11. #11 Jon Winsor
    July 1, 2006

    Chris– I just saw Gore’s movie last night. At no point during Gore’s hurricane presentation did I hear anything that made me say “That’s wrong,” or that he was exploiting imagery in any way that was unwarranted. And there was no statement made about direct hurricane causation.

    The thing is, not everyone has an appreciation for technical details the way a science enthusiast does. Politicians know this, and know that they’re at their strongest when arguing from common sense. And commonsense directness is lost when a politician ends up sounding like one of those car advertisements that conclude with all the sped-up fine print from dealer’s legal department. This kind of fine print may be desirable for a scientific research paper, but most things committed to print or the screen do not have the conventions of a scientific paper, and do not need that level of detail.

    I think Gore was smart to avoid going into a technical discussion of the caveats. He instead went into a discussion of the convergence of elements that made Katrina into a stronger storm, letting people make their own inferences.

    In his discussion, Gore said that Katrina sped up because of warm water and that warm water was predicted by climate change science. He unambiguously did not say that Katrina originated from climate change. Only that it was accelerated by the warm water, and I believe I remember him saying that the warm water was predicted by climate science.

    Over at Realclimate, Eric Steig said he approved:

    [He] does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn’t highlight the connection any more than is appropriate.

    I’m a little bit wary of the notion that a policymaker has to get some kind of scientific imprimateur for anything he or she says in public. Scientists are not the only people able to make inferences when given data. Most people are able to make inferences with innate common sense. So as long as someone like Gore is presenting facts in good faith, and he’s done his due dilligence to know he’s not talking out of his posterior, shouldn’t he be able to present facts and let people draw their own conclusions? Does there always have to be a scientific conclusion drawn first, before someone can make an argument to the public? Does someone always have to bring the public down a rabbit hole of a technical controversy every time a speech is made?

  12. #12 Stefan Jones
    July 1, 2006

    “I also resent what I see as science being used for political purposes.”

    Gosh, yes! That sure gets my goat.

    Hmmm, what’s that you said, Bruce?

  13. #13 Lance Harting
    July 2, 2006

    Saying that warming climate means more hurricanes is actually going against the current scientific consensus. The conditions neccesary for formation of cyclonic storms would be lessened. Since most of the warming is projected in nontropical lattitudes the temperature diferential that produces cyclonic storms would be decreased therby lessing the chance of cyclonic storm production.

    The only question is whether the storms that do form would be stronger on average. This is a topic that is far from settled. The argument that (warm water)=(fuel)=(more intense storms) is overly simplisitc, if emotionally satisfying to GW proponents. The mechanisms that determine storm strength are complex and not well understood.

    Also let’s be clear that Katrina was NOT a category 5 storm when she made land fall. Current estimates place it at a category 3. The large damage to New Orleans was caused by the failure of the levee system and not the ferocity of the winds, by which category is determined.

    Also the waters of the gulf were NOT at record temperatures, or even unusually warm by historical standards, as has been sometimes stated.

    To those of us who truly think the science is far from conclusive that a “climate catastrophe” is eminent the attempt by people to throw every weather event up as “proof” of global warming’s disasterous consequences raises hackles.

    It would seem that many Global warming proponents are eager to declare “the debate over” and use any emotionally evocative means to move on to sweeping governemntal action. Many forums have urged that people like me be completely ignored and marginalized as immoral or foolhardy just because we don’t agree that a “planetary emegency” is at hand.

    As for being in the other “camp” I agree that the Bush administration has been unconcerned with whether its policies are consistent with scientific fact (i.e. stem cell research, schools teaching ID, FDA aproval of OTC RU486, etc.) but, I wasn’t aware it was a package deal. Do I have to toe the party line on global warming to not be seen as “the enemy”?

  14. #14 evolvealready
    July 2, 2006

    Lance: “Do I have to toe the party line on global warming to not be seen as “the enemy”?”

    You don’t have to toe any party line. And no one that I’ve seen considers you the enemy…try not to be so defensive, or paranoid. You stated you were in no camp then make statements to the contrary. That’s all. Kinda humorous.

  15. #15 John McCormick
    July 3, 2006

    Lance, you have no children — of this I am sure (or you are really just a selfish fool wrapped up in your here-and now comforts). But hey that’s just my honest opinion.

  16. #16 John McCormick
    July 3, 2006

    Lance, this might be off topic but I thought it would enlighten this thread to offer your views of Cindy Sheehan’s protest of this foolish war against a people who are being destroyed by our unprovoked attack.

    And, as you said in an earlier post above:

    “I just want to have my say in an even handed rational debate based on the evidence. Is there no one in here that can concede that I may not be a crank or an evil industrialist stooge?”

    Your (in my opinion) June 9 comments appeared on the Progressive Democracts of America web page:

    “Lance Harting says:
    June 9th, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan voluntarily joined the armed forces of the United States. He died honorably in the service of his country. His mother has a right to her opinion.

    I also have the right to my opinion. She is a dimwitted simplistic ideologue. “Progressive” is the new word for socialist anti-American reactionary. I hope you’re ideas get an open honest forum. I have no doubt the majority of Americans will reject them as they always have in the past.
    I am not a republican or a conservative just a rational American that wants no part of your totalitarian socialist delusions. Spc. Sheehan took one oath and only one oath, “to protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America”. You pick and choose the parts that fit your political agenda while rejecting or ignoring the parts that don’t.

    Sadly your political agenda has no place for the one thing that the constitution was put in place to protect, freedom. I humbly thank Spc. Sheehan for his sacrifice to protect my freedom and revile you and Mrs. Sheehan for trying to take it away.”

    Lance, that sure sounds like you; but, that is just my opinion.

  17. #17 Jon Winsor
    July 3, 2006

    Chris said: Global warming can certainly load the dice; it’s just not clear to me that it determines what comes up on any single roll.

    In terms of framing, this seems like not a very vivid way to describe the phenomenon. Isn’t there something better than a dice roll? Couldn’t you talk in terms of, say, the windows created by the prevelence of swaths of warm water? And that with warming, the windows expand and last longer? And that this creates more vulnerabilities for stronger storms?

    Probability makes the science look more complicated than it is. Realclimate asserts that the basics aren’t that complex:

    The key connection is that between sea surface temperatures (we abbreviate this as SST) and the power of hurricanes. Without going into technical details about the dynamics and thermodynamics involved in tropical storms and hurricanes…, the basic connection between the two is actually fairly simple: warm water, and the instability in the lower atmosphere that is created by it, is the energy source of hurricanes. This is why they only arise in the tropics and during the season when SSTs are highest.

    Dice rolls don’t give you a real sense of the mechanism the warming creates. As an English teacher once told me, you have to show, and not tell. With dice rolls you’re just telling people about the probability–numbers handed down by people with slide rules, so to speak. It seems to me that you would have better luck with an explanation that shows the mechanism that creates the probabilities. Then people will get what you’re talking about. I think that’s what Gore was trying to do in his movie.

    It’s like years ago during the Challenger hearings when Richard Feynman did the demonstration with the O rings and the glass of ice water. He was showing when everyone else was telling. Everyone else was involved in telling people the technical details about “ambient temperatures,” etc. Feynman showed them the mechanism that created the problem.

  18. #18 Jon Winsor
    July 3, 2006

    By the way, by “numbers handed down by people with slide rules,” I didn’t mean at all to belittle slide rules, the computers that have replaced them, or the people who might work with them. It’s just that there are many people who respond better to compelling explanations rather than data and expert analysis…

  19. #19 Dark Tent
    July 3, 2006

    I find it intersting (and more than a little humorous) that some are criticizing Gore for expressing his opinion on policy matters related to global warming.

    Well, guess what?

    Gore is a politician and that’s what politicians do: express opinions on — and make — policy.

    The science of global warming and what is done about it are two separate issues.

    Most of what I have read (by climate scientists, at least) indicates that Gore portrayed the science related to global warming in his movie pretty accurately, overall:

    Gore has every right to express his opinion about what should be done about the issue. It is, after all, his movie and this is a free country (at least according to our Constitution).

    Some may think otherwise, but that does not necessarily make it so.

  20. #20 Steve Bloom
    July 3, 2006

    Chris, the difficulty with your present approach is that it will hold until we get to the point where the science firmly says “all hurricanes are being strengthened by global warming.” That day will never come. To use the dice analogy, even maximum loading toward sixes won’t give you double sixes all the time, so even with a huge global warming impact one will still be able to say “we can’t be certain that this particular hurricane was strengthened by global warming.” How blatant does the effect have to become to justify shifting to a different way of describing things?

    It should also be pointed out that the Gray-NHC camp (for lack of a better term) have been unable to generate any credible papers to bolster their belief in a dominant natural cycle, whereas there’s getting to be something of a multitude on the other side. The recent papers by Klotzbach and Michaels et al don’t cut the mustard for reasons I’m sure you already know. At some point very soon, Gray-NHC have to produce such papers for them to retain any credibility. (Do you know of any?) Alternatively, we can continue to be treated to more ludicrous spectacles like Stan Goldenberg’s non-substantive attack on Kerry Emanuel (among others) for engaging in “theology.”

    Anyway, I understand the need for you to remain on speaking terms with NHC-Gray, but I sincerely hope your book reflects a different approach.

  21. #21 Jon Winsor
    July 3, 2006

    Ross Gelbspan has some links on some recent hurricane research papers, which he gives in response to yesterday’s Lindzen Op Ed in the WSJ:

    The editorial page editors of the Wall Street Journal have a love affair with longtime skeptic Richard Lindzen. It’s easy to see why. Wind him up and he says the same thing–only with more obscurity and complexity than the previous time around.

    Given the intensity of Katrina, Rita, Wilma and the other severe hurricanes we witnessed last summer, the reasons are spelled out in a series of scientific findings:

    * Dr. Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (and his fellow researchers) found last spring that 84 percent of the excess heat from atmospheric warming is absorbed by the oceans.

    * Shortly before Katrina hit, Kerry Emmanuel, a colleague of Lindzen’s at MIT, published a report indicating that tropical storms all over the world have become 50 percent more intense since the mid-1970s — because of warming surface waters.

    * Weeks after Katrina made landfall, another team of researchers, led by Dr. Peter Webster at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that, while the number of Atlantic hurricanes had remained relatively constant since the mid-1970s, the proportion that had attained category 4 and 5 status (the strongest ratings) had nearly doubled.

  22. #22 Lance Harting
    July 3, 2006

    Mr. McCormick, you are the second person in this blog to conduct an Internet search to look for any remarks I may have made in the past. At least you posted my entire remark, of course completely taken out of any context.

    This little quote has absolutely no relevance to the discussion at hand, but your intent wasn’t to add to the substance of the current discussion was it?

    Your intent, as was Mr. Jewett’s before you, was to show that I am an infidel that dared slander the saintly, at least in some political circles, Ms. Sheehan. Bravo. You, and Mr. Jewett before you, have exposed me!

    Now how exactly does this little tribunal accusation have the slightest thing to do with the debate on global warming? For one thing it shows that I am not a (gasp) republican or a conservative for that matter. My heated remarks came in a dispute with a gentleman that was holding “St. Cindy” up as an unassailable paragon of virtue, and have nothing to do with my interpretation of the current state of climate science or the attendant public policy issues.

    But of course my remarks meant everything to you (and you hope to other people of your ilk on this site). This shows how some people will use the basest emotional and personal arguments to try to divert the discussion from the actual science. Nothing surprising really. Just annoying.

  23. #23 skippy
    July 3, 2006

    gee, while i appreciate your commitment to the complete picture, chris, i think it’s a little like ragging on the atomic energy commission for not mentioning that a u-235 nucleus fission split takes about a picosecond, in their highlights for children article about nuclear reactors.

    it’s a nuance that’s not necessary for the platform being used. now, i’m not a scientist either, but the asspress sez the climatologists that have seen the flick agree that gore got the science right.

    i think if nothing else, gore has got people talking (witness this very entry your own blog) about the science of global warming, and in these days of witchfinders, that’s a good thing.

  24. #24 John McCormick
    July 4, 2006

    Mr. Harting,

    Please discuss the actual science of climate change. I and other people of my ilk might learn something from you. However, it would make us more enlightened if you accompany your discussion of the actual science of climate change with citations and sources of your information.

  25. #25 Lettuce
    July 4, 2006

    As you say, you (like Mr. Gore) are not a scientist.

    It’s a wonderful thing we can look for the mote in our own eyes.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t actually matter how perfect Mr. Gore’s film was, is, sin’t or wasn’t. The “other side” doesn’t care.

    They are fully capable of attacking jesus Christ for insufficient Christianity, why would they stop at a trifle like Al Gore’s movie?

  26. #26 Lance Harting
    July 4, 2006

    McCormick, are you sure you don’t have any other “off topic” political innuendo you’d like me to address first?

    Just checking.

  27. #27 John McCormick
    July 4, 2006

    Mr. Harting, No. I’ll be satisfied with your discussion of the actual science of climate change including citations and sources of your information.

  28. #28 Jon Winsor
    July 4, 2006

    I don’t work for an energy company or in indusrtry at all.

    Well, since you volunteered this information, my next question would be do you work for an organization that is supported by an energy company or industry?

    Please excuse my slight paranoia in asking this. I recently came across a blog post on the subject of such organizations:

    NetVocates… recruits activists and consumers who share the client’s views in order to reinforce those key messages on targeted blogs…

    After you read the front matter, scroll down to the place where they discuss the anti-Al Gore movie activists.

  29. #29 Lance Harting
    July 4, 2006

    In response to your inquiry Jon, I work for a major university as a math and physics instructor while pursuing (slowly at this point I’m afraid) my PhD in physics. I have never worked for any company that has an interest in the public policy surrounding global warming. Nor do I own stock or have any interest in any economic concern that might be construed as an interested party in the debate.

    I simply disagree with the conclusion that there exists credible scientific evidence to declare a “planetary emergency” that requires draconian and sweeping governmental measures.

    In response to Mr. McCormick here are the abstracts of two recent peer reviewed journal articles disputing the claim that global warming is responsible for the recent large number of strong hurricanes.

    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 33, L10805, doi:10.1029/2006GL025881, 2006

    Trends in global tropical cyclone activity over the past twenty years (1986-2005)

    Philip J. Klotzbach

    Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA


    The recent destructive Atlantic hurricane seasons and several recent publications have sparked debate over whether warming tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are causing more intense, longer-lived tropical cyclones. This paper investigates worldwide tropical cyclone frequency and intensity to determine trends in activity over the past twenty years during which there has been an approximate 0.2°-0.4°C warming of SSTs. The data indicate a large increasing trend in tropical cyclone intensity and longevity for the North Atlantic basin and a considerable decreasing trend for the Northeast Pacific. All other basins showed small trends, and there has been no significant change in global net tropical cyclone activity. There has been a small increase in global Category 4-5 hurricanes from the period 1986-1995 to the period 1996-2005. Most of this increase is likely due to improved observational technology. These findings indicate that other important factors govern intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones besides SSTs.

    Received 3 February 2006; accepted 18 April 2006; published 20 May 2006.

    Index Terms: 1610 Global Change: Atmosphere (0315, 0325); 1616 Global Change: Climate variability (1635, 3305, 3309, 4215, 4513); 3374 Atmospheric Processes: Tropical meteorology.


    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 33, L09708, doi:10.1029/2006GL025757, 2006

    Sea-surface temperatures and tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin

    Patrick J. Michaels

    Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
    Cato Institute, Washington, D. C., USA

    Paul C. Knappenberger

    New Hope Environmental Services, Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

    Robert E. Davis

    Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA


    Whereas there is a significant relationship between overall sea-surface temperature (SST) and tropical cyclone intensity, the relationship is much less clear in the upper range of SST normally associated with these storms. There, we find a step-like, rather than a continuous, influence of SST on cyclone strength, suggesting that there exists a SST threshold that must be exceeded before tropical cyclones develop into major hurricanes. Further, we show that the SST influence varies markedly over time, thereby indicating that other aspects of the tropical environment are also critically important for tropical cyclone intensification. These findings highlight the complex nature of hurricane development and weaken the notion of a simple cause-and-effect relationship between rising SST and stronger Atlantic hurricanes.

    Received 12 January 2006; accepted 29 March 2006; published 10 May 2006.

    Of course there are those, even in this thread, that have tried to impugn the reputations of these respected authorities in the field of hurricane research. These attacks are based more on the critic’s disagreement with the findings of the research than with any legitimate deficiencies in the stellar credentials of the scientists.

    I respect Chris for at least pointing out that Al’s movie is on shaky ground when trying to push the link between global warming and increased severe hurricanes.

  30. #30 Kit Stolz
    July 5, 2006

    A new study (6/22) by Kevin Trenberth for the National Center for Atmospheric Research unambiguously linked global warming and increased hurricane activity:

    A little over a week earlier (6/13) Michael Mann and Kerry Emmanuel found the same thing in a study published in the American Geophysical Union. Their unambiguous conclusion:

    “There is a strong historical relationship
    between tropical Atlantic SST and tropical
    cyclone activity extending back through the
    late nineteenth century. There is no apparent
    role of the AMO [Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation]. The underlying factors appear to be the influence of (primarily anthropogenic) forced large-scale warming, and an offsetting
    regional cooling overprint due to late twentieth century anthropogenic tropospheric aerosol forcing.”

    These two studies are probably more important than the much more widely reported recent study on the so-called “hockey stick” graph, which is allegedly controversial…mostly among Exxonians.

    With these studies, Gore’s linkage of Katrina and AGW looks not just fair, but downright prescient.

  31. #31 Lance Harting
    July 5, 2006

    I have not read the most recent study by Kevin Trenberth, but I doubt it is going to be the final word on the topic. Why are so many of you so ready to declare the scientific “debate over” when it clearly is not, especially on the very contentious issue of any significant linkage between increased SST, anthropogenic warming, and increased hurricane frequency and/or intensity?

    I think the obvious answer is that it suites your politics. I will concede that I am by nature a contrarian and somewhat libertarian in my political views. I am not a republican or anywhere near conservative.

    I concede that the idea of massive governmental regulation of the entire worlds energy use and vehicle choice, (among other draconian measures usually proposed as “solutions” to global warming) runs counter to my political leanings.

    However, I am not suicidal. If I thought these drastic measures were necessary I would be in favor of them.

    Now I have yet to hear one of you die hard global warming advocates admit that the whole “save the planet crusade” strikes a deep resonant chord in your collective political psyches. Not to mention that your near pathological hatred of the Bush administration reinforces the impulse to see anyone that disagrees with you as your ideological enemy.

    A little honesty on the real motivations that cause this to be such an emotional debate would go along way towards mutual understanding. Like it or not we live in a representative democracy. You are going to have to find common ground with a plurality of Americans to enact the legislative remedies you seek. Ultimately scare tactics and personal attacks are not going bring people to your position. Although I’m not sure every one agrees on that point.

  32. #32 Jon Winsor
    July 5, 2006

    I will concede that I am by nature a contrarian and somewhat libertarian in my political views.

    I gathered that. Now are you going to actually discuss science or just keep accusing us of being liberal?

  33. #33 John McCormick
    July 5, 2006

    To Chris Mooney, if Lance Harting has something relating to climate change or any discussion of the actual science of climate change can you ask that he cease and desist with the boring rendition of his politics and get on with matters about which he is so uncertain.

    This shoudl/could be a web page devoted to exchange of ideas. Instead, it has become a one man show of vitriole and “prove me wrong that I am not a blah, blah, blah, etc. stooge or republican. OK, we agree Lance. You are not.

    Now, talk some climate science that Sherwood Idso did not print.

  34. #34 Lance Harting
    July 5, 2006

    Well I believe I have been discussing the science. I have posted several citations of peer reviewed scientific studies, two in this thread alone.

    The point I was making is that the discussion is also a political one and to ignore that side of it is to ignore reality. I believe that the name of this blog “The Intersection” reflects the point that this topic is one where science and politics intersect. Indeed there is an advertisement for Chris’ book, “The republican War on Science” on this very topic.

    In fact two different people searched the Internet in an attempt to expose my politics on totally unrelated issues. This was done unnecessarily not to mention in a mean spirited way. I am not trying to pretend I am an android that only weighs the scientific aspects of an issue before deciding what public policy might be agreed upon to address it.

    I just wanted others to be as honest as I was on this point. I believe it would disarm some of the emotional rancor and lead to a more open dialogue.

  35. #35 Lance harting
    July 5, 2006

    In response to John McCormick,

    Here is a quote about Chris from the “about” section on the main page of this blog.

    “Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and a senior correspondent for the American Prospect. He focuses on issues at the intersection of science and politics, and is author of the bestselling book The Republican War on Science, dubbed “a landmark in contemporary political reporting” by and a “well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing’s assault on science and scientists” by Scientific American. ”

    Note the focus of his work and I assume this blog is “the intersection of science and politics”. The fact that others have openly discussed issues of politics in conjunction with global warming is rather obvious from even a casual review of other posts.

    It would seem that it isn’t the fact that my posts are not 100% science that bothers you. It would appear that the fact that I don’t share YOUR politics that seems to have offended you to the point of asking for my censure.

    It was not my intention to monopolize the discussion. I had hoped that some agreement could be reached that it isn’t only the right that is prone to this misuse of science. That this abuse is contrary to valid scientific endeavor and sound public policy independent of the politics of the abuser.

    If I have misunderstood the nature of this forum, and it is really a place for people who totally agree on the science AND politics of this issue I will gladly retire my participation.

    Chris need only ask.

  36. #36 Dark Tent
    July 6, 2006

    The following statement was posted above:

    “let’s be clear that Katrina was NOT a category 5 storm when she made land fall. Current estimates place it at a category 3. The large damage to New Orleans was caused by the failure of the levee system and not the ferocity of the winds, by which category is determined.”

    The Category (based on wind speed) of Katrina when it made landfall only tells part of the story.

    While it is true that New Orleans would undoubtedly have been spared considerable (but by no means all) damage if the levees had held (and there is good evidence that at least some of the levees had been improperly constructed), the Katrina storm surge certainly put a strain on those very levees and by that and most other measures, Katrina would certainly be considered an exceptionally powerful and destructive storm.

    Though Katrina was Category 3 at landfall, its 127mph sustained winds put it very close to Category 4 (131mph). But more importantly, Katrina had reached Category 5 status not long before, making it “at the time, the fourth most intense Atlantic Basin hurricane on record.”

    In addition, “its minimum pressures at its second and third landfalls were 920 mbar, making Katrina the third strongest hurricane on record to make landfall on the United States.”

    According to a NOAA report ( “Hurricane Katrina, A Climatological Perspective”
    October 2005, Updated January 2006, NOAA)

    “Hurricane Katrina appears to be the most costly natural disaster to strike the United States ever, and the deadliest since the Lake Okeechobee disaster (hurricane) of September, 1928. In addition, Katrina was one of the strongest storms to impact the coast of the United States during the last 100 years.”

    Katrina actually weakened significantly less than 24 hours before making landfall (after having built to a Category 5 storm). Before the wind speed dropped, a lot of the storm’s energy had gone into building a considerable storm surge.

    Again, according to NOAA:
    “Though wind damage was significant, the legacy of Hurricane Katrina will be the horrific storm surge which accompanied the storm, and appears to have exceeded 25 feet in some locations in Mississippi (surveys are ongoing). Even though weakening before landfall, several factors contributed to the extreme storm surge: a) the massive size of the storm, b) the strength of the system (Category 5) just prior to landfall, c) the 920 mb central pressure at landfall, and d) the shallow offshore waters. Sweeping through the delta country southeast of New Orleans, several small towns were virtually obliterated and Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes were devastated. (See Figure 4 for the preliminary US Geological Survey (USGS) stage height of the
    Mississippi River at New Orleans). The surge caused the level of Lake Pontchartrain to rise, straining the levee system protecting New Orleans.”

    Hurricane Katrina, A Climatological Perspective
    October 2005, Updated January 2006, NOAA

  37. #37 evolvealready
    July 7, 2006

    In his last couple of posts, Lance talks about honesty. He also laments the emotional rancor of others. To that I re-post this:

    {Lance says,–“I am in neither “camp” at the moment.”–

    Then he goes on to say:

    “For those of us who are not convinced that, as Al says, a “planetary emergency” is upon us, we just might try to find a quite place to sit this one out while you political crusaders wage holy war.”

    “I just think you guys are doing a bit of the same thing by pushing the envelope on the actual emperical evidence for an impending “climate crisis”.”

    “Well I don’t think there is a “consensus” that a “planetary emergency” is at hand.”

    “…but I honestly don’t think there is sufficient scientific evidence to declare an emergency.”

    “I also resent what I see as science being used for political purposes.”

    You’re in neither camp, huh? Hmmmm.}

    Honestly, Lance.

  38. #38 Lance Harting
    July 8, 2006

    So if I question the belief that we face “the end of civilization” or a “planetary emergency” I am a “denialist” or right wing ideologue?

    As I have pointed out AL Gore, and others, have posed the issue in these wildly alarmist terms.At the other end of the politcal spectrum people have stated that there is no evidence of any human influence on the climate system. That it is a conspiracy of leftist politicos and demagogues designed to seize power.

    I happen to come down somewhere between those two political “camps”. I think there is evidence that human activity has affected the climate system. I just don’t see evidence to declare a “planetary emergency” or prognosticate “the end of civilization”.

    Now is there anybody else that wants to take a pock shot at me? Here’s a novel idea, how about addressing my points.

  39. #39 Jon Winsor
    July 8, 2006

    That Al Gore, he’s so out there on the extreme. Yesterday I heard this:

    Today, in the twenty first century, the greatest long term threat this planet faces is climate change.

    I’ve seen the evidence for myself.

    Earlier this year, I went to the Artic.

    That’s where temperatures are rising faster, and where the effects of climate change are more pronounced.

    The consequences of those effects – the melting of the ice and the rise in sea levels – are potentially catastrophic for the rest of the world.

    I had the opportunity to interrogate the experts and put the arguments of the sceptics.

    It left a lasting impression, and it left me convinced that we must all rise to this great challenge.

    I was just about to go out and post something uppity in some blog somewhere. That Al Gore is so evil. But then I saw that the guy who gave the speech was… David Cameron, leader of the U.K.’s conservative party ? ? ? Hmmm…

    I think David Roberts did a good job of addressing a conservative columnist the other day who pointed out that “Global warming is not an automatic doomsday” (a convincing moral argument if I’ve ever heard one):

    It’s true, of course, that global warming is not an “automatic doomsday.” The high end of projected temperature increases (~5.8° C by 2100) would be catastrophic: widespread drought, floods, sea-level rises, possible sudden, nonlinear changes, etc. People might survive this, but no region will consider it a “boon” when the global economy tanks.

    The low-end of changes (~1.4° C by 2100) would still bring worse storms, flood, droughts, and spread of disease, with all the concomitant effects on our economy and health. Over the past few decades we’ve experienced a half-degree rise, and just this last week we find that the oceans are acidifying and wildfires are increasing. It’s already costing us. It’s possible that three times that much warming would work out OK, but do we really want to take that bet?

  40. #40 Lance Harting
    July 9, 2006

    Jon, you continue to harp on my past sarcasm yet practice no restraint yourself. I’m cool with the sarcasm; just don’t use it as an excuse to dismiss me next time OK?

    Your second quote is political bluster from Grist and contains no new information, just the opinion of a man making his living as a global warming advocate.

    Your first point however about, British conservative leader, David Cameron’s recent “conversion” is interesting on the political side. I said in an earlier entry I am of the opinion that strategists on the right are realizing that they are being pummeled in the press, and more importantly in public opinion polls, on the issue of “climate change” and as I said, are probably looking for an “exit strategy”. This is especially true in Europe and the UK where a large majority of the public has been convinced that climate change is a serious threat. So it is hardly surprising that a conservative British leader would suddenly find religion on global warming.

    Cameron flew to one glacier and talked to a handful of scientists. This hardly makes his opinion scientifically important. This sounds more like a photo opportunity to explain his politically expedient about face.

    Heck the major oil companies are jumping on the bandwagon, at least in public relations releases. Here is British Petroleum’s official policy statement.

    “The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven … but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point.”

    Note the phrase “…and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part.” This is part of the very interesting political game attached to the scientific debate.

    Now we are chugging full steam ahead on the political struggle accompanying the scientific issues. I will gladly concede that I think the public perception of the issue is swinging towards acceptance of a “climate crisis”. As I said I think some political strategists on the right see the “tsunami” of public opinion rolling towards them and are scrambling to get out in front. This doesn’t mean there is any legitimate scientific reason to do so.

    I’ll never forget when I realized the frightening truth of the words “perception is reality”. I’ll spare you the long story, but it has shaped how I see society ever since.

  41. #41 Jon Winsor
    July 9, 2006

    There are some people who think that immediate, heated charges of bias, overly dramatic harangues, and a cut and paste from a Patrick Michaels abstract(unaccompanied by any analysis or discussion) constitutes a reasonable discussion of climate science. I don’t. So I’m out of this conversation.

  42. #42 evolvealready
    July 9, 2006


    Excellent Post!

  43. #43 evolvealready
    July 9, 2006

    –Global warming is a hoax.
    –Global warming might not be a hoax, but even still it’s just the normal, natural cycle of things. Human activity has nothing to do with it.
    –Global warming is real, but human activity is very marginal.
    –Global warming is real and yes there’s a human element to it, but the jury’s still out on the extent of it.
    –Global warming is real and yes it appears human activity is playing a fairly major part in it, but I just don’t think it is an emergency.

    Reality is inexorable.

  44. #44 Lance Harting
    July 9, 2006

    Well let’s see.

    More pout and run from Jon. The subject of this thread “Gore’s Weakest Link” is that perhaps Al has over stated the connection between global warming and hurricane activity. I posted the two abstracts as evidence that there are recent peer reviewed studies questioning the link between global warming and hurricane activity. I thought the abstracts spoke for themselves.

    I believe this is in keeping with Chris’ opinion on the topic. What, no peevish attack on him?

    Then evolvealready cheers him on and leaves a string of nonsequitors.

    Is there no one in here interested in actual rational discussion?

  45. #45 Stefan Jones
    July 9, 2006


    Don’t forget:

    “Hey, quit pointing fingers! There’s plenty of blame to go around. Now give us some sweet tax breaks and help bail us out and give us low-interest loans to rebuild our seafront properties and ….”

  46. #46 Stefan Jones
    July 9, 2006

    “So I’m out of this conversation.”

    That’s just what Lance wanted.

    Lance is a troll. Not a garden variety Usenet troll, but one of a more sophisticated sort; the smarmy, manipulative, argumentative variety that Spalding Gray once referred to as “Contentiousness Major.”

  47. #47 upsidown
    July 10, 2006

    Hello, I enjoy reading the discussions, but it seems I have a different view on the issues than anyone is expressing here.

    I think that global warming is a very real threat (especially for Africa and other various third world countries – because it seems they will be hit the hardest and they also have the poorest means of dealing with the issues) but I think it’s absurd to assume that the solution to these issues can come from governmental intervention.

    First of all the US government is one (if not the) biggest pollutant.
    Secondly the industry has so much power and can brush under the carpet issues such as pollution because it is supported by the government.
    Third, the government in general has a very poor record of solving anything. It has a very good record on creating even more problems.

    Lance wrote: “I concede that the idea of massive governmental regulation of the entire worlds energy use and vehicle choice, (among other draconian measures usually proposed as “solutions” to global warming) runs counter to my political leanings.

    However, I am not suicidal. If I thought these drastic measures were necessary I would be in favor of them.”

    I think that what is suicidal is to put the government/governments in charge of solving the problems raised by global warming. Government regulations always mean more bureaucracy (thus less rapid action) and they mean the prevention or delaying of cleaner technologies entering the market. Mixing the industry with the government (supposedly for regulating the industry) only gives more power to industry. Governments can always be corrupted and they always are. It is highly naive of Al Gore to think that somehow we will suddenly start having an ideal government that will only care for the benefit of the people and the planet.

    The only way to solve the issues is to make it in the selfish interests of people to deal with the global warming. I.e. to give more power to people that think on long term – politicians think on 4 year term which is an awfully short term for the temporal scale of climatic changes.

    I think that the solution to these problems is deregulation and banning the government/industry cooperation – this will allow other cleaner firms to enter the market more easily. I think people in general do care about whether their children will live in stove world and thus they are not very enthusiastic about supporting current industries. If only they would have some other choice…

  48. #48 Jon Winsor
    July 10, 2006

    That’s just what Lance wanted.

    I figured if Lance had an actual scientific argument, he would have made it already.

    A couple Christmases ago a conservative relative gave me a book by Bernard Goldberg. I dutifully read it. (I also ate my brocolli at Christmas dinner.) It was amazing to me that something like that actually got published, much less got media exposure. The ratio of rants to genuine information was incredible.

    It seemed to me that if I met Golberg there would be no real way to have an actual debate with him. Empirical facts were so rare in his book that there was nothing to work with. It seemed like if you presented any facts to him, instead of delving into them, he’d just do his rant. (Which consisted of BIAS!! BIAS!! BIAS!!) Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is pretty far from real discourse.

    Someone I read once called this way of argumentation the “Plen-T-plaint”– maximum complaining, maximum anecdote, maximum verbiage, very little substantial argument, nearly zero empirical facts.

    Later, I talked to the conservative relative who gave me the book, and he was surprised that I’d actually read it. He told me he hadn’t read it himself. (Why didn’t that surprise me?)

    Let’s just say, from what I’ve seen, Lance and Bernard Goldberg have some things in common.

  49. #49 Fred Bortz
    July 10, 2006

    upsidown wrote:

    I think that the solution to these problems is deregulation and banning the government/industry cooperation – this will allow other cleaner firms to enter the market more easily. I think people in general do care about whether their children will live in stove world and thus they are not very enthusiastic about supporting current industries. If only they would have some other choice…

    That is not so different from the thinking of most of us here. I can’t speak for others, but I think the concern has been the deliberate deceptions and obfuscations by the big money interests and the current administration.

    It is not a matter of laws here but of setting policies that promote telling the truth and encouraging people to confront major problems before they become global catastrophes.

    In fact, I’ve expressed my puzzlement about why the Republican party hasn’t latched onto global warming as an issue that is more naturally theirs than the Democrats.

    See for my thinking on that.

  50. #50 evolvealready
    July 10, 2006

    “Is there no one in here interested in actual rational discussion?”

    Earlier Lance:

    “So if I question the belief that we face “the end of civilization” or a “planetary emergency” I am a “denialist” or right wing ideologue?”
    Speaking of nonsequitors. Why quotes around the word denialist? No one called you that in here. Nor has anyone said you were a right wing ideologue. You just seem to be making s**t up.

    Like this:
    “Is there no one in here that can concede that I may not be a crank or an evil industrialist stooge?”
    Again, not a single person in here called you a crank or an evil industrialist stooge. Protest much?

    Then there’s this:
    “For those of us who are not convinced that, as Al says, a “planetary emergency” is upon us, we just might try to find a quite place to sit this one out while you political crusaders wage holy war.”
    Political crusaders? Holy war? This is what you think qualifies as “rational discussion”?

    Tsk-tsk, Lance.

  51. #51 Dark Tent
    July 10, 2006

    A certain amount of waste is inevitable (according to the second law of thermodynamics), but a great deal of waste (and hence pollution) is simply the result of inefficent use of resources.

    Maximizing efficiency not only reduces pollution (eg, green-house gas emissions), it also has the potential to save money.

    Significant emissions reductions could be had with little or no net cost (possibly with net savings) through efficiency improvements, particularly in the things that use energy, like vehicles, appliances, lights, electrical motors, etc.

    US Department of Energy commissioned a Five Lab study on this subject:

    Some current government policies (subsidies to non-efficient industries, for example) actually act as an impediment to such efficiency improvements (and to emissions reductions), so removing such subsidies would be a step in the right direction.

  52. #52 Jon Winsor
    July 10, 2006

    Chris– Worldchanging has a post about Gore’s efforts to frame climate change science in the simplest possible terms:

    This clarity is no accident, as Gore talks about his goal of wanting to make his presentation as straightforward as he possibly could. In fact, he specifically mentions systematically searching for “understanding blocks” on the part of the audience, and iteratively improving the presentation to unravel those blocks. What we’re seeing, then, is the end product of hundreds of iterations.

    So I would give Gore’s hurricane presentation a very close reading before deciding that it distorts the science. It sounds like it was put together quite carefully and deliberately. There may be some well-chosen reasons why he presented it the way he did.

  53. #53 Lance Harting
    July 10, 2006

    To my personal detractors,

    I find it amusing that you launch ad hominem attacks based on remarks I made defending myself from past ad hominem attacks. No doubt my response to these latest attacks will trigger another round. I will try to resist the temptation to respond next time. Perhaps that will break the cycle, or at least send it into a diminishing pattern of damped harmonic oscillation.

    To Dark Tent,

    Excellent points. It should be noted however that we are not likely to save our way out of an increasing release of CO2 into the atmosphere. I am not advocating profligate energy consumption. Increased energy efficiency has rewards independent of climate change mitigation.

    It is also possible that another political football “peak oil” will arrive in time to reduce world oil consumption. Of course most of the remaining “low hanging fruit” energy is carbon based; coal, oil sands, methane etc.

    I also agree with removing subsidies. The current move towards corn based ethanol is largely a subsidy for mid-west farmers.

    I am buoyed by the recent turn the conversation has taken towards market driven solutions. Perhaps I jumped to conclusions about the type of solutions that many people in here were favoring.

  54. #54 upsidown
    July 11, 2006

    By the way, haven’t you looked at the movie poster? There is a hurricane coming out of the stove-pipes of a factory. How about that for suggesting cause and effect?

  55. #55 evolvealready
    July 11, 2006

    Lance, your very first post in this thread refered to the people in here (“you guys”) as “political crusaders” waging a “holy war.” That’s quite a way to make an impression! ;^} In your second post in this thread you asked, “Is there no one in here that can concede that I may not be a crank or an evil industrialist stooge?” when no one had even implied, much less actually said, you were. Your third post in this thread you asked if you could be seen as not “the enemy” when not a soul had even come close to intimating such a thing. No ad hominem attacks but, let’s be honest, much defensiveness on your part. All the while you ask for a reasoned, rational discussion. You may not think the rate of glacier melt is alarming. You may think Greenland’s increasingly rapid loss of ice cover does not constitute an emergency. That the loss of the Larsen B ice shelf was no great deal. That these things, including much more not talked about in here, taken together are of little concern. Excellent. No problem. You are not a crank or an evil indutrialist stooge, nor are you the enemy. You are simply wrong. And, given your earlier posts and your refusal to offer any real science in your argument–as was asked by a couple people–you’ll just have to forgive some of us if we don’t take you too seriously. Nothing personal.

  56. #56 Dark Tent
    July 11, 2006

    “It should be noted however that we are not likely to save our way out of an increasing release of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

    Agreed: increased efficiency alone will not eliminate the emissions problem, but it can help mitigate the problem.

    Perhaps most important of all, increased efficiency can help enable the transition to an economy based on non-emitting (or at least “lower-emitting”) technologies, a transiton that might not otherwise even be possible.

    I would emphasize that I said above that “Some current government policies (subsidies to non-efficient industries, for example) actually act as an impediment to such efficiency improvements.”

    At the same time, it is possible that some subsidies could actually help enable the transition to an economy based on non-emitting (or lower-emitting) technologies.

    The subsidies that should be removed are the ones that stand in the way of such a transition: eg, the ones that have made power produced by fossil fuel and nuclear plants cheaper than it would otherwise be in the absence of the subsidies.

    Also, the cost of dealing with pollution (in the case of fossil fuel plants) and other waste (in the case of nuclear plants) should be built into the price for electricity. If it is not — and the government picks up the tab — this in itself effectively amounts to a type of subsidy.

    Articially depressed prices and those that do not build in all costs make it more difficult for renewable technologies like photovoltaics and wind turbines to compete.

  57. #57 Jon Winsor
    July 11, 2006

    …We are not likely to save our way out of an increasing release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    I thought James Hansen had a good idea in a recent interview. He was saying that we could institute a revenue neutral carbon tax. This would tax the consumption of fossil fuels, but later provide rebates to make the whole thing revenue neutral. This would discourage the consumption of fossil fuels and would build the market for alternative fuels. You would introduce this gradually over a number of years. Theoretically you could go as far as to have many taxpayers not pay anything to government out of their paychecks, and instead just pay taxes out of their fossil fuel consumption.

    I was also intrigued by the David Cameron speech I linked to above. He was advocating decentralizing energy production (perhaps analogous to the way the Internet decentralizes information production) down to local sources… I imagine solar panels on rooftops and small, local renewable energy plants. It would be very good for local employment, and I understand that the electricity grid loses efficiency when consumers and power source are far apart. (Here’s a link to the speech again:

    Anyway, I’m not an economist nor an energy expert, so I don’t know how feasible these kinds of things are, but I would say the way we do things now is not necessarily the way we have to do things (which is probably why certain interests are a bit worried by all this).

  58. #58 Dark Tent
    July 11, 2006


    The decentralization issue has been considered by others as well (eg, Amory Lovins et al) and there are solid economic underpinnings for such ideas. That is not to say that our entire economy would be decentralized with regard to electrical power production and use, just that parts of it might be.

    When it comes to energy production efficiency, economies of scale are sometimes the reverse of the conventional wisdom: small is sometimes better. In the case of energy, small scale production located where the power is needed is sometimes the most efficient.

    Not only that, there are other addvantages to be had through decentralized power production: lower susceptibility of the electrical grid to massive brownouts, lower electrical cost, community control over electrical generation.

    The savings to be had from energy efficiency improvements are far greater than most people realize:

    According to Lovins et al:
    “lighting uses roughly 20 percent of U.S. electricity. Just the lighting improvements now commercially available can, if fully used, cost-effectively save enough electricity in the United States to displace 120 Chernobyl-sized power plants.”

    And having renewables supply a significant fraction of Americas’s energy needs is not pie in the sky as some claim:
    According to Lovins et al:
    “In 1990, a study by five national laboratories concluded that increasing R&D budgets by just the cost of building one nuclear power plant ($3 billion spread over twenty years) could, by the year 2030, enable renewable energy to provide a half to two-thirds of the total energy then used in the United States.”

  59. #59 Lance Harting
    July 13, 2006

    Those all sound like very good ideas, with the possible exception of the carbon tax. I don’t think a carbon tax is going to be effective unless it becomes extremely punative. It would also place an impediment to developing other lower carbon technologies. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

    As I said there are plenty of good reasons to pursue aggressive alternative energy solutions and conservation independent of climate change mitigation.

  60. #60 Jon Winsor
    July 13, 2006

    I think making fossil fuels more expensive is the only way to go. It’s the only way to make room for competing sources so that they’re on an equal footing.

    If you have the choice between two sources, and one is less expensive than the other, aside from it being the right thing to do, you’ll go with the less expensive.

    Again, the tax could be revenue neutral. It could be distributed back to the alternative fuels, or even back to the taxpayers themselves. (I heard this idea for the first time in the James Hansen interview I linked to above. I wonder if there’s more on this out there?)

New comments have been disabled.