My post on Nieremberg has generated lots of interesting comments. I still don’t have the report, so for now I’ll focus on on issue that came up: who commissioned the N report?
Oreskes says: In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected president… Reagan commissioned a third report about global warming from Bill Nierenberg. To be fair, she says that in the Times; the same assertion doesn’t appear in her more scholarly work.
But its not true.
Atmoz has appendix 3, and the report was commissioned on June 30, 1980. Which is presumably the date of the signing of the official papers; the actual spadework of setting things up must have been earlier.
Ronnie Ronnie Reagan (he loves a Kagan) was prez from January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989. The election was on November 4, 1980. Ergo, Ronnie didn’t commission the report.
So thats NN 1, Oreskes 0?
Well not quite. Since Oreskes herself says “a committee was already in place by October 1980, with Nierenberg as its chair”. So its more like Oreskes duffing herself up :-). More likely the Times piece is ghost-written by “Jonathan Renouf” (who he?) and he fouled it up.
Poking around in From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge I also find:
One member of the JASON committee responsible for its 1979 report recently recalled briefing some members of the U.S. government, one of whom asked, “So when will these effects happen?” When the scientists replied, “Well, maybe in 40 years,” the official replied, “Get back to me in 39”.
Which fits my view of the world. The reports weren’t going anywhere, no matter what they said. Their time had not yet come.
While the formal charge to the new committee was not formulated until June of the
following year, a committee was already in place by October 1980, with Nierenberg as its chair… Academy records do not reveal how or why Nierenberg was chosen for the job. John Perry, the staff member who was intimately involved in all aspects of the study, has no recollection, but suggests that both Nierenberg’s overall stature and his well-known conservative politics would have been viewed as assets.
Well that’s an odd thing to say. Why would his conservative politics have recommended him to a Carter administration? And it continues In 1981, Nierenberg joined the transition team of the new Reagan administration, advising on candidates for positions at scientific agencies; Academy leaders likely viewed that as an asset, too. Which is even weirder. Academy leaders, when selecting the committe in 1980, correctly predicted the results of the election, and that N would be appointed to the Raygun administration, and therefore viewed him favourably?
That warming, by thermally expanding the ocean and by causing the transfer of ice and snow resting on land to the oceans, should raise sea level substantially faster than the rise that has taken place during the past century… A global rise of 144-217 centimeters by the end of the twenty-first century was likely, and as much as 345 centimeters could not be ruled out.
I’ve slightly lost track of who that came from, but it *wrong*. Not too surprising, really, since the science of the time wasn’t in a very advanced state. But an indication that if the N report advised caution about the state-of-science of the time, it was right to do so. Similarly,
Revelle’s chapter on sea level rise, for example, noted that “[a] collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would release about 2 million km3 of ice before the remaining half of the ice sheet began to float. The resulting worldwide rise in sea level would be between 5 and 6 m[eters].”
Again, the N report would be quite right to downplay this – IPCC AR4 does so too. Oreskes paraphrases the various chapters as saying:
Fundamentally the conclusion was the same as before: CO2 has increased due to human activities, CO2 will continue to increase unless changes are made, and these increases can be expected to have significant adverse impacts on weather, agriculture, and ecosystems.
but I’m not at all sure I believe her. To be clear, its the bit I’ve bolded I don’t believe, by analogy with IPCC. CO2 inc? Sure. More in the future? Sure. Impacts on climate: warming, etc? Sure. Adverse impacts… well hold on. Where is that coming from? The economists then come in and predict CO2 doubling by 2065, and Oreskes disses them for not believing in it before 2050. But they were “right”. They continue:
A significant reduction in the concentration of CO2 will require very stringent policies, such as hefty taxes on fossil fuels… Moreover, these taxes must be global [to be effective]. To the extent that such an approach can offer guidance, therefore, it suggests that there are unlikely to be easy ways to prevent the buildup of atmospheric CO2.
And they were right.