More on the Middle Ground

Following up on my previous post on claiming the middle ground, we have:

David Roberts didn't like Revkin's article. Revkin replies in the comments. I do think that the media has focused too much on he extremes (Pat Michaels and we're all going to die stuff), but the middle they should be paying more attention to is the IPCC reports and not Pielke Jr.

Matthew Nisbet writes about the "Pandora's Box" frame of pending catastrophe. He thinks that it opens scientists up to charges of alarmism from the likes of Inhofe. I think that Inhofe is going to make such charges no matter what.

jsk argues argues that the middle ground that Revkin describes is basically Gore's position.

James Hrynyshyn writes:

I agree completely that we need constructive advice from the scientific community. But I have to temper my enthusiasm for Hulme's approach. There's nothing wrong imbuing that advice with urgency and a few dire warnings, if that's what the science suggests is coming down the pipeline.

From what I can gather, the mid-range scenarios, those likely to be part of the next IPCC report, due out later this year, should be scary enough to provoke action without invoking worst-case scenarios.

Chris Mooney wonders whether he is nonskeptical heretic. I don't think it is a good term to use.

Roger Pielke Jr complains that I took a potshot at him. Which is interesting, because I just used his own words against him. Who was he taking a potshot at when he wrote this?

I fully expect that many of the usual suspects on the extremes of the debate (both sides) will respond to this story by saying that they've been in the middle all along.

More like this

Perhaps Rojer Pielke Jr could do us all a favour and list all (or some) of the individuals (besides himself of course) who he thinks represents 'the middle.'

Regardless of the list's makeup, I think it would explain a lot.

Geoff- Here you go:


Here also is a response to a similar question from deep in the comments on our blog:

Let me say first that the notion of a "middle ground" is not one that I've emphasized. (It is interesting that this phrase has been picked up by several critics of Revkin's article.) When I first brought up the notion of "non-skeptic heretic" I did so tongue-in-cheek as part of our ongoing discussion (and at Kevin's NoSeNada blog) about "tribalism" in the climate debate. It seemed to me that there is plenty of room for another "tribe." Whether it is up, down, left, right, or middle I don't know. It does seem to cut across political boundaries in a way yet-to-be-seen in the climate debate (e.g., includes both Greg Easterbrook and Dan Sarewitz), which clearly troubles some people.

When I first wrote about this I said the following:

"But what is it that I mean by "non-skeptic heretic"? These are people who accept the science of climate change but do not engage in meaningless exhortations or bland political statements, and instead openly confront some of the real but uncomfortable practical challenges involved with reducing emissions and adapting to climate."

I do mean by this those who openly discuss policy options. I absolutely don't mean the scientific middle ground, which the IPCC WG1 seems to capture pretty well.

So I agree with you 100% when you say "A big majority of scientists working in government labs or universities have nothing to say about the policy options other than to point out out the risks." But these aren't who I at least am referring to. Staying silent on matters of policy can mean ceding the policy discussion to the fringes or being used by advocates.

Revkin's story did a nice job acknowledging that there is this point of view. Had he been given another quarter page;-) it would have been nice to see some discussion of the views of people like Steve Rayner, Rob Lempert, Karen O'Brien, Frank Laird, and others. If these are unfamiliar names to you, well, that is part of the point of recognizing that there are some smart people saying some really valuable things but who are not really recognized.

I think it is humorous that all these "yougsters" (Pielke, et al) are now fighting to claim the right to be the "Standardbearers for Reason" when people like Amory Lovins at Rocky Mountain Institute have been proposing "No regrets solutions" to the energy shortage, pollution and climate change for decades. (Lovins was using that term before Pielke even knew how to say it).

The idea that these guys somehow have come up with new and different solutions that no one else has thought of or spoken out for is just unmitigated nonsensense.

Who really knows -- or cares -- what a "non-skeptic heretic" is?

The whole thing is simply childish.

The subject of what to do about global climate change is a serious one so why are people even discussing some stupid name that Pielke made up for himself and his buddies?

It's absurd.

Gore isn't middle ground
He claims Holland will be flooded by a seven meter rise of sea level caused by the melting of greenland, that's classic scaremongering.

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

Perhaps the sea level will not rise by 7 meters...

But according to Wikipedia, "About half of its [Holland's] surface area is less than 1 metre (3.3 ft) above sea level, and much of it is actually below sea level. An extensive range of dykes and dunes protects these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check."

The dykes are not 7 meters above sea level so it would take less than a 7 meter rise to cause flooding in Holland if higher dikes were not put in place.

But the issue is further complicated by the fact that overflow of the rivers could also lead to flooding.

The government of Holland recognizes the potential problem and is already planning an upgrade of the dyke system.

Unlike Louisiana, dikes in The Netherlands are assessed every five years and reported to paliament, which is adequate. By the time sea level has observably risen another 20 cm at the dutch coast I'll let you know, however, don't wait for it, as it is most likely in the year 2100..

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

The term "non-skeptic heretic" strikes me as being similar to "bright".

By Ken Miles (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

If Bjorn Lomborg is on the list, then I'm glad that I'm not on it. The best description of Lomborg that I've seen calls him a political scientist who goes through the scientific literature cherry picking whatever he needs to support his ideology.

By Ken Miles (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

I liked how Matt Nisbet framed the middle ground as the high ground by presenting a picture of a bell curve with the peak representing the middle ground ...

Why do people so often pick for a 'flooding' example the best protected piece of low-elevation coastal land on the planet?

Holland is going to be ok for any moderate sea level increase - they spend chunks of a heavy tax burden from a modern industrialized economy to keep it so.

A 1 meter increase's effect on the US, on the other hand, wont be OK. Look at how far inland 1M is on the gulf coast, and in the low country of the US southeast coastal plains. In California, Sacramento and Stockton are deepwater ocean shipping ports, 80 miles inland - with the intervening land being the most expensive farmland on the planet, barely protected by levees that are already vulnerable - and is the central point of the water distribution system of the entire state. Losing the delta would be catastrophic.

Multiply this kind of vulnerability by the length of the world's seashores. Multiply by the square mile of low-elevation nation - Bangladesh, coastal India, SE asia deltas, the island nations, as examples - with specific issues at each place - and it becomes clear that Holland ain't the issue.

I think they pick Holland because -- like it or not -- in the US, at least, countries like Bangladesh are just not a priority. They could disappear from the map entirely and no one would blink and eye. I suspect that most people in this country do not even know where Bangladesh is (if they even know what it is).

On the other hand, there are many Dutch living in the US.

There are lots of other places that may be flooded as a result of rising sea levels, but the reason Gore chose Holland as his example is not an accident.

I think they pick Holland because -- like it or not -- in the US, at least, countries like Bangladesh are just not a priority. They could disappear from the map entirely and no one would blink and eye.

Well, India, Thailand, Cambodia would certainly exhibit rapid eye blinks while they considered what the h*ll to do with 350M environmental refugees. With the recent US response to environmental refugees as an example, it don't look too durn good for a South Asia response...



Dano, thank you for challenging JBs casual dismissal of future Bangladeshi refugees.

The difference between Elvis impersonators and would-be AGW policy analysts, (e.g., JB) is the former entertain and the latter infuriate.

By John L. McCormick (not verified) on 04 Jan 2007 #permalink

Cue the "I'm Spartacus joke"

"No, I'm in the middle"
"No, I am"
"I'm in the middle out here"
"Don't be stupid, I'm in the middle"

"Dano, thank you for challenging JBs casual dismissal of future Bangladeshi refugees"

I was merely making an observation -- in the form of a backhand criticism of some of my fellow countrymen.

Was Dano challenging it?

There isn't a middle ground in climate science opinion, you either think it's catastrophical or you think it isn't a problem.

Gore took holland as example because he was familiar with the Hans Brinker fairy tale.

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 06 Jan 2007 #permalink


My reply clarified and pointed out that only in the US are Bangladeshi refugees not a priority. The receiving areas for refugees think it is a problem. Plus, our recent history shows we can't handle environmental refugees.

And I point out (certainly needlessly) that Hans purposely doesn't get it; further, it's scary that US ways of creating false dichotomies is yet another thing we export.



Hans, there are small catastophes, [snark] such as losing the Netherlands,[/snark] and large ones, such as losing New Orleans. In that case, as with most climate catastrophes, the size depends on where you are sitting.

We all know that the cause of flooding of New Orleans was maintenance neglect, not global warming, as Roger Pielke Jr can confirm.

Eli, I know you are a [snigger]catastrophist[/snigger], reducing CO2 won't stop hurricanes.

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 06 Jan 2007 #permalink

Hans Erren said "We all know that the cause of flooding of New Orleans was maintenance neglect, not global warming, as Roger Pielke Jr can confirm."

Can Roger Pielke really confirm that?

I don't think so.

Actually, the problem was not maintenance neglect, it was poor (outdated) levee design and poor (disjoint) levee construction acted upon by the large storm surge associated with Katrina.

If you under-design or construct something poorly to begin with, no amount of maintenance will make it able to withstand a storm which it was not built to withstand.

The levees should have been completely upgraded, using the latest designs and the latest building techniques. The levees are still awaiting such an upgrade.

Also, though no individual storm can be attributed to global warming, there is a growing body of evidence that warming sea surface temperatures might make storms more intense (with higher storm surges) and that could conceivably be the difference between a levee holding and failing.

But I believe what Pielke and others have (correctly) pointed out is that building along the shoreline is actually the primary problem and unless you address that, nothing is going to prevent a disaster from occurring -- and that money would be better spent on improving the construction and moving infrastrucuture inland than on trying to reduce the possible future effect of global warming on storm intensity.

By addressing the building issue, you reduce the potential for damage from storms of all magnitudes, including the biggest ones (which may be even bigger than they would have been without the warming seas).

I agree with JB.

In addition, we can consider Katrina as an instructive adaptation 'dry run' for many reasons, on many levels (we're told by the Neoclassical economics fetishizers that we can adapt, right?):

o Man destroyed the buffering wetlands south of NOLA and didn't see the effects of the exteranalities.
o Man built cr*ppy levees around NOLA and didn't see the effects of his cost-cutting.
o Man didn't have a plan to evacuate the poor of NOLA.
o Man prevented The River from depositing silt, thus causing NOLA to sink.
o Man caused eutrophication and the Gulf dead zone, contributing to the ecological degradation of the LA wetlands, exacerbating the plight of NOLA. Man didn't see the effects of his actions on the ecosystem or his grandchildren.
o Man...

You get the picture.

Man alters the global ecosystem in myriad ways, which contributes to ecological degradation across many scales.

Note I said nothing about AGW; this allows us to consider how well our institutions will react to future environmental disasters, and what we will do with our environmental refugees if climate change affects our societies and institutions, forcing adaptation.

If the richest country in the world doesn't have a clue how to react to this type of thing, how to adapt to change, and post facto have little clue what to do with environmental refugees, what will the rest of the planet do when we are forced to adapt?



"In addition, we can consider Katrina as an instructive adaptation 'dry run' for many reasons, on many levels (we're told by the Neoclassical economics fetishizers that we can adapt, right?)"

Some few decades ago, when the Soviet Union was a going concern, I came upon the random factoid that, although the legislators in the US tend to have legal educations, those of the Soviet Union tend to have engineering backgrounds. While I am quite a techno-geek myself, I couldn't help but note that the massive environmental degradation in the Soviet Union reflects the "can-do and damn the naysayers" attitude so prized among engineers and technoids, as reflected in the tons of science fiction I read as a beardless youth. And when something went wrong, then they just fixed that too. Patches on patches.

Ironic that the same folks who insist that mankind is too feeble to cause something as massive as climate change, under different circumstances insist that mankind is quite quite competent to reverse the effects of climate change.

Indeed under-design, not neglect.

But engineers say the levees preventing this below-sea-level city from being turned into a swamp were built to withstand only Category 3 hurricanes. And officials have warned for years that a Category 4 could cause the levees to fail. (See video of why the levee's breech was devastating -- 1:53)

Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane when it struck the Gulf Coast on August 29.

Here are landfall maps:…

By Hans Erren (not verified) on 07 Jan 2007 #permalink

"officials have warned for years that a Category 4 could cause the levees to fail."

So in other words it was under-design compounded by ongoing failure to correct the under-design once it was know - which sounds like neglect to me.

The damage suffered to New Orleans by Katrina shouldn't be viewed solely as a partisan issue - policy failures occurred at all levels of government by members of all parties over a period of decades.

Whether those failures were compounded by the actions of the municipal, state and Federal governments at the time, is to some extent a separate and subsidiary issue.

You really have to ask though: if the US is incapable of building and maintaining adequate levees to defend one of its major cities, why should we be confident about Tim C's proposed Great Wall of India?

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 07 Jan 2007 #permalink

"I couldn't help but note that the massive environmental degradation in the Soviet Union reflects the "can-do and damn the naysayers" attitude so prized among engineers and technoids,"

... and, surprise, surprise, this is also the same attitude that the US Army Corps of Engineers has.

In the past, they have far too often had no clue what the impact of their work would be on the environment but nonetheless took the "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" attitude. And it has caught up to and bitten them in the ass on more than one occastion.

Their massive canal building and water diversion program nearly killed the Everglades.

And everyone now knows what a disaster their levee "system" was in New Orleans.

Given their propensity to do things without thinking, I would not let them put an addition on my house, never-mind fix what they have mucked up in New Orleans and the Everglades, but that is exactly what they have been given the task of doing.