Zero Snark Open Thread: IPCC, Science, Politics, Economics,…


Anything goes except snark. (Frank, are you listening?) (OK, even that was too snarky…) Skeptics and “skeptics” and “hoaxers” and hoaxees. Anybody and anything related to climate or any other sustainability issue.

After you write, take a deep breath. Imagine saying those exact words. To your cousin. In person. Over dinner at your gramma’s. Now rewrite in such a way that all your aunts and uncles and cousins will listen respectfully. Oh, and in this dream everybody you mention by name is suddenly a distant relative by marriage and is with you at the table.

It turns out that everyone at the table is very interested in what you have to say, but also very interested in how respectfully you say it. A high stakes situation. Bend over backwards to avoid irritating people who disagree with you, and state your case.

The smallest hint of snark will be removed, along with the rest of the comment, to a shadow thread. The email and IP address will be banned from the main thread for the rest of the discussion, but not forever. P3 holds no grudges.

Example questions:

* Is there big oil money in the CAGW (*) naysayer camp?

* Are the IPCC reports true? If not entirely true, does the IPCC systematically understate, or systematically overstate, or have unbiased good faith errors? If unbiased errors, how many degrees of freedom are represented in the error? etc. etc.

* What assertions, if any, can be stipulated by all reasonable people about climate as a physical/chemical system?

* Are we missing sustainability threats larger than climate?

* Is there anything at all that all reasonable naysayers will stipulate about big picture risks?

* Are universities mismanaged? Is the peer review system dying? How should publicly funded information be managed?

* Which is really worse: private giant supercorporations, or crown corporations? Can we revive the idea of a mix?

Go for it. Make a case for almost anything short of genocide, but be totally on good behavior or no pie!


  1. "Is there big oil money in the CAGW (*) naysayer camp?"

    No. There is no significant money from publicly held corporations at places like Heartland, and probably Cato, CEI, etc.

    However, there are oligarchic tendencies in the world. Some people became oligarchs via oil money, a more or less accidentally culturally isolated group.

    But there is also a tendency for the wealthy to concoct reasons they deserve their good luck, reasons other than that by dumb luck their eccentric great-great grandfather put up stakes around a few hundred acres over the as yet unknown East Texas oilfield in 1835 or so. As a side effect, they overvalue their own competence and are overconfident in their opinions. Who is going to contradict them, after all?

    So yes, there is a ton of oil money sloshing around, and has been for a century. A lot of it has gone into politics, local and national. Of course, such a national oligarchy fears an international order, where more internationally-minded history-minded folk would have an advantage over the luckiest local clans who would all be at cross purposes.

    That is to say, it's not Big Oil, but big Oil Families. The error that climate defenders make is real and consequential. Making enemies of the entire energy sector is foolhardy for the climate protection community. We should stop it.

  2. * What assertions, if any, can be stipulated by all reasonable people about climate as a physical/chemical system?

    Can we start with these two?:

    1) CO2, methane and H2O are greenhouse gases in the sense that they absorb an easily detectable fraction of blackbody radiation at temperatures suitable for terrestrial vertebrate life.

    2) CO2 and trace greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly in concentration as a direct effect of human activity.

    I think doubt on these propositions is unreasonable and no more time should be wasted on them. All reasonable people including all wide-circulation newspapers should treat these as established facts.

    Then maybe we can move on from there and try to get more stuff established.

  3. * Are we missing sustainability threats larger and more immediate than climate?

    War and totalitarianism remain threats that loom larger than climate in my opinion.

    I can envision plausible scenarios where poorly-thought-out technologies are released that do more damage than greenhouse gases. I call this the "rogue artifacts" category, and it includes the "grey goo" and "evil pseudo-sentient AI" scenarios.

    Some people think that overpopulation and too much travel will lead to super-viruses. I don't know about that one but it seems plausible from where I am sitting.

    The Planetary Boundaries guys keep talking about nitrogen and phosphorus. I wish I knew more about that.

  4. Wow, this is a great answer to that question. Glad it's now published! I'd add that because of the way in which constitutional republics are set up, major change to the business sector through normal democratic measures is arduous and almost impossible. All momentum is focused on status quo, so it is not just money, it tradition, its infrastructure, and easily controlled from the top down.

  5. I don't see how war and totalinarianism break sustainability by themselves, aside from war using up resources. Rogue artifacts I fear even less: without human correction stuff just malfunctions too much, usually ineffectually. Except maybe in a Dr. Strangelove scenario.

    Travel brought Europe something like a super-virus back in the 1300's, a majority survived, and many historians credit it with shaking things up in an interesting way.

    Even without GHG's we'd still have a serious footprint problem, if a more diffuse one.

  6. Are grown-up discussions possible? Under what conditions?

    Reading the comments at Tamsin Edwards' new blog All Models Are Wrong is a depressingly familiar experience (think chez Judith Curry or Keith Kloor) and my heart sinks at the prospect of reading and engaging there.

    There's a fascinating discussion to be had and I'm sure Tamsin can provide the initial input to stimulate that discussion. Some of those familiar names may even have some interesting and worthwhile points to make. But. But. But.

    I know not to trust the good faith of certain commenters (is non-specific snark permitted?) and I have little doubt that I'll have to work so hard to pick out any genuinely constructive discussion from the comments that time reading there will not be time well spent. So what can be done? What can Tamsin Edwards do? What can we do to make good faith grown-up discussion possible?

  7. I can't agree that the set is empty. This post at The Coyote Blog (a blog which I found through a link from your old "In It" site, I don't remember the specifics) makes me think the Mr. Miller is reasonable and he's definitely a naysayer. Of course, if your definition of reasonable precludes naysayers....

  8. I read an interesting article in The Economist entitled "Professor Facebook" about a startup firm out of Berlion called "ResearchGate" (no connection to the "gate" suffix as used in the US and elsewhere to imply scandal). It appears to be a social network aimed specifically at research scientists and allows peer group communication a la Facebook. It's claimed to have 1.4M participants. Participants can form groups, upload papers, create profile pages in the usual way, etc.

    In April, they plan to add a feature allowing participants to "rate" others' contributions, theoretically allowing them an alternative path to peer reviewed scholarly journal publications. It seems like this could be a tack, if not another nail, in the coffin of traditional peer reviewed publication.

    Probably this is old news to many here, but it was new news to me.

  9. I saw this link tweeted today, about French modellers saying global temp will rise at least 2 degrees or up to 3.5 to 5 degrees by 2100. Is this anything different from what scientists already knew or suspected?

    I haven't seen it mentioned, though with the AAAS talks about muzzled scientists, and the Heartland fooferaw, maybe no one has had time to pay attention to it yet. Or maybe I just haven't (is self-deprecation allowed?)

  10. Well, I looked. It's chock-full of substantive errors, but is reasonable in tone.

    Is it worth a detailed rebuttal? I don't know. Nobody seems to remember it much.

    But the deep-seated error in Chapter 3 still drives much of the confusion you see at the naysayer sites. Probably worth some work straightening that out. It's already on my Endlessly Growing List of Hard to Write Pop Science Essays.

    I'm afraid the Skeptical Science article misses the point. All the more reason to give this one a swing, unless someone else can point to a better answer.

    Funny how these guys never show this figure. Again, my question remains, is there any risk at all that a reasonable naysayer (if such a beast exists) could be expected to associate with this phenomenon if left uninterrupted until all fossil carbon fuels (or all net-EROEI-gain fossil carbon fuels, to be more precise) are tapped out.

    Miller acknowledges no significant risk as far as I can see. Is that really reasonable?

  11. I've seen efforts like this before. They sort of miss the point.

    Networking within science is extremely effective. Nobody can touch science for international and cross-cultural networking and collaboration. And climate science was in the forefront of this (read up on the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58).

    It's networking between science and the rest of the world that is broken.

  12. Just another set of IPCC AR5 runs. Nothing spectacularly new.

    Romm keeps saying 7 or 8 C by 2100 based on what I consider a dubious MIT study. If we hit 5 C in a century we are pretty surely well into catastrophic territory anyway. I wouldn't want to be holding real estate in Texas or Australia or the Mediterranean under that scenario, for instance. Nor would I want to be a specimen of an alpine species. Take me back to Wisconsin!

    They can just put Las Vegas and Phoenix in bubbles, I guess. Practice for living on the moon. Let's not terraform Luna when it's so much easier to lunaform Terra!

    If I were a betting man with 88 years to live, my money would be on 3.5 , but that's probably just herd mentality. As Paul Baer once pointed out to me, the important thing is NOT to PREDICT the future. The important thing is, RATHER, to DECIDE the future.

  13. I don't see a "reply" button on either of your replies, so I'm replying to both. Or something like that.

    The second comment was in response to your question regarding the peer review process dying. I think that this is a data point in that regard.

    The condition of networking between science and the rest of the world is likely the area of most complete agreement between you and I. The most depressing symbol to me of the degenerating nature of that networking is the descent of the entirety of the Discovery Networks' channels into endless streams of so-called "reality" shows. There seems to be no room for a "Science Channel" that actually discusses science or a "Planet Green" that actually discusses sustainability.

    One might say that it's a symptom of the endless quest for rent-seeking profits but they've segued from a fairly high proportion of "pop sci" show to an almost negligible amount because that is what sells eyeballs to advertisers.

    With respect to the first, I certainly can't answer for Mr. Miller. But he seems like a smart guy with a mind amenable to reason though he's very clearly a doctrinaire libertarian (even I'm not that). That may be disqualifying on the reasonableness criterion but I've had reasonable conversations with such people. I wonder if he could be invited over?

  14. Meh. I'm not sure what tone matters there. If he had been someone that didn't know that the science, and had just written that up as what he understood, I could see a possible conversion, but that's not the case here. He knows what the science says, but offers a book-full of alternative explanations that rival Monckton gallops, from

    But it does say something. When your ideas about risk aversion run up against reality, or that as outlined by the best possible knowledge, any alternative explanation will suffice.

  15. Somehow, the oil optimists, with Mr Yergin at their head, never mention how their predictions or strategies have been doing since 2005. That would require explaining how to reconcile high prices with stagnation in production.

    The simplest explanation, of course, is that peak oil is either here or near. It's reasonable that higher prices might bend the classic Hubbertian curve enough to stretch any symmetry between the upslope and the downslope that must come sooner or later. Indeed, this could produce, for a while, something very much like an undulating plateau, which would be a win, sort of, for Yergin's predictions, but the poor guy can't admit it, because he's been so adamant that said plateau won't happen until mid-century.

  16. Both nested and flat comment systems become unwieldy. I thought it would be interesting to experiment with a one-level reply setup.

    They all have drawbacks, but so far I like it.

    To reply to a reply on this site, simply reply to the parent article.

  17. I agree with Grypo regarding Miller.

    Miller has picked out a bunch of the more quasi-reasonable wrong arguments and strung them together into a quasi-reasonable essay. He is surprisingly much better at this than Bert Rutan! But his selective choice of, well, convenient untruths, however effective, doesn't leave me eager to engage directly.

    I will offer you a sort of compromise - when I do write my "greenhouse doesn't saturate" piece I will explicitly reference him. If he's still interested he's welcome to respond.

    Do not hold your breath, though, I have some ambitions for this item that will take some work to pull off.

  18. Andrew Weaver is in the news lately about a paper by Neil Swart and Weaver in Nature, and some less than accurate references to it are starting to pop up.

    A couple of articles:

    In Weaver's own words (& note link to Swart's blog:

    And another news article today:

  19. On peak oil: the article below by Dieter Helm makes a very good point. You cannot take an agnostic position toward peak oil. If you're building your theory about the future on oil depletion and permanently high prices, that sets the entire economic frame for a carbon-free renewable future. Not only must we do it, but actually, peak oil makes that much easier since renewable energy prices will actually be relatively lower, and continually increasing oil prices will spur innovation. As he puts it:

    "As the incentive to develop substitutes gathers momentum, there is a balance between conventional oil and gas and unconventional oil and gas, and between both and low-carbon technologies. If the substitution happens fast, then the demand for oil and gas falls, and price falls back, too - rendering the new technologies less economically attractive. If, on the other hand, the oil price is driven up fast, then the search for substitutes accelerates. The equilibrium price of oil is, therefore, one that balances these too countervailing forces." ([1] p.75)

    So if the peak oil case is wrong, producing a low carbon infrastructure to avoid climate change is going to require something much more radical than leaving it to the oil price. Another paper in the same issue mentions a related problem: the obvious approach of subsidising renewable infrastructure will (if as successful as it needs to be to deal with climate change) lead to oil prices actually dropping as demand drops - another equilibrium problem, possibly meaning more subsidy required ([2] p.28). Or, as I think one of the papers hints at, doing something a little more direct to stop people taking the black stuff out of the ground.

    As they say, if the peak oil case is wrong, that has clear implications that need dealing with as well: "the problem is not shortage but, from a climate change point of view, abundance." (ibid.p6)

    If it were me, the only sensible policy option would be one that did not assume resource depletion in time to help 'solve' the carbon problem. It also needs to be a policy that understands future cheap renewable energy means future cheap carbon-based energy - which means non-market ways of keeping it underground.

    [1] Helm, Dieter. ‘Peak Oil and Energy Policy-a Critique’. Oxford Review of Economic Policy 27, no. 1 (SPR 2011): 68–91.

    [2] Allsopp, Christopher, and Bassam Fattouh. ‘Oil and International Energy’. Oxford Review of Economic Policy 27, no. 1 (March 20, 2011): 1 –32.

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