Whither the Golden Horseshoe?


I’ve been putting off the Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award for so long people will start wondering if this site is winding down. Or the award.

We’re not. It isn’t.

Meanwhile, it seems that Media Matters has entered into the Annual BS sweepstakes. (Last year, Planet3.0 awarded the Golden Horseshoe to David Rose of the Daily Mail for misrepresenting the warming hiatus issue. This year, in a much more thorough evaluation, Media Matters handed their version to, well, David Rose for misrepresenting the warming hiatus issue. I guess he gets extra credit for consistency!)

Although one might wish they’d give us some credit, in some ways they did a far better job of it than P3 could hope to. After all, being in the trenches with the deniers has never really been our core mission here. Our mission, rather, is to get people thinking about and talking about how our current behavior is affecting the world’s future, and about how we should change it if we want to bring back a sense of progress.


Focusing on the endless lies and delusions and misdirections, willful or innocent, that pervade the public discussion of climate is not our interest. We want to move beyond it.

Furthermore thinking about BS, its origin, and its propagation is depressing. We’re trying really hard to keep an eye on the rays of hope and the beacons of sanity. To make a readable article in the Climate War-of-Words, snark is necessary. But this sort of snark just exacerbates our divisions, encourages people to take sides, removes us from a place where we are all pulling together.

Another trouble is, the more I think about how badly we’ve been set back, the more I realize that democracy isn’t really competent to weigh complex issues and come up with workable strategies, the more I realize how vulnerable all of us are to BS, the less I am amused and the more I am horrified.

But, all that notwithstanding, the fact is that we really do have to face up to BS. And I said I’d do it.

The Leading Candidate: Bjorn Lomborg

The nominee that got the most votes in our circles, though, was Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg certainly is an interesting candidate.

On Facebook, I saw this sourced to Lomborg:

All the wind turbines and solar panels in the EU reduce global emissions less than 91Mt CO₂.

US shale gas reduce more than 3 times as much. Cheap US shale gas has replaced more than 10 percent coal in US electricity production, cutting at least 300Mt of CO₂.

This is the same sort of thinking that the person who spends a thousand dollars on a half-price shopping spree uses when they claim “I saved a thousand dollars!” In a way, yes, but more sensibly, that amounts to gratuitously spending an extra thousand.

Shale gas “reduces” emissions compared to coal, but not as much as wind does. Wind effectively reduces emissions 100% compared to coal. Estimating the savings of shale at 50%, the claim above is simply equivalent to saying “six times as much shale energy was produced in the US as coal energy in Europe”, a presumably true but perfectly useless statistic.

Why does Lomborg speak in this way? And why does he get the sea level story completely wrong?

So there is a question as to whether Lomborg’s errors are made in good faith or whether he is being deliberately deceptive. If he is in fact being deceptive, he us a candidate for the Horseshoe. And it’s hard to believe that his systematic underestimates of our quandary are really well-intentioned.

But I’ve been stuck, stymied on writing this article. How sure can we be that he isn’t making honest mistakes? If he is, would it not do more harm than good to hand him a BS award? (Perhaps even David Rose believes his own press. The number of people actively lying, I think, is likely very small.) And I definitely have the sense that Lomborg is trying to infuse the conversation with a sense of hope and determination, which is what I think is sorely needed. Is he really an enemy of the revival of progress?

The Dark Horse Candidate: Guy McPherson

I’ve been mentally contrasting Lomborg with a fellow by the name of Guy McPherson. McPherson’s footprint on the conversation is small outside of Facebook, but on Facebook he manages quite an impressive presence. Along with a few other regulars, he not only fully accepts the Shakhova fantasy, he runs with it. He has convinced himself and his followers that the end of the world is nigh, literally. He believes that the probability of the end of human life within the next 16 years (he usually quotes 2030 as the Date of Doom) is so high that acting as if it is uncertain is delusional. Of course, this is crazy talk. In fact, I’d say it is more delusional than even the most strident Sky Dragon “no such thing as the greenhouse effect” denialism. But the fact is, he has some sort of following. It’s not clear to what extent his followers go along with the total extinction line, but they believe that the collapse of civilization is so inevitable that we shouldn’t bother to try to oppose it. Many of them hold our current system in such low esteem that they see a rough justice in this – they somehow discount all the human suffering that would be associated with such a collapse.

Now, to some extent when a new source of misinformation comes on the scene it is best to ignore it rather than draw attention to it. So whether to draw further attention to McPherson depends on whether he is getting anywhere. Outside of Facebook, he remains utterly obscure as far as I can tell. On the other hand, climate conversations on Facebook show remarkable vigor, and McPherson and his crowd are quick to run interference whenever anyone starts to discuss potentially productive ideas.

It was just after I discovered the vigorous conversation on the Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook group that McPherson and his acolytes showed up, accusing anyone having any constructive ideas of peddling “hopium”. And I see him actually offering a guilt-free path toward political apathy to the people most profoundly affected by the ecological and environmental disruption around us.

For various reasons, debunking McPherson appears to be a task that falls to me. And it’s in the middle of working on this project that the horseshoe season suddenly came upon me.

What is the Golden Horseshoe Award For?

The tradition of Climate BS (Bad Science) of the Year was handed to me by Peter Gleick, and I had some fun with it last year. The purpose, of course, was to collate and promote ammunition against the organized denial of climate science. So one is expected to take on the Usual Gang of Idiots. The Idsos, Singer, Lindzen, Monckton. I think at this point that is too easy. They refute themselves. Monckton’s latest is such a masterpiece of self-parody, so self-righteous and florid and over the top, that I found myself enjoying it. Whether was despite its frank lunacy or in part because of it, is hard to say.

Taking on the press can be more fun, and the press is eminently deserving of mockery on this and many other topics. But the underlying problem with the press, that they have failed in their role of preventing utter BS from pervading the common discourse, that they are incapable of squelching organized lunacy, is terrifying and tragic. Of course Rupert Murdoch gets the Rupert Murdoch Award again this year, for doing the most cumulative damage to our world of any man living. And of course there is a grim amusement in handing this award out. But in the end it’s utterly frustrating and tragic – the damage he does tears so deeply at the fabric of our civilization that it is hard to even talk about. I’m not in a mood to make light of it.

More worthy opponents are the quasi-reasonable. The Lomborg – Pielke – Curry types. Of these, Lomborg strikes me as the worthiest, because though he sloppily gets many of the facts wrong, his core arguments are harder to refute than you might think. But this makes the whole effort at snark more difficult.

Nobody, though, imagined the BS could be alarmist BS. Shakhova and Wadhams. Fukushima terror – people afraid to dip their toes into the Pacific and worried about a literal global cataclysm from a fumble with a fuel rod. And now, McPherson with his contempt-ridden accusation that anyone proposing any way of keeping civilization going is peddling “hopium” and distracting everyone from their true mission of dying with dignity.

So What Will It Be?

Clearly the Rupert Murdoch Award for most overall damage to the world goes to Rupert Murdoch again.

But the BS of the year?

For various reasons, then, I owe the world a sober analysis of Lomborg and of McPherson. Better late than never. So I propose to study both of these gentlemen in detail, with an eye to determining whether it is the prophet of doom or the prophet of profit that is most dangerous. I’ll be keeping you posted.

We’re into extra innings. I apologize for the delay. Lomborg and McPherson will be thematic for the next few weeks and I’ll revisit the award at the end. Your opinion on which candidate has done the most damage in the last year is welcome.


  1. > Shale gas “reduces” emissions compared to coal, but not as much as wind does. Wind effectively reduces emissions 100% compared to coal

    I don't think that is entirely fair. Wind does 100%, if you have infinite money/resources to build as much as you like. Wind needs govt subsidies to live. Fracking, by contrast, is free as far as the govt is concerned. And this isn't imaginary money.

  2. >Another trouble is, the more I think about how badly we’ve been set back, the more I realize that democracy isn’t really competent to weigh complex issues and come up with workable strategies, the more I realize how vulnerable all of us are to BS, the less I am amused and the more I am horrified.

    I think it's both worse than and better than that. Those national democratic processes along with international negotiations and (eventual, reluctant) cooperation of industries were quite good enough to get us through the problems we'd made for ourselves with acid rain, ozone depletion, asbestos and Y2000. This is the reason why people like me thought the climate issue was just one more problem for the solving by those clumsy, time-consuming, but effective processes.

    We found out too late that it belonged with tobacco and other industries that would keep on fighting regardless of the evidence rather than with those that faced up to their problems, however belatedly or reluctantly. And firing up the media / marketing machine to drive their message roughshod over and through the democratic populations of the most influential countries as often and as loudly as they could.

    If it was up to me, I'd happily give both awards to Rupert Murdoch.

  3. Like horseshoes, the arguments that are most dangerous in the climate debate are the ones that are "close enough" to be believed. You don't need ringers to win.

    Lomborg is an excellent candidate.

    McPherson is not. Giving the latter a Golden Horseshoe would be like awarding the horseshoe championship to the fellow who got the most ringers around a tree in the next county.

    And self-deception is still deception -- certainly close enough for horseshoes.

  4. "Fracking, by contrast, is free as far as the govt is concerned."

    "Free as far as the government is concerned" is in some ways understating the case for fracking. The current (and quite enjoyable) boom here in Texas and a few other places (notably North Dakota) while the rest of the world is reeling is directly attributable in large measure to the unexpected recovery of local oil production.

    But the collective welfare is another story. When a given "play" (as the oil industry so cheerfully names a productive region) is played out, damage persists. Soil and water are damaged locally on a very long time scale. But even that is arguably secondary. Mostly, there is the small matter of actually making the planet less viable on the global scale, which is the point. The necessity to subsidize wind only exists because of the hidden subsidy to fossil fuels.

    That costs are not accounted for is the problem, not the solution.

  5. No no no, you're changing the subject. The subject was the amount of CO2 reduction possible with the amount of govt money available. Fracking provides a reduction in CO2, for "free", as measured by govt money. By contrast, wind is expensive. Saying "Wind effectively reduces emissions 100% compared to coal" and not mentioning cost is cheating.

  6. It's not cheating to say that it's the wrong question.

    If one doesn't care about anything but short term public expenditures, then fracking is cheaper than wind. Stipulated. But comparing a reduction of emissions to an elimination of emissions is already dubious.

    My problem is in the comparison of "the amount of emissions reduced" which is meaningless.

    I guess your answer is that I am misreading it; his point is the amount of emissions reduced per unit of public expenditure, which in the case of fracking is negative. This is true, but only in the short run and not accounting for externalities.

    Then, to make his point stick, he happily multiplies the number he doesn't like by twenty. He does this by measuring costs in foregone growth.

    But when Lomborg askes me to be worried about "much larger... growth-reducing impacts" he is asking the reader to buy into a whole ideology that says that America is better organized than Europe.

    I'm sure there are tradeoffs aplenty, but I don't agree.

    America is far more thoroughly designed to optimize for economic throughput than Europe is, and therefore measured in economic throughput it unsurprisingly delivers a better performance. But we are all basically greedy, fear-crazed lunatics by comparison with Europeans. This is not merely (nor, in my opinion, predominantly) a matter of national character; it's an outcome of the technical design of the society. Lomborg's metric is implicitly advising you all to become more like us. You'd be well advised to consider the drawbacks as well as the advantages.

  7. Perhaps you have forgotten that Lomborg has provided testimony before the US Congress? (on more than one occasion)

    If a Dane providing testimony before the US Congress is not "actively interfering with the conversations other people [we Americans] are having", what is it?

    To be sure, Lomborg doesn't bother running interference on blogs. He seems to prefer to go long (and hope for the interception?)

    And he does it even after his bogus claims have been debunked time and again by scientists (E.O. Wilson, Stephen Schneider, Peter Gleick and others in Scientific American and at UCS, for example)

  8. Hey, I almost like the idea of drawing some attention to McPherson this way - we've long been talking about moving the Overton window etc. Anybody who makes Jim Hansen look comfortingly cautious is, well, helpful…

    By the way, and off topic - Ezra Klein's new venture with Vox media sounds an awful lot like what you've been talking about for quite a while, MT - worth talking to them?

  9. I would have thought just that a few weeks ago, and so I completely understand where you are coming from.

    But the threat of misinformation now does appear to me more symmetrical than it did recently, and I hope to elucidate why this matters, to me, and to all of us.

  10. You sound a bit like Revkin. I haven't had time to weigh in about this but it's been on my mind, the tendency of the Pielke Jr. and other middle of the roaders to exploit the presence of those who are truly alarmed, amongst whom I count myself. Have you looked at global circulation lately? If anything, I think the period of time we have to act is shortening rather than lengthening.

    However, I do agree that we must regard ourselves as owners of free will.

  11. Giving it to Lomborg would be beating a dead horse. Yawn! He is almost forgotten.

    I suggest Judith Curry, for her recent testimony before the Environment and Public Works committee of the U.S. Senate. Tamino has several recent posts and extensive analysis of her "true lies":

  12. Given the similarities between the methods employed (pure coincidence, of course) by the various (bad) actors (whether Lomborg, Monckton, Koch, CEI, Watts, Rose, etc) maybe you should think about giving this year's Golden Horseshoe to "Denywarmman", the horse-riding, climate pseudo-skeptic version of "Everyman". Enunciating the common "themes" might be more instructive and make the job easier than picking out a single individual.

    The horseshoe dedication ballad is already written (basically wrote itself, with some help from Alf Red Noise) and includes some of the biggest Howlyword stars

    The opening stanzas

    The blog was a torrent of stupid among the gutsy deniers,
    The host was a whiny weatherman denying on webby wires,
    The thread was a ribbon of Soonlight clouded by Cosmic Rays,
    And Denywarmman came denying—
    Denywarmman came denying, up on the blog home-page.

    He'd a half-cocked-claim in his post-head, a bunch of ice on his graph,
    A trend showing global cooling, and pieces of broke hockey-staff;
    He fitted with many a wrinkle: his sigmas were up to the sky!
    He denied with a fossil-fueled twinkle,
    His fruits and nuts a-twinkle,
    His cherry pick a-twinkle, under the fossil-fueled lie...

  13. My horror at Revkin's compulsive centrism (in particular his infamous comparison of Al Gore with George Will) is what got me serious about climate communication in the first place.

    But that shouldn't allow carte blanche to every form of excessive alarmism, and doesn't in my book. In the intervening five years, people have started to make excessive claims and anti-Revkinism has given them room to grow.

    Now we really do have two problems, as the prominence of Shakhova/Wadhams demonstrates. A few years ago as far as I could tell it was just Lovelock standing alone (*), but now the craziness is developing into something far more virulent and dangerous.

    I always said there is nothing wrong with centrism, as long as it is driven by the evidence, not the politics. This is the fourth way, the way of science, and it needs a public voice not filtered through people who don't understand it.

    (*) - at least as far as climate is concerned. There have long been environmentalist excesses outside the climate sphere; see the current Fukushima craze for an example.

  14. "Guy McPherson is fascinating because he seems to have this crazy ubiquitous internet presence and his concepts spread to every comment thread on climate change i see. The "hospice" or cancer argument comes up all the time now. It's like he became a virus" - Nathan Curry via John Irving

  15. I like the poem very much, and hope for more.

    Monckton/Watts/Rose are in a different category from Lomborg.

    As to the funders and the denial mills, clearly they'll take anything that suits their needs, but addressing that really isn't about debunking, and others (deSmog etc.) are far more suited for that sort of muckraking.

  16. I don't think McPherson is worth your while, for now. From what you linked to he sits squarely in the genre of collapsnik/doomer/endgamer, the afficionados of which latch onto whatever real or imagined difficulty looms large as a reason to prep for the zombie apocalypse and have done so at least since my 80's adolescence.

    Didn't you post a movie along those lines a while back?

  17. Here's the whole thing -- from a year ago, but unfortunately some things remain as fresh as the day they were deposited.


    -- Horatio Algeranon's rendition of "The Highwayman" (by Alfred Noyes)

    The blog was a torrent of stupid among the gutsy deniers,
    The host was a whiny weatherman denying on webby wires,
    The thread was a ribbon of Soonlight clouded by Cosmic Rays,
    And Denywarmman came denying—
    Denywarmman came denying, up on the blog home-page.

    He'd a half-cocked-claim in his post-head, a bunch of ice on his graph,
    A trend showing global cooling, and pieces of broke hockey-staff;
    He fitted with many a wrinkle: his sigmas were up to the sky!
    He denied with a fossil-fueled twinkle,
    His fruits and nuts a-twinkle,
    His cherry pick a-twinkle, under the fossil-fueled lie.

    Over the stats he clattered and clashed in the dark stat-yard,
    And he tapped school-math on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
    He whistled a tune to the Window, and who should be waiting there
    But the Mockt-Lord's blog-eyed doter,
    Judith, the Mockt-Lord's doter,
    Painting a dark red Pause-line onto a rising stair.

    And dark in the dark old stat-yard a confidence-interval creaked
    Where Tamino the blogger listened; his curiosity piqued;
    His eyes were hollows of mathness, his hair like Thomas Bayes',
    But he loved the Mockt-Lord's fodder,
    The Mockt-Lord's flat-line fodder,
    Mum from his blog he listened, and he heard Denywarmman say—

    "One post, my Uncertainty-slayer, I'm after a prize to-night,
    But I shall be back with the Station photo before the Mornering light;
    Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
    Then look for me by Soonlight,
    Watch for me by Soonlight,
    I'll come to thee by Soonlight, though NOAA should bar the way."

    He rose upright in his armchair; he scarce could reach Ayn Rand!,
    But he fetched Steve Mac from the basement! His post burnt like a brand
    As the Cosmic Rays of Svensmark came beaming over his breast;
    And he blessed its rays in the Soonlight,
    (Oh, sweet, Cosmic Rays in the Soonlight!)
    Then he tugged at his mouse in the Soonlight, and galumphed away to The BEST.


    He did not post in the dawning; he did not post at noon;
    And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the Soon,
    When the thread was a Möbius ribbon clouded by Cosmic Rays,
    A scientist troop came sciencing—
    Jim Hansen's men came sciencing, up to the blog home page.

    They said no word to the Mockt-Lord, they read his e-mail instead,
    And they gagged on his fodder and ground it -- with a foot -- and his flat-line dead;
    All of them knew what the case ment, with statistics on their side!
    There was warming at every window;
    And hell at one hot window;
    For scientists could feel, through the window, the warming he had denied.

    She had tried to get their attention, with many a joustering jest;
    With Italian flag beside her, and a Muller beneath The BEST!
    But they kept good watch and they dissed her.
    She heard Denywarmman say—
    "Look for me by Soonlight;
    Watch for me by Soonlight;
    I'll come to thee by Soonlight, though NOAA should bar the way!"

    She twisted her claims behind her; but all the Not!s held good!
    She waved her hands at her figures, she said were "Misunderstood!"
    She stretched and strained credibility, and the hours crawled by like years,
    Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
    Warm, on the stroke of midnight,
    The tip of her mouse-finger touched it! The flag at least was hers!

    The tip of her mouse-finger touched it; she strove no more for The BEST!
    Up, she stood up to attention, with a Burn-barrel beneath her post,
    She would not risk their mocking; she would not strive again;
    For the thread lay bare in the Soonlight;
    Blank and bare in the Soonlight;
    And the warming that remained in the Soonlight wilted the Russian grain.

    Click-click; Click-click! Had they heard it? The mouse-clicks ringing clear;
    Click-click, click-click, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
    Down the ribbon of Soonlight, over the Bishop's Hill,
    Denywarmman came denying,
    denying, denying!
    The scientists looked to their warming! She stood up, straight and still!

    Click-click, in the facty science! Click-click, in the echoing right!
    Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
    Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last ice graph,
    Then her mouse-finger moved in the Soonlight,
    Her confidence shattered in the Soonlight,
    Shattered by BEST in the Soonlight and warned him—with the chaff.

    He burned; he spurned the BEST; he did not know who stood
    Bowed, with her head o'er the keyboard, drenched with her own spilt food!
    Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
    How Judith, the Mockt-Lord's doter,
    The Mockt-Lord's blog-eyed doter,
    Had watched for Denywarm in the Soonlight, and paused in the warmness there.

    Back, he spurned like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
    With the open thread smoking behind him and his mouse-finger brandished high!
    Un-read were his spurns i' the golden Soon; un-read was his latest post,
    When they shot his claim down on Denyway,
    Down at his blog on Denyway,
    And it lay in the mud on Denyway, with a bunch of links to burnt toast.


    And still of a winter's night, they say, when the blog is of deniers,
    When the host is a whiny weatherman denying on webby wires,
    When the thread is a ribbon of Soonlight clouded by Cosmic Rays,
    Denywarmman comes denying—
    Denywarmman comes denying, up on the blog home-page.

    Over the stats he clatters and clashes in the dark stat-yard,
    And he taps school-math on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
    He whistles a tune to the Window, and who should be waiting there
    But the Mockt-Lord's blog-eyed doter,
    Judith, the Mockt-Lord's doter,
    Painting a dark red Pause-line onto a rising stair.

  18. I've just looked a bit at Guy McPherson. Looks like another James Howard Kunstler. I'm quite sure there are many more of his kind. So, it seems a bit Don Quixote to "fight" these windmills.

    Plus, he's an ecologist. The planet is eroding on so many ecologic fronts that doomerism and panic is almost common among ecologists. (Heck, it suffices to be a soil scientist and look at current agriculture plus population numbers. E.g. IR8 rice yield has dropped 15% due to warming nights.) I don't believe the world will end by 2030. But 2050+ is not impossible. Just have a look at Syria!

    Plus, regarding the arctic methane bomb thing, I'm not yet totally convinced it is totally impossible to happen this century.

    You might try to criticize James Lovelock's doomerism, but McPherson seems a climate science amateur. Compared to the masses at the opposite extreme (amateurs claiming totally impossible atmospheric physics) a few McPhersons don't hurt.

    Since Curry's testimony was this year, I herewith suggest Roy Spencer, who was 2013.

  19. I may be completely wrong, but the "we're doomed" views do seem to be getting traction among those who are more than usually suspicious of technology and who don't see a role for government. A post examining arguments for and against such views and proposed solutions would be helpful, particularly if it addresses what our obligations are to the 7+ billion people who'll need feeding, and whether our solutions should give them all a decent chance at a decent life.

  20. What Martin Gisser said, almost all of it. More when there's time. MacPherson isn't worth the trouble, and your choice, if it lands on him, will be exploited for evil, imnhso.

    Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree. It's your P3 and your choice.

  21. Exploited for evil/perceived disloyalty to the cause is part of the reason I have been losing sleep over this and not writing much.

    But groupthink is another problem and I don't want us falling into it.

  22. My point exactly. If telling the truth can be exploited for evil, isn't it disloyal to decency?

    People may perceive it as such. But the real SOBs in this situation will find something to exploit anyhow, won't they?

  23. Curry has given testimony many times and did lots of harm in 2013; her work is an escalating defense of wrongheadedness. It seems she even contradicts her own published papers which might indicate that her name on them does not include much input from her.

    I don't know why this recent kerfuffle trumps the rest of her work. Try searching "Judith Curry 2013". No shortage there. Remember the stadium wave? Testimony to Congress in April/May, appearance on NPR in August, and that was just the first few items I found.

    She is a favorite hero of fake skepticism and gets mentioned in any argument of any depth, because her qualifications look good to laypeople.

  24. I'd never even heard of McPherson before this, so I watched one of his presentations.

    I have a theory...and it is mine: Guy McPherson is Jim Morrison reincarnated:

    This is the end
    Beautiful friend
    This is the end
    My only friend, the end

    Of our elaborate plans, the end
    Of everything that stands, the end
    No safety or surprise, the end
    I'll never look into your eyes...again

    ...and everyone knows Morrison was way ahead of his time.

  25. Here's an opinion, whether you like it or not.

    Lomborg is a bit of a Curry, five years ago. Had an interesting idea or two, got carried away, then got adopted by the denialati, and for a while relished in the consequential celebrity, but has since backed off somewhat from the rabids and is trying to find more realistic territory to work with. His most interesting product seems to come from 'adapting' stuff mostly done by Tol (or Tol & Yohe, formerly), and re-directing the message to suit.

    Curry will soon tire of being admired by idiots and derided by her (original) peer group, and sooner or later will follow the Lomborg path. I only wish it would be sooner.

    McPherson who? Did he invent a strut?

    Lovelock - is not as 'extreme' in terms of timescales as most people imagine, and the more time goes on, the more I sympathise with his general position on the trashing of Gaia, and the future of humanity, though following him with dedication is irredeemably depressing.

    High on my list for BS of the Year award goes to Tol, who self-consciously provides ammunition for the likes of Ridley, Lawson, Lomborg, Pielke Little etc., and is smug about it. He also specialises in economics. which might qualify in itself as BS of the year, as a subject entire...

  26. Oh help:


    People are strange when you're a stranger
    Faces look ugly when you're alone
    Women seem wicked when you're unwanted
    Streets are uneven when you're down

    When you're strange
    Faces come out of the rain
    When you're strange
    Forgive me for not figuring out some way to transform the words. Should be doable.

  27. Yes, that hair: http://www.ae-info.org/ae/User/Tol_Richard

    and the chance to abuse OMF Mr Johndon:

    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the Tol Bells; it tolls for thee.”

  28. As recently as last spring, Lomborg testified to Congress that the"current old fashioned approach to tackling global warming" doesn't work* ( offering Kyoto as "proof") and, therefore (isn't it obvious?), that the only way forward is to technologically innovate our way out of the crisis (a Hail Bjorn pass, basically). (*"doing little or nothing doesn't work" Thanks for telling us that, Bjorn)

    The argument that more money should be spent on green energy and infrastructure certainly has merit, but it's hardly novel (not Lomborg's) and there is no reason it has to (or should) be the only action.

    Lomborg ignores the mammoth fossil-fuels-inventory elephant in the room and is banking on the (un)likelihood that a long shot with his 22 pistol (investing in green alone) will be enough to kill it.

    What happens if we fail at innovation? Well, that's the chance we have to take, according to Lomborg.

    It seems that Curry has already followed the Lomborgian path. Or maybe he has followed hers. It's hard to keep the tangled web straight. Her latest testimony to Congress encourages a "no regrets" effort to mitigate climate change.

    A cynic might view such testimony as little more than yet another effort to derail significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

    Regarding economists: a separate "Golden horseturd" award might be apt. "Mist" is the German word for manure, after all.

  29. Go with Lomborg - he is treated as a Very Serious Person by major MSM outlets - NYT, WaPo, WSJ, etc. (who should certainly know better, but that's another story). He accordingly has the power to reach a mass audience with his BS. MacPherson is at the opposite end of the visiblity spectrum, known to readers of websites like Transition Voice, etc., but entirely unknown to the general publc - why elevate his status by conferring the Golden Horseshoe on him? His message isn't about to penetrate the MSM anytime soon, but Lomborg's is already there. (But a good debunking of MacPherson's view - sans award - might be nice - he really gets on my nerves.) Best regards.

  30. I would think that the award's provenance should mean that actual lies are required to qualify for it. McPherson seems sincere while Lomborg clearly is not.

    Given how Judy'y now been caught red-handed lying, an early award for 2015 may be in order.

  31. Horatio suggested:

    maybe you should think about giving this year’s Golden Horseshoe to “Denywarmman”, the horse-riding, climate pseudo-skeptic version of “Everyman”.

    Perhaps that's too general. What irked me most in 2013 (and 2012, 2011, ...) were Mr. Hiatus and Mrs. Pausia. I have meanwhile given up hope that even Tamino could exorcize this common declaration of bankruptcy in statistical eyeballing. So, finally, I herewith suggest to throw the Golden Horseshoe at them.

    That would also give nicely to "both sides", since even some serious climate scientists were disgracing themselves with that "false pause-itive".

  32. I have done Curry enough damage already. Methinks somebody else needs to take her on in future.

    As for Lomborg's delusions/lies and McPherson's, my underlying point is exactly that from where I am sitting they seem very similar.

  33. None of us is making any headway pointing out that McPherson is not a major player but a niche type with a fan base, and giving him prominence is going to have the reverse effect from the one you intend. Last try for me. I think it is a truly terrible choice. Over and out on this topic.

  34. I hope that in future attempts to disparage Guy McPherson and those who (like myself) believe he is doing a fairly decent job of tying the published scientific research to real-world evidence of rapid climate change, you will expunge this highly offensive slur: "...they somehow discount all the human suffering that would be associated with such a collapse".

    To the contrary, without having taken a poll but having read countless discussions on Nature Bats Last and elsewhere about what I refer to as The Great Convulsion that is imminent as a result of several converging catastrophes - of which climate change is only one, a symptom of general overshoot - my impression is that such people are acutely, excruciatingly aware of just how much human suffering is already and increasingly will be the consequence. Not just that, but the collapse of the entire ecosystem means untold suffering by most other species as well, which is also a source of tremendous pain.

    The Sixth Mass Extinction is well underway, and all trends point to it continuing and accelerating. You may not want to admit it, but please don't be so condescending as to assume, due to your own prejudice, that people who do realise it are oblivious to suffering.

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  36. Most of us are passionately and distressingly aware of the kind of thing that California and the southwest are suffering, as the point of the knife. It's time for the moral abdication to stop. I'm now adopting a new term for all this: greenhouse chaos, or greenhouse weirding. It's all part of the continuing disruption of the earth's circulatory system. How much longer can we all pretend politics can sort out reality? The solution to all this was missed decades ago, and continues to pass under the radar of incitements offered by those who think politics and PR can deceive us all. And they have been right, we have allowed temporizing to replace action.

    Hence the focus on other kinds of deceivers than the obvious, I would guess.

  37. I'm more and more tending toward seriously protesting the idea of giving the Horseshoe to McPherson. OK, he should perhaps use words like "possibly" or "likely" in every second sentence (*), particularly about arctic methane, and should read and quote what MT said on that, but... yawn! (* which would for all practical purpose not change much the likelihoods and timeframes of the overall catastrophic outlooks, given the multitude of strands in the whole tapestry...)

    MT wrote:

    And I see him actually offering a guilt-free path toward political apathy to the people most profoundly affected by the ecological and environmental disruption around us.

    Well, even if this is right, I find the verbal and political apathy of most climate scientists doing way more harm. Even Richard Alley can't say "stupid" or "psychopathy" when confronted with The Donald's crazy stuff in public. (See recent CNN interview.) As long as the potentates of this world are offered a guilt-free path of telling any counterfactual unreason in public and government, there's no hope of things getting better.

    Herewith, in protest and in dead serious jest, I suggest Dick Alley for the Golden Horsehoe 2015 for not stating the blatantly obvious in sufficient explicitness.

    P.S. A word from the über-ecologist: (h/t Gail)

    One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

    -- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949 A.D.)

  38. The ecological damage is tragic and stupid, and at this point largely unavoidable and irreversible. I never said otherwise. Lomborg's indifference to it is a key point of criticism.

    But everybody, climate scientists, economists, ecologists, are all acting very much within the context of the parameters of their own professions. Physical scientists are taught to scrupulously avoid policy and economists are taught that policy is their territory. This is part of the problem I hope to address with this series of articles.

    There is no policy consensus among climate scientists but I think the strongest policy agreement (as compared with the rest of the society) would be strongly pro-nuclear. Even Eli says coal is much more dangerous than nuclear.

    Anyway, anyone, including the subjects, who wants to defend their positions is welcome to pipe up. I think it's very interesting how much more interested everyone is in McPherson than Lomborg.

  39. Dear Michael Tobis,

    nice idea regarding the award. Were both - McPherson and Lomborg - less known, I would recommend Lomborg, as I would have thought that people would not listen to McPherson anyway.

    However, given his almost exponentially growing presence, and his apparent appeal towards many people who do not have an education in the physical sciences, and the fact that Lomborg is already more or less known by many people concerned about the issue, I think the growing "doomer"-scene is evolving to be as dangerous as the deniers, as both argue more or less for doing nothing (either "don't worry, no problem" or "don't worry, nuthin u can do anyway").

    Doing some work in the sustainability field myself, I understand MT's frustration. Both extremes more or less spoil the discussion, and steer people away from productive actions towards a sustainable future. What I found to be extremely fascinating is the fact that McPherson so obviously misinterprets and/or misrepresents valid research, and confidently claims nonsense (like "Venus-like runaway greenhouse earth by 2100 due to methane release" or "no phytoplankton left at 2°C above pre-industrial", to name just two of the most extreme), something that could be debunked within 5 minutes of internet research.

    What would probably be most helpful would really be a debunking of McPhersons nonsense, although his acolytes would probably tend to "dismiss" this as offering "hopium" or something like this. Nevertheless, science is perhaps our greatest achievement, and we cannot allow people to abuse it in order to, well, whatever McPherson actually wants (probably just attention), and to let its productive potential go wasted. Reality is worrisome enough, without making up unnecessary catastrophes. Apart from that, most people who actually do work in the sustainability field to, at least to me, appear not to be "doomish" at all, but rather very realistic, with both the risks and opportunities in mind.

    Having said that, it is necessary to inform people as good as possible. Neither doomerism nor unsubstantiated pie-in-the-sky optimism are helpful, only real, sober information will be helpful to society. Nothing can justify a distortion of scientific findings in order to praise one self. This is utterly irresponsible

  40. It's far from unanimous. I'm more interested in the reasoning behind your opinion. Perhaps we can all learn something from this.

    Also, I have to say it's generated a lot more interest than if I'd just handed it to Lomborg.

    The fact is that I intended to give it to Lomborg, an obvious candidate, but I was having trouble keeping my mind on it as much of the last couple of months I've spent a great deal of time being angry at McPherson and frustrated at his acolytes. I knew there would be pushback if I just handed it to McPherson. So I'm sharing my dilemma.

    I am not hoping for a "'nuff said" from you. The question here is not just whether I am off the reservation here (which I intuitively sense), but why.

  41. (But a good debunking of MacPherson’s view – sans award – might be nice – he really gets on my nerves.)

    Why does McPherson get on your nerves? Maybe he's touched one.

    As for a good debunking, I have yet to see one. I'm not just talking about the methane clathrate gun or 2030. There is much more than that. The wizard, John Michael Greer has said he is going to debunk McPherson with real science, but I think he is a historian. I think there is about 30 positive feed backs on McPherson's list. I wonder about why you guys are burning up so much energy on McPherson and why you think you should be the ones who decide on "the message"? Who elected you? In spite of 25 plus years of, lets not alarm the masses, moderate warnings and more research, not a damn thing has changed. Getting worse and going backwards. All these years of preaching to the choir makes me think that some of the more popular climate preachers are more worried about losing some of the flock to another denomination than making new converts.


  42. Nobody elected nobody nothin'. But some approaches are defensible and some are at odds with science. The job of some of the people with some science is to filter the indefensible ones out, so that they aren't on the menu when people make actual decisions.

  43. Perhaps the Golden Horseshoe is just the baptism McPherson needs to send him on the righteous path to Truth:

    "The Bjorn-again Environmentalist"

    --by Horatio Algeranon

    I once believed,
    The earth was doomed,
    From toxic waste,
    And fossil fumes.

    I sailed with Greenpeace,
    Way back then,
    But I’ve seen the light,
    I’m Bjorn again!

    I’ve witnessed The Truth,
    I was naive,
    It's just not grim,
    Like I believed.

    The “Birthing Bomb”
    It now is clear,
    Is naught but
    Enviro-alarmist fear.

    And species extinctions?
    The polar bear?
    Not near post-dated!

    And Global warming?
    Not so bad.
    So cool it, dude!
    It’s just a fad.

    In recent years,
    The earth's been cooling!
    Scant cause for alarm,
    Over fossil fueling!

    The IPCC
    Has been “Falsified”,
    "Alarming" futures

    The billions slated,
    For mitigation
    Are better spent
    On irrigation.

    So let’s not panic,
    Make undue haste,
    To act in that way,
    Is a sinful waste.

  44. Pingback: Another Week in the Ecological Crisis – February 2, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  45. What I found to be extremely fascinating is the fact that McPherson so obviously misinterprets and/or misrepresents valid research, and confidently claims nonsense (like “Venus-like runaway greenhouse earth by 2100 due to methane release” or “no phytoplankton left at 2°C above pre-industrial”, to name just two of the most extreme), something that could be debunked within 5 minutes of internet research.

    I wish I could find all of McPherson's "misinterpretations" as quick. I don't use Facebook, and my leisure time is very limited this week.

    But now he has replied here. And indeed I found something to quibble:

    I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline.

    The link goes to a blog where a 10°C global warming by 2039 is somehow extrapolated. This is obviously doomerist guesswork - but I don't care if it happens 2039 or 2099.

    In a comment on linked page, McPherson writes:

    As I’ve explained a few dozen times — to an unlistening, unreading audience — humans require habitat. Said habitat includes food. Phytoplankton collapse is underway and will undoubtedly be complete at 4 C above baseline due to ocean acidification.

    Methinks this is mainstream science. Me dunno exactly about silica-shelled diatoms, but the calcium-shelled coccolithophores would be certainly extinct due to ocean acidification. E.g. Southern Ocean acidification: A tipping point at 450-ppm atmospheric CO2 (PNAS 2008). There has already been a very significant global phytoplankton decline over the past century, mostly due to thermal stratification and nutrient starvation of the top water layer of the warming oceans. So, the only hope for some amount of diatoms to survive is in the ice free summer Arctic sea. And perhaps Hansen's grandchildren's storm could stir up the oceans significantly for some occasional diatom blooms. But all in all we can forget about phytoplankton quite soon.

    And this isn't the only doom news from the ocenas.

  46. The issue with McPherson is whether it will happen immediately. I agree that our ethical responsibilities don;t stop in 2050 or 2100. But stuff that happens further in the future remains avoidable, and that is entirely germane to McPherson's horrifying posture.

    Ocean acidification will kill some of the genera at the base of the ocean food chain. Isolated fishing societies that depend on coral reef fish or fish that eat those types of foraminifera will be drastically impacted.

    This is a very very big issue. But it isn't too late on this one either.

    I am not arguing against the inevitability of serious consequences. I am not arguing against the possibility of catastrophe. I am arguing against certain near-term doom about which we can and SHOULD do nothing.

    If the ocean died entirely, how long would it take before the land would be uninhabitable? What would the mechanism be?

  47. It has been said here that doomerism leads to apathy and inaction. Now I have to turn this around.

    Apathy and inaction is long here! And it is due to (gasp) doomerism - economic doomerism! I guess we all have noted that. (E.g. Germany can't impose an autobahn speed limit for that would spell doom to the ridiculous German racing car. E.g. U.S.A. can't even tax gasoline for that would spell doom to the ridiculous 'merrican obesity car.)

    Oh, and "hopium", that is luckily getting better: Slowly but surely wind and solar energy get accepted even by mainstream economists, and no longer ridiculed as greeny hopium.

    On action, McPherson's himself leads by example of what the best of personal action could be - by his retreat into a straw bale house and an agricultural life. (OK, me dunno if he goes carbon negative by producing terra preta soil, and I guess he still uses airplanes.) This is the only practical hope we currently have: Retreat to carbon negative living by a significant number of people.

    (Now I'm off here. Need to focus on lots of work.)

  48. This reply is Lomborgesque! (*)

    The "isolated fishing societies" almost deserve you the Golden Horseshoe 🙂 What happens with the oceans is way more doomish and terrifying: Last time I heard it was 1 billion humans whose main protein source is the oceans. ("Let them eat cake" - or jellyfish?)

    The collapse of a major food chain isn't just remote ecologist ivory tower angst. And these aren't even the only repercussions - the oceans are a major player in global doom scenarios.

    (*) I hate turning your words against you, now 3rd time. The more I think of it, the more it dawns on me that your issue with McPherson is psychological projection at the heart.
    (Well, I've been wondering for long how a normal psyche can stand being a climate scientist. (I'm luckily just an abstract mathematician and general systems tinkerer, more like Mr Spock or Dr Frankenstein than a "normal" human mind.))

  49. Re Martin Gisser

    The idea with a 4°C increase by 2030 or 10°C by 2039 due to methane release is utter nonsense. Everyone who seriously holds/defends this position should seriously think about whether he/she is qualified as a scientist.

    With regards to the Phytoplankton story: This has been a source of substantial discussion. Apparently, some factors which are crucial in determinating plankton abundance have been left out by the Boyce et al paper. See DotEarth: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/on-plankton-warming-and-whiplash/

    I have also contacted Scientists working on phytoplankton. Their uniform answer to my question:"Will the basis of marine life (phytoplankton) collapse/decrease strongly?" was a definite "No". Among the people I have contacted was Ulf Riebesell from GEOMAR. The consequences of a change in phytoplankton composition on fish-stocks are far from certain. Your statement But all in all we can forget about phytoplankton quite soon" is not supported by evidence.

  50. Yes, Martin, I struggle with where I stand on the fear/complacency spectrum. Like most people shy of McPherson, I struggle to find some balance.

    Food for a billion is a huge disruptor. However, the land currently overproduces, since we use most of it for animal feed. We could quintuple calorie production of half the farmland without genetically modifying a single organism. So if we have a sense of justice, mass starvation will be unnecessary for a long time. In fact, I think you will find that the billion who live on seafood are already making a gradual cost-driven transition to grain, without really knowing it.

    To be sure, my idea of what we are trying to do is avoid a mortality-driven population decline. But even mass starvation is not extinction, and that is the question at hand.

    I also agree that enormous and tragic ecological losses are ongoing; that we should try much harder to stop them.

    My question, while perhaps a bit cold under the daunting circumstances, is sincere. It seems plausible that a dead ocean would be very bad for other reasons, and it would be a huge stressor on an already stressed world. but would it kill us? Many assume that it would. I am not sure that is the case and would like to know the mechanism.

    This does not mean, like Lomborg, that I think everything is hunky dory. I think things are a tragic mess. But there is a big distance between tragic mess and doom, and when discussing McPherson, that is a crucial distinction.

  51. "Fracking, by contrast, is free as far as the govt is concerned"

    The word for this nonsense is free as in free rider. There is a considerable amount of water shed costs if nothing else. Yes, fracking is free, if we neglect downstream costs due to seizure of common resources.

  52. Pingback: How Guy McPherson gets it wrong | Fractal Planet

  53. Reading it again, I liked this comment that seemed to sum up McPherson's anti-tech stance perfectly: "you have a laundry list of misconceptions: that a range of technologies will soon transform the world. Hasn’t happened yet even though astronauts will print tools in 3D in space and I can look on my iphone and see what constellation is above me…"

    No, that's right, no technology has ever transformed the world... um. Actually, you'd be hard pressed finding a period of 50 years over the last 250 or so where that hasn't happened.

  54. Let's see, going backwards from now: internet, silicon chip, containerisation, mass electricity, modern governance, plumbing and sewers. I'm sure others have some pet favourites. Maybe we can make a little chart and then ask McPherson why he thinks that's suddenly going to stop.

    Actually, his answer's probably: "oil is the master material" without which nothing else can happen. I don't think that's has been resoundly disproven, though I believe it's wrong - it'd be nice to get some engineers' views. Imagine if the oil wells ceased tomorrow, and after whatever dreadful transition would then occur for a time. Presume our current level of science and engineering knowledge is preserved, would we be able to bootstrap a non-fossil-fuel based energy system? (Clearly we were able to bootstrap up to an oil based system from a coal-based one and from a system before that - none of them magically manifested into thin air...)

    Obviously that'd be much easier if we can use some oil in the meantime to transition. I'm just wondering if some people cleverer than me could think up what some of the factors are that would make it more or less possible?

  55. No fossil fuels, no industrial bootstrap. (Of course I'm not that sure, but it looks quite plausibly so today.)
    That's why methinks extinction is not the worst-case scenario: If current civilization collapses, but the Late Homo S Sapiens happens to survive along with some of his knowledge, then the planet is f&%$ed up forever: Imagine to bootstrap something like current industrial civilization using wood energy. The forests would be gone quickly. (Even if you assume potash gets mined...)

  56. Nothing meaningful is going to be done to address the problems in any case. So let's just be patient and wait and see what happens. We and the other 7.1 billions (soon to become 9 or more) will either make it or we won't. In my opinion no big loss or gain to the Cosmos either way. But for other reasons I think McPherson is more or less likeable and Lomborg instead seems like a total turkey.

  57. > Fracking, by contrast, is free as far as the govt is concerned.

    There's also "free" as in "free for all":

    Fracking subsidies include tax breaks, government funding into research, lost government revenue such as discounted drilling fees, and federally-subsidized external costs, such as health care expenses and environmental clean-up due to negative and harmful effects.


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