Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps? (Oz edition)

by John Quiggin on September 6, 2006

Australia rarely attracts much international attention, which is probably a good thing. For the last week or so, things have changed, though not for in a good way. First, there was the Downer-Zombietime fiasco, and then the death of Steve Irwin. Now our (intentional scare quotes) “national newspaper”, the Murdoch-owned Australian, has received international publicity for a report on global warming that (along with an editorial and additional coverage) adds new errors to the denialist case on global warming, while recycling many of the old ones.

The headline of the report was “Science tempers fears on climate change”, and the limited grain of truth in the story derives from the fact that the draft IPCC report to be released next year tightens the bounds of estimates of the sensitivity of climate to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Obviously, if the bounds are tightened, the lower bound rises and the upper bound falls but the Oz (intentional scare quotes) “environment reporter”, former coal industry Matthew Warren flack ignores the increased lower bound almost completely and misreports the sensitivity estimate as a projection of 20th century warming. To add insult to injury, the Oz described this misleading leak of a report widely distributed under embargo (I’m among thousands invited to review it) as (intentional scare quotes) “exclusive to the Australian”, though this now seems to have disappeared from the website.

Warren’s misleading take was picked up by Reuters and UPI and then made it into the right-wing blogosphere, being reproduced not only by reliably silly sites like Arts and Letters Daily and Matt Drudge but by people who should know better, like Dan Drezner.

The reality-based community has jumped in hard, with posts from Andrew Bartlett, Ben Oquist, Grant Young , David Tiley, Tim Lambert, the Scientific American, Tim Dunlop, Real Climate and Max Sawicky, but I fear this meme has escaped into the wild.

update 9/9In comments, Tim Lambert points out that I’ve understated Warren’s errors. And Dan Drezner has retracted his endorsement of the article.

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Climate fears “tempered” at SynapseChronicles
09.19.06 at 8:20 pm

{ 36 comments }

1

pp 09.06.06 at 6:31 pm

What isn’t promising about lowering the upper band? If for example one degree of global warming equals one meter increase in sea level lowering the projection by two degrees seems to be significant to me, and probably everyone who lives at the beach. Or am I missing something?

2

John Quiggin 09.06.06 at 6:40 pm

You’re missing the fact that the revision raised the lower band as well. What it did was increase confidence in the central projection, which is for very serious damage.

3

Steve LaBonne 09.06.06 at 7:22 pm

Not to mention that they might have to raise that projection in the future, since new positive feedback mechanisms are being discovered as the effects of the initial phases of climate change begin to become apparent.

And I think a little more emphasis is needed about the VERY SERIOUS DAMAGE represented by the current consensus projections.

The continued vitality of the denialist movement (with its blatant intellectual dishonesty and irresponsibility) is pretty depressing.

4

Tim Lambert 09.06.06 at 8:55 pm

Actually, the upper bound did not fall. The estimate went from 1.5-4.5 in the previous report to 2-4.5. So it was tightened and the bottom value increased.

5

jpickens 09.06.06 at 10:23 pm

If the warming phenomenon were natural, and not human induced, would you still advocate intervention to change it?

6

John 09.06.06 at 11:15 pm

Is the press report wrong?
it says:
=============
“For the first time, scientists are confident enough to project a 3C rise on the average global daily temperature by the end of this century if no action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Draft Fourth Assessment Report says the temperature increase could be contained to 2C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are held at current levels.

In 2001, the scientists predicted temperature rises of between 1.4C and 5.8C on current levels by 2100, but better science has led them to adjust this to a narrower band of between 2C and 4.5C. “
================
The lower bound is raised .6 degress, the upper lowered 1.3 degrees, If one assumes the estimates to be correct, the possible worst case seems less.

7

John Quiggin 09.07.06 at 12:00 am

“If the warming phenomenon were natural, and not human induced, would you still advocate intervention to change it?”

This is a rather silly hypothetical. Since warming is human induced, proposals for mitigation amount to stopping what we’ve been doing (or at least doing less of it), which is the opposite of “intervention”.

If the climate were naturally as variable as our intervention is making it, our economy and society would be radically different, so the hypothetical is hypothetical in the pejorative sense of the term.

8

Jim Harrison 09.07.06 at 12:40 am

Lowering the emission of greenhouse gases would be a sensible step to control global warming no matter what the cause of that warming happened to be.

When I consider the effort and ingenuity dedicated to fighting the theory of evolution and the reality of global warming, I can only conclude that I’m living in the Golden Age of defending stupid causes.

9

tribald ozgevir 09.07.06 at 1:42 am

“If the warming phenomenon were natural, and not human induced, would you still advocate intervention to change it?”

If the warming phenomenon were natural, no intervention to change it would be possible. It is because the warming is human induced, viz. caused by increased CO2, that intervention (reducing CO2 emissions) is possible.

So this is not a very smart question.

10

tribald ozgevir 09.07.06 at 1:45 am

“When I consider the effort and ingenuity dedicated to fighting the theory of evolution and the reality of global warming, I can only conclude that I’m living in the Golden Age of defending stupid causes.”

They did a pretty good job of generating stupidity while defending slavery in the 1850s. Ditto absolute monarchy, sans parliament, in Russia in the 1900s.

11

dsquared 09.07.06 at 1:47 am

12

John Quiggin 09.07.06 at 2:06 am

Please tell me you’ve somehow spoofed a link, DD – this is going to do great things for our national image.

13

bad Jim 09.07.06 at 2:33 am

Actually, there are proposals to mitigate global warming which are independent of its cause. They tend to be dismissed because they don’t deal with the root cause, but we may need them in the short term.

One such is a fleet of solar-powered ships generating water vapor to increase the planet’s albedo. Any such attempt at amelioration would have to be incremental and controllable, easily throttled up or down according to its effectiveness.

It should be understood that such makeshift kludges are no substitute for weaning humanity off its carbon habit and do nothing to reduce the underlying problem, but they might buy us a little time, and we may need that, since we do seem to be responding rather tardily.

14

bad Jim 09.07.06 at 2:56 am

This is one article about the idea of cloud-making robot ships. At least it might be a handy thing to have in humanity’s toolbox.

I’d like to commend Quiggin for his use of “denialist”. This is much to be preferred to “skeptic”, which is, broadly speaking, a word that belongs to us and not to them and which we need to reclaim.

To a surprising degree we can dump the deniers of global warming and the deniers of evolution into the same trash can at the same time, since so many of them are the same people, like Bush, Bethell and Coulter.

15

Tim Worstall 09.07.06 at 4:02 am

The sensitivity to a CO2 doubling: I seem to remember that being posted on Tim Lambert’s blog. An Australian pair of scientists wasn’t it?

I did have to laugh when I saw The Australian’s claim to exclusivity. Months back the US Govt posted a version on the net asking people to comment upon it. I even wrote it up for that website everyone prefers I don’t mention around here.

BTW, now that it really is very very important, anyone want to lend me the $10 million so I can go build a scandium factory so we can make all those solid oxide fuel cells we’re going to need?

16

pp 09.07.06 at 9:49 am

Bad jim,
Doesn’t global warming create increased water vapor without the use of ships? That is the basis we have been told for the predictions of increased and more severe tropical storms and hurricanes. Or is the idea that to combat rising sea levels we would “assist” putting more water vapor into the air? Ultimately somewhere along the line that air will cool and come back down and unless in snowpack somwhere will be right back in the oceans.

17

jet 09.07.06 at 10:05 am

Before anyone brings out the photos showing London and NYC underwater, lets just take a moment and remember that the Moon changes sea levels to the measure of 5 meters. Global Warming in 100 years will have added ~5cm.

Wind power is already cheaper than natural gas power in the US. Solar power is only a few years away from becoming the same. If the world ever got serious about nuclear power, that would be cheaper than coal. Compact fluorescents can easy shave off 10% of electrical usage in the US. It wouldn’t take much of a fuel tax to make electrical cars in the US viable.

The world is not ending as Tim Lambert and Al Gore would have you believe.

18

Steve LaBonne 09.07.06 at 10:21 am

Jet, aside from the utter irrelevance of your remark about the tides (think about it for a moment), first of all your 5 cm number for the year 2100 is off by about a factor of 8 from the commonly accepted middle-of-the-road estimates, second of all the rise is only going to continue and accelerate beyond that point on a business-as-usual scenario, and third of all at some point beyond 2001 there is a very real possibility of a much more rapid rise due to the collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets such as has happened before in geological history (eg. Meltwater Pulse 1a about 14,000 years ago, with 40 mm per year rises extending over several centuries). Then there’s the fact that the damage caused by climate change goes far beyond just sea level increases. Get a freakin’ clue, man.

19

jet 09.07.06 at 10:46 am

“Business-as-usual scenario” till “2100”. Har. I see Tallahassee is considering changing all incadescents to compact florecents rather than building an new power plant. “Business-as-usual” is just a scare tactic and isn’t even a possibility.

hen there’s the fact that the damage caused by climate change goes far beyond just sea level increases. Get a freakin’ clue, man.

Since you used the word “fact”, I’ll just call you an outright liar and be done.

20

Steve LaBonne 09.07.06 at 10:56 am

Since you obviously don’t have the slightest idea what you’re babbling about, I guess that’s about all you can do, isn’t it. But to reiterate, as a matter of clearly understood scientific FACT (in the specific Stephen Jay Gould sense of “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent”) there are MANY other problems that will be caused by climate change beyond just an increase in sea levels. Mass species extinction and disruption of agriculture in many regions as rainfall patterns change significantly, are two that are essentially non-controversial in the relevant scientific communities, indeed we may be already observing the leading edge of the coming wave of extinctions. And with a little Googling you could easily learn more, instead of making a complete ass of yourself here.

Again, get a clue.

21

James Killus 09.07.06 at 1:44 pm

One might ask jpickens and jet if they are doing this for free, or if they are being paid to make these sorts of arguments. If they are giving it away for free, they might consider turning pro. there is a bright future in astroturf.

Such suspicions can always be laid to rest by posting as someone, rather than anonymously.

22

jet 09.07.06 at 1:46 pm

Steve, I wonder if you have considered that there might be some benefits to Global Warming? At some lower levels of warming these might even far outweight any damage. As far as it being a “fact” that Global Warming will be a net loss for mankind…Is that for all values between 2C and 4.5C?

23

jet 09.07.06 at 1:56 pm

james killus,
Go back to my original post in 17, then read steve-o’s response. I never denied that Global Warming was real or an issue. I’ve shown that there is technology in existence, and more on the near horizon that will make CO2 taxes, limits, and sequestration of little importance. In 17 I even proposed fuel taxes to further entice consumers into electrical and hybrid vehicles.

Meanwhile the “reality based community” shows London and NYC underwater and calls me astro-turf.

24

Maynard Handley 09.07.06 at 2:07 pm


If the warming phenomenon were natural, and not human induced, would you still advocate intervention to change it?

There are equivalents. Smallpox and polio are natural. We intervened to change them. You oppose that, do you? You want to come right out and tell us that you and the GOP support children dying when god has decided it is their time, rather than having medicine intervene?

25

roger 09.07.06 at 2:32 pm

From what I understand about sea level rises, the people with the most experience are the engineers in Holland. They’ve had the most continuous experience — and experience of the way that the incursion of the sea doesn’t come gradually, as when you are filling a tub, but often comes as the result of a surge and storm, such as in the way the Zuider Zee was formed back in 1500.

Anyway, the chapter in Diane Ward’s Water Wars is definitely interesting in regard to what the Dutch think about sea level elevation. They think it is coming. And they think that they have to prepare now — although one engineer told Ward that really, Holland is going to have to prepare to lose their country.

There are countries that don’t find Global warming a fun and games radio talk show topic.

26

a 09.07.06 at 2:41 pm

“They think it is coming.”

Are property values going down?

27

aaron 09.07.06 at 2:48 pm

Steve,
I wonder if it’s really necessary to add “get a clue” to the end of each of your posts. Although jet may be wrong in some of his claims, and added an inflammatory remark about “An Inconvenient Truth”, his comments seem to reflect good-natured but misinformed skepicism.

Jet,
Ultimately, you should be turning to scientists for the answers to your questions. One of the problems our society has is that the opinions of scientists and the science community are brought to us through less credible sources. However, this does not mean that a consensus within the scientific community on global warming should be overlooked. And there does seem to be a consensus in the scientific community over how global warming works and what sort of effects it mights have. There are some scientists who disagree with this assessment (probably even a few who aren’t being paid by interested parties), but with every scientific theory there are going to be some contrarians.
realclimate is one place where you can find some scientists’ opinions on global warming. There are a number of others out there. Given the sensationalist nature of the mainstream media and political blogosphere, these blogs probably provide a better and informed perspective on the issue.

28

jet 09.07.06 at 2:48 pm

You can’t have a better press corps when the debate is between those who don’t believe in Global Warming and those who think Holland will be underwater in 100 years. It’s like Fric and Frac are deciding our fate.

29

Steve LaBonne 09.07.06 at 3:07 pm

jet, there may be some localized benefits eg. to agricultural productivity in some areas (even as others suffer- and worse, most likely those in poor countries which thereupon will send millions of desperate refugees Northward; and gains, due largely to increases in atmospheric [CO2],in places like North America might well be offset, or worse, by incresees in pest infestations; the problem is that the speed of the change is extreme by ecological and evolutionary standards- the biosphere simply can’t adapt witout major carnage along the way, with difficult-to-predict but likely bad impacts on our species even from the most crassly economic point of view, let alone “softer” aspects of quality of life. And under some scenarios sea level rise could also eventually become too rapid for successful adaptation in coastal areas, with the inherently nonlinear dynamics of ice-sheet collapse making it hard to tell big trouble is coming until very late in the game.

The time when complacency was a rational option is way over.

30

Steve LaBonne 09.07.06 at 3:17 pm

P.S. Holland probably won’t be under water this century, but a significant portion of coastal Bangladesh may be. We’re talking a hell of a lot of refugees there.

31

Eamonn Fitzgerald 09.07.06 at 5:32 pm

But you’ve got Tim Blair! You lucky things Down Under. What else do you want?

32

roger 09.07.06 at 7:17 pm

Jet, you are right. The man who worries about this in Ward’s book, Pieter Huisman, just doesn’t have your credentials, man. He’s some jerkoff, the head of the Flood Control Division of the Rijkswaterstaat. Whereas you, you comment on CT. The disparity in expertise is overwhelming! I don’t think Huisman is even aware of the cloud making robot ships that you have all but invented — why, implementation should be snap! What does he do — work day in, day out supervising dikes and shit.

I’m sorta ashamed I mentioned someone like Huisman, who simply doesn’t get God’s Plan.

33

jet 09.08.06 at 2:24 pm

I wonder if all the money spent promoting Global Warming as a problem had instead been spent promoting safe nuclear alternatives to coal plants, if Global Warming wouldn’t be within a few decades of being completely solved.

34

John Quiggin 09.08.06 at 8:01 pm

I think you’ll find, jet, that far more public money has gone into promoting nuclear energy than into promoting global warming as a problem.

35

jet 09.08.06 at 10:37 pm

I wonder if all the money spent denying Global Warming was a problem had instead…

36

foo 09.10.06 at 11:26 am

Murdock must hate Australia. Australia is the most vulnerable country on the planet.

Did the article end: Rah, Rah, Coal, Rah

or: “Give me a C” C, “Give me an O”, O …

Ugh

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