The Contradictions of Climate Extremism


Joe Romm's campaign to attack journalists who report on misrepresentations of scientific research by the IPCC, his attacks on a leading climate disaster researcher, and his framing of the Washington, D.C. snowstorm as "consistent with" global warming, all undermine his claim to be a defender of good science. The IPCC has committed serious misrepresentations of the increasing costs of disasters, and the Washington snowstorm is no more "consistent with" global warming than any other weather event. Climate scientists are speaking out in august liberal publications like Nature and The Guardian for reforming how the IPCC functions but are largely being ignored in the more politicized and partisan US media.

February 12, 2010 | Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger,

Straw Man: Romm attacks Pielke for drowning out scientists attempting to draw a link between natural disasters and climate change, but he should really be attacking the scientists' whose false representations undermine his climate claims.

The last three months have seen climate science and climate policy turned upside down. In November, hacked emails showed climate scientists scheming to hide data and avoid Freedom of Information laws, discussing ways to present long-term temperature trends to show more uniformity than exists, and manipulating peer review. In December, failed United Nations talks in Copenhagen, which diplomats said in advance would not result in a binding treaty, effectively signaled the end of a UN-driven reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Then, in January and February, the IPCC had been found misrepresenting the role of global warming in rising natural disaster losses and misstating estimates for glacier melting, among other distortions of the science.

It is a moment that requires serious reconsideration of climate policy as well as the role and practices of climate science. Instead, America's leading liberal blogger on climate matters, Joe Romm, has reverted to practices we described in our four part Climate McCarthyism series, engaging in character assassination and misrepresentation, but also going further to misrepresent peer reviewed research on the relationship of climate and escalating economic losses from disasters and attack one of the country's leading climate disaster researchers, Roger Pielke, Jr., a Breakthrough Senior Fellow.

On Monday, February 8, 2010 The New York Times ran an article by Elizabeth Rosenthal about challenges to the credibility of the UN IPCC after revelations that it has misrepresented climate science and that its leader, Rajendra Pachauri, had received consulting fees from Toyota, Deutsche Bank, an oil services company, and other firms with interests in climate policy. Rosenthal quoted Pielke criticizing the IPCC, which has misrepresented his research into whether human-caused climate change, or other factors, are behind the increase in natural disasters.

Romm wrote:

Rosenthal leaves the distinct impression that the one person she is quoting, Pielke, somehow represents a mainstream view, when in fact he is a long-time critic of the IPCC who has spent a great deal of time drowning the reputation of top scientists -- including the coauthors of the recent NOAA-led climate impacts report and all three thousand attendees of an Al Gore talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- with no justification whatsoever.

In fact, Pielke's research is an important part of a broad scientific consensus on disasters and climate change (click here for a PDF presentation where Pielke's and other publications are listed). Pielke's peer-reviewed research, and all other peer-reviewed published research, finds that there is no anthropogenic global warming signal in the disaster record, and that the increase in disaster losses can be explained entirely by economic and social changes (e.g., coastal development in hurricane zones).

Who let the Graph out of the Bag?: After Pielke critiqued the IPCC for publishing a previously unpublished graph demonstrating a link between global warming and natural disasters, the graph's creator, Robert Muir Wood said the graph "should not have been there."

Second, Pielke has criticized IPCC because it misrepresented the relationship between increasing temperatures and the rising costs of disasters. Pielke clearly lays all of this out in his slideshow *[pdf]* and on his blog. Pielke found IPCC authors falsely representing his work. He exposed that the IPCC had published a graph purporting to show a link between warming and disasters which had never been published other than in the IPCC report. (In response, IPCC contributing author, Robert Muir-Wood who created the graph "informally" acknowledged last week, "Personally, I think that [the graph] should not have been there [in the IPCC report].")

Third, Romm mentions that Pielke criticized Gore, but doesn't give any context, which is another effort by Romm to imply that Pielke is a skeptic. What in fact happened was that after Pielke criticized Gore for misrepresenting the science of climate and disasters, Gore stopped using the slide, demonstrating a commitment to accuracy in his presentations. Pielke's attention to accurate science helped Gore to identify misleading material in his slideshow and to remove it. For Romm, scientific accuracy seems of lesser importance.

Romm then claimed that Pielke has contradictory views on a global warming signal in the disaster record:

...Pielke has been baselessly trashing the reputation of any scientist who even suggests that there is the tiniest link whatsoever between climate change and extreme weather (see here) -- even though he himself has stated such a link exists (see Pielke in Nature: "Clearly, since 1970 climate change ... has shaped the disaster loss record") and even though he has praised a study that made such a link.

In fact, Pielke and other scientists explicitly use the IPCC's definition of "climate change" to include all factors responsible for changes in climate, not just human factors. Romm misrepresents Pielke even though Pielke has clearly explained this on his blog ever since 2006, in his publications and again as recently as last year. Even so, Romm keeps making the same claim conflating "global warming" and "climate change" definitions knowing full well how Pielke and his colleagues have used the terms in their research.

Pielke's presentation *[download here as PDF]* at the Royal Institution in London last week shows how IPCC distorted his research and the larger expert consensus.

An expert IPCC reviewer raised concerns about IPCC's misrepresentation, and asked "What does Pielke think about this?"

The IPCC author responded, "I believe Pielke agrees that adding 2004 and 2005 has the potential to change his earlier conclusions - at least about the absence of a trend in US Cat losses."

In fact, Pielke does not agree. Moreover, he was never asked by the IPCC before it published, and Pielke's views were clearly presented in the academic literature two months before the IPCC suggested that he had changed his mind. IPCC still does not acknowledge the misrepresentation. On February 4 the Economist magazine asked IPCC head Rajendra Pachuri directly about the IPCC's misrepresentation of disaster research by Pielke and others, and he said he was unaware of it. To date, the IPCC has still not issued a correction.

Potato, Pot-ah-to: Romm consistently conflates the definitions of "global warming" and "climate change" clearly stated by Pielke and others since 2006, causing him to mischaracterize Pielke's arguments.

Last week in London, Pielke debated Bob Ward, a representative of the Stern Review, which had also misrepresented the disaster research. But it was not really a debate since Ward agreed that there is no global warming signal in the disaster trend. One British green, Amelia Gregory, reported the event on her web site:

[Pielke] then talked us clearly through his immaculate presentation, showing us that according to Excel there is no upward trend for disaster losses between 1900-2009. Yup, his graph appeared to be flatlining alright. And then we came to it: Pielke's unequivocal evidence that despite the views of experts the IPCC saw fit to publish misleading data in its 2007 report, even alluding to his own agreement to use a problematic graph, which had not been given. "If the data doesn't support the claim, don't publish it!"

European Media and Climate Scientists Raise Crucial Issues Largely Ignored by the U.S. Media

Romm implies that The Times quoted Pielke because it could not find other climate scientists to do so. In fact, many climate and other scientists have criticized the IPCC and the scientists involved in the CRU hack/Climategate over the last few weeks. Climate scientists who have written eloquent pieces or otherwise spoken out over the last several weeks include Mike Hulme, Judy Curry, Hans von Storch, Tony Beddington, Harmut Grassl, David King and Edward Zorita, none of whom have been interviewed in a story for The Times.

Rosenthal's Monday NYT story and John Broder's on Thursday were both written so as to dismiss criticisms of the IPCC as coming mostly from skeptics and right-wing media outlets. The on-line version of Rosenthal's piece had the headline, "Skeptics find fault with U.N. Climate Panel," pointed to "right-wing media outlets."

But in the days leading up to Rosenthal's piece, the Guardian, Britain's main center-left newspaper, ran an in-depth, twelve part series on its front page. The BBC and other newspapers that felt betrayed by the various misrepresentations of the climate scientists have also done major stories.

And the most important critics of the IPCC have not been skeptics but rather mainstream scholars like Pielke, Hulme, Von Storch, Curry, Zorita, and other researchers who were misrepresented by the IPCC. By failing to explain the scientific consensus that exists around climate change and disasters, Rosenthal's piece failed to provide the context for IPCC critics like Pielke.

Snowpocalypse: Snowstorms that have buried the mid-atlantic states, not once but twice this winter, have activists on both sides of the climate debate drawing connections between the "extreme" weather and global warming.

In a front-page story three days later, New York Times reporter John Broder quoted Romm, who has never done scientific research on the matter, calling him a "climate expert." Broder wrote that scientists believe that the blizzard in Washington, D.C. is "consistent with" global warming -- but that is a meaningless claim, since scientists agree that individual weather events tell us nothing about changes in climate, which require many years of data to detect change.

Writes Roger Pielke:

It is unjustifiable to claim that a cold snap or heavy snow disproves or even casts doubts predictions of long-term climate change. It is equally unjustifiable to say that a cold snap or heavy snow in any way offers empirical support for predictions of long-term climate change. This goes for all weather events.

Further, it is professionally irresponsible for scientists to claim that some observed weather is "consistent with" long-term predictions of climate change. Any and all weather fits this criteria. Similarly, any and all weather is also "consistent with" failing predictions of long-term climate change. The "consistent with" canard is purposely misleading.

Knowledge of climate requires long-term records -- on the time scale of a decade and longer. Don't look to the weather to learn about climate, unless you have a long time to watch.

Why Romm Denies Climate Disaster Science

The reason Romm must attack Pielke is because Pielke's research is a threat to Romm's effort to manufacture a link between current weather events (e.g., blizzards, floods, hurricanes and droughts) and global warming. Romm does this even while complaining that the skeptics are claiming the snowstorm is proof of no global warming.

In "The Contrivance in Copenhagen" we wrote:

Copenhagen was preceded by a seemingly genuine fight between skeptics who deny the reality or threat of global warming, and greens who deny the political economy of carbon. In their respective simulacra, they see each other as mortal enemies. In reality, they desperately need each other.

Now it turns out they agree that each passing storm tells us something about global warming. "Using the weather to score cheap political points in the climate debate," Pielke observed, "appears to be a tactical area of agreement among those who otherwise disagree about climate change."

Unfortunately, all of this is bad news for anyone seeking action on global warming, and in this way Romm's Climate McCarthyism contains its own contradiction. By battling it out with skeptics over weather events, Romm has elevated the dispute over the meaning of snowstorms to the national debate. Rather than resolve it, as Pielke does, by saying that the current weather tells us nothing about global warming, Romm exaggerates in the other direction, which requires that he seek to discredit consensus science on global warming and disasters.

At a time when public and policymaker confidence in climate science needs to be restored, Romm's efforts further undermine it. And at a moment when bipartisan consensus is needed to achieve meaningful action on climate change, Romm has further polarized the debate and misrepresented the science.