Remember the Alamo

Remember the Alamo

I watched about 8 hours of the 24 Hours of Reality: Dirty Weather Report from Al Gore’s “Climate Reality” project. All in all, I’d say it was excellent. It also made me realize how much more we need to involve the general public, and especially the young adults and near-adults who will bear the brunt of coming climate changes, in our efforts to reverse the lethargy that grips our nation, and to a lesser degree the world, in dealing with the crisis that is global warming.

The final hour wasn’t as good as I had hoped. In large part that’s because it started with the multi-media presentation not working, which I think kind of threw Al off his groove. But he recovered well, and it was good. There were also a few moments in earlier hours that weren’t my cup of tea, especially the “artsy” parts (including songs to inspire the troops), but I realize that’s just me — many of those who will be the footsoldiers of the climate action army take inspiration from such efforts.

I didn’t really learn any new science from the broadcasts, but I wasn’t expecting to. I was, however, genuinely inspired. Seeing some of the activists, especially the young ones, was moving. Seeing how the climate movement has grown, especially in the last couple of years, was both reassuring and inspiring. Noting the extent of the Climate Reality project, it’s breadth and depth and reach, made me feel good. Damn good.

It also made me realize that we really need to get masses of people moving on this. That requires casting a wider net than I, or most of my favorite blogs, do. It also calls for a different approach. I tend to focus heavily on the science, especially on refuting silly arguments from fake “skeptics,” but to get the troops fired up calls for less emphasis on the highly technical and more emphasis on both the impacts of climate change (which was especially well done during the broadcast) and on the actions which people can take, both on a personal level to reduce carbon footprint, and on a grass-roots level to change the way our governments have failed to address the problem substantively. Frankly, seeing the vast numbers of those who are getting involved and the way people are coming together to face the crisis courageously, was the best part of the program for me.

Hence the title of this post. For years now I’ve been blogging about global warming, and so have many others with which many of you are familiar, but the mass of people have been unmoved. Yet our efforts have not been in vain; those of us who have carried the banner have been like the defenders of the Alamo — hopelessly outnumbered (and out-funded!) by the forces of global warming denial, but giving ’em hell anyway. And like those courageous fighters for Texas freedom, I think we’ve succeeded — we held ’em off long enough for General Sam Houston to get the rest of the forces organized. We could not win the battle all by ourselves, but we’ve kept the enemy at bay long enough for victory to be within reach of our now far greater force.

And unlike the defenders of the Alamo, we’re still alive and kicking. It’s a good thing too — because the host of new climate activists, especially those who pick up the banner of fighting against global warming deniers, will need our help. The deniers will never stop coming up with new excuses to deny reality, and we need to show everyone the error of their ways. And of course, like zombies, deniers will never stop reviving old, long-refuted arguments, so we need to be there to refute them again and again, as many times as it takes.

One thing I learned about was a project called Reality Drop. Its goal is to organize a grass-roots movement to refute denier propaganda, not to let it go unchallenged. To that end, they provide a long list of denier arguments and refutations based on real science. I know what many of you are thinking — what instantly occurred to me — that’s what Skeptical Science is all about! Fear not. Each issue is given a one-paragraph reality check, followed by additional, more in-depth information, and for most of the issues I looked at it turned out to be “Additional info from Skeptical Science.”

Incidentally, I think refuting denier arguments wherever they arise is important work. So if any of you are interested, I encourage you to join the Reality Drop effort, let them help you find out where best to apply your time and energy, and get plenty of quality info from Reality Drop and of course from Skeptical Science. Maybe even, occasionally, from here. Let’s make the Escalator the best-known graph in the climate discussion.

I also learned that outside the U.S., climate action isn’t nearly as paralyzed as it is here. In fact, lest my Mexican brothers and sisters take offence at the “Alamo” metaphor, I must emphasize that Mexico has taken important and effective action about global warming. From where I’m sitting in the USA, our neighbor south of the Rio Grande is putting us to shame in terms of facing the climate crisis courageously.

What next for us here? I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing. I may not be changing the world overnight, but I’m having an impact. And judging by the large number of hateful comments I get regularly (which I spare my readers having to endure), I must be doing a helluva job to have them hate me so much. I think it was John Kennedy who said that if a leader doesn’t have enemies, he’s not doing his job. Mmmm … delicious.

I’m also considering expanding my efforts into an entirely new area. Namely, to organize a political effort (perhaps a “political action committee”) called “Defeat the Deniers.” Its goal will be to help U.S. politicians who deny global warming and obstruct action, to join the unemployment line.

The bottom line, judging by the Climate Reality broadcast, is that we’re approaching “critical mass” for people getting seriously involved in our efforts. It may even soon swell to such proportions that my own efforts are dwarfed. If it should happen that climate activism becomes so widespread that my own speech becomes but a tiny part of a vast chorus rather than a voice in the wilderness … no one will be better pleased than I.


63 responses to “Remember the Alamo

  1. Tamino, the work you do on this blog is *very* important. While there are climate activists, there are also plenty of people like me, who need to see just why the latest “skeptic” offering is rubbish.

    For purely selfish reasons, I want you to “stick to the knitting”, because your way of looking at climate statistics is the most convincing and entertaining I’ve found.

    • David B. Benson

      What John Brookes wrote.

      • what David B Benson wrote

        (my efforts are – just to track down the lesser fish which may expand into into the complete picture of the 400 or so active denier network. We will see (I’m happy to have other editors if anyone wants to trawl tediously through the net) However as chance would have it I may- its not definite- be off as an E.U. volunteer for 2 years to work on sustainable lives project, with poorest of the poor in the very epicentre of climate change in Bangladesh. I have to devise quantitative research – not my strongest skill- concerning poor farmers coping with a changing planet. I may actually find funding to get you Tamino, to analysis the results. But where would you start? When it comes to measuring the impact of climate change on the people who are going to be hit first and hardest, what data should I start to collect. Any ideas, anybody? I’ll share the M.A.)

    • I’m with the others Tamino. You make an enormously important contribution to the refutation of denialist anti-science.

      And just imagine where the world would be if you and all of the other bloggers out there didn’t push back against the inaction campaign… We’d be decades behind where we are now, as vested interests drag understanding back to the 1950s where healthy tobacco and snuggly asbestos reined supreme.

      • I agree, however, I’d like to see more effort involved with the confirmation and verification of current and projected science and technology that can be applied to solutions, rather than so much investment of time, energy and resources in knocking down obvious nonsense, for instance, religious dogma comes to mind. If more effort was made in educating these people in the Reagan and post Reagan era, we wouldn’t be here.

      • I strongly agree, these technical, analytical blog posts are outstanding and irreplaceable.

  2. Thanks for the SkS and Escalator plug, Tamino (John Cook did coordinate with the Climate Reality folks to let them use some SkS material). You (and everyone else) are always welcome to help improve SkS and expand the site’s reach.

    I was only able to watch about 4 hours of the show, but they were really good. I hadn’t heard about the Mexican climate bill at all. I looked it up and saw their congress passed it almost unanimously! They’re making us look really bad.

  3. Don Gisselbeck

    Some of us would perversely enjoy it if you occaisionally posted a “best of” your hate mail.

  4. Hnph.

    Is it just me or is the “CO2 is not a greenhouse gas” argument not in the reality Drop suit?

  5. … to get the troops fired up calls for less emphasis on the highly technical and more emphasis on both the impacts of climate change …

    I suspect this is well understood by promoters of caveman combustion habits. Demotivation is likely why every attempt to form a connection in the public mind between climate change and what we see with our lying eyes or should be legitimately anxious over is the subject of clucking and scolding. To cite a recent example, these people are very concerned to ensure we believe that heat engines don’t work more vigorously when supplied with more energy or that being just a few inches under water is no big deal. We’ve heard it explicitly stated: “don’t let alarmists get you all excited.” No, certainly not; too much excitement can be bad for business. .

  6. Tamino – I would urge you to continue doing what you have mostly been doing already – providing clear and compelling explanations of the reality of what is happening with respect to many aspects of global warming. That, for me, is what is invaluable about your contribution, in that it gives the information and confidence to wade in against a torrent of “global warming stopped in 1998” or similar nonsense on newspaper blogs where denialists are frequently greatly in the majority and where I suspect the greatest number of uncommitted observers are to be found.
    What would be additionally useful would be for you to find an heroic individual to go through your entire output and to produce a guide, similar to that produced by SKS, with links to your articles with particular reference to particular denialist memes, so that those wishing for information to refute, for example, the gws in 1998 falsehood, could find the necessary information. It is sadly the case that at present much of that information is so deeply buried that for many people it may as well not exist.

  7. First off, I realize I am probably not typical of the foot soldiers. I am an utter nerd, and for that matter, a stats nerd. Probability and statistics just seems the natural way to look at the world–the expression of Freud’s twin Gods, Chance and Necessity. However, it has been my experience that lay people appreciate it when I try to explain the science, and especially when I do it in a way that challenges them, but still makes it understandable. I’ve had some good converstations with people who had no science background–housewives, taxi drivers, migrant laborers…

    One anecdote: My wife and I went to Austria for a conference in 2010. Afterward, we spent a week in Vienna, and I just had to make a pilgrimage to Boltzmann’s grave and get a photo of the tombstone with its famous equation:
    S=k logW
    It was the last day of our trip, and so I told my wife that I didn’t expect her to go with me–entropy is my thing. Without thinking, she said “No, Honey, I’ll go to the grave with you.” We both dissolved into laughter when we realized what she’d said.

    Of course, I had to share such a story, but to do so, I had to give the listeners at least an idea of who Boltzmann was and why his equation is important. I was telling my massage therapist the story and launched into a digression explaining the concept of entropy. I used the standard examples to illustrate the concept–playing cards, dice, jars of black and white marbles, etc. When I reached the end, my massage therapist (who is an intelligent woman but has no scientific education, especially in physics and math) said, “I think I understood that, but it hurt my brain.”
    “Growing pains, eh?” I replied.

  8. Tamino: Can I re-iterate John’s point that what you do here is vital. SkS has a particular focus which is helpful to reach a certain small subset of contrarians, and more importantly to resource others to communicate the science in their own way. But our approach is primarily addressed at communication the scientific consensus to the well informed lay person.
    Your style and background allow you to counter misinformation through original research, addressing contrarian scientists themselves rather than providing an critical analysis to the public. That has yielded startling results in some cases. The problem certainly needs a diversity of approaches, including yours.
    We could certainly use your statistical expertise from time to time, but I would also counsel against getting involved in SkS to the detriment of your work here.

  9. It’s my belief that the only thing that will eventually overcome denial — and perhaps, more frequently, complacency — is the publicising of links between climate change and the real weather events which people experience themselves or watch on TV. That’s why unprecedented events like decreasing Arctic sea ice extent, extreme storms, flooding and drought — especially when they hit developed countries — need to be shown to have their origins, or be exacerbated, by increases in human-caused emissions in our atmosphere. Hence the importance of statistical analysis; and your work, Tamino.

    These statistical links, when backed up with observations, are the key to persuading public and politicians alike that action must be taken to head off potential catastrophic changes to our way of life. Projections and/or warnings of harmful events in the future are relatively meaningless if the person receiving them is not aware that climate change is so real that it’s happening now. Once the links between climate change and extreme weather events are unequivocal, the complex science of the causes becomes unimportant to the lay-person and the ‘merchants of doubt’ become isolated and find their deliberate deceptions falling on deaf ears. So in fact it’s not necessary to defeat those in denial — who are incorrigible but never more than a vocal minority — it’s necessary only to inform the masses of the statistical link. And once the masses have experience of extreme weather, and have heard of the link, they will put two and two together for themselves.

    It’s useful to compare climate change with the tobacco issue. The smoking battle was not won when the precise mechanism of smoke on lung tissue was explained. Rather, it was won when the statistical connection between tobacco and cancer was finally established. Once that link was identified, every time someone died of lung cancer, they became an advert for giving up. And so it will become with extreme weather: and, I repeat, concentrating just on future possibilities is unlikely to be a winning tactic, except to those already sold on the link.

    • There’s a lot of truth in this, in my opinion. I think this is precisely why Sandy seems to have shifted the conversation noticeably, whereas the Arctic sea ice record and the US drought did not.. (Though perhaps they acted to ‘set up’ Sandy’s impact?) They are arguably ‘more accurate’ poster children than Sandy, but the effects are apparently much more remote and/or diffuse. Effects don’t get much more concrete than millions of gallons of seawater where we don’t want them.

  10. To this end, I put together a little animated GIF file that debunks all of Watts’ major claims about the global temperature record — you can get it at

    The GIF file shows global average temperature results computed from raw and homogenized data taken from 1 to 40 randomly-selected rural stations. The first frame shows results from just 1 station, the second from 2 stations, … up to a max of 40 stations (i.e. the global-average results are “updated” one random station per animation frame). The results were computed via a very straightforward anomaly averaging routine.

    The upper plot shows global temperature anomalies vs. year. The lower plot shows how many of the selected stations actually reported data for any given year. Due to data gaps, varying station record lengths, the number of reporting stations vary from year to year. (Note: if a station reports data for 6 months out of a given year, I count it as “half a station”).

    My raw data results are plotted in red. My homogenized data results are plotted in green. The official NASA GHCN results are plotted in blue (for comparison purposes).

    Note how quickly the homogenized *and* raw results converge to the official NASA results.

    This one animation debunks the following Watts’ claims about the temperature record.

    1) Warming due to UHI? Nope — I used only rural stations.

    2) Warming due to “homogenization”? Again, nope. The homogenization “adjustments” largely cancel each other out after you’ve averaged together enough stations. My raw and homogenized results both converge to the same answer — the official NASA answer.

    3) Warming exaggerated due to “dropped stations”? Once again, nope. Watts has claimed that going from 6000 stations to the current “real time reporting” 1500 stations skews the results. But my results show that you get the same answer even if you use only a very few *dozen* stations. You don’t need 6000 stations, or even 600 stations. Heck, you don’t even need *60* stations to confirm the NASA results.

    And finally, a preemptive answer to likely claims that I “cherry picked” my stations. The above results were put together from my *first try* at this. I screened stations only on the basis of record length (I wanted to ensure decent global coverage over the past 100+ years), and then selected stations at random. No trial-and-error “cherry-picking”. I just took what I got from my first try and uploaded the results that you see above.

    Feel free to pass the GIF file around to doubters if you think that it might be helpful.

  11. Horatio Algeranon

    Horatio did not even know Elmo had passed.

    On a less somber note, keep up the great work, Tamino.

    You are making a difference.

  12. Susan Anderson

    I like your focus on denial in our government. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to support you.

    That said, I agree with all that the technical level of support you provide is an invaluable resources across the intertubes, and a go to place for real information for all and sundry.

    I came in to the 24 hours: dirty weather a bit late, and there was quite a bit of repetition and the MC girls (at my age, they’re girls) seemed like they’d been on too long, dry mouths but working very hard, a little too noticeable.

    By the way, for anyone in the US with wide-ranging TV service, Al Gore’s Current TV can be excellent. I’m particularly addicted to Eliot Spitzer. Also, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes (8-10 am Sat. & Sun) is usually about as good as it gets. Some of the networks are providing occasional light in the darkness as well, though they are susceptible to other stuff. NBC is the worst; they’ve moved to the right lately.

  13. Tamino, I humbly request to be added to your nascent list of folks on the “Defeat the Denier’s” truth squad! I stand at the ready to spread this effort, from your blog, Skeptical Science’s, DeSmogBlog, WottsUpWithThat (note spelling of the first phoneme!), et al, to combat this. You may think you can only cast your net so wide, but many hundreds of fishers can cast a *muuuch* wider net.

  14. Tamino, you have done a great service by producing some of the best graphics available. Keep it up. However, we also need some “PR” types to put such technically correct materials into glossy wrappers for wider appeal and more impact.

  15. Hi Tamino,

    I agree with everybody else, other than you. Forget the Alamo. Please keep on doing what you have been doing. Pretty please.

    P.S. the online “urban dictionary” site gives an alternative definition of “fud”.

  16. Can I add to the calls from others for you to continue your efforts? Your regular statistical destruction of the garbage on WUWT is not to be missed.

  17. Horatio Algeranon

    “A drop in denial”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    A drop of reality
    In denial
    Makes an ocean
    In a while

  18. Dear Tamino,

    I sincerely hope that you will continue with your scientific approach to the denialists’ arguments. I am sure that the vast majority of your readers like that aspect. Many of the comments above show that “to focus heavily on the science, especially on refuting silly arguments from fake “skeptics”” is what your audience wants.

  19. Tamino, your need to get a google ad-words account, your work is to important not to be funded.

  20. One of the surprisingly important things is for the amateurs to impress on the pros that they can’t be friendly with the professional denialists, (Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, Singer, Curry), that those guys are simply using them for affirmation, both personally and ti the public.

  21. I used to have a little cartoon attached to the wall of my office cubicle.

    “If enough people bang their heads against a brick wall, it *will* fall down.”

    Though I rather think that what you and SkS and others do is really more like scaffolding or foundations. Without your work, the publicists and activists can’t build what they need to.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      And without Tamino’s work, the journalists…well, never mind.

      • Horatio, What? Are you mad? If they covered the real news, they wouldn’t have time to tell us all about the hot, steamy, hyper-encoded love letters between the CIA director and his trollop! Then where would America be?

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Good point.

        Why would we want journalists covering science when they can cover other journalists?

        After all, who better to explain “embedding” to the public than another journalist who has been there and done that?

    • Or, as it feels at the moment, you could cut out the middleman and go straight to Climate Etc.

      Maybe it will improve.

      • Difference is, this one is Dutch Government sponsored. This is not JC or WUWT or Montford. This is a Ministry project. Assuming their ‘about’ is accurate.

        “Based on the IAC-recommendation that ‘the full range of views’ should be covered in the IPCC-reports, Parliament asked the Dutch government ‘to also involve climate skeptics in future studies on climate change’.

        “In response, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment announced a number of projects that are aimed to increase this involvement. Climate Dialogue is one of these projects.”

  22. Tamino,

    thanks for nice overview. However, I am not sure, what “action” do you mean, since global carbon emission are STILL rising fater than ever, latest number is 2,4 % in 2011, after a record increase in 2010 of 5,6% or so.

    But maybe without any action it would be even worse… but then, well, Kevin Anderson says 2 °C is dreamland:


  23. I agree with many of the above comments about the importance of what you do. The niche you fill by critically examining statistical claims is a sparsely populated one and there are many more generalists out there. Don’t understimate your key role in the ecosystem. (Can you tell I’ve just got up to Chapter 7 of Language Intelligence?)

    But I’d also like to add my thanks for the clarity of your explanations. I’ve long been sceptical of the value of studying statistics and tried to get through statistics courses in the past with minimal engagement, but beyond the obvious good they do in challenging misinformation I’ve also found your posts invaluable as learning and teaching aids.

  24. After reading this post, I can’t help but wonder, do we all need yet another course in “Climate Communication”???

  25. Tamino, The information that you provide, allows me to have confidence when replying to the sceptics letters to the editor in regional QLD and NSW newspapers. (Australia)
    What you provide goes well beyond your blog I assure you

    Thank you

  26. Thank you for the important work that you do!
    An alternative suggestion for the name of your PAC:
    Defending The Future

  27. Yep, carry on Tamino, well done that man!

  28. You’ve perhaps heard about the League of Conservation Voters dirty dozen. 11 of 12 lost in the election, including Romney. I think that Bachman was the only winner and we came close to getting her, despite her big war chest. I gave some money in this campaign to the LCV and the goal and its effectiveness really made me feel good, like $1 from a middle class citizen like me was worth more that $10,000 from the Koch brothers and others among the billionaires for denial.

  29. Tamino, I have been a lurker for some time. You are now a personal hero of mine along with Peter Sinclair and others. Please keep up your excellent work.

  30. I’ve argued elsewhere that the seriousness of the problem combined with the inadequacy of the response puts a burden on the people who understand it the best. The purely objective scientist that doesn’t let emotion or politics colour his/her public utterances is all well and good in a world that sees the foresight about consequences that scientific understanding brings incorporated into the policy and planning that goes on outside the realms of academia. When it’s a world where that doesn’t happen, and the science is revealing real and growing danger, the line between being a scientist and being an activist becomes one that it’s not merely allowable to cross, but one that it’s imperative to cross.

    Whether it’s the medical epidemiologist that understands the link between a pollutant and a cluster of disease cases, the astronomers that see that big asteroid coming or the climate scientist that foresees be ever greater losses of agricultural production, forced migrations and, given human history as a guide, international conflict, a burden of responsibility to speak out emerges when those in positions of public trust fail to act. When those ‘leaders’ willfully oppose action, for the sake of vested interests – a form of corruption IMO – that burden only gets heavier. But it’s not a burden that should be shouldered alone.

    I’m heartened that there are scientists like yourself that, in the face of the failures of politics, are prepared to move across that line and become activists. Keep the boundaries clear between utterances as a scientist and those as an activist, but speak out. Passionately as well as dispassionately.

    Go, Tamino!

  31. I attended the latest round of trainees for the climate reality project in san fran earlier this year and it was amazing. Thoroughly recommend it for anyone who wants to communicate these issues to their local communities.

    Even Bette Midler was doing the training! Watch out deniers!

  32. If we look at Wikipedia there is a list of the top emitters of CO2. It seems that in 2010 we had a world total of 33.5m tonnes. The US did 5.5m of that, so 16%. The biggest is of course China at 8.2m. After that we have India 2m, Russia 1.7m, Japan 1.1m.European countries, Canada, are under 1m.

    The question is what to demand US politicians do? Suppose they cut emissions by one half. That would drop world emissions to around 31m. Its not going to make very much difference, is it?

    [Response: That’s the most pernicious lie of the entire discussion.]

    The problem is familiar from game theory. The participants might have an interest in the outcome of everyone behaving a certain way, but they have no interest in an outcome where they are the only ones who do it. It gets worse if you are a smallish country. If you are Indonesia, for instance or the UK, you are doing around 0.5m. So if you cut by very large percentages, you make almost no difference on your own to the global total.

    If we really want to cut global emissions, we have to devise some way which will give everyone an incentive to do their bit in it without cheating, when they are not directly benefiting from their own actions.

    You sometimes hear people argue that setting an example will be effective. What’s the evidence for that? Very skeptical given human nature and politics.

    This is the problem. What do we want to ask them to do?

    [Response: The real problem is your attitude — that nothing we do matters.]

    • “You sometimes hear people argue that setting an example will be effective. What’s the evidence for that?”

      Well, one big anecdotal piece of evidence is that the US (and others, such as my country, Canada) has set a serious example of inaction for decades now, and sure enough, international mitigation efforts are not doing very well.

      But it’s not a question of each solving the whole problem individually. That’s beyond stupid as a problem-solving approach. It’s a question of cooperating to solve the problem collectively. And while this does have its issues, as framed in game theory, it is something that people manage to accomplish all the time, even in international environmental issues. (Vide ozone-depleting chemicals.)

      Bottom line: each nation is responsible for 100% of their own emissions.

    • Tamino,
      I think Frederic has a point, but may not be expressing it well. When people ask us what we expect of them, all we can tell them is that they need to reduce carbon emissions. They ask how much. We reply, “As much as possible.” “For how long,” they ask. “We don’t know,” we reply. And so on. Right there, we’ve lost the average person–be they Joe Sixpack or Jane Winebox–to the siren song of denial.

      [Response: Point taken. But I rebel against the falsehood that our actions will have no effectiveness, and that it will not be an example which other countries will emulate.]

      We need better answers. That is why I am coming to the view that any solution to the problem of climate change will have to be technical. Certainly conservation will be needed to buy time so that our technical infrastructure lasts long enough to come up with a technical solution–but the conservation is not in itself an end, but rather a preservation of means.

      Where Frederic really falls short is in realizing that if we do come up with a solution, the rest of the world will beat a path to our door. The Chinese and Indians stand to suffer at least as much as we will from a changing climate. They are as eager as we are to preserve the biosphere for their progeny. What Frederic fails to see is the opportunity.

      • Snarkrates.

        I suspect that I am more pessimistic that you, because I can’t see how technology can solve the mess of climate change. It’s a matter of thermodynamics.

        Consider the amount of energy extracted from a unit of fossil carbon (especially as the quality of that carbon decreases in the future), and consider the minimum amount of energy required to set up and operate the equipment to capture and the infrastructure to store the carbon. Consider too the likely future availability of energy to humans across the planet, 80% of whom want to rise to a Western standard of living, and consider that there will be several billion more in the future – roughly equivalent (at least) in number to the population of humans who have caused the mess in the first place.

        To compare with what is probably the best combination of efficiency and environmental benigness, imagine that the carbon removal imitated photosynthesis. Humans could not use energy at the current usage rate if they sourced all of their energy from biomass, without rapidly denuding the planet. How then could we do what is essentially the reverse, and use renewable energy to remove the excess that we’ve created? What source of energy would drive such a process? If it were solar we’d have to greatly affect terrestrial environments, which would have its own consequences, and at the moment we can’t even keep the environment that we have from degrading, let alone source the energy to fuel our activities and repair the damage already done.

        Can we increase the rate of a photosynthesis-like process so that our fixation of carbon exceeds our combustion of it? Perhaps, but to date there appears nothing that will do this – and if there were we’d be using that process to replace fossil carbon with this nacently-fixed carbon. Seems like a bit of a magic pudding approach at the moment.

        And given the leaden pace of deployment of non-carbon energy sources just to fuel our current activities, let alone to reverse the emissions of carbon dioxide to date, it’s difficult to see where any near-term active remediation of carbon emission is going to come from.

        And…, if we somehow do manage to fuel our Western lifestyles and reverse climate change with no other change to society, we will then set up the biosphere to buckle under so many other pressures of exploitation that something else will break, just as building more freeway simply moves the traffic jams to another location.

        In my pessimism I suspect that a very large part of the answer will consist of calamitous destruction of human life, society, and global civilisation. We still have the capacity to minimise the degree of catastrophic loss, and this is why I remain as determined as ever to help push for change, but I am convinced that we cannot now avoid a coming disaster.

        We’ve already missed that boat by about ten to twenty years, and technology alone will not now save us.

      • Sadly–very much so-I, too, have reached the same conclusion. I’m all for doing all we know how to do and for us to continue to try–I am, after all, an optimist at heart–but my science-y side cannot find effective or comforting methods with which to argue your points. The “20 years too late” part is the part that *really* grates upon my soul, having seen so many, none of which need to be named here, again, do their level best (and are continuing to do so) to make it even later for humanity.


    • Horatio Algeranon

      “The Fossoil Game”
      — by Horatio Algeranon

      Climitigation is game theoretical
      The outcome purely hypothetical.
      Why cut oil, if China does not
      Why eschew the honeypot?

  33. Tamino, about the “different approach” you mentioned:

    For some time I’m been nurturing the idea that explaining the science is not enough. It’s just unrealistic to expect that the broader public will learn the relevant science and only then demand action from policy makers.

    I’ve got those anti-tobacco campaigns we have in some countries in my head. People don’t understandhow a cigarrette causes cancer or is bad for your heart. They delegate that understanding to experts, and it’s enough for the vast majority that these experts tell them so.

    In the climate issue, this is not clear. The broader public sees the “debate” manufactured by the misinformation campaign and thinks it’s something of a 50-50 division in the scientific community.

    Like the anti-tobacco campaign, I think scientific institutions should endorse simple messages directed to the broader public – to those who don’t know and don’t care what longwave radiation or albedo is. Simple and direct messages like these below, endorsed by the likes of NOAA, NASA, or the National Academy of Science:

    “We thought Arctic sea ice would be as low only in fifty years. It’s going now.”

    “Remember last summer’s heatwave? That will be our mild summer in 2060. Protect our children’s future. Stop global warming.”

    “40% of our freshwater comes from that glacier. Protect our water. Stop warming.”

    This way, at least people would know what scientists say. “Public” statments like that joint letter from National Academies, or some message buried in the middle of NOAA’s giant website reach only half a dozen climate geeks. It’s nothing comapred to what’s needed in effective PR.

    This is no longer a scientific issue. It’s a PR game, and only one side is playing it well.

    • As a scientist, I completely agree: NOW is the time for drastic action and waiting for Joe Six Pack to twig on the scientific * realities* is not gonna cut it. It is going to take an all-out assault on JSP, with precisely that kind of PR campaign, to even have a ghost of a chance to cease BAU, and that cessation is now all that really remains for humanity to do, to avoid even a 2C rise, much less the much-more realistic 4C rise.

  34. “The biggest is of course China at 8.2m.”

    And what country is the second largest end consumer of goods produced by burning that carbon?
    Only the EU collectively imports more Chinese goods that the U.S.
    In other words, a very large portion of that 8.2m tonnes are actually American emissions.

    There is a very simple mechanism to insure that action taken to reduce carbon emissions in one country is not offset by increased emissions in another. It’s called an import duty equal to the price that would have been incurred if the carbon had been emitted in the first country, calculated by what ever pricing mechanism is in place in the first country, be it by cap-and-trade or by carbon tax.

    Frederic’s is the easiest of do-nothing arguments to dismiss.

  35. re inline comments on federic:

    The world view that good solutions still exist is an ideology, rather than an engineering analysis with a factual basis. Since our best models do not include ice dynamics or carbon feedbacks, the truth is that we do NOT know that politically acceptable solutions still exist.

    The best you can say is that giving-up on stopping AGW is a self-fulfilling prophesy. We do not know that there is still a way to “win”, we just know that if we stop trying, it will be very unpleasant for everyone.

    Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to to keep trying to stop AGW, and to keep everyone else trying to stop AGW. Explaining it as a logical analysis will not work. Stopping AGW must be presented as an element of every creed that calls people to duty. Stopping AGW must be sold on an emotional basis, because all ideologies are emotional rather than rational.

    Note that one can read a duty to “replenish the Earth” into Genesis 9:17 and accept a duty to protect the Earth without knowing the full details of AGW. Likewise, there are verses in the Quran, requiring good stewardship of the Earth right up to the last moment prior to the final judgement.

    All we need to do is establish that burning coal, oil and gas is a sin against mankind,

    Thus, it may be factually correct to say that a particular action or lack of action will have no impact on AGW, while at the same time, failing to strive against AGW in every possible way is a great sin.

  36. Watching the Deniers


    I’ve noted these past few weeks the growing realization that we have turned a corner: the Climate Reality project is an important symbol of the shift. There is a sense that the deniers have “lost”.

    Sandy helped crystallise public acceptance, as has the whole string of weather related climate extremes of the past year. In that respect physics and chemistry won the argument; perhaps you can massage public opinion. But ultimately the deniers arguments are collapsing under the weight of reality. That was always going to happen.

    When you chose to side with reality, you tend to be on the winning team – even if victory takes longer than one would hope.

    The deniers were a) better organised b) better funded c) more ruthless and d) had more powerful political/business/media patronage.

    So a holding action had to be fought until greater forces could arrive. This was well understood.

    I can’t speak for all the climate bloggers/activists out there, but I can speak for myself and those I know. If you’re a blogger you’ll “get it”. If you’re a reading, even the most casual one it is important to understand what motivated some of us.

    We fought not to correct falsehoods; we didn’t fight over arcane mathematical models; we spoke truth to power.

    For the denial machine was created and nursed into being by a powerful coalition of vested interests, conservative politicians, a certain media corporation and the right wing movement that grew in power in influence between 1960 and the early 2000s.

    That’s who “we” went up against.

    No one asked us; no one trained us; most of worked alone.

    We fought – for want of a better term – an information guerrilla war placing our hope in an eventual victory. Its not over yet. Not by a long stretch. And we waited – patiently waiting for a broader coalition of citizens, activists and politicians to emerge. This is now beginning.

    Re fighting denial in the future: we need to anticipate how it will evolve in response to real world events. There will always be a hard-core-its-not-happening fringe, but they are fading into greater irrelevance day-by-day.

    Denial will morph into something new: obstructionism, a cheer leader for a form of hyper-nationalism and the ideology of technology fantasists

    The voices that called the science into doubt will no shift to something more insidious, but just as toxic. They won’t give up there fantasies about New World Orders, socialist plots and black helicopters under the bed.

    Denial in the coming decades may take the following forms:

    a) luke warmism – i.e. don’t do anything because it is not as bad, or the cure (regulation) is worse than the disease
    b) champions of sovereign rights, resurgent isolationism and unilateralism – even if disaster befalls larges parts of the globe, there will be those that argue it is not our responsibility; that national interest will come first – giving away a nations sovereign “rights” under global treaties or “giving” away billions in aid and technology will be argued as being against national interest
    c) techno-fantasists – a new breed of “deniers” will be those who ignore the problems caused by nuclear and geo-engineering (or any other technology only solution). I expect many a think tank to switch to these market/technology friendly talking points over the coming decade. It will be their fetish of market solutions dressed up new.

    We *should not forget* the lessons of this fight: the same tactics (indeed the same organisations and individuals) will reappear. We must not repeat the mistakes of the last 30 years:

    > its not about the facts, values and ideology influence a persons acceptance of facts
    > reach a broad audience in terms they can understand
    > build broad “rainbow” coalitions
    > don’t be afraid to be organised

    Those of who fought the first phase of this campaign should be debriefed: what worked, what failed. How would it be done better? Those lessons need to be learnt and applied as broadly as possible.

  37. Tamino.

    I’d like to repost a comment I left on ThinkProgress recently because it fits in well with your call “to organize a political effort (perhaps a “political action committee”) called “Defeat the Deniers”.

    It was in response to prokaryotes who wrote: “Precautionary principle DEMANDS that we start cutting Co2 emissions immediately and go aggressively after the deniers”
    Post follows.
    Prokaryotes wrote: “and go aggressively after the deniers”

    Yes, Yes, Yes! We need at least a two pronged attack. There are two major elements of the “sceptical arguments”. Those put forward by the “lukewarmers”, which have some scientific validity, and the much greater number of deceitful “magic tricks” that can fool those not up to speed with enough science. Both need addressing in different ways because they resonate with two different segments of society.

    Firstly, we need a widespread global media friendly “debate” between four types – 1) representatives of the mainstream climate science position. Perfect would be Richard Alley. 2) the top “lukewarmers” – Lindzen is the obvious candidate 3) representatives from the risk assessment and forecasting industry such as actuaries from Munich Re. 4) economists who can assess the relative costs and benefits of doing either nothing or as much as it takes depending on the perceived risks.

    At the commencement of this debate, the chairman should state the relative numbers of working, publishing peers that each scientific “side” of the debate has in their area of expertise and what the relative proportions of scientists supporting each side is.

    Regardless of whether Lindzen put up a good show or not, the audience would see that his position is very much a tiny minority one. Too many of the public currently thinks there is an evenly balanced case on each side. Once they become aware of this error, they might see that they are in the position of Dirty Harry and the punk, neither of who knew for sure whether there was a bullet left in the Magnum – except that the relative numbers of scientists and risks puts the public more in the situation of playing Russian Roulette with their family’s and descendant’s futures with an AK47 with a full magazine except one bullet…

    I think the time has passed when just stating the consensus scientific position still works well enough to counter the powerful rhetoric and misleading arguments that the sceptical side has developed and refined over the last few years. The public is confused and uncertain as to who has reality on their side because the arguments of the “denialists” are just so damn convincing in THE MINDS OF THE PUBLIC. I have argued this point with committed educated “alarmists” and have been distressed to find out that too many just cannot understand it – they still think the way to convince the public is just to keep chanting ever louder that “the science is settled”, “the consensus says” etc etc – they cannot seem to grasp that the public just doesn’t blindly take the words of scientists as gospel any more and cannot see that their strategy is no longer helpful, but is fast becoming a handicap to generating more public pressure for urgent action.

    In order to get political backing for the fundamental reforms we need, it is certain that the general public will need much greater confidence that actiont is necessary now and fast and that will only come when a large majority accept that the risks of doing nothing are huge and the benefits of an all-out assault on emissions will be much greater than they have been led to accept.

    Websites such as are brilliant for the already converted, and their phone app debunking common denialist arguments is fantastic, but this is not enough. The general public has clearly not been exposed to those ripostes enough. The existence of resources like this that debunk the propaganda have not swayed the popular tide of doubt and uncertainty.

    The second prong of the attack should be very widespread – newpaper ads, TV slots, radio shows, mass mailouts to residences etc – and should attack the denialist arguments that are just simple magic tricks, designed to mislead e.g. CO2 is a trace gas; it was warmer in the past; climate is always changing; warming stopped in 1997; CO2 is plant food; it’s the Sun etc etc. answers these by a clear exposition of the science but this is not an optimum strategy for convincing the mass of the public – what is needed is a clear set of analogies from ordinary life that ordinary people are familiar with and can relate to. An example to answer the “warming stopped in 1997″ meme, which works because the climate unrealists draw a trend line from a recent cool period back to the height of the El Nino warmth and claim the trend is flat or declining, would be for the public to consider the graph of the weight of someone who overeats over decades but whose weight also varies wildly as they indulge in successive crash diets followed by periods of binge eating. Over thirty years they would only have to overeat, on average, by one ounce a day to eventually get to weigh over 600 pounds. The thirty year graph of their weight would look like the Himalayas as their weight varied by 50 pounds plus or minus as their eating habits changed but if the overeater drew a trend line from a “light” dieting period back to a “heavy” bingeing period, and claimed that they had no eating problems, most people would easily see that they were deluded and yet such a trick in the climate arena fools too many who are not familiar with such as the natural ocean cycles affecting temperatures over a couple of decades, climatologically, and thereby creating the convincing illusion on a cherry picked graph (to those unfamilar with planetary mechanisms) that global warming has paused or reversed. People who would never get the statistical necessity that temperature trends only become significant over periods longer than 15 years would understand such a simple analogy straight off.

    We need such a suite of analogies to “go aggressively after the deniers” because current practices are simply not working well enough. Too many still believe that the scientific debate is evenly balanced – that the climate sensitivity is too uncertain to guarantee a threat – even more would like to believe the hundreds of convincing pieces of deceit that there isn’t any threat at all and that the science has been cooked up to get more governmental control of their lives or taxes out of their pockets.