Milloy’s latest climate op-ed riddled with errors

Posted on May 18, 2011

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Today, the Washington Times ran an op-ed by science-denier-for-hire Steve Milloy titled “2012 GOP guide to the climate debate.” Based on the number of errors and irrelevancies masquerading as serious concerns I discovered while reading it, the Washington Times should have titled the op-ed “How to lie to voters about climate disruption.”

Here’s a brief rundown of all the problems I found. I’ll be dealing with a few of the worse errors in greater depth in a follow-up post.

Errors

  1. “Al Gore and his enviros duck debating so-called ‘climate skeptics.'” – So debates like Dessler vs. Lindzen or Lambert vs. Monckton don’t count? It’s true that debates like these are rare, but that’s because debating a climate disruption denier is about as effective as debating evolution with a young-earth creationist or a proponent of “intelligent design.”
  2. “the NRC [National Research Council] panel that authored the report has nothing to do with the prestigious individual scientists….” – The vice chair of the panel is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), as were three of the panel members. The NRC is a co-equal organization to the Institute of Medicine (IoM), NAS, and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). In fact, the presidents of the NAS, NAE, and IoM are the co-chairmen of the NRC governing board.
  3. “NRC panels are highly politicized and often stacked” – This claim is most often made by those who dislike the NRC’s results on such subjects as ozone depletion, acid rain, and climate disruption – people like Milloy, Marc Morano, and S. Fred Singer. People who have made a living off of politicizing science as a means to ideological ends as extensively documented by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway in Merchants of Doubt.
  4. “Skeptics don’t deny global warming or climate change.” – Milloy knows better than this – there’s a whole host of different types of deniers, some of whom reject that the increased CO2 in the atmosphere is from burning fossil fuels, some of whom reject that Venus’ surface is hot due to a 97% CO2 atmosphere, some of whom claim that the greenhouse effect breaks the second law of thermodynamics, and some of whom reject that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Deniers who reject that global warming and climate change in their entirety are becoming rarer, but that’s because the scientific evidence has proven the position factually untenable.
  5. “We don’t agree….that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate.” – Climate models predict the following as effects of greenhouse gases on climate: ocean acidification, decreases in the amount of heat radiating away into space, stratospheric cooling paired with tropospheric heating, and nights warming faster than days. Each of these projected effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere has been observed by scientists – click on the links to see the details.
  6. “CO2 concentrations have increased about 8 percent or so since the mid-1990s. According to climate alarmists, this should have caused measurable global warming. But none has been observed, a fact that was finally admitted by climate alarmists in the wake of the Climategate scandal.” – There’s a couple of problems with this one. First, if you take out the known sources of year-to-year variability (mostly La Nina/El Nino, aka ENSO), warming has been observed, but it’s hard to see if you don’t take out the ENSO signal out. Second, the warming has been statistically significant at the 95% level since 2000, not just since 1995. Milloy could also be implying that we’re cooling and have been for over a decade now, an implication that is both false and based on a naive interpretation of how the climate actually works. 12 or 15 years of flat or slightly cooling temperatures are weather, not climate.
  7. “not only do existing models not predict the future temperature…” – As mentioned above, models have accurately predicted a whole slew of global effects from CO2 that have been observed and thus verified the models. Furthermore, early climate models (in this case from James Hansen, circa 1988) have >accurately reproduced rising global temperatures from the 1950s to today.
  8. “…they can’t replicate the past when historical data is put through them.” – First, Hansen’s 1988 projections hindcast (the technical term for testing a model with historical data) to within the margin of error the climate from the 1950s through 1988 and even to 2010 when 20 years of scientific research into climate sensitivity are included. In addition, In addition, a 2008 analysis of climate models found that the models were very nearly as accurate at predicting the climate as actual measurements were. Finally, climate models use historical information to prove out the accuracy of the model itself, meaning that if the models cannot accurately hindcast the climate using historical data, then the models are rejected or are used only under certain conditions.
  9. “we could shut down the United States in terms of CO2 emissions for 100 years and we would make precious little difference in the atmospheric CO2 level – possibly on the order of 5 percent.” – According to estimates of CO2 emissions for 2009, the US emits approximately 17% of the global emissions of CO2.
  10. “Natural disasters, topographic changes and population booms have always occurred and will continue to occur.” – This is a logical fallacy known as the “predictive appeal to history.” This implies that it’s always been this way, so it always will be this way no matter what else happens to change the circumstances. Appealing to history is a great starting point for scientific investigation, but it takes data to know if this time the causes are the same as they were in the past. In the case of human-caused climate disruption, scientists have already determined that the historical causes of climate change are not driving the current changes.
  11. “None of these phenomena [natural disasters and topographic changes due to sea level rise] can be tied scientifically to man-made emissions of CO2.” – A recent development in statistics called “fractional attribution” can attribute how much more likely it is that a given natural disaster would have occurred with the influence of global warming vs. without. Furthermore, given that the additional CO2 in the atmosphere is human emissions, and given that temperatures have been rising as a result of that extra CO2, and given that warming temperatures have been observed to be melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica as well as the fact that water expands as it gets warmer, “topographic changes” due to sea level rise absolutely can be scientifically tied to anthropogenic CO2.
  12. “Carbon dioxide should not be referred to as a ‘pollutant.'” – The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pollutant” as “something that contaminates (an environment) especially with man-made waste.” CO2 emissions due to burning fossil fuels, especially once the concentration rises enough to affect the environment, would absolutely qualify as a pollutant. Keep in mind that arsenic has medical uses at low concentration but becomes a pollutant and poison at high concentrations. Furthermore, the US Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts et al v. the Environmental Protection Agency that, according to the legal definition of pollutant in the Clean Air Act as passed by Congress, CO2 qualified as a pollutant due to it’s environmental and climatic effects.
  13. “none of these [Climategate] whitewashes were truly independent…” – The PSU investigation of scientific misconduct by climatologist Michael Mann was an internal investigation but its results were approved by the independent National Science Foundation’s Office of the Inspector General. The University of East Anglia created but did not direct either the Oxburgh panel (whose members were recommended by the Royal Society, the oldest scientific society in the world) on scientific misconduct or the Independent Climate Change Email Review (ICCER). And the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry had no connection to any of the institutions or individuals alleged to have committed misconduct, yet all of the investigations produced the same results – no scientific misconduct was identified. In addition, no institution whose financial strength depends on its reputation would whitewash serious accusations like those levied against Mann, Phil Jones and CRU, et al.
  14. “…or anything more than superficial.” – The UK House of Commons inquiry took a day of oral testimony and about 200 pages of written submissions, weighed the information, and wrote a 61 page report that rejected the claims of misconduct. The two Penn State investigations took months to understand the background behind the misconduct claims, interview scientists, and then produced two separate reports, the final of which was 19 pages long. The ICCER took over a hundred different written submissions, asked questions and followups to both written submissions and oral testimony, interviewed the scientists who allegedly committed misconduct, contracted a statistician to independently analyze the climate data based exclusively on publicly available information, worked with the police investigating the criminal hacking of the CRU email server, and then produced a nearly 200 page long report that addressed nearly every misconduct claim made against CRU and associated scientists. If that’s “superficial,” what would have qualified as thorough?
  15. “No input from skeptics, even those mentioned in the emails, was included.” – This is so wrong it’s laughable. Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit, Ross McKitrick, and Sonia Boehmer-Christiansen were three of the deniers who were identified by name in the CRU emails, and all three submitted multiple comments to the UK House of Commons and ICCER investigations. The Penn State investigations took oral testimony from skeptic and NAS member Richard Lindzen. And at least a dozen other prominent deniers also submitted oral and/or written testimony to one or more of the misconduct investigations.
  16. “The central point of the science debate is whether man-made CO2 emissions are causing harm. There is no evidence that they are.” – Simply restating errors made previously in the op-ed doesn’t make this statement any less of an error. If you’re not sure whether or not “man-made CO2 emissions” are causing harm, start by researching the effect of ocean acidification on marine life.
  17. “They’ve [Alarmists] been wrong repeatedly and never right since they started forecasting climate doom almost 25 years ago.” – As above, this is a restatement of errors stated previously. Scientists have been right about cliamte disruption since at least the late 1980s.

Irrelevancies

  1. “science doesn’t work on a consensus basis” – This is true, but when 97% of expert in anything say the same thing, it’s best to listen closely. Furthermore, a scientist’s fame would be assured if he or she could prove a dominant theory wrong, so to have 97% of climate scientists agreeing on the human-caused nature of climate disruption is a huge deal.
  2. “science is driven by data, not groupthink.” – It’s not “groupthink” when the data is at the level of being nearly incontrovertible. Even Anthony Watts’ own paper confirms this point, although he appears to be playing this down to his readership.
  3. “we recognize that climate is changing continually, albeit slowly.” – there’s nothing slow about climate change these days. Slow on a human timescale is lightning-fast on geologic timescales, and previous changes in climate (due to ice ages and the like) have been measured on the order of hundreds to thousands of years, not decades like the changes humans are driving. Furthermore, while wildlife has in many cases adapted to prior changes in climate, the pace of prior changes provided enough time for species to adapt – the rate of climate change due to human factors is expected to be too fast for many species to adapt, causing extinctions that might be avoided.
  4. “Candidates should not fall for bogus distractions like melting polar ice…” – Melting polar ice is not a distraction, but rather support for the idea that climate models projections are accurate. Models projected that the Arctic would warm faster than the rest of the globe, and this warming is being observed. As a result, permafrost is melting and atmospheric methane is on the rise as it is released from permafrost and submarine deposits. A mass methane release is one of the possible tipping points for the global climate, and as such is hardly a “distraction.” Furthermore, observed melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is also going to be a major issue for the US to address as the melting drives sea level rise and dramatically increases the risks of flooding to low-lying coastal areas such as major port facilities.
  5. “Alarmists call it [CO2] ‘carbon pollution’; the rest of us call it ‘life.'” – This is a “CO2 is plant food” argument, but it neglects the fact that CO2 is only a fertilizer if there is enough water and nutrients to support growth. Scientists have tested this claim and found that it’s not clear-cut – sometimes plants do better, but sometimes they do worse. And with climate models projecting increasing temperatures and major changes to precipitation patterns, more plants are likely to do worse than better.

Given Milloy’s history of creating misleading polls, being caught lying on behalf of Philip Morris and working with people caught trying to bribe scientists, it’s hardly a surprise that he’d write an op-ed so filled with lies, errors, and irrelevancies as this one. Still, it takes great skill to jam so many into an op-ed only 20 paragraphs long.

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