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NASA Retirees Appeal to their Own Lack of Climate Authority

Posted on 24 January 2013 by dana1981

In April of 2012, 49 former NASA employees sent a letter to the current NASA administrator requesting that he effectively muzzle the climate scientists at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).  None of those former NASA employees have conducted any climate science research, but based on their own lack of understanding of the subject, they objected to the conclusions drawn by the climate experts at NASA GISS.  This letter drew media attention because folks who have worked at NASA are well-respected (and rightly so), but there was really no substance to it, or any particular reason to lend it credence.  Astronauts and engineers are not climate experts.

Now in January of 2013, a group of 20 "Apollo era NASA retirees" has put together a rudimentary climate "report" and issued a press release declaring that they have decided human-caused global warming is not "settled" and is nothing to worry about.  This time around they have not listed the 20 individuals who contributed to this project, but have simply described the group as being:

"...comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds"

The project seems to be headed by H. Leighton Steward, a 77-year-old former oil and gas executive.  The press release also links the NASA group to his website, "co2isgreen", which also has an extensive history of receiving fossil fuel industry funding.

This story can be summed up very simply: a group of retired NASA scientists with no climate science research experience listened to a few climate scientists and a few fossil fuel-funded contrarian scientists, read a few climate blogs, asked a few relatively simple questions, decided that those questions cannot be answered (though we will answer them in this post), put together a very rudimentary report, and now expect people to listen to them because they used to work at NASA.  It's purely an appeal to authority, except that the participants have no authority or expertise in climate science.

Answering the NASA Retirees' Questions

Most of the group's report is devoted to summarizing some basic aspects of climate science, such as the greenhouse effect.  At the end it lists seven "conclusions", most of which are questions they claim "are still to be resolved", but in reality are generally simple to answer.

1) How really well known is the global temperature of the earth over the past century?

Quite really well known.  The accuracy of the surface temperature record has been confirmed by many different studies using a variety of different approaches, including by natural thermometers and satellites.  There is very little difference between the results of different groups analyzing the surface temperature data (Figure 1).

difference

Figure 1: The four main global surface temperature measurement datasets (Source)

Ocean measurements also show an immense amount of heat accumulation in the world's oceans, well outside the margin of error (Figure 2).

levitus OHC

Figure 2: Time series for the World Ocean of ocean heat content (1022 J) for the 0-2000m (red) and 700-2000m (black) layers based on running pentadal (five-year) analyses. Reference period is 1955-2006. Each pentadal estimate is plotted at the midpoint of the 5-year period. The vertical bars represent +/- 2 times the standard error of the mean (S.E.) about the pentadal estimate for the 0-2000m estimates and the grey-shaded area represent +/- 2*S.E. about the pentadal estimate for the 700-2000m estimates. The blue bar chart at the bottom represents the percentage of one-degree squares (globally) that have at least four pentadal one-degree square anomaly values used in their computation at 700m depth. Blue line is the same as for the bar chart but for 2000m depth.  From Levitus et al. (2012)

2) How important to the factors that determine the surface temperature of the earth are the human related increases of CO2?

Human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of global warming (Figure 3).  The science is entirely settled on this question, which simply boils down to physics.  Long-term global warming is caused by a global energy imbalance.  Human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for by far the largest such energy imbalance over the past century.

attribution 50 yr

Figure 3: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), and Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green).

3) What exactly are the true feedback effects and how do they vary?

There are a number of different climate feedbacks which amplify or dampen global warming.  The NASA document accurately summarizes their net effect.

"The net effect, which includes feedbacks) on the temperature anomaly from the IPCC (AR4) was ... 2.0 - 4.5 K"

By itself, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will cause an energy imbalance sufficient to ultimately warm global surface temperatures about 1.2°C.  Through a variety of different types of studies, climate scientists have concluded that the net effect of the various temperature feedbacks will amplify that warming to somewhere in the range of 2 to 4.5°C in response to doubled CO2.

4) Since the 1988 Hansen paper and presentation to Congress, through the IPCC 2000 and subsequent projections of the global temperature anomaly, the models have consistently over-projected the actual measured temperature anomalies in the subsequent years.

This statement, derived from a blog post, is simply incorrect.  As we at Skeptical Science have shown several times, the IPCC temperature projections have been exceptionally accurate (Figure 4).

Predictions Comparison

Figure 4: IPCC temperature projections (red, pink, orange, green) and contrarian projections (blue and purple) vs. observed surface temperature changes (average of NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4; black and red) for 1990 through 2012.

Conclusion 4 in the document also incorrectly states that "the IPCC projections are intended to represent the worst-case scenario."  The IPCC projections are based on a wide variety of human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, not simply a single worst-case scenario.  Given that many climate variables are changing faster than the IPCC anticipated, it would make for a pretty terrible worst case scenario.

5) What accounts for some of the observed differences between the steady increase in CO2 concentrations over the last century and the more erratic changes in estimated global temperature anomaly?

Cooling from human aerosol emissions offset warming from human greenhouse gas emissions in the mid-20th century, and on top of that there is natural internal variability in the climate system, as Kevin C's video illustrates.

6) What are the relative effects of natural climate oscillations such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, (ENSO), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) on the earth’s temperature trends? Are they compensating for the radiative forcing of CO2 (and other GHG) increases?

These are some of the contributors to the short-term natural internal variability mentioned in the answer to the last question.  No, natural variability is not 'compensating' for the radiative forcing (global energy imbalance) caused by greenhouse gases.  Recent research by Sedláček & Knutti (2012) found that warming caused by internal variability creates a very patchy pattern, whereas we observe a very smooth pattern of warming, consistent with an external forcing like an increased greenhouse effect.  However, the ocean cycles mentioned in this question have caused a short-term dampening of global surface warming over the past decade or so.

7) Why is it assumed that, aside from the more obvious impacts of significant sea level rise on existing infrastructure, that the net effect of more CO2 is negative? After all, CO2 is often added to commercial greenhouses to promote plant growth

This is not an assumption, it is the result of a wide body of scientific research.  More CO2 means more global warming, which means more climate change, which means more extreme weather, like more heat waves and droughts, which does not bode well for plant growth or for most other life on the planet.  Species are already going extinct at a relatively rapid rate.  And on top of climate change, there's the damage CO2 causes via ocean acidification, global warming's evil twin.

These are not difficult questions, in fact we have answered them all here on Skeptical Science.

Risk Management - Uncertainty is not Your Friend

After failing to do more than the most rudimentary climate research, the NASA retirees wrongly conclude that uncertainty can be used to justify inaction.

"Despite claims of consensus and other appeals to authority, no one knows these answers. Once politics is removed, the evidence so far (2011) is that the actual net effect is low or uncertain (considering multiple known and potential feedbacks). As such, aggressive and extraordinarily far-reaching steps by governments to reduce production of CO2 is not warranted."

This conclusion illustrates a risk management failure which is very common amongst climate contrarians.  It's no different than saying "I don't think that I'll be in a car accident, so I won't purchase auto insurance."  The average American has a 30% chance of being involved in a serious automobile accident in his or her lifetime, and the odds of very dangerous and damaging climate change are even higher if we continue on a business-as-usual path – in fact that is the most likely scenario

Climate contrarians like these NASA retirees essentially believe that the best case scenario will occur, that the net climate feedback and sensitivity will be near the low end of the possible range, and that we will be able to cope with future climate change.  That is a possibility, but the best case scenario is only one possible outcome, and thus represents a very low overall probability of occurring.  And when we fail to prepare for or prevent the worst case scenario, or even the most probable scenario, bad things happen.

Appealing to Authority Requires Actually Having Authority

Ultimately the NASA Apollo-era retirees expect the public to defer to their opinions on climate change, despite the fact that they have failed to do more than the most basic climate research and do not understand the most fundamental aspects of risk management (which is rather strange, since Apollo 13 was a good lesson in preparing for the worst case scenario).

In reality many of the questions they believe nobody has answered are actually settled science.  We know humans are causing global warming, we know there is also natural variability in the climate system, and we know the climate consequences will be bad if we continue on our present course.  Just how bad is an open question, which depends in large part on how quickly we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  However, these NASA retirees are asking us to delay action in the hopes that the best case scenario will occur.  This is a total risk management failure, because if they are wrong and the best case does not come to fruition, we will face some nasty consequences, and there will be very little that we can do about it.

As with the last NASA retiree letter, there is no reason why we should pay heed to this document, and very good reasons why we should reject its conclusions.  We are again left wishing that these retirees would leave the climate science to the real climate experts at NASA, who are some of the best in the world.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 61:

  1. This also begs the question: How many retired NASA scientists are there?

    NASA currently has 18,000 employees. They've been operating since 1958, so that's 55 years. Best I can gather there are something upward of 10,000 people who've retired from NASA over the years.

    So, this is coming from 0.2% of the retired scientists from NASA.

    You'd think if this was important (or merely even correct) they'd be able to muster larger numbers.
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  2. "Honest and reasoned discourse, we have a problem!"

    "That's one small meme for the denial'o-sphere, one giant misrepresentation of the science by retirees who don't actually work within the discipline for mankind."

    This is where Walter Cronkite removes his glasses and weeps.
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  3. I wonder how many of these anonymous NASA retirees worked in the assembly unit or were system engineers?
    Why is it that many people who call into question the established data sets turn out to have vast experience in engineering...?
    Is this about all about jobs and the paradigm of current industries?
    Where are the engineering futurist?
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  4. I am a retiree from CSIRO. Even six months away from keeping up with Structural Molecular Biology did leave me somewhat in the dark. I could no more comment on the latest findings in Structural Biology as it is now nine years since I retired and that is an eternity in our field. I can only be an informed spectator now, not a participant.

    Us burnt out old Physicists should listen carefully to all the evidence from young whippersnappers like Dana and then ask more questions as we are stuck in our cognitive thinking in a world that we think is real. It may not exist anymore!

    What part did these retirees from NASA play in all the failed missions? Just asking. Bert
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  5. [...] comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds.


    Oh, a Ph.D, is that all it takes? In that case, time to go back to school and get a Ph.D in musicology. Then I'll be just as qualified to comment on climate science as this lot.

    It's particularly sad to see this kind of credential-burnishing (as if a Ph.D, in and of itself, mattered in establishing one's credibility as a subject matter expert or authority) as it's a reliable indicator, at least in my opinion, of crank-style argument, if not outright crankdom.

    It also IMO shows up the difference between the illegitimate and legitimate appeal to authority in scientific matters: the former is a substitute for satisfactory evidentiary support, the latter is a complement to it.
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  6. The organizer of this letter claims that 20 scientists contributed. Since they have not listed who they are, how can I know they are telling the truth? If they really have 20 people they need to tell us who they are. I could write a letter and claim 150 people back me up. Evidence of hteir claims is required.
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  7. The problem is its an appeal to authority that actually works. I see 'NASA scientist' or particularly 'astronaut' and I get an involuntary physical response - tight throat, tear in eye, that weird chest feeling that is love and hope and happiness. I see earthrise, floating lady astronaut in cloud of hair, space walkers, tatooeen, I hear 'one small step', the music from 2010..
    It bloody works! These are my childhood heroes. I feel betrayed.
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  8. The stuff presented by this bunch so far shows exceedingly strong symptoms of denial.
    They say their objectives are to "determine to what extent human-related releases of CO2 into the atmosphere can cause earth surface temperature increases that would have unacceptably harmful effects" which is a laudable mission.

    But even in the Introduction to their mission, they are pre-empting their own work. On the strength of the existence of "competing points of view" that they consider to be a "professional conflict, they jump to the conclusion that "nations have prematurely accepted the AGW advocates points of view and conclusions as correct." In their belief actions to address AGW are misplaced unless we can be "certain of the reality of the conclusions on this subject."

    The quote from their Overview's conclusion in the SkS post above is remarkably also present in the Introduction to the same document! There they also say that reducing our CO2 emissions "may be trying to solve a minor or even non-existent future problem." Not a word that it is more likely to be a very major possibly-catastrophic future problem which their do-nothing policies will bring about.

    All strong symptoms of denial.
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  9. This sort of denialism seems to suffer terribly from short term thinking. I'm forced to conclude that they are concerned about their retirement, but not the quality of life for future generations.

    While CO2 levels continues to rise, coherent long term thinking about the inevitable implications, underpinned by basic physics, is sadly lacking. (Present company excepted!)
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  10. Concerning Mr. H. Leighton Steward, the spokesperson for this group, I have also witnessed his efforts in Montana on behalf of our state's fossil fuel industries in order to discount the perils of CO2 emissions. Mr. Steward now presents himself as a scientific expert on the subject of climate change. He is, in fact, the Director of EOG, a gas and oil company formerly known as Enron. He is also the spokesperson for a fossil-fuel advocacy group called Plants need CO2, whose advertisements have been shown frequently throughout Montana. On June 9, 2010, he provided the citizens of Billings and the students of MSU Billings with a presentation sponsored by the Montana Petroleum Association, the Montana Chamber of Commerce and Big Sky Economic Development called Our atmosphere needs more CO2. For your inspection, his basic message can be found in 2010 issue of the Montana Treasure State Journal, the official publication of the Montana Petroleum Association, pages 28-32 (can be seen on the Web at: montanapetroleum.org/assets/PDF/articlesReports/2010-Treasure-State-Journal.pdf.)

    In all of his presentations, Mr. Steward assures us that the Earth’s temperature can increase by only 0.2 degrees C or less - even if we let carbon dioxide (CO2) levels increase .without constraints during the rest of this century and into the next. Thus, he is claims that the sensitivity of CO2 will always be less than 0.2 degrees C, even after CO2 levels reaches 1,000 ppm ! As can be seen in the article referred to above, Mr. Steward bases his version of "happy science" entirely on a century-old, over-simplistic theory that was discarded many decades ago by both theory and direct observations. His model is of no relevance to the real world because it accounts only for the absorption of infrared radiation by the greenhouse gases and does not also include the emission of this radiation by these same molecules within the atmosphere. Even Svante Arrhenius know better way back in 1986 !

    In short, the leader of this group is a classic, oil-saturated pseudo-scientist doing his best to keep the oil flowing for as long as possible.
    Eric Grimsrud (web site at ericgrimsrud.com)
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  11. To the point that this group seems to be the work of H. Leighton Steward - Steward is also the head of PlantsNeedCO2.org, and this group is an astroturf concern troll group, run by Quintana Minerals.
    A recent 'whois' query returned the following:
    Registrant ID:44057767-NSI
    Registrant Name:Leighton Steward
    Registrant Street1:234 W BANDERA RD # 121
    < snip >
    Registrant Email: it@quintanaminerals.com

    Pointing this out over at WUWT seems to have gotten me banned there. Tony seems particularly sensitive in his responses on this blog entry.
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  12. So, they got rid of Apollo and went to a reusable space plane that ended up costing half a billion dollars per turnaround. Thirty years later they've farmed out their launch business to private companies that are making... Apollo, again. With such a record of success in their area of expertise, I can see why they are offering advice so far afield...
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  13. One difference between NASA and Quintana Minerals is that NASA is reasonably careful to provide a means of safe return for people being propelled into space.

    For the unfortunates who were recruited to crew this letter it seems their credibility is being left to burn on reentry from the intellectual vacuum in which they're now orbiting. A one-way mission; Quintana is happy to pay for PR Newswire "publication," clap the poor old chumps on their backs and send 'em to their fate.

    What happens to the steely-eyed ex-missile men when the experiment is over is a matter of no concern to Quintana; incinerated reputations come after the crew has been used up.
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  14. Dana

    At H. Leighton Steward's website, CO2isGreen.org, he says,

    "Empirical evidence shows that Earth is currently "greening" significantly due to additional CO2 and a modest warming."

    This is essentially the same argument that Matt Ridley made in his WSJ article that you dissected in your post of January 16. In the WSJ piece Ridley attributes this position to Ranga Myneni of Boston University. I was wondering if you were ever able to ascertain whether Myneni's views were accurately reflected in Ridley's article? And if this is Myneni's position, what evidence does he have to back it up?
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  15. Eric @10 - interesting info about Steward, thanks.

    Joe T @14 - I haven't researched Myneni's opinions specifically, although in a quick search I did stumble on this fairly interesting and relevant research.
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  16. my experience is that electrical engineers in particular can be very "sceptic" a recent IET poll "There is a conclusive body of evidence to support the existence of manmade climate change"

    http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2012/11/debate.cfm
    has a slight majority voting against this. It was about 2/3 to 1/3 against but as a member of the IET I shamelessly asked my colleagues and PhD students to support the motion.

    Clearly I should teach more quantum mechanics to electrical engineers...
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  17. In my book these "scientists" fall at the first hurdle, demonstrating that they do not have the appropriate understanding and expertise with which to even begin to comment on climate change.

    In their first "conclusion" they say:

    How really well known is the global temperature of the earth over the past century? Can the measurements that determine the surface temperature of the earth be more accurately quantified?


    The thing is, the accuracy of the measurements of global temperature are secondary to the consistency with which they are measured, and the precision to which they are measured. It doesn't matter if we don't "know" the actual mean global temperature to two decimal places (or even to one...) as long as the way that we measure the temperature change doesn't alter over time.

    For obfuscationists who can't (or won't) understand this point, imagine measuring the height of a child as s/he grows. Each year one might measure the height to the nearest millimetre, and note that over the course of a few years the child is growing. However, imagine too that the child was wearing a pair of shoes on each occasion. What the "Apollo era NASA retirees" are saying is that because the child was wearing shoes, we can't be sure that s/he is growing because we don't know his/her height. But as long as the shoes were of the same thickness on each occasion of measurement, it's irrelevant how tall the child actually is, if all one is attempting to do is to demonstrate that height is increasing from year to year.

    And so it is with demonstrating that the planet is warming.

    If the NASA denialists start with a botching of what the increase in temperature anomaly actually means, they have no credibility with anything that follows.
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  18. Dentists and brain surgeons both have medical degrees, therefore a dentist is qualified to opine on brain surgery and vice versa. Hopefully when Mr. H. Leighton Steward needs brain surgery he will practice what he preaches and hire his dentist for the operation.

    By the way, I have a petition of 3250 anonymous NASA retirees saying the moon is made of green cheese. (trust me...)
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  19. Dvunknnon,

    FYI, I was also kicked out of WUWT multiple times for similar attempts to inject some science into a few threads. An account of my experiences there can be read at ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com, November archives.

    For some reason, Mr. Watts get very uncomfortable when a real scientist with a real education background and a real history of research in climate or atmospheric science is in his midst.
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  20. H. Leighton Steward included NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt among the sixteen scientists (half of them recognizable skeptics) who signed a January23,2012 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal discounting Global Warming.

    Steward was also behind the April 10,2012 letter to NASA by 49 former NASA scientists disputing climate change. "While making presentations in late 2011 to many of the signatories of the letter, Steward realized that the NASA scientists should make their concerns known to NASA and the GISS." (The Goddard Institute..., which "emphasizes global climate change")

    This suggests another possible motivation for anonymity. How many of these 20 report writers had already signed the letter to NASA?

    It would take a psychologist to work out the group dynamics in this situation. Ex-NASA retirees sitting down to presentations of a new subject. Many of the presenters also being ex-NASA. All united to challenge another part of NASA, GISS. And so we have the rocket scientists challenging the climate scientists, about climate science!
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  21. These are old white guys who don't want AGW to be true. They can't stand the implications. They're in love with the technology they helped advance, and convinced that it's a gift from a beneficent God to his chosen people, us Americans. They're emotionally invested in it not being true because it shatters their worldview. Their God would have betrayed them, and they would have had direct culpability in pushing civilization to the brink of doom.

    I'd say they're pathetic if I felt sorry for them. But I'm sure they're an arrogant, self-satisfied, and unself-aware tribe of jingoists, impressed with their own ability to find the tiny inconsistencies in the data trees. Meanwhile, they ignore the forest, the obvious and overwhelming evidence that, ironically, can be seen from space: the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap. It's the idiot light at the top of the world. Not to mention all the satellite data NASA collects.

    NASA should firmly rebut them and categorically disavow any ongoing relationship.

    These reactions remind me of smokers who denied that tobacco causes lung cancer for decades, even though the evidence was equally obvious. And ultimately fatal.
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  22. H Leighton Steward shows that he is well aware that right wing politics and the view of those who have heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry always outweigh the laws of physics.

    I'm not sure that age necessarily indicates failure to understand climate science though it certainly limits one ability to keep up[ with its latest developments - I speak from experience. I'm 81.
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  23. I haven't gone through all of them, but many of the reports list on the TRCS page http://www.therightclimatestuff.com/StudiesReports.html are actually quite rational. I especially liked the notation "'skeptical' climate scientists in TX = zero" on one of them.

    ps - I retract saying I was banned on WUWT. My last comment there was delayed, and did not show to me as 'in moderation', but has now appeared.
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  24. So....

    ....it's OK for the UEA - CRU to accept funds from BP, Shell & the Sultanate of Oman.

    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/about-cru/history

    ....it's Ok for Stanford University Global Climate & Energy Project (GCEP) to accept funds from ExxonMobil & Schlumberger since 2002 ($155million so far, with more to come....expected $225 million).

    http://gcep.stanford.edu/about/sponsors.html

    ....it's OK for BEST to accept $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

    http://berkeleyearth.org/donors/

    (-snip-)!
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Inflammatory snipped. Please familiarize yourself with this site's Comments Policy before constructing comments that adhere to it in the future. Comments that do not will be moderated/deleted.
  25. Chuckle, snafu. It's ok to accept money to perform science. It's not ok to accept money to misinform the public in order to delay action on a serious, global problem. Your analysis is too simple to be useful.
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  26. @ Bernard J., comment #17....ONLY!

    Since you are such an expert and above NASA astronauts/scientists, can you answer the following questions?

    1) What is the 'optimal' temperature of Planet Earth? Bearing in mind that it has been warmer, cooler and has had more and less CO2 than today.

    2) What is the 'optimal' climate of Planet Earth? Bearing in mind that it has been warmer, cooler and has had more and less CO2 than today.

    @ A Change in the Weather, comment #21....ONLY!

    Please repeat your statement...:

    "I'd say they're pathetic if I felt sorry for them. But I'm sure they're an arrogant, self-satisfied, and unself-aware tribe of jingoists, impressed with their own ability to find the tiny inconsistencies in the data trees. Meanwhile, they ignore the forest, the obvious and overwhelming evidence that, ironically, can be seen from space: the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap. It's the idiot light at the top of the world. Not to mention all the satellite data NASA collects.

    NASA should firmly rebut them and categorically disavow any ongoing relationship."

    ...to the families of:

    (-snip-)"


    (-snip-).
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Moderation complaints and inflammatory tone snipped. Future comments constructed thusly will be deleted in their entirety. You are not doing well.
  27. snafu @26... Regarding "the optimal temperature of planet earth." I've seen this question proposed dozens of times and it's really rather meaningless.

    The issue at hand is whether an abrupt, human caused shift in the earth's climate will cause massive disruption for humanity and other living species.
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  28. Rather on par with
    "What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
    With the proper answer being
    "Depends on if he's carrying a coconut."
    The most irritating thing about such parsimonious lines of rhetoric is that the asker of the question truly isn't interested in the answer or even capable of understanding it in context even if it is answered (as they never would have asked such a question had they the knowledge and understanding needed).
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  29. snafu wrote "What is the 'optimal' temperature/climate of Planet Earth?"

    A reasonable answer to that would be "the climate to which our civilisation (and especially agricultural practices) has become highly adapted".

    It is the change in climate that is the principal problem, as adapting to change has costs. It seems likely that mitigation will reduce the cost of adaptation, so that would appear to be the rational strategy. It isn't rocket science.
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  30. As usual, a contrarian comes along with a "silver bullet" against reality, only for it to end up being a can of Coors Light.
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  31. I agree with those that say a valid response to the "skeptic" asking "oh yeah, well what is the optimal (average surface temperature) temperature of planet earth anyway, huh?" is to note that it is the abruptness that is problematic.

    But it would be fun to to have a pithy comeback along the lines of "well, I like 55 degrees F, because if it was 60 degrees it would be a real pain in the a*s". I don't know what the best value for a retort is -maybe someone could help me, but the point is that it would maybe stump the "skeptic" that smugly asks this question in the expectation that it can't be answered.

    Then if the conversation warranted, one could follow up with, "because, at several degrees warmer than optimum it will be a real hassel for us to grow our food, live on the coastlines like we have over the last thousand years or so, and it will be a bummer to have to try to cover the costs associated with the resulting increases in flooding and/ or fires. So, duh, that's why we don't want to minimize the deviation from the optimum temperature."

    just a thought
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  32. That should have been: "So, duh, that's why we DO want to minimize the deviation from the optimum temperature"
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  33. At least Dikran Marsupial gave me a reasonable response to my 2 questions asked, and I do appreciate your answer. Thank you.

    To Danial Bailey....

    The correct answer would be:

    Is that an African or European swallow?



    Ni!
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  34. The only thing that bugs me about this discussion and subsequent comments is the agist and elitist connection. Most of the evidence cited doesn't take a bona fide climate scientist to suss out, and I don't see that being 77 has to do with much anything. I'm sure there are plenty of 15 year olds, 25 year olds, etc. that have contrarian views, yet that seems to be the ad hominem perspective so prevalent with this better than thou crowd. I would only point out that Lovelock is close to 100 and wasn't a climate scientist either. It's the knowledge and acumen that's brought to bear.
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  35. @snafu While I did indeed give a reasonable response to your two questions, you have not given an adequate response to those answers. Do you accept those answers? If not, please explain your objections.
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  36. Charliec65,

    I think you'll find that what's being responded to is the false authority being claimed on behalf of the 20 "Apollo era NASA retirees".

    If 20 unknown people got together and issued a report saying that they aren't convinced that global warming is a problem then nobody would pay it any attention at all. But when those same people attempt to draw attention to their report by pretending that their credentials, and therefore opinion, matter, then they are inviting people to examine those credentials to see whether their opinion really does matter.

    I'd also point out that the original post actually addresses the substance of their report by answering all seven of their questions one-by-one, justifying the conclusion that the anonymous retirees really did not understand what they were talking about and therefore that their attempted appeal to authority was unjustified. It's not "elitist" to point out that those claiming to be authorities are actually ignorant of some pretty basic facts.

    The additional information that the project seems to be headed by a "77-year-old former oil and gas executive" illustrates conformity to a pattern demonstrated in Oreskes' "Merchants of Doubt", which I find interesting and useful to know.
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  37. snafu:

    Given your posts were in violation of the Comments Policy and were rather disrespectful & unreasonable themselves, I don't feel you have grounds to complain that others were snarky or sharp-tongued in response.

    ----------
    Charliec65:

    I'm not sure where your charge of 'elitist' comes from. Retirees belong to one of the largest and more affluent demographics in the US. In addition, we are talking about retired NASA personnel from its "glory days" in the 1960s & 70s, whose efforts to muddy the waters of climate-related policymaking are spearheaded by a former fossil fuel executive (aka 'wealthy person connected to a wealthy & politically powerful industry').

    Surely, if anyone belongs to any sort of elite, it is the authorship of this "climate report".
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  38. Just speaking for myself, but reading Charliec65's comment (#34), I can't tell if (s)he's bugged by the criticism of the NASA retirees' claims, or bugged by the retirees implicit claim that their NASA expertise is worth something. It could be interpreted either way.

    Perhaps Charliec65 can explain...
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  39. Ah, the "ideal temperature of the Earth" question. I'm always amused when I see that old canard kicked into quacking again. It is difficult to explain the promotion of such an argument except by postulating that the ones pushing it have not done given the subject much thought. What's funny is how clever and smug some feel when throwing the flailing ol' quackster in the conversation.

    From whom point of view would that temperature be "ideal"? The Earth? It's a planet, a ball of material orbiting around a star, it does not have feelings, it just exists. The ideal temperature range from the point of view of the Earth is that allowing for its existence, pretty wide.

    From the point of view of life, as a phenomenon? More restricted, no doubt, but still pretty open. Ever since their precursors took the better forms, life has been about bacteria. It is so now and always will be until the Sun explodes. The range of temperatures allowing them to exist is still generous.

    From the point of view of vertebrates? Terrestrial vertebrates? Mammals? Primates? Humans! Of course, that's the ideal temperature we're looking for. The temperature range in which humans not only can exist but flourish to the point that they can take their minds off of basic necessities and do all those other fun things that their brains can do. Now, that is a much more narrow temperature range; we're not talking about survival here but advanced civilization.

    Hasn't SkS looked at that? Of course they have: in a recent installment,the Y-Axis of Evil was thus exposed, but there were other posts before looking at that same question.

    No matter how exhausted and wrong any argument is, you know it's going to pop up again, driven by someone so convinced that they'd be ready to go to a war of words for it.
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  40. I will identify myself as the leader or Chairman of The Right Climate Stuff research team that published a one page summary of our findings (discussed above in this blog and comments) from a year long study of the question:  Are human related CO2 emissions causing alarming warming of the planet that requires swift corrective action by our government?

    I have two questions for the author or readers of this blog:

    1. Can anyone define for any current specific location on earth, a temperature "Problem" stated in terms of a harmful deviation in temperature from the normal variation range at that location of the last 10,000 years of very stable climate on earth?  What are the high confidence projected consequences of this problem or problems if no corrective action is taken?  I'm not interested in global average temperature that seems to be a metric subject to anthropogenic mischief.  I am trying to define one specific temperature problem for at least one location on earth that will help me be able to prove root cause of the problem.

    2.  Can anyone tell me what the critique published at SkepticalScience regarding my Powerpoint Presentation given at CPAC on March 15, 2013 said?   I was encouraged by a well-known climate scientist to visit this blogsite to review and respond to it, but apparently that critique has been removed from this site?  Why?

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  41. Harold, you're constructing a strawman.  No one ever said that the average temperature increase for any given location was going to be the feature problem of the climate change associated with rapid global warming.  You can look at, for example, Petoukhov et al. (2013) and Johanson & Fu (2009) and research on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a decent analogue for the current situation (although we're warming much, much more rapidly than that extreme event).

    Unless, of course, you're going to utter some nonsense about the greenhouse effect not existing.

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  42. Harold Doiron, you can start with the post that responds to the myth "It's Not Bad". Be sure to click the Intermediate and Advanced tabs for more details and links to the peer-reviewed scientific publications containing even more specifics.  You might also check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture's reports.

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  43. Harold, thanks for visiting.

    I can't answer your other questions, but here's a question for which I was unable to find an answer when your letter made the rounds earlier, despite my contacting some of the parties apparently involved in promoting your opinions. Who paid for the press campaign around your work? I see that your summary was mostly publicized via PR Newswire, which of course charges for service. Did you guys pass the hat amongst yourselves, or failing that who stepped forward to pay for your PR campaign?

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  44. Harold H Doiron "I am trying to define one specific temperature problem for at least one location on earth that will help me be able to prove root cause of the problem."

    Simple question...

    Why?


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  45. Harold, in the "It's Not Bad" post, be sure to click the links in the "Further Reading" green section below the post (but above the comments).

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  46. Harold

    Depends how 'specifc' you want your location to be. So here are two examples for some moderately specific locations.


    The Arctic. Rising temperatures there have resulted in melting of the permafrost beginning. This is causing erosion, land subsidence, damage to roads, destruction of pipes and buried infrstructure. It is also causing venting of elevated amounts of Methane. Future projections of impacts can be based on known studies of permafrost distribution and temperature profiles overlaid by patterns of human infrastructure. The Russians have identified several entire cities at risk from these problems. Also potential risks to major Natural Gas supply pipelines.

    Next, 'dead zones; in the ocean. It is basic chemistry that warmer water cannot hold as much gas in solution. This matters particularly for oxygen. Colder waters are better oxygenated which is why the most productive parts of the oceans are mainly in the higher latitudes. The clear waters of the Tropics are so clear because there is much less microscopic life within them - biologically the tropical oceans are like deserts with coral reefs being like little oases. In the extreme, there are regions where there is virtually no life - oceanographers have colloquially labelled these regions 'dead zones'. These can be found for example in the Gulf of Mexico. With higher water temperatures, oxygenation will decline and such dead zones will expand. Generally, warmer oceans will be less biologically productive. Since the oceans are the primary source of protein for around a billion people, any decline in the biological productivity of the oceans must unavoidably lead to a reduction in available protein.

    Declining oceanic productivity due to reduced oxygenation is something that biologists could predict with high confidence since the chemistry of Henry's Law is well understood, as are the relationships between biological productivity and oxygenation levels.

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  47. Also Harold, a general class of problem one could study.

    Take any agricultural region and look at which of the major grain crops are grown there and what the average climate is at that location. Then apply the various studies that have been done into how much yields for those crops vary with temperature. Apply different possible warming scenarios to that location, factor in that locations current climate and the temperature/yield data and estimate how much yields from crops at that location are likely to vary due to the warming in diffferent scenarios.

    Then one would need to repeat such studies for many locations in order to integrate the results.  In some locations this may be positive, in others negative. The common conclusion from the Biological Science community that has looked into this is that the projected climate change is more likely to be a net negative for larger levels of warming.

    Critically, given the importance of sustained crop yields to food security, this needs to be considered as a probabalistic risk assessment, with appropriate weightings given to different possible outcomes based on what the severity of particular consequence might be.

    Crop yeld changes due to temperature alone is only one possible impact of a changing climate at each location; precipitation changes, variations in the proportion of more extreme weather events occuring, changes in the timing of the growing season, changes in the timing of the life cycles of the crop plants relative to that of associated, necessary other species such as polinators are also potential impacts.

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  48. Harold, the major problem is the rate of change of temperature and the resulting other climatic effects (precipitation, sea level, sea chemistry, snow and ice cover, etc.).  For example, nearly every dang land-living plant and animal (and some water-living ones) that people eat nowadays has been bred over decades to millenia to suit the current particular conditions of growing, harvesting, marketing, preparing, and eating.  Changing those conditions makes those plants and animals less suitable.  Re-breeding those plants and animals to suit the new conditions will take lots of time and money, during which time the producers and consumers of those products will suffer (in some cases starve to death).  Production of the existing breeds cannot simply be moved to new locations that now have the desired conditions, because those locations already are being used for other things. 

    For example, some of my friends have a 20,000 acre cattle ranch. Their success depends on lots of climate factors, including not just how much it rains in a year (to make the grass grow), but also the precise timing of the rain in order to have the cattle fattened at the right time for market and even for the cattle's survival.  If the rain total or timing change so that their ranch now is unproductive but the north-neighboring land's conditions now are suitable, my friends can move their ranch there only if they buy out the entire town that happens to occupy that land, level the town, haul out the resulting rubble, and plant grass everywhere.  That's not feasible in the span of just a decade or two.

    If instead that same change were spread out over 10,000 years, the compensating transitions would be inconsequential.  My friends and many generations of their descendants would be long gone.  The neighboring town might well have disappeared, rotted away, and turned into grassland anyway, making it available for someone else to ranch it.

    Before you reply that we must just bite the bullet and pay the cost of accomodating the change to the new climate, stop to realize that there won't be any "the" new climate.  As long as humans keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, the climate will keep changing.  The target we try to accomodate toward will keep moving constantly.  It is stupid for us to consciously accelerate the motion of that target.

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  49. Well I hope Harold's not going to pull a Tom Harris and mumble some non sequitur response followed by a general disappearance.  In the interest of encouraging Harold's interaction, I suggest we avoid dogpiling.   

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  50. Harold - whoever you spoke to was mistaken.  We have not even seen your CPAC presentation.  From what I read, Walter Cunningham's and Thomas Wysmuller's comments were kind of a joke, apparently denying that the planet is warming.

    From the same story, you said sea level rise isn't a global problem (which is kind of silly – a whole lot of countries, including the USA, have coastal property), and said China is refusing to address climate change, which is wrong.  Other than that, I don't know what was included in your presenation, so we haven't addressed it.

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