Physicists!

credit : xkcd

credit : xkcd

There’s a classic xkcd cartoon (on the right) that is meant to illustrate the arrogance of physicists. As one myself I, of course, think it’s a gross generalisation, but there is certainly an element of truth, as illustrated by the recent interview with William Happer; Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor Physics at Princeton University.

The interview starts with Happer saying:

I would like history to remember me as an honest scientist.

Given what he says in the rest of the interview, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be remembered as a competent scientist, so maybe going for “honest scientist” is wise. On the other hand, if these emails are genuine, he might want to go for “I would like to not be remembered at all”.

He goes on to say

Since the year 1800, the Earth has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius. Some fraction of the warming is due to more atmospheric CO2 from burning fossil fuels, but most of the warming is probably due to the same natural forces that have always controlled the Earth’s changeable climate.

Really? What are these natural forces that have always controlled the Earth’s changeable climate? As a physicist you’d like to think that he would understand that long-term warming requires some kind of radiative response; you can’t simply heat the atmosphere and surface and hope it won’t then cool back down again. So if there are natural forces that produce long-term warming, what are they and how do thet operate, and why do they operate when the underlying warming is natural, but not when it’s anthropogenic?

Rather bizarrely, he then says

And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.

We’re currently increasing atmospheric CO2 at more than 2ppm/year. Hence at current rates it will take no more than a further 80 years to have doubled CO2 relative to pre-industrial levels. However, we expect the airborne fraction to increase as we continue to emit CO2. Hence it could take considerably less than 80 years. It will also depend on how much we emit in the coming years; it’s certainly quite possible that we could double atmospheric CO2 (relative to pre-industry) in the next few decades.

He then discusses how much warming we’d expect from a doubling of CO2, saying

From the point of view of the alarmist establishment, that increase of 1 C is disappointingly small, so, they have invented many scenarios that supposedly give more warming. The present party line is that the increase would land between 1.5 C and 4 C.

Does he really think there will be no feedbacks to anthropogenically-driven warming, or that there is a good chance of them being negative? Does he genuinely think it is simply some kind of “party line” that has established that the likely warming due to a doubling of CO2 will be between 1.5C and 4C, rather than actual scientific research? Has he actually considered water vapour, lapse rate, clouds, and the other feedbacks that are expected to operate.

It then goes from the bizarre to the ridiculous

We have no more ability to prevent climate change than King Canute had to stop the tide from rising.

Ummm, no, we could stop emitting 10s of billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmophere. It might be very difficult to do so, but it’s certainly not impossible.

All the observational evidence is that CO2 has a relatively small effect on temperature.

Umm, no, this is very obviously not true.

Actually, so much of what he says is so bizarre and wrong that I probably don’t need to waste any more time highlighting more of it. To get back to the basic theme of the post, his final question is about why so many people feel differently to him; Are they just all wrong?, to which he responds

Yes, they are wrong, …

Physicists; well, some of them, at least!

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81 Responses to Physicists!

  1. Once sentence that riled me was this

    ” We no longer have regular famines from crop failures, since we can readily ship grain from one part of the world to another”

    This is certainly true if you are a rich American. Less true is you are a poor Ethiopian http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2016/02/22/history-repeats-itself-in-ethiopia/

  2. Brandon Gates says:

    It’s a bit galling that a known rent-a-scientist is calling the IPCC to the carpet for lack of Integrity™. One would think that a putative “party line” would have a tighter CS interval than 2.5 K that has more or less been there since FAR. I look at that long-running gap and see only honest science, not politically motivated propaganda.

  3. John Hartz says:

    Re famine, Happer shoots from the lip. Perhaps he confines his reading to physics.

    Here’s a recent article about what may lie ahead in sub-Sahara Africa re food production…

    Without emissions cuts, much of sub-Saharan Africa will become unsuitable for growing key crops during this century, a new study suggests.

    Up to 60% of areas that currently grow beans, and up to 30% of areas that grow maize and bananas could no longer be suitable in a warmer climate. Fundamental changes to farming may be needed in the coming decades to maintain food security, the researchers say.

    Climate change threatens staple crops in Africa, study says by Robert McSweeney, Carbon Brief, Mar 7, 2016

  4. ATTP … The cartoon sparked a memory, and luckily I found what I wanted on my bookshelf … Szilard I think might be a good example of the arrogance of physicists that the cartoon purports. He visited the laboratory of the molecular biologist Salvatore Luria (who was to receive a Nobel Prize for his work), as he was interested in collaborating on phage research.

    Laura Fermi (wife of Enrico) recalls the following anecdote in a small piece she wrote:

    “… Before revealing his interest in the phage, Szilard had visited Luria’s laboratory at the University of Indiana. ‘Doctor Szilard, I don’t know how much to explain’, said Luria, embarrassed by the presence of the great nuclear physicist. ‘I don’t know what to assume …’
    ‘You may assume,’ Szilard replied promptly, ‘infinite ignorance and unlimited intelligence. …’”

    Laura Fermi, ‘Arrogance in physics’, p.36 of “A Random Walk in Science”, An anthology compiled by R L Weber, Edited by E Mendoza, The Institute of Physics, 1973

    But then again, how representative was he?

    Human characteristics such as honesty and humility are surely unlikely to correlate with disciplines, whether they be physics, biology, or playing the violin. But for masters of any art or science – and Szilard was surely an example of one – a certain confidence is a natural outcome of years of endeavour and success, even though the ones we ‘like’ seem to manage to retain a certain element of self-doubt along with the genius.

    The contrarians are it seems rarely masters of anything, and as for self-doubt, forget it.

  5. MarkB says:

    Happer: “Since the year 1800, the Earth has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius.”

    Since the “no warming since 1998(ish)” meme has been put to rest by the current El Nino + trend, I’m seeing various contrarians frame warming over the longest possible period as Happer has done here. In this case it’s interesting that he chooses a period longer than any plausibly global instrumental record in an apparent effort to minimize the trend. One might expect an “honest scientist” to note that about 70% of that 1 degree occurred in the last 40 years of his 200 year period.

    Happer: ” We no longer have regular famines from crop failures, since we can readily ship grain from one part of the world to another”

    The reality of climate change is that it involves the immediate and unarguable benefit of fossil fuel use balanced against consequential negative externalities that are mostly temporally and geographically distant from those of us who most benefit from such use. “We”, in the first world sense, aren’t going to starve as a result of climate change during my lifetime. Resistance to mitigation efforts seems to be largely driven by selfish self interest. Contrarians, of course, would not frame it that way, which is odd given their forecasts of economic ruin resulting from any plausible mitigation effort.

  6. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Vandana Shiva. Nuff said.

  7. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Richard Telford was riled by this:

    We no longer have regular famines from crop failures, since we can readily ship grain from one part of the world to another

    He illustrated his riledness by pointing at a WaPo article about the long-threatened famine in Ethiopia. That article’s second sentence:

    Unlike in the past, the government and aid groups have kept food shipments flowing to areas ravaged by drought in recent months.

    This Ethiopian drought hasn’t (so far) been disastrous precisely because ‘we can readily ship grain from one part of the world to another’. There are factors that might have made it disastrous by now, notably the Ethiopian govt’s initial refusal of foreign aid, but so far things are working out OK.

    This isn’t the ’80s. Ethiopia’s economy is growing fast and, with luck, in a decade or two it won’t need outside help when cyclical droughts come along.

    So, Mr Telford, you should be made happy, not riled, by that first quote above.

    (As it happens by brother is currently in Addis with an NGO. Maybe more on that later. With his permission.)

  8. John Mashey says:

    Insight may be gained from 2009 Princetonian interview with Happer, which starts:

    “Physics professor William Happer GS ’64 has some tough words for scientists who believe that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.

    “This is George Orwell. This is the ‘Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth.’ It’s that kind of propaganda,” Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, said in an interview. “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Every time you exhale, you exhale air that has 4 percent carbon dioxide. To say that that’s a pollutant just boggles my mind. What used to be science has turned into a cult.”

    Princeton has a big (~68) (and world-class) physics faculty. How many of those signed Happer’s latest “300 scientists (sic) letter to help Lamar Smith waste taxpayer money harassing NOAA?
    Zero … (including Robert Austin and Salvatore Torquato, who *did* sign the APS2009 petiion.
    There are another ~46 research staff and postdocs, none of whom signed.
    As far as I can tell, the only other Princeton signer (of both) was Syzmon Suckewer whose research has no obvious connection with climate either.

    Princeton has about 1200 faculty, of whom 2 thus signed. Someone might argue that many of those are not scientists (true), but then Happer cast a very wide net to get 308, including .a lot of oil & coal people, a long-retired dentist, a mechanical engineer climate blogger, a web designer blogger, a guy who founded a free market group in Philippines and attended a Heartland conference, a bunch of economists … more than 50% retired, and 25% associated with Heartland. The European denial organizations are well-represented, as are Australia’s. There is an interesting set of folks who publish in vanity journal or others with dubious review.

    Most physicists I know are pretty sensible, but interesting behavior is not limited to a small subset of them.

    Consider another signer of Happer’s letter, retired Southern Connecticut State U pchem prof James Barrante, author of Global Warming for Dim Wits A Scientist’s Perspective of Climate Change. He participated in a thread at RC. Search for Barrante to assess his understanding or you can try a 25-page PDF of the first part of his book.

  9. Vinny,

    So, Mr Telford, you should be made happy, not riled, by that first quote above.

    I think it’s at least Dr Telford. I suspect Richard’s point was somewhat subtler than maybe it at first appears. I’ll leave it to Richard to clarify. Do you have any other comments about Happer’s interview, or do you plan to simply cherry-pick a few points?

  10. BBD says:

    Vinny

    Vandana Shiva. Nuff said.

    Vandana Shiva = wrong about lots of stuff

    William Happer = wrong about lots of stuff

    Physics unaffected.

  11. JM,
    Very interesting, thanks.

  12. Bryan says:

    Is this the same William Happer who has a Nobel Prize for Physics?
    I think we should be told……

  13. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP, I haven’t read Happer’s interview. Should I?

  14. Bryan,
    No, I don’t think so. Am I missing some subtlety?

    Vinny,
    There’s no really good reason why you should.

  15. Bryan says:

    Correction
    Getting Happer mixed up with Ivar Giaever a Norwegian who has a Nobel Prize in Physics

  16. John Mashey says:

    Happer is a Member of the NAS (for atomic physics), but indeed is not Ivar Giaever: Nobel Icon For Climate Deniers, and Philip Morris.

  17. Princeton has about 1200 faculty, of whom 2 thus signed.

    The creationists also like to make petitions to pretend that many scientists are on their side. The defenders of science in response started project Steve. Asked scientists who accepted evolution with the name Steve to sign. If someone has some time to spare, a project Steve for climate change could be fun. Or project Michael/Mike.

  18. John Mashey says:

    Steve: yes, as an NCSE supporter, I have one of the T-shirts, wear it to gym sometimes.

  19. On Happer, in large part in his own words:

    Greenpeace exposes climate change deniers professors William Happer and Frank Clemente
    http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/greenpeace-exposes-climate-change-deniers-professors-william-happer-and-frank-clemente/news-story/3f4a115ed3fe21dc6ffc7d194c1e0273

    “In a complex sting, the environmental organisation posed as representatives of energy companies and offered to pay the academics to write papers explaining the benefits of coal and carbon emissions. They also asked the payments not be disclosed.

    The academics, Professor William Happer from Princeton University, a physicist, agreed to write a paper on the benefits of rising CO2 emissions at the request of an unnamed oil and gas company in the Middle East…

    In a series of email exchanges both also agreed to hide the funding source, and revealed details of other arrangements they had made with other companies…

    …he did not agree with that CO2 was bad for the environment.

    “This is completely false,” he wrote. “More CO2 will benefit the world. The only way to limit CO2 would be to stop using fossil fuels, which I think would be profoundly immoral and irrational policy.”

    He then goes on to say that he no longer has his own research laboratory, or external funding, adding that his work to “push back against climate extremism” was a “labour of love” and was done to “defend the cherished ideals of science that have been so corrupted by the climate-change cult”.

    He then set out his terms for his fee – $250 per hour – and asked that it be donated to the CO2 Coalition, a lobby group set up to promote the benefits of fossil fuel generated carbon emissions, adding that it was the same group the Peabody Coal Company, which paid him thousands of dollars to testify at a separate state hearing, donated his fee to.”

    On the CO2 coalition, of which Happer is the director:

    CO2 Coalition
    http://www.desmogblog.com/co2-coalition

    “According to their website, the CO2 Coalition was established in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) for the purpose of “educating thought leaders, policy makers, and the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide and fossil fuels to our lives and the economy.” [1]…

    The group’s tag line is “Carbon dioxide, a nutrient vital for life” and appears to share many of the views put forward by Craig Idso’s Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (Co2science.org). Craig Idso is also listed on the CO2 Coalition’s Board of Directors. [1]

    In December 2015, news sources confirmed that the CO2 Coalition was a “morphed” form of the now-defunct George C. Marshall Institute, a global warming denial group that had shut down in September/October of 2015. The Marshall Institute transferred its national security research to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), however, the press release notes that “CSIS will not continue Marshall’s work on energy and climate change” as that appears to be the role taken by the CO2 Coalition. [13], [15]

    Also in December of 2015, William Happer-director of the CO2 Coalition-was implicated in a Greenpeace investigation where activists posed as consultants for a Middle Eastern energy company and asked Happer and Frank Clemente, an emeritus sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, to author a report on the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions and the benefits of coal, respectively. [14]”

  20. Joseph says:

    Really? What are these natural forces that have always controlled the Earth’s changeable climate? As a physicist you’d like to think that he would understand that long-term warming requires some kind of radiative response; you can’t simply heat the atmosphere and surface and hope it won’t then cool back down again. So if there are natural forces that produce long-term warming, what are they and how do they operate, and why do they operate when the underlying warming is natural, but not when it’s anthropogenic?

    I haven’t seen very many “skeptics” have an answer for this. It’s almost as if they are saying: “Trust us.. We don’t really know what is causing this rise in global temperatures but we definitely know is not primarily due to CO2 emissions.” I think instead of trust we need more scientific explanations.

  21. Tom Curtis says:

    Victor, probably time climate scientists put together a project “James”

  22. Tom Curtis says:

    1) I do not think that email exchange is anywhere near as damning as often made out. In essence Happer agrees to express his current opinion for a fee. That is not ethically the same as tailoring your opinion for a fee. Further, the fee was to be paid to a 501c organization, not to Happer himself so it is correct that he would not have received a financial benefit for publication of the article (although the claim to that effect misleads by omission – Happer was to receive a benefit in the form of financial support for his ‘charity’, just not a direct financial benefit).

    2)

    “And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.”

    Happer probably refers to the time to double CO2 from its current level (ie, to go from 400-800 ppmv). Of course, if that is what he meant, it should have been clarified, and also noted that additional warming from the rise of CO2 todate can also be expected.

    3) re no feedbacks, Happer definitely owes us an analysis of how the much smaller solar forcing can result in the majority of the temperature increase without feedbacks. He avoids presenting a coherent theory, and therefore voids his right to comment on global warming.

    4)

    “All the observational evidence…”

    Really? 100% of evidence supports a low climate sensitivity to CO2? That claim alone blows away any chance of him being considered an honest scientist.

  23. Tom,
    1) Possibly, but given that he will almost certainly end up on the wrong side of history, if he is remembered, the willingness to write reports for oil companies will probably not help his legacy.

    2) Yes. Initially I had written something a bit more scathing, but then realised that he could have meant something like what you’ve described.

    3) Agreed.

    4) Yes, that and “Yes, they are wrong” and not the kind of statements one would expect from a scientist.

  24. Happer calls his climate work a “labor of love” and love costs $250 an hour. [Mod : redacted}

  25. Joel-Snape says:

    @Joseph

    There are other possible explanations out there but I gather warmists think they have all been refuted. One such explanation is changes in cloudiness. I have seen quite a few papers that suggest global cloudiness decreased from the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s and couds are assumed to have a net-cooling effect on the planet, so a general decrease should cause net-warming. For example, Wild et al 2005 mentions a decrease in global cloudiness of around 5% from the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s and according to the Reed’s flux formula that corresponds to an increase of absorbed shortwave radiation at the surface of around 10 W/m2. Clouds also have warming effect though. For every 1 W/m2 that clouds reflect they warm the planet by around 0.6 W/m2 (IPCC AR5 Chapter 7). Hence that 10 W/m2 reduces to around 4 W/m2 which corresponds to a warming of around 0.7C at the surface by the S-B law. These are just back-of-the-envelope calculations, mind you, and they could be completely wrong.

  26. Marco says:

    Joel-Snape says “Wild et al 2005 mentions a decrease in global cloudiness of around 5% from the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s”, but fails to note that Wild et al reports an *increase* (and more than the later decrease) in that same cloudiness from 1960 to the 1980s. As an “explanation” for the observed warming, any changes in cloudiness are thus rather problematic, since it would mean that in the period 1960-1980s the temperature must have gone down *more* than it has gone up during the late 1980s to 2000s. It didn’t.

    Also, Martin Wild strongly links these changes to cloudiness to anthropogenic factors.

    For those interested, see https://fallmeeting.agu.org/2015/files/2015/12/Wild-slides.pdf

  27. snarkrates says:

    Joel-Snape,
    Actually, it depends on which clouds are decreasing, and most analyses show a slight negative contribution due to clouds.

  28. Joel-Snape,
    The problem with invoking a change in cloudiness is that changes in cloudiness is typically a response to some other change – a feedback rather than a forcing. Hence, if cloudiness is changing in response to some other natural change, and then produing long-term warming, why don’t they change in response to anthropogenically-driven changes? This also ignores the fairly obvious question as to why we see little evidence for multi-decade warming/cooling in the paleo record, but we’re suddenly experiencing it now at the same time as we’re increasing atmospheric CO2 through anthropogenic emissions?

  29. Just for reference, current CO2 is ~ 400ppm.
    If CO2 is increasing @ ~ 2ppm/year, then two centuries to double is accurate.
    But CO2 accumulation rates may fall slightly going forward as CO2 emissions appear to be peaking:

  30. TE,
    You’re assuming that he either meant from when we started, or to double it from now. If so, this is not obvious from what he actually said. From now, we could double anthropogenic CO2 relative to pre-industry in the next few decades.

    But CO2 accumulation rates may fall slightly going forward as CO2 emissions appear to be peaking:

    Possibly, but – as I’ve asked you before – if we expect increasing energy use and little investment in alternatives, how can CO2 emissions be peaking now?

    Marco,
    Thanks. It’s fairly obvious that Wild links changes in cloudiness to anthropogenic influences, not natural.

  31. John Mashey says:

    1) I don’t know how many people have spent months rummaging through IRS From 990s for 501(c)(3) “public charities”, but I have (example: Fakery 2, so let me explain a few things.
    (Note: I’m a long-time Trustee of a real public charity, a museum, so I know how these things are supposed to work.)

    a) If oil company or Peabody paid Happer, that would be a business expense for them, and income for him, on which he would pay taxes, and he might have to admit he got paid for the work.

    b) If they pay CO2 Coalition, it’s a donation for them, and not income for him. He can say he didn’t get paid, and the path is hidden and there is no COI.

    He’s the Chairman of CO2Coalition (or CO2CoalOILition, as would be more appropriate). Of course, it will pay his expenses. Who signs off on those? Can you read From 990s and really tell where the money is going? (I’ve read many hundreds and they can be pretty opaque). We won’t see theirs until late this year.

    This is *not* like donating to a museum or the opera, but donating money to a small PR/lobbying group that happens to be tax-free, that he runs. This is *not* a claim that Happer himself will get $ in his own pocket … but that it will avoid him paying for things he wants to do, like travel to Washington or other places. Fred Singer’s SEPP has run this way for decades.

    2) Read the *whole* discussion in the emails. The “client” wanted work done by an academic, and ideally through peer review, with zero public disclosure that it had paid for the work. Happer:
    a) Was willing to do the work, at $250/hr, paid to CO2Coalition.
    b) But would give his Princeton affiliation
    c) The payment path would be hidden, as he explained.
    d) But he basically said he couldn’t get it through peer review…. That’s amusing, see below.*

    3) All this is standard operation amongst a certain subset of think tanks.
    The tobacco industry has been doing this for decades.

    4) See CO2 Coalition website.
    It lists 17 people (and for some reason omits William O’Keefe, the GMI CEO who helped start this, and was on early list.). Of those 18, how many people are connected with coal and/or oil?
    (Either by being an employee, or consulting for them personally, or being involved wit ha think tank that gets funding from them.)

    *Peer review. Happer used to think this was really important.
    Back in 2009, I wrote about Happer&Singer&co’s attempt to turn the American Physical Society’s climate statement into mush, i.e., APS2009
    Happer didn’t like my writeup … and shortly thereafter, I got email from Singer wishing a meeting. (No).

    In 2011, Science ran a short profile on me called Computer Scientist Goes on Offensive to Defend Climate Scientists, by Eli KIntisch.
    It included some comments by Happer:

    “Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton University who questions the consensus view on climate, thinks Mashey is a destructive force who uses “totalitarian tactics”—publishing damaging documents online, without peer review—to carry out personal vendettas. Whereas Mann lauds Mashey for “exploring the underbelly of climate denial,” Happer says Mashey’s tactics are “contrary to open inquiry.”

    “Mashey drew Happer’s ire with a 128- page report in 2009 critiquing a petition from Happer and other members of the American Physical Society urging the society to revise its call for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and instead to question the existence of anthropogenic warming. It was a solo effort that analyzed the petitioners’ political donations, their co-authorship on papers, and their connections to various nonprofits or companies. Mashey suggested that the petition was intended “to create and maintain doubt in the public” about the consensus on anthropogenic warming.”

  32. John Mashey says:

    Although this is minor compared to other things, climate science has for decades widely associated 2X CO2 with ~280ppm to 560ppm. Has anyone seen anything different?

  33. JM,
    Thanks for the lengthy comment. Also, in my view, if someone mentions doubling CO2, the norm is that it refers to doubling from 280ppm to 560ppm, not doubling from where we are now.

  34. BBD says:

    Yes – the formalism is doubling from the pre-industrial period so it’s always 280ppm -> 560ppm.

  35. “You’re assuming that he either meant from when we started, or to double it from now. If so, this is not obvious from what he actually said. From now, we could double anthropogenic CO2 relative to pre-industry in the next few decades.”

    “Rather bizarrely, he then says

    And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.

    We’re currently increasing atmospheric CO2 at more than 2ppm/year. Hence at current rates it will take no more than a further 80 years to have doubled CO2 relative to pre-industrial levels. However, we expect the airborne fraction to increase as we continue to emit CO2. Hence it could take considerably less than 80 years. It will also depend on how much we emit in the coming years; it’s certainly quite possible that we could double atmospheric CO2 (relative to pre-industry) in the next few decades.”

    #########################

    Ask Willard about the principle of charity.

    You read what he wrote. The text isnt clear. You selected an interpretation which rendered his statement bizarre. Other’s resolved the ambiguity to render the statement, as something not so outlandish.

    Simple rule. When it’s not obvious ( hint texts are rarely obvious ) the principle of charity suggests that you should interpret the text such that the author makes sense.
    There is plenty wrong with Happer’s views. Best to focus on those points where he speaks clearly and is clearly wrong.

    Otherwise, you end up with OJs Glove

  36. smamarver says:

    You’ve mentioned the natural forces that have always controlled the Earth’s changeable climate. I think that the most important role in climate change is played by the oceans, they are the ones that govern climate. I also think that it’s important to analyse how our activity influences the oceans. Here are some explanations on this issue: http://oceansgovernclimate.com/ipcc-ignores-human-impact-on-atmospheric-water-vapor/.

  37. Steven,
    Rather bizarrely you appear to be defending Happer. Two things:

    1) if you really think me describing it as bizarre is so bad, you need to get out more

    2) given how anyone who is associated with this topic should know that doubling atmospheric CO2 refers to going from 280ppm to 560ppm, suggesting it would take a couple of hundred years is bizarre. Either they’re referring to the amount of time since we started, in which case bizarre is polite given that they would be knowingly saying something that will almost certainly be mis-interpreted (disingenuous would be better in this case, I will admit), or they mean from now, which is bizarre because it is so obviously wrong.

    Now, maybe all those who are picking on this one point to defend Happer could read the rest of the interview. Suggesting that describing his comment about doubling CO2 as bizarre is lacking in charity, doesn’t suddenly make the rest of what he said any less ridiculous.

  38. I think that the most important role in climate change is played by the oceans, they are the ones that govern climate.

    And how do they do this? It’s clear that they play a crucial role in variability, but how do they drive long-term climate change. Before you respond you might want to think about how we can have long-term (multi-decade) surface/atmospheric warming and long-term ocean warming, if the oceans are driving the surface/atmosphere warming.

  39. Willard says:

    > When it’s not obvious ( hint texts are rarely obvious ) the principle of charity suggests that you should interpret the text such that the author makes sense.

    Simple rule, AT. When contrarians express behavioral concerns, let them go first. In this case, the Moshipit ought to present a charitable interpretation of this claim:

    And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.

    A lukewarm interpretation would also work for me.

  40. John Mashey says:

    Oops, I forgot one thing. People who testify for Congress sometimes get asked about COI, although the rules are sadly lax, but people want to be able to say “I have not been paid by Exxon or any coal or oil company.”

    For all, I repeat:
    Of those 18 (Involved in CO2Coalition) , how many people are connected with coal and/or oil?

  41. Since people are somewhat fixated on me describing his doubling CO2 as bizarre, I’ll add another point about that. Another particularly irritating thing about him saying:

    And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.

    is that it essentially dismissing one of the key issues; our emissions. The magnitude of anthropogenically-driven climate change depends largely on our emissions. Simply saying “at the current rate of burning fossil fuels” appears to ignore that there are strong links between economic growth and emissions. If we simply continue at our current rate of emissions, what does that imply about economic growth? Has it stalled? Have we become much more energy efficient? Have we implemented alternatives? Have we developed CCS or some negative emission technology?

  42. Possibly, but – as I’ve asked you before – if we expect increasing energy use and little investment in alternatives, how can CO2 emissions be peaking now?

    Regarding increasing energy use, it turns out, not so much.

    The developed nations tend to have falling energy use rates, and increasingly, falling populations.

    In the US, another curiosity – teenagers are not driving as much. Some speculate that the freedom of the internet has replaced some of the freedom of the Mustang.

  43. Russell says:

    Cue usual suspects blaming the rise on all the gravity waves that went undetected untill their discovery by the world famous scientists who wrote the NIPCC report.

  44. I was hoping for something a little less hand-wavy and that also considered the developing world.

  45. Physicists? Can anyone explain why virtually nothing can be found on the web regarding Makiko Sato? I’ve referenced her papers (as either lead or co-author) to pseudoskeptics countless times, but until today didn’t even realize that Sato was female. And I can’t find a single interview with her anywhere on the internet.

    I’ve really enjoyed the APS series of interviews and was disappointed to see she’s not in the archives.

  46. Joseph says:

    TE, it appears from your graph that per capita energy consumption is still going up globally and the global population has not peaked yet.

  47. John Mashey says:

    By the way, it is virtually certain that Happer believes what he is saying*, ie, this is an ideology thing (like the George Marshall Institute guys from whom he took the baton), not a money thing like, say, Steve Milloy (who also signed Happer’s petition), or a lot of other think tankers who make their living this way.

    Researching the APS2009 signers gave strong evidence that ideology (or other extra-science ressons) was easily able to overpower science for about .5% of APS members, most published PhD physicists. Ie, this is not an “information-deficit problem”, since anyone with a physics PhD ought to be able to read a few books and not reject conservation of energy.

    *The public statements are clear, but I also know some people who know him. Hence, he is being honest un saying what he thinks about science (although my opinion is that the money-hiding gimmicks are not, although he didn’t invent them. Also, trading on the Princeton name while not mentioning the far more relevant GMI seems in the gray zone. But, i really think he is honest in what he believes about CO2.)

  48. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: What’s with your ilk?

    Here’s another example of an Astrophysicist who has become quite knowledgable about the science of climate change…

    The Next Great Global Warming ‘Hiatus’ Is Coming! by Ethan Siegel, Starts with a Bang, Forbes, Mar 16, 2016

  49. BBD says:

    TE at it again, I see.

    Wagner et al. (2016):

    The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (Paris 2015) reached an international agreement to keep the rise in global average temperature ‘well below 2°C’ and to ‘aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C’. These reductions will have to be made in the face of rising global energy demand. Here a thoroughly validated dynamic econometric model (Eq 1) is used to forecast global energy demand growth (International Energy Agency and BP), which is driven by an increase of the global population (UN), energy use per person and real GDP (World Bank and Maddison). Even relatively conservative assumptions put a severe upward pressure on forecast global energy demand and highlight three areas of concern. First, is the potential for an exponential increase of fossil fuel consumption, if renewable energy systems are not rapidly scaled up. Second, implementation of internationally mandated CO2 emission controls are forecast to place serious constraints on fossil fuel use from ~2030 onward, raising energy security implications. Third is the challenge of maintaining the international ‘pro-growth’ strategy being used to meet poverty alleviation targets, while reducing CO2 emissions. Our findings place global economists and environmentalists on the same side as they indicate that the scale up of CO2 neutral renewable energy systems is not only important to protect against climate change, but to enhance global energy security by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels and to provide a sustainable basis for economic development and poverty alleviation. Very hard choices will have to be made to achieve ‘sustainable development’ goals.

  50. JM,
    You could be right that he’s being honest about the science, which nicely brings us back to the theme of the post; those who seem to think that despite having no formal expertise in a particular area, somehow genuinely think that they know better than those who have actual expertise.

  51. John Mashey says:

    Yes, I thought it might be nice to get back to the actual post, in place of some of the sidetracks. 🙂

    But, since nobody took me up on the question
    “Of those 18 (Involved in CO2Coalition) , how many people are connected with coal and/or oil?”
    I’ll answer it:
    17 of 18 … but the one missing has been involved with Big Tobacco.
    At least 5 have been long-time employees of Exxon (3), Shell(1) or API/Exxon lobbyist(1).

    JH: astrophysicists I know (or know of) are mostly sensible, except for the tiny handful that think “it’s the sun” and nothing else. Among other things, there are interesting obserservational parallels, especially with paleoclimate, Neither have real time machines and both deal with time series.

    Unlike some disciplines that can do lab experiments, they can’t really, although of course there is a long history of interesting interactions with particle physicists.

    But, for data, they have to do a lot of work on difficult observations to tease out signal from noise, and hunt for cases to help prove/disprove hypotheses.

    Although not exactly the same topic, see my review of Measuring the Universe: The Cosmological Distance Ladder, It may well need some update, but I’d guess most of the history is still good.

  52. izen says:

    Perhaps Physicists have been misled into the overconfidence they have in their understanding of the universe by the success of the basic approach in physics of modeling everything as simply as possible.

    ‘Assume a Perfect Sphere suspended in a Void’
    turns out to work pretty well in cosmology and nuclear physics if you add some secondary terms to deal with the interactions.

  53. John Hartz says:

    John Mashey: Kudos on your new post. We should repost it on Skeptical Science.

    BTW, The question I posed to ATTP was tongue-in-cheek. I greatly admire what he and his colleagues like Phil Plait and Ethan Siegel have done to advance our understanding of climate science and to rebute the climate denier drones like TE and his ilk.

  54. Mal Adapted says:

    John Mashey:

    By the way, it is virtually certain that Happer believes what he is saying*, ie, this is an ideology thing (like the George Marshall Institute guys from whom he took the baton),

    I’ll buy that, but what I don’t understand is why it’s so important to guys like Happer to deny AGW specifically. Do they so believe so deeply in the moral virtue of economic development under capitalism that they can’t acknowledge its socialized costs?

  55. Willard

    In this case, the Moshipit ought to present a charitable interpretation of this claim:

    “And it would take a century or two to double CO2 concentrations at the current rate of burning fossil fuels.”

    1. I ought to??? under what twisted sense of morality am I required to even read Happer’s dreck
    much less offer an interpretation.
    2. However, If you asked me how I would interpret it, I would point to the ambiguity.

    A) what base period is he using? “pre” industrial– itself subject to discussion
    or Current levels? 400ppm?
    B) what “current rate” of burning fossil fuels is he referring to? yesterday? last week?
    last year? last 10 years? what does current mean?
    C) He refers to the FF contribution which is say 85% of the total C02 emissions, does he
    mean all c02 or only c02 from FF?

    3. After pointing to the ambiguity my intrpretation would be, suspend judgement until you
    can ask him for clarification. Or you can take both forks of the ambuity and argue against both. I should not have to explain how to do this.

    #####################

    ATTP.

    I am not defending Happer. I am suggesting a better attack. See OJ’s Glove. That’s a clue.

    I am also pointing out
    1) you said what he wrote was Bizzare
    2. You then seemed to indicate that it might be unclear based on whether he was discussing
    doubling from 280 or doubling from 400

    so which? bizzare or unclear? I think Unclear.

    It’s easily remedied.

    “Assuming that happer is talking about doubling from 280, and assuming he believes the
    current rate of increase is roughly 2ppm a year (from FF), then his claim of 100-200
    years for doubling is bizarre. But perhaps he meant doubling from 400 to 800. In the first case he is wrong, in the latter he is distracting the discussion from what really matters: ”

    The wonderful thing about ambiguities in texts is that you can actually use them to your advantage. but first you have to sense the ambiguity. That takes training.

    DK of course abounds. Many folks think reading, like science, is something that everyone can do.

    that should get folks going.

    In any case I will defer to Willard since he is actually trained in reading and probably published

  56. John Mashey says:

    JH: yes, I knew you weren’t criticizing.
    It merely seemed worth noting some reasons why good astrophysicists might have relevant experience for understanding some parts of climate science, compared to, say atomic physicists. Of course, any physicist ought to understand the basics . but the observational issues are *not* as similar.

    Mal: I wouldn’t pretend to know what’s going on with the thoughts of Happer and co, I just observe that the statements have little to do with science, and he has been involved with the GMI crew for a long time.
    I will say that in fact, the APS2009 petition was extraordinary helpful to me in figuring out the underlying social network, because it was the first one where I got to see successive waves, unlike the many that Fred Singer did, where all names appeared at once.

    Unfortunately, I only have 3 rounds of the Letter to Lamar, starting with Jan 15, which had about 150 names then. If anybody has earlier ones, I’d be delighted to hear about them, but the earlier waves seemed to have been carefully propagated, until <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/01/19/the-john-droz-letter/"John Droz sent it out to a big mailing list., not all of whom were sympathetic to harassing NOAA.

  57. Joseph says:

    A little OT but JH made got me to looking at links of “skeptics” to think tanks.

    I wonder if the authors believe everything they are saying in this “global warming primer” by the National Center for Policy Analysis. A “free market” think tank.

    This is how it is introduced with a link

    A Global Warming Primer, used by thousands of school children, adults and legislators, is an objective approach to global warming.

    And then on the linked page

    NCPA’s global warming primer presents a factual analysis of the state of the climate, the threats posed by global warming, and the implications and results of the possible responses to warming. Presented in a graphical format, the primer is useful for readers from middle school through adulthood who want to understand what scientists and economists know about the earth’s climate and what changes might mean. Divided into three sections, using peer reviewed data, the global warming primer first examines simple facts about the earth’s climate and what the temperature evidence shows; second, it explores various threats posed by global warming, from increased hurricanes to polar bear loss and everything in between; third, it presents various estimates of the costs of preventing warming and its potential harms.

    Get your printed copy of the NCPA’s Global Warming Primer for a donation of just $25.

    And from the printed version of the presentation I found what I considered a pretty bold statement .

    We know very little about 75 percent of the factors that scientists believe influence global temperature

    http://www.ncpa.org/pub/global-warming-primer-2nd-edition

  58. Russell says:

    Happer really jumped the shark by asking another Jason to join the Marshall boards, which may have self-destructed the day the new guy went to the blackboard and deconstructed Chairman Happer’s dimensional analysis.

    Physics happens, and trying to run a Gish Gallop past Richard Garwin is a Very Bad Idea.

  59. Magma says:

    Unless unusually fortunate in the choice of universities and departments, by the time most people have completed graduate studies they will have been exposed to one or more arrogant, abrasive and incompetent faculty members. (Undergraduates too, but most aren’t able to assess a professor’s level of competence.) Sometimes these are weeded out before tenure, sometimes not, but among the ones who slip past there’s a notable tendency for such traits to strengthen with age.

    Naturally, instead of avoiding such individuals, the AGW denial movement seeks them out and makes them its champions. Somehow it sees the Galileo, Feynman or Einstein concealed deep within, whereas mere working researchers see only old men soiling whatever reputations they may have previously made for themselves in other fields.

  60. John Mashey says:

    NCPA: DeSmog profile. notes funding, although it needs and updated to include tobacco funding. See Fakery 2 p.39 for some of the known Philip Morris(PM) funding of think tanks. NCPA got money every year from 1991-2001 (i.e., all the years I had data for).
    NCPA is in Texas. When asked by PM what they’d do to help, they offered my favorite:
    “access to GW Bush” (then TX Governor)

    The main climate guy at NCPA has been Sterling Burnett (who gets 43 hits in the Fakery 2 PDF, as he often wrote for Heartland Environment and Climate News. He has a PhD in Applied Philosophy.

    Let ,me explain the business model of many of these think tanks run by “policy-preneurs”:

    1) Register a 501(c)(3) public charity that will do research and education.
    2) Get some startup funding from one or more of the big private foundations.
    3) Start cranking out position papers, letters to editors, etc.
    4) Each year, seek continued/more funding, pointing at good things done the last year.
    5) Each year, the big funders decide who they want to give money to (they talk, as at Koch meetings), which keeps them in competition, much better than funding a few big think tanks. It also looks like there is much wider support.

    They may or may not believe what they are saying … but of course, if one of these suddenly said “We accept the mainstream science and its’ a real problem.” you can guess what would happen to next year’s funding. I think Happer’s CO2 CoalOILition is a little different, in that I think he really believes what he’s saying, but wants more funding to do more. The close tie with TPPF seems relatively recent, and TX is a good place for funding possibilities.

    Many of these entities are clustered near K_Street in Washington (lobby cenral), with a few in TX and CA, Heartland in IL, and a few others scattered around.

  61. Steven,

    I am not defending Happer. I am suggesting a better attack. See OJ’s Glove. That’s a clue.

    Okay, fair enough, but even you describe it as “dreck”. My suspicion is that this is either obvious, or those who think it isn’t are unpersuadable. I did rather run out interest in writing about it fairly quickly.

  62. dikranmarsupial says:

    Steven wrote “When it’s not obvious ( hint texts are rarely obvious )”

    It is worth noting that texts are often made non-obvious deliberately because the author wants the reader to misinterpret them whilst retaining “plausible deniability”. However I am also keen on the principle of charity (or Hanlon’s razor), but if someone is non-obvious on a very regular basis, what is the best way to respond to that? It isn’t clear that there should never be a point where charity becomes more limited. Sadly it is what comes from trying to conduct a scientific discussion in a forum where climateball is being played (to varying degrees).

  63. John Hartz says:

    Dikran:

    I did not know of Hanlon’s razor prior to you reading your comment.

    How many “razors” are out there? Were they all formulated by mathmaticians? 🙂

  64. Russell says:

    John Mashey seems to have overlooked both the conspicuous absence from the CO2 Coalition of Richard Garwin , and the disappearance of this former listing as an erstwhile Marshall board member.

  65. Seems to me TE is engaging in a pig and lipstick act. Happer is either…

    a) Completely wrong, under ATTP’s interpretation, or
    b) Completely deceptive in his phrasing, under TE’s interpretation. Or…
    c) Perhaps Happer has secretly accepted that renewables are winning in the energy marketplace.

  66. Willard says:

    > It is worth noting that texts are often made non-obvious deliberately because the author wants the reader to misinterpret them whilst retaining “plausible deniability”.

    This may imply that Happer is deliberately making a non-obvious statement because he wants the reader to misinterpret it. Or it may not. It would be hard to tell if Happer is deliberately making a non-obvious statement because we have no access to Happer’s mind states. Since we can’t, trying to mindread him might not be the best way to abide by the principle of charity. Better is to simply generalize about an indefinite “author” and to use a quantification like “often,” which might deserve due diligence.

    See how plausible deniability works?

  67. Willard says:

    > so which? bizzare or unclear? I think Unclear.

    I rather think “resting on lukerwarmingly strange assumptions.”

  68. I’d go for “bizarrely unclear” 🙂

  69. Willard says:

    Under what conditions would Happer’s claim make (physical) sense, AT?

  70. Pete Best says:

    this sounds like the story of the eminent scientist who says something profound but regrets it.

  71. Willard,
    I’m not sure there is any condition – well not a rather contorted one – where it would really make physical sense; that’s assuming I understand your question.

  72. John Hartz says:

    Meanwhile, back in the real world…

    What we’re doing to the Earth has no parallel in 66 million years, scientists say by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environmnet, Washington Post, Mar 21, 2016

    For us to spend more time and energy dissecting William Harper’s inane statements seems rather frivolous given the humongous challenges before us.

  73. Willard says:

    > I’m not sure there is any condition – well not a rather contorted one […]

    Bill could assume very lukewarm feedbacks, for instance.

    First, you show the conditions. Then you show how contorted they are. This would be more convincing than dismissive handwaving, which I believe is Moshpit’s point.

  74. John Mashey says:

    I recommend study of Morton’s Demon, as described in Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics.
    It makes little sense to try to parse ambiguous wording when there is strong evidence of a Sauron-class Morton’s Demon guarding someone from unwanted reality.

  75. Willard says:

    > It makes little sense to try to parse ambiguous wording when there is strong evidence of a Sauron-class Morton’s Demon guarding someone from unwanted reality.

    Of course it does. Doing the opposite at best begs a question that lukewarmingly deserves diligence. Less optimally, it circles the wagons by way of cheap ad homs.

    Besides, analogies might not be the best way to whine about linguistic ambiguity.

    When I say that we should always be thankful for contrarian concerns, I mean it. The only way to deal with them once and for all may very well be to create a ring of webpages to rule them all. Either a ring or a matrix would be fine by me.

  76. First, you show the conditions. Then you show how contorted they are. This would be more convincing than dismissive handwaving, which I believe is Moshpit’s point.

    True, it’s a fair point. I must admit that I rather lost interest halfway through this post.

  77. Willard says:

    > I must admit that I rather lost interest halfway through this post.

    I know the feeling, AT, which may explain why contrarians never fail to release their clowns.

    Speaking of whom, here’s John Oliver paying due diligence to the Drumpf’s idea to build a wall on the USA-Mexico border:

    Even such silly ideas can lead to auditing fun.

  78. John Mashey says:

    If anyone wants to experience Happer’s views, here’s a 12-minute talk from last November. for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

  79. John Hughes says:

    Turbulent Eddie claims “CO2 emissions appear to be peaking” and shows a graph based on IEA numbers.

    But of course the IEA numbers are for CO2 emitted from electricity generation, not all greenhouse gas emissions (no land use, no transport, no heating).

    (The IEA’s press release about the 2015 figures made the same conflation in the headline and a couple of other places).

  80. John,
    I didn’t know that. Do you have some link where this is explained more, because that would seem to be ignoring some fairly substantial emissions.

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