Climate change politics is very nasty. So nasty, in fact, that
the mud started flying even before the start of last week's
International Climate Change Conference (ICCC6) in
Washington, D.C. Hosted by the free market Heartland Institute, the
gathers the world's climate change skeptics and their heterodox
friends—and controversy reliably ensues.
The day before the conference started, the left-wing Center for American Progress (CAP) arranged to have a media teleconference [MP3] as a kind of pre-emptive strike. The CAP teleconferencers included Joseph Romm who runs CAP’s climate blog, Pacific Institute hydroclimatologist Peter Gleick, and former House Science Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Romm characterized the ICCC6 as part of “a dwindling number of increasingly vocal people who spread disinformation on climate science and who attack and harass climate scientists.”
Romm then cited a June 28 statement of concern issued by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which deplored the “harassment, death threats, and legal challenges” being faced by some climate scientists. The AAAS specifically mentioned recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries about the work done by climatologist Michael Mann, the principle scientist behind the “hockey stick” paleoclimate data suggesting a dramatic recent rise in average global temperatures. The AAAS letter concludes, “We are concerned that establishing a practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.” I agree.
At the ICCC6, I mentioned the AAAS letter to climatologist Patrick Michaels, who is now a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. Michaels puckishly replied that he was happy to hear that Romm and the AAAS were now defending him against legal harassment and death threats. For the record, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has asked the House Science Committee to look into Michaels’ funding sources and Greenpeace is rumored to be renewing its FOIA request to the University of Virginia where he once worked for his emails and other documents.
Most of the questioning by reporters during the teleconference focused on whether or not the Republicans in Congress could be persuaded to adopt policies aimed at mitigating the impacts of man-made global warming. Boehlert remained relentlessly optimistic, but Gleick concluded, “I am actually not optimistic that the American public or American policymakers are really going to tackle this issue.” Why? Because the policy issues are too difficult. Boehlert, deploring the way that issues were discussed nowadays, lamented, “The way to get attention in the media today is to make the most outrageous statement.” Earlier in his opening remarks, Romm asserted, “For decades now climate scientists have been predicting that if we kept pouring billion of tons of heat trapping gases into the atmosphere that the planet would warm up, that ice would melt and we would see more and more extreme weather, heat waves and intense deluges in particular. And now it’s coming true. And I think we have moved from the era from predictions to observations of climate change.”
Prebuttally prepared, off I went to the ICCC6. The conference was supposed to open with a keynoter by fierce climate skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Apparently feeling “under the weather,” Inhofe sent a note highlighting some achievements such as derailing the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade scheme, but noting that “our work is far from over.” So instead, the conference opened with a talk by Patrick Michaels that centered on Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of our Government and Our Lives, a volume he edited dealing with policy and scientific topics related to climate change.
Michaels mentioned a study published in the February 17 issue of Nature arguing that man-made global warming is contributing to more intense deluges. Michaels said that he had looked at the heaviest day for the year precipitation trends in the U.S. starting in 1900 and he found that it had indeed gone up, from 2.53 inches to 2.6 inches. He observed that it was likely that Americans can adapt to this much extra rainfall. Michaels also mentioned that the Rasmussen daily presidential approval index fell into and has since stayed in negative territory almost immediately after the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Coincidence?
Unlike many participants at the ICCC6, Michaels describes himself as a “lukewarmer.” “There is a human influence on the climate, but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. How much warmer does Michaels expect the world to get? About 1.6°C over the next century based on trends in the global temperature records. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that “the linear trend for the past 50 years of 0.13°C (plus or minus 0.03°C) per decade.” The satellite temperature record compiled by researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville finds the tropospheric temperature trend to be 0.14°C per decade. Michaels notes that these trends are at the low end of the climate computer projections, suggesting that the models are overestimating climate sensitivity. Climate sensitivity is defined as how much the average global surface temperature will increase if there is a doubling of greenhouse gases (expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents) in the air. The vexed question of climate sensitivity will come up many times during the conference.
The first panel of the conference featured Anthony Watts, proprietor of the popular climate change skeptic blog Watts Up with That?, retired University of Winnipeg geographer Timothy Ball, and Patrick Michaels. Watts is the guy behind the project showing that a surprisingly high number of U.S. weather stations are badly situated. Tim Ball is a self-described long time skeptic of global warming orthodoxy.
Michaels reprised a bit of his earlier talk, but addressed concerns about recent warming in the Arctic. Proponents of catastrophic warming worry that the world could soon see ice free summers in the Arctic Ocean which would lead to rapid melting of Greenland’s ice cap producing a disastrously high rate of sea level rise. Michaels cited some recent paleoclimatology by European arctic region researchers that strongly suggests [PDF] that the Arctic Ocean experienced ice free summers, perhaps for hundreds of years, some 12,000 years ago and Greenland’s ice cap did not melt then. In addition, Norwegian researchers reported in 2010 that the Arctic Ocean had much less ice cover 6,000 years ago than it currently does. More recent research by German climatologists suggests that the Arctic Ocean will not experience an ice free “tipping point” during this century.
Michaels again noted that the current temperature trends are lower than climate computer models predict. Why? Michaels asserted that this disjunct between models and the current trend occurs because ocean surface temperatures are massively misspecified in the models and because CO2 and methane in the atmosphere are going up slower rates than projected.
Geeks vs. Gougers
The second session of the ICCC6 was devoted to the “economic realities” of climate change. Suffolk University economist David Tuerck has looked at all the various programs adopted by states to mandate the production and consumption of “green energy.” For example, 38 states already mandate renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which require utilities to purchase specified percentages of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Tuerck calculates that the RPS mandates in Colorado, Minnesota, and Montana will raise electricity rates in those states by 37 percent, 24 percent, and 18 percent, respectively. Tuerck says that the contest over green energy is between geeks (his side) and gougers (green energy companies). The geeks insist that governments should adopt only those policies that pass a cost benefit analysis. His example of a gouger is the Cape Wind Project’s offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. His analysis finds that Cape Wind’s costs will exceed its benefits by more than $1 billion. “It is easy to show that state level green energy initiatives are a waste of money,” declared Tuerck. He added if one truly wanted to mitigate climate change, a national carbon tax is the only thing that makes sense.