Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Zombie ping pong at the WSJ

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Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter from 16 scientists entitled: No Need to Panic About Global Warming: There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy.

They tried to revivify a number of zombies.

  • Objecting to the statement that  “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring” from the American Physical Society’s climate policy statement.  Apparently, nothing in science is incontrovertible, not even data trending in one direction. The APS added a commentary “However, the word “incontrovertible” in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the 2007 APS statement is rarely used in science because by its very nature science questions prevailing ideas. The observational data indicate a global surface warming of 0.74 °C (+/- 0.18 °C) since the late 19th century.” Incontrovertible means there is no evidence to the contrary.
  • The lack of warming over the past decade zombie.
  • The CO2 is not a pollutant zombie.
  • The de Freitas / Climate Research affair zombie, where a paper by Soon and Baliunas that de Freitas edited  claimed that the recent warming was not unusual in the context of the past 1,000 years which they called a politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion. Unfortunately the paper was not factually correct and should not have been published. The Editor in Chief and three associate editors resigned, leading the publishers to revamp the journal, de Freitas losing his editorial position in the process.
  • The climate change – Lysenkoism zombie.
  • Climate science is at the trough zombie (follow the money).

They also claimed:

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls.

Andrew Revkin of New York Times blog Dot Earth posted a response by Nordhaus:

The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.

There were many online reactions including Dot Earth, Skeptical Science and Think Progress. The Australian, not to be outdone, published a news item on the WSJ letter on Monday.

SCIENTISTS from around the world, including the former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre, are calling for calm on global warming, saying alarmist rhetoric is not backed by evidence and is being used to increase taxes.

A rebuttal on the science was published yesterday by the WSJ, signed by 39 scientists from around the world, including moi. This has been republished in a number of other papers who reproduced the original op-ed. The Australian has just published the letter also.

The original letter led Andrew Revkin to wonder whether there weren’t some legitimate points obscured by the misleading assertions it made over Nordhaus’ work and sought comment from a number of economists including Martin Weitzman, Robert Mendelson and Gary Yohe. That post is worth a read.

Gary Yohe’s main point on hedging:

Many of the temperature targets that negotiators contemplate would be impossible if no action were taken to limit emissions of heat trapping gasses before 2035. Not just economically impossible, but technologically impossible given resource constraints that have only become more binding over the past few years.

In short, doing nothing closes policy options that could turn out to have been the right choice – in a time when our grandchildren will wonder what it was that we were thinking about.

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