The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Congressional Hearing (yawn)

So at the invitation of Andrew Freedman of Climate Central I've been attending to the congressional hearings about climate this morning. I still think it something of a pointless charade; I doubt a lot of opinions are swayed, and the quality of discourse swings between awful and bizarre. But it provides a rich vein of ore for quote mining.

Interesting statements by congressmen:
Waxman: If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn't scour the country to find someone who said I didn't need to be treated.

Rush is enthusiastic about a carbon sequestration project in Illinois. "Listen to what the science is telling us," he says as he ends his statement. Then he shows a giant cartoon that makes the "no-regrets" argument... "Even if its a big hoax, its a hoax that will provide" much good (green jobs, cleaner air etc)

If you're playing the skeptic drinking game, Griffith is committed to getting you drunk. Vikings, Mars, global cooling... (@climatebrad)

Inslee: CDC says climate change affects health

Inslee "folks in the press report this like a divorce trial. He said she said." Quote of the day? (Andrew Freedman)
Interesting points by witnesses:
Somerville: "Most of the people who claim to be Galileo are mistaken." (@climatebrad)

Somerville reminds panel that IPCC scientists serve without pay. (@climatebrad)

"We have a window to act, but it closes soon." - Dr. Richard Somerville http://bit.ly/hz5RMJ

Zwiers - best explanation for changes in extremes (particularly extreme temperatures) is "human influence on the climate system"

"The more we reduce emissions the less we will suffer" -- Somerville

Christy - proposes that if US funds IPCC via taxpayer dollars, there should be a review panel comprised of climate skeptics to check their work.

Chris Field is testifying that 40 million tons of food production [in the US] has been lost as a result of climate change. This based on observations, not models.

Stunning" 4.5 degree increase in Lake Superior. * (C or F?)

Scary stat from Chris Field. A single day of temps @ 104 F instead of 84 F can reduce corn yields by 7% (@suzyji)

Field - Warming of 1.8F in US increases loss in wildfires from 1.3m to 4.5m acres a year #eg http://bit.ly/32GHV (@suzyji)

Somerville: "Wrong to frame evidence [of climate change] as hanging from some very slender chain of evidence that can be cut by one paper."

Somerville: "There's a lot of misinformation out there, and we haven't done a very good job of challenging it."
My own two cents:
- It's interesting to contemplate where the burden of proof should be, given that EPA already has a finding of harm. Some speakers may raise doubts, but usually in emissions policy, the emitter has to prove that what they are doing is safe.

- [Christy's] claim of observed temperature increase is less than half of what most groups say is observed

- [Pielke Sr] Focuses on "accumulation of joules"; but energy balance is what drives accumulation of joules, and greenhouse gases are crucial to that.

- McKinley wants one of the contrarians to say GHGs not implicated at all; nobody on panel apparently willing to say so

- The Mars business was handled well at RealCLimate a couple of years ago

- "What is the optimum temperature for humans" misses the point - the rates of change are the issue

- Christy suggests that "due process" is needed in "climategate" but there are no substantive accusations!

- Claim that ice in Antarctic is growing is very misleading; there is a slight increase in SEA ice, but not comparable to decline in the Arctic meanwhile there is increasing melt from the West Antarctic contributing to sea level
Interesting commentary by scientists:

- Gavin Schmidt: This is not about sides. Bad arguments from any point of view devalue any discussion

- Gavin Schmidt: It's worth pointing out that all of the climate scientists on the panel agree on many issues: that CO2 is increasing rapidly due to human influences, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that the net human impact on climate (including the other GHGs, aerosols, land use etc.) have very likely driven warming over the last few decades.

- Roger Pielke, Jr.: Because Congress has granted EPA authority to regulate, and the agency has followed its legislative mandate. If Congress wants to change how EPA operates, fine, but it must do it comprehensively, not by seeking to overturn the endangerment finding via fiat.

- Roger Pielke, Jr.: Christy' s discussion of extremes in his written testimony is sound. But irrelevant to regulatory decisions.

- Gavin Schmidt: Roger Pielke Sr. is pushing at an open door when discussing the multiple drivers of climate change. This has long been acknowledged by IPCC, the modelling groups, and most recently in assessements such as the UNEP report on black carbon and ozone. I think it is completely legitimate to take into account multiple forcings, and natural variability, yet still think that CO2, as the fastest growing forcing, and the one with the longest timescale, is still the dominant issue. But as the UNEP report showed, there are many actions that can be taken to reduce forcings from BC and ozone with current technology.

Roger Pielke Jr.: @thingsbreak, if either side wanted to discuss regulation, they should have regulation experts, not climate scientists, both sides are complicit in this charade

Gavin Schmidt: The IPCC has never claimed that "more hurricanes are directly related to climate change". The statements in the TAR and AR4 are far more nuanced.

Roger Pielke Jr.: IPCC issues are far more nuanced than a yes/no question, see http://e360.yale.edu/feature/major_change_is_needed_if_the_ipcc_hopes_to_survive/2244/

Magnus Westerstrand :Climate change definitely could make growing crops for big parts of the world a problem http://www.nature.com/nclimate/2011/110208/full/nclimate1042.html

Roger Pielke, Jr. : Somerville being asked about policy, not fair. After writing extensively now about policy in his testimony, he now claims to want to stick to the science. These guys need better tutoring.

Philip Duffy: Christy asserting that the conclusion that humans causing climate change is "purely model driven." Wrong!

Philip Duffy: Waxman: amazing that funding should be distributed based upon scientists point of view. I agree!

Magnus Westerstrand: Christy's testimony answers should be written down... I just cant take the man serious any more... hope the journalists will report on this

Roger Pielke, Jr. : Inslee still not right on CO2 as only effect on Arctic

Chris Colose : The peer-reviewed article is much more nuanced than Inslee
Interesting comments by others:
@milesgrant: DANG IT YOU #CLIMATE SCIENTISTS ARE GONNA TALK POLITICS IF IT'S THE LAST THING I DO - every GOPer on this committee

@milesgrant: 0 women, 0 minorities, 0 people younger than Yoda.

Eli Kintisch: In general I would say this hearing is a disappointment: the issue of whether congress can/should have a close control on EPA decisions is at least an interesting one that different people who are reasonable can disagree about. So far little discussion of that issue at all. :( Maybe because these are scientists the real issue is just not coming up. Weird hearing.

thingsbreak: First time point explicitly made that you have to compare costs of action directly to costs of inaction?

John Cook : Cost of inaction vs cost of action: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=11

Eli Kintisch: A very prominent reporter I won't name is playing Hearts in the press table...

@climatebrad: @JimInhofe questions whether "more carbon into the air will cause higher greenhouse gas concentrations" http://1.usa.gov/hmYzyt #climate

@climatebrad: This Washington Times editorial might be the dumbest argument against global warming yet -- http://bit.ly/eKAvfB

@climatebrad: Pic of Inslee with his stack of science books #scopesclimatetrial http://yfrog.com/hsy3juoj

@suzyji: Here we go. Chair Ed Whifield: I only brought one of many books doubting global warming. Cdn't fit all of them in car. Sigh

@suzyji: V impressed that huge stack of climate books on Inslee's desk hasn't toppled over
Links:
Somerville vs. Pielke Sr. on science in politics: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/03/two-view-on-science-and-politics.html (via RPJr.)

http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2005/08/22/comment-on-my-resignation-from-the-ccsp-committee-temperature-trends-in-the-lower-atmosphere-steps-for-understanding-and-reconciling-differences/ (via RP jr.)

Burress falsely repeated the "cooling consensus" myth. paper here: http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1 (via ThingsBreak)

http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2007GL030948.shtml on extreme events (via Gavin Schmidt)

@milesgrant: Quick recap of some of top campaign contributors to a few of loudest questioners of #climate science in this hearing: http://bit.ly/i1pNWW

Conclusion: Issues duly ducked, many person-hours wasted. No minds changed. A few good quotes here and there, and a little more scary data to ponder. Count me out next time.

20 comments:

Lou Grinzo said...

The sole purpose of this hearing was for the Republican deniers to put on a show for their like-minded constituents and their campaign contributors.

Of course no minds were changed.

Of course the legislation the House will vote on re:EPA has no chance of becoming law.

This is a campaign stunt, pure and simple.

David B. Benson said...

That was your tax $$ being wasted.

Michael Tobis said...

Oh, I doubt congress is going to cut its own budget for these dog and pony shows.

Aaron said...

Dang!! Did you (MT) actually go to the hearing? I thought your reason for being in DC was to chat-up congressmen over cocktails. That is is why "Senior Smooth Talking Bloggers" go to Washington.

A lot of voters across the country read what you write. That should be enough to get you invitations to meet and greet congressmen. You have more power than you think. Play the game.

dhogaza said...

"Of course the legislation the House will vote on re:EPA has no chance of becoming law."

No, but it lays the groundwork for their zeroing out the budget allocated to the task, and they have a very good chance of winning on that.

And then let the lawsuits fly ... The Supremes already ruled that the EPA's gotta do something.

Michael Tobis said...

No, just an audio feed.

I did not know there was a Senior Smooth Talking Blogger title to be had. Is there a national organization, the AASSTB, or something I need to join?

Mr. Gore keeps sending me mail addressed to "Dear Michael", but somehow it feels like he is sending out half a million of these. He never replies when I write back, that is for sure!

Steve Bloom said...

The big event of the day seems to have been RP Jr.'s promotion to scientist, in contrast to John Cook, who has a physics degree (albeit not a fud IIRC) but is just folks.

Michael Tobis said...

It was a difficult call in both cases.

Anyway, perhaps surprisingly, and perhaps relevantly, I liked most of what Junior had to say this morning.

Steve Bloom said...

I think he was on best behavior relative to Eli Kintisch. With Gavin on the whole time, it wouldn't have looked good to be corrected a whole bunch.

You do seem to have a naive streak that just won't go away, Michael. I seem to recall that events like the Klotzbach et al. paper (which IIRC you were going to blog on but never did) and the attack on Chris Field on the Beeb main news were kind of, you know, recent, and that some sort of lesson could be drawn from them.

Anyway, there's no point in dwelling on it, but of course I will remind you of this the next time RP Jr. sticks a shiv into the back of climate science. Which he will, inevitably.

thingsbreak said...

I would just like to point out that I made basically the same comment that RPJr. directed at me much earlier on. Eli Kintisch didn't see fit to print it (I guess because of time/backlogged comments?), nor to print my reply to Roger saying this.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not naive. I just don't carry grudges much. I advise against them.

Steve Bloom said...

A fair judgement based on a long, long track record isn't a grudge.

Also, Michael, if you extend this attitude of yours across the entire scientific establishment, and based on what I see rather a lot of scientists engage in the same excess of fairmindedness that you do, I think that explains part of the larger problem. I'm encouraged that the recent trend in the community seems to be toward being a little tougher, in part because of "climategate" but also because it's becoming clear the current political structure has fallen entirely short as a vehicle for the needed change. Understanding that at a high level seems to be one thing, though, while applying it to individuals seems to be something else.

Michael Tobis said...

It's a rule, really. Scientists and scientific bodies are flawed, but the beautiful crystal of science keeps emerging form the muck. None of use wants to examine any of us too carefully.

We are all a little bit odd. Our ivory tower cloister is a place of remarkable freedom.

Also, we want to give our opponents room to abandon their wrong theories, see the light, and become coauthors.

Forgiving and forgetting is an essential principle of the scientific community. All that matters in the end is the jewel, not the mud from which it emerged.

This, of course, is what is so infuriating about "climategate". The transgressions (apart form the original hacking and privacy violation) were trivial, and the punishment already long past excessive. It really is improper and rude to keep bringing it up!

Martin Vermeer said...

> Roger Pielke Jr.: @thingsbreak, if
> either side wanted to discuss
> regulation, they should have regulation
> experts, not climate scientists, both
> sides are complicit in this charade

Ah, Roger and the 'cops and robbers are both guilty' line. Doesn't he want to see (no, don't answer that) that the only reason the real scientists were there, was to make sure that lies wouldn't go unopposed?

ijish said...

MT:

"Forgiving and forgetting is an essential principle of the scientific community. All that matters in the end is the jewel, not the mud from which it emerged."

To which I say: But this isn't the scientific community.

You're trying to view a Congressional hearing -- chaired by out-and-out politicians, watched by rich businessmen, and played by entertainers -- through a pair of lenses that turns everything into a talk in a scientific conference.

It makes as much sense as playing chess according to the rules of backgammon.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

The question of how I view Roger Jr. is different from the question of how I view yesterday's circus, a display which you will note didn't appeal to Roger any more than to me.

I am certainly not a fan or an admirer; I think his quality of thought is inconsistent and often unimpressive.

But wrong though I find many of his positions, I also think he sometimes comes up with useful observations. I also think that, despite coming up with the wrong answers, he is at least asking the right questions, which is a contribution in itself. I don't see why we can't recognize real insights from people we disagree with.

Martin's criticism is more germane, I think. But the real issue is whether congress is or should be empowered to overturn a scientific result. No amount of discussion with scientists or pseudo-scientists is going to shed any light on that.

I think Roger Jr. often gets too much attention, but in this case I'd have been pleased to see him on the panel rather than his father (who had no more of any relevance to say than the DDT guy) or ANY other member of the panel.

The issue is not ecology, or severe events, or anything within IPCC. The issue is the regulatory structure of the US.

Steve Bloom said...

"I don't see why we can't recognize real insights from people we disagree with."

Agreed entirely, and note that I wasn't criticizing any of the quotes. But quoting is different from promoting him to scientist, notwithstanding that he might be qualified to be on a panel in a hearing with a different focus. I am reminded of the Buddhist parable ending with the observation that no amount of polishing will turn an unsuitable stone into a mirror.

Hank Roberts said...

I don't see people picking up on Somerville's blunt statement about what is scary (I tried noting it in the blog thread and it didn't get accepted); DailyKos caught the timestamp:

"12:04pm: Dr. Richard Somerville points out that climate scientists have moved beyond whether our climate is changing - what's scary now is the rate of change."

Replay: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/03/house-climate-science-hearing-li.html#sci-comments

David B. Benson said...

I agree that far too much attetnion is paid to RPJr.

Dana said...

Magnus Westerstrand: "Christy's testimony answers should be written down... I just cant take the man serious any more... hope the journalists will report on this"

I put together a response/rebuttal to Christy's written testimony at Skeptical Science.