"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gerd Leipold's Kerfuffle

I don't know where I've been hearing this word, "kerfuffle", but it popped into my head with regard to this bit of disreputable word-twisting on the Investor's Business Daily:

During an Aug. 5 interview with the BBC, Gerd Leipold, outgoing executive director of Greenpeace, admitted that his organization emotionalizes issues to influence the public. At the time, he was admitting his group had made an error in its July 15 news release that claimed "we are looking at ice-free summers in the Arctic as early as 2030."

"I don't think (the Greenland ice sheet) will be melting by 2030," he said. "That may have been a mistake."

Of course, one presumes that the context, which surely refers to sea ice and not the Greenland ice sheet, was lost somewhere along the way. Let's start off on the right foot by saying that his admission of error was carefully contingent ("may have been") on there actually being an error in the first place.

This whole kerfuffle is immensely revealing.

While it's up, you can see the "HardTalk" interview in question on YouTube . And you can see the original Greenpeace press release here. It says:
A recent NASA study has shown that the ice cap is not only getting smaller, it’s getting thinner and younger. Sea ice has dramatically thinned between 2004 and 2008. Old ice (over 2 years old) takes longer to melt, and is also much harder to replace. As permanent ice decreases, we are looking at ice-free summers in the Arctic as early as 2030.
Along with a link to this defense. Which points out:
If you Google "ice free summers" and "arctic" you get about 230,000 hits. Oh, and gosh, look what the first article is: a story from the BBC itself talking about the retreat of SEA ice, but what's the headline? "Arctic summers ice-free by 2013"
So what's happened?
  1. Yikes! The Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the fairly near future! This is huge!
  2. The press just sloppily says "Ice-Free Arctic", in order to save a little headline space. (Somebody has to do an expose on headline writers someday!)
  3. Greenpeace uses the informal form, probably as an ever-so-tiny slipup. Their text would not have lost impact by correctly using the word "Ocean" after the word "Arctic". On the other hand, nobody with half a brain who had any professional interest in climate reading the press release would misunderstand the irrelevance to Greenland.
  4. Hard hitting BBC HardTalk reporter who claims to have talked to lots of climate experts asks "you really don't think Greenland will be ice-free by 2030, like your press release says?"
  5. Greenpeace leader Gerd Leipold misses the point, since it's so out of left field.
  6. Hard hitting BBC HardTalk reporter asks the question again.
  7. Leipold, not having the copy in front of him, shrugs, says "I don't read every press release" and "it might have been a mistake", as well he should.
  8. Denyosphere runs with it
  9. I get wind of it through this IBD article showing up in my feeds
  10. I try to do my part to put out another wildfire of bullshit
Complete, total, unadulterated bullshit. Propagated by the BBC, which is especially discouraging. Whatever you may think of Greenpeace, they didn't exagerrate anything in this case.

Now comes the ironic part. IBD decides to wheel out the old Stephen Schneider quote. You know the one:

Or maybe it was one of those examples that Greenpeace embellished to stir fear in the public? If so, it wouldn't be an isolated case. Others have admitted they're willing to bend the truth in order to draw attention to the cause.

Twenty years ago, Stanford University environmentalist Stephen Schneider told Discover magazine that it's perfectly fine "to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts we might have. . . . Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Al Gore noted the power of propaganda when he once told Grist, a magazine for environmentalists, that "it is appropriate to have an overrepresentation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience."

So, having covered the "bending the truth" item, they duly move on to the "scary scenario" one:
So why all the distortions about global warming? To save the planet, to save us from ourselves? No. To choke economies in developed nations, particularly the U.S.
First of all, it is the BBC and the IBD who have perpetrated the distortion in this case! And now it is the IBD offering the scary scenarios! When someone is being disreputable, they will often accuse their opposition of exactly their own behavior, like disruptive agitators of well-intentioned public meetings calling the progressive politicians who convened them Nazis.

Here's another case. If I've ever seen a better example of bending the truth and offering scary scenarios than this one, I can't bring it to mind.

Steve has gotten a huge amount of grief over the years for this statement. John Quiggin does us all a service by providing more context:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people, we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.)
This is the inescapable quandary of us purveyors of inconvenient truth. No amount of wailing and caterwauling by ourselves or our allies will convince the rock to roll away or the hard place to soften up. We are stuck with it, especially insofar as the main media are for-profit industries and insofar as people are too frazzled and frantic to reflect very much on their world.

We can push this question this way or that, but the fact remains that the whole truth is very scary but really hard to put into forms that the press will be willing to feed to the public. The partial truth may get attention but leaves the speaker vulnerable to attack on details. You try to do both, but either half (compelling and complete) is hard enough.

Meanwhile, opponents play fast and loose with the facts all the time. Now, to prove Greenpeace is using scare tactics, the anti-AGW press is reduced to far more vicious, far more egregiously dishonest scaremongering than even the scaremongering they misattribute to Greenpeace.

And then they have the temerity to bring Schneider into it. I have a word for them but it isn't a pretty one, and it's unkind to children of single mothers.

(Brown text: IBD; green text: Greenpeace; blue text: Steve Schneider)

PS: I'm pretty sure Steve Schneider has nothing to do with Greenpeace, and I definitely don't. In a sane world I wouldn't have to say that and it wouldn't matter much anyway. But apparently, that's not the world we live in.

I don't consider myself a Greenpeace supporter, and the purpose of this piece is not to defend them. The purpose of this piece is to focus on a particularly straightforward case of lying among the opposition, and how quickly and effectively the lie spreads. This sort of thing is usually a bit more subtle when directed at science, but it's no more defensible.

Update: The really scary thing about this teapot tempest is that it was conjured up by the BBC, entirely deliberately. But not everything that scares me is mainstream media. For John Fleck, links to sites running this story:

Dr. Orly Taitz Esquire

This site may harm your computer.
... which it is stated that global warming will lead to an ice-free Arctic by 2030. ... As the Watts Up With That blog highlights, “Leipold's admission that ...

Had enough? Those are from the first 6 of Google's 94 pages of hits on

leipold "ice free arctic"

Update: I'm truly astonished and dismayed to have a request from regular reader David Duff to add his "contribution" to the list, but very well: A lying liar called Leipold coughs .

I had thought of David as a true Tory, not as a right-wing yahoo, and I find myself deeply disappointed. A gentleman does not resort to straw man arguments, does not falsely put embarrassing words into the mouths of his opponents.

This is not to say whether there is something to the other arguments about Greenpeace one way or the other. It is to say that the claim that anything was "admitted" by Greenpeace about Greenland in 2030 is demonstrably nonsense, and that propagating such nonsense, no matter how otherwise reputable Greenpeace may or may not be, constitutes a malicious lie.

I agree that the "emotionalism" topic is real enough. If someone has another suggestion as to how to break through the wall of indifference and habit, I'm sure many of us would be very interested.

Update: ClimateSight has more on the Schneider quote.


Tom said...

Well, why not try Professor Schneider's wish and do both? I do what is (I guess) now called 'citizen journalism' for examiner.com, and I invite you to help talk through the public policy ramifications as well as the science, if you like. I've interviewed Stephen Schneider, Bjorn Lomborg and both Pielke's, and am currently having an extended 'in print discussion' with Bart Verheggen of the Netherlands. If you want as much time and space as you want to make your points regarding anthropogenic global warming, I will provide you a forum that gets 19 million visits per month. Take a look, and see how I've treated other interviewees. I describe myself as a 'lukewarmer,' cheerfully stealing the term from Lucile Liljegren, but I do try to treat people fairly.

I found you via the link on Pielke Jr.'s weblog, and my first question to you is, regarding their research, to a non-scientist the first question about their paper is, is there an unanswered question that their paper legitimately tries to address? If you want to take it from there, feel free to contact me.

I think I can understand that frustration may have led to some intemperate language on your part--and it's something I intend to address in any event in an upcoming article. But rather than just blast away, if you'd like to engage first, you have the opportunity. You wrote here about wishing to disengage, so if this is all an annoyance to you, I'll understand (although I'll still be writing about your response).


Tom Fuller

Michael Tobis said...

I do try to watch my temper in public. Despite Pielke Jr, though, I must insist that the word "consequences" is not intemperate.

I liked your Verheggen article.


On the other hand, your paying attention to Carlin shows that you don't have a lot of actual discretion in your ability to detect real science from recycled political talking points.


I like that Verheggen made a crucial point that I often make as well. The less clear you think the science is, the more cautions you should advocate being about increasing emissions. This is very poorly understood by naysayers and lukewarmers, and indeed by the public.

Regarding "Is there an unanswered question that their paper legitimately tries to address" I would say "a modest one". It is not, in my opinion, a key cornerstone of climate science.

I'm willing to have some conversation with you in a public forum about Klotzbach even though I don't know much about you. This is not the right thread, though.

Please post any further questions on the latest Klotzbach thread.

Paul said...


Please review the "Bupkes" post on RC before you engage Mr. Fuller in public discussion.


He sounds a lot more "luke" than "warm".

Mr. Fuller checks out of the thread by comment 300 or so. Bart Verheggen gave him a very reasoned reply to his "second generation climate questions".

Is there any indication on his blog that he has moved to a third generation understanding of climate science?

Paul Middents

Hank Roberts said...

Slightly more polite than I actually want to be:

Michael Tobis said...

He can say what he wants about me if there's a transcript of the real conversation here, I guess.

Simon Donner said...

We're all human. I imagine the intentions of people at Greenpeace are far more benign than many blog commenters think. Sometimes, though, in the effort to publicize the real threats of climate change, groups like Greenpeace unintentionally open up the climate change science community to criticism. The real problem is that most people don't distinguish between environmental scientist and environmentalist, or climate scientist and climate activist.

John Fleck said...

Michael -

I think at times you get a bit too distracted by events like this, and miss the broad sweep of climate mainstream news coverage.

While this IBD/BBC piece got its little bit of attention, for example, Seth Borenstein's AP piece on ocean temperatures got far more play.

Also this month, Charles Hanley's coverage of arctic melting got a similar global run.

Insofar as MSM coverage matters (and you know my sense of ambivalence about that issue), it's at least worth trying to maintain a sense of the overall sweep of the coverage, rather than focusing entirely on the annoyances.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks for the warnings, fellers. I answered anyway. We'll see what follows.

Michael Tobis said...

Simon, contact me by email please.

Hank Roberts said...

Fuller's paid per visitor to the Examiner area he runs.

Not just teach the controversy, but bill for it.

Michael Tobis said...

Hank, it is OK with me if he is paid. I aspire to the same. I can hardly hold that against him.

Anonymous said...

I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE IT! In that long, long list of sites that fell upon the story with unabashed glee was my site - a poor thing, but mine own - and not a mention do I get! Never mind, at a time when the world is going to hell in a handbasket for reasons far removed from so-called AGW here was something to cheer me up and confirm my deeply held belief based on experience and memory that all mass pressure groups are filled with lying liars. "Emotionalizing" - tut, tut!
David Duff

Hank Roberts said...

But, Michael, you care about facts and references. You could become an 'Examiner Expert' yourself. You'd cite sources and point people to good information.

Being paid for that wouldn't hurt your reputation, you'd continue to be be worth sending people to.

There are other 'Examiner Experts' around covering the same subjects as Tom -- but he's the one drumming up traffic by chasing controversy.

You don't need to post this publicly, it's off topic. But it's heartfelt. The Examiner sets out their model clearly enough once you look into it. Inverse of a library.

They're selling viewers to advertisers, but they're not doing journalism to attract the viewers.

Just look how hard it is to put a link to a good citation on an Examiner thread--their model doesn't permit anything that takes people away from their site.

Michael Tobis said...

David, you actually want a link?

Let me be clear. DIscussion of "emotionalizing" is legitimate. And I am not a defender of Greenpeace particularly.

It is simply a lie that Greenepace "admitted" anything, or that there was anything to admit, regarding Greenland melting by 2030. I hope you can acknowledge that.

Aaron said...

Events have passed Steve Schneider by. Four thousand walrus died this summer for lack of sea ice to haul out on. The ocean is warm enough to decompose clathrates on the sea floor. And, beetles have moved into our Northern forests. Today, the great alarmist scenarios are being acted out by Mother Nature in real time.

The dead forest issue was brought to my attention by a senior manager at BLM. He had been skeptical about climate change, then he realized that he had millions of acres of forest that is ready to burn in fires so hot it will bake the soil and inhibit forest regeneration. The fires will also damage, or render worthless, large amounts of infrastructure. These forests are also the watershed and water source for tens of millions of people. (Baked soil does not act as a watershed.) This was climate change he could understand. In a matter of weeks he changed from being a skeptic of climate change to being a climate change alarmist.

He still does not really care about how much CO2 is locked up in that forest and soil. Right now, he is just worried about his fire fighting and infrastructure replacement budget. Much of the western US depends on water from those forests.

If I bring up the “alarmist” word, he says he is just a prudent bureaucrat with a fiduciary duty to protect that watershed. Still, it is the truth and it is an alarmist story beyond Steve Schneider's wildest dreams.

What was missed in the Green Peace stories is the current estimates for loss of Arctic Sea Ice. And, once that sea ice is lost. the Arctic Ocean will act as a heat collector, accelerating the loss of ice from Greenland. The Greenland Ice Sheet may not be gone in 2030, but melt from GIS in 2030 may be raising sea level fast enough that we will wish it was already gone.

Hank Roberts said...

Here's how it's done:


Here's how they get Experts:

"PitchRate.com is fre.e PR for you and your business. Journalists in all facets of the media from TV, radio and magazines to less traditional outlets such as podcasts and blogs, use PitchRate.com to find sources for their stories. By becoming a source you position yourself a knowledgeable expert and in so doing, gain name recognition. You become the go-to source for your niche. How does this help you? Think about the Oprah effect!..."

Michael Tobis said...

The Examiner model does not offend me. Nor does it appeal to me.

So far Tom seems like a decent guy perfectly representative of the sort of person we need to convince.

The public, presented with the options and no close connections to the science, will gravitate to "lukewarmer". It is not obvious to them why this is an untenable position. We need to explain that.

I don't hold it against someone for starting from there. Now, I know little about Tom, and Tom knows little about climate science. Maybe, Hank, you have evidence that he is unreasonable. Being a reporter for the Examiner doesn't clinch it for me, though.

Neither does falling for Carlin's nonsense. Which presents an interesting quandary.

Carlin is so irritating that nobody has had the patience to treat him as if he were reasonable. To the person new to the field, that makes the field look bad, not Carlin.

Tom: no doubt people have spent a great deal of effort trying to present a realistic view of the evodence to Carlin. The fact that he is still at EPA spouting recycled nonsense as if it were science may not be obvious to you. But it is obvious to people who are engaged in the science.

The idea that his completely refuted stuff should appear in public with an EPA imprimatur can only be based in a profound misunderstanding of the capacity of science to actually make intellectual progress. It is not a government agency's job to propagate falsehoods.

Hank Roberts said...

Seriously, Michael, you could own this market, if they'd let you be yourself; there's no one like you writing for them. Of course there may be a reason. But check out the companies that own the Examiner and see what you think:

To become an "Examiner Expert"

"... Examiners are credible, passionate and knowledgeable local influencers.They have access to tools that help them grow their audience and brand as well as forums where they can connect with other Examiners and experts. Launched in April 2008, Examiner.com serves 110 major markets across the country.

Examiner.com is a division of the Clarity Media Group, and is wholly owned by The Anschutz* Company."

apply here:


"... Examiners are paid a very competitive rate based on standard Internet variables including page views, unique visitors, session length, and advertising performance. This is not a full-time "quit your day job" kind of opportunity, but Examiners can definitely earn some extra cash while gaining exposure through their writing. Examiner.com uses PayPal to compensate Examiners."
* http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Philip_Anschutz


Michael Tobis said...

Hank, I don't follow. Billionaire Anschutz is a conservative midwesterner and a prominent supporter of G W Bush.

I suppose that doesn't prove the game is fixed, but why would that make it attractive to me?

Anonymous said...

Each "examiner" has a lot of latitude. Check out this take on Carlin from "Orlando Science Policy Examiner" Steven Andrew:

"There are plenty of instances in the traditional media of honest mistakes or just plain sloppy journalism when it comes to science reporting. Then there are times when the only explanation is naked complicity in spreading disinformation. CBS has clearly crossed the line into the latter to a degree that should leave any premium news organization embarrassed ..."

(Full disclosure: Yes, he points to my blog - that's why I know about it).


Michael Tobis said...

I'm not sure why, (I think I crossed some threshhold at Google) but for the last few weeks my blog now gets about 5000 page serves a week (exclusive of RSS feeds which I don't know how to measure), about double that of the last few months and about five times what I had a year ago at this time.

I doubt many of the "examiners" are getting that. So I'm doing alright.

How to turn that into money without ticking off my subscribers is another matter. I'm thinking of T-shirts.

Anonymous said...

Well, sure, you shouldn't bother with examiner.com. And I'm sure most of their contributors are on the "other" side. But it doesn't have the same top-down bias that, say, FoxNews has, and that's probably an important distinction to make.

bernie said...

What is NASA's estimate for an ice free Arctic Ocean during the summer?

Michael Tobis said...

Bernie, I don't know that there is one, and obviously if there is one I don't know what it is.

Maybe somebody else can help?

Hank Roberts said...

NASA? don't know of an estimate.
NOAA, yes; try last April sometime in J. Geophysical Research.

News article:

"... The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the ice cover was likely to melt rapidly in the next couple of decades, culminating in an open sea, except for a band of ice bordering the shores of northern Canada and Greenland...."

Marion Delgado said...

Climate Progress busted Tom Fuller absolutely, and for all time. caveat emptor.

Michael Tobis said...

Yeah I looked more carefully. His idea of "warmist" seems to be to say that there will be a warming, but it will be trivial. Which puts him square in the Heartland bulge.

Still, I don't mind interviews from anyone where the transcript is public so people can see what I really meant if they have half a mind to. And I can't prevent the guy from going after me, can I? I mean if the word "consequence" can be interpreted as a threat, and "ice-free Arctic" as a lie because there will still be an ice sheet on Greenland, what can you do?

I do appreciate the caveats, all.

Tim Lambert said...

I've decided comment as well.

guthrie said...

Ummm, Michael, to anyone from the UK it was clear that David Duff is having fun, he may even be a true tory, whatever one of those is, but being stupidly obtuse about a topic is common to people of all political labels.

His screeds are a bit like those of an aquaintance of mine, who is rather more liberal than DD but takes the contrarian viewpoint, especially if the person he is intereacting with says "Ahh, but you should do this because its good for you/ the planet".

Some people hate AGW because they are natural contrarians, so any authority figures saying sorry, we'll have to restrict your theoretical but not real right to do what you please means they say no you won't, simply because it is some authority figure saying it. Yet if they stumbled upon it themselves they'd expect plaudits from people.

Michael Tobis said...

A genuine Tory understands "noblesse oblige". Most so-called conservatives these days are not defending gentility and propriety (as well as class and privilege). They have no principles other than an obsession with the principles of others they dislike.

If, like me, you are of lesser breeding, you might not look favorably on them, but as Gandhi noted, you can appeal to principle in dealing with them. They will only bash you on the head a few times before actually stopping to consider your point of view.

Due to a very peculiar set of circumstances my wife and I once had dinner with a Count. Just the three of us.

Though in matters of substance he was ignorant and dull, he managed to make me feel woefully inferior and uncouth just as a matter of breeding and manners. I wish we still had mostly conservatives like him, though, because with that sort one can appeal to a principle of dignity, at least.

I am sure the Count, when he considers Greenpeace, is not impressed. But I am sure he would not normally stoop to inventing evidence to discredit them. (And if he did so in a pinch, he would surely not do such a blunderingly idiotic job of it.)

Hank Roberts said...

> where the transcript is public so
> people can see what I really meant

Where would that appear?

I just compared Bart V's blog about the Examiner to what's at the Examiner (yes, I gave Anschutz a nickel to read it, dammit).

silburnl said...

"I am sure the Count, when he considers Greenpeace, is not impressed. But I am sure he would not normally stoop to inventing evidence to discredit them. (And if he did so in a pinch, he would surely not do such a blunderingly idiotic job of it.)"

Full Counts don't need to do that sort of work, they have Viscounts to do it for them...


Anonymous said...

Since my conversation with Tom Fuller is mentioned here, I thought I’d chime in. I agree with Michael’s first impression: “So far Tom seems like a decent guy perfectly representative of the sort of person we need to convince.”

I had initially emailed Tom Fuller about my longer reply, because the reply format at the Examiner only allows short replies. From that ensued a longer conversation during which he invited me to elaborate on my view, and he offered to post it on his site. So he has done (with a link to my site), without changing my words in the slightest. We continued after an extended holiday break (I live in Europe…).

I think Tom is an example of somebody who is honest –though perhaps misguided- in his questions. Replying by ridicule or namecalling (or ignoring) is not productive in these circumstances. To the contrary, it drives him, and people like him, further away from the science (as is evident from his more recent attacks on climate scientists in general and RealClimate in particular).

Some people who come to a climate blog with a contrarian question that has been refuted many times, do so with sincerity. And even if not, there are many ‘lukewarmers’ and ‘undecided voters’ listening in on the conversation. Remaining civil is important, because un-civility hurts your credibility. Call me na├»ve, but I believe that a constructive dialog should be attempted with all except for the most hardline fanatics. After all, we share the world and its climate with them, and have to eventually work together. I have found my conversation with Tom constructive so far, even if I had to bite my tongue at instances. That it earned him a few dimes and me none; good for him, too bad for me. If I had a chance to get paid for this, I would take it (though not at all cost of course).

Bart Verheggen

Tom said...

Hi all,
Sorry I checked out for a few days. I'll continue on the other thread, but I'll (for the only time in my life) agree with Hank Roberts and urge you to become an Examiner writer, if you like--the pay is horrible (about .9 cents per page view) but that's pretty much better than anything else out there for freelance commentating. And Roberts is right--you'd do well on the site.

And if you're going to refer to the Rommulan and his schtick about me, have the courtesy to include my response: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-9111-SF-Environmental-Policy-Examiner~y2009m8d11-The-ugly-side-of-global-warming-Romm-knows-how-to-spell-hubris

Hank Roberts said...

Thanks to both Bart and Tom.
Most encouraging. I figured August is a slow time and had been hoping y'all would come back and say more.