Saturday, June 17, 2017

Should Scientists and the Media Exaggerate Global Warming?

Should scientists and the media exaggerate the current and future impact of human-forced global warming to encourage people "to do the right thing"?

A number of scientists and media folks believe the answer is yes.

For me, the answer is an emphatic no, for reasons I will explain below.   Let's consider some of the arguments for and against and you can decide for yourself

Climate Exaggeration:  The End Justifies the Means

Global warming due to human-caused (anthropogenic) increases in greenhouse gases is a significant threat to mankind.  Yes, there are uncertainties, but there are potentially major, negative impacts for our species and the planet.  Most climate scientists are in agreement that there could be serious problems by the end of the century from heat waves and droughts, to heavier precipitation and more extreme hurricanes if the rise of greenhouse gases are not reduced radically.

The problem is that with all the talk, mankind is not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly.   Concerned climate activists note that most people do not see this issue a primary concern.   And most of the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases will be in the future, and it is very difficult to get folks to sacrifice NOW to deal with a threat to future individuals mainly in other countries.

So the somewhat cynical approach used by "climate activists", some media,  and unfortunately a few scientists has been to hype and exaggerate  the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases on current weather or ecological events, even though  there is really little evidence of a anthropogenic greenhouse gas origin.   Here in the Northwest we have seen media stories stating that lone trees in the arboretum, oysters in commercial hatcheries, snowpack in the Cascades, major windstorms, and one-year droughts have been caused by increasing greenhouse gases.  But the evidence for these claims is very thin at best.

I have been struck by the persistent questions of the local media....many simply don't understand why hyping global warming is a problem.   For example, in a recent interview with KUOW, Bill Radke asked:

"What are the worst things about excessive claims?  This is our only planet so far.  Aren't we better safe than sorry?

And in a recent give and take, a writer (Charles Mudede) for the a local newspaper, the Stranger, commended past Mayor Nickels for hyping snowpack loss and explicitly state that the media needs to exaggerate enough to move the population to a state of "panic" about climate change.  You can't make up things like this.

Climate change exaggeration has also spread to the politicians and their associates.  Major Washington State officials talk frequently about the oyster factory deaths as caused by CO2 emissions, Mayor Nickels pushed snowpack loss, President Obama's science advisor claimed that eastern cold waves were caused by global warming, Governor Cuomo claimed that Hurricane Sandy was related to increasing greenhouse gases, and many more.  The list of such baseless claims is very long.  And there are cheerleaders in non-profit organizations (like Climate Central or Seattle's Climate Solutions) that not only applaud such nonsense, but take it further at times.

But perhaps the worst (and most inexcusable) examples of global warming hyping is from some activist scientists.  A primo example for our region was the attempt by some local scientists to hype the loss of Cascade snowpack, claiming it was a local example of greenhouse warming.  This led to the firing of the Associate State Climatologist by the then Washington State Climatologist.   I wrote a paper with Mark Stoelinga and Mark Albright (accepted in the peer-reviewed literature) disproving these exaggerations, by the way.  There are many more examples of scientists giving up their objectivity to become advocates.

Why Climate Exaggeration is a Bad Idea

1.  Exaggeration Threatens the Role of Science in the Nation's Political Realm

The job of science and scientists is to provide society with accurate information: about what we know, what we don't know, and information regarding the confidence in future projections. It is a not scientist's job to make society's decisions or to push folks to take certain actions--that is in the realm of the political system.

For the past half century, there has been bipartisan support of science and this will only continue as long as scientists stay objective and politically neutral.  As soon as science appears as an advocate for one party or sides with one party, it will lose the support of the other.  And nothing major can be done in this country--particularly long-term issues like climate--without having support across the aisle.

2.  Credibility of the Science Establishment

Crying wolf by hyping climate impacts will undermine confidence in Science by the general population and decision makers, because sooner or later it becomes obvious that bad information was being distributed.    Here in the Northwest, those claiming a permanent loss of snowpack in the mid-2000s, now must explain the bountiful snowpacks of the last decade.  Those suggesting the CO2 killed the oysters, now have to explain the recent excellent harvests of all kinds of shellfish.  Those claiming that the West Coast was heading for permanent drought two years ago, have to explain the turn towards wetter conditions.

3.   Making Decisions for Infrastructure and Public Policy

Those pushing for exaggerating climate change forgot a very important issue:  that realistic and accurate predictions are required by society to adapt to expected changes.   Any climate scientist will tell you that a certain amount of future climate change is guaranteed due to the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (which the atmosphere hasn't caught up with) and the fact that we aren't going to zero emissions in the near future.   To protect lives and property, substantial adaptation efforts will be be needed, such as infrastructure improvements.  For example,  more dams and reservoirs may be needed to deal with reduced snowpack.   Some folks will have to move away from locations near river banks, as maximum flows are enhanced by warming.    You can't build infrastructure with hyped and exaggerated projections:  the costs could be hugely increased or the designs would be improper for the actual future environment.

Adaptation and resilience to climate change will demand the best projections science can determine, including full information about uncertainties.   Politically useful exaggerations today will not be adequate.

4.  Psychological Stress on the Population

By hyping and exaggerating the current and near-term impacts of global warming, climate exaggerators are putting substantial stress on on the general population, and particularly the most psychologically vulnerable.   The constant headlines and apocalyptic warnings are making people feel vulnerable, uncertain, powerless and under duress, particularly since most don't possess a lot of options for moving or changing their lifestyles.   The media is making thing worst by talking about climate psychological stress, with some even suggesting the existence of pre-traumatic climate stress disorder.

I have gotten dozens of emails from folks acutely worried about climate change, including those ready to move to our region to escape disaster in their current locals.  Particularly poignant was a woman that was afraid to move to San Diego to aid her aging father, because she feared that imminent climate disasters in southern CA would endanger her teen-aged children.  Hype and exaggeration can push folks to turn away from the unpleasant stressor, making productive action less, not more, likely

5.  Exaggeration and Hype can be Counterproductive

 Folks have a good intuition about when they are being played or lied to.  When someone is exaggerating and distorting the truth.   When global warming is used as an explanation for nearly any type of natural (or unnatural) disaster, folks start doubting.  Heat waves? Global warming. Cold Waves? Global warming?  Floods?  Global warming.  Drought? Global warming.  Dead trees?  Global warming.  Too much vegetation growth that cause fires?   Global warming.

Such hype is particularly obvious when it gets combined with the social goals of a particular party.

And in this environment of hype, they see climate scientists, climate activists, and vocal politicians not "walking the talk" in their own lives, such as enjoying extensive domestic and foreign travel on carbon-emitting aircraft.    Climate exaggeration, and the doubts it engenders, make it less likely that folks will try to reduce carbon emissions or support policies that do.

6.  Truth Telling Opens Hearts

When scientists work to provide objective truth about climate change, moderate and conservative folks are much more likely to listen.  I have learned this first hand:  since I am known as someone that rejects hype, I have been invited to talk to conservative groups about climate change.   I was surprised that many of such groups are concerned about long term impacts (such as agriculture interests in eastern WA) and are ready to work on adaptation efforts.

7.  Exaggeration of Impacts Can Undermine Important Environmental Efforts

Global warming is not the only environmental issue or challenge.  But hyper-attention to increasing greenhouse gases can undermine key environmental efforts that enhance our sustainability with our planet.   Consider large wildfires over eastern Washington.   Some folks, including major WA State politicians, keep on talking about the role of global warming.   But talk to folks who really understand the problem (such as faculty in UW's Forest Resources College) and they discuss ill-conceived fire control and poor forest practices that have led to an unnatural and dangerously flammable forest environment.  And key steps to fixing our forests were stopped or slowed by those pushing a global warming agenda (e.g., prescribed burns, thinning and removal of slash).   Commercial oyster growers clothed themselves in greenhouse gas environmentalism, distracting politicians in our state from dealing with the oyster-growers anti-environmental actions, like widely spraying toxic herbicides and pesticides over Washington State waterways.

The History of Deceiving the Public to Get Them to "Do the Right Thing"

Throughout our nation's history there have been those who have attempted to deceive the public to get them "to do the right thing."    Lies encouraging people to support supposedly great goals have generally produced public disasters.  Consider a few:

1.   Lying to the public about weapons of mass destruction prior to the second Gulf War by President Bush and associates.  That led to an unnecessary war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the destabilization of the Middle East.

2.  Exaggeration of the threat of the "domino effect" led to the Vietnam War.

3.   Exaggeration of the threat of marijuana, led to nutty drug laws that resulted in enriched drug lords and the preferential imprisonment of minorities.

4.  Exaggeration of the threat of terrorism  resulted in a hugely expensive war on terror that undermined our civil liberties and cost trillions of dollars.

My bottom line is quite simple:  scientists and their media conduits should never hype or exaggerate the expected effects of climate change due to increasing greenhouse gases. 

Finally, I know some folks will ask me why I have mainly discussed misinformation on the "pro", generally left-leading, side, and not taken on the "skeptics"  that have certainly spread inaccurate information about the global warming threat.   My main reason is that "pro" side have generally been the dominant, controlling group.  The scientific community and most of the media (e.g., NY Times, WA Post, LA Times, Seattle Times, most networks, etc.) have been on the "pro" side, as has the Federal government for most of the past several decades.  And, being a scientist and living in Seattle, the "pro" side is around me all the time.

“The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced.”

Aldous Huxley


Russell Miller said...

Thank you, Cliff.

I lean right, but I'm prepared to accept that some form of global warming may be happening. As you mentioned, as long as I'm not being lied to, I'm willing to listen to what people have to say.

But here's the thing: you lie to me, game over. I'm not going to listen to anything you have to say anymore. If you tell me the sky is blue, I will look outside to make sure that's the case.

And here's the other thing: You talk down to me, game over. I'll still be likely to listen to what you consider to be truth, but *not from you*.

I found your comment about conservative groups inviting you to speak to be very telling, and it made a lot of sense to me.

I think the solution to climate change (if there is one to be had) will be technologies that will scrub carbon dioxide, etc., from the atmosphere and turn them into something salable. The minute you appeal to peoples' greed, the problem will be solved very quickly.

Thank you for being a voice of reason. I have no interest in being lied to, many in the media are lying to me right now, and thus, I am not listening to them. You, I am listening to. Whether I agree or not is yet to be determined, but I am listening. I've told you how you can destroy my trust in you. I don't think you will do any of those things.

Thanks for being you.

(From Sunny and very, very hot Austin, Texas).

CJP said...

Well said Cliff.

Thatcher Kelley said...

Climate change exaggeration has fueled the denier's position. We can't talk down to deniers until we ourselves start being honest about our position and recognize that we played a part in the creation of the climate change denier. Oh and we shouldn't talk down to deniers anyhow. We should engage them with civility, reason, and facts.

Bruce Kay said...

Of course no one should exaggerate but it is entirely possible that broadly applying the term "exaggerate" is an exaggeration. While short term predictions of climate change can be generally be expected to be "not catastrophic" the same cannot be said for longer term predictions due to the uncertainties well described in cliffs previous post. It is no exaggeration to say that there is considerable probability of catastrophic effects 50 or so years ahead if we fail to mitigate AGW.

This is where the media - and indeed the climate scientists - have failed in communication. When they hold up extreme examples of current weather as effects of climate change they need to be clear that they are far more caused by natural variability but offer a view of what we will see more of and might ultimately become the new normal. When climate significantly transitions, ecological instability is likely. It is early days for climate transition and perturbation may be increasing but we do not see these perturbations as a new norm. They should not be calling current trends "a new normal". We will know when we hit new norm when ecologies begin to destabilize, for example when temperatures and hydrological cycles change to the point where certain species dive toward extinction while others invade. One form this extinction / invasion paradigm will probably first materialize is not here in the northwest but in the equatorial latitudes where human migration will explode making the current Syrian thing look like a picnic. That potential is no exaggeration but of course until that happens any claims of catastrophe is an exageration.

But that doesn't mean that catastrophe is not predictable and those prediction's if properly qualified by probability cannot be described as exaggeration. Its potential is still well off in the future and is inherently uncertain in character or even probability, but trends that we see now are precursors to that potential. Those trends should be diligently described that way. If we frame the problem in risk terms - probability, consequence, vulnerability, exposure and degrees of forecast confidence - we will respect the intelligence of the reader with accuracy, not hyperbole. Then the problem can be correctly framed in terms of solution which any sane assessment indicates that mitigation is by far the highest priority while mitigation is still possible. The capability of conservative mitigation is fast receding, after which only highly risky mitigation measures ( geo engineering) will be available and required before committing to the even higher risk scenario of adapting to what might seem exaggeration at this point but what predictably will be no exaggeration later.

penguin1950 said...

I like #6 Truth telling opens hearts.
Open your heart to the wonderful Cascade snowpack of 2017!

JeffB said...

Also an emphatic no! The ends almost never justify the means. Truth and freedom are far more important than political objectives. Scientists have politicized climate and have only themselves to blame for the blowback.

And no one is going to give up their lifestyle or worse, relegate the third world to an even greater misery by removing any of the many life giving energy sources that make up our current energy supply. At least not without s credible alternative. That alternative can only come from nuclear given current technology, and yet the same people who aggressively advance the AGW hypothesis, also oppose nuclear.

It's a lose-lose and rational people tuned out long ago.

Bruce Kay said...

Also I must take issue with this:

"Folks have a good intuition about when they are being played or lied to."

Under situations where we have no skill, this is fundamentally false. All understanding of human cognition indicates this to be a deception - we do not have good, reliable intuitions in domains where we have no skill. Even when we do, intuition must not be relied on exclusively for judgement, if possible, because even expert intuition is not entirely reliable.

As an example when someone says " a 2 degree rise in average temperature will result in increased risk" the average persons intuition (common sense) will find this statement suspect. We intuitively do not believe it because we do not recognize it. Our personal experience shows even greater variation in temperature is no problem, mainly because our experience is limited to daily weather, seasonal climate cycles or at worst perturbation to the norm, not climate change, geo political risk or ecological stability. Thus the statement is counter intuitive. It takes an uncommon skill and understanding to properly contextualize the statement, where it is then revealed to be true after all.

On the other hand we might have good intuitions about whether the person actually understands what they are saying. We can often tell when a person is parroting stuff they themselves have no clue about. This does not mean we can intuit the accuracy of the claim (that takes uncommon skill) but we can pick up on the credibility of the speaker, simply because we have plenty of experience dealing with exactly that, day in, day out. Those are recognitions that we commonly possess and we often see them in the behavioural cues that media reporters display yet that neither validates or invalidates the accuracy of the claim.

This is an important distinction that if not properly qualified, adds only to a mythology that "folks have reliable intuitions" Without skill in the domain we do not have reliable intuitions to determine what is true or false. There is endless uncontroversial literature to illustrate this if inclined to look.

John Vidale said...

But it's not that simple. The process of informing the public and legislators does not work all that well much of the time. It's important to be sure one's work is not taken out of context to support paths of action inimical to common sense. I'd apply a litmus test whether statements are more helping or hurting movement towards doing the right things.
So one needs to not only be accurate, but spend appropriate energy bashing those who promote nonsense, and not spend too much energy chipping at people who make occasional smaller missteps.
Merchants of doubt thrive on confusion, so broad perspective needs to be maintained as much as possible.
Also, if some understand the physics just fine, but don't care what happens 50 years from now, that is a problem properly addressed by social scientists and policy makers, not physical scientists. Once physical scientists start preaching morality, as you say in this column, we have left our area of expertise and politicized our views, stripping our opinions of the virtue of coming from knowledge not known to the general public.

Mark said...

Most people will now incorrectly conclude that most climate science is exaggerated or fake. Your piece is perhaps a bit over wrought.

Russell Miller said...

I have to disagree partially with Bruce Kay above. The issue is not whether people can intuit whether a fact is correct or not - the issue is whether the speaker is intentionally lying, deceiving, or manipulating the listener. You can intuit whether you're being lied to even if you don't know exactly what the lie is - the important fact is that the *speaker* knows that they are lying.

The problem with many peoples' idea of science is that they thing that scientists, etc., are capable of being completely dispassionate and completely removing their humanity - being completely objective. But they are not, and in fact, it's impossible to do so. The entire point of peer review is not to ensure objectivity - it's to ensure that our shared delusions/illusions of objectivity are consistent.

So when someone is lying in order to manipulate another person into action, that is far beyond science, and is, in fact, the exact opposite of science, because at that point any pretense of objective truth has flown out the window. And scientists need to get over themselves - laymen are usually really good at telling when someone is being disingenuous. Probably, frankly, better than science - reading people is a skill that does not come as part of a scientific education.

So, yes. People can tell. And there is little that destroys the credibility of a scientist in a community worse than deliberately lying or falsifying data - or making deliberately overwrought predictions based upon disputed or incomplete data.

Remember, a "denier" can be someone who is deliberately going against scientific consensus. A "denier" can also be someone who does not trust the scientists doing the science. And that is not always - or even usually - the "denier's" fault.

andy gladish said...

"Folks have a good intuition about when they are being played or lied to."
Sadly, totally trumped (pun very much intended) by team politics.

Unknown said...

Yes Mark, This post assumes that the science is exaggerated when (at least by real scientists) it is not. In fact, the scientific truth is much scarier than what is generally reported to the public and "doubt spreaders" such as the author of this peace do their best to further sooth the public. Pandering with fake science has got us where we are and we now have little time left to change the warming of the future. Yes, I am "alarmist" and that is because I have spent my life studying and doing research related to the Earth's atmosphere. Yes the science if both clear and very very scary.

Eric Grimsrud (see website at

Unknown said...

Why does the US have a much higher % of deniers than other industrialized countries? Why are we alone in pulling out of the Paris agreement? Is it because our media exaggerate the threat of global warming more than media in other countries?

Cliff's thesis that exaggeration is such a huge problem needs to address the above to be credible.

Myself, I think the reasons are very similar to the reasons we don't have universal health care -- again unlike every other developed country.

- Douglas

Cliff Mass said...

We are really no worse than any other country and I doubt we really have more deniers. We are in the top five in the transition to renewable energy and we have led the transition from coal to natural gas. Countries you may think as "advanced" really are not. Like Norway, that exports huge amounts of oil/gas and Germany that burns a lot of coal. Folks that suggest that "deniers" are in control of the U.S. are spreading misinformation---along the lines I am talking about. All this denier talk and suggestions of huge conspiracies run by oil companies are not helping...cliff

Eric Blair said...

Other than Cliff above, there are finally voices of reason and sanity beginning to assert themselves - here's Obama's former energy czar weighing in a few years back:

Since no one listened to him the first time, he's weighed in again, suggesting what many of the doubters have been asking for over the past two decades:

The chief reason why there are so many doubters about this issue is precisely because a full accounting of the research has never been fulfilled, and the possibility of contrary opinions (who are also credible researches) have been stifled. When leading climatologists such as Dr. Richard Lidzen and Dr. Judith Curry are demonized and ostracized from any public discussions you have a severe credibility problem.

BobH said...

Amen! Thanks for speaking out.

Bruce Kay said...

Sorry Russel Millar but what you say may make sense to you but it does not correspond to a broadly accepted understanding on the reliability of intuition, as based on repeatable consistent study and testing on human cognitive ability.

I think I explained it adequately. When your depth of experience is well founded (most anyone car driving ability for instance) you can be assumed to have reliable intuitions for that skill domain. When your experience is not well founded (understanding what is true or false on claims of climate science) a persons intuition is not reliable. Knowing this, you cannot intuit if a statement on climate science is true or false - you can only guess or more likely employ incompetent heuristics or biases.

The real problem is twofold. Culturally, we like to think our intuitions are sound. We are always appealing to our common sense, assuming that it is reliable in all situations. Small wonder when you think about it - it's usually all we have!

2nd, very few people are aware of even the most basic understanding of human cognition, how it works and the best environment and strategies to make it work - and how it does not work (see above). We actually prefer the myth to reality, largely because myth creates an illusion of wisdom that is seldom adequately tested by our peers.

This phenomena of unreliability of intuition is actually well known throughout human history from Confusions to Plato to Hemingway, not just modern psychology:

"'No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.'

~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Bruce Kay said...

As well Russel I think your opinion on the objective (or value) of peer review is flawed, but perhaps Cliff Mass can better speak to that.

Russell Miller said...

Bruce, the nature of truth is that if one person is correct and everyone else on the planet is wrong, the one person continues to be correct.

The nature of truth is also that if every person on the planet agrees on a "truth" that is wrong, it does not magically become correct. Peer review only addresses the problem of disagreement, not the fact of truth (the fact that agreement and truth are congruent often enough to make it of some value notwithstanding).

Your comment indicates that you did not understand mine (as you did not directly or indirectly address my point, which was that it is not necessary for a person to be able to intuit the nature of the lie, simply the fact of lying, from verbal and nonverbal cues from the person who is intentionally lying). I think I explained it adequately.

Therefore, I continue to disagree.

Thanks for the engagement.

Eric Blair said...

As if right on cue, another hyped story falls flat on it's face:

So there's too much ice because of AGW, so the much - vaunted expedition can't proceed as planned. Funny how they suddenly didn't account for this factor, given their years of study and preparation. This mirrors another expedition that was stuck in arctic ice a few years back, this time in Antarctica, because guessed it, AGW. But wait, I thought the Titanic was sunk because of the unusual amounts of icebergs calving in the Atlantic that year...which was over 100 years ago. Was that because of AGW as well?

AGW, is there nothing it can't do?

Jim Steele said...

A much needed thoughtful post. I have seen too many researchers simply assume an ecological problem was due to climate change, when instead the problem was due to landscape changes or natural cycles. Such readily accepted beliefs that blame climate change lead to scientific laziness and bad diagnoses that inhibit efforts that could rectify the real problems which would make the local environment more resilient. For example some biologists blamed global warming for the drying out of a meadows we were monitoring and suggested political action to reduce greenhouse gasses, but the real issue was disrupted hydrology that channelized streams and drained subsurface waters, resulting in lost willows and wildlife. The correct analyses of landscape change let to a restoring of the meadow's hydrology, making the meadow wetter with more wildlife during the recent 3 year California drought than during the earlier decades of normal weather without restoration.

suetunn said...

Andrew Revkin also wants uncertainties acknowledged.

The costs of another Hurricane Sandy at NYC would be huge. Research funding needs to prioritize accuracy for areas with such critical vulnerability.

Also, more reports need to show the trends in variance, not just trends in means. Risk analysis is based on variances.

Day and night warming/cooling effects need to be reported separately, not just a 24 hour average. Nightime heat and humidity have different health impacts on sleep and energy demand planning. The variance trends of night temperatures and humidity can be significantly different than the variance trends for daytime.

Bruce Kay said...

well let me put it this way Russel.

When a person has an intuition, how will they ever know that it is a correct intuition?

Answer: they must experience direct unambiguous feedback. In other words, in order to know you are correct in detecting a lie, you must find out if indeed the person is lying. This is impossible unless adequate skill is directed to determining true or false. The fact that you "feel something" is not certain proof that that feeling is justified.

Let me leave you with one last quote, this time from Daniel Kahneman, the modern god father of cognitive decision making:

"Claims for correct intuitions in an unpredictable situation are self-delusional at best, sometimes worse. In the absence of valid cues intuitive "hits" are due either to luck or lies. If you find this conclusion surprising, you still have a lingering belief that intuition is magic."

― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Unknown said...

I find myself going back and forth on whether I am a climate change believer or a climate change skeptic. And I know this is an absurd quandary. It is like worrying whether I believe the earth is round or flat--I don't have enough of my own observational evidence to know for sure, though I have quite a bit. I must trust those who educate and inform me about these matters. Then I go ahead and act, vote, etc. in the best way I know how, based on the best truth I can find. Please don't lie, exaggerate and BS me to try to get me to do something else.
Martin Paquette
Land Surveyor

K.R. Burgess said...

The #1 way to curtail climate change is birth control.

With the U.S. population growing one person per every 13sec.,
there will be limited reasons to stop using 'cheap' products,
for energy consumption.

Sound Science Needs No Lies said...

It's hard to determine which has been more exaggerated. The supposed human impact on climate or the nonsensical policies to remedy the impact.
In truth, (ya know what that is?) the Paris accord is a global pretense that includes no benefit to the climate whatsoever. Worse yet there is no way to test any climate effects from the notions it is supposed to advance.
The only thing measurable is the math of funding allocations.

Somehow the heap of theoretical and conceptual babble being pumped out is supposed to be the same thing as measured science.
Nothing written anywhere provides any real evidence, tracking or demonstration of either climate impacting emissions reductions or so-called adaptation.

The adaptation part is particularly lame.
Even Cliff wades into the fallacy.

"To protect lives and property, substantial adaptation efforts will be be needed, such as infrastructure improvements. For example, more dams and reservoirs may be needed to deal with reduced snowpack. Some folks will have to move away from locations near river banks, as maximum flows are enhanced by warming."

What does climate adaptation really look like? When does it start?
Show me what infrastructure improvements being made or planned are authentic climate change adaption measures?
Where is a dam or reservoir planned to genuinely offset climate change?
Falsely attributing some effort to climate change doesn't count.
If there is climate change = less snow pack how will there be enhanced river flows and where is there any re-location underway truly due to emissions produced climate change?
No where.
There is no such thing as adaption.
There is only people and governments dealing with weather of all kinds.
Often it involves dealing with the opposing cycles and impacts in the same places.
All of which has been entirely routine forever.
The Texas drought that vanished a few years ago as they always do. The current end of the California drought.
No one is adapting to "climate change" because there is no such thing.

Colleen said...

Right on, Cliff. Well-stated thoughts and an apt concluding quote from Huxley.

I also think we underestimate the savvyness of the younger generation. I see in my own sons
and their adolescent/young adult friends a wariness and skepticism that's developed in response to exaggeration, handwringing, and downright fear mongering.

We do indeed risk losing our audience when we scold, threaten, and sensationalize - often serving as hypocritical examples in the process.

Eric Vonder Reith said...

Cliff, there is no doubt that the media frequently sensationalizes stories about the natural environment and attributes almost any disaster to climate change. My concern with your critique is the hard-line stand you take against greenhouse gases having any effect in extreme events happening now on Earth. It seems very presumptuous to claim with certainty that there are no directly correlated events happening now.

Can you comment on the National Academy of Sciences research on extreme weather attribution? They claim to now be able to make accurate quantitative statements about the increased likelihood or intensity of specific events.

Ansel said...


Anyone who need their own evidence for global warming, you can see for yourself. Go hike up to one of the glaciers in the Cascades in late summer when the seasonal snow has melted and take a photo. Then go look up a photo taken of the same glacier early in the 20th century. The South Cascade Glacier (albeit a bit hard to get to) is often cited.

Ward said...

I agree that the lefties who tout imminent climate disaster based on false or exaggerated information are misguided, and that this is not helpful. However, the deniers and not helpful either. Given our current federal government, who are mostly either deniers, or jumping on the denial bandwagon out of pressure from their party, or from their financial supporters, I can't at all agree the the feds have been the pro side. Certainly, it's partisan, and certainly now, and during the Reagan/ Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. years over the last 30-35 years, the feds as a whole are sweeping it under the rug. The views and policies of these administrations run contrary to your (Cliffs') claims that the feds have been "pro" climate disaster for 20 years or more.

Dan said...

Eric Blair, I'm afraid your counter-example does not hold water. I suspect you only read the headline and not the entire article you linked to? (

If you had read the article, you would see that the research was canceled BECAUSE OF global warming. Ice which is normally frozen solid up in the high arctic instead broke up and wind blew it south, causing the icebreaker to have to make more rescue trips and preventing it from doing the research run.

It's quite simple if you don't just look for evidence of what you want to see.

Eric Blair said...

Hey Dan - thank you for providing a perfect example of overwrought hysteria and emotion that Cliff alluded to in his post. Because nothing convinces any skeptic more than using ALL CAPS to screech your opinions.

Organic Farmer said...

I am affraid our species is really no different than a frog in a boiling pot of water. Toss the frog in hot water, it jumps out. Put the frog in comfortable water and slowly turn up the heat and it cooks!!

IMHO, the only thing we can do is put our efforts into developing clean CHEAP energy. Make fossil fuels obsolete.

Even with very expensive super computers, we can't even reliably forcast next week's weather, let alone the effects of increased carbon in the atmosphere.

Yes, humans are increasing atmospheric carbon, by burning fossil fuels. Which WILL raise the overall global tempeture.

Beyond the most basic simple facts, Specific outcomes are just speculation at this point in time.

Dick Moxon said...

What you are saying makes a lot of sense Cliff. I think it would be helpful to have a probabilistic discussion, the same way you do when talking about winter storms and the chances of certain amounts of snowfall. What are the probabilities of some of the disaster scenarios?

Bruce Kay said...

Sound Science needs No Lies says:

"Show me what infrastructure improvements being made or planned are authentic climate change adaption measures?
Where is a dam or reservoir planned to genuinely offset climate change?
Falsely attributing some effort to climate change doesn't count.
If there is climate change = less snow pack how will there be enhanced river flows and where is there any re-location underway truly due to emissions produced climate change?
No where."

I really wish Cliff Mass would jump in sometime to swat down what amounts to an extraordinary mountain of logical fallacies, even if they occur not with his preferred target.

I realize it may seem a bit more like "Wack A Mole" than you get with the average Seattle Times article, but that just indicates that the old FOX News Fair and Balanced approach might not be justified after all.

Eric Blair said...

And the hits just keep on coming - here's a report released today by one of the leading proponents of AGW, Ben Santer (along with co - author Michael Mann) -

So they're attempting to explain why observed temperature readings have not conformed to their earlier predictions, but please remember that the "science is settled."

And here's another study released today, analyzing the work of Stanford's Mark Jacobson, one of the leading proponents of wind and solar power. He's been claiming that the US can get to 100% renewable energy by 2015. The National Academy of Sciences just demolished this fantasy:

Andrew Lincicome said...

The only thing scientists should exaggerate is nothing. They should report their findings via the scientific method, and be able to have their results reproduced by other unbiased parties. Maybe once we have accomplished this seemingly archaic method of operating, we won't be posited with ridiculous questions like this. Ends justifying the means is manipulative, and leaves the door open for suggesting anything less than brutal honesty is acceptable if the outcome is more positive than negative. We are better than that.

Bruce Kay said...

Anyway, to get back to this term "exaggeration", I think it is fair to say that exaggeration is typically a result of bias, a subjective overweighting of valuation, sub consciously initiated, that does not necessarily disprove the essential claim ( a trend toward catastrophic effect for instance). I think this is important. Exaggeration is over valuation, not an outright lie as so many have been throwing around here in perhaps an even worse example of exaggeration. It is important, as a person's cultural or political bias can trigger an over reaction (an exaggeration, you could say) if they so much a smell a hint of hyperbole in a competing argument, leading them to believe what might be an exaggeration amounts to a lie.

Speaking of which, I looked up your claim of Obama's Science advisor (John Holdren) in having said that "eastern cold waves were caused by global warming..."

At least in the following The Blaze article (no sympathizer of anything Obama I'm sure you'll agree) there is no claim about "were caused", only at worst a reasonable qualification of "probably" and "a growing body of evidence suggests". In other words it seems an exaggeration on your part to state that he claimed "were caused".

Which leads back to my observation on bias. I know you generally disagree with the "stalled jet stream" theory described by John Holdren. do you think this may have sub consciously biased you to chose the words that you did in order to better portray Holdren's words as "Exaggeration"?

Unknown said...

What is with the "denier" appellation that is thrown around in the comments above and all over the media. Taken literally it is nonsense. Most skeptics do not "deny" that the climate is changing. We may be skeptical about some predictions that are made by climate scientists but we all should be skeptical. That is how science works. So if it doesn't make any sense literally, where does it come from? Personally I take it as an allusion to holocaust denial. There is no better way to get me to stop reading a comment or a media piece than to include the the d-word. It clearly identifies an advocacy piece that will be crammed full of exaggerations and fanciful predictions.

Cliff, on a more technical note, you have often mentioned (and again in the head post) that one of the predictions of climate change is increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather. I am puzzled by this since another prediction is that the polar regions will warm more than the tropics and the stratosphere more than the surface. Since it is temperature differences that drive extreme weather, would we not expect a decrease rather than an increase?

Peter Spear

Opus said...

First off, I'd like to say that I agree completely that scientists and journalists shouldn't exaggerate the effects of global warming, especially with regards to singling out current weather patterns without strong justification.

I am curious, however, if you think there is any case in which we can reasonably attribute present-day, local phenomenon to AGW? I think there is a lot of room between "This tree died of global warming," which is absurd at this point, and something like "The summer Arctic sea ice would not have receded this far without AGW," which seems almost certain to me. Obviously the paucity of Arctic sea ice is much less of a local phenomenon, both spatially and temporally, hence the greater certainty that it is a product of AGW. But perhaps there are intermediate examples that you feel comfortable pointing to, of phenomena we are seeing currently that would be quite unlikely, but not impossible, without AGW?

I would be particularly interested in any examples from the Pacific Northwest, since we both live here, but I think anything you could point to in any region would be educational.

Lucas Flanders said...

Excellent article, Cliff! You've made an ironclad case and convinced me in the process. And the quote by Huxley is icing on the cake.

AJW78 said...

Well written Cliff. In reality, has anyone went way, way back and studied the earth's natural cycles? Are we in the midst of another one of those warming then cooling stages? I am not a scientist by any means, but CO2's being emitted today is nothing compared to the CO2's emitted by volcanos when they were active, constructing this planet. Even if the US was able to export more coal, from our homeland vs up in BC, we could at least profit from our most valuable resource, the cleanest coal in the world, and still not make a dent in the supposed global CO2 issue since those countries are adapting those scrubbing technologies. Our country is doing the same, example: the coal burning power plant in Centralia, which is slated to close down by 2025 (BTW because of the overhyped green movement and subsequent governors (Gregoire, Inslee) influenced by those over-exaggerating, left wing "scientist" in this state *cough Evergreen State College Cough* that are seriously brainless because of their quintessential addiction to cannabis). It is time this country wakes up, smells not only the sweet aroma of the coffee we import, but the illiteral BS being spewed by these irrelevant, ecotistical hacks who need to find another profession, as the one they are currently in will lead to eventual failure. Trust me, I am as big of fan of the weather as you are, but these climetards have no place here, they need to go count seeds off of a sunflowers in North Dakota or something. ;)

Arie said...

No need to exaggerate, the risks are real - much more so if you live in the Maldives.

I think that what many of Cliff's critics miss is that many Americans are climate change deniers, regardless of how much CO2 has increased in the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age. There are entire radio stations out there dedicated to proving that the earth is 6,500 years old. (And yes they have an explanation for carbon dating - it's all due to solar anomalies, lying scientists, and aliens.)

JeffB said...

"Of course no one should exaggerate but it is entirely possible that broadly applying the term "exaggerate" is an exaggeration. "

A great example of the pretzel logic that has caused most people to tune out of the climate hysteria.

Eric Vonder Reith said...

There is certainly plenty of exaggeration and distortion on this issue in the media. The issue I have is that you seem to imply that there is no influence of human-caused greenhouse gases on any weather events occurring on the Earth today.

Can you comment on the NAS research on the attribution of extreme weather events? They claim to be able to provide a quantitative assessment on the increased likelihood of certain types of extreme weather events due to human-caused changes in the climate.

Bruce Kay said...

Unknown - as with the term "exaggeration", the term denier must be understood in correct context.

For example, the flight of exaggerative fancy employed to explain "denier" as being meant to imply an association with gas chambers has some emotional knee jerk appeal to some but if you look it up, it doesn't actually wash.

The Term Climate change Denier is generally a description of people who deny the risk of AGW. They do that by a range of denials, from outright denial of the science to denial that it will have any great effect. That is the broadly accepted understanding of the term climate denier.

But please, whatever suits your narrative

Bruce Kay said...

JeffB - please don't cherry pick. That may suit your own narrative but deliberately isolating anything out of context is a subversion.

And I'm sure you don't hold that ethic.... do you?

Cliff Mass said...

Eric Vonder Reith... I have NEVER states there is no influence of human-caused greenhouse gases on weather events on Earth today. NEVER. There is certainly some influence, but it is relatively small today in most places, but will get much larger by the end of the century. The issue is that there is natural variability, which is generally much larger than the human-caused signal..cliff

Organic Farmer said...

Earth is a closed loop system, for the most part. Yep go back to early Earth with high CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and you would find a vast, hot and steamy primordial swamp. It was in that primordial swamp that alot of that carbon was sequestered, and is today's coal, gas and oil. So by releasing that sequestered carbon we are putting it back in the atmosphere.

Don't think primordial swamps are conducive to most of the species that exist today.

Closed loop system..

Andrew Kennelly said...

I listened to your appearance on KUOW the other day. I was really annoyed by Bill Radke's persistent questioning the other day that suggested it would be a "good thing" to exaggerate.

I wonder if he would also suggest that KUOW exaggerate its news stories to create a call to action or a desired outcome.

strix27 said...

It's pretty hard to exaggerate detailed, careful observations and data obtained by the best technology available unless you're plain lying. It's hard to exaggerate conclusions based on those data and observations if they obey all known physical and chemical laws. The results published in scientific journals are discredited if they don't conform to those criteria. Most exaggerations occur when non-scientists pick and chose selected data to support an agenda. Scientists don't do that.

We can accurately measure the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans. We can measure the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere and oceans as a result of increasing CO2. Heat does work whether it's in increasing frequency and severity of storms, the change distribution of drought and precipitation, melting ice and snow. However, the distribution and frequency of these events is stochastic within constraints; particularly the thing we call weather. But the trends and the reasons for them speak for themselves and require no exaggeration.

Eric Vonder Reith said...

Thanks Cliff. The point I wanted to make in the context of your blog post is that despite the noise and hype, there are almost certainly significant consequences of human-caused greenhouse gases happening today. I understand that natural variability is dominant and does a good job of obscuring human perception of the climate, but I think its important to highlight that although the effects will continue to worsen, they are already present today. I am not trying to attack your position; I know you are very well educated on this subject. I am just trying to provide feedback on how your blog posts may be interpreted.

One good example is the increased likelihood due to climate change of the bleaching of the great barrier reef.

Bruce Kay said...

I am mostly on Cliff's side here, in regard to his evisceration of "immediate alarmism", which can only be described as outlier opinion.

This guy, Paul Beckwith, is gaining traction as a "go to" guy for Canadian media, which might be good for business but is a terrible disservice for understanding the risk. The fact that his actual skill has been soundly discredited doesn't seem to have a lot of bearing on the matter. He claims to be a climatologist so he manages to get to first base. This of course only highlights the value of consensus expert opinion in forming risk decisions.

MacD said...

"Should" they? They have been for a generation. So-called "scientists" who feign not to even know what "carbon" really is. Only the sheepiest of sheep believe any of it now.

caveat emptor said...

Of course scientists shouldn't exaggerate with respect to climate change or any other risk. However scientists SHOULD be making us aware of worst case/best case predictions as well as the base case (most probable) predictions. When dealing with future risks we need to know the full range of possibilities.

I am aware of a handful of scientists who intentionally hype climate change beyond its already pretty alarming reality. Beyond that a lot of the exaggerated or just plain wrong media stories we read are due to the filter of the media. The media has a systematic bias towards reporting the most alarming news. The media also has (in general) the most rudimentary understanding of climate change and is lousy at reporting probabilities and uncertainty.

caveat emptor said...

"We are really no worse than any other country and I doubt we really have more deniers."

Cliff you may we right on the number of "deniers" but the difference in the US is that minimization/denial of climate science is very entrenched in one of your two parties

Folks that suggest that "deniers" are in control of the U.S. are spreading misinformation

They are certainly in positions of influence - starting with the POTUS. I'd agree that the federal bureaucracy is largely accepting the scientific consensus on climate change. So it's a mixed bag.

RLL said...

Some scientists exaggerate about global warming, therefore it is their fault an entire party denies global warning. That doesn't make any more sense than it is to blame Dawkin's for people denying evolution. Almost every nominee for President of one party, formerly supporting addressing climate warning has subsequently moved into denial mode in order to get nominated. There are the odd leftists blaming vaccines for autism and GMO for god only knows what, but they have very little support from the 'left' party. The other party has regularly attacked scientists and is stepping up their attacks.

Andrew Lincicome said...

Does anyone else remember in the 70s and 80s when global cooling was all the rage?

JeffB said...

Bruce, it is not necessary to quote your whole post as a reference. In my opinion you were trying to justify exaggeration obliquely while at the same time feigning to support Cliff's central theme. As I noted, climate science has become very political and exaggerated. To wit:

“Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UNFCCC

“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history”, Ms Figueres stated at a press conference in Brussels.

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution.”

Dixon Gifford said...

Cliff, I heard your discussion with Charles Maude a few weeks ago and I agreed with your view except that as a technologist I am not optimistic that we can "invent" our way out of this at least in developed nations. However after reading your blog article I can see what Charles is getting at by calling you "dangerous", let me explain. The way this blog reads all is just fine, there is nothing to worry about, we can turn the consumption up to max, everyone can ditch the bus and drive gas guzzling V8's to work daily, leave the AC on all day and consume more more more. Why change? Like you said everything is fine, there is no crisis and we will all be long gone before the temperature cranks up anyway.

This is a dangerous message because telling a crack addict that a few more hits wont kill them invites a doubling down on the same behavior. I know you said that you don't believe people will ever change, but your message is pushing change in the other direction, less change and more of the bad stuff. Not saying that Charles is right as mass panic would be insane but a little moderation on your 'pied piper' approach wouldn't go amiss.

The bigger picture here is climate change or not who doesn't want cheap clean energy, less car fumes in the air, less congestion, less plastic in the oceans and god knows what in landfill. Its all related to the sustainable lifestyle that you yourself are living, be careful not to accidentally lead folks in the other direction as I believe after hearing your interview this is *not* what you want/mean.

Cheers Cliff.

Alan Miller said...

Dr. Mass, you are a man of great integrity and a model of striving toward the objectivity all scientists should aspire to. Thank you for taking on the personally tasking burden of speaking out. You certainly deserve respect from everyone who puts a pursuit of the truth and a concern for people's well being above short-sighted political agendas, left or right, that short-circuit real learning and discussion. Please keep it up!

Dixon Gifford said...

Cliff, I heard your discussion with Charles Maude a few weeks ago and I agreed with your view except that as a technologist I am not optimistic that we can "invent" our way out of this at least in developed nations. However after reading your blog article I can see what Charles is getting at by calling you "dangerous", let me explain. The way this blog reads all is just fine, there is nothing to worry about, we can turn the consumption up to max, everyone can ditch the bus and drive gas guzzling V8's to work daily, leave the AC on all day and consume more more more. Why change? Like you said everything is fine, there is no crisis and we will all be long gone before the temperature cranks up anyway.

This is a dangerous message because telling a crack addict that a few more hits wont kill them invites a doubling down on the same behavior. I know you said that you don't believe people will ever change, but your message is pushing change in the other direction, less change and more of the bad stuff. Not saying that Charles is right as mass panic would be insane but a little moderation on your 'pied piper' approach wouldn't go amiss.

The bigger picture here is climate change or not who doesn't want cheap clean energy, less car fumes in the air, less congestion, less plastic in the oceans and god knows what in landfill. Its all related to the sustainable lifestyle that you yourself are living, be careful not to accidentally lead folks in the other direction as I believe after hearing your interview this is *not* what you want/mean.

Cheers Cliff.

Bruce Kay said...

JeffB - I fail to see how the words of Christiana Figueres are in any way an exaggeration!

However without a doubt the words of Andrew Lincicome (just prior to your post) are an exaggeration bordering on a easily refuted lie.

coldsponger said...

I was pleased to see that the term 'skeptic' was used in the article by Cliff, but sad to see him use 'deniers' without quotes in the comments above.

If you want to have a civil discussion, an important task is to remove corrosive language. 'denier' is out-grouping language (also known as dehumanization). You can't have civil discussions with the out-group.

'skeptic' is what you call someone who doesn't believe a scientific hypothesis.

Charlie Phillips said...

Dixon, I would argue that Cliff isn't telling a crack addict that a few more hits won't kill them - rather, he would apply an objective analysis to argue how severe the side effects of smoking crack are, but he wouldn't exaggerate the dangers in order to scare them off the drug. The anti-drug "scare tactic" campaigns have not worked because people get a false sense of security when they realize that the dangers were overhyped.

With global warming, not only does hyping the negative effects undermine our credibility and give people a false sense of security, it turns people off to the concept of global warming in the first place. Anthropogenic global warming might always be slightly controversial to some due to its interdisciplinary and political nature (for example, I doubt many would object to the concept of gravity, but plenty object to evolution), but I think there would be broader consensus in the general population about the reality of global warming if we applied a more empirical approach in explaining it to the public.

Paul said...

Should scientists feeling the heat for helping stall policy solutions to climate change ask leading questions? Yes or Super Yes. No wrong answers here, guys.

Seriously, no, you shouldn't exaggerate, but that's the wrong question. The right question in my mind is: what's the more important scientific opinion to voice - that the Seattle Times may or may not have incorrectly attributed a specific phenomenon to global warming or that the scientific community believes CO2 emissions have gone beyond the point of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius and the world is facing catastrophic disruption?

The answer to that question is as equally obvious as the answer to yours.

Bruce Kay said...

ColdSponge - Denier is an entirely appropriate term while skeptic invariably is not. the Wiki page on Climate change denial does a thorough job of illustrating the range of application. As for skeptic, 99% of most alleged skeptics are more appropriately termed cynics. Cynicism is an intuitively driven belief. Skepticism is a process of skilled reasoning, the bedrock ethic of the scientific process. If 99% of us lack the skill required to be skeptical, the odds are you are only a cynic.

The following is a TED talk on Holocaust denial, which fundamentally is a psychological process of denial of well substantiated fact just like denial of immunology, the Sandy Hook Massacre, 9/11 or Climate science. All these situations have their own cohort of deniers. The motivations and even the effects are uniquely different, but the psychology in play is the same.

Your assertion that "civil conversation" requires a denial of these facts is a gross disservice to anyone who elevates a pursuit of the truth over hurt feelings. Yes I know - many insecure people will disagree but then you really have to ask yourself one important question - is America ruled by insecure feelings rather than pursuit of the truth? Consider that question as you watch this video, especially the last few minutes and particularly her words at 13:35.

bentv807 said...

Thatcher Kelly. Could you name a few of the deniers for me and provide their qualifications (or lack thereof)?