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02 March 2012

FollowUp 10: Republican Denial of Climate Change

The Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, William D. Nordhaus, who specializes in the economics of climate change, has an article in the New York Review of Books that refutes the Wall Street Journal op-ed that purported to debunk climate change.  Dr. Nordhaus attacks six points that he finds incorrect or misleading.

The first point he refutes is a claim that global temperature is not rising.  Dr. Nordhaus provides this graph:

The full article goes into considerably more detail, including information on the three sources of data for his graph.

The second point is a question over the accuracy of the warming models.  Dr. Nordhaus' analysis is sound and I encourage you to read it.  I would simply suggest that my education in modeling is that it is a technique for using existing data to predict future events, something which can never be done with precision.  Modeling is useful to provide guidance in decision making and when forecasts prove inaccurate the new data can be used to modify the model and should not be seen as absolute disproof.

The third point regards whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant.  Dr. Nordhaus concludes
In short, the contention that CO2 is not a pollutant is a rhetorical device and is not supported by US law or by economic theory or studies.
The fourth point is about the allegation that climate change scientists are creating a fuss to create material for a publish or perish vocation.  In short, this is absurd.  I have gone through the peer review process and know first hand that, in the sciences, rigor is demanded for peer review publication.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed had compared modern climate change scientists with Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, a Stalin-era scientist who did research that is now considered fraudulent. 
The idea that skeptical climate scientists are being treated like Soviet geneticists in the Stalinist period has no basis in fact. There are no political or scientific dictators in the US. No climate scientist has been expelled from the US National Academy of Sciences. No skeptics have been arrested or banished to gulags or the modern equivalents of Siberia. Indeed, the dissenting authors are at the world’s greatest universities, including Princeton, MIT, Rockefeller, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Paris.
The fifth point is "follow the money".  I find it interesting that both sides make the same allegation.  We know that the energy corporations are funding a lot of the climate change denial propaganda. 
There is a suggestion that standard theories about global warming have been put together by the scientific equivalent of Madison Avenue to raise funds from government agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF). The fact is that the first precise calculations about the impact of increased CO2 concentrations on the earth’s surface temperature were made by Svante Arrhenius in 1896, more than five decades before the NSF was founded.
Please pardon me for including a larger quote from Dr. Nordhaus, but I think that this is particularly important to understanding the money issue.
In fact, the argument about the venality of the academy is largely a diversion. The big money in climate change involves firms, industries, and individuals who worry that their economic interests will be harmed by policies to slow climate change. The attacks on the science of global warming are reminiscent of the well-documented resistance by cigarette companies to scientific findings on the dangers of smoking. Beginning in 1953, the largest tobacco companies launched a public relations campaign to convince the public and the government that there was no sound scientific basis for the claim that cigarette smoking was dangerous. The most devious part of the campaign was the underwriting of researchers who would support the industry’s claim. The approach was aptly described by one tobacco company executive: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”9
One of the worrisome features of the distortion of climate science is that the stakes are huge here—even larger than the economic stakes for keeping the cigarette industry alive. Tobacco sales in the United States today are under $100 billion. By contrast, expenditures on all energy goods and services are close to $1,000 billion. Restrictions on CO2 emissions large enough to bend downward the temperature curve from its current trajectory to a maximum of 2 or 3 degrees Centigrade would have large economic effects on many businesses. Scientists, citizens, and our leaders will need to be extremely vigilant to prevent pollution of the scientific process by the merchants of doubt.
The final point regards economic analysis of climate change.  The Wall Street Journal op-ed quoted Dr. Nordhaus and, in his words, they misread the results of his study.

Please consider taking the time to read the full article by Dr. Nordhaus.  I found it fascinating.

1 October 2011, Original Pedantic Political Ponderings post.
10 October 2011, FollowUp 1.
11 October 2011, FollowUp 2.
17 October 2011, FollowUp 3.
21 October 2011, FollowUp 4.
27 October 2011, FollowUp 5.
30 November 2011, FollowUp 6.
29 January 2012, FollowUp 7.
15 February 2012, FollowUp 8.
18 February 2012, FollowUp 9.

11 March 2012, FollowUp 11.
4 June 2012, FollowUp 12.