Having A More Nuanced Climate Conversation

As a ‘wicked’ problem posing complex challenges on multiple levels, climate change demands a sophisticated, but perhaps impossibly elusive, dialog among diverse interests.

Climate change, because of its complexity on multiple levels, is now understood to be one of humanity’s “wicked” problems. As an interdisciplinary group of scholars working on climate policy issues put it last year:

“What makes a problem ‘wicked’ is the impossibility of giving it a definitive formulation: the information needed to understand the problem is dependent upon one’s idea for solving it.”


With climate change, the situation is compounded by the numerous stakeholders who view the issue through very different lenses. Some policy and communication experts have concluded:

“Successfully addressing this challenge will require a diversity of messages, messengers, and methods, each tailored to meet the needs of different target audiences.”

President Obama, perhaps seeking the largest possible audience with one message, has made a strategic decision over the past year to shelve any talk on climate change and emphasize, instead, the importance of energy security and clean tech.

Despite the misgivings of some climate advocates, Obama’s approach seems to many like smart politics — at least for the short term.

But climate change is not exactly disappearing from the public dialogue. It remains a highly charged issue, and positions seem to be hardening by the day. That, in turn, narrows the space for mutual understanding and compromise by disputants. Is there no way out?

Peter Coleman, a Columbia University researcher, sees some light where most others would probably only see additional trouble. Coleman is a psychology professor and Director of the University’s International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. He suggests that introducing “more nuance” into conversations about climate change would make people less narrow-minded and inclined to accept differing viewpoints. In a piece that appeared earlier this week on the website of Columbia’s Earth Institute, Coleman summarized the results of a paper in press:

“In a study I and colleagues conducted on moral conflicts (over such issues as abortion, affirmative action, climate change and mandatory penalties for pedophiles), we found that when participants were given both pro and con information on an issue, and then engaged in a discussion with someone who held an opinion opposite to their own, they typically ended up stuck in their original position, angry and fed up. However, when we presented a different group of participants with the same information, but presented it in terms of multiple aspects and perspectives on the issue, they were much more open and able to learn during the conversation, felt more mixed emotions (both good and bad), and were able to reach a more sophisticated shared understanding of the issue. This is an effect of framing the information in less simplistic (pro-con) and more nuanced or complex ways.”

Sounds good. But in reality, how would this work? You can’t get the world into a conference room. The climate debate is in desperate need of conflict resolution — or more like marriage counseling. But as was discussed in this space previously, many parties to this debate inhabit their own information silos, which has the effect of not only coarsening the larger dialogue but also making it more difficult to reach common ground.

Having a more sophisticated conversation on climate change would be a welcome development. How to make that happen still seems impossibly elusive, like progress on political solutions to reduce greenhouse gases.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Having A More Nuanced Climate Conversation

  1. Marlowe Johnson says:


    As I mentioned earlier, the climate change debate is ultimately about the politics of power (both figuratively and literally). In this context, I’m not sure what meaningful conflict resolution would look like. The debate we should be having would focus on risk tolerance and ethics. Unfortunately, the debate we are having is about whether or not a problem exists and if any action is warranted.

  2. Keith Kloor says:


    I agree that the climate change problem, with it’s diffused and uncertain impacts projected over long time horizons (well, a generation or two, ) probably lends itself better for a risk-centric debate. (I think ethics would be nice but even harder to do than risk.)

    Alas, society tends not to have intelligent discussions on risk-related issues.

  3. Robert Jacobson says:

    Another valuable Yale Forum provocation.

    Traveling the philosophical, ethical route is irksome when the effects of climate change appear to be accelerating, so that the models are already out of date and extreme weather appears to be a continuous phenomenon here on out.

    To make an analogy, when there is a raging range fire — a common occurrence in my state, Arizona, this year — we could sit about and discuss the origins of fire, its usefulness in preparing food but also its treacherous nature spreading destruction, try to persuade the pro-fire folks to come over to our side, worry about how to best equip our firefighters, and as actually occurred, debate whether illegal border crossings need to be stopped to diminish the threat of accidental arson committed by Mexicans on the run. Then we can debate whether they should be caught and prosecuted or let go so that the first responders can get back to dealing the fire, presuming we’re all agreed that it needs being extinguished, at least with homes in its path — but maybe they shouldn’t have been there to begin with, and is it too late to save them and should we order a full-scale evacuation, or should the residents be left to their own devices?…

    Meanwhile 100,000 acres disappear, fortunately to be reborn — that is, if there’s sufficient rain, if a persistent drought isn’t in the forest’s future as a result of … climate change. Let’s talk about it….

  4. Eadler says:

    I don’t see this as an alternative. The cat is already out of the bag. Opposition to the scientific theory of AGW has already developed, and is based on political opposition to government regulation, and objections to limitations of personal freedom. I don’t see that a more nuanced approach is going to get any air time on Fox News, or any other media that the public pays attention to.

    It may work in a room of people who volunteer for a psychological experiment, or in a college class with trained discussion leaders, but that is not the real world.

    • klem says:

      “I don’t see that a more nuanced approach is going to get any air time on Fox News, or any other media that the public pays attention to. ”

      That’s right, it far too late for that now. Just look at Gore’s ’24 hours of Reality’ thingy last week, a complete failure. There was almost no media coverage by any news outlet, the public was not even aware that it took place. This forshadows the impending failure of the upcoming climate summit in Durban this December. I predict it will be even more of a failure than Cancun. Nice photo-op for the folks who live off the UN.

      That nuanced enough for you?


  5. Menth says:

    A major problem as I see it, is the message was botched from the beginning. Now I know a lot of skeptics like to throw this old quote around but let me dig it up one more time.

    “…we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means 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.” -Schneider (ca 1988)

    I recognize that this is just one scientist offering his two cents on how to motivate the public and not evidence of some international cabal of socialist climatologists. However, I think this captures what became the de facto method of climate change communication. This was the wrong method for several reasons:

    1.Climatologists are not: psychologists, sociologists or economists. The application of their credentials should not extend beyond their field of expertise. Climate scientists need to do one thing: study the climate and publish papers. The idea as stated in Schneider’s quote that they need to work collectively on a PR campaign gives the impression to the public of just being another interest group and not dispassionate, “honest brokers”.

    2.It dramatically underestimates people and their ability to assess nuanced issues.

    3.By downplaying any uncertainties,doubts or benefits and over-emphasizing “scary scenarios” the movement unnecessarily made global warming appear to be one more story in the long history of the morality driven weather attribution humanity has been so fond of over the centuries (Sodomy! Witches! Technological Progress!)

    This is a difficult position to step back from and precisely because the conversation was not nuanced to begin with makes it all the harder to be nuanced now.

    • Bud Ward says:

      Menth: Dr. Schneider is, of course, unable to reply on his own to your comment, having passed away just over a year ago. I feel compelled to point out that he has addressed this quote — which he considered a mis-quote — numerous times and at some length during his career as a Stanford climatologist. To quote from his web site on this issue, he has said his full quote, in context and as taken from the Discovery interview from which the words were drawn, is:

      “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 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, means 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.”

      He has pointed to those last two sentences as being particularly important in understanding his quote in context. More of his thinking on this issue is online at http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Mediarology/Mediarology.html . See in particular the section under the “Double Ethical Bind Pitfall” sub-head.

      • Nullius in Verba says:

        I’ve note many people emphasise the last sentence, but have not yet been able to solicit what it means, in this context. If you can do both, why is it a dilemma in which one must strike a balance? If to be effective you must simplify and not mention your doubts, and you are “doing both” – being effective and honest – does this imply that you consider it honest to simplify and not mention your doubts? Or that there are other ways of being effective? Or does it mean doing both but in different arenas – all the doubts and caveats in the scientific literature and the simplified and confident version when explaining to the public and the policymakers?

      • Menth says:

        Thanks for the reply Bud.

        I’m certainly not trying to tarnish Dr.Scneider’s reputation or disparage him in anyway by taking his quote out of context, I merely find it a useful summation of the climate movement’s modus operandi of communicating to the public (downplay doubts, scare stories etc.) Regardless of what Schneider intended with what he said, in my opinion it describes very well the approach most climate advocates have taken. (I also agree with Nullius that the full quote is perhaps contradictory)

        The whole issue is a fascinating one especially in the context of “scientism”. The fact that the whole globe is being asked to reorganize itself economically and culturally based on the findings of a select few highly intelligent members of the species, it should come as no surprise that people are skeptical of a group with such powerful influence, I think that’s a natural reaction. All the more reason for why maintaining the perception of being politically neutral and wholly objective is paramount (not saying most scientists aren’t). Climate advocates need to acknowledge that
        they’re asking a lot and labelling skeptical people “anti-science” or “denialists” certainly won’t help.

        Please allow me to over-simplify with a little vignette:

        *Scientist emerges from lab with scientific papers in hand*

        Scientist: My studies predict that doing “x” will cause a global disaster!

        Citizen: Wow! Can I see?

        Scientist: You won’t understand.

        Citizen: Okay. Can we wait a little bit to see if it starts to come true and then stop doing “x”?

        Scientist: No, there’s no time. By then it’ll be too late.

        Citizen: Oh. So we need to have faith that you will be correct?

        Scientist: Yes.

        Citizen: I see…

        If the citizen was someone who thought “x” was bad to begin with they wouldn’t have a hard time believing the scientist because it already fits into their worldview and vice versa.

        • barry says:

          Many a genuine effort to bridge the divide in the blogosphere has failed. There are a few rare moments between a few rare interlocutors where mutual inquisitiveness and respect emerge from the perennial rancour, ideological blinders and competitiveness. I know of no sure way to formulate this kind of success in the general discussion. One might suppose the first step would be to agree on definitions and basic concepts, but even that is an enormous obstacle. Imagine trying to come to an agreement even on what climate is. 30 years of average weather? Nope, there are those longer cycles…. and so on.

          By now positions are firmly entrenched. What is needed more than anything else is to remove the ideological blinders and start from scratch.

          Formal techniques of effective discourse can only be implemented in tightly controlled circumstances (or by predisposed participants), not on the free-wheeling web. If I had my druthers, I’d first get participants to describe as accurately as possible the view they oppose, allowing them to progress in the discussion only when opponents certified that they’d precisely articulated that view. Correctly understanding the opposing view is a blindingly obvious prerequisite for a discussion that can progress. Yet this condition is almost never satisfied in the public and semi-public ‘debate’.

          How about bringing together well-known, well-credentialled identities from various sides of the ‘debate’, and facilitating a discussion between them that is less competitive and more collaborative (Bono’s Six Hats technique comes to mind immediately, for some reason)?

          The first task is to get rid of the framing that glues on the ideological blinders and encourages competition in discussion. For the public at large, the only way I can think of to encourage that is by showing a clear example demonstrated by the people they respect.

    • klem says:

      Don’t forget the damage to the environmental movement that AGW has inflicted over the past several years. AGW will set the environmental movement back 40 years once the dust has settled. I know several lifelong environmentalists who do not call themselves environmentalists anymore, myself included. They are too ashamed. I also know lots of teenage kids who completly reject environmentalism, it is not cool to be green, its an old fogeys thing. We have yet to assess the overall damage to the green movement, but the damage will be heavy. Mark my words.

    • Eadler says:

      Regarding your points
      #1 Climate Scientists are citizens as well a scientists. If they understand that the world is going to have a problem resulting from climate change, who is better able than they are to inform the public. The press is certainly not up to the job. We certainly can’t rely on politicians. I don’t understand why you expect them to stay out of the debate.
      #2 I believe you are overestimating the ability of the general public to assess nuanced issues.
      #3 It is ridiculous to make an analogy between an accepted scientific theory which has a long history of research behind it, with superstition.

  6. Nullius in Verba says:

    “In a study I and colleagues conducted on moral conflicts…”

    What study? What specific differences in the information provided? What does “in terms of multiple aspects and perspectives” mean? How was this “shared understanding” measured? Were the subjects previously well-informed on the subjects, or relatively new to the debate? And in the case of climate change to what extent did the pro-AGW group come to better understand and respect the sceptical position?

    It’s impossible to discuss how to apply this method if we’re not told except in the vaguest of terms what it is. Or so it seems to me.

    A lot of these schemes for taking up new communication strategies are not really aiming for conflict resolution or mutual understanding, but are seen as means to persuade opponents to one’s own point of view. That in itself is polarising. Try thinking laterally about the problem by turning it around: what communication strategy could sceptics best employ to get the climate scientists to change their minds? Do you not immediately reject the terms of the debate? The inapplicability of communications strategies to such a question? If so, then you may gain insight into why such conflict resolution methods are unlikely to work.

    Shifting the debate from polarised “sides” trying to “win” to a more sophisticated shared understanding seems like a good aim to me, in theory. It would require a more educational than polemic style, deliberate avoidance of conflict, concentrating on precise definition and exploration of positions over determining which is right or wrong, and an open and mutually respectful debate, in which both parties are equally open-minded.

    The trouble is, such a conference would be seen by partisans of both sides as a failure, as it would not achieve any dramatic shift of opinion towards their own side. One needs to be clear on what your success criteria are, and be careful that unstated ones don’t sabotage the initiative from the start.

  7. Dan Rogers says:

    Eadler says, “Opposition to the scientific theory of AGW has already developed, and is based on political opposition to government regulation, and objections to limitations of personal freedom.” That isn’t true for ALL opposition.

    MY opposition to the AGW theory is based only on the fact that carbon dioxide, from all sources, exists in the atmosphere at a concentration of less than four-tenths of one percent of the atmosphere as a whole. There is far too little of it in the atmosphere to have the dire effects claimed for it by Gore & Company. When it comes to greenhouse gas effects, I believe that water vapor completely overwhelms the effects of all other greenhouse gases and makes them inconsequential.

    • klem says:

      The Wikipedia page concerning CO2, water vapor and clouds completly agrees with your opinion. Co2′s conribution to the greenhouse effect is insignificant.

    • Eadler says:

      Dan Rogers,

      Your personal opinion is not based on what the physics of the atmosphere tell us. It is based on ignorance.

      Measurements of radiation, and how the concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere is affected by temperature renders your personal opinion invalid. The science underlying the effect of CO2 on the climate of the planet has been understood since 1859, when John Tyndall first measured the infra red absorption of trace gases in the atmosphere, and pointed out that they are responsible for making the earth habitable by reducing the loss of energy arriving from the sun, and increasing its temperature.


      There is not a single research climate scientist who would accept your reason for rejection the idea that CO2 can do anything as valid. Even the minority of climate scientists who are somewhat skeptical that CO2 is responsible for global warming would not agree with your reason.

      So your opinion is not based on solid science. If you were at all interested in learning about the science, there is ample information available on the internet. Instead you have accepted an explanation that is scientifically incorrect because it appeals to you.
      To me, it is a good bet that you have adopted this explanation, of why CO2 cannot be causing global warming. out of motivated reasoning, because the idea that government may have to do something about it my be repugnant to you.

      Scientific research on the human motivation shows that reason is used to justify what we already believe. Only rigorous scientific training and intellectual discipline can counteract this effect to make us open minded enough to accept facts and logical arguments that run counter to what we believe. Even some well trained people with strong political motivation will find a way ignore evidence that they don’t like.

      • Nullius in Verba says:

        Hi Eadler,

        Unfortunately, while the greenhouse effect is indeed real physics, Tyndall got the mechanism for it wrong, and SkSci repeat the error/misunderstanding (and multiple other ones as well). The modern understanding was developed in the 1960s by Manabe et al., but so far has not propagated out to the public explanations.

        The physics you and SkSci offer as an explanation would cause the oceans to boil within hours, if it were true.

        While it’s not the case that simply being 0.4% is enough to say the effect must be insignificant, it is the case that CO2 on its own would not cause significant warming. Each doubling of CO2 contributes about 1 C of surface temperature change, so the 40% increase seen over the 20th century would contribute about 0.5 C change. That gets lost in the noise of all the other forcings, feedbacks, and the accumulation of chaotic weather. Especially on the local level, where the effects of weather/climate are felt.

        Compared to the background temperature variation we survive daily, across the globe, it’s not significant.

        • Eadler says:

          Nullius in Verba,

          Your claim that the ocean would be boiling in hours if the skeptical science explanation were correct is absolute nonsense. You don’t explain why you say that, but I suspect you are assuming incorrectly that positive feedback implies a temperature runaway.

          The first accurate calculation of how CO2 increases temperature was a 1 dimensional calculation by Gilbert Plass in 1956.

          The science is clear. The small temperature rise resulting from increases in CO2 and other long lived greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere is amplified by the effects of increased water vapor in clear air, and albedo changes due to changes in ice and snow cover. The greatest uncertainty is the feedback effects of clouds, and the forcing of aerosals. In the long run, additional releases of methane and the reduction of absorption of CO2 due to warming of oceans will add to the rate of warming.

          At least you agree that the small concentration is not a valid reason to reject the GHG theory of global warming.

          • Nullius in Verba says:

            Hi Eadler,

            I agree, I didn’t explain it. I was waiting for you to ask what I meant, to see if you were interested and willing to listen. Some people will and some won’t – and it’s frustrating to put a lot of effort into a detailed technical explanation only to have it ignored.

            One of the main findings of the communications science Keith seems so keen on using is that an adversarial approach causes people to harden their views, and defend them to the death. While it’s very satisfying to call somebody “ignorant”, or their views “absolute nonsense”, for Keith’s purposes of defusing the polarised bunker mentalities in this debate it’s a self-defeating strategy. It’s making your problem worse.

            It’s also a risky strategy if you don’t know exactly what your opponent means.

            No, I didn’t mean positive feedback led to a runaway, although you’re quite right that it is another point on which the Tyndall explanation of 1859 is incomplete. I was referring to the explanation of the physical mechanism.

            It’s much like the original Fourier explanation of how greenhouses work, and the origin of the name. This erroneous mechanism has been touted by climate scientists, and is still common in fairly authoritative sources even today. For example, here’s one version of it by Gilbert Plass: “The infrared absorption properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ozone determine our climate to a large extent. Their action has often been compared to that of a greenhouse. There the rays of the sun bring the heat energy in through the transparent glass. However, the outgoing heat energy from the plants and other objects in the greenhouse is in the infrared where glass is largely opaque. The heat energy is fairly effectively trapped inside the greenhouse and the temperature is considerably warmer than outside. [...] Thus radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface cannot escape freely to space and the temperature at the surface is higher than it would be otherwise. The atmosphere has just the same properties as the glass in the greenhouse.”

            As most people involved in the debate are by now aware, the explanation is entirely incorrect as far as real greenhouses go. In fact, a greenhouse of material entirely transparent to infra-red is at least as effective. What is perhaps less well known is that the explanation is also incorrect as applied to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The real explanation is a bit more interesting.

            If you’re able to accept that people got it wrong with the “works like a greenhouse” explanation, it might make it easier to accept that some of the other things they say are similarly inaccurate/incomplete. Or maybe not. I don’t know.

            Obviously, if you assume that all sceptics are wrong and not worth listening to, such a conversation isn’t going to work.

    • Eadler says:

      Dan Rogers,
      One more thing. You attribute the idea that GHG emissions are causing climate change to Gore and Company. Al Gore has not done any scientific research at all, and is not responsible for the science which shows this. The fact that you credit Al Gore with the science shows that you are really don’t know what you are talking about, and have a resentment against Al Gore, probably because he is from the political party that you oppose.

      You claim of opposition on the basis of science seems very hollow.

      • Menth says:

        “Scientific research on the human motivation shows that reason is used to justify what we already believe. Only rigorous scientific training and intellectual discipline can counteract this effect to make us open minded enough to accept facts and logical arguments that run counter to what we believe. Even some well trained people with strong political motivation will find a way ignore evidence that they don’t like.”

        Yep. It even happens to scientists.


  8. Jack Hughes says:

    Sorry guys – but there are different types of conflict.

    Type A

    Example: who is going to take out the trash. Everyone has an interest in the trash going out. Domestic harmony and relationships are more important than winning the dispute. Compromises could involve sharing other chores, a rota, both carrying the trash outside, etc.

    Type B

    Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses come round. You have no shared interest in an outcome successful for all parties. You don’t care what they think. Compromise is impossible – you either convert or tell them to stick it.

    Most domestic and neighborly arguments are type A.
    The middle east is type B – every US president since whenever has made the mistake of seeing it as type A.

    “Climate change” is type B.

  9. Michael Ioffe says:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    “Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) is the energy leaving the earth as infrared radiation at low energy. Earth’s radiation balance is very closely achieved since the OLR very nearly equals the Shortwave Absorbed Radiation received at high energy from the sun. Thus, the first law of thermodynamics (energy conservation) is satisfied and the Earth’s average temperature is very nearly stable. The OLR is affected by clouds and dust in the atmosphere, which tend to reduce it below clear sky values. Greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2), absorb certain wavelengths of OLR adding heat to the atmosphere, which in turn causes the atmosphere to emit more radiation. Some of this radiation is directed back towards the Earth, increasing the average temperature of the Earth’s surface. Therefore, an increase in the concentration of a greenhouse gas would contribute to global warming by increasing the amount of radiation that is absorbed and emitted by these atmospheric constituents.
    The OLR is dependent on the temperature of the radiating body.”

    “The Stefan-Boltzmann T^4 law for blackbody radiation show tendency also for earth.
    In equatorial area, where temperature is bigger, radiation is also bigger.”
    “The temperature falls with height precisely because most of the atmosphere is convecting, which leads to a fall of temperature with height because of pdV work.”

    If we will look at all these statements they are correct and their correctness create huge misunderstanding what is real reason for climate change.
    Main mistakes are mixing all greenhouse gases together and make all of them equally responsible for climate change.
    It is especially wrong for water vapor, which together with others properties of water actually cooling earth atmosphere.
    Water evaporated from all surfaces of oceans, seas, lakes, rivers,
    Water evaporated from leaves of any plants.
    Water evaporated from any wet surfaces.
    In atmosphere we always see dynamic processes of evaporation and condensation of water, as in drops of rain, as in tail after jet, as in clouds, fog, etc.
    Evaporations of water need energy. To evaporate 1 kg of water we need 539 kcal of energy.
    Every condensation of water released energy in the same amount.
    Evaporation of water is cooling surfaces, from which evaporation occur and air close to those surfaces.
    It is reasons, why in summer time is always cooler close to oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.

    We must pay attention, that only methane (CH4) is lighter than water vapor.
    Nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), are heavier than water vapor.
    It property of water vapor helps convection forces to mix air with height.
    Here it will be helpful to repeat, what offer to us Wikipedia:
    “The temperature falls with height precisely because most of the atmosphere is convecting, which leads to a fall of temperature with height because of pdV work.”
    Fall of temperature with height helps condense some water vapor and create water droplets.
    This process released heat, which increase temperature of surrounded gases.
    Hotter air recreate convection forces, which bring some of air higher, where again some of water vapor will condensed and released additional heat.
    It dynamic process of partially condensation with height will repeat many times till upper troposphere (around ten kilometers high), where so cold that 99% of water vapor will condensed to water droplets.
    It process helps all gases in air bring energy 10 km close to space, where energy will go to space easy, than from oceans level.

    Mankind activity not only reduces evaporation of water from continents by deforestation, tilling land, growing the same crop on huge area.
    Mankind activity decreased reflection of direct sun radiation, by soot, roads, homes, cities, etc.
    Mankind activity correlate with energy, which we use. Most of energy, used by mankind increased carbon dioxide, which is ease use as coefficient in climate models.
    In reality carbon dioxide is playing not so significant role in climate change, as reduction of evaporation on continents and decreasing reflection of direct sun radiation.

    • Eadler says:

      Michael Ioffe,
      Your focus on water vapor as a Greenhouse Gas neglects that fact that it is a feedback response to temperature change, and amplifies the increase in temperature from long lived Greenhouse Gases like CO2 and Methane.
      The effect of cutting down rain forests does increase drought and increases CO2 in the atmosphere, but most of the water vapor in the air is evaporated from the oceans. There has been an increase in water vapor as a result of the increase in ocean temperatures due to global warming.
      Basically your argument is just a lot of handwaving calculated to confirm your preconceived notions.
      The only way to determine what has and will happen to climate, quantitatively, is with the use of computer modeling, since the complexity of the problem is so high. The modeling so far supports the theory that increases in GHG’s due to human activity are responsible for most of the temperature increase since the late 20th century.
      These models predict that long term trend of global average temperature will continue to be upward during the foreseeable future, unless the concentration of GHG’s in the atmosphere are capped.

  10. Davey says:

    Keith, Given the comments made here so far how do you expect a more nuanced conversation would work to win over people who deny reality (either intentionally or out of ignorance)?

    • Keith Kloor says:


      I don’t expect a nuanced conversation to have much of an impact on those who have very strong fixed positions, due to ideological, cultural or political reasons. (Isn’t this the case for all debates?)

      I also think it’s a mistake to extrapolate any larger meaning from these comment threads. There are many lurkers at blogs, people who are loathe to comment for various reasons, and those that do comment are often the ones most passionate about and/or engaged with the issue.

  11. Michael Ioffe says:

    Eadler says:
    September 25, 2011 at 9:00 am
    “Michael Ioffe,
    Your focus on water vapor as a Greenhouse Gas neglects that fact that it is a feedback response to temperature change, and amplifies the increase in temperature from long lived Greenhouse Gases like CO2 and Methane.”
    Dear Eadler, maybe you are living nearby power plant or saw how fumes is going from chimney.
    Despite temperature in chimney more than 300ºC, fumes are going up no more than 500 meters.
    Convection forces in this case are stopping work.
    In case of water vapor, which temperature is no more than 50ºC it will happen on less elevation.
    At the same time we could see clouds (condensed water vapor) on height 10 km in area of upper troposphere.
    Which force creates these possibilities?
    Condensation of some water vapor released energy, heat surrounding air and recreate convection forces.
    These convection forces moved up not only water vapor, but also all gases, including carbon dioxide.

    Please look carefully on tale after jet. In some places it disappears, in some places became bigger.
    It means water droplets in more dry area will evaporates, in wet area will increase condensation.
    Some drop of rain in summer time on hot road evaporated so quickly, that we could see fog (water vapor is invisible gas) going up.

    Yes, you are right, in hotter condition, evaporation from oceans is bigger, but on continent it less and please, keeps in mind that it will increase convection forces on continent.
    North America is unique continent in shape of triangle with sharp angle somewhere in Panama, and opposite side close to Arctic Ocean.
    What will do in summer time convection forces between North America, Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans?
    They will move heat from equator area to north.
    Winds in summer time are mostly from San Diego to Halifax (Canada).
    What will do these forces in winter times?
    They create winds mostly from north to south.
    If we cool equator area, because of these convection forces, gray body, as earth will release less energy to the space – GLOBAL WARMING.

    If we will increase evaporation of water in North America, we will reduce weather disaster as in summer time, as in winter times. We will reduce climate change. North America is influent climate from France to Japan.
    We have the best pump on the earth to evaporate more water. It is tree.

    Transportation system

    Efficiency of engine in most cars moving by gasoline is around 30%.
    Efficiency of gasoline production is less than 45%.
    It means that real efficiency of car movement is around 13.5%
    If person (200 lb.) mostly alone is driving in this car (4,000 lb.) it means that efficiency of movement of this person in this car is 0.67%.

    Perhaps mass (m) of car is 2,000 kg, mass of driver 100 kg and speed (V) of car 65 miles per hour or 110.5 km/hour or 30.7 m/sec

    Kinetic energy of this car will be as follows:

    K=1/2mv²=1/2 x 2100 x 30.7 x 30.7=1/2 x2100 x 942

    As you can see in this case, the mass of car and its driver change the amount of kinetic energy twice more than the speed.
    It is less important, if we drive on strait road without stop on long distance.
    But usually it is traffic, or driving in city with stop on every light.
    We are losing energy in vain.
    If we will analyze situation with public transportation—cars, busses, trains, high speeds transportation situation will be even worst than for car. These types of transportation are heavier than car and Have many people aboard, which will wait few people going in and out.

    It will be better to move one person on small cart with weight 20 lb. moving by electricity directly from grid.

    It will reduce energy for transportation at least ten times.

    We could also reduce energy needs for moving every boat, creating forces, which will reduce underwater part of boat.

    Power plant

    The burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, or petroleum) in power plant.
    In hot gas (gas turbine), turbines are driven directly by gases produced by the combustion of natural gas or oil.
    Gas turbine plants are driven by both steam and natural gas. They generate power by burning natural gas and use residual heat to generate additional electricity from steam. These plants offer efficiencies of up to 60%.”
    In grid we are loosing more than 7% of energy. It means 11.6% of energy of fuel. 60%-11.6%=48.4
    According maximum power theorem, resistance of source of energy must be close to resistance of load. In source of energy we are loosing around 50% of energy. 48.4/2=24.2
    Efficiency of load in average is less than 80%. 24.2 x0.8=19.36
    Not all plant has up to 60% of efficiency. And if you will speak with Engineers from usual power plants it is common – 13% of efficiency.
    As you see efficiency of power plant, which is common for USA is less than 20%.
    If we change power plant to use as heat as electricity power wood could provide more useful energy, than right now coal, natural gas, or petroleum.
    Smoke from coal, natural gas, or petroleum is toxic for forests.
    Smoke from wood we could put in water to watering forests, surrounding power plants.
    Together with ash it will be the best nutrition to grow trees.
    Let compare wood and coal by energy capacity:
    1 ton coal = 16,200,000 to 26,000,000 Btu
    1 ton wood = 9,000,000 to 17,000,000 Btu

    If we will change our transportation system our heat, hot water, and electricity production, we could reduce our needs for energy at least seven times.
    In this case wood will provide more useful energy than coal and oil product right now.
    Of course we could use mix of wood, natural gas and coal in environmentally friendly proportions.

    We could put all gases from oven, which used wood in water, to watering forests around power plants.

    It will be zero emission energy production.

    In 48 states we have 600,000,00­0 acres of forested land.
    300,000,00­0 acres of land are more than enough for USA energy needs.

    It is possible to harvest 5 dry ton/acre, year.
    Average heating value of 8,000 BTU/lb(dry)or 89,596,000BTU/acre, year
    Consumption of energy in 2010 (projection)-
    107,870,000,000,000,000 BTU / 89,596,000BTU/acre year=1,200,000,000
    If our energy needs will reduce 7 times we need only 1,200,000,000/7=171,000,000 acres of forest.

    Changing our transportation system, electricity production, growing forests for wood energy will:
    1. Make North American countries energy independent.
    2. Create 100% of employment in USA, Canada and Mexico.
    3. Create possibilities to fight climate change with help of these three countries. North America between Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic oceans is influent climate from France to Japan.

    Eadler says: “The only way to determine what has and will happen to climate, quantitatively, is with the use of computer modeling, since the complexity of the problem is so high. The modeling so far supports the theory that increases in GHG’s due to human activity are responsible for most of the temperature increase since the late 20th century.
    These models predict that long term trend of global average temperature will continue to be upward during the foreseeable future, unless the concentration of GHG’s in the atmosphere are capped.”

    I do not see in any model evaluation of properties of water. In best case they include them as parameters.
    I do not read in any models, what will happen if we will change these parameters on continents.
    I do not read evaluation of our transportation system and power plants.
    I do not read how really we could reduce carbon dioxide and others GHG, if they are problems.
    As Engineer, I could tell that solutions by these scientists to reduce carbon dioxide by reuse, reduce, recycle are laughable.
    The same I could tell about solar cells, windmills, nuclear power plants, which are disasters as for economy, as for environment.
    The best economists as Republicans (Bush Administration), as Democrats (Obama Administration) used the best computer models to help economy.
    Where are results?
    In my opinion these “economists” forget to put in models influence of globalization on today level, when MONEY ALONE, WITHOUT IDEAS, WHERE PUT THESE MONEY WILL NEVER HELP OUR ECONOMY.

    Scientists of climate change are in the same boat.
    They are using the best technology, without any thought about solutions.