A First-Person Perspective

Climate Change Confusion in a Rural Virginia Town

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A discussion leader’s reference to a study said to challenge the climate change ‘consensus’ omits key points the audience should have been advised of .. such as whose views, exactly, were surveyed?

KILMARNOCK, VA. — Picture the U.S. Capitol.

Now picture it with the caption “If you knew what they know, would you do what they do?”

That captures the notion behind the 96-year-old nonprofit Foreign Policy Association’s annual “Great Decisions” meetings, now in their sixtieth year and held each winter across the nation in communities large and small.

A little background: The writer of this piece for the past three years has attended these briefings, typically including about 40 community representatives, in the tiny community of Kilmarnock, Virginia. It’s in the state’s “Northern Neck,” a rural five-county region bordered by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south, with the Chesapeake Bay its backyard.

Located in Lancaster County, population about 11,300 people, Kilmarnock is home to about 1,400. Both population numbers are pretty much stable for decades now, and they are expected to remain that way. There’s little to no sizeable local industry, no major interstates, no railroad, and an aging population comprised largely of retirees, with the balance consisting mostly of those in general contracting, retail, farming and fishing, lawn and property care, and care for the aged.

Got the picture? There’s more.

Along with quaint beauty and charm flowing from the dominant feature, the Chesapeake Bay and its countless tributaries, there’s the population itself, and in this case primarily the population of retirees and near-retirees who come together for the weekly “Great Decisions” series over a period of about two months. They come from all walks of lives and backgrounds, but a disproportionate number have had impressive international careers in the Departments of State or Defense, in high military positions, the private sector, and academia, in commercial piloting, in international affairs and diplomacy, and so forth. It is for sure quite an impressive collection of “formers,” many bringing their own first-hand experiences to the discussions of the week on issues crossing the globe.

In 2014, for instance, those discussions have focused on issues such as “Defense Technology,” “Israel and the U.S.,” “Turkey’s Challenges,” “Islamic Awakening,” “China’s Foreign Policy,” “U.S. Trade Policy,” and, newly added, the “Prospects in the U.S.S.R./Ukraine/Crimea Situation.”

Oh. And “Food and Climate” the focus of the group discussion on March 14. And the focus too of this first-hand account.

Each discussion is led by a volunteer charged with framing and then leading the group dialogue. In the food and climate case considered here, the volunteer discussant, accompanied and actively assisted by his spouse, happens also to be the leader of the local Tea Party. The food-climate session is the only one of six held to that date that they have attended, and both were fully engaged in leading the discussion.

The introductory “framing” remarks were peppered, in this writer’s view, with dubious assertions and suggestions, concerning, for instance, the relative importance of CO2 given that it is a trace gas, and the relative atmospheric compositions of all greenhouse gases cumulatively contrasted with that of far higher concentrations of water vapor.

The opening remarks also included a reference to research said to point to widespread disagreement in the science community on humans’ contributions to warming and to the importance of climate change overall.
The ensuing discussion over the course of the two hours brought forth numerous assertions challenging those and other points. But the reference to the purported peer-reviewed research elicited no further comments, few in the audience (including this writer) having heard of it.

On that point, the speaker referred to what she said is a “Canadian university peer-reviewed study” and said it indicates that only 37 percent of scientists concur with what I’ll here call the IPCC/National Academy of Sciences/Royal Society, etc. “consensus” on climate science.

My curiosity piqued, I asked during a break for a citation, graciously provided by e-mail the next day. Why had I not have heard of such an important study? I wondered. So I eagerly settled down to read it.

Published in a journal called Organizational Studies, the piece opens with the italicized and centered 2003 statement from U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) pointing to “all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science” and asking rhetorically if human-caused global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public.”

But in this “peer-reviewed study” showing only 37 percent of scientists accept the “consensus” on climate science evidence, here’s what most leapt out at me, and here I quote from the study’s authors in their published report, with the bold font my own:

To address this, we reconstruct the frames of one group of experts who have not received much attention in previous research and yet play a central role in understanding industry responses — professional experts in petroleum and related industries.

Our study demonstrates that the majority of ‘command posts’ (Zald & Lounsbury, 2010, p. 963) within organizations, especially in the petroleum industry, seem to be manned with opponents to the IPCC and anthropogenic climate science who are actively engaged in defensive institutional work.

To answer this question, we consider how climate change is constructed by professional engineers and geoscientists in the province of Alberta, Canada.

Yet, the petroleum industry is particularly divisive and controversial. The oil industry in Alberta (especially the oil sands) is the largest source of greenhouse gases (GHG), in a country with rapidly growing (not decreasing) emissions.

We show that the consensus of IPCC experts meets a much larger, and again heterogeneous, skeptical group of experts in the relevant industries and organizations (at least in Alberta) than is generally assumed.

We find that climate science skepticism is not limited to the scientifically illiterate (per Hoffman, 2011 a), but well ensconced within this group of professional experts with scientific training who work as leaders or advisors to management in governmental, nongovernmental, and corporate organizations.

Oh. Say what?

So the sample group consisted solely of those employed as “professional engineers and geoscientists” … in the petroleum and related industries … and then only in Alberta, Canada, where the petroleum industry is “the largest source” of GHGs in a country with “rapidly growing (not decreasing) emissions.”

Oh. That “peer-reviewed” study, represented to the group as casting doubt on any general agreement among relevant scientists on the current state of the evidence.

So as a communicator of what I consider to be the peer-reviewed and evidence-based science on climate change, where does that leave me? Bite my lip, and calmly move on to next week’s scheduled “Great Decisions” topic, the unquestionably important and timely discussion of Crimea? Pass those direct quotations on back to the discussion leaders, and ask why that context was not provided to the larger group? (Already done.) Say nothing to the soon-to-be-reassembled group about the broader context of the study cited to them last week?

So consider again: “If you knew what they know, would you do what they do?” And if you didn’t know what should have been made known about that study … what might you think?

To be continued in next week’s follow-up post. It will briefly describe, again from the writer’s first-person perspective, the quick follow-up at the March 21 “Great Decisions” confab to the pressing discussion of all-things-Crimea. Again, in Kilmarnock, Virginia.

Photo source: Bethesda [Md] Magazine.

FOLLOW-UP NOTE:

When some three-dozen residents of rural Virginia met March 22 for their weekly “Great Decisions” meeting, focusing on China’s foreign policy rather than the Russia/Crimea situation because of a schedule change, they opened with a short context-setting review of the so-called “peer reviewed” study described to them the previous week.

With the prior approval of the session moderator, and with notice to the previous week’s presenters, I offered the context for the study cited as refuting any broad consensus among scientists on important climate change issues.

The follow-up discussion by design was brief and factual: the cited study had involved surveying solely of “professional engineers and geoscientists,” and solely of those working for petroleum industry and related companies … and solely in Alberta, Canada, where the industry is the lynchpin.

Hardly the basis for challenging, let alone rejecting, the notion of strong agreement among scientists worldwide. That didn’t need to be stated: It was obvious to those attending.

By previous agreement, no further discussion of the subject, in order to allow ample time for the subject of that day — China’s foreign policy. The usual applause after the presentation by those present, but nothing special about that. A few follow-up “thanks” during the 15-minute break, along with an invitation to speak before a group of Virginia science teachers when they next meet, in 2015, in the area … and that was it.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail: bud@yaleclimateconnections.org).
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20 Responses to Climate Change Confusion in a Rural Virginia Town

  1. John Shade says:

    That seems to be a plausible study. One would need more info on the methodology used to collect the opinions before being able to assess any wider significance. I note that the various attempts to justify the less plausible claims around ’97% of climate scientists’ have suffered from methodological issues, and in my view the question of the degree of support for the position that our CO2 emissions are a very serious threat to us has yet to be established for ‘climate scientists’ or indeed scientists in general. Agreement that climate changes, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that we have contributed to the increasing ambient levels of it, and that there was warming during the 20th century is to be both expected and hoped for since all are reasonably well established. But they are not the issues which have caused so much debate and somewhat dramatic calls for action. The old phrase CAGW captures the essence of those issues, and it would be interesting to know more about how widely it is believed in as likely to occur within say the next 100 years by scientists of all kinds,

  2. Gregory T Haugan, PhD says:

    Two days ago the AAAS published a unique document designed to explain in clear language what the science community message is about climate change. The document is titled simply: “What we Know”. The first item follows:

    “1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now. Based on well established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field.”

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is 150 years old and is the premier non-governmental organization dedicated to science. The concluding statement in the report is as follows:

    “In summary, responding effectively to the challenge of climate change requires a full understanding that there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists about the fact that climate change is happening now, because of human activities, and that the risks –including the possibility for abrupt and disruptive changes — will increase the longer greenhouse gas emissions continue.”

    There is no issue regarding the reality of climate change, the issues are all related to our responses to the risks.

    • John Shade says:

      Human caused climate change is virtually a platitude. The problem is not whether we affect the climate system. The answer to that is merely ‘ of course we do, how could we not?’. The problem is the directions and magnitudes and locations of our various impacts, and whether any of them threatens to be seriously worrying. I have not seen any convincing evidence that any of them are, and therefore I am puzzled by the furore over CO2.

      • Melty says:

        “puzzled by the furore over CO2″

        John: read The Two-Mile Time Machine by Dr. Richard B,. Alley and you might have a better idea of the implications. The skinny: abrupt change beyond what most people can imagine possibleis possible if we push the system hard enough — and the Earth’s climate history bears this out. The role of CO2? Listen here.

  3. Peter Capen says:

    One cannot help but wonder what “evidence” Mr. Shade has read? Clearly, he seems in utter denial and ignorant of the enormous body of literature that has been published by climate scientists around the world that undeniably shows global warming has set in, is rapidly increasing, and has already caused pain and suffering for countless humans and countries around the world. Unfortunately, continued denial about the magnitude of the threat global warming poses to modern civilization serves only to delay any meaningful response to it, which means we, including even the most ideological, self-serving deniers, can look forward to more pain, suffering, and cost. If deniers think that global warming will spare them, they are deluding themselves and putting the innocent in increasing peril.

    • John Shade says:

      The ‘enormous body of literature’ of which you speak, and which I guess to all that related to climate variation. I suspect the vast bulk of it is concerned with effects, real or projected, rather than causes. It is the ’causes’ bit which is of primary interest in this discussion. Global warming appears to have set in sometime in the 19th century, and displays a slow overall rise in computed global mean temperature near the surface, with the more pronounced rises being during the first half of the 20th C up to the 1940s (generally not attributed to human influences), followed by the cooling spell which led to some agitation about the threat of ice in the 1970s. That was followed by about 20 years of rising again to the 1990s, and since then there has been a largely flat overall trend. No sign of it ‘rapidly increasing’. As for pain and suffering, I would note three things. First, we have long suffered from adverse weather events and trends. Second, we generally suffer more during cool speels such as the Little Ice Age than in warm ones such as the Mediaeval Warm Period. Third1, we are, thanks to industrial progress, getting better at coping with climate variation. Let me give you the benefit of the doubt for your use of the loaded term ‘denier’, and ask you to clarify what it is you suppose me to be denying.

  4. Peter Capen says:

    Once again it is obvious Mr. Shade has not bothered to read any of the the credible scientific literature on the subject that debunks virtually every misstatement he makes in his comments. Perhaps he would be better informed of the facts if he took the time to read the recent report by the National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society entitled, “Climate Change Evidence & Causes: An Overview from the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences”, or the just released report by AAAS entitled, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Responses to Climate Change.” Mr. Shade might also check into the authoritative Website, Skeptical Science to enlighten himself.

    While Mr. Shade has every right to voice his opinions, no matter how ill-informed and misleading they are, denial of the reality of global warming will do nothing to address this growing threat to modern civilization it poses. In the end, one cannot help but suspect that continued denial by Mr. Shade and others of his ilk has less to do with the facts than the clear rejection of the obvious solution to the problem–reduction by 70% CO2 emissions. It seems clear Mr. Shade’s opinion will not be swayed by the scientific facts. As a result, his denial is a recipe for the problem of global warming and all it implies for agriculture, water, sea level rise, and more intense storms and heatwaves to only get worse in the years ahead.

    • Nullius in Verba says:

      I’ve looked at the RS/NAS report and it has significant errors in it. I haven’t looked at the AAAS report yet, but a quick glance at the summary on the website strongly suggests it contains further inaccuracies.

      And Skeptical Science definitely isn’t a credible source.

      One of the curiosities of the science of science communication is that when scientific controversies get mixed up with partisan ideologies in the way that this one has, *both* sides are convinced that science is on their side, and the more scientifically literate they are, the more polarized their opinions become. (The same likely goes for the scientists themselves, but so far as I know nobody has done the experiment.) People on either side each build their own networks of trusted experts and identified opponents, and blindly believe the one while rejecting the other. It’s a pity.

      Regarding the original article, it’s true that citing the engineer/geoscientist study without explaining the nature of the sample is misleading, but of course no more misleading than citing the “97%” without explaining the heavy caveats around that figure.

      Several studies are commonly cited. Most of them are literature surveys rather than opinion polls, and are thus potentially affected by biases in publication – double-counting those who get published a lot. There are methodological issues with all of those studies, but even without those, they should certainly not be cited as the opinion of “97% of climate scientists”, because that’s not what they’re measuring.

      And the studies that *did* actually survey the scientists opinions (Doran+Zimmerman and Bray+von Storch) yielded around 80-85% agreement with the ‘consensus’ position, only giving higher numbers for restricted small samples.

      When climate activists start portraying these survey results accurately, they’ll have earned the right to complain about sceptics not doing so. Until then, it’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?

      • Melty says:

        “I’ve looked at the RS/NAS report and it has significant errors in it”

        Would you care to describe and/or list these errors or should we just take your word for it, “Nullius in Verba“?

    • John Shade says:

      This is quite strange. In my first comment here, I noted that global warming is reasonably well established. Yet Peter declares I deny global warming. How, I wonder, are we to proceed further?

  5. Peter Capen says:

    It is easy to “cherry pick” the reports coming out of national and international scientific sources, such as the National Academy of Sciences and AAAS. What specifically do you contend these reports say that you take issue with, and what credible scientific sources do can you offer in rebuttal of any equal stature? Unfortunately, like most climate deniers, what you contend does nothing to stem the growing drought in California, the rapid acidification of the ocean, sea level rise, record heating in Australia, or the recent report that atmospheric CO2 levels hit 400 ppm five days in a row and two months earlier than might have been expected this year. Questioning the right to complain about climate deniers might be valid if they had any scientific evidence to offer sustain their denial. They don’t. Unfortunately, time and again their arguments have been debunked by the vast majority of climate scientists around the world. It is high time that climate deniers put as much energy to trying to solve the growing threats from global warming, rather than simply denying the problem exists altogether and arguing for the dead end of business as usual.

    • Nullius in Verba says:

      “What specifically do you contend these reports say that you take issue with, and what credible scientific sources do can you offer in rebuttal of any equal stature?”

      Well, just to pick two examples from the RS/NAS report at random, they get the mechanism of the greenhouse effect wrong, and they get the evidence for CO2 increase being anthropogenic wrong, as well.

      Their greenhouse mechanism is the old non-convective back radiation explanation, which was falsified back in 1964 by Manabe and Strickler, who calculated that it would result in the average surface temperature of the Earth being 67 C, which it obviously isn’t. The radiative-convective mechanism they replaced it with works according to a different principle, the best explanation of which you’ll find in Soden and Held 2000, or Ramanathan.

      And the evidence for the CO2 rise being anthropogenic doesn’t come from isotopic evidence as they say, which can only show that anthropogenic sources are one of the inputs. It comes from modelling the dynamics of the carbon cycle.

      There’s a simple argument to show that. If hypothetically you had a governor mechanism that maintained CO2 at a fixed level like a thermostat, you add CO2 which has no effect on CO2 level (but does change the isotope ratio as observed), and at the same time reset the governor to a higher level, the cause of the rise would be the latter. The isotope ratio change shows that anthropogenic CO2 is being added, but doesn’t show that it is the cause. That’s done by producing a validated model of how the CO2 level varies in response to the various inputs and showing that there is no governor. The IPCC uses the Bern model to do that, which is an ansatz generated by fitting curves to observation.

      ” Unfortunately, like most climate deniers, what you contend does nothing to stem the …”

      There’s no evidence the drought in California is anything other than a drought, which are historically common in the US. Weather is not climate. ‘Acidification’ of the ocean isn’t rapid, and is still well within the range of natural variation. Sea level rise has been continuing steadily since about 1850, significantly before anthropogenic warming became an issue, and is more likely due to recovery from the LIA. It’s not rapid, either, and not a threat at its current rate. Deposition along coastlines can still keep up. The record heat in Australia is largely the result of ‘adjustments’ carried out by the BOM, and not particularly unusual.

      Sceptics have plenty of scientific evidence. Quite often, they use exactly the same scientific evidence as the alarmists, only they highlight different aspects of it.

      “Unfortunately, time and again their arguments have been debunked by the vast majority of climate scientists around the world.”

      The vast majority of climate scientists haven’t commented publicly. As I noted in my previous comment, the surveys indicate about 80-85% of climate scientists support the “mostly anthropogenic” consensus, and that’s not the same question as “dangerous” climate change, which is what the political argument is based on.

      The claims of climate advocates about the “vast majority” of climate scientists are contradicted by the survey evidence, and the claims of “overwhelming scientific evidence” is mostly stuff they have heard of but never actually seen, let alone checked. The claims of the vast majority of climate advocates are no better founded than those of the vast majority of climate sceptics – generally, people simply believe what they’re told by the people they trust. Very few have the scientific background to assess the evidence for themselves. It’s blind faith.

      “It is high time that climate deniers put as much energy to trying to solve the growing threats from global warming, rather than simply denying the problem exists altogether and arguing for the dead end of business as usual.”

      I’ll be happy to oblige. First thing is that everybody who believes global warming is a threat (about half the population according to some surveys) should immediately stop using fossil fuel. Don’t buy it, don’t buy anything made with it, or transported with it. This move will a) massively reduce CO2 emissions overnight. b) cause the price of fossil fuels to crash and the price of renewables to skyrocket, which will render the former totally unprofitable and the latter super-profitable, thus causing the entire energy industry to jump on the bandwagon as quickly as possible. And c) the profits they make will fund and motivate the R&D needed for cheaper renewables, which will eventually lead everyone else to transition, too. This solution is available now, with no new international treaties, legislation or regulation required, would be quick, effective, wouldn’t hurt the developing world, and cannot be objected to by any free market fundamentalists.

      Secondly, go nuclear. Do what France did in the 1980s-90s and build lots of nuclear power plants in the middle of every big city. Override the planning objections and regulations and protesters – get them built immediately. Nuclear is the only currently viable low-carbon technology we have, and has already been shown to be feasible at the scale required. There are solutions to the waste problem (like IFRs) and they’re actually much safer than other ways of generating energy; it’s only politics getting in the way.

      OK. Problem solved. Happy?

      Or does one’s political dislike of the solution override the urgency of the problem?

      • Melty says:

        “First thing is that everybody who believes global warming is a threat (about half the population according to some surveys) should immediately stop using fossil fuel.”

        tu quoque, really? It’s Catch-22 and we desperately need a way out tha does not involve starving and freezing.

        I am with you in the need for advancing nuclear electricity generation (not “problem solved” but a necessary stop-gap)

        The RA/NAS report is clearly simplifying the GH effect: it’s a matter of how detailed you think you should be in a document intended for the general public. So: well done you: their description is not technically correct because it is not complete.

        • Nullius in Verba says:

          It wasn’t intended as ‘tu quoque’. It was a serious suggestion. The free market optimizes the allocation of resources to deliver what people want for the best price they’re able and willing to pay. If people want climate action, they can have it. If people truly believe the price is worth it, then a free market will deliver it automatically, and at the best price possible. Isn’t that what we *all* should want?

          It’s only us sceptics that say it involves starving or freezing. The climate activists tell us we can easily afford the price. I’m open-minded enough to consider the possibility that they’re right. But that’s another benefit of a free market – everybody can try their own solutions and the ones that get it right will win out. So let’s see them demonstrate it.

          “The RA/NAS report is clearly simplifying the GH effect: it’s a matter of how detailed you think you should be in a document intended for the general public.”

          Precisely that sort of simplification is one of the biggest problems with public awareness of the science. It means that most of the public are forced to take somebody’s word for it, which is unscientific and a really bad habit to get into, especially with explanations that are technically wrong. It means that those with a technical background often find the story doesn’t quite work, is incomplete, or gives rise to inconsistencies or paradoxes, which induces scepticism.

          Explanations to the public should be as accurate as possible, must say clearly when and where they are simplifying, and ideally provide multi-layered explanations, allowing the more technical readers to dig into the details which everyone else can skip as they choose.

          But it is vitally important even for a non-technical reader that they should know that they don’t know the entire story. The number of times I’ve seen a well-meaning supporter with a shallow understanding of the physics run their arguments head-first into a well-informed sceptic…! It’s not pretty! A lot of people have been convinced by the mainstream story that it is all simple and obvious, and can become disillusioned when they find out it isn’t and they have been misled.

          From the point of view of a climate activist, it is vital to avoid such an outcome. Even as a sceptic, I’m far more interested in getting to the truth than merely winning, so I’d much prefer my debating opponents to be better informed. We *all* ought to support this!

          And since a fair proportion of the controversy is driven by arguments about how the physics works, it’s *really* unhelpful to have yet more inaccurate explanations being put out, especially with the backing of supposedly authoritative science organizations. Especially when a far more accurate explanation would be easily possible without adding much complexity.

      • John says:

        “‘Acidification’ of the ocean isn’t rapid, and is still well within the range of natural variation. Sea level rise has been continuing steadily since about 1850, significantly before anthropogenic warming became an issue, and is more likely due to recovery from the LIA. It’s not rapid, either, and not a threat at its current rate.”

        Acidification isn’t rapid, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored, as you seem to imply. Even if anthropogenic increases in CO2 to the atmosphere stop, simple chemistry means that the pH of the ocean will decline. What effect this will have is anyone’s guess, but given the rapidity of the decline relative to geologic and evolutionary time scales, the prospects are probably not good, and even if there are ‘winners’ in the ocean, the food web might change to our detriment.

        As for sea level rise, it may not be a threat at its current rate (although that’s arguable). You are neglecting that melting land ice (notably on Greenland) that will strongly accelerate the rise (not to mention a warming ocean. And remember, for every cm of sea level rise, there is roughly a 10 cm horizontal encroachment, compounding storm surge problems further.

        Finally, you dismiss that ‘vast majority of climate scientists.’ There has been yet another analysis of the literature (not a poll), with a minuscule number rejecting AGW (www.jamespowell.org). I suppose you could say, ‘publication biases’, but I’d have to see some evidence of that. And true, many of the authors publish more than once (although doubtful within one year), but so what? This is the science that passes peer review.

        • Nullius in Verba says:

          “Acidification isn’t rapid, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored, as you seem to imply.”

          Agreed. The science is still open on the question.

          “Even if anthropogenic increases in CO2 to the atmosphere stop, simple chemistry means that the pH of the ocean will decline.”

          Agreed. Although the chemistry actually isn’t so simple. (Hint: would calcium carbonate dissolve more in carbonated water than pure water? What’s the equation for the chemical reaction?)

          “What effect this will have is anyone’s guess, but given the rapidity of the decline relative to geologic and evolutionary time scales, the prospects are probably not good, and even if there are ‘winners’ in the ocean, the food web might change to our detriment.”

          I agree that the question is still open. It’s actually a question of biology. Seawater is already acidic enough to dissolve limestone shells – molluscs generate it by isolating pockets of fluid internally and using biochemical processes to change its pH. There are different processes for different species adapted to different surrounding pH levels. (So freshwater molluscs can cope with far more acidic conditions, for example.) The question is therefore how adaptable and diverse these pathways are. Given that pH can vary quite widely from place to place, and with depth and temperature, it seems more likely than not that most creatures would be adaptable, or would simply move habitat to a different location. Certainly, molluscs evolved with CO2 levels much higher than at present, so it must be biochemically possible.

          It’s possible the food web could change to our detriment, but it could just as easily change to our advantage. We don’t know. And given all the other changes we have made (invasive species and so on) it might be hard to identify which way it went even afterwards.

          “You are neglecting that melting land ice (notably on Greenland) that will strongly accelerate the rise”

          Am I? And will it?

          The effect on sea levels is primarily determined by the balance between precipitation and flow rate. Ice loss is not generally a matter of high temperatures “melting” the ice. There are suggestions that surface meltwater could somehow penetrate to the base of glaciers and accelerate flow around the ice cap margins, although so far as I know the matter still isn’t settled. But you could equally well argue that in a warmer world there will be greater humidity, more precipitation, and therefore a greater build up of ice in the interior. Regional effects of climate change such as this remain very uncertain, according to the mainstream science.

          “And remember, for every cm of sea level rise, there is roughly a 10 cm horizontal encroachment, compounding storm surge problems further.”

          That depends on the local geography. Remember that coastlines are dynamic, and the result of a balance between deposition and erosion effects. Alluvial plains and river deltas are continually rising as silt is deposited – this happens when the water slows as it reaches sea level and spreads out. Thus, fertile coastal land ripe for human occupation is so wide and flat precisely *because* it is at sea level – it is the level of the sea that controls it. And as the sea rises or falls, so does the land.

          Where such a balance occurs, the area of land is dependent on the rate of sea level rise, not its current absolute altitude. So long as the rate of rise remains constant, the balance achieved over the past century will be maintained and the land area should stay roughly constant. If sea level rise accelerates, there will be a one-time reduction in area, as a new balance is achieved.

          Humanity always has and always will have problems with flooding. But as technology and economic prosperity progresses, we will grow more resilient to it, be capable of bigger and better engineering to manage it, and this will become less of a problem.

          “Finally, you dismiss that ‘vast majority of climate scientists.’”

          I’m not dismissing it. I’m just pointing out that if you’re going to talk about a fraction of the number of climate scientists, then that’s what you have to measure. And the measurements that have been made say 80-85%.

          If you want to talk about a fraction of the published literature, then you can do, but please say so.

          “I suppose you could say, ‘publication biases’, but I’d have to see some evidence of that.”

          Sure. There are plenty of individual examples we know about. “It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically”, for example. Or you could read Montford’s “The Hockeystick Illusion” for the grand tour.

          But perhaps the best evidence for it is the example you yourself have just cited. If 80-85% of climate scientists believe, but at the same time 97% of those who get published lots do, then there is clearly a very strong selection effect at work here.

          Now that might or might not have legitimate reasons for it – the only way to tell would be a systematic independent survey of the quality of the science in those papers – but there clearly is an effect. It’s something that we ought at least to be able to ask questions about.

          By the way, I thought yours was a very good and thoughtful answer. This is more like the way the debate should be conducted. :-)

          • John says:

            Seawater is already acidic enough to dissolve limestone shells – molluscs generate it by isolating pockets of fluid internally and using biochemical processes to change its pH. There are different processes for different species adapted to different surrounding pH levels.

            The average seawater pH is 8.05. If that were enough to dissolve limestone shells, then, for example, there wouldn’t be the coral debris beaches we see in the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Yes, there is a carbonate compensation depth, below which it does dissolve, but this is too deep to be of concern. And yes, there are different responses, and different susceptibilities. And that’s precisely the point about a changing food web. Pteropods with delicate aragonite shells, for example, will be at risk, and in some environments, they make up most of the diet of whales. It has also been found that clam shells from 50-75 years ago are thicker than at present. Undersea volcanoes are responsible for low pH’s in some shallow benthic environments, and the community has no calcium secreting organisms.

            That depends on the local geography. Remember that coastlines are dynamic, and the result of a balance between deposition and erosion effects… And as the sea rises or falls, so does the land.

            Yes, coastal populations are concentrated in flood plains, not on coastal cliffs. And that’s the worry. Yes, they are dynamic, but not so dynamic that there hasn’t been a net rise in sea levels world-wide, from both tide gauges and satellite estimations (and these agree). If land and sea level both rise and fall, we wouldn’t see the constant, global rise.

            Finally, I don’t think that by itself “80-85%…believe” compared to “97% of those who publish lots” [?] says anything at all about a selection effect. There is such a thing as peer-review, and which filters for quality.

  6. Peter Capen says:

    It would help if the respondent had the vaguest grasp of facts, which he clearly doesn’t, as is evident by his long, often incorrect, and frequently misleading diatribe. It is hard to carry one an intelligent with one for whom neither facts nor reality matter. Consequently, there is little point in prolonging this conversation.

    If climate scientists are wrong, we will still have a habitable planet; if global warming deniers are wrong, we all be “toast.”

    • John Shade says:

      I think you are out of your depth on the issues, but just running away will make it hard for anyone to help you make some progress here on this thread. Is your mind completely made up?

      • Dan Rogers says:

        When you are in a contest, and your opponent beats a retreat, why not let him go? The danger is that he will go off to find another climate skeptic who isn’t as well-armed, intellectually and informationally, as you are, and pick a fight with him.

        So be it. These skirmishes must be expected.

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