Jacoby's Latest Climate Debunkery

Jeff Jacoby once again rounds up whatever climate-change debunkery he finds floating in the conservative flotsam, and churns out a column scoffing at Al Gore. This should keep him in the good graces and high click-throughs in the right-wing blogosphere, but earns him another whacking from my little blog.

To Jacoby's credit, he at least leaves out the current fave theory of the denial crowd, concerning the allegedy suppressed contrarian views of an EPA scientist. The less said on that the better.

Anyhoo, Jacoby tosses out a few examples of how unsettled the debate is. First up, the Polish Academy of Sciences. The brief opinion document from its Geological Sciences Committee (produced in February, not July) does indeed caution restraint in public policy, arguing that we don't know enough to say how much of the global warming is human-caused: 

The present warming coincides with elevated contents of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.... It is certain that increased content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is connected partly with human activity. Therefore, all steps that restrain this emission and agree with principles of sustainable development should be taken, starting from a cease of extensive deforestation, especially in tropical areas. Various adapting measures that can mitigate effects of the recent trend of climate warming should be implemented by political decision makers.

That's from a translation; the original is in Polish. It is important to note that A) this was not a scientific paper, but a two-page statement; B) this committee is one of 107 in the Academy, including some that are more specifically focussed on environment and climate; and C) the academy as a whole fully endorses the IPCC report.

Jacoby also cites wacky French socialist Claude Allegre -- I'll let you and your Google bar have fun exploring his unique views of the world -- who, while fully acknowledging global warming, now claims that there's not enough proof to say that it's caused by man's actions. That's just something he likes to say -- he's never published any serious scientific paper about it or anything.

Ivar Giaever's "new religion" comment is even sillier than Allegre's thoughts. Giaever, a retired physicist who admits to having no expertise on the climate, was pushed into participating in a global warming panel last year that he didn't want to be on, during which he expressed skepticism that global warming is as bad as everyone seems to think. (He noted that he prepared for the discussion by doing some Google searching.)

Next, Jacoby reports on an open letter to Congress signed by six incessant warming deniers, only one of whom (the ubiquitous Richard Lindzen of MIT) is a climatologist. He also points to climatologist John Christy, who absolutely agrees that human activity is warming the environment, but claims that his model shows this warming to be more moderate than those generally accepted.

Here's the bottom line: it is perfectly reasonable to debate the economic costs of different approaches to combatting climate change, and if Jacoby would stick to that I would be happy to take him seriously. (I personally believe that those on the opposite end of the issue err in downplaying the necessary economic costs of a serious approach.) But it is impossible to take Jacoby seriously if he asserts such nonsense as "the debate over global warming is more robust than it has been in years." It is not. There are some serious scientists who argue that the effects of human-caused warming will be less severe than the generally accepted scientific view, just as there are some who argue that the effects will be more severe. But there are only a handful who continue to deny that it's real and serious, while there are dozens and dozens of serious scientific organizations -- each representing hundreds or thousands of members -- who all agree otherwise. There is a constant stream of peer-reviewed work updating and improving upon warming theory, compared with none in the debunkers' corner. Jacoby and others can continue to trawl for the occasional grumpy skeptic or out-of-context quote, but they cannot build from that a serious debate on global warming.

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