J’Accuse … Newsweek harbors Global Warming Deniers …

Growing up, Newsweek was the weekly news magazine coming into the house. Shows the value of those college discount programs. They caught my father with a great deal when he was 20 and, well, decades later … For the household — and I — well, Time was the second run in the competition for respect as a weekly news source.

This, however, is no longer the case.

While Time‘s cover is The Global Warming Survival Guide with many good articles, Newsweek … time after time … hands over its pages to Global Warming ignoramouses, skeptics, and outright deniers.

With Richard Lindzen’s Why So Gloomy?, Newsweek has sunk to a new low.

Newsweek — and its sister publication, The Washington Post — are notable for demonstrating, too frequently, that they just don’t get it when it comes to Global Warming, especially when it comes to the editorial pages.  Most recently, there was Fareed Zakaria … Wrong on Facts, Wrong on Conclusion. Last summer, we could put to another core columnist, Robert Samuelson, who merited the direct calling out as in J’accuse! Distorting reality in “Global Warming’s Real Inconvenient Truth”.  (Though, I must admit, that The Washington Post does demonstrate “balance” by giving equal voice, as if this is an equal discussion, as per WashPost published my LTE re Global Warming Skeptics.)

Before getting to this denier’s screed, let us quickly review four steps of Global Warming denial:

  1. Globe is not warming.
  1. If warming, it is all natural. (Selective jumping to 3 and 4.)
  1. If man is contributing to the warming, it doesn’t matter, because warming is good. (And, this can be related back to 2 — CO2 is life, right?)
  1. Well, if warming is risky, we can’t do anything about it, let’s adapt.
  • And, of course, as part of the argument for any/all of these, “we just don’t know enough … the models are inaccurate … we need to study more … etc …”

And, quickly, let us put out on the table that Lindzen is probably the most seriously credentialed of Global Warming Skeptics. It isn’t just MIT, but he has actually studied and published on the fields of study, he isn’t commenting from some other field of study.  He is, when writing in the scholarly literature, someone worth looking at and reading.  But, that consideration should not … does not extend to his opinion pieces.

So, let’s do a little deconstruction of this key Global Warming Denier’s disingenous foray into America’s homes via Newsweek.

Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over.

Okay, he evidently doesn’t read the same media that I read.  Sadly, all too often, journalists seek to present ‘both sides of the story’, as if there are basically two sides rather than something like a 99 to 1 consensus in the relevant scientific communities. (I won’t state that the “1” is absolutely wrong, but the hill to climb to prove that they are correct keeps getting higher faster than they’re climbing it.)

There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true.

This is important. Perhaps the most credentialed scientist favored by the skeptics states that the earth is warming and man is (at least) contributing to that warming.  Stages 1 and 2 are passed. Again, that matters.

But, of course, there is that suspect qualifier, ‘at some level’ … keeps the door open for making an argument (that looks to be false) that this is primarily a natural phenomena. (It seems to be in the range of 90+% humanity-driven, it seems, but this is very difficult to calculate and pin down.)

What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we’ve seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe.

Okay.  This is where things truly become confusing.  Again, the qualifier language.  “No compelling …” What does it take to provide compelling evidence?  What is the meaning of that word?  Compelling to who?  What is the threshhold to become compelling?

And, well, what is “anything close to catastrophe”?  What is a catastrophe?  Is it extinction of species?  Are Katrina-like events catastrophic?  Disruption of societies due to reductions in glacial flows for water supply?  Etc…

What would it take to provide a basis for determining that urgent action is warranted?

What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare.

Perhaps, sort of, yes … he is right. The earth is constantly changing, weather and climate patterns as part of that. The question that Lindzen is avoiding is whether the current trends are driving the global climate into a rapid change pattern, unlike any seen in the 7000 or years of ‘civilization’.

Looking back on the earth’s climate history, it’s apparent that there’s no such thing as an optimal temperature—a climate at which everything is just right. The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman’s forecast for next week.

Well, first off with this section, is it appropriate truly to be talking “earth’s climate history” so casually?  For example, 10s of millions of years ago, there were higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere than there are today. In that perspective, that humanity has driven CO2 to the 385 ppm level when, for the past 850,000+ years, it has varied between 180 and 285 (or so) doesn’t seem like that important.  Skeptics can argue that there have been higher CO2 levels. They tend to forget to mention that those are millions of years prior to the emergence of homo sapiens.  You would believe that might be relevant for consideration.

This commentary does not get into whether we are potentially driving the climate system out-of-whack for sustaining a global civilization and for supporting the every mounting numbers of human beings.  The not “false alarm” is based on the extent and speed of existing and foreseen change, not on some concept that the earth is a static system that never sees change. 

Finally, Lindzen is smart and quips quite well.  Climate scientologists are, evidently, to be trusted as much as the weather man’s report … That is the sort of quip people will (sadly) remember and reuse.

A warmer climate could prove to be more beneficial than the one we have now.

Yes, that is why people move to Miami, right?  Duh? Or, perhaps, huh???  This sort of begs the question, to whom?  There might be winners and losers (might), although the vast majority of people who examine this see that ‘losers’ will vastly outnumber the winners. (Sure, with ice melting, easier to extract oil in the artic circle … hmmm … winner?)

And, well, the line is simply inaccurage, as the most lethal clmiate event is not a freeze or winter but the heatwave (with the exception being massive tropical cyclones, like the 1970 and 1991 Bangladesh events).

Much of the alarm over climate change is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate. There is no evidence, for instance, that extreme weather events are increasing in any systematic way, according to scientists at the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which released the second part of this year’s report earlier this month). Indeed, meteorological theory holds that, outside the tropics, weather in a warming world should be less variable, which might be a good thing.

This is misleading. There is evidence … there are discussions … but there is not global scientific consensus about increasing numbers of extreme weather events. There is evidence of it … Global Warming Theory suggests that ever more precipitation will come in ‘extreme weather events’ (more than one inch in a 24-hour period). Oops. Excuse me Professor Lindzen, but isn’t that already happening?

By the way, misleading is too polite. This is false.  He says “no evidence”. Why not check out Science Daily video “Harder Rain, More Snow”  Meteorologists See Future of Increasingly Extreme Weather Events. Lindzen might disagree with it, but there is “evidence”.

And, as to variable weather patterns, you have to wonder what he means by this. Perhaps it is because regions are far more likely to have drought or flooding … maybe he is arguing that these extreme weather conditions will endure for longer periods, thus reducing variability.

But, Lindzen’s OPED is not just misleading … it is, as noted above, simply false and we can catch the falsehoods.

In many other respects, the ill effects of warming are overblown. Sea levels, for example, have been increasing since the end of the last ice age. When you look at recent centuries in perspective, ignoring short-term fluctuations, the rate of sea-level rise has been relatively uniform (less than a couple of millimeters a year). There’s even some evidence that the rate was higher in the first half of the twentieth century than in the second half. Overall, the risk of sea-level rise from global warming is less at almost any given location than that from other causes, such as tectonic motions of the earth’s surface.

Can I scream now?  Are you screaming yet?

  1. Yes, sea levels have been rising … the coasts in the Mediterranean today are not those sailed to by Phoenicians.  But, seas are rising and at an increasing rate. But, so what?
  1. Sure, a tsunami caused by an earthquake creates far greater risk of ‘sea-level rise’ than global warming … in a short-term temporal and regional perspective.  And, so???
  1. The real concern is some form of catastrophic sea rise. The potential for a melting from Greenland and/or the Antarctic with adding not inches, but feet or meters of sea rise, and within years rather than millenia.

Many of the most alarming studies rely on long-range predictions using inherently untrustworthy climate models, similar to those that cannot accurately forecast the weather a week from now. Interpretations of these studies rarely consider that the impact of carbon on temperature goes down—not up—the more carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Even if emissions were the sole cause of the recent temperature rise—a dubious proposition—future increases wouldn’t be as steep as the climb in emissions.

Okay, here we are.  It is the models. And, skeptics who argue this fail, 100% of the time, to discuss that the core models for the IPCC actually almost certainly understate the risks as they don’t account for ‘positive feedback loops’ (for example).

Now, just to make sure we all are on the same page, ‘positive’ in this case is not a good thing. This refers to, for example, the fact that melting of ocean ice accelerates future melting of ice by reducing the Albedo (reflection of solar radiation) by replacing white ice with blue water that will absorb the solar radiation and speeding heating, thus accelerating melting ice, which has a further positive feedback.  This is also the case, for example, with the permafrost, where the IPCC simply did not deal with the risk of melting releasing methane and thus accelerating Global Warming. (For a discussion of this, see optimists or pessimists — what is it with those IPCC types?)

And, well, there are other paragraphs where Lindzen continues his ‘we can trust those darn models’ song and dnace.

But, lets keep going

Is there any point in pretending that CO2 increases will be catastrophic? Or could they be modest and on balance beneficial? India has warmed during the second half of the 20th century, and agricultural output has increased greatly. Infectious diseases like malaria are a matter not so much of temperature as poverty and public-health policies (like eliminating DDT). Exposure to cold is generally found to be both more dangerous and less comfortable.

Remember, Carbon Dioxide … We Call It Life … First, warming is good. Who — other than Eskimos (yes, Inuits) — wants to be cold?  

 And, as for India warming and agricultural productivity increasing … where is the cause and effect study and analysis.  Is there any basis for this confusion of causation vs correlation.  Is warming driving agricultural productivity or, perhaps, does it have something to do with the Green Revolution and other agricultural advances?

And, lunatic lefties, if you would only get DDT back into the system, malarial wouldn’t be a problem. …

Well, he accepted that the globe is warming and that mankind has a hand in it.  He has stated that we can’t trust the models. And, Lindzen has written that this is all good for us. What is left?  Oh, yeah, the argument that there really isn’t anything that can be done.

Moreover, actions taken thus far to reduce emissions have already had negative consequences without improving our ability to adapt to climate change.

This is a statement, that to be polite, is very open to argument.  Have all the things to improve energy efficiency in the US economy had a negative consequence other than for those wishing to sell more electricity?  And, so on …

An emphasis on ethanol, for instance, has led to angry protests against corn-price increases in Mexico, and forest clearing and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia. Carbon caps are likely to lead to increased prices, as well as corruption associated with permit trading. (Enron was a leading lobbyist for Kyoto because it had hoped to capitalize on emissions trading.)

There are many problems with many proposed “silver bullets”.  Personally, I think biofuels are getting overhyped and overemphasized. And, well, I am far from a fan of cap & trade even thought it worked to foster significant drops in, for example, sulphur emissions.  I don’t agree with Lindzen’s overall point, even if I have some sympathy with his examples.

The alleged solutions have more potential for catastrophe than the putative problem.

Guess what. This is false on so many levels.  To a huge extent, dealing aggressively with global warming issues through energy efficiency in the economy and a fostered move off fossil fuels would greatly (GREATLY) strengthen the US economy and improve US national security by lowering vulnerabilities to and reliance on unstable regions around the world. Lindzen’s statement here is so absurd that responding to it is wasteful of electrons.

The conclusion of the late climate scientist Roger Revelle—Al Gore’s supposed mentor—is worth pondering: the evidence for global warming thus far doesn’t warrant any action unless it is justifiable on grounds that have nothing to do with climate.

Isn’t this amazing?  Lindzen is citing Revelle as the reason for not doing anything unless it is done for other than Global Warming reasons.  When did Revelle die?  15 July 1991.  What has happened since then?  Three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.  The warmest ten years in the past 150+.  Many “500 year” weather events.  The mounting levels of CO2. Perhaps Revel would be revisiting this admonition about “evidence for global warming thus far” if he were able to speak from his grave 16 years after his death.

This deceptive argument, using Revelle in this way, is indicative of Lindzen’s entire OPED and his role in Global Warming discussions.  

Lindzen is a credentialed scientist, with real acheivements, who seems to not hesitate in distorting and confusing to support his position …

Now, Grist emphasizes that Newsweek doesn’t bother to mention that Lindzen has long financial connections to the oil industry and others who fund Global Warming Deniers.  Read Newsweek‘s bio

Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.

Evidently $2500 speaking fees, subsidized travel, and otherwise simply don’t count. (For a contrast, see Wikipedia.)

To put things further in perspective, Lindzen is a “double-denialist”.  From a (speak of the Devil) Newsweek interview of 2001, as recounted by John Quiggin:

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Hmmm … double denialist sounds reasonably good to me.  

What is Newsweek other than a collaborator to and facilitator of Global Warming Deniers?

J’accuse …


18 responses to “J’Accuse … Newsweek harbors Global Warming Deniers …

  1. I am incredibly disappointed in Newsweek’s crack editors not bothering to check out Lindzen’s credentials and sponsorship, as well as the fact that he has had every one these tired arguments rebutted–just as you so ably did–numerous times before. What does it take to shame a Newsweek editor into doing their job of faithfully trying to really inform the American public? Do they have even this faculty naymore? They were the preferred newsmagazine in my childhood, too, but sadly, Time has passed them by in more ways than one.

  2. I said the same thing on the Newsweak website…

    Thank you for publishing this April Fool’s article “Why So Gloomy” in your April 16 2007 issue. The fool, of course, being Richard Lindzen and his lonely one-man war on science.

    In trademarked *.con voice he insists that white is black, up is down, a warmer climate is better, there’s no evidence of of extreme weather events, and of course sea levels have been merrily rising forever – great news for those with soon-to-be oceanfront properties on the Mexifornia border. I’d like to see him make these statements in New Orleans. I’m sure he’ll get a standing ovation.

    His arguements, a-la Faux News, drip with sardonic disagreement with THE ENTIRE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY on the effects of Anthropogenic Global Warming. As most folks involved in climate research know, despite his bio-blurb to the contrary Mr. Lindzen does indeed have deep and longstanding ties with the petroleum industry. In fact, it is well-known and easily researched that his “Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus” was underwritten by OPEC. There is no other logical reason for a weather man to be trotted out as an “expert” in oceanography, climate, species, history, etc.

    As a rehash of the 1960s-era disinformation campaign by the tobacco companies to deny the negative effects of smoking, Mr. Lindzen continues that time-honored tradition with his Petroleum Overlord clients and supporters. Keep the faith Mr. Lindzen – I’m sure there will be 77 virgins ready for you when you go to meet your maker.

  3. Nathan Currier

    I hope readers will realize who Lindzen is – just about the very last holdout amongst academics of any weight who are sticking with the deniers. And at that, having staked out his territory long ago, it is clear that Lindzen will stay with the same old tired reasoning long after it has become absurd (which it has been for a very long time already). In short, he has absolutely no credibility any longer with anyone inside the climate science community. He should not have been paid the attention he was given by Newsweek in printing this story.

    I will not waste my time rebutting all the arguments
    he poses, but one simple one concerns the difference between predicting exactly what will happen, when and where (he’s right that that is difficult sometimes even a day or two out for weather predictions), versus a general prediction based on a general principal –
    for example, smoking 5 packs of cigarettes daily will eventually damage your lungs. This is what the global warming predictions are like, and are just as solid in their physical basis.

  4. They published it because it sells magazines? I’m obviously in the minority, but I like the fact that we get both views of the story- at least they picked someone well credentialed, debate is healthy, science moves forward, the first guy to bring up global warming was going against years of consensus, lets not deny that opportunity to the next guy who has a scientific breakthrough. Doing anything other than responding to the arguments as they come up makes your position look weak. If your facts are in line, you don’t need to attack a guy’s funding sources, you don’t have to appeal to consensus, etc. Just refute the statements with facts, reasonable people will come around.

  5. So, Green Man … the issue is how do we define “two sides” … First, that term implies ‘even’/balanced, that both sides have equal ‘legitimacy’. That simply is not the case in this field. Now, I do value scientific debate — Lindzen, however, is not acting as scientist but polemicist. And, he writes things that (a) are not factually true and (b) things that I believe he understands to be misleading.

    And, while I did point to the financing situation, this was after I had responded to the falsehoods and misleading nature of this OPED.

    And, as with Zakaria (read item linked in this post), Newsweek evidently does not seem to believe it should do any fact checking.

  6. The title of Time magazine really bothers me. Shouldn\’t they be expressing the problem of global warming as something we need to fix? Instead they pitch it like its a bad storm that we\’re all going to have to \’survive\’. I wish the media would stop treating global warming like this.

  7. A Siegel, I should have used the term other views, instead of two sides. Journalists do this stuff all the time for other fields, I don’t know why its such a big deal for climate change. For example, Free trade improving both participants is a well known consensus among Economists, yet nearly every time we discuss free trade, they’ll roll out a union worker, or mill owner, or someone who will be negatively effected by it to get their side. Economists don’t complain all the time about those guys getting their say, they just continue trying to educate. That is how I eventually see the climate debate going, they’ll roll out the oil company workers and whatnot, but everyone will know what the best thing to do or the best science is.

  8. Let’s see…

    As I understand there is only a certain amount of reflected radiant energy to be absorbed by CO2 so don’t we hit a point of diminishing returns on the amount of heat retained?

    Doesn’t the hockey stick show CO2 as a trailing trend to warming?

    Nitrogen oxides are substantially worse than CO2 as far as their greenhouse effect but they are largely ignored by the movement? Is this because we CAN do something about them?

    I’ve personally lived through many of these doomsday prophesies and the world has lived through a legion of them dating back to Malthus and before.

    The earth is warming; yes this is true. I don’t, however, buy the coincidence that the age-old common enemy of environmentalist and communists alike [good old free market industrial America] is the cause.

  9. here’s another communist leftist weighing in, today, on climate change.

    “Climate change is real and the most urgent environmental issue our society faces. Slowing, stopping and reversing the causes of climate change will require collaboration, innovation and sound public policy. We are therefore very pleased to join the United States Climate Action Partnership, and help drive its goals and principles.”

    Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris

  10. Doug Snodgrass

    Peter, thanks for joining the discussion. I’m trying to understand the need for name calling to make a point. If I’m missing something, please let me know. If it was in response to Jimmy’s comment, I don’t think Jimmy was using the term communist in that sense, I think he was using the term literally.

  11. Thanks for clarifying that Doug. I’m not intending to label anyone a commie and mean no offense to anyone.

    I know this is probably urban legend but did Dow really fund the ozone research that resulted in them banning Freon in favor of another substitute right before the Freon patent ran out?

  12. Doug Snodgrass

    I haven’t heard anything about that either way Jimmy. It’s a sad commentary that we even have to wonder about things like this.

  13. RealClimate has put up a post taking apart the Lindzen Newsweek article. Their concluding paragraph:

    “It should hardly be surprising to learn that Lindzen was just chosen to share the title of “false counselor” in the list of leading “environmental sinners” compiled in the May issue of Vanity Fair on the newstands now (article “Dante’s Inferno: Green Edition”; unfortunately, this sits behind the subscription wall, so you’ll have to purchase the magazine for further details). Incidentally, several other frequent appearers on RC such as Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Sally Baliunas, James Inhofe, and Michael Crichton share in the award festivities. For a time, Lindzen set himself apart from this latter sort of contrarian; his scientific challenges were often thoughtful and his hypotheses interesting, if one-sided – he never met a negative feedback he didn’t like. Sadly, it has become clear that those days are gone.”

  14. Jimmy …

    Well, ‘commie’ pollution isn’t any better than free trade pollution …

    And, perhaps, just as Democracy is the worst form of government except for every other form of governance mankind has tried … so far, a well-regulated free market is the worst economic structure mankind has operated with the exception of every other type that mankind has attempted.

    The question and debate is what makes ‘well-regulated’ … to me, that would include accounting for costs appropriately. It is time to stop “free ride” pollution … to me, that includes GHG pollution.

  15. Good job, A Siegel.

    Lindzen’s “facts” are ludicrous. Warm is better than cold? Sea level only rising only in millimeters? Malaria resurging because the mean ol’ greenies killed DDT?
    Geeze, give me a break.
    Interesting that the guy doesn’t even mention how ecosystems are getting out of sync, how his Cambridge colleagues are finding a huge proportion of lifeforms on the edge, thanks in part to this; how corals are on the edge, and ocean acidification puts the whole ocean life system at risk…..

    Bottom line for me is that Lindzen appears to be stuck in the old school of thought that the human economy is independent of the natural world–instead of being entirely linked to its health or downfall. Such utter foolishness. Even Newt Gringrich is now showing more sense. Shame on Newsweek.

  16. I don’t think anyone denies things are changing. I think CO2 as the ultimate cause requires an almost biblical leap of faith though. Concensus is not science.

    A Siegel, I think, as with anything, if you index the real cost (environmental and geopolitical) to items then conservation will take care of itself.

    There will be little political will to do this though because direct taxes on energy are about as regressive as direct taxes on food.

    I’m for it though. Jack the cost of Gas up to $5 a gallon for all I care. Maybe it’ll get some of these a’holes in their huge honkin’ SUVs off the road so that it doesn’t take me 20 minutes to drive 5 miles to work.

    It will be like when they started charging Use fees for our state parks here in Tennessee… without all the screaming kids and the unwashed masses they were a pleasure to visit again.

  17. Jimmy,

    1. CO2 does not act alone — it is part of a larger equation.

    2. “Consensus is not science” is true, but scientists can have consensus. That is why this is Global Warming Theory in a scientific context, rather than theory of common vernacular.

    3. Tend to agree with you about will, sadly. But, to me, “Direct taxes on energy are about as regressive” is uncertain. While there are distributed costs from pollution, writ large in the world, the poorest suffer the most from polluting energy infrastructure. Also, the most serious question becomes how the “tax” revenue is used. If the tax is used, for example, how Gore argues, to offset cuts in payroll taxes, then the regressivity is also reflected in reducing the tax burden on the lower income. If the tax is used to spark serious energy conservation and, in part, is used to help less wealthy acquire energy efficient systems (from CFLs to insulation to better cars to better public transport to …), then it is not regressive. Simply adopting an “energy tax” without any compensating use of that money could be “regressive”, it is a question of how the money is used.

  18. CO2 does not act alone… it is a part of a much larger equation… that is science.

    But the crusade falls apart without CO2.

    The other things can be mitigated and addressed. The nitrogen oxides from cars and power plants are much worse per volume than CO2 but they can be mitigated thus evil industrial and consumer consumption has an out.

    You only hear about nitrogen oxides related to beef where it’s not easily mitigated (again, evil fat Americans). That’s the double whammy and it frames the US in the worst possible light.

    As for the taxes you can rationalize the regressiveness of energy taxes away with how they are used if you like but but it still is a very regressive form of taxation by defintion.

    I personally like the idea of Oil taxes so that the entire ecological and geopolitical cost of gasoline is felt at the pump… and I think you do too.

    I don’t think it can fly politically though.

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