Greenhouse Denialists Moderate Themselves in Supreme Court

With regards to the recent US Supreme Court decision describing carbon dioxide as a pollutant and requiring the EPA to again look into regulating it, it turns out that there is a fascinating side issue into what claims greenhouse denialists are actually prepared to make when their claims will be thoroughly scrutinized.

A group of denialists hazily associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (the organization responsible for the unintentionally hilarious CO2 – We Call It Life advertisements) and including Patrick Michaels (who can’t tell the difference between degrees and radians), and Chris de Freitas (who publishes papers without telling his peer-reviewers), put together an amicus curiae brief in support of the EPA’s position not to regulate CO2 emissions.

Professor Ian Enting, from the University of Melbourne, was one of the lead authors of the Chapter “CO2 and the carbon Cycle” in the 1994 IPCC Report in Radiative Forcing of Climate. He has provided me with an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Why Greenhouse Denial Isn’t Science”. As he explains, it’s fascinating not so much for what it says, but what it’s not prepared to say…

In the form brought to the Supreme Court, the state of Massachussetts and others were seeking remedy from the US Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to act certain greenhouse gas emissions. As part of this process, with the permission of the court, various Amici Curiae (friends of court) briefs were lodged, one by a group of climate scientists (in support of the plaintiffs — Massachussetts) and by a group of climatologists and scientists (in support of the respondents — the EPA). In this book, this latter brief will be termed “the sceptics’ brief” and is examined in this section. Those named as the climatologists and scientists in the sceptics’ brief were Sallie Balinas, John R. Christy, Chris de Freitas, David Legates, Anthony Lupo, Patrick Michaels, Joel Schwartz and Roy W. Spencer, with counsel from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

In the context of the `pretend debate’ about the reality of human-induced climate change, the sceptics’ brief, like the case as a whole, is most remarkable for what was not said. With the prospect of having their views tested in court, the brief differed greatly from their various statements in the media.

The sceptics’ brief emphasised the uncertainties in the issue, particularly with respect to net costs. The effect of this on the case would seem to have been reduced by the failure of the respondents (EPA) to invoke this argument. Issues of complexity were noted in a dissenting opinion. Perhaps the greatest departure from earlier sceptics’ positions is the statement

A far better estimate of future warming comes by reconciling climate model projections of the future with real-life data — that is, with the known historical behaviour of climate as greenhouse gases have increased. This is because models are more plausible when they are in agreement with actual observations. As is shown below, the expected warming from such increases then becomes 1.8 degrees Celsius for this century, which is clearly below the low end of the National Assessment’s range.

If you look at the summary for policymakers from the latest IPCC assessment report, 1.8 degrees isn’t all that different to the IPCC’s various warming scenarios – as best I can tell, the “A1B” scenario best represents the “business as usual” scenario. 1.8 degrees is below the IPCC’s expected value, but it’s within the confidence interval.

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Posted in levity, politics, science
13 comments on “Greenhouse Denialists Moderate Themselves in Supreme Court
  1. steve says:

    Maybe Howard needs to get dragged before a court to finetune his attitude to climate change. Apart from a ludicrous self professed love of a Nuclear Power plant in his back yard, little of what he has said or done so far shows any urgency to deal with the situation or any advanced policy direction to solve the problems.

    Howard might have just read the opinion polls for too long and decided it is all too hard, just lose the election by doing nothing and see what the others come up with later in the year.

    I find it amazing that a carbon tax isn’t part of the mix, that the Kyoto Protocol remains unsigned, that money hasn’t been put into developing renewable energies, that we aren’t a part of the Emissions Trading System and that nuclear is being considered seriously but when a Government develops the anti midas touch everything turns sour at once.

    The Howard Government remains years behind where the General Public is in the debate because of their 11 years of denial and will struggle to catchup as they dilly dally in confusion around these issues.

  2. PeterTB says:

    ludicrous self professed love of a Nuclear Power plant

    I trust your characterisation of Howard’s attitude to NP doesn’t indicate a closed mind to the real benefits taht NP can offer. That would be just as silly as denying the global warming threat.

  3. Brian says:

    Robert, there are a few things that are not clear to me about the sceptic’s position. First, I don’t know what the “National Assessment” is, and what range it predicts.

    Second, there is no compelling argument given as to why their chosen method is different or superior. I can’t pretend to understand the technicalities of climate modelling, but I understood that they were road-tested against actual observations.

    Presumably the sceptics’ nominated increase of 1.8 degrees also has an uncertainty range.

    Then there are some other issues.

    I assume you are looking at Table SPM-3 and Figure SPM-5 of the the IPPC document (pdf).

    I’d agree that the A1B scenario is the most likely (the scenarios are explained in a box at the end of the document). It has a range of 1.7 to 4.4 with 2.8 the best estimate. That is from the average of 1980-1999 to 2090-2099. It is not clear what time period the sceptics are using, but if it’s 2000 there is a 0.2C difference in the starting point.

    When we consider dangerous anthropogenic interference (DAI) it is usually put at 2C above preindustrial levels, so you add about 0.6 or 0.8 depending when their starting point is.

    If you look at Figure SPM-5 it is clear that the six scenarios don’t diverge much until about 2035 by which time if you add the extra for a preindustrial starting point, we’re in trouble.

    All the sceptics are saying is that we might get to the DAI point later, maybe by about 50 years.

    For us to feel relaxed and comfortable, they have to successfully dispute the 2C DAI notion and convince us that the true DAI is heaps higher.

    Then if they can convince us that the nasties associated with 2C tabulated in Figure 2 of the Stern Review Executive Summary (pdf) which seem to be confirmed in the recent IPCC report on climate impacts (pdf) are so unlikely that it is silly to take out insurance, we might relax a bit and just do whatever we can afford. That’s Howard’s basic attitude.

    Sorry, that misrepresents Howard’s attitude. To put ‘what we can afford’ in context, measure his $100 million over 5 years here and there, with $600 million on baby bonuses. He’s doing what is needed to try to stay electorally competitive.

  4. Robert Merkel says:

    Precisely, Brian. The skeptics, when put in a situation where their views might be rigorously tested, are quibbling over details.

  5. Brian says:

    Sorry, if you’ve just read my comment I’ve just fixed up a few glitches. I forgot to read it through before I posted.

  6. Joe D says:

    Referring to our top sceptic, John Howard, who has turned down a national emissions trading scheme: is his position even relevant when the states appear to agree on this issue? i.e. can they now agree to enforce a single standard in their respective energy, manufacturing and transport portfolios. Rudd could be the broker…

  7. steve says:

    Peter, I just think it is hilarious to put Nuclear Power up as the only alternative while doing nothing about the problem for 11 years and struggling to get involved in the real issues.

  8. philip travers says:

    I think a few points need to be made,but,I doubt this blog can sustain it.The real problems of electricity usage and climate change are different questions.Wether the final set of information comes to be in the moments of carbon dioxide expressing itself into the atmosphere and whatever way that is ascertained to be,electricity usage now depends on the grid.This grid needs a more thorough oversight because the new owners are in fact squibbing it hiding behind the front end power source,or co-generation.This country is dry and hot rainy and humid and subject to fires and flood.And in settled areas accidents involving electric poles are legend.Hijacked by front-end loaders and politicians and climate change activists..the real problem still remains.And whilst people submit willingly to these strange overviews the craziness will not be exposed.

  9. pablo says:

    I too have thought that Howard’s recalcitrance on emissions trading could be put down to a fixation on electoral gain and that a quiescent Cabinet falls into line behind him. However we know the sceptics include such Liberal ideologues as Sen. Minchin (Finance) and MacFarlane (Resources).
    Now we have Costello labelling those pushing for some sanity as ‘zealots’.
    This is becoming a very cynical exercise that I can see being played out through to the next federal election with the position of the state and territory leaders being used to smear Rudd as Howard wedges him on energy sector and more jobs, jobs, jobs – all with the added broad brush of countering ALP/ACTU claims against Work Choices.
    Should Howard succeed in this you can bet on an emissions scheme as quick as you can say gst.

  10. steve says:

    The recent Productivity Commission Report came up with a few interesting points, including these two:

    It is the Nuclear Power nations of the United States, China and Russia that are the three major Green House Gas emitters of the world.

    No matter what Australia does locally it is insignificant in comparison to the urgent need to become part of the global solution, especially to reduce Green House gases in those countries because they lead the rest of the world by a significant amount in terms of their Green House Gas emissions.

    I personally see Nuclear Power as ‘a fifth Ace’ pulled from the sleeve of climate change denialists while they are in a total state of unconsciousness as to the known facts on climate change.

  11. steve says:

    PC report is here

  12. Hal9000 says:

    steve, I think nuclear power is not so much a 5th ace as your bog standard common or garden political wedge-distraction. It has potential do divert not only the attention of the public, but also rivers of public treasure into the pockets of political mates, so it’s win-win as far as Howard is concerned.

  13. Brian says:

    Pablo I think you’re pretty much on the right track.

    I’ve just done another post in which I attempt to outline the current political state of play.

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