Thursday, February 12, 2015

Some people at WUWT agree with climate scientists: let's not go "howlingly barking mad"

Sou | 4:32 PM Go to the first of 14 comments. Add a comment

In the absence of anything much at WUWT, I was going to write about the proposed Geoengineering research program. Slate published an article by the eminent climate scientist, Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert, with the headline and sub-head:

Climate Hacking Is Barking Mad
You can’t fix the Earth with these geoengineering proposals, but you can sure make it worse. 

Opposing geoengineering of climate does not equate to not exploring options

Prof Pierrehumbert, a fierce opposer of geoengineering, has co-authored an NRC proposal that a research program be established to consider geoengineering proposals. As he wrote:
This week, the National Research Council (NRC) is releasing a report on climate engineering that deals with exactly those proposals I found most terrifying. The report even recommends the creation of a research program addressing these proposals. I am a co-author of this report. Does this mean I've had a change of heart?
The nearly two years' worth of reading and animated discussions that went into this study have convinced me more than ever that the idea of “fixing” the climate by hacking the Earth’s reflection of sunlight is wildly, utterly, howlingly barking mad. In fact, though the report is couched in language more nuanced than what I myself would prefer, there is really nothing in it that is inconsistent with my earlier appraisals.

Geoengineering and public opinion

Before I got to write about this, I saw that WUWT has picked up on the subject of geoengineering with two articles. Many science deniers don't want geoengineering any more than scientists do.

The first article at WUWT (archived here) was about a study by Dan Kahan and co at Yale. (The second article was just another anti-science rant by a non-entity denier called Eric Worrall, urging no investment in R&D full stop. It was written under the guise of opposing geoengineering research but the strong theme was for no scientific research whatsoever. WUWT-ers are members of the scientific illiterati. I'll not bother with the second article - you can read it here if you want to.)

About the first article, Anthony Watts wrote the disbelieving headline:
Nutty claim: Advent of geoengineering may help lower temperature of debate over climate change 

For the rest, Anthony just copied and pasted the press release from a study by Dan Kahan and co. You can read the press release on ScienceDaily.com.

Does the threat of geoengineering increase concern about climate change?

The Kahan study was testing hypotheses about people's perceptions of risk in the context of what he calls "cultural cognition". As I understand it, this notion says that people filter information through their personal world view, discounting that which challenges their view and exaggerating that which supports their world view. Here is part of the abstract:
...In the study, scientific information content on climate change was held constant while the cultural meaning of that information was experimentally manipulated.
Consistent with the study hypotheses, we found that making citizens aware of the potential contribution of geoengineering as a supplement to restriction of CO2 emissions helps to offset cultural polarization over the validity of climate-change science.
We also tested the hypothesis, derived from competing models of science communication, that exposure to information on geoengineering would provoke discounting of climate-change risks generally. Contrary to this hypothesis, we found that subjects exposed to information about geoengineering were slightly more concerned about climate change risks than those assigned to a control condition. 

I've skimmed the Kahan paper and it deserves more attention than I have time for today. It's a subject I might come back to in a future article.

Looking at the last sentence in the abstract as a standalone - if people have access to the same information about climate, and are then given information about geoengineering - will their perception of the risks of global warming change? Will they view climate change as a greater risk than they did before?

Although a denier blog like WUWT is unlikely to provide a direct and unequivocal answer to that question, the comments there are suggestive of a hypothesis that could be tested: that deniers are more fearful of geoengineering than they are of CO2 emissions reduction.

Climate science deniers push for a lose-lose situation

As I see it, if the world doesn't act soon enough to curb CO2 emissions then there'll be more pressure from various interests to implement geoengineering solutions. Science deniers are pushing the world towards a lose-lose situation. Deniers and disinformers don't want to shift to clean energy or take other necessary steps to reduce CO2.

If the world dilly dallies and doesn't act, what will these same people do? Will they oppose or support geoengineering if California runs permanently dry? What if Victoria, Australia and Oregon in the USA burn down? Will deniers then be pushing to deflect the incoming sun?

The bigger question is - will deniers keep pushing to increase CO2 emissions, knowing that the risk of lobbying to geoengineer the climate will increase as climate change kicks in?

From the WUWT comments

Some of the WUWT comments provide a clue that deniers are on the horns of a dilemma. I've included some comments from the hard-core nutters to illustrate the type of people that disinformers like Anthony Watts target. They are not the most rational of human beings.

WUWT-ers who are on the side of climate scientists (for a change)

This first lot of comments are from people who find common ground with most climate scientists. They recognise that large-scale geo-engineering of climate is a very bad idea. (Ironically, most fans of WUWT strongly support large scale geoengineering of climate - by increasing emissions of CO2 through burning fossil fuels. I've often said that deniers are nothing if not inconsistent.)

DickF is strongly opposed to geoengineering:
February 11, 2015 at 9:50 am
“Geoengineering?” Can these people actually be serious? Have any of them ever heard of the Law of Unintended Consquences?
Not with my planet, you don’t.

Tom Trevor poses a "what if" question - but what it is is very one-sided. He doesn't consider "what if" projections are way too conservative? Anyway, he is against researching the merits or otherwise of geoengineering. His comment only barely fits into this category.
February 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm
Well, what if just for the sake of argument climate models over estimate global warming, which the evidence so far strongly suggests is true? What if even those models are correct, but the danger is way overstated, which the evidence even more strongly suggest is true, how does it make sense to spend billions to explore the idea of stopping a non-existent threat. That is billions just to explore it, not to actually do it which will cost trillions. 

Vincent's comment is difficult to decipher but I believe he is aligned with climate scientists on the issue of geo-engineering:
February 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm
“after learning of geoengineering”
For the read ” after being brainwashed”.
The thought of geo-engineering scares me witless. See you in the next Ice Age. 

Goldie points out that we mess with climate at our peril.
February 11, 2015 at 1:39 pm
There is no such thing as a free environmental lunch. You always get to pay in some other way. 

wickedwenchfan is also in agreement with climate scientists, but uses Nazi references to make his or her point:
February 11, 2015 at 2:32 pm
Talk about Goebels style propaganda! That is truly evil. Any discovery of governments spraying chemicals into the atmosphere should be met with overthrow of said government, 

Mike the Morlock
February 11, 2015 at 3:08 pm
To all who would contemplate this radical course of action “Geo-engineering” May I suggest Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a cautionary tale.

hunter gets closer to hitting the nail on the head:
February 11, 2015 at 11:07 am
The climate kooks promoting “geo-engineering” are bassically saying “do what we tell you or we wreck the entire planet in our righteous anger”.

Bob Armstrong is more rational, though intellectually lazy. Clearly he didn't bother to read the paper or understand the press release:
February 11, 2015 at 9:55 am
This guy’s a professor of psychology and didn’t realize that the notion of geoengineering would scare the hell out far more people than it would calm ?

Comments from hard-core science deniers and conspiracy theorists:

I'm not saying that the above comments aren't from hard-core deniers. The one's below most certainly are:

Gamecock is typical of many WUWT readers and is too extreme to bother with. He just parrots a generic denier slogan. He could be responding to any article at WUWT.
February 11, 2015 at 10:30 am
Billions of people will die . . .
but maybe that’s the point. 

gbaikie is also way too extreme to be considered a rational human being. People like him are hardly likely to make a dent in policy one way or another. His comment demonstrates nothing but ignorance, conspiracy theorising and extremist ideology.
February 11, 2015 at 10:37 am
The political classes have already spent trillions of dollars Geoengineering by doing things which are said to done to reduce CO2 and suppose be “sustainable”.
One might be comforted by the fact that such efforts has been completely ineffectual- but it is money wasted which attempting Geoengineering.
[Incompetent Geoengineering based upon the pseudo science of CO2 being control knob.]
The political class having an actual means by which they could change the climate, does have the potential of increasing their power- which in the past, has never been good news for the people they are governing.

James at 48  is one confused and ignorant little puppy. He is of the view that we should move towards a hotter world.
February 11, 2015 at 3:33 pm
Intentionally doing anything to worsen the radiative balance (to me, lessening energy experienced at or near the surface constitutes worsening) is the same as trying to kill the biosphere. Therefore, they are contemplating murder on a scale previously unheard of. 

pbft is an ice-age comether.
February 11, 2015 at 10:27 am
Taking the long view, I hope we can get past the current craziness and really look at geoengineering (or whatever name makes sense). I’m pretty skeptical about CAGW, but CNIA (Catastrophic Natural Ice Age) seems like a near certainty at some point. I hope we can develop and master the techniques to manage earth’s thermostat by then. 

References and further reading

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert. Climate Hacking Is Barking Mad. Article at Slate on Feb 10, 2015 11:00 am

D. M. Kahan, H. Jenkins-Smith, T. Tarantola, C. L. Silva, D. Braman. Geoengineering and Climate Change Polarization: Testing a Two-Channel Model of Science Communication. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2015; 658 (1): 192 DOI: 10.1177/0002716214559002 (pdf here)

National Academy of Sciences press release on Climate Intervention Reports - with links to two publications on the subject:

  • Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration
  • Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth


  1. OK, I had some fun with one of the comments (and fixed a spelling error):

    "More CO2? Can these people actually be serious? Have any of them ever heard of the Law of Unintended Consequences?
    Not with my planet, you don’t."

  2. Of course the deniers are agin geoengineering. They are conservatives to the core. They are frightened of any kind of change and they resist it, from energy transition -> geoengineering. It's not the status quo, so it's bad. Harumph.

    * * *

    Sometimes, the Watties out-do themselves in teh stupid. 'Wickedwenchfan' (WTF?) writes:

    Any discovery of governments spraying chemicals into the atmosphere should be met with overthrow of said government

    So any government failing to enact immediate emissions restriction legistlation on CO2 should be deposed forthwith.

    To the barricades!

    (NB: I agree with Prof. Pierrehumbert wrt the inadvisability of tinkering with the planetary albedo)

  3. Well, at least if they try some of the geoengineering methods the chemtrail folks will have something to hang their hats on ;)

    1. [...] the chemtrail folks will have something to hang their [tinfoil] hats on ;)


  4. Aren't these the same people who tell us that it's hubris of the highest order to think that us measly little humans could possibly have any impact on *the entire Earth*?

    But now they're afraid of geoengineering? One might say they are being a bit... alarmist about the whole thing. I guess no one ever accused them of exhibiting consistency in their arguments...

    1. Nailed it Ramiro.
      Where's your hubris now Lisa?
      (It's a Simpson's thing)

  5. It is unavoidable that low-lying coastal states will start geo-engineering. It is better for them than seeing their country, history and culture disappear in the waves.

    Would it be possible to do so in a way to hit rural America and Australia hardest?

    1. Geo-engineering without the whole world agreeing (or at least all superpowers) will undoubtedly lead to major conflict. There simply is no way (yet?) of geoengineering local climate without affecting the rest of the world, and there is even less possibility (yet?) to do so without having a clear negative impact elsewhere.

    2. Marco : you say "clear negative impact elsewhere" but it would never be clear enough for some people. It could, after all, be natural variation and you can't assign any particular negative impact to geo-engineering and anyway Tol's model shows that it's not negative so shut up. All pushed by the same old crew - Soon, Lindzen, Christy, Curry, even Singer from retirement if the price is right.

      So yes, conflict would seem inevitable.

  6. We are, of course, *already* engaged in a massive 'geo-engineering' project - we are releasing into the atmosphere gigatonnes of carbon that has been sequestered over aeons.

    Physics doesn't give a toss that we've done this 'unintentionally'.

    Anyone who claims to view geo-engineering as a risky business should therefore have no difficulty accepting the conclusions of the IPCC reports.

    1. On the plus side of things, when this great experiment is over we'll have climatology nailed down. And glaciology, although it'll be a tad redundant.

  7. I'm surprised the study thought that people exposed to the concepts of geoengineering would be more likely to discount climate change risks. When experts talk about using extreme, and seemingly desperate methods to help mitigate the negative impacts of a problem, I would certainly be more inclined to view the problem more seriously.

    1. Engineering your way out of a problem is the conventional solution, which is comforting to many. Mitigating AGW is generally presented as a 'changing your way of life' solution, which is unconventional and discomforting. People want a pill that'll keep them thin, they don't want to change their diet.

      If mitigation was framed more as an engineering solution it would help but we won't be seeing that approach in the Daily Mail or on Fox News.


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