Foreign Policy Blogs

On the Denialists

Icebergs in Iceland’s Jökulsárlón lagoon, which is constantly growing as the Vatnajökull glacier—Europe’s largest—melts; photograph by Olaf Otto Becker from his book Under the Nordic Light: A Journey Through Time, Iceland, 1999–2011, which has just been published by Hatje Cantz.

The distinguished economist William Nordhaus has a succinct and useful piece in the latest issue of the “NY Review of Books” that refutes the now mildly famous letter to the Wall St. Journal from 16 scientists from January.  (I am reminded of the famous quote from Erwin Chargaff about James Watson and Francis Crick:  “That… such giant shadows are cast by such pygmies only shows how late in the day it has become.”)  Nordhaus dignifies the Denialists by calling them skeptics in his piece:  Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong.  (This apparently is being played back on us as the scientific community and the activists who have been trying to respond appropriately to their findings are now labeled “Warmists.”  HT to my correspondent NJCons.)  Real scientists are skeptical about data, hypotheses, models and the like.  This is the hallmark of their profession and their art.  Real scientists, writing in peer-reviewed journals, have no cavil with the underlying phenomena associated with climate change:  the greenhouse effect, anthropogenically produced greenhouse gases, the many indicators of change, the impacts and the implications for our planet.  As Naomi Oreskes established nearly ten years ago, there is indeed a scientific consensus on climate change.  (If you want to know where there is some disagreement and where more science needs to be done, refer to this excellent story, The real holes in climate science from Nature.)

So, in a nutshell, Nordhaus eviscerates the piffle that the Wall St. Journal promulgated.  (Surprise, surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle would’ve said, that the Journal is pushing this line.  How could you expect anything else from a paper run by a man of such intense personal integrity and moral probity as Rupert Murdoch?)  But read what Nordhaus has to say.

  • njcons

    “Nordhaus eviscerates the piffle”? Hardly. He did nothing more than dodge the issue (exactly as Irwin and Mr Hewitt have done. Why is it that the warmists can’t deal with this “distilled fact”?

    There has been no statistically significant warming over the past 16 years. (since 1995) This is a fact.

    Hewitt cherry-picks the year 1998 as a starting point and blames it on an extraordinary el-nino year. A straw man…the “fact” in front of us is warming since 1995…neither an el-nino or la nina year.

    Nordhaus opts for the 1880 starting point (only off by 114 years). This, of course, is another warmist canard as the period follows a mini ice-age …and wouldn’t one of naturally expect some warming to follow?

    The “little ice age”, evidence of which was first recorded around 1300, and which extended through to the mid 1800s, was the coldest interval over the Northern Hemisphere for one thousand or so years. Periodic plagues and famines ravaged Europe and glaciers descended from the Alps to engulf a number of villages.

    Amazing how this 1880 starting point lines up with the end of the little ice-age (mid-1800’s).

    And importantly, did you notice Nordhaus’ graph of the 130 year temperature record? There was a significant warming trend in the 1930’s/1940’s. This was due to what? It certainly was not man-made as we were still largely an agricultural society across the globe at the time. And there was no warming from 1940-1984. Look at the graph. It’s very clear. No warming whatsoever.

    No. The warmists based their entire theology on the 1984-1998 rise in temps. A mere 15 years. This was the basis for the iconic “hockey stick”…it was the basis for the IPCC alarmism. It was the basis for “an Inconvenient Truth”. Yet the most recent 16 years show absolutely no warming…and the warmists do nothing but obfuscate …by attempting to change the argument to some other time period. Why? Why can’t they simply deal with “the distilled fact” of the 1995-2011 time period that shows no warming? They can’t because…as Dr. Kevin Trenberth states…”The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t explain it”. And now….when the 16 scientists writing in the WSJ raise the point, Mr. Nordhaus can’t explain (or at least doesn’t try). It speaks volumes that warmists must change the subject…move the goalposts…establish a straw-man, whenever this fact is raised. And set aside the argument of how much warming there has been…and what’s caused it. Another important point here is the atrocious performance of the “scientific” models. Nordhaus claims that they’ve been accurate…but provides no support. All one needs to do is just go back to the 2007 IPCC report and look at what it forecasted for temps under various CO2 scenarios. See it here:

    And now let’s look at the temperature record through 2011 as measured by CRU at East Anglia. See Figure 3 here measuring actual results versus that IPCC chart. It speaks volumes.

    The models are badly flawed. THAT should be the story dominating the climate news today. Instead we get more news of disgraceful (and perhaps criminal) behavior from the “scientists” in the case of Dr. Gleicke. Sad indeed.

    • Windy City Kid

      FYI, PHD physicist Clive Owen has provided an updated graph of the IPCC model projections vs. actual HadCRUT3V data that includes 2011.

      • Njcons

        Thank you….that’s precisely the graph that I provided above.

        It shows just how badly flawed the scientists models are…and their entire theology is based on their models.

        • Okay, folks, let’s try this. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has this explanation which breaks down your concern regarding statistical significance and says, in a nutshell, the preponderance of measurements for all the 28 15-year intervals from 1970 show statistically significant warming trends. Beyond this, Skeptical Science illustrates that if you want to be considering all the various interactions, that ocean heat content should not, really cannot be ignored. The consistent and dramatic rise in ocean temperature is illustrated here. For me, honestly, it comes back to the long-term trends as illustrated by the IPCC graphic here that I have offered on more than one occasion. This shows not only the observation of the warming trend but how it tracks with climate models. If you need to revisit the extent and the nature of how the observations are made, I commend you to the Met Office’s article: Global-average temperature records.

          As to Peter Gleick, I am not a supporter of any illegal or unethical activity. The hacking of the CRU computers was both, I might remind people. I defer to Gavin Schmidt on the Gleick problem. Interviewed in Scientific American recently, Schmidt reminds us that it should be about the data, not about the personalities. I will be damned if I am going to take a lesson in ethics from people who consider Frederick Seitz a hero.

          • njcons

            Let’s take them one at a time: Firstly the Grantham Research report. Roughly one-third (nine of the twenty eight ) intervals measured showed NO statistically significant warming. And were it not for the 1998 year (a year which, in a previous discussion you provided a video link describing it as “ an unusually warm year due to the super-strong El-Nino effect”…see slide 27 at the 14 minute mark below) fewer than one-half of the periods measured would have shown statistically significant warming.


            So warmists like to use 1998 (a “super-strong” el-nino year) when showing the warming trend from earlier periods….but then criticize (rightly) skeptics for using it is as a starting point for “the warming has stopped argument”. In reality however…most skeptics use 1995 (neither a strong el-nino nor la nina year). Also, the Grantham report’s main point is that 15 years is too short a period to conclude anything. They say: “ It is completely arbitrary to limit an analysis to just 10 or 15 data points”. If so, one has to ask why they built an entire “science” around the 15 year period of 1984-1998, a period that makes up the entire blade of the infamous “hockey stick graph”? The Grantham Report also says that scientists understand that warming has subsided recently…and that they “suspect” it is due to other factors “masking the warming trend”. Well that’s all fine and good…but “suspecting” something is at play is a far cry from proving it….and shows a lack of understanding of how the climate system operates. As climate scientist Kevin Trenberth stated….”we can’t explain the lack of warming and it’s a travesty that we can’t”.

            Secondly, regarding ocean warming, there’s been none. The most sophisticated temperature recordings of the ocean…the ARGO system deploys over 3,000 robotic devices around the worlds oceans measuring temperatures at regular intervals at various depths down to 3500 feet. Deployed in 2003, the measurements have shown no warming in the oceans.


            Thirdly, regarding the IPCC report (AR4-2007), a few observations. One is that the graphics contained in the link provided are “hind-casts”…that is, they built models to fit a known set of observations (the models were produced and reported in 2007 measuring temps through 2005). They were produced by working group I (WGI) as evidenced by the attribution on the graph itself. They included only two variables for natural variability in temps…solar activity and volcanic activity (no variability due to el-nino, la nina, cloud cover, urban heat island effects, etc) . All other changes were attributed to human influence. So they tweak and adjust the assumptions in the model so they get a nice fit. Now I think you’ll agree that such models are of little value if they are not predictive. Well fortunately the very same report (AR4) produced forecasts from these very same models (WGI) and we are now able to evaluate their predictive capabilities. Guess what. They fail miserably. See the graph provided Windy City Kid above…reposted here:


            The observable trend is outside of even the models lowest end…and is below the models forecast if CO2 levels were held constant at 2000 levels. Your hind-cast graphs show a nice neat fit (let’s face it, it’s not that hard to build a model when you are trying to fit to an already observed trend…rather than an unknown (forecast)). The divergence from observable trends should have everyone in the field scratching their heads and heading back to the drawing board on these models….are they?

    • Windy City Kid

      @ NJ – “Also, the Grantham report’s main point is that 15 years is too short a period to conclude anything.”

      The American Meteorological Society 2008 “State of The Climate” report includes a test of IPCC models in which MET Office informed readers that 15 years of global temperatures is enough to falsify the IPCC climate models. They used HadCRUT3V data and through 10 years of ENSO adjusted temperature data they found the IPCC models falsified at the 90% level. The scientists stated that a lack of warming over ANY 15 year period would render the IPCC climate models falsified at the 95% level.

      Also Ben Santer recently published a paper in which he suggests that 17 years of of little to no warming in the Troposphere would be problematic for current models.

      Best Regards,

      • njcons

        Yes…that IS the main point…yet it didn’t stop the warmists from promoting the hockey stick graph prominently in the AR2 report. Thanks for the info from teh MET Office and Ben Santer. I have also found that HadCRUT3V data set intersting….no one ENSO adjusted anything back in the 2000-2003 time frame….because the 1998 El-nino year served them well in demonstrating dramatic warming….but now that some are arguing no warming since then…they find it convenient to ENSO adjust….I don’t disagree with the theory…but find the obvious motivation both telling and consistent with the mind-set of the scientists exposed in the climategate e-mails.

        I also find it somewhat humorous that those who are now telling us that there are some difficulties in measuring the temperature of water using todays modern technology…also tell us that they know how to ENSO adjust global temperatures to a thousandth of a degree…

        thanks for the information

  • Irwin Seltzer

    Can we take a step back folks? I take it that even climate change denialists are not challenging the fact that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been increasing dramatically due to human activities and will soon approach levels not seen in perhaps a million years. I also have to assume that even denialists accept the physics of CO2 as a climate forcing agent. So is it just that you’re willing to gamble that the oceans can continue to absorb CO2 indefinitely (without ecosystems crashing due to increasing acidity)? Is that the chance you’re betting on?

    • njcons

      I have no doubt that we skeptics agree that CO2 (a natural compound) has been increasing due to human activities. We also recognize the physics of CO2 as a greenhouse gas (“climate forcing agent” is a warmist term that I don’t pretend to understand). And now you ask if skeptics are willing to gamble on the oceans continuing to warm. This is a false premise as the millions of temperature records taken from the ARGO system show NO warming of the oceans (actually they show slight cooling). So it sounds like a pretty good bet to me. And what skeptics are skeptical about is this….that today’s science doesn’t understand the complexities of the planets climate system. They are also skeptical about the way this ‘science” is carried out. There is a total lack of transparency, and some fast and loose manipulation of the data to fit a pre-conceived outcome. This is not the way science is typically done. Let me ask you this…are the warmists willing to gamble with the lives of millions who continue to go hungry because we use food (corn) for fuel, based on an unproven “science”? Are the warmists going to gamble with the lives of millions who can benefit economically from the value brought by low cost energy available only from fossil fuels? Should these developing nations have to forgo economic advancement because of this unproven “science”? Should millions of Americans be priced out of the automobile market, pay 10X what they otherwise might for light-bulbs, pay a higher price for almost all products due to a carbon tax, all on this gamble by the warmists that something catastrophic is going on?

  • Bill Hewitt
    • njcons

      Thank you for the link on radiative forcings…I will certainly review it. My point was to Irwin’s assertion that skeptics concede CO2 as a “climate forcing agent”. Since climate forcings can be postive or negative….and scientists can even disagree on whether a climate agent (cloud cover for example) is a net positive or net negative….my point to Irwin was that I can’t know what he means that “skeptics accept the physics of CO2 as a climate forcing agent”. I guess generally “yes”…that a doubling of CO2, “all things being equal”…would increase temps about 1C…hardly enough to be alarmed about and still not enough to act on… not knowing the impact on water vapor, cloud cover, and the like. We DO know that all of the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere over the past decade has NOT resulted in a warmer planet.

      Regarding the cooling oceans…I see you trot out the ususal suspects…”skepticalscience” and “RealClimate” …realclimate addresses an error that was adjusted for in the HadCrut record…and doesn’t deal with ARGO record at all….skepticalscience site is down…I’ll try later. Thanks.

      • Irwin Seltzer

        If you have a chance, please take a look at the article on the NASA Earth Observatory site which explains the whys of the revisions to the ARGO data which eliminated the ocean cooling anomaly. The article is interesting not just just for the particulars, also as a story of humility which all good scientists should admit to clearly in public forums. Maybe it’s not done often enough.
        Quote from the piece:
        “Models are not perfect,” says Syd Levitus (NOAA researcher). “Data are not perfect. Theory isn’t perfect. We shouldn’t expect them to be. It’s the combination of models, data, and theory that lead to improvements in our science, in our understanding of phenomena.”

        • njcons

          I’ve had time to review the earth observatory piece (thank you for providing this by the way) and have several reactions/thoughts.

          The crux of the piece is this: 1) ARGO, the most sophisticated temperature measurement system is deployed via 3,000 plus robotic “buoys” that systematically measures ocean temps and salinity at varying depths and transmits findings automatically to satellites, so that we have for the first time a comprehensive real-time ocean temperature record. The stated purpose of the system is to generate a very precise temperature record that would validate climate models. See here: 2) The system shows oceans cooling….contradicting climate models and space based measurements. 3) scientists conclude that the ARGO measurements must be wrong and set out on a year-long study as to ascertain where the flaws might be. 4) They concluded there were biases in the measuring devices. …………….if you believe I’m missing something or have not fairly categorized the piece let me know. So a few reactions….the completely unbiased by-stander in me is curious as to why the data were questioned rather than the models? Isn’t that what science does??? Let the facts guide the science? Also, why weren’t the satellite measurements …that showed a warming ocean…questioned instead? (measuring ocean temps from outer space is considered more accurate than ocean based measurements?) Also, were there any follow-up studies done to see if the cooling continued after 2005? The skeptic in me asks was there ever an instance of measured WARMING…whereby the scientists spent a year trying to disprove it? The skeptic in me also asks …if we can’t even measure water temperature accurately by sticking a modern day thermometer in it, how in the world can we trust measurements made globally (land –based) by devices that are decades old…are subject to break-down or movement, are adjusted by human judgment to account for changing conditions and are impacted by urban heat island effect, etc?

          Take a look at this comment alone from your piece: ……

          “First, I identified some new Argo floats that were giving bad data; they were too cool compared to other sources of data during the time period. It wasn’t a large number of floats, but the data were bad enough, so that when I tossed them, most of the cooling went away. But there was still a little bit, so I kept digging and digging.”……

          I’m curious as to what the “other sources” are that he compared the ARGO temps to….what is more accurate, in his judgment, than a direct temperature reading by a modern day thermometer? And why all this “digging and digging”? Did he have an agenda? Was there a pre=-conceived outcome that he was pursuing? Isn’t science the “unbiased pursuit of the truth”?

          Bottom line….what have we learned since these 2007 report? How do the data stack up against the models? Here’s your answer:

          • Windy City Kid

            NJ – I have been following numerous exchanges between Josh Willis and Roger Pilke Sr. regarding Argo measurements for 3 years. Dr. Willis has been very forthright and helpful in these exchanges. Ocean heat content is the single most important indicator in assessing the validity of the IPCC climate models. I urge you to read up on the calculations used in determining Earth’s radiation budget if you already haven’t. The Argo floats provide measurement, in Joules, of the accumulation of heat in the upper oceans (top 700 meters) and they can be compared to the heat accumulation calculated by the models as determine by their forcings and feedbacks. If the IPCC models are correct the Joule accumulation measured by Argo floats should match the calculated amount used in the models. There is a divergence between the IPCC models projections and the Argo measured ocean heat content. TheArgo scientists looked for the “missing heat” by searching in the deep ocean but abyssal temperature measurements taken recently have not found this “missing heat”. If you are interested go here:


            and here:


            Best Regards

  • Irwin Seltzer

    Forcing is not a “warmist” term. It’s a term used by climate scientists to describe how an environmental agent (CO2, solar activity, volcanoes) change the heat equilibrium of the planet. If there is more CO2, other things being equal, the temperature of earth (atmosphere, land surface, and oceans) must go up to maintain balance. That’s my non-scientist understanding of it. I think you are saying that even if this is true, prove that it matters now and prove beyond reasonable doubt that it will matter in the foreseeable future before we embark on dramatic economic and social change.

    By the way, there’s an interesting, detailed and involved discussion on NASA’s Earth Observatory site (an old one: 2008) of why the “cooling oceans” initially reported from the ARGO data was in incorrect. I haven’t read it completely, but I will. Whether you accept the explanation is another matter.

    • njcons

      Thank you for the thoughtful response Irwin. I hope to get to the NASA piece you posted sometime tonight. Perhaps we can compare notes.

  • Irwin Seltzer

    By the way njcons (if I may call you that), I am fully in agreement with you regarding the complexity of Earth’s climate system. And I don’t think any climate scientist would disagree. Models are valuable for testing our understanding by comparing predictions to both currently observations and to paleoclimate data which also represents direct evidence. It is the ability of climate models to match real climate data that gives some credence to their usefulness in making predictions of future conditions. The certainty will never be 100 percent. It’s up to policymakers and each of us as individuals to decide what to do with those predictions and what they imply about our future environment. Given the potential for catastrophic results, I think we should be spending resources even at relatively low certainty. If the odds of catastrophic fire or flood affecting your home were one in ten, or even one in a hundred, would it be unreasonable to take out an insurance policy? I’m just speaking in principle here. This is separate your points about tradeoffs, although I’m sure that heated :) arguments can be made for and against each one of them (except for using edible biomass as fuel which is clearly ludicrous and an argument for electoral reform in this country).

  • njcons

    WC Kid, for some reason there was no “reply” option on your recent post so I’ll respond here below.

    I visit Pielke’s blog fairly frequently so I had reviewed the more recent exchanges with Josh Willis. I agree that the exchanges have been very cordial and Josh has been very forthright. The issue I keep getting back to is that…to your point….there is a divergence between observed forcings and the models. And it is not insignificant. I believe the Hansen model called for 60-80 W/m2 and the ARGO system is reporting 12-19 W/m2…it is several std dev outside of the modeled expectations. So what do Willis et al do???? They question the highly tuned temp readings rather than the models!!! Isn’t it much more likely that we don’t fully understand the forcings and feedbacks …rather than the temps are wrong? Are they THAT arrogant that they believe their knowledge of the climate system is greater than their ability to measure?


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change