The Lomborg, now brought to you by the Washington Post, still claims to be in the mythical middle ground, somewhere in between claims of climate change as catastrophe and hoax where he is looking to have “a sensible conversation” with honesty “about the shortcomings and costs of climate policies, as well as benefits.” He could start by making honest and sensible arguments himself and perhaps by acknowledging and responding to his critics, but then he might not get space on the front page of the Outlook section in the Sunday Post – or on the Colbert Report. But at least Stephen nailed him (video link) – as much as could be done in the few minutes in which he appeared on the show. Meanwhile the Post continues to demonstrate why we should all be more skeptical about what we read in the papers.
I just took another look at details about expected sea level rise in the IPCC report, which Lomborg clearly misrepresents, but see this post by Joseph Romm, who has already taken the time to sort it out – in that and in 3 earlier posts he links to. It would be nice if Lomborg included references for statements that seem like they are pulled either out of context or out of thin air itself, i.e., on what basis does he make the claim that the dramatic increase in Greenland’s melting seems transitory? And who exactly is “scoffing” that the IPCC severely underestimated the rate at which glaciers are melting? But even suppose Lomborg were right in selecting an average value for expected mean sea level rise from what is clearly a conservative estimate for reasons that have to do with the scientific process – such as a reluctance to quantify processes not yet sufficiently understood, like the speed of ice flow at outlet glaciers and ice streams that have changed more rapidly than expected. What is of concern from a policy perspective are the impacts of Sea Level Rise for which average values aren’t very helpful because they are driven by extreme but normally occurring events. As stated in the IPCC Technical Summary:
The greatest climate- and weather-related impacts of sea level are due to extremes on time scales of days and hours, associated with tropical cyclones and mid-latitude storms. Low atmospheric pressure and high winds produce large local sea level excursions called ‘storm surges,’ which are especially serious when they occur with high tide. Changes in the frequency of occurrence of these extreme sea levels are affected both by changes in mean sea level and in the meteorological phenomena causing the extremes.
For more on scientific reticence, see this paper (pdf) by James Hansen and stay tuned for my review of Chris Mooney’s book, Stormworld.
What I find particularly annoying are Lomborg’s repeated accusations and mischaracterizations of the views of unnamed environmental groups or just plain “people.” Environmental organizations and individual advocates, and scientists who also “want to put out the fire” are quite a diverse bunch who, unlike Lomborg – or Luntz, or even Nordhaus and Shellenburger, can disagree with each other in a number of ways without setting themselves apart from and attacking all “environmental groups” and who have been trying to have an honest and sensible conversation about how best to address the climate crisis in time to avoid a catastrophe. This conversation is hardly limited to the costs and benefits of the Kyoto Protocol. Addressed in a smart way, investments in reducing carbon emissions could have numerous other benefits – e.g., see: Barack Obama’s energy plan, or Al Gore’s call for a Global Marshall Plan (UN webcast – Al Gore’s remarks don’t start until approximately minute 35) which calls for addressing the climate crisis in ways that also fight poverty. Regarding costs and benefits, see also this post here on PNT by Paul Baer on The worth of an Ice Sheet – which makes the case that to determine what an ice-sheet is worth, we have to first determine what will be required to actually save it and what the trade-offs would actually be. Thanks to the Lomborgs and the Luntzs of the world, that conversation has barely begun. Given that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is beyond anyone’s practical experience, any insistence that the costs are large relative to the benefits is pure hubris.
Update: Joe Romm dug up another paper and provides more details on the increase in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers and changes in ice flow speed that have been observed. It also appears to be the paper Lomborg relied on to claim that “the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing.” But that is hardly what the paper says. But go read Joe Romm’s post. The Washington Post needs to publish some corrections.
2nd update: The Washington Post has not published corrections but they did publish an excellent rebuttal by Judith Curry, which should have been on the front page of the Sunday Outlook section, but at least it’s in print. Hat tip again to Joe Romm.