“Who’s The Denier Now?”

I spotted a strong lead article in the crusty old magazine of the American right, The National Review, “Who’s The Denier Now?”. The new article is a bit ‘American Politics stodgy’ at the start, but the final half is a cracker. Here are some highlights…

“Softened by years of punching down at their opponents’ worst arguments, they became addicted to asserting that “science says so,” and they are now lost when it doesn’t.” [In this context] “Statements about climate change are no longer being policed for their accuracy, but rather for the degree to which they help or harm the activist agenda.”

[Any statement which questions science’s ability to very accurately model man-made influences on the global process of greenhouse warming …] “crosses a red line for activists, because the precision with which climate models can describe what is happening links directly to the precision with which they can describe what will happen”. [And in the resulting overheated media environment … ] “The scope of viewpoints that constitute ‘denial’ is rapidly expanding to swallow all opposition to favored policies.”

There’s a lot more in the article itself, and there’s also a weightier recent article in the journal Foreign Affairs, from the same author.

I was however disappointed that Oren Cass has been suckered by the false establishment media consensus which has been generated around the recent CNBC interview. A false consensus that waves the interview snippet about as if it somehow ‘proves’ that Pruitt holds some sort of ‘anti-science’ position. Here’s Cass in The National Review article…

“EPA Administrator Pruitt confused matters greatly with comments to CNBC last month that went beyond his testimony about “precision” and “debate” and suggested that human activity was not the primary cause of recent warming”

But as I’ve shown quite carefully here on this blog, in a line-by-line fisking of the CNBC transcript, all of Pruitt’s CNBC statements were congruent with the accepted mainstream science on the process on greenhouse warming. Pruitt’s choice of words, in a snatched minute at the end of a quick-fire TV studio interview, might have been better. But he was ‘denying’ nothing in terms of the science, as far as I can see.

Pruitt on CNBC, March 2017: transcript and a line-by-line analysis

Given the fire-storm of public ignorance over the weekend, I felt the need to go through what the EPA’s Pruitt actually said line by line and phrase by phrase, with commentary…

Transcript – CNBC’s Joe Kernen on 9th March 2017, interviewing Administrator Pruitt of the EPA:

Kernen: Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?

Note here that Kernen is asking simply about “climate”. Not about ‘climate change’ or ‘man-made climate change’. Just about “climate.” with a full stop. “climate.” That’s all.

Nor did the questioner ask about ‘temperature’ or ‘temperate changes’. The phrase “primary control knob” is of course used and does imply “control” and thus change. But what the imperfect metaphor of the “control knob” means in the mind of the interviewer is left un-clarified. Of course it does have a specific meaning which can be implied from its use in some scientific papers and in the IPCC summary documentation (e.g. “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I”), where for instance the IPCC used it as a shorthand to mean that: C02 is the main initial or primary trigger which primes (“forces”) the overall ongoing process of global warming, albeit doing so alongside a number of other initial greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, and after which the IPCC says its warming effect is then greatly amplified via water vapour by a “typical factor between two and three”. (It’s a pity that the metaphor of a “knob” can be somewhat misleading to those outside the scientific debate, since normal people and journalists generally understand a “knob” to be something that is twisted to move heat up and down in precise increments to cause a very rapid and direct response. Like the oven control-knobs in your kitchen, for instance. This is why I feel that the metaphor is an imperfect one.)

Pruitt: No.

Given the phrasing of the actual question he was posed, to the best of my knowledge this answer is scientifically accurate. In the overall ongoing global process of “climate” per se, CO2 is not “the primary control knob” driving “climate.” Remember, he was only asked about C02 in relation to “climate.” with a full-stop. Not about ‘climate change’ or ‘man-made climate change’. Nor was he asked about “man made C02”, just “C02”.

He then continued…

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.”

So he’s immediately picked up that he’s only been asked about “the climate”, not about ‘man-made climate change’ or ‘dangerous climate change’ or a ‘future greenhouse effect’. As such, to the best of my knowledge, his answer is thus once again scientifically accurate. It’s also an accurate comment on the ongoing state of the scientific investigations around a host of uncertainties on the how different parts of the ongoing process fit together. For instance, it’s certainly been incredibly challenging to get NASA’s research planes to the correct parts of the upper troposphere, where key parts of the greenhouse warming process are thought to occur.

Similarly, it’s an incontrovertible statement to say that there is currently “tremendous disagreement” about “the degree of impact” of “human activity on the climate”. There is, even among scientists, and that measurements are being continually tweaked and revised up-and-down seems to amply display just one aspect of that “disagreement”. Again, remember that he wasn’t asked about ‘man-made climate change’, just about “climate.” But he’s addressing it using the phrase “human activity” — which I’d also note can cover all sorts of things, not just man-made CO2 emissions.

“So no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Now he addresses CO2 specifically in the context of current measurable “global warming”, even though that wasn’t the question he was asked. Reflecting a key NASA paper he carefully uses the phrasing “primary contributor” to the actual “global warming that we see”. He is presumably well aware that while carbon dioxide is indeed the trigger, the “primary contributor” to the overall greenhouse effect is water vapour (~50% of the overall greenhouse effect, according to NASA) rather than the initial triggering carbon dioxide. At a water vapour effect level of ~50%, it is a basic and undeniable scientific fact that CO2 is not the “primary contributor” to the overall effect of global greenhouse warming that we can see happening. Again, in his answer he is not departing from the basic science.

Kernen: Ok.

Pruitt: But we don’t know that yet. As far as, we need to continue the debate and analysis.

Again, factually accurate if rather speculative. He might be leaving it open that that we might in future somehow discover that man-made C02 is the “primary contributor” to the overall global greenhouse warming effect, meaning more than water vapour is. However unlikely that may currently seem according to the physics.

Kernen: I agree, when I hear the science is settled, I never heard that science had gotten to a point where it was, I thought that’s the point of science, that you keep asking questions, but I don’t want to be called a denier, it scares me, it’s a terrible thing to be called. Administrator Pruitt I know you don’t want to be called that either. Um, thanks for being with us this morning.

Pruitt: Thank you very much.

So it’s interesting that Kernen appears sympathetic, and one then has to assume that he knew exactly what his careful phrasing of the question would allow Pruitt to say.

CO2: ‘primary trigger’ does not = ‘primary contributor’

The establishment media is falling over itself this morning to deny basic science, in its rush to find a way to condemn President Trump’s new Head of the EPA. Speaking to CNBC, Scott Pruitt said of carbon dioxide and its role in changing “the climate.”…

“I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see”

That statement is correct and is just basic science, as I understand it. Note also that he wasn’t being asked about ‘man-made climate change’, just about “the climate.” Full stop.

It’s sad that even AFP and Associated Press’s combined science correspondents appear to be totally clueless about the strong water vapour amplification effect — which climate science thinks is the primary contributor to the overall effect of global warming. When one knows about the amplification effect, a key part of the global warming process, then one can see that Pruitt’s careful wording in the key sentence of his reply doesn’t at all contradict the EPA’s key position statement that…

“Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Because CO2 is “the primary greenhouse gas”. But primary as in ‘coming first in the process’. Being ‘the primary trigger‘ for a much larger amplification effect caused by water vapour (which even the EPA can’t bring itself to list as a “greenhouse gas” alongside the more long-lived but trace greenhouse gases). The strong amplification of the CO2 trigger is thought to be done by water vapour in certain key parts of the high atmosphere, a matter which Matt Ridley has ably highlighted and briefly outlined in a number of his recent lectures. So, as I understand it, the consensus climate science has it that carbon dioxide is not the “primary contributor” to the overall ongoing effect of global warming. As a recent example of the science, here’s Gavin Schmidt (now director of NASA GISS) in the 2010 peer-reviewed paper ‘Attribution of the present-day total greenhouse effect’

“With a straightforward scheme for allocating overlaps, we find that water vapor is the dominant contributor (~50% of the effect), followed by clouds (~25%) and then CO2 with ~20%.”

Which means that Pruitt is scientifically correct in what he said: C02 is not the… “primary contributor to the global warming that we see” today. According the man who is now the head of climate research at NASA, C02’s role in the overall process is “~20%”.

I imagine that Pruitt knows very well the scientific distinction between CO2 as ‘primary trigger’ and water vapour as ‘primary contributor’, but is banking that clueless newspaper and TV science journalists don’t — and that they will now make fools of themselves in their blind rush to hate on President Trump and his team. Also note that he carefully said “contributor”, not “controller”. Water vapour follows temperature, it can’t control it, as I’m sure he knows.

Matt Ridley’s autumn 2016 lecture at the Royal Society explains this aspect of how global warming happens better than I can, in the larger context, and with charts and more besides…

“the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument, one that very few politicians and journalists seem even to know about — the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes.”

Update: For those who want the hard science, beautifully and clearly explained by the lead scientist on a major NASA mission to the upper troposphere, this NASA TC4 Project podcast is what you want: listen from 6.15 mins to 22.30 mins. The whole podcast is also well worth your time, and this illustration will greatly aid understanding…

Evidently it’s not just about the water vapour and what position it reaches in the high troposphere, but also the ice specks that form there from that vapour and then how fast they fall. Since… “the ice fall velocity (Vi) is the second most important factor affecting the climate sensitivity in GCMs [climate models].” (quote and picture from “Representing the Ice Fall Speed in Climate Models: Results from TC4, SPARTICUS and ISDAC”, 2011)

The Spectator Australia

Did you know that London’s The Spectator magazine has a The Spectator Australia edition? Me neither. Sample recent articles include “What went wrong with The Economist?” (on why The Economist magazine’s editorial tone has recently made a sharp left turn in its political outlook) and “Dangerous queen” (an excellent readable summary of the political left’s recent anti-Milo hysteria). The Milo article shows up in the UK edition under a Spectator Australia flash, but I can’t see the “What went wrong with The Economist?” article on the UK website. Spectator Australia has its own RSS news feed.

Gott it

Mark Steyn, shining a spotlight on all those book reviews I read in the 1980s and 1990s in the leftist Guardian newspaper…

“former Guardian literary editor Richard Gott. … was recruited by the KGB in the Seventies and served as a Soviet “agent of influence” until the USSR imploded in the Nineties.”

There’s probably a whole 800-page scholarly book to be written, giving a calm and lucid overview of such leftist infiltration in Britain the 1980s and 90s. Showing exactly how and why and when the far-left and its fellow travellers wormed into various parts of civil society. I don’t happen to know of such a book, offhand.

Radio Tombs

Latest edition of the BBC’s Radio Times, lead opinion article, right at the front… on how being a pessimist is supposedly healthy…


Well, I suppose it goes along with the unremitting gloomism and socialism-lite spin being pumped out by much of the rest of the BBC. The BBC News website is currently nearly wall-to-wall anti-Trump, even in the Science and Environment sections.

The above article seems to be connected to a week-long BBC Radio 4 series “The Power of Negative Thinking”. Seriously. I see they also have a drama series called Gloomsbury these days, which follows on from the depressing Woman’s Hour feminist magazine programme. How apt. Looking through the rest of the Radio 4 schedules is like browsing the contents list of a copy of the Socialist Worker’s Party newspaper or Spare Rib magazine circa 1986. Wheeling on Melanie Phillips for a few minutes every couple of weeks doesn’t make up for the rest of the obvious leftist bias.

It’s useful to be reminded, every so often, of quite why I gave up on the BBC in favour of podcasts — apart from their still-excellent In Our Time and the still-fun Doctor Who.