Jeff Pearlman

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Peter Gleick

#262
A climate change skeptic told me why he believes all this people-are-killing-the-earth talk is nonsense. So I enlisted a scientific mastermind to take him on. The result: A Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks-esque climate beatdown ... POSTED June 15, 2016

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Although I am 100-percent certain man-impacted climate change is one of the great threats facing humanity, I’m often ineloquent in its defense. That’s the problem with having no scientific background—you can digest what’s said, and form your own opinions. But when you’re asked to stand up and make your case, well … eh, it ain’t easy.

Enter: Peter Gleick.

The founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank that provides science-based thought leadership with active outreach to influence efforts in developing sustainable water policies, Dr. Gleick is:

A. The smartest dude to do a Quaz.

B. The perfect person to go deep on the environment.

C. Cool as shit.

I’m particularly happy because Dr. Gleick took the time to answer three questions (all below) submitted by King Wenclas, a huge Donald Trump supporter who seems to believe much (if not all) of the climate talk is hooey (he won’t agree, because deniers rarely agree—but he was pretty much smacked around by ol’ Gleick).

Anyhow, here Peter explains in very detailed-yet-digestible why climate change is real, why listening to Donald Trump is wrong and why he prefers Todd Gurley to Marco Rubio. One can follow Dr. Gleick on Twitter here and read some of his work here and here. Oh, and check out his website here.

Dr. Peter Gleick, yes, the world is melting. But you’re Quaz No. 262!

JEFF PEARLMAN: Peter, I want to start with some seemingly basic, yet somehow not basic at all. Namely, I feel like—at some point in our modern history—it became OK for political leaders to reject science, and then followers would, well, follow. It’s certainly that way with the GOP and climate change. Why do you think this is? Or, put different, why are people so willing to ignore science?

PETER GLEICK: Gee, couldn’t we start with something easy? Like, what’s my favorite color? Wait, I don’t have an easy answer to that one either.

People reject science for different reasons. And while some high-profile scientific findings, like climate change science, are almost exclusively rejected by some Republican leaders and followers, I would note that science denial is not exclusively a problem with the GOP. There are examples where left-leaning politicians and individuals also reject well-understood science. Having said that, the worst science denial certainly has come from the right-wing in recent years. The reasons are varied:

• Sometimes a scientific finding conflicts with a deeply held religious belief. Evolution is an example of this.

• Sometimes it is based solely on ignorance about the extent of knowledge. Not everyone has scientific training, or learns how to evaluate scientific information.

• Sometimes it may conflict with another core belief (“I simply cannot believe that humans can affect something as big as the planet’s climate.”)

• Sometimes there are purely venal economic reasons for rejecting a scientific finding. There is a classic statement attributed to Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Given the massive economic interests that will be affected if we have to stop burning fossil fuels, this is a major driver of climate denial. A lot of money rides on what actions we take to tackle climate change. (Though I’d note that a lot more money rides on our failing to do so.)

• Finally, sometimes people reject science because they fear that if they accept a scientific finding, it will lead to something else they fear worse: stronger government action or higher taxes or a bad outcome over which they have no control.

The science of climate change is incredibly strong. Ninety-seven percent of scientists with any training in climate sciences support the conclusion that human-caused climate change is underway. Every single national academy of sciences on the planet, and every single professional scientific society in the geosciences supports this conclusion as well. The vocal climate denial we see today comes from a tiny number of very well supported and funded interests, and it comes from people who fall into all of the examples above.

J.P.: No one seems willing to flat-out say this, but are we fucked? In other words, is the world doomed to be uninhabitable sooner than later? Or can this possible work itself out?

P.G.: Well, sooner or (really, much later) the sun is going to explode, so, yes, eventually we’re fucked. But that’s not really what you’re asking, is it?  No, I don’t think there is any evidence that the world is doomed to be uninhabitable soon—i.e., for many, many centuries or far longer. It is true, however, that if no action is taken to slow the rate of climate change, things would go off the rails much sooner, for a larger and larger part of our population. The real issue is not the end of the human race; the real issue is misery and poverty for more and more people, dislocation of populations as seas and temperatures rise and force people to move, destruction of natural ecosystems … unfortunately, things can get pretty miserable and dystopian long before the earth is actually uninhabitable.

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J.P.: So there’s a guy on Twitter, his name is King Wenclas, and he’s the author of a pro-Trump book and a guy who insists man-induced climate change is nonsense. We were having some heated back and forths, and I finally said, “There are people who know much more than I do. I’m having an expert as a Quaz, what do you want me to ask him. So, here’s one: “With credible weather & CO2 records going back less than 200 years, an instant in geological time, isn’t it impossible to say recent warming is NOT natural or cyclical?”

P.G.: So, there’s an old joke: a guy walks into a bar and a bunch of old guys are sitting around drinking. Every now and then, one of them says a number and everyone laughs. Then someone else says a number, and everyone laughs. “What’s going on,” asks the newcomer. “Well, we’re old, long-time friends here and we’ve heard each other’s jokes for so long, we just gave them numbers to make it easier.” (There’s a second funny punchline too, but it’s not relevant to my answer.)

There are so many classic, uninformed, or misleading arguments against the science of climate change that have been repeated so often, that climate scientists have given them numbers. Check out this incredibly useful website, Skeptical Science, that has 193 of the common and esoteric climate misunderstandings and distortions, numbered and summarized, with short and long detailed reasons why they are wrong.

In this case, Wenclas’s argument is addressed by numbers 57 and 58.

There are three fundamental reasons his basic claim about weather and CO2 records is wrong and why the scientific community has clearly ruled out natural or cyclical climate changes:

First, there is an entire field of science called paleoclimatology—basically, the science of ancient climates. We have learning a fantastic amount about ancient climates and how and why they have varied, based on ice cores, fossil records, pollen layers in soils, tree rings, and much more. For example, there is an 800,000-year long highly accurate record of atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentrations taken from ancient ice cores from Antarctica (See the figure). A pretty remarkable thing: it shows the ups and downs from natural changes, but it also shows the explosion in CO2 in the atmosphere from human activities in the past century. And this evidence shows that the current changes are outside of natural variability.

Second, we understand the physics and the theory of how gases in the atmosphere behave, and we understand very well the factors that caused past, natural climate changes. That understanding lets us test what more CO2 and other gases will and are doing. And these past natural factors simply cannot explain current changes, while rising human-emitted gases DO explain them.

Finally, we have extensive observation that support the theory. It isn’t just rising temperatures, it’s everything else we see happening too: rising sea level, disappearing Arctic ice, changes in how birds migrate, moving plant populations, earlier springs, and on and on.

For fun, here is an incredibly cool graphic that shows the warming we’ve seen in the past century or so, and the influences of natural cycles, the sun, and other factors, compared to human influences. It shows beautifully that ONLY human factors fully explain what we see.

J.P.: And here’s another: “As life on earth is completely dependent on the sun, isn’t sun the most likely suspect in any global warming?”

P.G.: 2, 89, 111, 144, 182 (apropos my number joke above, here are the numbers assigned to this by Skeptical Science).

Sure, the sun is a very likely suspect; so likely that scientists have spent great effort looking into this question—and it has been debunked over, and over, and over again. Indeed, “Isn’t it the sun?” is such an old argument that it was given No. 2 on the Skeptical Science website, along with a few other related arguments (the numbers I list above). I won’t summarize them here, but seriously, do skeptics think that scientists haven’t thought of the sun and pretty much every single other possible factor, tested those ideas, and ruled them out? That’s what scientists do.

Look it would be great if humans weren’t responsible—we’d be off the hook and wouldn’t have to change what we’re doing. But once we learn something is bad and it’s our fault, we have an obligation not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore it.

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J.P.: And lastly, I’ll give him this one: “Computers can’t predict who’ll win the Super Bowl or a horse race or an MMA fight with a minimum of variables. How can they accurately predict climate, with a thousand times more variables?”

P.G.: This is another classic misunderstanding: the confusion between “climate” and “weather.”

It is absolutely true that no computer model can predict the precise weather more than a few days into the future. But “climate” is the long-term average of weather, and climate models can do an excellent job of forecasting future climatic conditions. This is the difference between saying, “There will be a high of 95 degrees and half an inch of rain on February 5, 2083”—which we cannot do, and never will be able to do, versus saying “In the 2080s, the average temperature is going to be around 5 degrees hotter than it is now, seas are going to be around a meter higher, and the Sierra Nevada mountains will have a lot less snow”—which we absolutely can do. And our climate models are getting better every day.

This is, however, a reasonable question in another way. There is a really important “human” component to climate modeling. Just as the “human factor” makes it impossible to accurately predict precise outcomes of sporting events, the human factor limits the ability of climate models. We are getting the physics and climate science down very well in these models (and better all the time), but what happens to future climate also depends on what humans chose to do about it: how much fossil fuel are we going to burn and how fast; how many greenhouse gases are we going to put into the atmosphere; will the countries of the world act to slow emissions, and how soon? These are human/economic/political factors we cannot predict and they will ultimately determine how fast climate changes and how severe the impacts will be.

J.P.: Peter, what’s your life path? I mean, I know you attended Yale to study engineering; know you went to Berkeley for master’s and doctorate; know you are the president and co-founder of Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. But … when did you know this was what you wanted? How did you know? And when were you first aware of the true peril of climate change?

P.G.: Well, I guess I meander along life’s way, like most people, but I have a basic passion for the environment and science. I had an enlightening conversation with my father when I was young: one day I naively asked him if he could live his life over, what would he do differently, thinking the answer was that he’d not change a thing: he was a lawyer in New York, a good one, with a strong and comfortable family life. Without hesitating, he said he’d be a park ranger in the national parks in the west. This was a huge surprise to me, but what stuck with me was his unspoken message to do what excited me, rather than what anyone else might expect or want.

That has led me to work on climate and water issues from back when I was in graduate school. When I co-founded the Institute, which tackles these issues, I had no idea how long it would last, or whether others would find the idea of doing research and policy work on these difficult problems worthwhile. But here we are, 28 years later, and there is still plenty of interest and plenty to do. I’ve been aware of the threat of climate change since the early 1980s—even then the science was pretty strong and it’s only gotten stronger since then.

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J.P.: You’ve been pretty outspoken against Donald Trump as the potential president. Why?

P.G.: On a professional level, I judge his positions (to the extent one can even figure out what his positions are) to be completely antithetical to the realities of science, the threats to our environment and planet, and the best interests of the United States.

On a personal level, I find his positions (again, to the extent one can figure them out) on issues like women’s rights, ethnic diversity and immigration, racism, international security, basic economics and basic decency to be despicable.

In short, I find the risks of a Trump presidency to be so grave that I intend to keep speaking out against it.

J.P.: Recently coal has been a pretty hot topic, with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seeming to pander to miners. But it strikes me that, in 2016, we just need coal to go away. My questions: A. How awful is coal for air quality? B. Do you feel like its eradication as an energy source is inevitable? C. What can we tell miners who are going to lose their jobs? Sources of income?

P.G.: Ha, ha, good pun (hot topic). Yes, coal is a really, really bad fuel—the dirtiest. It’s bad when we dig it out, it’s bad when we burn it, and it’s bad when we dispose of the ash and waste. I do think that the era of coal is ending. There are far better, cleaner, and safer alternatives. But we have a lot of existing coal plants, and many parts of the world depend on them. The challenge is to phase them out as fast as possible and to do so in a way that supports workers in the coal industry. That means retraining and redevelopment in coal mining regions.

It is true, and difficult, when an industry fails and the people who work in that industry lose jobs, but this is not sufficient reason to keep a failing industry going. What did we tell people who manufactured steam locomotives, or telegraphs, or VCRs, or tape decks, or any other industry that became obsolete? This is the free market at work, and if Donald Trump or the GOP truly believed in the free market, they would accept that markets and industries change. Oddly, it seems that Trump would have his government interfere with the market that tells us that coal is on its way out, but would refuse to have his government provide assistance to its workers.

But again, here is some good news: the incredibly rapid expansion of renewable energy: solar and wind in particular, has led to a massive number of new jobs. There are now more people in the United States working in the solar industry than in the coal industry, and this trend will continue.

J.P.: In 1999 you wrote a paper, “The Human Right to Water,” that argued all people deserve safe, clean drinking water. That was 17 years ago. How has the situation changed?

P.G.: This is another area where there is good news! First, though it took years, in 2010 the United Nations formally declared a legal human right to safe water and sanitation. This is a fantastic step forward. The other good news is that while far too many people worldwide still do not have access to safe water, we’re moving in the right direction and the UN has set a goal (one of the “Sustainable Development Goals”) of providing everyone with safe water by 2030.

J.P.: Being serious—how do you sleep? What I mean is, I look around the world and I see soooooo much awfulness and indifference. And I just don’t know what to do; how to enjoy a milkshake when Glacier National Park is disintegrating. Are you able to separate work harshness from personal satisfaction?

P.G.: There is plenty of awfulness and indifference. But there are also so many people committed to trying to do the right thing and make a difference, and I get work satisfaction from tackling difficult problems and seeing progress in the right direction. I’m actually an optimist in the sense that I think we’ll eventually solve these problems of climate change, water scarcity, and environmental injustice. We just have to work as hard as possible so these solutions come sooner rather than later. In the end, we do what we can and we make peace with ourselves. Enjoy your milkshake! (But you’d better go visit Glacier National Park while it still has glaciers.)

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PETER GLEICK:

• In exactly 23 words, make an argument for scented candles: Scented candles are an abomination, fouling air, assaulting the senses, and probably causing all sorts of horrid diseases. Oh, you meant “for” them?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ronald McDonald, Rafael Nadal, Todd Gurley, Poland Springs, “The Breakfast Club,” Marco Rubio, Grateful Dead, corn on the cob, Costco: Grateful Dead, corn on the cob, Rafael Nadal, Todd Gurley, Costco, The Breakfast Club, Ronald McDonald, Poland Springs, Marco Rubio [Rubio might have been ranked higher, except for his endorsement of Donald Trump. I mean, has he no self-respect?]

Donald Trump says there is no drought in California. Why would he say such a thing?: Really, who knows why anything in particular comes out of Trump’s mouth? In this case, it appears he was pandering to some conservative farmers. Oh, and here is the official drought monitor map for California, from the University of Nebraska’s drought center, updated weekly. California’s drought is its worst in 1,200 years, and on top of it, we have nearly 40 million people dependent on the water we have.

• Five all-time favorite scientists?: 1. Eratosthenes (a mathematician, poet, musician and inventor of geography. Also, he was the first person to accurately measure the circumference of the round earth, and he basically did it with a stick.); 2 Albert Einstein (for, well, everything in modern physics. Also that hair.); 3. Charles Darwin (because, evolution.); 4. Galileo Galilei (for speaking scientific truth to religious dogmatism.); 5. Leonardo da Vinci (oh, come on. Have you seen everything he did? I figure he invented a time machine in the future, went back to the past, and got stuck.)

• The world needs to know: How crazy are those US National Academy of Science holiday parties?: The first rule of US National Academy of Science holiday parties is you do not talk about US National Academy of Science holiday parties. The second rule …

• One question you would ask 50 Cent were he here right now: This one stumps me. I met Jay-Z once at a UN event working to solve global water problems and I didn’t know what to ask him either.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, never.

• Three memories from your high school gym class: Watching Paul beat up Brendon, two years after Brendon picked on him, once Paul reached puberty and grew; watching the girl’s gymnastics team, because, well, girls and gymnastics; lettering in varsity soccer even though my greatest contribution was warming the bench.

• Would you rather permanently change your name to Celine Dion-Analcavity or spend a year listening to Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” seven hours every day on audio?: Can I gouge my eyes out with sharp sticks? Is that a third choice?

• Do you think the Padres made a mistake trading Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton?: Channeling my late father, who was a die-hard Cardinal fans, the answer to that would have to be a yes, ha, ha, suck it up, Padres.

  • Karl Wenclas

    Seems to me many of his answers are bluff; assuming ignorance of his audience. Example: the question isn’t whether the sun is cooling, but the relationship of a particular planet with the sun– angle and distance. Why are there ice caps to begin with? Why is there winter and summer?
    We still don’t have an answer, in other words, as to why some other planets are warming. (I’d like to see him answer also the sunspot question– couldn’t find that on his list. Commodity traders have long predicted droughts by sunspot activity.)
    Another example: the old ice core crutch, which Gleick says are “highly accurate.” Think about this, Jeff. Readings of ice cores from Antarctica are “highly accurate”? Not exactly a controlled environment. (Seepage, anyone?) I also recall skeptics using ice core data to disprove m/m climate change, but I’d have to google that.) If you truly believe co2 levels can be stated back 800,000 years using ice core samples, I have some real estate on Zug Island in Detroit I’d like to sell you. (To be continued.)

    • Dieter Hubau

      haha you’re funny, seeing conspiracy theories in everything…

      • Karl Wenclas

        One thing that does concern me, Dieter, is the intolerance of the global warming crowd in regard to contrary viewpoints. This is an instance where their mindset IS comparable to the mindset of 20th century Communists.
        For instance, there’s the case of the conservative blogger, Mark Steyn, who’s being sued for defamation by a climate change advocate over a blog post– Steyn has spent over a million dollars so far in legal fees defending himself.
        As a writer, I’m worried about all assaults on free speech.
        A journalist like Jeff Pearlman should be also.

  • Peter Gleick

    Karl, I understand that the science disagrees with your opinion. You disbelieve the science on Antarctic ice cores? You disbelieve the vast (seriously, vast) science that has looked at the role of the sun in affecting climate. You somehow believe you’ve thought of some angle that the scientists have missed. But your inability to believe the science is the problem, not the science itself. Oh, and commodity traders who claim to predict droughts using sunspot activity would do better rolling dice.

    • Karl Wenclas

      But Peter, you want me to accept your assertion regarding Antarctic ice cores on faith– simply because you’re a scientist. You seriously can’t expect any thinking person to do so. If that’s the case, then science itself has become a religion, and “the scientists” it’s high priests.

      • Karl Wenclas

        p.s. Here’s a different take on the ice core question:

        https://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/02/08/420000-years-of-data-suggestss-global-warming-is-not-man-made/
        Is this the definitive answer? Of course not.
        The definitive answer is there is no definitive answer.
        Or, we can’t be “100% certain” about either viewpoint.

      • Dieter Hubau

        NOT ON FAITH! THE DATA IS THERE! Look at the friggin DATA!

        Science does not care what you BELIEVE! There’s nothing to BELIEVE in science, you observe, you create a hypothesis and perform an experiment… Each time an experiment matches your hypothesis, your hypothesis becomes stronger… If an experiment does not match your hypothesis, your hypothesis is wrong, and you try to find other causes or hypotheses that explain your observations

        This is a great explanation of what science is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbvDYyoAv9k

  • Karl Wenclas

    2.) The pro-climate change crowd likes to designate reasons skeptics are skeptical. (Skepticism is the default position, by the way– especially in the face of sky-is-falling scenarios.) Skeptics must be religious fanatics. Or we’re in the pay of evil corporations.
    (By the way, man made climate change theory is more in-line with Old Testament man-being-punished-by-nature-for-his-sins thinking. It also represents a pre-Copernican, man-at-the-center-of-the-universe viewpoint that at least to me seems anti-science. Asking the global warming crowd to prove their case is NOT ant-science. The burden of proof is on you guys.)
    I used to work for an environmental group. I read the literature. How/why did I become a skeptic?
    It started when I moved back to Detroit from Philly, and realized winters were every bit as cold as when I was kid some decades ago. If the planet was warming, it wasn’t warming very MUCH :-)
    This caused me to begin thinking about the solar system, and the earth’s (and our) relationship to the sun.
    The truth is that we’re like tiny ants on a little rotating rock speeding through space while circling around a star upon which we’re totally dependent. Our very psychology is dependent on sunlight (read environmentalist Jerry Mander on this). If the sun were turned off, all life on this planet would stop. All warmth gone.
    We’re caught not just within the sun’s gravitational pull, but also within many other forces which Mr. Gleick could describe better than I could. Even tiny Pluto, much, much farther away is caught within those same forces. So, yes, if the planet is warming slightly, the chief suspect has to be the sun. To say that we little humans are the major cause is akin to ants blaming a rainstorm which washes away their anthills on themselves.
    Mr. Gleick has NOT shown that the recent warming isn’t cyclical. You’d need truly accurate documentation of temperature going much farther back than 100 years to do so.
    The global warming proponents seem to want to generate hysteria (see Al Gore) through the most hyperbolic means possible. (“Hottest year on record!” headlines scream. Records going back 100 years, an instant in geological time, and so, meaningless. Some agenda is being pushed– and yes, many environmental organizations– and possible some scientists– are dependent on a level of hysteria for fundraising purposes. An in Telligent person has good cause to be skeptical. . . .

    • Dieter Hubau

      Once again, your LOCAL climates in Detroit and Philly are totally NOT the same as GLOBAL climate… Go to antarctica or the north pole, take off your jacket and experience the 18° Celcius weather… Every glacier in the world is melting (or has melted) at an alarming pace (and yes, they have extensive records over 100 or more years)… Glaciers that have been there for hundreds of thousands of years, melting away in less than 100 years, magically coinciding with the moment we all started pumping massive amounts of C02 in the atmosphere

      • Karl Wenclas

        Your remarks are hysterical, Dieter. The planet is a living being. The polar ice caps are always either receding or expanding. Glaciers are always melting and reforming. The planet HAS been warming– since the last ice age. The question isn’t whether the planet is warming mildly, but A.) what’s causing it; B.) whether we can predict future trends.
        Is recent warming part of a natural cycle?
        I’ve made the point that 100 years of temperature data is not enough data to say much of anything. We have the perspective of time of creatures who are on this planet for an instant. Look at time from the perspective of the planet itself.
        Extrapolating trends from 100 years of data is like trying to predict a 162-game baseball season from two games in August. What caused the Yankees to win those games? That the catcher ate chicken sandwiches both days one hour before start time?
        (Or, CO2 is a factor– but only one of very many factors.)
        My remarks regarding the history of those who’ve proclaimed the infallibility of science are intended only to show that we can’t take anything on faith. Science is only as reliable as those using it and promoting it. .
        As I stated, I’m not saying Mr. Gleick is necessarily wrong. I’m saying he’s not infallible– that he’s not necessarily right.
        Sorry for questioning, Dieter, your firmly held belief. . . .

        • Dieter Hubau

          The earth is a planet, not a living being but I get what you mean. Furthermore, my belief or your non belief in science is irrelevant, science doesn’t require my belief, it’s there and you can observe and measure things in the universe and make your own conclusions about it. Even if the 97% percent of scientists with education in climate (not weather) are all wrong, why would we willingly keep playing this Russian roulette with the climate on our planet.. mankind will not suddenly die off because of climate change or huge disasters.. but more likely millions of people will start starving, will have to relocate, migration will become a much bigger issue than what were experiencing now (huge droughts in India and middle East for example) and the likelihood of conflicts due to this will increase a lot. Do you really wanna keep gambling? What is so bad about trying to actually stop the burning of fossil fuels, which we can both agree on is NOT good for the environment?

          • Karl Wenclas

            It sure sounds like an end-of-the-world scenario to me, Dieter. All these unprecedented, catastrophic events are going to occur, IN OUR LIFETIME! Sure they will.
            Cartoonists for many decades have mocked guys on streetcorners holding signs saying, “The End Is Near!” I guess those guys will always be with us.
            I’m reminded of the religious cult that examined the book of Revelation and decided they could predict exactly when the end of the world would take place– then waited for it to happen. It didn’t.
            Why should the USA use fossil fuels? It’s simple. We have the greatest coal reserves in the world. With fracking, we may have the largest oil reserves in the world as well. It’s to our advantage to use our advantages.
            To end fossil fuel use would cause economic devastation. We in the industrial heartland have had enough of that already, thank you– due to insane bipartisan trade policies.
            Is there a cost to fossil fuels?
            Of course. Everything in this world comes with a cost. Everything is a trade-off. There are no easy solutions. But, while coal plants will never be pollution-free, with proper scrubbers they’re a hundred times cleaner than they once were. Air quality in the US is better than it was– but of course, that’s balanced by hyper-pollution in China. Nobody here is saying what we should do about that.
            “Green” energy comes with costs as well. Wind power (a very old technology) causes many environmental problems. Solar power is great for small scale uses– but an enormous solar farm would cause its own problems.
            Neither technology is yet cost effective. Would that they were.
            (For a classic example of the mistakes of some green technology, examine the costs of electric cars– including what to do with the extremely toxic batteries. Right now they’re being dumped in Mexico. Toxic waste sites, multiplying. Talk about environmental disasters!)

  • Ted Mark

    Jeff, thank you for this quaz. Dr. Gleick is much more optimistic than I am about the future of this planet, because the legions of people who think ignorance is a virtue seem to me to be growing.

    I wish I had asked my dad the question he asked his dad when he was young. It’s too late for me to do that now. I really would like to know what he would have said.

    Fight on, Dr. Gleick.

  • Peter Gleick

    Thank you, Ted.
    Karl, you have it (IMO) exactly backwards. Scientists HAVE proven their case — with science. Skeptics (and I’m a big fan of real skepticism) can certainly ask questions. That’s exactly what real scientists do. But there comes a point where it falls on climate deniers to prove THEIR case with science, not simply to trot out old, repeated claims that scientists have debunked over and over and over and over again.

    I don’t want you to accept my description of the Antarctica ice cores on “faith.” Feel free to read the scientific literature. But you can’t reject that science because it disagrees with something you “feel” (you “feel” the Detroit winters are every bit as cold as they used to be??? Really?? That’s your evidence?? Have you bothered to look at the Michigan temperature records?).

    Also, the internet is not always your friend. Can I find someone, somewhere, claiming that some particular piece of evidence or some particular scientific finding is wrong? Sure. But don’t search for what you want on the internet; search for what experts have published in valid scientific journals.

    That’s why, ultimately, all of us to some extent depend on the better knowledge of experts: when we talk to our doctors, our car mechanics, our plumbers. When every single National Academy of Sciences on earth; every single professional geophysical science society agrees on the fundamentals of human-caused climate change, you ignore the experts at your (and ours, and the planet’s) peril.

    • Karl Wenclas

      My point about Michigan winters was simply that the warming we’re experiencing is not quite living up to the hysteria.
      Re experts: Whose experts?
      Not these climate scientists, apparently, who state that ice cores show that co2 “could” be impacting climate change, though not initiating it:
      http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/co2-in-ice-cores/
      Oh, but they’re on the internet, which I guess makes what they say invalid. One should go instead to the approved, print-based journals. Approved by whom?
      I don’t know science– at least not as well as you– but I do know bureaucracies, which love to reach consensus. And I know human beings.
      I know the propensity for humans to believe. I have no doubt you’re a sincere believer in your theory. Not as much as Jeff is, who’s “100% certain” that climate change is a fact, but close enough. You’re a believer in your data and your models. You believe they can accurately show a specific breakdown of influences on climate change, to exact percentages. You believe in your conclusions, and so will dismiss other studies or analysts that reach different conclusions.
      It’s a specific mindset which I don’t buy into, sorry. “Experts” have been proven wrong time and again– and so have statistical analyses and finely crafted models.
      For example we have Nate Silver of the 538 blog, who brought data mining and statistical analysis to the easy field of politics (far fewer variables than nature and the universe). Silver was wildly wrong about the primaries; his finely crafted predictions widely off the mark.
      For a classic example of the arrogance of experts there’s Robert McNamara and the “best and the brightest” who brought data and scientific analysis to the art of war, in Vietnam– and created a fiasco.
      Has science ever been wrong?
      Many crimes have been perpetrated in the name of science. Marxism was “scientific” after all, under Stalin. Bureaucracies created total consensus within themselves, all in the name of scientific progress. At around the same time, another regime in Germany propounded “scientific” racial theories.
      I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong. I think you simply assume too much; you have too much belief in your models.
      I’m also saying that, yes, the burden of proof IS on those who would drastically transform our economy, putting many thousands, maybe millions, out of work. Again, the Bolsheviks tried to transform economies because they believed they could predict the future. But they couldn’t.(I know the difference between weather and climate, by the way– and I still say there are too many variables in this world and in the universe for anyone to be smug about what can or can’t be predicted.)

      • Dieter Hubau

        If you’d love to compare the climate scientists to Nazis, communists and Vietnam war criminals, please tell me what these “climate scientist killers” have done wrong so far, unless collect data, try to find correlations, try to find causes for the data and publishing their findings? They’re such criminals, out to get us all, right?

        And finally: what if all the climate scientists are dead wrong? Who cares? We will have made the world a better place ALL for nothing, didn’t we… Shame on us!

        End sarcasm.

  • Peter Gleick

    Oh, and Karl, here is the winter temperature trends over the past century for Michigan. Winters ARE warmer now, even including the brutally cold winter a year ago (which was partly influenced by a change in the jet stream caused by the melting Arctic, by the way).
    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/us/20/0/tavg/4/3/1895-2016?base_prd=true&firstbaseyear=1901&lastbaseyear=2000&trend=true&trend_base=10&firsttrendyear=1895&lasttrendyear=2016

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