May 30, 2007
Here comes the rain, kids. NASA administrator says global warming ain't no stinking problem.
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change
Hat tip (and bow and all praise thee) to Mr. Fleck who passed it along. NPR just sent out a press release previewing a Steve Inskeep interview airing on tomorrow's Morning Edition with NASA Administration Michael Griffin. The title of the press release? How about
NASA ADMINISTRATOR MICHAEL GRIFFIN NOT SURE THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS A PROBLEM
Ok. The rest of the press release goes on to say [my bolds]
May 30, 2007; Washington, DC – NASA Administrator Michael Griffin tells NPR News that while he has no doubt “a trend of global warming exists, I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”
Oh my. Here is the transcript that NPR released:
STEVE INSKEEP: One thing that’s been mentioned that NASA is perhaps not spending as much money as it could on is studying climate change, global warming, from space. Are you concerned about global warming?
Ok, let's start with the last -- and least important -- point. Griffin is right: nobody is asking NASA to battle climate change, only study it. (Somebody should be asking the DoE to battle it and we shouldn't need the Supreme Court to direct that EPA try to address it, but that's another issue.) Inskeep lets the issue blend into NASA "battling it" as a funding issue when he should have kept up on the more salient point that Griffin led him directly to: does your personal opinion that global warming isn't a problem translate into deemphasizing the study of global warming and climate change across NASA's budget? Inskeep let Griffin get away without answering that question directly.
The next question could have been: 'were you picked for this job because of this opinion? Before offering you the post did Bush Administration officials give you a litmus test that included your views on climate change?'
The next question might be: 'On your statement, "I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we’ve had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent." Are you trying to downplay scientific certainty by saying this (the "within an accuracy of 20 percent" part); or do you really not have a solid grasp of the science basics; or did you just slip up?'
There are a lot of avenues Griffin could have gone down in this interview, but the one he chose seems to me be only slightly better than the worst tack he could have taken (denying outright that there is a problem). Although I don't agree, even with this statement I don't have a huge problem: "I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with." But what comes next,
To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown, and second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.
indicates to me that Griffin has absolutely no appreciation for the risk that anthropogenic climate change poses. Risk implies both knowledge and uncertainty and if Griffin simply wanted to make a point about uncertainty I'd concede it. But instead he seems to simply cast out the severe risks that do exist in favor of some sort of fig leaf that says "we may have altered the climate but we're too arrogant if we think we should stop altering it because our alterations might be good for other people." Unbelievable.Posted on May 30, 2007 04:30 PM
I guess the question becomes how do you portray risk in this scenario? There has been a tendency to portray the risk as the one represented in game theory as the Tragedy of the Commons. However, such a view is completely unsubstanitated by the science as it is today.
Indeed the desire to portray climate as a TOTC game has very pronounced political consequences, most of which are troubling for democratic theory and democratic institutions.
Risk should be looked at honestly and openly, but never used in an atempt to cow a populace. (I am not saying you are doing THAT, but it is not unknown in the popular parlance of climate change.)
Posted by: Rich Horton at May 30, 2007 05:50 PM
Trying to stop climate change also carries a risk - that of severe economic dislocation - because of an inability to exploit relatively inexpensive fossil fuels, particularly for the less developed parts of the world. In fact, if we are to severly constrain the emission of greenhouse gases in the near term there is almost a certainty of substantial harm. Therefore risk is by no means on only one side of the equation. The issue is a balancing of relative risk, and this is by no means a simple issue. Griffins' comments are wise.
Posted by: SKJ at May 30, 2007 08:22 PM
Wow. That's one of the most depressing things I've read in quite a while. I can only imagine how depressed morale at NASA is these days. BTW, the "optimal climate" canard never seems to die. I blogged about it here: http://sciencepoliticsclimatechange.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-is-earths-ideal-climate_20.html
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 30, 2007 08:50 PM
And more than a little ironic timing, given this, also out today:
Griffin's scientists have come to a rather different conclusion about the nature of the problem (or lack thereof).
Posted by: jfleck at May 30, 2007 09:47 PM
Kevin, someone just posted this piece of nonsense in a comment over at the libertarian Mises blog.
I take the liberty of quoting from my response (to someone who praised Griffin's statement as "wise words" and a "surprisingly principled and individualistic position for a NASA bureaucrat" to take):
"These are "wise words", Geoff? Do you have any idea how much this is like an upstream polluter telling all those downstream/downwind how arrogant they are to want clean water or air?
"Perhaps you can explain your chain of reasoning to me.
"Have fossil fuel producers and users homesteaded a right to release as much carbon into the atmosphere as they wish, free of charge - when did they arrogate this right to themselves, so that those who want less climate change are the ones who are arrogant?
"Is the choice in a classic pollution case only between cheap steel or electricity vs. clean air and water, or do we know that we can solve the problem by market transactions, once we know who has property rights?
"I would be perfectly happy to advocate for clean air advocates to bargain with fossil fuel producers (and others) for less climate forcing - if we had clear property rights. But isn't it precisely the fact that we have NO such recognized rights, and that both sides are therefore fighting over the levers of government to get the decision made in their favor?
"Yes, that is rent-seeking - but perhaps you could help me figure ought who it is that has so far won all the rents at the federal level? I think it is rather easy to assemble a wide range of convincing evidence that it is the upstream polluters. (Please let me know if you need any help in sketching out the picture - I would love to rant about this administration. I can't resist - let me allow John Baden, a good libertarian, former oilman and free-market environmentalist do it for me: http://www.free-eco.org/articleDisplay.php?id=488)
"Are fossil fuel producers (and consumers who don't want to pay for a fully-costed product) evil? No, of course not (we know that ONLY those who want to impose some type of pricing signal are!) - they just rationally want to avoid changing their business models somewhat and to avoid new costs.
"But will working towards some type of management regime based on property rights or even less efficient command and control regulation destroy their wealth, lead to ruin and bankrupt the nation? Perhaps you can give me some clue, based on case studies over the past forty years?
"And it it "arrogant" to say that there is some kind of problem, and to ask for some kind of solution?
"I just love all of the light that you and other Austrians keep shedding on this subject. I guess that Cordato (see Michaal Clem's discussion here: http://blog.mises.org/mt/comments?entry_id=6602) was simply and grossly wrong. The problem is NOT a theoretically tractable one, of conflict stemming from a lack of clear and enforceable property rights (private or communal), but an intractable problem of the unremitting arrogance and evil of those who are seeking redress for what scientists worldwide say is a cause for concern.
"Pardon me if I gag on the richness of the ironies in your fulsome praise of the "surprisingly principled and individualistic position" for this NASA bureaucrat, who is clearly in the pocket of industry.
"I understand and agree with your concerns about how government is misused by rent-seekers, but can't you be a little less credulous and recognize that this is not a new battle, but one in which there are two sides to criticize?"
Posted by: TokyoTom at May 30, 2007 10:50 PM
Oops; link here, for those interested: http://blog.mises.org/archives/006700.asp#more.
Posted by: TokyoTom at May 30, 2007 10:54 PM
I call your "oh my" and raise you two "oh my", "oh my".
“I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”
This is right on the money.
It is the most absurd position in this whole debate that people are making claims about what is a desirable or undesirable outcome (even if you put aside the question of whether we can in fact predict any alternative outcomes from mitigation policies we might try to pursue).
And by the by, you understanding of risk and uncertainty is flawed.
Uncertainty is neither necessary nor sufficient for the existance of risk (to try and understand this, set youself the task of writing 1500 words on "do you expect the sun to rise tomorrow").
Posted by: Paul at May 31, 2007 06:46 AM
"We tried for years - decades - to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the "it's happening" side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side"
As an impartial reader, could I interpret this posting of yours as an example of "stifling boundary-pushers on the other side"?????
Posted by: Paul at May 31, 2007 06:52 AM
Why is "optimal climate" a canard? Why should we attempt to clamp the Earth's temperature forever at its value when humans invented thermometers?
Posted by: fuistemon at May 31, 2007 09:40 AM
When I read some of the dismissive comments about the risk posed by climate change on this post I am stunned by the lack of knowledge about ecology and evolution that many otherwise intelligent people have.
The reason that Griffen's comments are so ignorant and dangerous is that he assumes that a change to a different climate could be neutral or beneficial. Human Civilization has a incalculable amount of infrastructural and agricultural investment in the particular climate that we have. Soils, forests, rivers, water availability, and fisheries for any given area on the globe, are all adapted to a current range of temperature and moisture. If the conditions change dramatically (read 2-5 celcius) over a short course of time (read 100 years) it will be extremely difficult to adapt with 6-9 billion people and keep them fed. Similarily, just a 3 foot change in sea level will cause TRILLIONS in damage to our coastal cities.
Griffen should travel to Bangledesh, Micronesia, and New Orleans and explain to those people how it's arrogant of them to prefer the current configuration of the coastline over an alternate configuration that submerges their homes.
Ecosystems can adapt to new conditions, but at
Posted by: Bill Reiswig at May 31, 2007 10:46 AM
"All of what we know from paleoclimatic research suggests that previous rapid changes in climate have lead to Mass Extinctions...The extinction rate already suggests we are entering the sixth great extinction in the Earth's history"
Bill Reiswig, have you read Alexander Cockburn's latest articles about Global Warming Fearmongers?
Posted by: JB at May 31, 2007 11:56 AM
Great post, Kevin. Was the word "risk" meant to be a hot link? Kind of looks like that, but there's no working link there.
Posted by: Brian S. at May 31, 2007 01:11 PM
I think you are confusing two different issues. Griffin readily admits that anthropogenic climate change exists... he just seems to think that a substanical change in the earths climate will not be detrimental.
Alexander Cockburns articles, the most recent of which quotes climate contrarians that have been almost totally dismissed by the peer-reviewed science community, deny that CO2 even plays a role in affecting climate. His is a position not in agreement with current scientific knowledge.
Curiously, you presage your reference to his articles by pulling a quote from my first comment that has little if anything to do with his articles, a statement that we are entering a sixth extinction period. Extinction rates are fairly well known and what I say is true. It is also true that past periods of rapid climate change have led to large exinctions.
Posted by: BillReiswig at May 31, 2007 02:22 PM
It's fascinating how shocked all the global warming bigots are by such an obviously correct pronouncement. While all of them are still stunned, Griffin should continue to behave as a self-confident boss of one of the most prestigious scientific organization in the world and, for example, start to fire all the cranks that have flooded large parts of the space agency, starting from James Hansen.
Posted by: Lubos Motl at May 31, 2007 02:51 PM
Earth's climate is dynamic!
Earth's current warming climate fluctuation is well within its past climate cycle parameters.
Those that believe the earth's current climate fluctuation is augmented by the carbon based green house gases have yet to prove the theory.
In science, a theory or a logical explanation for global warming such as green house gases GHG, should be supported by a TESTABLE MODEL of such interaction, and the model should be capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation.
Unfortunately the objectivity offered by this honored sciencifed method is not of interest to the GHG devotees.
Posted by: CPJ at May 31, 2007 04:26 PM
Bill, I think you are absolutely correct - climate change will cost us trillions. But to some degree those losses are already locked in.
But in any case, it is surely not arrogant for those who will be adversely affected to want some mitigation, as well as compensation for losses.
Lubos, surely you recognize that by stating that those wanting to slow climate change are arrogant, Griffin is implying that those who want to continue activities that contribute to climate change have the right to release as much carbon into the atmosphere as they wish, free of charge, come hell or high water. How does Griffin - or you - justify this position? When did fossil fuel producers and users arrogate this right to themselves?
I can imagine that you also see that the underlying problem here is that, unlike most resources in a market economy, there are no clear or enforceable property rights to the atmosphere, so private parties can't dicker over how to use them - and until some such rights or other management scheme is agreed, all is politics.
Posted by: TokyoTom at May 31, 2007 09:10 PM
Kevin, after the administration deleted the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet" from the NASA mission statement last year, isn't it a relief to know that Griffin stated the following?
"NASA is the world's pre-eminent organisation in the study of Earth and the conditions that contribute to climate change and global warming. The agency is responsible for collecting data that is used by the science community and policy makers as part of an ongoing discussion regarding our planet's evolving systems. It is NASA's responsibility to collect, analyse and release information. ... As I stated in the NPR interview, we are proud of our role and I believe we do it well."
Too bad, of course that the Bush administration continues to screw up NASA's mission, as Gregg Easterbrook points out in Wired:
"Here is a set of rational priorities for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in descending order of importance: (1) Conduct research, particularly environmental research, on Earth, the sun, and Venus, the most Earth-like planet. (2) Locate asteroids and comets that might strike Earth, and devise a practical means of deflecting them. (3) Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe. (4) Figure out a way to replace today's chemical rockets with a much cheaper way to reach Earth orbit.
"Here are NASA's apparent current priorities: (1) Maintain a pointless space station. (2) Build a pointless Motel 6 on the moon. (3) Increase humanity's store of knowledge by studying the distant universe. (4) Keep money flowing to favored aerospace contractors and congressional districts.
Only one priority of four correct! Worse, NASA's to-do list neglects the two things that are actually of tangible value to the taxpayers who foot its bills — research relevant to environmental policymaking and asteroid-strike protection."
Posted by: TokyoTom at May 31, 2007 09:38 PM
The most important thing, despite Vrane's claim to the contrary, is what NASA's charter is. Bush has focussed charter to be one of space exploration and eventual colonization. Whatever else you say, surely the administrator is doing the right thing by following his charter.
I think it's the right charter. Bush did a great thing with NASA. As Pielke has written about extensively, NASA has been a real mess historically with more and more stuff getting tacked onto its mission as the years go by. I want to see our space agency doing space exploration, not science.
Science is great to fund, but we already do that. If you want to get your favorite science project funded, then you should address the NSF. If they fund it, I am sure NASA will sell you any services you need. There is no need to go dipping into their budget.
Back on topic, if you want to protect mankind against climate change, then in the long run the only safe way is to get some of our people off the planet. From this perspective, obsessing about 2100 is rather short-sited.
Posted by: Daublin at June 1, 2007 02:27 AM
I think it is ironic that so many posters here will call AGW skeptics 'deniers' if they are unwilling to accept the 'expert consensus of peer-reviewed climate scientists', but then feel free to completely disagree with the 'expert consensus of peer-reviewed economists' about the cost/benefit of near-term mitigation.
Should these cost/benefit skeptics be called cost/benefit deniers?
Posted by: Steve Reynolds at June 2, 2007 04:59 PM
This argument maks no sense.
Assuming there exists an ideal climate, then no matter what that climate is, we need to technology to get there and then stabilize. A prerequisite to changing climate in a conrolled manner is the ability to prevent accidental climate change, which is what we are experiencing today.
Secondly, to date nobody expecting a richer world under a new climactic regime has stepped up to cover the economic losses of those who will be disadvantaged.
Posted by: Lab Lemming at June 3, 2007 06:40 PM
Half of all the delusional people in the world have "self-confidence" in the making of their "obviously correct pronouncements" but Lubos reckons that it's what makes for wisdom in a NASA political appointee.
Amazing the strides the Bush administration has taken toward lowering the bar of what passes with some for "wisdom". A few more years and the ability to tie your own shoelaces in the morning will see you proclaimed a seer.
Posted by: winston at June 4, 2007 12:32 AM
"I think it is ironic that so many posters here will call AGW skeptics 'deniers' if they are unwilling to accept the 'expert consensus of peer-reviewed climate scientists', but then feel free to completely disagree with the 'expert consensus of peer-reviewed economists' about the cost/benefit of near-term mitigation."
Conversely, I find it fascinating how many people seem to have much greater faith in model predictions of what the world economy will do in the next century than in model predictions of what the climate will do over the same period.
It would be interesting to compare the accuracy of predictions of discount rates to predictions of temperature trends.
Posted by: Jonathan Gilligan at June 4, 2007 01:15 AM
I am a Bjorn Lomborg-style skeptic, and found the latest IPPC report (not the summaries!)full of interesting facts, the historical overview especially. It's now online. Still waiting for the group II report on adaptation. Hope it is as clearly and frankly written as group I's on the science.
Posted by: Luke Lea at June 4, 2007 10:00 AM
"It would be interesting to compare the accuracy of predictions of discount rates to predictions of temperature trends."
1) "Discount rates" are what people choose when evaluating different courses for fiscal action. Since they are a choice, there is no single correct answer for what the discount rate should be (or should have been).
2) Conversely, gross world product (GWP) is a measurable quantity. (Although it can be measured in several different ways, such as purchasing power parity, PPP, or monetary exchange rate, MER.) Therefore, GWP can truly be predicted, and the predictions checked for accuracy.
3) The IPCC has not made ANY predictions of either world temperature or GWP. Only people who are either ignorant or dishonest think the IPCC has made any predictions of either variable:
4) Tom Wigley and Sarah Raper made predictions of average world surface temperature to 2100, in Science magazine, based on the IPCC Third Assessment Report. Their predicted temperatures are very likely too high:
5) The IPCC TAR reported economic literature projections on GWP to 2100. Those literature projections are very likely much (much!) too low. I predict they will be too low by approximately a factor of 100 by the year 2100:
Posted by: Mark Bahner at June 5, 2007 10:50 AM
Thanks for making the point about DOE responsibility. I have some related discussion on my blog. See:
Posted by: MIchael Tobis at June 6, 2007 11:38 PM
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best is now.” Chinese proverb.
Posted by: Tibor Kiss at June 9, 2007 02:18 AM
It's amazing how much row a clear and honest statement can bring about in opposing religious circles. It's absolutely true we don't know that GW from CO2 will be a problem larger than others we will need to address, and limited resources could deem it relatively inconsequential - particularly since GW seems to have stopped in its tracks over the last few years (despite howls it's "increasing"). Lots of people of different religions are at each other's throats now, and AGW is just the newest religion. It's certainly possible it's important, but model robustness about feedbacks certainly isn't substantial. The high priests of AGW - Hansen chief among them - seem to think they have crystal balls - typical of religous leaders. Maybe, just maybe, they don't?
Certainly a lot more research is needed - which would include more studies of reality vs. computer games - oops - models.
The big picture here is that the instrument record started at the coldest period of the last 8,000 years. The last 8,000 years would be the time of, what? Oh yeah, civilization...
Thermodynamics should be prerequisite to any "climate" class in any university. Of course the High Priests of AGW would never go for that - Education is the cure.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at June 9, 2007 09:18 AM
Total agreement to give a HAT TIP to John Fleck, a realy fine journalist. But it seems that he is supporting the use of the the terms "climate change" and "global warming" without distiction, so that I thought to contribute to this question on www.jfleckinkstan.net the other day, as follows:
(Encarta. msn): the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind, and other meteorological conditions.
(dictionary.net): The state of the air or atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness, or any other meteorological phenomena; meteorological condition of the atmosphere;
(en.wikipeada.org), citing IPCC as follows: Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather”, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.
UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE (FCCC):
PS: Only recently this site discussed on : May 23rd, 2007 : Global Warming or Climate Change; which shows how important are correct and meaningful definitions:
Posted by: Mico P. at June 11, 2007 09:58 AM