Not Thinking

by Jason Lee Steorts

How not to win a debate: by conceding 90 percent of your opponent’s arguments and taking refuge in generalizations. That’s what Think Progress did in its response to my point-by-point refutation of the piece it ran on my NR cover story “Scare of the Century.” In that refutation, I wrote about Think Progress’s irrelevant citing of average global temperature records in reply to my discussion of Greenland, its mistaken claim that I’d failed to acknowledge coastal ice loss, its failure to demonstrate the existence of a consensus on the precise extent to which human activity has caused and will cause global warming, and its selective quoting from an EPA report. It offers no response to any of this. 

Rehashing its objection to the way I used a study by Curt Davis, Think Progress offers, for the second time, a link to a document detailing Davis’s concerns with the way the Competitive Enterprise Institute cited that study. I’d already explained why those criticisms aren’t applicable to my article; the only new thing in Think Progress’s latest comment is a second-hand quote from climate scientist Pieter Tans, who told the Washington Post, “They argue not as scientists but as lawyers. When they argue, they pick one piece of the fabric of evidence and blow it up all out of proportion.” Who “they” are and which piece of evidence is getting blown out of proportion goes unspecified. So Think Progress’s argument is apparently this: Davis dislikes the way somebody who isn’t me has used his work; and someone who isn’t Curt Davis dislikes the way somebody, somewhere, has used somebody’s work; ergo, I have misused Davis’s work. One marvels at the Aristotelian precision of this logic. 

Think Progress’s only other comment is that the IPCC’s reports are peer-reviewed, and that we must therefore accept the predictions of their climate models. But which models? The IPCC predicts anywhere from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100. I explained, both in my NR piece and my response to Think Progress, that many of those models are based on unrealistic assumptions about levels of CO2 increase in future years. Instead of explaining why the models are in fact reliable, Think Progress launches an ad hominem attack on a scientist I quoted. It should instead take a look at the numbers: In the past 30 years, temperatures have warmed at a steady rate of about 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade, a rate near the very bottom end of the IPCC’s scenarios.  

It doesn’t matter who points this out, or whether Think Progress likes that person. The simple fact is that the instrumental record demonstrates the implausibility of the upper-end IPCC estimates. And it isn’t just “a handful of skeptics in the fossil fuel industry,” as Think Progress asseverates, who are noticing this; even James Hansen–a liberal NASA scientist whose policy prescriptions Think Progress would almost certainly support–has said that the IPCC scenarios are unduly pessimistic. (I noted this in my reply, but Think Progress ignored it along with almost everything else.) When it comes to politics, Hansen could scarcely differ more from Patrick Michaels, the scientist I quoted. But both have looked at the instrumental record and predicted 0.75 degrees of warming by 2050, an amount consistent with the low end of the IPCC scale–and, consequently, the low end of the IPCC’s predicted effects of global warming. 

Does Think Progress have anything specific to say about why Hansen and Michaels might be wrong? Or about why the instrumental record so consistently undershoots most of the IPCC models? Or about which models make realistic assumptions about greenhouse-gas emissions and which don’t, and why the realistic ones give us cause to worry? Or about precisely how a cost-benefit analysis of policies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions shows that they are worthwhile? Or about–anything at all? 

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