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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stephen H. Schneider: San Francisco Examiner interview regarding global warming and climate change issues

by Thomas Fuller, SF Environmental Policy Examiner, May 24, 2009

This is part one of an interview with Professor Stephen Schneider regarding global warming and climate change issues.

Update: Roger Pielke, Sr., principal contributor to Climate Science, has commented both here and on his website regarding my classification of his weblog as a 'skeptic' weblog. I plead guilty to over-facile classification. Although Climate Science does regularly challenge the accepted wisdom of climate change activists, he is first and foremost a scientist who publishes regularly in peer-reviewed journals. As I have noted before here, one of the major themes pursued on Climate Science is that humans do influence the climate through deforestation, land-use policy and interruptions of the hydrologic cycle, and Pielke Sr. thinks that this may actually outweigh the effects of human emissions of CO2.

Mr. Pielke feels that being characterized as a skeptic is pejorative--and it is certainly used that way in many discussions. I guess I've developed a tough skin after being called much worse--to me it's the use of the term denier that sets me off. But it's essentially lazy writing, and I apologize. I actually have the highest respect for what I've seen of his work on his website and elsewhere.

I'll be pursuing this further--sadly, Mr. Pielke didn't provide an e-mail address and the comments section of his blog are usually turned off. I will try and contact him but in the meantime, I apologise for any confusion.

The second participant in the Global Warming Debates here at is Professor Stephen Schneider, whose biography runs longer than many of my articles. Here’s an excerpt:

Stephen H. Schneider is the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Professor of Biology, and a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. He served as an NCAR scientist from 1973-1996, where he co-founded the Climate Project. He focuses on climate change science, integrated assessment of ecological and economic impacts of human-induced climate change, and identifying viable climate policies and technological solutions. He has consulted for federal agencies and White House staff in seven administrations. Elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 2002, Dr. Schneider received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/ Westinghouse Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology and a MacArthur Fellowship for integrating and interpreting the results of global climate research. He is actively engaged in improving public understanding of science and the environment through extensive media communication and public outreach.

Conducting an interview by email can be dangerous—especially when a journalist is interviewing someone with a publication record as long as Professor Schneider’s. When he tosses three articles at me in response to a question, it, umm, means I have to read them. So. In this interview, I will indicate which of his answers come to us directly via email and which are from previously published sources. Part 1 is completely composed of his email responses.

The first part of our interview is concerned with what is happening now, in May of 2009, regarding climate science and the political debate surrounding it.

Via email:

How would you characterise the state of play regarding scientific discussion regarding anthropogenic contributions to global warming? What is happening in science today that bears on the debate?

Not much change over the past few decades, except nature is cooperating with theory as formerly theoretical projections like heat waves and ice melt is now observed--at faster rates than predicted. All in IPCC and NAS reports. Why ice is melting faster than the models suggest is still not known, but certainly not encouraging!

More specifically, the principal skeptic websites (Watt's Up With That, Climate Skeptic, Climate Audit and Climate Science) that I look at regularly seem to think they are winning the day. They think data is coming in that questions the established paradigm.

They have been thinking that as long as I have observed them and they have very few mainstream climate scientists who publish original research in climate refereed journals with them--a petroleum geologist's opinion on climate science is a as good as a climate scientists opinion on oil reserves. So petitions sent to hundreds of thousands of earth scientists are frauds. If these guys think they are "winning" why don't they try to take on face to face real climatologists at real meetings--not fake ideology shows like Heartland Institute--but with those with real knowledge--because they'd be slaughtered in public debate by Trenberth, Santer, Hansen, Oppenheimer, Allen, Mitchell, even little ol' me. It’s easy to blog, easy to write op-eds in the Wall Street Journal.

In terms of U.S. energy policy, do you favor a cap and trade for emissions or a carbon tax? More specifically do you have an opinion on the cap and trade legislation currently under consideration?

They can be made equivalent with good implementation rules. I wrote at Kyoto I preferred a tax and recycle idea--still kind of do, but we need a shadow price on carbon regardless of mechanism--I'll attach my Kyoto editorial on this. (And we’ll look at it in Part II of this interview.)

In general terms, how would you characterise President Obama's energy policy? Is it pointed in the right direction, are the priorities roughly in balance, are the numbers adequate?

He is trying to reverse a big ship headed at a reef—it will take a long time and lots of compromising.

A variety of extreme events have been postulated during the debate about global warming: The death or reversal of the Gulf stream, very rapid melting of the ice covering Greenland or Antarctica leading to dramatic sea level rise, the spread of malaria to areas where it does not currently exist as a threat, etc. How realistic are these potential events? 50%? 10%? 5%? 1%? 0.1%?

These are subjective probabilities since there is very little clear empirical base to go on--and since the future by definition has no data before the fact. all are plausible at some probability above that for buying fire insurance--a few percent--and some like Greenland melt seem to be many tens of percent likely for warming much over another degree C.

Why don't Americans care about global warming? Only a third think humans are responsible for it, and most rate it last on a list of concerns.

That is one recent poll--others are not that weak, but it is true of the priority rating. People are confused by a phony media debate in which very dissimilar quality "sides" are given equal time and credibility that average people cannot judge easily. It confuses more than enlightens and thus creates a wait and see response. That is why we have expert assessments to sort out real knowledge from easy claims from special interests on all sides.

What is your best guess as to what will be the progress of temperatures over this century? Which IPCC scenario do you think will play out and what will temperatures be in 2050 and 2100?

No pinned down idea—I have a factor of at least three of uncertainty--as I say in all my writings--I'll attach some. (He did—sigh.) My best guess, 2-4 °C warming by 2100, but if we're very lucky a bit less--and if very unlucky, even more.

Part 2 will look more deeply at the science and will refer to some of Professor Schneider’s more than 500 publications in scientific journals.

Thomas Fuller is an Examiner from San Francisco. You can see Thomas's articles on Thomas's Home Page.

Link to interview:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

In the middle of this article is the harsh judgment of how this pollution could be our ball&chain for centuries: "Why don't people care about global warming?" Add this to that: "Why are so many people loudly prepared to accept any fate whatsoever while the problem gets worse?"