Oreskes Chronicles Birth of Climate Change Denial

Mon, 2008-09-08 14:56Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Oreskes Chronicles Birth of Climate Change Denial

Naomi Oreskes, the science historian whose landmark article 2004 Science article, finally put the lie as to whether there was a legitimate climate change “debate,” has written a new piece for the TimesOnline, describing on of the best early warnings the U.S. received about global warming, and revealing the efforts of scientist-turned-lobbyist Bill Nierenberg in beginning to sow confusion.

As Oreskes reports, the U.S. government had solid information on the likelihood (and potential severity) of climate change in 1979 - delivered by a panel of some of the most impressive scientists in the land. But In 1980, then-President Ronald Reagan found the truth inconvenient. If the world community started worrying about climate change, Reagan figured everyone would start blaming America (because America was making the biggest contribution). Reagen tapped Nierenberg for an alternative report, and the big lie began.  

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From the copy of the executive summary on N. Nierenberg’s own site:

“(a) Research and development should give some priority to the enhancement of long-term energy options that are not based on combustion of fossil fuels. (Chapters 1, 2, 9)

“(b) We do not believe, however, that the evidence at hand about CO2-induced climate change would support steps to change current fuel-use patterns away from fossil fuels. Such steps may be necessary or desirablea t some time in the future, and we should certainly think carefully about costs and benefits of such steps; but the very near future would be better spent improving our knowledge (including knowledge of energy and other processes leading to creation of greenhouse gases) than in changing fuel mix or use. (Chapters 1, 2, 9)

“(c) It is possible that steps to control costly climate change should start with non-CO2 greenhouse gases. While our studies focused chiefly on CO2, fragmentary evidence suggests that non-CO2 greenhouse gases may be as important a set of determinants as CO2 itself. While the costs of climate change from non-CO2 gases would be the same as those from CO2, the control of emissions of some non-CO2 gases may be more easily achieved. (Chapters 1, 2, 4, 9)”

So the recommendations are more climate research plus “some priority” to development of alternative fuels, and other than that, nothing. It’s clear from this that Oreskes was right at least on one count: W. Nierenberg was prescribing inaction.

How did N. Nierenberg manage to read this as “very much in line with views […] in the present”?

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- frankbi.wordpress.com

I am *not* going to post Naomi’s chapter here, but if you haven’t seen:
http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=13459, some of it is there.

Read the meticulous, gory details when the book comes out, and recall where Naomi is located - she’s in a fine position to talk to people who knew Dr. Niereneberg quite well.

It’s all there in detail, backed with quotes and references, and it makes consistent sense to anyone who knows the relevant history, actions of the Reagan administration, and the ensuing distortion of science by the founders of the George C. Marshall Institute (i.e., Nierenberg, Seitz, Jastrow).

There were several (very distinguished committees) of (serious) climate scientists that produced results that Nierenberg didn’t like, but *he* worked on the transition team for Reagan (recommending people).

It was made very clear (by people like Fred Koomanoff, who was a Reagan-admin DOE funder), that the scientists better start toeing the line, or funding would go away (like for Keeling, who was told his efforts to measure CO2 would be defunded. Got that, they didn’t want to measure CO2… a miniscule cost next to other things.)

Nierenberg was clear on his views(CO2 is fine), but they were rejected by the climate scientists on the team, who included folks like Revelle and Smagorinsky, whose views were clear before and afterwards, in numerous published things. Have people ever heard of them? Were they serious players? [yes]. Was Revelle worried about sea-level rise? Yes… but Nierenberg downplayed it.

Why were Nordhaus? Schelling? Yohe? Katcher? Ausebel? involved in a report on *climate science*? This was no normal Academy report.

The whole 600-page report might be interesting, but given that the first chapter written by Nordhaus emphasized all the unknowns, and Schelling (another economist) got to argue in the last chapter that the scientists were wrong, and that if needed, weather modification was the answer, the agenda was pretty clear.

The Summary (and I’ve read it) is classic, as it briefly summarizes the science chapters, but ignoring the concerns that the scientists had, and emphasizes the economists’ chapters that say we don’t need to do anything serious now. The Summary alone is a cherry-pick, which is why I asked the only actual participant I could find quickly.

REMEMBER, Nierenberg disagreed with the earlier committees and with the climate scientists on his committee, so he overruled them, and the result was certainly what the Reagan Administration wished for.

Contrary to NN’s assertion, Academy reports are *sponsored* and paid for by branches of the Federal government. In this case, I think it was the DOE.

And people _still_ wonder why Cheney’s hiding the details of his meetings with the energy industry. I wonder how many pieces of paper can be recovered from the various notes by the economists who were in on this early climate paper.

Comparing it to the two prior evaluations will be most interesting, especially if the economists can be sorted out.

Here was NN’s post, with my comments in CAPS:

“This whole discussion is based on facts that Oreskes simply got wrong.
NO.

The publication “Changing Climate” was a publication of the National Science Foundation Climate Research Board. It was specifically requested
NO, AS NN NOTED, NAT ACADEMY.
by the US Congress during Jimmy Carter’s term.
THEY APPROPRIATED $2M TO STUDY CLIMATE, IN 1979.

Dr. Nierenberg was appointed chair of the CRB prior to Reagan being elected.
YES, BUT THE ISSUE ISN’T WHO APPOINTED HIM, IT’S THATREAGAN COMMISSIONED A THIRD REPORT”, AS PER ORESKES, AND HE DID IT IN A VERY DIFFERENT WAY. THAT IS, THE ORGANIZATION WAS THERE, BUT NIERENBERG GOT TO TAKE IT THE DIRECTION HE WANTED.
In the document’s introduction it clearly states that the executive summary and synthesis were the consensus view of all the members of the CRB.
DISCUSSED ELSEWHERE, TOTALLY MISLEADING.

Those members were;

William A. Nierenberg (Chairman) SIO, Peter G. Brewer Woods Hole/NSF, Lester Machta NOAA, William D. Nordhaus Yale, Roger R. Revelle UCSD, Thomas C. Schelling Harvard, Joseph Smagorinsky Princeton, Paul E. Waggoner, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, George M. Woodwell Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole

Any plain reading of the executive summary and synthesis would show that it was very much in line with views on CO2 at the time, and actually to a great extent in the present. Oreskes is counting on the fact that almost no one has access to this document.
DISCUSSED ELSEWHER, CHERRY-PICK.
DO NOTHINGWAS A GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE GEORGE C. MARSHALL INSTITUTE, AND THAT WAS THE IDEA OF THIS REPORT, ALTHOUGH NOT OF THE THE SCIENTISTS LIKE REVELLE.
ORESKES IS HARDLY COUNTING ON INACCESSIBLITY, THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS IS TO FIND THE TRUTH IN WHAT WENT ON. SOMEBODY WILL LIKELY SCAN THIS WHOLE REPORT IN, AS THERE ARE COPIES AROUND. NAOMI’S RESEARCH GOES WAY BEYOND THE WORDS IN THE REPORT.

It is a disgrace that Dr. Oreskes put out these articles and papers which are full of factual errors, deliberate alterations of the underlying materials, and idle speculation.

NO, THE DISGRACE IS ELSEWHERE

My quick guessthat it was DOE was wrong. It was OSTP.

Atmoz posts the original agreement, which was between OSTP and The Academy. OSTP = Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Executive Office of the President.

OSTP, established by President Gerald Ford and Congress in 1976, advises the President and the President’s Executive Office, on science and technology policies and budgets.”

I.e., this was back when the government thought it would be good to get advice from scientists about science, rather than telling them what it should be :-)

Mr. Mashey I don’t know why you are shouting, but you seem to be truly stretching the point. The project was commissioned by Congress. My father was in place along with all committee members prior to Reagan being elected. I don’t know one way or the other who all the influences were on the committee, but I think almost everyone would have been misled my what Oreskes wrote in her popular article. BTW here is what she had to say in her published paper.

“Ribicoff’s amendment was incorporated into the Energy Security Act, signed into law in June 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, which created the Synthetic Fuels
Corporation to promote the development of synthetic fuels from coal, oil shale, and tar sands. The worry that global warming might be the Achilles heel of American energy
policy was implicitly recognized by Title VII, which provided up to $3 million for “a comprehensive study of the projected impact, on the level of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere, of fossil fuel combustion, coal-conversion, and related synthetic fuel.” While the formal charge to the new committee was not formulated until June of the following year, a committee was already in place by October 1980,with Nierenberg as its chair.”

So with a Democratic congress and Jimmy Carter as president my father was appointed to the job under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. This was natural since he had served as an adviser to both Democratic and Republican presidents, and was a long time expert on climate.

I’m sorry for the Mr. I realize now that it is Dr. Mashey.

I think you are cherry picking from the introduction. Here is the full text.

“The CO2 issue is so diverse in its intellectual components that no individual may be considered an expert on the entire problem. For this reason, as noted above, the CDAC prepared or commissioned separately authored and separately peer-reviewed papers in each area, with no attempt to force unanimity of style or of views. For the same reason, the Committee members felt themselves incapable of judging and endorsing as a group the details of each paper’s analysis and findings. Thus, each paper should be viewed primarily as the product of its individual members and other reviewers but not enjoying the unanimity of conclusions possible in a more homogeneous and less controversial topic. However, the Committee’s work did reveal a large core of views, findings, conclusions, and recommendations on a more general level, which all members could wholeheartedly and responsibly endorse. These are presented in the Synthesis of the report. Despite the existence of some areas of continuing controversy, such as the carbon cycle, there are no major dissents with respect to the contents of this assessment.”

You focused on the phrase “no major dissents” I would focus on the phrase “wholeheartedly and responsibly endorse.” It seems to me that the dissent phrase might be tied to the carbon cycle (which was Dr. Woodwells area of expertise as I understand it). But who knows.

In any event there is no record of dissent from any of the members in the minutes. Dr. Woodwell did not choose to write a letter to the NY Times after the executive summary was published on the front page. Nor did he write a letter to anyone else as far as I can make out. He chose to have his name on the result at the time. Maybe he felt that the policy recommendations should have been stronger, but clearly he didn’t feel he needed to do anything about it.

The “commissioned” statement is in the TimesOnline piece (and wrong), but not in the book, or the paper, http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CPNSS/projects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPOreskesetalChickenLittleOnlinev2.pdf .

Thank you Dr. Mashey for correcting you earlier post titled “WRONG AGAIN.” I find the fact that she sort of got this right in her paper makes the error in the Times article more deliberate and egregious, but that is just my opinion.

While the Oreskes et al paper is long, has a lot of citations, and references a lot of obscure material that doesn’t make it correct. The specific error in the Times article doesn’t appear there, although related errors do. As I have mentioned a rebuttal will be published shortly.

Anyone interested in this kerfuffle should read the long paper,
http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CPNSS/projects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPOreskesetalChickenLittleOnlinev2.pdf

The published version is almost identical, with a couple footnote fixes, so for most, the free version is fine. It’s actually quite good reading, although I’m sure it’s just an early installment of what will be a fascinating larger story.

A critique of Oreskes et al 2008 has now been posted at www.nicolasnierenberg.com. The direct link is http://www.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/6/6/1166378/oreskes_2008_critique.pdf

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