[Please email the NYT at firstname.lastname@example.org to demand a correction for the egregious mistakes in Tierney’s column and/or email its public editor at email@example.com to explain you are “concerned about the paper’s journalistic integrity.”]
The backlash from George Will’s disinformation rightly grows each day that the Washington Post stands behind his lies (see here). Media Matters has samples of widespread outrage in the country here, and a new report [PDF] from CAPAF challenges the WP to issue a correction.
Now it is time for outrage over John Tierney, who not only makes stuff up just like Will, but is actually on the New York Times staff as their ‘science’ columnist. When we last saw Tierney, he was spreading lies and disinformation about science adviser nominee John Holdren (see here).
Today, the NYT not only let him print more egregiously made up stuff to smear Holdren (and Energy Secretary Steven Chu). But they actually published an article “Politics in the Guise of Pure Science” (see here) under the heading “FINDINGS” about Chu, Holdren, climate science, and climate solutions with precisely one source — Roger Pielke, Jr. That would be like publishing an article critical of Obama’s handling of the financial crisis and only citing Bernie Madoff.
Amazingly Pielke is quoted at great length as an “honest broker” on climate issues [pause for laughter, hope the orchestra starts to drown him out before he can finish talking], even though his policies are indistinguishable from that of leading global warming deniers (see here).
I am not going to debunk everything Tierney wrote — like Will, his piece that brings to mind Mary McCarthy’s famous quip about Lillian Hellman:
Every word she writes is a lie — including ‘and’ and ‘the.’
But let me focus on the three most egregious things he writes — at least the first of which the New York Times should retract and correct:
SMEARING STEVEN CHU
First, apparently conservative deniers get distributed the exact same talking points because Tierney leads off the same way Will did, by dismissing the science-based warnings of Steven Chu:
Why, since President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in Washington, do some things feel not quite right?
First there was Steven Chu, the physicist and new energy secretary, warning The Los Angeles Times that climate change could make water so scarce by century’s end that “there’s no more agriculture in California” and no way to keep the state’s cities going, either.
I have previously demonstrated that the scientific literature supports Chu’s warning (see here). In fact, Chu was specifically citing the scientific literature in his statement, as we will see.
Like George Will, however, Tierney doesn’t actually cite any evidence whatsoever against Chu’s claim. All he does is cite Pielke, who is not a climate scientist or, in fact, any kind of physical scientist, and then assert:
While most scientists agree that anthropogenic global warming is a threat, they’re not certain about its scale or its timing or its precise consequences (like the condition of California’s water supply in 2090).
This smear against Chu is such an egregious mistake that the New York Times must issue a retraction for it. Why? If Tierney had actually have read the Chu interview (which the LAT published in full, see here), he would know that Chu was specifically discussing a worst-case scenario:
What is being predicted in climate change, there are two bracketed scenarios. The more optimistic one — that we will really control carbon emissions, that we will get a handle on this, and we’re talking the end of this century — even by mid-century, in the optimistic scenario, we will have decreased our snow pack by 20 percent on an average basis. And our forests are going to begin to die, because of parasites and such … In the pessimistic scenario, the snow pack will decrease by 70 to 90 percent …
… a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California. When you lose 70 percent of your water in the mountains, I don’t see how agriculture can continue. California produces 20 percent of the agriculture in the United States. I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.
So Chu wasn’t saying he knew the precise consequences of global warming. He was citing a scientific study that laid out multiple scenarios. I found that study online in a few second by googling “scenario California snow pack 70 90.” It comes from a paper written for the important 2005 UK-Government-hosted “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change” conference.
The paper is “Regional Assessment of Climate Impacts on California under Alternative Emission Scenarios.” To see the scenarios Chu was citing, click here.
Moreover, if you read the paper, you’ll see that Chu’s pessimistic scenario is in fact A1F1, the IPCC’s worst-case for emissions. Yet global emissions since 2000 have exceeded A1F1, have exceeded the worst case. So if we were to adopt the do-very-little-if-anything strategy of Tierney and Pielke, then we would meet or exceed the A1F1 scenario Chu was referring to as “pessimistic.”
In short, as I have been arguing, the worst-case scenario is in fact now just business as usual — a conclusion that both MIT and the Hadley Center agree with (see here and here).
So again, I really think the New York Times needs to issue a retraction and correction of this scurrilous attack on Nobelist Chu.
TIERNEY FALLS FOR AIR CAPTURE
The second made-up stuff Tierney writes is at the end:
What would honest brokers tell the president about global warming? Dr. Pielke, who calls himself an Obamite, says he’s concerned that the presidents’ advisers seem uniformly focused on cutting carbon emissions through a domestic cap-and-trade law and a new international treaty.
Seriously, you can smear Obama’s choice for science advisor and the NYT will still let you call yourself an Obamite? Hmm. Is Pielke a Rommite, too? And just what do you have to do to be anti-Obama? But I digress.
It’s fine to try that strategy, he says, but there are too many technological, economic and political uncertainties to count on it making a significant global difference. If people around the world can’t be cajoled — or frightened by apocalyptic scenarios — into cutting carbon emissions, then politicians need backup strategies.
One possibility, Dr. Pielke says, would be to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the future. He calculates that it could cost about the same, in the long run, as making drastic cuts in emissions today, and could be cheaper if the technology improves. It could also be a lot easier sell to the public.
Yes, non-scientist, non-engineer Roger Pielke knows the future cost at massive scale of some technology that isn’t close to being commercial today and that really doesn’t exist in any significant form whatsoever today. And he knows it “could” cost the same or even “be cheaper” than dozens of proven technologies that exist now. Well, I guess we can all get back in our Hummers, build a hundred new coal plants, and breathe a sigh of relief. Seriously.
Yet research into this strategy has received little financing in past budgets or the new stimulus package because it doesn’t jibe with the agenda of either side in the global-warming debate. Greens don’t want this sort of “technological fix”; their opponents don’t want to admit there’s anything to fix. And neither side’s advocates will compromise as long as they think that science will prove them right.
Actually, many greens want a technological fix — it’s called mitigation with energy efficiency and renewable energy. It’s conservatives and denier-eqs that can’t stand the notion of a government led effort to use existing technology to solve the problem. It’s conservatives and denier-eqs that want to do basically nothing while staking the health and well-being of the next 100 billion humans to walk the Earth on nonexistent technology.
And since Tierney never bothers to define “air capture” (which typically describes devices that pull CO2 out of the air for permanent sequestration), his statements are even more egregiously wrong and deserving of retraction.
The most obvious form of air capture is biomass energy — and the federal government has been pursuing that for decades.
The other obvious way of pulling CO2 out of the air is pre-combustion, when CO2 concentrations are very high, using carbon capture and storage on a coal plant — and the federal government has been pursuing that for over a decade, albeit incompetently.
As RealClimate wrote last year on air capture (here):
It should be stated clearly that air capture is not a viable alternative to capture at large, point source emitters such as power plants since it will always be more efficient to capture and store carbon dioxide from more concentrated streams. So while there are any non-CCS fossil fuel plants, Air Capture is a non-starter.
Duh. And yet coal with CCS itself remains a distant and expensive strategy with major scale issues (see here).
Let me point out that we need to put in place a dozen or so clean energy “stabilization wedges” by mid-century to avoid catastrophic climate outcomes — see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 1.” here. For CCS to be even one wedge would require a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground. That would require, by itself, re-creating the equivalent of the planet’s entire oil delivery infrastructure, no mean feat.
The same is true of air capture. Where the heck are you going to put all that carbon? And remember, Pielke (mistakenly) thinks we need 20 or more wedges by mid-century. And he doesn’t want to do any serious mitigation at all. So he has to find incomprehensibly large number of verifiably permanent storage sites. And build 20 or so oil industries.
That’s the beauty of making stuff up and relying on technological miracles. Once you accept the possibility of one miracle, there’s no reason not to accept a bunch of others.
On our current emissions path, we are headed to a median atmospheric CO2 concentration of 866 ppm, according to MIT, with a nearly 10 percent chance we’ll be at 1100 ppm. It is absurd to think that air capture is going to be a viable strategy if we don’t first do massive mitigation and keep near or below 450 ppm.
TIERNEY FALLS FOR PIELKE
The third egregious nonsense in Tierney’s piece is:
But too often, Dr. Pielke says, they [scientists] pose as impartial experts pointing politicians to the only option that makes scientific sense. To bolster their case, they’re prone to exaggerate their expertise (like enumerating the catastrophes that would occur if their policies aren’t adopted), while denigrating their political opponents as “unqualified” or “unscientific.”
“Some scientists want to influence policy in a certain direction and still be able to claim to be above politics,” Dr. Pielke says. “So they engage in what I call ‘stealth issue advocacy’ by smuggling political arguments into putative scientific ones.”
What else can one say but “cough, cough bullshit”?
I mean seriously. It is Pielke who, with Tierney’s help, is posing as an impartial expert, an “honest broker.”
It is Pielke who is prone to exaggerate his expertise. What qualifications does Pielke have to assert that he knows that air capture has any plausible chance of being a practical, affordable, and scalable strategy that can replace serious mitigation? Please, can anybody find a relevant degree that justifies his holding out such false hope (see here), that justifies the New York Times using him as the sole “expert” in an article trashing a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
It is Pielke, a political scientist, who denigrates scientists as being too political if they dare to offer practical solutions to avoid the catastrophic global warming they know is coming if we keep listening to people like Pielke and Tierney.
Shame on the New York Times for running this column and for having Tierney as a columnist.
Please email the NYT at firstname.lastname@example.org to demand a correction for the egregious mistakes in Tierney’s column and/or email its public editor at email@example.com to explain you are “concerned about the paper’s journalistic integrity.”
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.