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Dear Prof. Burns,

Your comment is scornful in tone (“Egads, where does one start with this piece?) but weak in argumentation.

1. You state that the argument that the “IPCC can't explain the fact that temperatures haven't been rising for a decade is a canard”. Perhaps it’s useful to have two comments from scientists closely associated with the IPCC. As you can see in the interview last month with the BBC, IPCC Lead Author Dr. Phil Jones, (who has stepped aside from heading the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), one of the three main temperature collecting organizations) agrees the warming since 1995 to the present, while positive, has not been statistically significant. Nor has the 1975-2009 warming been very different from the range of the warming rate of 1860-1880 or 1910-1940 (see In e-mails evidently leaked from the CRU, Dr. Keith Trenberth, who has been a lead author of IPCC chapters, noted in October last year “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”. In a follow on e-mail to another scientist, Dr. Trenberth says “How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not!”. In the paper cited by SL10 (see ) Dr. Trenberth reiterates his surprise that the temperatures have not been rising and indicates he believes with better observations it may be possible to account for “hidden warming” but there is also evidence that recently no heat is seen accumulating in the upper 700 meters of ocean (see ) which is a much more important heat storage mass than the atmosphere .

As noted in Prof. Jones BBC interview referenced above, there has been a cooling trend since 2002 (-0.12C per decade but not statistically significant). You mention “the IPCC has consistently emphasized that natural variability means that there will be years, maybe even up to a decade, in which temperatures might not rise, or even fall slightly” but I wonder if you can provide one citation of such a prediction by the IPCC from say 10 years ago, which projected the current lack of warming increase.
Actually, almost no intelligent skeptic ignores the “elemental fact that greenhouse gases trap heat, and rising levels will result in further temperature increases” (however with each additional molecule contributing less effect). The question is, whether such increases will be noticeable or even measurable over natural climate variation.

2. The issue of ocean acidification and the possible effects on various sea organisms has been rather extensively studied (see, as well as and the citations therein). As cited in SL10, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found mixed results (i.e., some species gain shell mass and other lost) even at very high CO2 levels (10 times pre-industrial) (see ) You do not cite any scientific study or arguments overturning any of these analyses.

3. You don’t seem to like the work of Dr. Idso, but perhaps you have not seen the update by Prof. Long and others on the effect of CO2 on crops. It’s worthwhile to quote the conclusions:
a) elevated CO2 stimulates photosynthetic carbon gain and net primary production over the long term despite down-regulation of Rubisco activity
b) elevated CO2 improves nitrogen use efficiency and,
c) decreases water use at both the leaf and canopy scale
d) elevated CO2 stimulates dark respiration via a transcriptional reprogramming of metabolism
e) elevated CO2 does not directly stimulate C4 photosynthesis, but can indirectly stimulate carbon gain in times and places of drought
f) the stimulation of yield by elevated CO2 in crop species is much smaller than expected
(Abstract )

4. Finally Dr. Burns, you seek to undermine a previous work by Dr. Soon and Dr. Legates. They did publish a piece in 2003 (with other co-authors) which concluded “thermometer warming of the 20th century across the world seems neither unusual nor unprecedented within the more extended view of the last 1000 years. Overall, the 20th century does not contain the warmest or most extreme anomaly of the past millennium in most of the proxy records” (see ) This study and another published in the journal Climate Research (co-authored with Dr. Baliunas, then also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) were indeed attacked in EOS (the “newspaper” of the American Geophysical Union, not a peer-reviewed research journal) by Dr. Michael Mann (of Hockey Stick fame) and co-authors (M03). Using “proxies” to measure temperature of the past 1000 years is subject to many uncertainties and calibration issues. M03 raised some of these issues but primarily their objection was the conclusion noted above. M03 stated “the conclusion that late-20th century hemispheric-scale warmth is anomalous in a long-term (at least millennial) context, and that anthropogenic factors likely play an important role in explaining the anomalous recent warmth is a robust consensus view”, citing Dr. Mann’s own work and the 2001 IPCC assessment (of which Dr. Mann was the lead author for the paleoclimate section).

What has happened in the meantime? Most people following these issues closely will be aware of a review for Congress of Dr. Mann’s studies by a panel headed by Prof. Wegman, who was then the chair of the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a professor of statistics, among other positions. This committee concluded, primarily due to improper handling of statistics, “that the assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade in a millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year in a millennium cannot be supported by the MBH98/99 analysis” (see ) The review pointed out major flaws in statistics and data handling (in a paper that had been critical in forming the “consensus view” mentioned by Dr. Mann himself).

The uncertainties in trying to accurately estimate temperatures prior to thermometers have been often under estimated. In a comment on another recent paper by Dr. Mann, experts in statistics noted the confidence intervals shown in the paper were “unjustifiably narrow” and by normal statistical rules “finite confidence intervals cannot be defined before ~1800” (see ). No one denies there has been some warming since the Little Ice Age (thankfully), but as shown in the statement from Dr. Phil Jones, the current warming is not appreciably different than in the period before significant CO2 emissions, which would seem to support the idea that warming in the past 40 years can be mainly natural as in the earlier periods.
5. The resignation of Dr. Hans von Storch as editor-in-chief of the journal Climate Research raises issues too detailed to deal with here, but see the statements by Dr. von Storch himself ( and ), and the statement of the publisher ). As anyone can see, the issue was not whether the conclusions of Dr. Soon and Dr. Baliunas were true or false, but whether the description of the method was sufficient to support the conclusions about the Medieval Warm Period versus the present. Would that the editors of Nature and Geophysical Research Letters (who published the MBH papers) and all editors whose journals have published articles with conclusions not clearly supported by the study itself would follow this example, but I fear there would be few editors left.

Naturally you are completely free to voice any opinions you wish, but if you want them to be accepted you will need better evidence.

Another irony of this piece is its conclusion, that political factors have subverted the science. At the same time, we're supposed to indulge the fiction that the climate denialists, many of whom are fueled by money from the fossil fuel industry, aren't at all influenced by this largesse. This includes the authors of this piece, and that link is well established.

Egads, where does one start with this piece?

1. The argument that the IPCC can't explain the fact that temperatures haven't been rising for a decade is a canard. 1998 was the warmest year in recorded history, but 2005 was very, very close, and this has still been the warmest decade in history. And the IPCC has consistently emphasized that natural variability means that there will be years, maybe even up to a decade, in which temperatures might not rise, or even fall slightly, due to factors, e.g. ocean currents, solar variability, and other factors. For example, Solomon's excellent analysis in Nature of why the "drying" of the upper atmosphere has resulted in a (temporary) abatement of rising temperatures, demonstrates why there may be transitory abatement of temperature rises, but it doesn't undercut the rather elemental fact that greenhouse gases trap heat, and rising levels, will result in further temperature increases. Also, if you ignore the silliness of looking at snapshots of warming and use statistical smoothing methods, you see steadily rising temperatures over the course of the last century, as predicted by the models;
2. The ocean acidification analysis here is laughable. I've read more than 150 studies on ocean acidification in the last year, and while there are a few species that may "win" from rising levels of oceanic CO2, the vast majority, including some keystone species e.g. pteropods and copepods, lose under a scenario of a 0.3-0.7 drop in pH levels, not to mention coral reef ecosystems. This is the kind of cherry picking that Soon and Legate are notorious for;
3. It's almost laughable that the authors chide Long for allegedly not responding to criticisms of his research (which, incidentally, he has). They cite Idso's work, which has almost been universally criticized for failing, for example, to account for impacts like root rot on species, or for selectively finding benefits for certain species at temperature thresholds far below what we're likely to experience this century.

And finally, let's look at Soon & Legate's track record. They published a piece in 2003 that sought to discount temperature increases in the 20th Century vis-a-vis the Middle Ages. There were a barrage of studies in journals e.g. EOS and Science that summarily discredited the study, ultimately resulting in the publisher, Otto Kline admitting that “[the conclusions drawn] cannot be concluded convincingly from the evidence provided in the paper”.

Also, Soon and Baliunas published another article arguing that warming was due to solar variation) in Climate Research that led to protests from 13 of the authors cited that their work had been misrepresented and misused. Subsequently the new editor-in-chief, Hans van Storch, resigned along with two other editors when the publisher refused to print an editorial about improvements in the journal review process.

The authors' concern about the ability of carbon markets to deliver reductions in atmospheric CO2 ("consideration #3) is well placed. Unfortunately, however, their discussion relies on several factually inaccurate claims.

After drawing a general conclusion from low prices in the Chicago Climate Exchange (a small, voluntary initiative closer to a greenwashing club than a nationwide, mandatory cap and trade program), the article says that the price of carbon in the EU ETS (the cap and trade program Europe uses to implement its Kyoto obligations) "has collapsed." Yet the prices they cite to support this proposition are more than two years old. While the price of carbon in the EU ETS did fall in late 2007 as the first, experimental compliance phase of the ETS program drew to a close and firms realized that they would hit their targets, it has been back up above 10 euros per tonne throughout the second phase, which corresponds to the actual Kyoto compliance period of 2008-2012. In fact, the article from the Guardian that the authors themselves cite indicates prices of over 8 euros in early 2009. A quick google search would have been enough to reveal to the authors that the current price is about 13 euros.

Even more curiously, having just finished criticizing the ETS and CCX for price volatility, the authors then criticize Australia's decision to address that volatility with a price floor. The authors are "willing to bet" that the medium-term market price of carbon is below 10 euros. They will be happy to know, then, that they will find plenty of willing counterparties to this bet in the burgeoning carbon derivatives market. Buying a put option at their desired strike price on the European market should not be difficult.

These oversights are particularly disappointing because the authors provocative, heterodox view on the conventional wisdom about climate change deserves to be heard. Unfortunately, the careless way they support their position makes their article look like another politically motivated and scientifically unfounded denial of global warming.

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